Epic, yet short. Wait, isn’t that the opposite of what “epic” is? :X
Bannon felt as if he were being unraveled, turned into a thin bit of string himself. He tried to scream, but his lungs were too thin to hold air….
Suddenly, he snapped back to reality– or, rather, the illusory reality of the Fade. He got the impression of a wide circular area. He stumbled about drunkenly as his body tried to figure out if it were horizontal or vertical, or in fact if one might be better than the other. Wynne swayed against him, and they held each other up for a moment.
“Oh, here I am,” Bannon heard Alistair say.
“Alistair,” Leliana called and went to him. “Zevran.”
“You appear to have a string attached to you, my dear,” the Antivan’s tone replied.
Leliana turned as the toy horse rolled to a stop near her foot. “This is… I’m sorry, we haven’t been properly introduced.”
“Enchanter Niall,” the mouse said, puffing up his chest.
Alistair gaped. “But you– you’re…!”
Niall deflated. “I know, I know; I’m a mouse. Can we get past that?”
“You are the one,” Zevran said, “that Bannon was argu– ah, there you are, mi patrone.”
Bannon and the mages joined the group. “Where–?” He looked around for Sloth and spied a huge, misshapen lump sitting in the center of the area. One eye was more swollen, bloodshot, and drooping than the other.
“You… are… so…,” the demon began.
Bannon didn’t feel like waiting half an hour to find out what the damned thing was trying to say. “All right, spread out.”
“Wait!” said Niall. “I’ll handle this.” He scurried to the edge of the group to face Sloth.
“…trouble,” the lumpy thing was saying.
“Sloth! Where is my true form?” Niall squeaked in demand.
“Why….” And here, the demon just had to pause for a jaw-cracking yawn. “Right… where it… belongs.”
“Fine.” Niall raised his tiny staff and began an incantation.
Sloth’s good eye widened– in fact, it was now almost half open. “What… do y– ooogh.” The eye re-closed, and Sloth slumped forward on his chin, snoring.
“Sleep spell,” Niall said in triumph. “Sloth demons are especially susceptible.” His whiskers twitched in a mousey grin. “My wisp may be tiny, my elemental range small, but my mind is as strong as ever!”
“Brilliant!” Bannon said with a grin. “Now let’s kill this thing and go home!”
“Ah, but wait,” Niall said, not quite finished. “When your enemy is asleep, a simple little fear spell becomes….” He chanted an incantation.
“No, don’t!” Morrigan cried. “Not in the–!” A bit appeared in her mouth, cutting her off.
Bannon started to laugh, but that was cut short, too, as he found a hard metal bar between his teeth, yanking his head back. A whip cracked over his back, stinging so hard that he yelped and jumped forward to escape it. He didn’t get anywhere; his chest slapped against the straps of a harness, which was connected to something heavy behind him.
Another whip cracked. Bannon saw the others, all harnessed to huge, heavy carts. Zevran was beside him; they were harnessed in tandem. Of course Sloth’s nightmare would be about manual labor! And in the Fade, the land of dreams, it manifested as reality.”
“Oh dear,” he heard the rodent say.
Bannon heard a cry and saw Wynne ahead of them. She collapsed to her knees as her shadowy cart driver whipped her mercilessly. The elves’ driver was no less eager. Bannon jerked his head towards Wynne. He and Zevran leaned forward, legs bent and straining. They managed to get the cart moving, slowly. They kept at it, scrambling against the hard-packed ground, and they ponderously picked up speed. They swung to face Wynne’s cart head on. If some damned fool wraith was going to enslave these two elves, they were going to be sorry!
They sped up, and Bannon grinned around the bit. Oh, Zevran wanted to play chicken and see which one of them turned away first? Bring it on!
The two elves leapt aside at the last second, jack-knifing the shaft. The cart skidded and slammed broadside into the other one. The ghostly driver that had been tormenting Wynne flew off.
Bannon laughed and caught a lash between the shoulder blades for his insolence. He cried out. The cart wasn’t going anywhere; its wheel was locked with the other’s. A second whip crack made his vision flash, and he fell to his knees. Zevran turned and leaned over him, partly shielding him as the driver continued to strike at them in anger.
“Oh dear,” Niall said as Sloth’s nightmare manifested around him. What a stupid mistake! The apostate was right; he was useless as a mage. The cries of these brave people rose as the whips cracked. This is all my fault.
He would have wrung his paws if he weren’t holding the staff. He looked at the three dragon heads carved into it and firmed his resolve. He’d be worthy of this fine staff! He’d kill Sloth!
But how? He could only conjure a patch of ice as big as the demon’s paw. Or a little fireball that might singe a similarly-sized patch of fur? The dragons’ eyes glimmered as Niall racked his little rodent brain for a method to kill a demon twenty times his size or more.
No, not a rodent brain! A mage’s mind!
He scurried up to Sloth. All he had to do was get close enough…. He looked up at the mountain of fur and diseased skin above him. Well, there was no help for it. Niall opened his mouth and clenched the staff firmly in his molars. Then he leapt as high as he could onto Sloth’s heaving flank, and grabbed two little pawfulls of fur. Clinging with fingers and toes, he started to climb.
He panted and grunted. The staff prevented him from turning his head very far, so it was difficult to navigate, but as long as he continued up… up… up…. He came to a loose flap of skin that sagged away from a festering lesion, and he sidled along it until he came to a bony spike outcropping. The spines were like small, denuded trees. Niall made good time using their solid bulk to heave himself up.
At last, he crested Sloth’s shoulder and started down the slope of the neck. This was much easier, and he began to get his breath back. Then his paw slipped, and he went sliding facedown through a puddle of pus. It slicked down his belly fur. Ugh! They never mention these things in the wondertales. And whoof! The smell! Did Sloth never bathe? He was probably too lazy. Niall got down to the juncture of the neck and head, and the miasma wafting out of Sloth’s ear was truly nauseating.
The mouse scooted away to the middle of the broad skull and sat back on his haunches. He took his staff back into his paws and rubbed his sore jaw. He caught his breath a minute– careful not to take any deep breaths.
Then, firming his resolve, he planted the staff and stood to his full height of four and a half inches. He glanced at the hissing dragon heads on his staff. They seemed ready– and eager– to go. Niall began conjuring.
The dragons’ eyes began to glow, luminous blue. Still, Niall drew more power into the spell. He would only have one chance at this. Brighter, and whiter, the dragons’ eyes gleamed. Tendrils of electricity danced among them. Niall’s fur stood on end. He shouted the incantation one final time, then reversed the staff and unleashed the lightning into Sloth’s head.
The demon’s skull glowed like a lantern for a brief moment; its eyes flashed with light. Then, with a groan, Sloth’s body settled, dead. It dissolved into a pile of greasy ash.
Niall fell, but fortunately it was a soft landing. That was about the only fortunate thing about it, for the mouse found himself buried in a stinking pile of demon soot.
One moment the whips were cracking, and Bannon was struggling with the binding harness, and the next, he and his companions were staggering upright. The nightmare had vanished like the flame of a snuffed-out candle. Bannon had his weapons and armor back, but his shoulders still stung with residual pain. He ignored that and ran over to the pile of ash. “Niall!” He dropped to his knees and thrust his hands into the ashes. “Where are you?” He saw movement and grabbed for it, gently though.
He caught the rodent in his cupped hands and pulled him from the ash. He held Niall in his left palm, up close where he could see the mouse. Bannon tried to brush soot from his fur. Niall coughed and hacked. Bannon thumped him on the back with two fingers. “Niall! Are you all right?”
“Would be… cough, cough! If you… hack! …stop… cough! helping!”
Bannon quit and just held Niall. The rodent coughed some more and then distinctly said, “Bleech!” He brushed his forepaws vigorously through his fur, dislodging flakes of dead demon.
“You did it!” Bannon said with a big grin. “Itty bitty mouse versus big, bad Sloth– BAM!”
Niall straightened up at this. For a moment, he seemed overawed at what he’d accomplished. But then he just sneezed a cloud of soot right into Bannon’s face.
“Ugh!” the elf complained, wiping his nose and mouth with the back of his hand.
Bannon stood up and turned to his companions. “Did you see that?” he said, his enthusiasm barely dampened. “Did you guys see that? BAM!” They gaped bemusedly at him. “Oh, come on! That was classic! You know what? No– that was legendary!” He turned to Leliana. “But when you tell that story, make sure you leave that part out.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating where the carts had been.
“She’s going to tell the story?” Niall asked.
“She’s a bard.”
“Oh.” Niall scratched his ear, raising another puff of soot. “Uh, and leave my name out of it.”
“What, don’t you want to be famous?” Bannon asked him.
“Niall the mouse mage? I’ll never live it down!”
“Niall, come have a look at this,” Wynne said. Bannon turned back towards her. “Sloth was sitting on something.” The demon’s ashes had begun dissolving, blowing away on a non-existent wind. Beneath, faintly glowing lines were revealed.
“It’s a rune circle,” Niall squeaked excitedly. “Quick, put me down.” Bannon obligingly crouched and lowered his hand. “No, wait; I can’t see from down here; pick me up.” The elf bit back a sigh. After all, the guy had just saved their asses. He shot a glare at Zevran who was snickering, and also noticed Leliana with a hand to her mouth, her cheeks dimpling.
Niall ordered Bannon around so he could look at the runes from various angles. He also had Wynne and Alistair brushing remnants of soot away. That mouse liked being in charge. Bannon glanced over at Morrigan, expecting her to be amused as well, but she had her mouth drawn into a thin line and was uncharacterstically silent. She must not have the same knowledge in this area that the Circle mages did. Bannon figured that rankled her.
“It is what I think it is, isn’t it?” Wynne said hopefully.
“Yes…,” Niall mused. “Yes! It’s a portal! It must be the way back to the real world. And there, look! Wynne, take two steps to your left. A bit mo– yes! That’s the key rune.”
“Everyone stand on the glowing edge of the circle,” Wynne instructed. “I can activate the portal, and we’ll all awaken.” The companions moved into position.
“Wait,” said Niall; “I haven’t regained my form.”
“You will just have to regain it when you re-enter your body,” Morrigan told him.
Leliana said, “I once had a dream that I was a chicken. Did I wake up with feathers? Of course not.”
“You’re going to have to tell me about that one,” Alistair said.
“There’s not much to tell, really. Although ever since, I have had the uncanny ability to cluck realistically.”
“Well,” said Morrigan, “that should keep Alistair entertained for hours.”
“Shut up, witch!”
Bannon tried ignoring them. “Look,” he said to the mouse in his hand, “maybe that’s what Sloth meant about your form being where it belonged: back in the real world. You wake up; you’re you again.”
“Well… all right. Set me down, then.” Bannon crouched to let him down, giving him an encouraging smile. “But has anyone seen my staff? I feel so much more like a mage with my staff.” Niall sighed.
His companions stifled their groans (some more successfully than others), but Bannon took a minute to look around for the fallen twig. He retrieved it and gave it to the grateful rodent.
“All right,” Niall said, standing up straight and planting his staff. “Everyone concentrate on what we are doing. You may wake up groggy and disoriented, so focus on this: We must stop Uldred.”
“Good luck,” Leliana said. “And may the Maker watch over us.”
“Amen,” said Wynne. She activated the rune circle.
1000 Bloodsong points if you spotted the Narnia quote.
Another 1000 if you saw Bannon doing his Han Solo impression. ;)