A Wylde Tale by T. J. Schaaf and Cal Westray
Chapter 13: A Change of Colors
Moonscrye and I were discussing my plans for the upcoming battle, when we witnessed Thomas toss Alban around like a rag doll, using telekinesis. It was a bit disturbing. I don’t know what got into him. He left Alban on the ground, turned, and headed for the woods.
Moonscrye and I followed Thomas into the woods. He sees us, then stops to turn facing us.
“Thomas, what was the meaning of that?” I call out.
“Wylde, that mother-less dog was using Moonscrye’s crystal ball and spied on me. With what he saw in my village, he baited me. I shouldn’t have let him piss me off, but he pressed the wrong button.”
“So, you experienced Alban’s ill temper? I’ve been there. He means well, Thomas. I think it is the impetuousness of youth, the mantle of responsibility on young shoulders, a chip precariously balanced there, and the guilt that he thinks that he could have prevented a tragedy. His mother was Moonscrye’s predecessor. You both have a lot in common, Thomas.”
He pauses to look at me, then at Moonscrye and his expression softens. “Did you know about Alban’s talents?”
“He has his mother’s ability, as do I. We inherited it from her. He took her death very hard. I try to discourage him using his talent, because he sees things differently than I. My mother trained me when I was quite young and one of the many lessons, was to see things as they are - no interpretations, to remain objective. Alban sees things and his mind fills in the blanks.”
“They are accurate visions?” He looks pale.
“In his mind, they are. I saw them as well. Thomas, you retain a dual form and you must learn to control it or it will control you. What we both saw is based upon specific circumstances. What Alban doesn’t know or won’t admit, is that some of the townspeople you were killing cast no shadows. And some of the military you were killing - had unfamiliar faces. Alban stopped listening to me, he thinks I lack the stomach to lead the people.”
Thomas’ face changed expressions from relief to anger. “I know what that means and I can’t let it happen here!” He turns and runs into the woods.
I call out, “Thomas!” No good, he is gone.
Moonscrye takes my arm. “Wylde. He sees what he must do. As clearly as I have.”
“What did that mean, cast no shadows?”
“They were vampires, infected by the Demon lord. Our people will face the same threat as Thomas’ village.”
“By the Unicorn!” Where did I hear that? I remember that oath! “What can we do to stop it?”
“Magi, there are several ways to deal with an individual vampire. The Demon lord is the real threat. Cassandra may have an idea how to deal with him, I hope.”
First a fire warlock and his army, now a Demon lord and his minions. “Misler, I can only deal with one threat at a time. I have to leave soon, you know why. I will try to talk with Thomas. Please, talk with Thomas when you can and consult with Cassandra, you can still reach me if you need to.” I touch the crimson companion she made for me. “Thomas will listen to you, I am certain. If he knows a way to stop this madness, we need to know it.”
“I will see what can be done, magi.”
“Thanks. Take this, you should be able to reach him with it.” It is the communications pen. I explain how to use it. Moonscrye heads back to her wagon and I call out one more time to Thomas.
“Thomas,” I hear him shout again.
I stop and turn to face him. “What, Wylde?”
“We really must talk.”
“Of course, Wylde. Follow me and talk.”
“I had no idea you had such powers. Is that what your training was for?”
“That’s some of it. That is barely a sample of my powers. But I can’t seem to tap them. I lost the ability a while ago to randomly use them.”
“Then you must work on controlling your anger, so you don’t seriously hurt someone.”
“It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter how mad I get, it’s the severity of the situation. He lunged at me with a knife. And there’s something else about him. But the point is, I was in danger, I was able to use my powers. I don’t know why it’s like that. Maybe I’m just saving them for when I really need them.”
“I believe I understand. Perhaps you should speak with Cassandra about your powers. She may be able to give you some insight.”
“Oh, I plan on it.”
After walking a bit, Wylde got a bit curious.
“Where are we going?”
“Up ahead a little further.”
After a few more minutes, we reach a small cave. I walked in first and lit the torch I had prepared. “Come on in,” I said.
“What is this place?” asked Wylde.
“This is my storage cave for anti-vampirism stuff. Let me go ahead and explain what these things are. This,” I said pointing to my coconut with spikes, “is my anti-vamp coconut. With TK, I can bounce it around and take out quite a few vamps with relative ease. These are cross-arrows. Wherever you shoot them, the vamps can’t get too close without being in a lot of pain. This is my sweat armor. It’s armor covered in wool. I have been collecting holy water to soak the armor with. The soldiers who are to attack the vamps specifically will wear this. The vamps won’t be able to touch them without being severely injured.”
“I also made additional large crosses that can be stuck in the ground at random spots. I also have basic plans for a catapult with a bucket attached filled with holy water. Over here we have molotov cocktails mixed with holy water. And I’ve worked on a few personal gadgets. As you can see, I’ve used time to our advantage. I couldn’t make these things in the village, or people would ask what they are for. Oh yeah, and here is our vamp-lamp. As you can see, they have metal side shutters with crosses cut out of them. I have mounted them in a way that the heat will rise up, push the flaps, and make the shutters spin. This, with a lens, projects crosses of light all around. It won’t damage the vamps, but it will cause them a bit of pain and deter them, I hope. They also look really cool when spinning. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
“I would also suggest that we use the remaining time we have to train a group of the best soldiers in the ways of anti-vamp warfare and give them the holy water armor and some of the other weapons. But I’m hoping that we will be able to take out the undead before they become a big problem. I know sis is getting really hungry for some vamp steaks. There is one more thing that I have had made. It will be ready at the weapon-smith’s for you within a week. Now, are there any other questions?”
“No, actually that about covers it. Except for one thing, what do you plan on doing during the war? I will be teleporting about, I’d imagine that your sister will be feasting. Cassandra will most likely be casting spells. Do you need anything from us?”
“I’ll need you to teleport me into the center of the vampires without question and then go about your business.”
“I can do that, if that’s really what you want.”
“Good, now when you return to camp, please send Cassandra here. I need to speak with her. It’s urgent.”
“I don’t believe I’ll need to, now.”
“You may go now, Wylde,” Cassandra said, entering the cave.
“Service!” I said with approval.
“Well then,” said Wylde, “I’ll head back, I’m no longer needed. Should I go ahead and pick up my present later?”
“Yes, just tell the weapon-smith you are there to pick up Thomas’ customs. He’ll know.”
“Very well, I’ll see you later on then. Thanks and good luck.”
With that, he exited the cave and headed back towards the town.
“Will you be revealing your true nature,” I asked the woman.
“If it comes to that, yes,” she answered.
“What do you know about this demon. Have you ever seen him before?”
“No. From what I have heard, nobody has ever seen him before. He’s new to this dimension, I believe.”
“Well, he’s making great first impressions.”
“What do you wish to speak to me about?”
“I’ve been thinking. Moonscrye said that she too had the vision of me attacking our own people. She said that they were probably vampires.”
“You heard her? But you were walking away.”
“When I have my powers, all my senses are heightened as well. I don’t know why, but bear with me. I wouldn’t attack our own people without great cause. She implied they were probably vampires. But it takes at the very least, a day for the dead to rise again as vampires. And that’s on a good day. So there is no way they could be vampires. From the numbers, this war won’t last long enough for them to change.”
“So what are you thinking?”
“I need to know if you can do something. If it was really needed, could you change the color of all of our soldiers uniforms?”
“If it was really needed, yes. It would take a lot of power. But I believe I could do it. Why?”
“You’ll see when the time comes. You’ll be able to tell when it is the best time to change the colors, so wait until you think it’s needed. That’s all I really needed to know. Wait, one more thing. Do you have any tattoos?”
“That’s an odd question. No. No, I don’t have any tattoos. Why?”
“No reason really. Forget I said anything.”
Without saying anything further, she left. I went ahead and got the gear ready for transportation. I then went back into town to pick up my packages that I had purchased earlier. I got some strange looks too. I guess it’s not often that people are thrown into wagons by the gesture of hands. Oh well, they’ll get over it, or not. I began to head back to the forest, but then decided I’d tell Wylde about my little color-change plan. That way, he could inform whoever was in charge of spreading the word. He understood what I was planning and thought it to be a great idea. After letting him know, I also told him that I would be near the cave until the war started and to please come get me when it was time. Now it was time for me to do some serious meditating, so I headed back to my cave to think. Maybe something would come to me.
So that was that. I went off to meditate, among other things. I also had to hurry up and finish my clothes before the war started. After all, if I was to die, I wanted to look good doing it. So after I spent two days non-stop making my new clothes, which by the way looked really cool, I went ahead and had my big meal before war. From what I heard, I now had around four days to meditate. And I was going to use every bit of that time preparing mentally. I ate my meal, donned my new clothes, and sat down in a cool dry place and began to meditate. I figured they’d wake me when it was time.
“Report,” she said.
“The war is about to begin,” he responded.
“Are they ready?”
“Surprisingly, I think they are. They could have done a little bit more, but all in all, they’re in good shape. He had some good ideas. They will prove useful.”
“Good. None the less, I want you there. Stay hidden, and do unseen damage, but do damage. Stay away from the main players if you can. More than anything, guard them all until the boy can take his soul.”
“Do you think he will?”
“Yes. He is starting to understand what he is and what he must do. His guide will be there if he needs it.”
“One more thing. What if the other army ends up winning?”
“Then you are to destroy the opposing army. We will worry about the rest later.”
“My queen,” he ended with a bow.
“Report” he demanded.
“My lord, the army is ready. We will be able to join up with the others as soon as you open the portal.”
“Excellent. And your men. Do they know what they are to do?”
“Yes my lord. Keep the boy alive at all costs and bring him to you.”
“Yes. And in case I have underestimated them again, in the event that they win the battle, you are to eliminate their army and bring the boy to me.”
“Sire, what if he returns?”
“If he returns I will destroy him! He is only one man! Take him out if you see him!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“D’Trok, of the Skullsplitters. Cartache of Darkhounds. Mordak of the Longhorns. And I was able to get the fourth that you requested.”
“You know of their history?”
“No, your darkness.”
“Their clan was one of my first creations. They betrayed me and I had them hunted down and killed. A few survived and decided they too wanted to have control. Their magic is even older than that of the Darkhounds. If he decides to change sides at any point, I want to be notified that second. He has enough power to alter the outcome of the war. Watch him closely. But do not interfere or you too will fall to his cloak.”
“It shall be done.”
“I can visit you one more time. After that, I will no longer exist as you know me.”
“Why? What will happen to you?”
“I will be merged and unable to contact you. You know what you need to do with the warlock?”
“Yes, I must take his soul as well. He is yet another piece of the whole is he not?”
“That he is. His soul will not be so easy to take.”
“I will manage. He won’t have much choice in the matter.”
“Don’t get cocky now.”
“I know. But the others have powers that they don’t let on. And Wylde doesn’t even know the extent of his power.”
“I know. I’m not sure what he is, but I too saw his aura when you did. He is a very powerful being.”
“They all are. Cassandra especially. I can’t wait to see everyone’s faces when she decides to unleash her full power. And I have a feeling the girl will prove to be quite deadly as well. This time, for her, it’s personal.”
“Indeed. Well, I wish you the best of luck. This is the last time I will be able to visit you, but I will see you later.”
“I may just understand. Good-bye, my friend. See you later.”
I return to the caravan and check on Alban. He is bruised, but nothing appears broken. Moonscrye took him to his wagon to check him out more thoroughly.
Thomas gave me a lot to think about, he seems to have developed quite an arsenal to deal with the vampires.
The nameless girl is waiting at my wagon, asking about Thomas. I give her a rough outline of the events and tell her that I can’t stay around to fill in the blanks. When asked why, I tell her that I would explain it over lunch.
Agreeing, we dine in the Fox and Hound. She barely touches her food. I leave out my plans with my spells and Thomas’ devices, but explain that I will leave with a scouting party to examine the area north of Talladale. I expect to run into scouting parties of the enemy. She was intrigued at that and asked to tag along.
Thomas intercepts us as we leave the Fox and Hound and tells me of the color-changing plan. That would explain the visions that Moonscrye saw and it makes perfect sense. The enemy may be wearing similar uniforms to ours, to confuse our army. Our military will be prepared for that eventuality. He continues on to other tasks.
The girl and I get our horses and meet with the scouts. I explain to Captain Willows, Thomas’ plan. He thought it was daft, but when I explained the reason, he went pale. Understanding Thomas’ plan now, he will pass the word throughout the town. They will be ready!
The scouts are brought into the office. We have a brief introduction and explanation. Then we head for the woods of Armagh Valley.
The details of our scouting excursion are extremely boring, so I will be brief.
The maps are extremely helpful and the scouts know their job very well. We locate the best place for an attack. The road is the only area where an army can pass. There are several places where an ambush can be set, where the road narrows too much for an easy retreat. I hope to get the enemy into the open area, after they leave one of the narrow passages. If I can pin them back into a narrowing, they will trample themselves in a retreat. If any leaders are in the rear, they will be the most vulnerable. I memorize the details of these places. I also locate areas I can teleport to for distance viewing of the valley.
We find several places where this style of attack could work, each of them are miles from Talladale. The farther out, the more opportunity I will have at re-doubling my attacks.
In the evening, we encounter creatures that the girl and I are able to dispatch. I notice that she takes the opportunity to dine on the soul of the creatures. With each creature she drains, she appears healthier.
I make special note to myself, about her use of the living chain she wears. I can see how she used it to attack Thomas and realize how lucky he was to survive. I will venture to avoid it myself.
The scouts, who appear afraid of very little, have a healthy respect for the girl’s skill in fighting.
We are at it most of the evening. The further north we move, the more creatures we encounter. We dispatch them quickly and effectively, because we can’t permit them to escape to warn the enemy. The girl is able to extract some information from some of them before dispatching them. Thus, we are able to determine where the larger body of the army is located.
We find an isolated spot off the road and camp out, taking shifts sleeping in pairs. We continued travel the following day and early into the following night.
Eventually, we progress so far north, that it is too dangerous to continue. We are running into larger parties of creatures. We ride back quickly for nearly a mile, then I gather us together in a tight formation. We slow the horses to a slow gait and I explain that it is time to take the express to Talladale. With the horses close enough to be touching, I visualize the details of Caravan Road and we teleport through, appearing near the caravan. The scouts are startled but recover quickly. They know what I was doing, because they knew I was a mage and the overall purpose for scouting the Armagh Valley.
We ride to the military headquarters and file a report of our activities, including notation on the map. Colonel Willis Wynne can look at the report and estimate when they may arrive. We stable the horses and retire for the evening. The Colonel will contact us when he feels it necessary.
I return to my wagon to get very little rest, the sun will be up soon.
I get a few hours sleep before I am summoned. An emergency meeting of the officers is beginning. When I get there, I learn that our excursion was fruitful. The timetable is moved up, the enemy will reach us in less than a week.
During my absence, Moonscrye briefed Captain Willows about the probability of vampires in the attack. The town has been active in making items that can be used against them: wooden stakes, holy water, and the devices that Thomas invented. Some protective items will be used to help, but not for the entire population.
My report confirms the worst.
The town is mobilized full time in weapon production for natural and unnatural enemies. Until further notice, everyone is to stay together in at least groups of three with an alarm bell in each building. At night, everyone is rounded up to sleep in the large warehouses, with no exceptions. The guards can be posted around a smaller area to protect more people. During the day, they can return to their normal routines - until an alarm is sounded.
Of course there are those who disregard such laws, they are often known as casualties. I disregard the laws, because no one wants to go where I go. They fear that place as much as they fear the vampires.
At the conclusion of the meeting, I contact my friends to let them know the situation. News spreads quickly and townspeople go to the warehouses to see where they will stay; they want to see if it looks safe there. There may be panic, but we have a plan to help the people. In the warehouses, the people are kept busy by making items to combat the vampires. Everyone is busy with preparations for defense and shelter. The military is being trained to use the items Thomas designed. Not much more can be done.
Later in the week, I stop at the weapon-smith and tell him that I am there to pick up Thomas’ customs. He hands me two large neatly wrapped packages. I thank him and return to my wagon to collect my travel gear. I open the packages and I am surprised at what I found.
The first item is a silver fencing sword made of pure silver, coating another material the smithy mixed in to give it strength and give. The hand guard has four crosses that extend from it like a relief sculpture. The handle is coated with rubber and leather to give it comfort and to prevent slipping. The pummel of the handle has the head of a horse on it, similar to that of a chess piece. Another added feature is that handle grip is hollow with a hole above the guard. Twisting the head of the horse off to reveal the container in which I can put holy water, poison, or whatever I need to. With some work, it can also hold one of the dart pens. It also comes with a good quality leather scabbard. Near the guard are also serrations and a small blade for cutting ropes and such.
The other item is a small hand shield of silver and stronger materials. It has basic decorations on it, then a large cross, and on top of the cross is the profile of a horse’s head. There are only two other features to it. The first is that I can undo the leather from the back to reveal a slide compartment which can hold something small and thin. The other is a small cap that can unscrew from the center of it and be replaced with a long silver spike. The spike can be secured to the back of the shield if desired. The shield can be attached to my belt to wear over the hip.
I am very pleased with the gifts and I keep them with me, wearing both blades and the shield.
I spend my time with Cassandra: learning and practicing spells, discussing our plans, and absorbing ley-line energies. When the time comes, I will go to the cave to find Thomas and we will begin the counter-attack.
Some evenings I spend time at the Fox and Hound Tavern, to drink and socialize with the villagers. It is a time spent to unwind from the day’s events and listen to songs and tales of life in Talladale. I listen to the music and the tales, feeling as though I am a part of this place. A ballad comes to mind unbidden. I don’t know how I remember this, but one of the tunes strikes a familiar chord. Michael, the chef of the tavern, calls out my name to lead the next tune or tale. I humbly acquiesce.
I begin. “Fellow villagers, I want to share with you a tale. The musicians can accompany me as they desire. It is a sad ballad of changing times. In my home, the horse is no longer needed. Mechanical engines have replaced horses. These engines are used to pull carts and to plow fields. This is a tale of that Last Trip Home.” Written by the Battlefield Band
“I’ve worked on farms and from the start, the muckle horses won my heart.
With their big broad backs, they proudly stand, and uncrowned kings of all the land.
And yet for all their power and strength, they’re as gentle as a summer’s wind.
So steady boys, walk on, our work is nearly done.
No more we’ll till or plough the fields, the horse’s day is gone.
And this will be our last trip home, so steady boys walk on.
You’ll hear men sing their songs of praise, of Arab stallions in a race.
Or hunters that fly with the hounds, to chase the fox and run him down.
But none of them compare I vow, to a working pair that pulls the plough.
All the years I’ve plied my trade, and all the fields we’ve ploughed and laid.
I never thought I’d see the time when a Clydesdale’s work would ever end.
But progress runs its driven course, now tractors have replaced my horse.
As we head back, our friends have lined the road to see one last time.
Not one of them will want to miss, the chance to see us pass like this.
They’ll say they saw in years to come, the muckle horses’ last trip home.
We repeated the song. This and other tales followed. Soon, the villagers felt strengthened to maintain their way of life and were ready for the battle ahead. They would brace themselves for whatever may come.