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A lone tower rose up out of a dry and dusty plain. The stone used to make it was shiny and a pale green, like lichen from the mountains. It rose up three hundred feet into the air and was crowned at the top by a magnificent pinnacle of black marble slabs. Clinging to the wall just below the spire was the solitary opening. It was a wide and tall window with a balcony attached just beneath it. If one were a bird, then one could have a look inside and see an ebon altar, carved far back in the mists of time. It gleamed and pulsed with its own life-force. On the floor around surrounding the altar glyphs had been hand carved into the marble floor and filled with white enamel. Bookcases stretched floor to ceiling against one wall, while a wheeled ladder stood at the ready next to them. It was an ancient place, one of power and mystery.
A gentle breeze blew in through the window and in a swirl of velvet curtains a figure materialized. For supposition’s sake we will say that it is male, elderly and bordering on ‘portly.’ This man is covered heat to foot in black velvet which shines in the light of the torches hanging in their sconces. The first place he goes is to a small table with a silver platter sitting on it. There is a scroll, tied with black ribbon, waiting for him. Of course there is, otherwise he would not have been summoned by the tower. Deftly he plucks the scroll up and flicks off the ribbon. Deliberately the mage reads down over the instructions. He pauses and wonders if there is enough in the ingredient stores. That is not his concern he tells himself. Ingredients are for the apprentice to worry over. He moves with great purpose, gathering tomes from the shelves, muttering to himself and referencing a long scroll that trails after him by its own volition. For now he pays little attention to the altar, it is not time just yet.
Another breeze blows through the window, leaving behind in its wake another figure clothed in black. Again, let us presume it is male, younger than the first and quite a bit skinnier. He stumbles out of the embrace of the velvet hangings and then hurries to a cupboard and starts rummaging in it, pulling out various kettles, beakers, and stands and stirring implements. On a workbench he sets up the apparatus and goes to a small pantry to select ingredients. The older man drifts in behind the other to observe and to nitpick at each choice made. Soon, on the table cauldrons bubble and smoke and the two men work carefully, combining reagents from one pot into another, until they have a slightly pink and cloudy solution. With great concern they pour the solution into a mold and gingerly set it on the balcony to cool. During the time it took for the heat to dissipate from the mold the pair arranged the books on podiums next to the altar, polished the black stone with soft cloths and ate a light but satisfying meal.
Evening descended over the tower, and as the correct hour approached the smaller man fetched the always surprisingly light mold in off of the balcony and cracked it open with a hammer and chisel. Inside was a rectangular slab about three feet long and almost as tall. The older magician looked over the shoulder of his junior and nodded approvingly.
“All is well with this cast. The hue is proper throughout. Place it on the altar of Ger’ralsh and prepare your mind for what is to come.”
“Yes dread master,” replied the younger. He carefully took the block and walked it over to the altar, and with great caution placed it on top.
The cowled figure approached the ebony altar of Ger’ralsh and genuflected. He was joined by the slighter figure.
“Everything is in preparedness. Let us begin the creation of the next realm!” the elder intoned.
“Oooo, can I do the coastlines? With lovely little crinkly bits?” asked the smaller figure with a voice full of excitement. The mood in the room snapped in half like a stick breaking over a knee.
“No,” snapped the elder of the two. “We aren’t doing a coastline this time.”
“But I’ll do a good job,” wheedled the younger.
“What is it with you and coastlines? Every single time we do this, I have to hear about the bloody coastlines. Listen up me bucko, one more out of you and I will downsize your arse out of here!”
“But…” said the thinner man somewhat morosely.
“No. You will do the rolling foothills and a couple of nice lakes. And stay out of the MOB palette, leave that to me. Now, concentrate!” The two mages joined hands and started chanting in low tones. A smoldering radiance started to seep out of the altar’s sides, casting a greenish light around the chamber. Above the stone edifice, an amorphous cloud appeared. In the middle a ragged outline of a map drew itself. First the land mass filled in with colors, beige and green and blue. Next, features started erupting across the landscape: Mountains, rivers, lakes, towns and cities, farms and every so often a spooky cave. Swamps surged across low lying flatlands and a vast forest shot up from the ground. A spider web of roads drifted down over the map, erasing whatever they touched. On the western side of the landmass the line of the coast the edge suddenly became jagged and little cliffs started to crop up.
“Knock that off, unless you want to lose your job,” snarled the lead magician.
“Yes sir,” responded the other dismally.
With a mighty gesture the older man traced a line of stardust across the air in front of him and the glittering specks fell delicately onto the pink block. Like a whirlpool the image of the map swirled and twisted, falling out of suspension and landing across the slab on top of the altar. The surface rippled and gradually the map changed from three dimensional pictures in the air, to a physical model on top of the slab.
“Now for the fun bits,” said the older mage.
He flipped several pages in the book in front of him and began a new and more complex set of incantations. Little clouds formed over the model landmass and started raining tiny figures. Goblins and Orks in miniature rained down over the mountains and high woods, rough cut men dropped alongside the highway and into perfectly sculpted castles. The cloud drifted over to a different part of the altar and lighting flashed out of the cloud and struck by a large cave, scorching the ground and leaving behind a perfect gold and green serpentine dragon, which stalked purposefully into the cavern.
Shortly thereafter a wisp of smoke curled out of the entrance. In the villages and cities, miniscule people went about their daily business. A minute passed and then another, finally the clouds scattered about the room and disappeared one at a time. The heavyset magician pushed up his sleeves revealing skinny little arms. He waved his fingers over the scene and with a mighty flick of his wrists showered the block and altar with jets of vermillion energy. If his forehead had been visible, sweat could have been seen breaking out on it. Finally with a last gasp he pulled his hands back like they had just touched a hot stove.
Panting he turned to his assistant and gasped: “It is done. The Fantasy Realm is prepared for the next tour. Be a good lad and pack away the supplies, I am going home to get some rest. When you finish, you go home as well. No foolin’ around with anything while I am gone. Not one finger.” He turned away and walked back to the window just as a breeze came in through the window. Briefly he was swathed by the curtains, then he was gone. The younger man set about cleaning up the room, putting away supplies and tidying up after their efforts. When the last cauldron had been put away on its shelf he surveyed the room one last time. The three dimensional map caught his eye, and inexorably he found himself drawn to it. The coasts looked all wrong he thought. They should all be like that one section on the west side. Nervously he looked around, expecting his master to spring out at him, but there was no one else around.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” he asked himself while reaching for map with trembling hands that were sprinkling magic dust all over the ground. The living map was warm to the touch and it pulsed with an inner life of its own.
Perhaps now we shall hang a moniker around this young man’s neck, and it shall be: Melvan.
Looking at the miniature forests and castles, Melvan smiled a daffy little smile, the kind that could get a person locked up. Fortunately for him, there was no one around to do so. Melvan raced back to the grand bookcase and scurried up the ladder to the topmost shelf. There, he pulled out a book titled: “MOBS and You, a Creator’s Guide.” He slid back down the ladder without touching a rung with his feet and bounded back over to the altar, tripping once over his robe’s hem. He placed the book cautiously onto his podium and opened it. Nothing happened, no wrath fell from the sky, he felt his ears, they remained human-like, and certainly not a mouse’s. Gleefully he scanned down the page of spidery black script until he found the section on ‘Super MOBS: How to use them effectively.’ He skimmed over the first few paragraphs which inevitably were some meaningless muck about safety and honed in on the subsection for conjuration, specifically the different types. Melvan cracked his knuckles and pushed up his sleeves and cackling in a menacing fashion. That is until his throat became too dry and his cackle trailed off into a coughing fit.
Melvan read the incantation twice, making sure that he knew it word for word before he began the chant. A puny cloud formed over the map. Thin and sparse it barely managed a drip of water. Melvan squinted at it from several angles and referred back to the book. Realization dawned on his thin face, and pushing back his limp hair, he drew in a great breath of air and expelled it, at the same time sprinkling stardust over everything. But like a canister of flour knocked over by a cat, the dust went everywhere, not just the miniscule cloud. To put a final cork in the moment, all of the glitter agitated Melvan’s nose, and he let fly a might sneeze. Almost instantly a mass of dark and forbidding clouds gathered on one side of the map. Across the countryside they swept, blown in by an unseen wind, raining down misshapen creatures of all kinds: Multi-legged spider-goblins, twisted corpses long corrupt from lying in the earth, and ravening direwolves with glowing red eyes and fangs all flecked with foam. An enormous peal of lightning and slap of thunder heralded the arrival of one last creature. It was twice the size of a normal man on the map and clad in deepest black armor made from the boiled skins of previous victims. Three burning yellow eyes glared hatefully out of a twisted metal helm at the pristine landscape. From his position at the podium, Melvan heard distinctly: “Burn it all, burn it all for evil!”
Across the plains swept the direwolves and spider-goblins, fanning out in an ever increasing front. Behind them shambled the undead, blackening the ground as they walked. Lightning lanced around the three-eyed humanoid, and each spot where the white-hot light struck sprouted slimy gray wurms, three of them to pull a dreadful chariot. Melvan watched in horror as a tiny village of mushroom capped houses went up in flames and a chorus of tiny shrieks rose up into the air. The chariot leapt into action and flew up and then over the marching forces of evil beings, heading directly towards the largest castle on the map. The castle was a white marble affair with golden banners, a moat, and sturdy looking gates. Knights poured out of the bailey and bravely fired arrows and threw spears at the flying monstrosity. Their weapons did little to thwart the evil wurms and their master. He descended over the castle and flung black spheres of fire in all directions. Wherever they hit, darkness spread in an expanding circle. Wrestling the lines to his terrible beasts, the evil one landed heavily on the castle’s roof, knocking tiles loose. He sprang from the chariot and plunged down through the ceiling into the castle. More shrieks and screams followed.
Melvan recoiled in fright, what had he just done? In the room, a wind picked up and snatched stray papers, and whirled about. The flames in the torches flickered and went low; Melvan quickly flipped the book shut and snatched it off of his podium. With his robes flapping all around him, he ran back to the bookshelf and quite randomly shoved the book in between several others, certainly not where he had found it. Melvan sprinted across the room towards the window and curtains, planning to flee the scene. Just as he arrived at the draperies, and as he was casting the incantation to leave, he rebounded off the sizeable gut of his elder, who we shall now call: Gerald. Gerald looked down at Melvan, who was splayed out over the floor. Gerald shook his head sadly.
“Lad, there’s no use staying late, the company just will not pay overtime.” Melvan stammered at the other mage.
“Wha-a-t-t-er you doin’ here?” he asked.
Gerald shrugged nonchalantly, “I forgot to cast the inhibitor over the map, in order to lock everything in place. Otherwise someone could add or remove objects from it without our knowing…” Gerald trailed off as his gaze fell on the altar and the raging storm above the map.
“What is going on here?” he demanded, hauling Melvan up by the front of his robe. “What is the meaning of this?”
Melvan quailed in Gerald’s grip, “Please sir, I only wanted to try adding a few pixies, a dancing sprite or two perhaps?”
“Then why is there a level six full scale invasion of the Evil Empire going on right now?” screamed Gerald.
Melvan shrugged weakly, “Everything has its place?”
“That may be, but not Everything has a place in Princess Kipporah’s ‘Super Sweet Sixteen Fantasy Realm’, complete with dragon and Prince Bloody-Charming ‘Rescue the Princess and Get the Treasure Adventure!’” roared Gerald.
“Erh, it appears that the dragon was hacked to bits by rioting trolls, and I think I spotted Prince Charming running for a cupboard a little earlier,” Melvan said between gagging sobs.
“Is that supposed to be good news?” asked Gerald quietly. “Because from where I’m standing I see a product that we cannot ship and a deadline that is about to pass. I swear you bloody apprentices are all alike,” Gerald said in disgust, flinging Melvan away. “Pack your things, leave anything that belongs to the company, including your immortal soul and report to HR on your way out. They’ll have a few ‘questions’ for you to answer.” Gerald slapped his hands together and Melvan disappeared in a puff of green smoke. Next Gerald faced the map and took in the chaos that was starting to quiet down.
“Right, into the discount bin for you,” he said, and was just about to wave his hands but stopped himself. “Yes, the locking spell, mustn’t forget that.” Gerald clicked his fingers and a crystalline dome sprung up around the map, and then everything vanished off the altar.
“Now, what to do for the princess…” wondered Gerald casting an experienced eye around the room. In a corner he spied a two by two block of pink material and seized it and slung it onto the altar. Arranged neatly across the face of the block was a regal city.
“You know, add a bunch of courtesans, some knights and a really deep dungeon with a ‘hidden secret’ and we could have all the fixings for a court intrigue murder-mystery dinner party for Princess Kipporah. Yes, that just might work.” Gerald agreed with himself. Pushing up the sleeves on his robes he waved over several books and a cauldron and started to prepare the Princess’s new gift Realm.
“Bloody apprentices, no use at all,” Gerald muttered under breath while peering at the book in front of him.
|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
Timothy O. Goyette