Friar Momeht could feel the dampness of the stone floor leaching through the leather of his sandals. Beneath the sensation a small vibration flowed through the soles of his feet and settled at his knees making the joints ache. King Rygeer neglected to offer him a seat, a sign that his message was not well received, and his audience was not a welcome one. Despite this, the holy man repeated the truth he’d brought with him from the townsfolk in hopes that by some miracle the King would recant the needles festivities.
Miracles are the realm of the Old Gods his thoughts chided. The Friar felt a blush needle across his face at the blasphemy in his sarcastic thought.
“Your grace if you’ll permit me to speak on behalf of the people and show you reason you’ll see that a tournament such as the one you’ve proposed is demoralizing to some and downright, well, asinine to others.”
“Who are these others friar? By the Old God’s I’d as soon name and parade them about the town so those who feel demoralized can see where that route leads.” Rygeer bellowed. “Even your face flushes at the thought of these treasonous words bespoken against your King.”
“My powers that be reign much higher than you, all respect afforded of course Highness.” out of the corner of his eye Momeht saw a few of the guardsmen lining the elaborate tapestry on the floor gawking at the holy man who dared speak with such candour.”
“I warn you Friar. My respect for your station granted you this audience, my disdain for your language could end it. '' Rygeer’s eyes explored the parapet skyline out the nearby window.
The Friar took the opportunity to push forward with his initial argument. “Forgiveness your Highness but my words are brought from the townsfolk’s mouths, and cannot be sweetened with platitudes. They see this tournament as needless pomp that encourages cutthroats and bandits from near and away to terrorize the taverns and proposition the women. Many feel the resources offered as the prize could be better allocated to infrastructure.” The Friar raised his voice to be heard over the King’s audible yawn while another cart of supplies rumbled through the cavernous hallways sending fresh waves of ache up the Friar’s legs.
“I can assure you Friar, there are not as many as you’d have me believe. And I’m willing to bet those who’s outrage is the loudest are the enfeebled that are unable to hoist a bow, let alone nock an arrow. I have heard word of a different sort brought from my master at arms. He speaks of legions of the able bodied willing to partake in the games for the glory of the prize cache offered. Now, I’ve patronized you solely for your history as an innkeeper’s apprentice, and to be candid Momeht you impressed me more then. You’ve been given an audience as requested. You’ve spoken for your people, as is your holy duty. Now by Hapheus’s name leave me to do MY duty as I’m sure the majority of the villagers expect.”
Momeht heard the clink of chain-mail as the guardsmen did an about-face blocking his view of the king. Their faces were as cold as the stone walls surrounding them. His worn leather sandals whispered across the floor as he exited. The flush creeping across his face this time had nothing to do with the King’s blasphemous naming of an Old God.
In the charred remnants of a forgotten corner of the forest, the Wizard Wormwood laboured from the depths of his cavernous hideaway. On his back he carried a burden of various roots and minerals he was able to cull from the subterranean depths beneath his cave. He could hear the high pitch whistle wheeze of his breath bouncing off the rock walls. The toll of reading from the book of knowledge was advanced aging and though he was a young man of 25 in spirit his body betrayed him as if he were five times that age. He felt his knee buckle and he went down, spilling the contents of his rucksack onto the earth.
“Did you die?” he heard the echoing question coming from his candle-lit work area.
“How fortuitous that would be for you, hm?” Wormwood called out as he shambled to his feet.
His work table was the trunk of a great cedar with the root system still attached and reaching for the roof of the cave. He set the pack onto the marred surface and shot a steel-eyed glare at the iguana languishing among the roots.
“Believe me boy when I expire I will not go with a snap but with a great explosion that shakes even the foundation of Greytusk Castle. The seas will howl and the mountains will shudder at my passing. You’ll know then that I’ve left this earthen plain to join the ranks of Hapheus and Taldo”
“To rule in the way of the Old God’s yes yes you’ve brandished that lore at me a few times already.” the Iguana’s eyes rolled towards the cave roof.
“Watch your tongue boy!'' Wormwood slammed his hand on the table, from behind him his Raven cawwed and flew to a better vantage among the roots, eyeing up the iguana. The Hope for a snack gleaned through its black pupils. “Forget not it was you who came in here on your own volition, you who sought shelter from the storm of strangers, and you who fell victim to transmutation not from my hand, but of that same volition that brought you here.” Wormwood continued.
The iguana lashed its tail in the raven’s direction routing it a few hops but not breaking its attention.
“You told me you’d change me back.” The lizard’s voice was like a whimpering flame in the dank cave.
“I told you I’d turn you back if you gave me good enough reason to. My word has meaning Bishop, it is your barbed tongue and wit that keeps you on Vurah’s menu.” At the mention of it’s name the raven gave a sneering caw in Bishop’s direction.
“Now silence. You are audience to a master in transmutation and I will demonstrate my prowess as such.” Wormwood reached into the shadows beneath his work table and came back with a leather-bound book clutched in his claw-like hand. His yellow nails making small crescent indents in the soft leather. A small lock restricted the opening of the book and he slipped a key bound by a leather strap from around his neck.
Bishop watched as he began running a finger across the dusty lines of dialect written in charcoal. Wormwood's lips moved with the words and his hands moved as if possessed, grabbing stone bowls and combining ingredients from the pack he had almost broken himself for.
Bishop’s eyes tried to catch exact measurements and name ingredients, but the surly old Wizard was too fast for him. He could only identify the addition of lionweed before it was crushed under the other ingredients and Wormwood set a pestle to work in the bowl, crushing the mixture into a fine powder.
He transferred the powder to a ceramic canister and searched the pockets of his robe until he came back with a nub of charcoal. After scribbling ineligible runes around the ceramic, the whole thing began to heat.
Bishop felt a mounting horror at that heat but underneath was the unmistakable lust for the knowledge that spawned it. A lust that had led him foolhardy to be trapped in the body of this damnable lizard and play slave to this damnable madman.
The ceramic pottery began to smoke and when the grey turned a milky white Wormwood tipped it above a bowl carved from white quartz as golden orange liquid poured from the ceramic into it. The sleeves of his purple cloak fell to his elbows to reveal skeletal arms that tremoured as he lifted the bowl to chapped and split lips. The bowl slipped from his hands as Bishop watched the heaviness of lethargy overtake Wormwood’s eyelids.
The wizard felt as if he were falling backward through the sands of time. Everything ahead of him blurred, he could smell the hot wax of the candles that burned in the cave alcoves and the stench of the elixir he’d indulged in. His vision began to tunnel until only blackness remained.
Bishop watched as the man beneath the cloak dwindled to nothing, the cloak pooled on the ground. Beneath it’s folds Bishop watched a small squirming mass seek the daylight. The silence was chilling. The mass stopped writhing and let out a great piercing wail. The mass began to grow.
The wailing transformed at the same rate the mass grew, growing high pitched and then hitting a low tenor as limbs reappeared from the depths of the cloak. Skin that had once been parchment pale was now vibrant pink. Hair that had ringed his scalp in a white halo was now a flowing mass of inky blackness. The wailing turned to screams that shook the cave. Vurah took off from her perch and joined the ranks of bats that spewed from the cave mouth in the chaos.
From beneath the cloak Wormwood crawled towards the sound of a cave drip slapping a puddle. Hands grasped at the head hole and fingers with newly formed feeling pulled the hood aside so what was inside could gaze into the reflective surface. The screaming had no sooner silenced than a new sound filled the hollows. At the sound of it Bishop scurried into the shadows beneath the work table, knowing his nightmares would be haunted by the great slash of laughter that poured from the cave in gasping cackles.
The figure’s eyes seemed to slither in their sockets towards a bundle against a far wall. The seer knew. Inside of it Wormwood’s memories flowed like a river that’s been plague poisoned. It remembered stealing the bundle from a hunter’s camp deep in the forest and set against the wall in preparation for this change. The cloaked figure rose to its feet and began walking towards the bundle of clothes set on top of a bow, its quiver stocked with arrows like the maw of a great fanged beast. It began to dress in the dying echoes of its own madness.