Prologue to the Story To Be Named Later, IV
The shouts and clanging mugs around him could not penetrate the grinding mind of Brusen. The men around him, neighbors and workmates, were pleased by their actions and celebrating as if they’d won a victory. Ale flowed as deeds were recounted, particularly choice blows re-enacted, and the students’ ignominious retreat rehashed. Spirits high all around him, the stonelayer kept his fists at his side as his brow furrowed. In his mind he could feel the blow crunching into the green-eyed wizardling, his rage and grief pouring onto the head of the one who had cursed him. Brusen couldn’t understand how the man had gotten up and managed to avoid him thereafter, when the blow should have scrambled his brain and left him unconscious or dead. In the confusion after the table was flipped, his quarry had already fled by the time he pushed past the men in his way. After that, calls for drinks and cheers had stopped the momentum that had carried the group to the tavern in the first place.
Brusen knew he didn’t have the words to get the group moving again, to seek out the one who had brought such tragedy into his life. The few words he’d spoken earlier were enough to get men who were tired, hot, and angry to leave their work aside in pursuit of mayhem. Now, in the comparative cool of the tavern, with drinks in hand, their bloodlust had cooled. No simple words of his would get them out into the sun again. Brusen knew this, but his mind ground on, reliving the blow, seeing his wife’s dead yet breathing face, the cold blue lips of his son.
Eventually, the silence in the bar pricked Brusen’s consciousness. The men around him had turned and were facing the door. Slowly he turned around. Framed in the door, just visible in the dim light, his green-eyed nemesis waited. For the first and only time that day, Brusen smiled.
Derud wasn’t aware of the low, near-inaudible moaning he was emitting as he stood quavering behind his fellows. His words of caution, of reason, hadn’t stopped Loccan from going to the Petal, nor had they cooled the desire of Aristheus and the other students there. Derud had believed that the older students would have quelled Loccan’s ire where he had not, but he quickly realized his mistake. The arrogance of Loccan was as nothing compared to that of the men who neared acceptance into the ranks of the magi of the Dreaming Tower. Upon hearing of the assault on their younger brethren, Aristheus and his cronies had agreed to upbraid the “muckdwellers and piss-drinkers” who’d dare to accost their betters.
Near panic, Derud spoke imploringly of the lessons from the Dreaming Tower, that their Art was to serve the betterment of everyone, to help those in need. As his brethren placed magicks upon themselves to become stronger and faster, or to thicken skin and bone, he talked of their strict laws against using magic in any way unless it was necessary to defend themselves, and even then only spells such as the one Derud had placed on Loccan were permissible. Merrus himself spoke to all of the students and their masters, every year, reminding them of their duty and responsibility. Magic was strictly prohibited from being used as a weapon against non-adepts; Merrus would remind them that this prohibition was the only thing keeping the fear of the mundanes in check.
His words were so much wind. The others, now prepared, eager, and already boasting, pushed past him and left him behind with the unconscious forms of Olybrian and Ennod. Agonized, he followed them, staring at the tower peak that was visible over the roofs of the city. He was torn between reporting the situation to the Tower, who would put a stop to it, and following his fellows to help contain the damage. In the end, he’d followed them to the scene of their assault, telling himself that Merrus would need to know exactly what occurred without the bias of his fellow students. He wouldn’t acknowledge that, deep down, what he feared most was the retribution Loccan and the others would heap upon him if he didn’t go along, and that more than anything set his path.
Now he stood, quaking, while his fellow students pushed into the tavern. He could already hear the shouts and scuffling. Reluctantly he followed behind, eyes taking a few moments to adjust from harsh sun to dim interior. The students were still outnumbered, but only just. The group of ten met the dozen cityfolk with fist and boot. The result was whirling confusion in front of Derud. He couldn’t keep track of the ebb and flow of the fight around him, but it was clear that the enchantments his fellows had placed upon themselves made each of them more than a match for their opponents.
As with any storm, there was a center, a place of relative calm. Derud could see clearly ahead of him the battle of Loccan and the bear-man, the one they called Brew. The two stood, unyielding, raining blows on each other as they shrugged off those they received. Derud was amazed that Loccan’s opponent still stood; he knew the potency of the magic Loccan used, and each strike of the noble’s fist would have shattered wood. The big man didn’t seem to care, so dogged was his desire to strike. A strike to the man’s ribs knocked the breath from him, and Derud clearly heard the snapping of bone. To Derud’s amazement, the man just grunted and swung a massive fist into the center of Loccan’s face.
For the first time, he staggered back, rattled. Another blow followed, and another, all striking the arrogant student directly in the face. With each strike Loccan was forced back as he was unable to even raise his arms to shield himself. Derud watched, transfixed, as the formerly boastful student’s back struck the wall, giving him no more room to retreat. As the big man pulled his bludgeoning fist back one last time, Loccan raised one feeble hand to stop the onslaught. Derud waited helplessly for the coup de grace, hoping only that Loccan’s magic would keep him alive.
The big man’s blow never landed.