Root Position - “The Burning Band” [Living Empires]

scene 3 by Layman Kingsford

Trenton’s feet already hurt. They had been on the road for a day and a half having left the circus’ encampment in the outskirts of Renclaw  barony. They had purchased a small cart with a draft horse to portage all their belongings. 

The sun was bright, spring was in the air and flowers were blooming everywhere thanks to the near daily rains. Tree lands were Trenton’s favorite. All the lush variety of green-leafed foliage made him feel fresh as he imagined his skin and clothes absorbed all the wondrous scents.

He glanced back down the road. Yep, still there. Molg was easily keeping pace with them about four hundred paces behind the cart. His head was down. I wonder how long he’ll follow us? He didn’t pack any gear or water or food. All he’s got with him is that big axe.

“Brohstras, behold! An audience awaits us,” Feryys pronounced pointing ahead and to the left of the road. They had not seen any other travelers for about hours, but now there appeared to be a large group encamped on the roadside.

Patryk lifted the front brim of his hat. “They certainly have a large bonfire going. I wonder why they need that in the middle of the day?”

“Clearly they want to make sure we are have the proper backdrop for our new dance number Raging Foot Inferno,” Patryk explained. 

Something felt off to Trenton. His Flame sign was tingling, the sensation of which increased the more he focused on that bonfire. There must me a Flame adept or two in that group, he realized.

The triplets had come to a stop and were avidly discussing the order in which to present various dance and song routines. Trenton softly brought the horse and cart to a stop. They were still far enough away from the encampment that he couldn’t make out many details, but most of the two or three dozen people milling about the bonfire looked to be goblins.

As the elves continued their programming discussion Molg thumped to a stop on the other side of the cart from Trenton. The large man peered intently at the camp site down the road as he ran his tongue over the sharp tusks protruding from his underbite.

“They be bad people,” the ogre grunted. His gaze shifted from the goblins down the road to the three elf men a few paces ahead of the cart. 

“How can you tell?” Trenton asked.

“Elves should leave road.” He turned to Trenton, “And you, too.”

“Good luck convincing the Brohstras to do that,” Trenton chuckled. “Once they get in the performance mind set, they don’t get distracted easily.”

As if on cue, the triplets linked arms and started monkey walking their way down the road toward the encampment. Molg grunted and unslung the war axe from his back. His posture was even more threatening as his reverse-articulated legs sent him forward with long, powerful strides.

For some reason Trenton appreciated the goblinoid legs on the mighty ogres and speedy little goblins more than on himself and his fellow hobgoblins. Perhaps I emulate elves too much, he mused. I still wish I had smaller ears and their front-bending knees, though.

Trenton was jerked from his reverie at the sound of hoots and hollers coming from the goblin encampment. The triplets looked to have attempted a grand entrance and were being met with jeers. Molg was nearly there, though it was unclear what the ogre’s intentions were.

The wind shifted wafting hints of smoke from the bonfire up the road. The smell of charring meat became distinct. What is on that fire?

Trenton pulled on the reigns of the draft horse and started the cart moving forward. It appeared that the elves were perhaps getting an audience after all. At least twenty goblins were starting to gather around the tall elves looking rather like children circling up for story time.

Wait! Why is Molg starting to swing his axe and charging at them? It was then that Trenton noticed the glint of sunlight off of blades and spears in the hands of the goblins.

“By D’rayne’s leafy grace!” Trenton looked around desperately. What am I doing? There’s no one to help! The dense foliage of this arboreal region had been cut back twenty paces on either side of the hard-packed dirt road. They were a good ten hours away from the barony and any help the constables there could provide.

Trenton dropped the reigns and the horse and cart placidly came to a stop. He started to jog toward his friends as dread tightened his chest. He had no weapons, was certainly no fighter and had no desire to hurt anyone.

Please don’t make me use magic, please don’t make me use magic, he chanted to himself over and over as he got closer.

Huge Molg, towering at least twice the height of the goblins, was standing with his legs spread wide swinging his double-bladed axe among the diminutive greenskins. At least four were already laid out at his feet and a dozen more were keeping out of his long reach but they looked about ready to swarm him.

As Trenton got close he could see that Qwentyn seemed to be having a staring contest with a ragged goblin woman standing in front of him. She was posed, slack-jawed, with a short-bladed sword laying in the dirt at her feet.

Black-robed Feryys and bare-chested Patryk were standing back to back trying desperately to look threatening as five spear-wielding goblins surrounded them slinging racial insults at the elves.

More goblins were coming out of the trees, all of them were armed, wore dirty clothing and many had painted their faces and exposed flesh with jagged, white tribal markings. Trenton could feel an increase in Flame magic pulsing from the bonfire that roared loudly in the clearing. What he had originally assumed were large logs now looked more like bodies, which would explain the charnel smell.

He was unable to distinguish which of the goblins might be the adept, but the fire was starting to whip out tendrils as if it were some sort of burning octopus. Trenton was twenty or thirty paces from the fight and had yet to attract the attention of any of the bandits. It was going to be up to him to deal with the Fire.

Now is when I wish I knew how to invert my power and pull the heat out of the bonfire. That’s what I get for growing up among Tree folk. The things I’ve taught myself would only make that bonfire stronger. Do I dare tap into my other magic? What if the brothers see me?

A screech pierced the air and Trenton saw Patryk grasping his side with red blood flowing between his fingers. One of the goblins must have stabbed him with a spear.

Two of the flaming tendrils licked out at Molg and struck him like crackling whips across his broad back. Trenton was too far away and there was too much noise from all the chattering goblins and the roar of the bonfire, but he imagined the ogre barely grunted as he continued to axe his opponents like cord wood.

We’re all going to die if I don’t do something

Trenton took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He was plenty strong enough to control that bonfire. He felt a tingle from the Signmark on his inner left thigh as he accessed his Flame magic. It then grew into what he imagined to be a warm red glow inside his entire body until he felt like he could cradle the sun in his embrace and be utterly content.

He sharpened his attention on the bonfire so as not to be washed away in a reverie of pleasure. He could feel every dancing flame and sparking cinder in the monumental blaze and he willed it to take the shape of a tall column, sending the entire conflagration high into the sky. And it did. With a mosntrous roar.

With a startling jolt Trenton felt like he had been dashed with ice water and the bonfire settled back and fighting tendrils started to emerge again. Control had been retaken by whoever the goblin adept was.

Trenton gasped and felt sweat bead on his forehead as his Flame magic was released. He looked around but still could not decipher who the other magic user was.

I guess my power has never been opposed before. I was totally unprepared for that. Even though he suspected he was stronger that any other wayward Flame practitioner, he was too scared to try again in case this Flamer was actually trained.

He now saw Ferrys had been taken by four goblins who were starting to tie his arms behind his back while beating him with the butts of their spears. Qwentyn had three bodies standing like statues around him which seemed to be giving pause to the other warriors. One particularly small man was backing up and reaching for a bow laying on the ground. Patryk was on his knees holding his wound, his neck encircled by a lasso held by a goblin woman.

Molg was roaring like a bear and every bandit near him had backed away, probably in the hopes of letting the fire deal with the hulking fighter.

It had likely been months since he had last accessed his Wave magic, but Trenton took another calming breath and closed his eyes. The Wave Mark on the sole of his right foot tingled and then started to issue a cooling sensation throughout his body. He extended his senses out over the lush forest as he sought to collect all the ambient moisture trapped in the air. The daily rains that occurred this time of year provided ample water in the environment.

Like a swirling flush of ocean waves he felt water coalesce all about him him, hovering at first as thousands of tiny droplets that then merged into beads that then combined into globes and finally became a churning surge of tidal proportions. 

Trenton thrust his arms forward and the torrent of water swept across the clearing dousing the bonfire with a hissing cacophony of steam and ash. Everyone was soaked as if they had been dunked in a lake and the ground became a soggy bog of grass and mud.

All the fighting stopped. Goblins, elves and Molg all stared at the hobgoblin who stood perfectly dry. Trenton felt he should say something. Still no one moved. “Ummm....stop?” Trenton uttered, afraid he sounded like a timid stone mouse.

A few of the goblins shuffled their feet while  some of the others glanced to the far side of the steaming pile of formerly burning bodies. The flame adept was now easily identifiable as a goblin woman holding an elaborately decorated, and now doused, torch in each hand.

“Kill the ogre and the hob!” she shrieked at her cohorts.  

The goblin bandits howled back into action with blades, bows and spears.

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