| The chisel danced across the smooth, round, river rock. The blue robed mage sat hunched over the workbench, eyes straining against the waning flicker of the short candle. Dropping the chisel, he gave the rock a short puff. Having passed inspection, he dropped the rock into the pile of rune etched stones. The door opened and a green clad figure strode in as the mage consulted his journal|
"What devilry are you on about?" he scoffed
"The kind a mere alchemist would not understand" the mage replied
Snorting the alchemist threw open the curtains, the sun peaking over the horizon.
"How many candles did you waste?" the alchemist asked
The mage did not answer; enraptured by his task. The morning light crept into the workshop and the alchemist snuffed the candle.
"Do not interrupt" the mage snapped
"Pray tell this foolishness" the alchemist said "the Lord will be along shortly"
"Oh. He he he" the mage chuckled "Then wait until I explain it to a more deserving mind!"
"He will not entertain your plot" the alchemist warned
"If I need council on the properties of bird shit and toadstools; I will send for you" the mage spat
The alchemist went to respond but then the door opened. The fancy robes and jewelry clung to the imposing frame. Both men bowed.
"What is this?" the Lord said to the mage
"Quite the endeavor my Lord!" the mage began "The Pyronymph, sigil of your house and native to The Gorge, none have gotten close for proper study. But I, yes, I, your brilliant advisor, have devised a way to enthrall one!"
The Lords face twisted, barring teeth
"What manner of insanity must grip me to allow this?" The Lord boomed
"My Lord, you are both sane and wise" the mage bowed "But understanding requires study-"
"Silence fool" the Lord snapped "These notions are why your ilk are not to be trusted!"
"Yes, my Lord, absolutely" the mage agreed "My ilk are reckless. Such is the way of curiosity"
The Lord's glare tore into the mage
"Then cast such notions from your mind" the Lord boomed "Pyronymphs are feral, vicious beasts. Study and learning do not justify the risk!"
"Permit me, my Lord, a dissent" the mage replied "Imagine having a dozen of these creatures at your beck and call. Picture your foes burning alive without you having to breech their walls or their lines collapsing under a raging inferno!"
The Lord went to reply but stopped. His mouth twitched and his steel gaze slowly abated.
"So be it, mage" the Lord said "I will entertain this madness while it can provide a boon. But know this: if anything goes wrong you will be cast out!"
"Very wise and gracious as always, my Lord" the mage said bowing again
The Lord looked the mage over and departed. A wide grin grew across the mage, a chuckle rose from his throat.
"And that, my less esteemed colleague, is the difference between you and I" the mage laughed
The alchemist reached into his robes and handed an orange-colored vial to the mage.
"What poison is this?" the mage asked
"Bird shit and toadstools" the alchemist grinned "salve for burns"
The rolling green of lush pines and grass yielded to grey crags and black boulders. The angry orange-red river marched from the haze coated hills in the distance, its surface specked with ebony spots. The mage strode aside the sweltering river off molten earth. He stopped, leered ahead, and dashed behind a rock. Peering around, a smile crept across his face. Pyronymphs danced and shot about, their slender figures wreathed in flame. He observed their movements. While they appeared to frolic, he noted that they were gathering rocks from the edge of the river banks. He nodded, satisfied that he could lure them to the trap. Stepping from behind the rock, he crept forward. One of the Pyronymph's saw him and he froze. It gazed at him for several moments then danced away. Reaching into his satchel, he arrayed the rune carved stones in a circle with a transparent, engraved crystal at the center. Pausing, he crept to the side of the fire river and picked up a small rock and placed it next to the crystal. Returning to his hiding spot, he waited. A lone Pyronymph went to collect the displaced rock. A sharp hissing, like a wet log snapping on hot coals, and the mage felt resistance within the trap. Focusing, he began an incantation as he felt the binding runes begin to break. A sharp whoosh, silence and the mage felt the spell cease. Peaking around the boulder, a frown fell upon his face. His quarry had fled, leaving a blackened surface. Swearing, he started grabbing the stones. Obtaining the final stone, he stood up to see several Pyronymphs fixated upon him from the opposite bank. Taking careful steps back, he broke into a run once he was confident they did not wish to pursue.
The cackling fire fought against the chill of the night, throwing shadows around camp. With the rune stones placed upon the ground, the mage pondered its failings. Several of the blackened rocks had their runes missing, others had cracks or breaks. The crystal remained unmarred but felt warm. Consulting his journal, he paced around the circle, throwing glances at the ring. He stopped, his eyes wide and mouth open. Discarding the rocks missing their runes, he grabbed fresh rocks and a chisel from his bag and went to task. The moon was at full height when he restored the circle.
Morning broke and he returned to the boulder to lay his trap. He stopped when he failed to sight his quarry. He inched forward, eyes darting over every ledge, crevasse, and pillar. Reaching down, to pick up a lava rock, he froze as the surface of the smoldering river shifted. A pyronymph leapt from the lava, its jagged claws white hot. The mage sprung back and shouted. A rush of frigid air pushed the beast back into the lava and he ducked behind the boulder. Catching his breath, he peaked around the boulder and saw several dancing flames concealed in the haze. Clever little minx the mage thought as he reset the circle and returned to the boulder. The sun passed midday and he began to fear they were onto his plans. He pondered moving further into the Gorge when he heard the same hissing as before. He steadied himself, ready to recite the spell. But he did not feel any resistance like before. Stepping from behind the boulder, his eyes went wide. In the center of the circle, a flame vortex sought to escape its borders. Spinning faster, and faster, until the flames shot downward. The crystal glowed with fire and brimstone. Taking cautious steps, fear of a second failure fled from the mages mind. He hooted and skipped as he snatched up the crystal.
"You are insane" the Alchemist said
"It is pronounced 'genius'" the mage replied
The fiery crystal sat at the center of a rune coated cage, their bars radiating with winter's bite. The mage muttered under his breath and the crystal erupted into flame. The pyronymph sprung from the crystal and recoiled upon nearing the cage boundaries. It spat, hissed and yelped.
"No, insane" the Alchemist stated, withdrawing to the wall
The mage, transfixed upon his prize, gave it a long study. The form appeared slender, feminine. Bright red flames cascading from its head, eyes as black as hell pits. Its body appeared either orange, white or some blend of the two. Claws, grey and jagged, clicked upon each other.
"A fine specimen" the mage muttered
The Lord strode into the room and paused
"I was wrong to doubt you" the Lord said as he paced around the cage
"You are never wrong, My Lord" the mage bowed
The Lord eyed the beast before turning to the mage
"How long until your pet obeys?" the Lord asked
"Soon, my Lord" the mage replied "I must test the brand and craft the housing staff"
The mage yelled and a rush of flame filled the cage, reached the bars, and then snapped back into the crystal. The mage retrieved the crystal and handed it to the lord. The lord's hand slid across the warm, red, and black surface.
"Do not fail, mage" the Lord grumbled, handing the crystal back and departing the room.
The mage's nose hovered over the dusty tome while a quill danced across the parchment. Drawing back in the chair, his eyes darted from book to scroll, and he nodded. Grabbing a cloudy white crystal, he etched the elaborate emblem unto its surface. He attached it to a long rod and summoned the Pyronymph. It did not lash out at the cage, but its eyes burned into him with a fierce intensity. Adjusting his grip on the rod, he thrust it between the cage bars onto his captive's form. The beast hissed, recoiled, and then yelped as it stuck the bars to its rear. The mage withdrew the rod, the emblem a black brand upon his prisoner. It continued to hiss but then its gaze softened and fell silent. Focusing, the mage brought a hand to his heart and the pyronymph mirrored the motion. He motioned his arm straight out and again, the beast copied. Several motions and movements later the mage relaxed his mind and returned the creature to the crystal. He retrieved the crystal from the cage and darted around the workshop with light-footed spring in his step.
The crimson and ebony surface of the crystal sat housed in a steel plated oak staff. Runes, emblems, and inscriptions adorned the immediate vicinity of the crystal with the rest polished to the smooth touch of a polished gem. Standing in the workshop in his finest robes, the mage giggled as he threw admiring glances over his handywork. The alchemist, face blank, shook his head.
"I am not certain of this" he said
"I am fortunate to not be you" the mage replied
The Lord entered the room, flanked by two armor clad guards carrying buckets of water.
"What progress have you made?" the Lord spoke to the mage
"Remarkable advancement, my Lord" the mage bowed "Observe"
The mage slammed the end of the staff unto the ground and the pyronymph materialized in a puff of flame. The guards, alchemist and lord took a couple steps back
"Fear not. The creature obeys my every command" the mage stated "Creature, that is your lord. Where are your manners?"
The pyronymph turned and bowed to the Lord. A look of tepid delight crept across the Lord's face. The mage began his demonstration. Focusing, he moved the pyronymph around the room, picking up a tool, vial, container, whatever could be found, and moving them around the room. Next, he directed it to the cold hearth. Reaching towards the grey coals with its white, fire coated claws, the fire sprung to life. The Lord gave a couple claps, the guards remained torn between further retreat and protecting their charge. The mage grinned and guided his thrall towards one of the guards.
"Do not move" the mage whispered "you are in no danger"
The guard, jaw taught and eyes wide, planted his feet. The pyronymph drew close to the guard. Its hands hovered around the guard's head and shoulders. It leaned forward, staring into the guard's eyes, sweat slid down the man's brow. The Lord started a round of applause.
"Well done" the Lord said "Very well done, indeed"
The mage and the thrall took a bow simultaneously. The guard took a step back to avoid the heat. The bucket sitting behind him was knocked to the side, its contents spilled unto the floor. A thin layer of water crept towards the feet of the nymph.
"What do you need to have a dozen of these beasts captured and enslaved?" The Lord asked the mage
The mage began to answer when he felt a sharp resistance from his charge and a tingling in his feet. The staff began to grow warm, the pyronymph started to hiss. Grasping the staff with both hands, the mage began to chant. The Lord's face turned sour, the guards drew their blades and stepped forward. Pain seared the mage's hands, his vision began to darken, and he felt his mind beginning to slip. A loud snap, the crystal shattered in two. The mage fell to the ground as a rush of heat flew away from him. There was a scream, shouting and a rumbling crash. The mage panted as he looked up. His quarry had fled, the workshop window smashed and blackened. The Alchemist, an ashen grey gash splashed with crimson, lay under the window, eyes frozen in terror. Mouth agape, a heavy knot formed in the mages stomach as armored hands hauled him to his feet. His mind spun; ears failing to comprehend the Lord's rage. As he was dragged into the hall, he finally found his voice and started to beg. The Lord's voice carried down the corridor, drowning out his pleas. The mage began to weep just as the door opened and he was thrown into the muck.