This is not what I expected, Osric thought to himself as he lay motionless, his head pounding in rhythm with his heart beat. He could hear voices, but they sounded muffled and far away. This feels more like waking up than dying. He was certainly in enough pain to be dying. He had always imagined that death was a release from pain and suffering, but every muscle in his body ached as he strained to breathe. Breathe? Do the dead breathe? Osric reached up to rub his temples in an attempt to ease his headache and grazed his knuckles on stone. His eyes jerked open but in the dark he could not perceive anything to determine his surroundings. Dust, I smell dust! He tried to call out, but his throat was dry from the cloying dust and he managed very little sound. I survived? I can’t believe I survived!
What could have happened? Osric was mystified. As he moved his hands along the ground beside him, he felt debris scattered on the smooth marble floor he lay upon. How could he have lived through the explosion. He had no wand. He was so close to the source; he knew there was no way he could have survived such a blast. Yet there he was, still on Archana, or at least he thought he was.
He thought through the events leading up to the explosion, and the two pulls of his gift had him baffled. He had never experienced his Portentist gift triggering for two simultaneous events. Thoughts continued to cycle through his head as he tried to unravel what had caused it, but he had no information except for the crowd looking behind him with excitement. Whatever they had seen, they did not seem to fear it. He had felt, with his gift, that what was happening behind him was momentous, but it had not felt threatening. Perhaps he could learn more later; right then he needed to focus on where he was and how to get out.
He seemed to have a fair bit of room on each side of him. Above was another story. When he tried to reach up, his hands encountered stone within a hand’s length above his waist. He pressed against it with as much strength as his could at the awkward angle, but it did not budge. His sword was still at his side, secured in its scabbard. He could hear movement near his feet but he couldn't see anything. Without his wand, he could not move the stone that trapped him on his own. Hopefully, what he was hearing was an attempt to find survivors and they would be able to free him. If not, it could be days before he died of dehydration. As the worst parts of that death started to cycle their way through his mind, he felt a sharp pinch at his calf.
“Ow!” Osric yelled, as he instinctively kicked his leg. He felt his leg connect with something just below his knee and assumed it was the creature that had bitten him. Getting eaten alive by rats had not even crossed his mind; he was sure that would be worse than dehydration. He tried to pull out his short sword, but the hem of his tunic got caught on the guard and he tugged it halfway up his chest trying to get the blade free. However, there was no room to swing it if he needed to, so it would be useless against rats in the enclosed space.
“Thats was rude!” A young voice cried out, “I am’s just checkin’ for survivors. What’d you’s kick me for’s?”
“Well, you could have asked if I was alive. You did not have to bite me!” Osric was not in the mood to apologize to his assailant.
“Well, you's did not move when I came's in here, so's I thought you's were dead.” Osric did feel a little bad for kicking a child, the voice could not belong to anyone over the age of six. “Was bitin’ you's so's I could wake you's if you's was just sleepin'.”
“I can't see in here. I thought you were a rat!” Osric slid the half drawn sword back into the scabbard. The guard was cold on his skin but there was not enough room to pull his tunic down.
“You’s shoulda lit your wand.”
“I lost my wand before the explosion.” Osric was growing tired of explaining himself. “Look, are you going to help me, or question me all night?”
“Night?” He giggled. “It's is mid’day already. This is my second time through's the bottoms of the piles.”
“And am I going to be rescued or what?!” Osric was tired of the word play. He needed to get out and start an investigation into who had caused the explosion, but to do that, first he needed a wand.
“Oh, yes, I hope’s so. I gotsta wait for the go go so's I know nobody will be smooshed when I lifts this wall off of you's. It could makes another guy go smoosh if I do's it now.” He said, as he lit the tip of his very short wand.
Finally, seeing he was talking to a prairie dog pup, he stopped thinking about being eaten alive. Osric guessed him to be about seven inches tall, and very plump. His fur was mostly dark brown, but it lightened to tan on his belly and paws.
“How many survived?” Osric asked, looking around in the poor light. He could barely make out a pair of legs to his right, the rest of the man was doubtless pinned beneath tons of stone wall and ceiling. Osric looked away, not wanting to see what could have been his fate. It was a gruesome sight. He tried to focus on the conversation instead.
“So's far, just you's.”
“How old are you?” Osric asked, letting the annoyed tone in his voice die. After all, if he had to wait until help actually could come, he could at least be polite company. The young prairie dog jumped down to flat ground behind Osric’s head, and linked wands to communicate with someone outside the palace. Light emanated from the diaphanous image hovering over his small wand, but Osric could not see from his pinned position on the floor who he was conversing with.
“I found a live one Pa, I’ll wait for you's to tell me it’s a'right, I'm's puttin' up a marker so's you know where I am.” Then he sent a bright blue light with his wand through the stone above them after the image had disappeared. He answered as he turned back to face Osric, “I's four, but my Pa says if I keeps practicing, I can be making wands better'n Eni in a couple years!”
Osric held in his laugh. He had owned an Eni wand. There were very few Wand-Makers that could boast to be able to make one better.
“And what’s your name?” Osric asked, to keep the conversation going.
“Pebble,” He said, slightly ashamed, “but when you's have two hundred pups, you's run out of names to think up!”
“Well, I guess you would.” Osric thought it strange that a prairie dog could live long enough to have that many children. He had hunted prairie dogs, and they were not difficult prey. “Who is your Pa?”
“You’s don't knows my Pa?” Pebble spoke in astonishment, his small mouth dropping open and eyes going wide.
“Well, I only just met you, so I am not sure how I would.” Osric thought it was cute that the pup thought the whole world would know his father. He hoped one day to have a child that thought that much of him.
“Yeah, but, but everyone knows my Pa.” Pebble sounded a bit more serious.
Osric could only think of one famous prairie dog in Stanton, “Is your father,” he was doubtful, but he asked anyway, “Gus?”
“So you's do know's him!” Pebble jumped up and down, thrilled to have his faith in his father restored. “I knew you's did. You's a silly fooler!” Pebble laughed, and the lit tip of his wand flickered with the sound of his giggle.
“Well, I have never actually met him,” Osric stated with a smile. He could not help thinking that if he could meet Gus, perhaps he could replace his missing wand. Here he was, sharing a confined space with the son of the world’s greatest Wand-Maker, he wished for just a moment that the rescue scenario was the other way around, “but I do know of him, that’s for sure.”
“Well, duh!” Pebble giggled again, Osric laughing with him.
“Yes, I know, and I would love to be able to buy one of his wands someday, just like everyone else.” Pebble gasped and scampered back into the rubble near Osric’s feet.
“I's sorry.” He was making his way back, dragging something behind him over the broken pieces of stone “Pa said if someone's can't find their’s wand, I’s supposed to give’s ‘em one.” He pulled a wand, longer than himself, over the debris to reach Osric’s hand.
“Really?” Osric could not believe his luck as he tried to get his arm in a position to take the wand. He wanted to jump for joy, but there was no room. Everyone wanted a Gus wand, and anybody who had one had paid dearly for it. They were the finest wands ever made. An inexpensive Gus wand would have cost him a year of his pay, and it was just being handed to him.
“I’s supposed to say that they’s is not pretty yet ‘cause Pa made 'em on his way here,” Osric ran his fingers over the length of his new wand, “but it work's really good! Pa had me checks 'em first!” He said with pride, and puffed his chest out.
“Thank you.” Osric was genuinely grateful, and his excitement was clear in his voice. He was still caressing the wand, though it was nothing special to look at; just a stick the length of his forearm, probably broken from a tree in a recent storm. The bark was rough under his fingers, and he was afraid the wood would splinter where a knot ran through it if he wasn’t careful. He would have to seal it when he got out of there, or maybe Gus would finish it for him if he got the chance to thank him. It didn’t even have Gus’ lightning bolt signature carved in it, but if Gus had made it then it was surely a great wand.
The first spell with a new wand was a learning experience. It needed to be something simple, as you and the wand had to be introduced. It had to feel your power, and you feel its resistance. It was called a power lock, because you could not disengage yourself from it. It was usually brief, but the more powerful the wand, the longer it lasted. Lighting the tip with the Eni wand had taken almost ten breaths, compared to the two breaths or so it had taken with his first wand. It was pleasurable if done correctly, but could be painful if done wrong. Focus wasn't possible during a power lock, and Osric was hesitant to engage with the wand for the first time in the restricted space.
“Well?” Pebble said impatiently, rolling his eyes playfully at Osric, “If you's gonna help me wit' the wall, you's gotsta lit the tip now.” His childish sarcasm at the oversight of the common power lock spell made Osric grin.
I'm going to like this pup, he thought to himself. He had spent a little too much time admiring the amazing gift. Most would have initiated the power lock immediately.
“Thanks, Pebble. It has been a rough day so far.” Osric’s Portentist gift ignited with a singular intensity, peaceful but nonetheless important. He drew a breath, closed his eyes, and attempted to relax. Holding the wand in both hands on his chest, he lit the tip.
The intensity of the pleasure he felt at the lighting of the wand was incredible. It was, by far, above and beyond anything he had ever experienced before. Pebble’s giggling seemed to transcend into the sound of water trickling along the smooth stones of a brook, the cold floor against his skin was like the caress of the water after diving into a mountain lake. The smell of the dust in the air intensified and became the sweet cloying scent of lilacs in full bloom. The feel of his tongue in his mouth, his teeth, his hands on his chest, the way that the guard of his short sword felt against his side, every single part of his body was in ecstasy. He shook with the power of it. The wand had so much more resistance than it should, and it was taking a lot longer than normal for his power to sync with it.
Colors of reds, blues, and greens intertwined with each other, flashing before his eyes in a spectacular display. Breathing became difficult as the feeling built. He could not hear, see or feel anymore, and he lost sensation in his entire body. As time went on, his head jerked back and forth. Sweat rolled off of his body, and every nerve suddenly came alive, making him want to cry out with rapture. He could not take a breath, or withdraw his power. He was certain that the strength of the power lock would kill him if his own power did not conquer the wand soon, but he felt no fear.
Just when he thought his heart would beat out of his chest, the power lock stopped, and Osric lay panting on the cold marble floor.
“Wow!” Pebble shouted, amazed, as Osric focused on breathing. “That’s was awesome!” He was dancing around in circles with excitement. “It didn’t do's that for me. Try this one! Do's it again,” offering him a second wand.
“No.” Osric wheezed, struggling to catch his breath. “As much as I would love to experience that again someday, now is not the time.” His whole body throbbed. Muscles that only moments before had reveled in pleasure, were screaming in objection to the tiniest movement. His head ached worse than ever, from his gift or from the power lock, he did not know. The frequency with which his Portentist gift was activating troubled him. He could not recall ever feeling it trigger twice in a week, and now he was losing track of the number of events which had set it off over the course of two days.
He wondered if that intense of a power lock was what everyone experienced with a Gus wand. There were still remnants of colored light dancing before his closed eyes.
“Are you alright, sir?”
The voice came from above him. His ears were still ringing, but it seemed the stone which trapped him was speaking. He cracked one eye open, too tired to focus, to reassure himself that someone had, indeed, called out to him. Sunlight greeted him as he looked up, glaringly bright after the darkness of his entombment. He saw the silhouettes of several men standing at the top of the slanted slab of stone that was once the ceiling of the throne room. Finally! Someone had come to get him out of there.
“Thank Archana!” He exclaimed out loud.
Pebble bounded over to his side and looked up.
“He's a'right. I told him to's lit the tip, not burn's a hole in the roofs. It's not my fault!” Then he looked at Osric. “Got so's bright in here you's sword look’d bright too!”
This makes no sense. I burned this hole? Osric's thoughts raced as the bright light made his head pound even harder.
“You did this, didn’t you?” Osric asked the men standing above him.
“No, sir.” Osric recognized the voice of the recruit, Dru. “We came rushing as fast as we could when we saw the bright light shoot into the sky. The section of stone that is gone from here is just dust, scattered all over out there now.” He said, motioning behind his head. “We thought you must be dying, and so you did this to get help in a panic.”
Osric’s mind reeled as he tried to process all that had happened. Too many unexplained magical events had taken place lately. He sat up slowly, feeling each muscle protest in agony.
“Did Kenneth survive?” Osric suddenly had a terrifying vision of his best friend being crushed by the walls of the palace. “Was he thrown far enough away to avoid falling debris?”
“Thrown free, sir?” Dru sounded as confused as Osric felt.
“Of the explosion!” He shouted. “What do you think caused this?” He indicated the rubble surrounding himself and Pebble.
“We don't know, sir.” He stated in apologetic defensiveness. “Kenneth said nothing about an explosion, sir. Neither did James. They said they were just standing there,” parting his hands in explanation, “when four unicorn's came running up. Three stopped at the door and the other one ran inside.” He hesitated before continuing. “Then, moments later, the entire palace just collapsed in on itself.”