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Apex ch2
waterwindow

Do you think we're safe?” Alberich choked out between ragged panting, clutching at a tree for support. His legs wobbled from all the frantic running. He and Marcello had fled as soon as the black hole began to form, and luckily for them, they had already been on the edge of town. The black wind was no match for the wizard's weather magic and he had beat it back with his wand when it came for them. But despite having not far to run, they didn't stop once they were clear of the black. No – they were both too well-read to be so ignorant. Fear had them running until they could no longer, and walking until their legs gave out. Which was now. They had traveled so far from their home that they were now at the edge of a dense forest, and the destroyed town was nothing but a faint blemish on the horizon, outlined by the setting sun.

We should be...” Marcello removed his wizard's hat and fanned his face with it, sinking to the earth at Alberich's side. “Are you alright?”

I am not... Our home... Our lives! All our belongings- just... gone.”

Marc tried to keep his tone light.“Not exactly. I'm sure they're still there, under the rubble. And as for our homes, mine can withstand great winds, and you – well you live in the castle! It'll be quite a while before anything is looted. The beasts have probably made short work of the population. If anything, we should be concerned that we're now both out of a job – haha...”

Alberich's eyes widened, “Out of a JOB?? How can you joke right now!? If it weren't for your powers, we wouldn't be alive!” he coughed tiredly and put his head in his hands, “And it's probably only prolonged the inevitable.”

Probably.”

They sat in silence for a while, catching their breath, the sounds of the surrounding woods sending chills up their exhausted spines. The faintest echoes of splashing waves from the south told Alberich they were near some cliffs facing the ocean.

Finally the alchemist lifted his head, “Where are we...?”

Marcello didn't answer immediately, hiding a nervous grin, “Well... I don't know if I should tell you.”

Al sighed, “Please, my friend, I am too exhausted to play guessing games. I've been running after your coattails all day, and I'm hardly about to start another petty squabble. It's not like I'm going to get angry and just leave. We have to stick together, so for the sake of my sanity, be forthcoming with me from now on. Save us both the trouble.”

Well... I'm glad that's your sentiment. Because I have a feeling you won't-”

No, stop that! We're at the edge of some god-forsaken woods after fleeing for our lives from certain death – there's nothing useful anymore in beating around the bush. As charming as it can be in domesticity. For now let's put that all behind us and.....” He suddenly frowned, “We're following that map aren't we?”

I panicked.” The wizard raised his hands defensively. “It was the first thing that flew to my mind. I absolutely did not use this -- admittedly convenient -- catastrophe as an excuse to follow the map.”

Al crossed his arms and glared daggers. “Mmmhmm....”

I swear, it was one hundred percent adrenaline-driven momentary madness. I knew the path, and retraced this direction.” He yanked the card from his pocket and cursed with conviction, “Yes, it is ailing my mind! I'm sure of it. The wanderlust is too great, just as you said.”

His counterpart seemed convinced enough, “.... Well... I suppose I can't blame you for acting on instinct. You did provide us with a means of escape... even if that map does eventually lead straight into the shadow of yet another black hole.”

Marcello was forgiven, and he sighed in relief, “Ahh.... thank you.”

Yes, now we must find a safe place to hide – perhaps make our way to the nearest village for safety. As soon as morning breaks.”

Mmm... yes.” The wizard rubbed his thumb along the card and the map appeared, providing ample light between them, “It just... seems a waste.... Since we've already started... ” he glanced to the other and smiled hopefully.

I hate you.”

><><><

Quests like these come far too rarely for destiny to allow the chosen few to simply back out. That being said: what is destiny? Is it a beaten path marked out before every man and woman that they must walk, regardless of their desires? In some cases, perhaps it is. In this case though, it's something a little more preordained. Something carefully planned out by a person with the power to do so.


A person whose time is running short. Again.

The Cosmic Treadmill stood in pieces amongst a growing heap of broken machinery. Eobard Thawne glanced over it with low spirits. There was nothing left to do but wait. Red lightning tore through the inky skies. He knew his time was running short, as he grew weaker every day. If the Rogues of this world did not arrive soon to repair the Cosmic Treadmill, everything would revert back to the time when he’d first arrived in this wretched dimension. All the previous Eobards might have failed – and they now littered his surroundings as mounds of ghastly skeletons, garbed in tattered Professor Zoom uniforms and different stages of decay. But he had to convince himself he was their better, or else he'd go insane.

He carefully studied the ruins surrounding the growing mounds of broken treadmills and skeletons. This place seemed to be trapped in time, recording his actions through ruin and decay. The copious notes written for him by his previous selves had been collected and reviewed. Instead of flying into a panic, he devised a plan.

Eobard remained calm, collected. Meticulous. He would not wither and die like the other Zooms had. Even though (according to his records) this was apparently not the first time he'd tried to bring the Rogues here to fix the treadmill. Last time, one of his counterparts had brought them there using his super-speed and time-traveling abilities. It had proved fruitless: they’d been divided amongst each other, and uncooperative and fearful. Even after being threatened or bartered with, half of them couldn't even speak a language they could all understand. Let alone comprehend Eobard himself.

He needed to simulate the camaraderie they shared back in the twin cities. He needed to give them a mutual goal – to manipulate their lives until they were walking in step. Digger's sudden wealth, and the hiring of his crew and Mick. Evan's wanderlust for greater cities, and Sam's betrayal of his uncle. Roscoe and Lisa's marriage and his reconciliation with her brother. Hartley and James's lifelong friendship. Eobard manipulated everything as best he could, right down to Marcello being born in the same town as Albert. It had been exhausting, especially with his dwindling strength and the discouraging number of dead Eobards staring him right in the face.

Just creating those maps, using broken bits of previous treadmills, had been a feat all in itself. There was such limited and archaic technology available to him, as the time machines themselves were primitive compared to those in his proper timeline. Sophisticated and ingenious beyond his comprehension, sure – for a bucket of uncouth bolts. If only he could find a Barry Allen in this universe--! That would be a much more appealing option than putting his life in the hands of the Rogues. Alternate reality Rogues, no less.


It was especially frustrating that he couldn't jump to the near future to see if his plan had worked. It seemed that he couldn't run past the point of this universe's destruction. The instability of this reality's fiber was caused by the presence of the broken Cosmic Treadmill. Just barely held together by its dying breath. Hell, he’d had to break it further just to push Albert and Mark – oh excuse him, Marcello and Alberich -- to get off their lazy asses and get moving.

A dark chill ran through Eobard's bones and he clutched his shoulders tightly. He needed to rest, but was afraid to close his eyes. He, the treadmill, and this very reality were somehow connected now, and he had to stay alert to fight for his survival. He was at the mercy of these strange monsters, just like the others. To die prematurely would mean starting all over from scratch; another skeleton added to the pile.

The monsters themselves were curious: massive gorillas. He had been working with Grodd at the time he’d stolen the treadmill. Used some bullshit promise to take the gorilla back in time to change the evolution of the human race – as if he'd let that happen. All people bitten by these monsters became zombified half-gorillas, much like Grodd's failed tech had intended. The dimensional jump made the time immediately before it foggy and unclear. For all it was worth to speculate, this dimensional mayhem could have created some half-baked Grodd-clones of mass gorillafication. “Heh...”

Or maybe this had been Grodd's plan the whole time. It certainly seemed like the wet dream of a psychic gorilla hell-bent on destroying mankind. Eobard didn't know, and just trying to put together this nightmare was giving him a headache.

He swore that if he made it out alive, he would take months – no, a YEAR – TWO YEARS – to learn everything humanly possible about the Cosmic Treadmill and how to repair it, so this never happened again. He sighed – it made him paranoid that he had probably pondered these very thoughts countless times before. (Or not so countless – judging by the handles on the broken treadmills, he was lucky Eobard number one hundred and two! Goodie.)

He finally gave into his fatigue and took a seat on a nearby rock. The roars of monsters far away made his skin crawl. All in all it was a stupid plan: what could a band of old-timey alternate universe Rogues even do? Let alone fix a time machine. And even if by some carefully crafted miracle they could, how would Eobard be able to simulate the exact phenomena which had brought him here, but in reverse? He snorted and couldn't keep the deranged smile off his face. Reverse. He was just full of funny today. If anyone could do anything in reverse, it would be him, right? Right.

Of course...


><><><

I have to ask,” Hartley spoke blithely as he tramped through the underbrush. “What makes you so sure there'll be treasure at the end of this map?”

Wait, what? There has to be- I mean-” Roy sighed and rushed ahead of the musician and turned around, walking backwards so that he could see his mouth move. “There has to be! Why else would such a thing exist? I bet it's a magical treasure – filled with...” He motioned to the card in the ginger's hand. “That sort of stuff – stuff most people can't understand! And gold! Mountains of it!”

Hartley laughed. “Giovanni and I have been following this map for ages. My conclusion is that if this was a treasure map, then it would be much harder to follow – more... cryptic. If anything, this device is so simple a child could figure it out.”

Well what do you think it- whoa!” The artist stumbled back over a branch and nearly lost his footing – how this asshat manages to make everyone else bend over backwards just for a simple conversation was beyond him. “What are you getting at?”

I think it leads to some sort of... higher power. Someone or... something that wants to meet us.” The musician replied with a hint of amusement at Roy's misfortune.

Higher power...?”

Giovanni stumbled out of the woods noisily and brushed some leaves off his head. “He thinks we're going to find God. By the way, there's a path back there.”

Roy gasped in relief, “Glorious! I've twisted my ankle for the last time.” The jester led the way, and Roy decided to wait until they were on level ground before continuing his backwards-walking conversation. “God? Really. You really think there's a God somewhere waiting for someone to find them. It sounds a little ridiculous. You'd think if they were powerful enough to make... that-” He pointed at the map. “Then he would simply skip the ordeal and come meet us in person.”

Hartley shrugged. “Nobody said that God was especially mobile.”

Actually that's not really....” The artist frowned and shook his head. “Never mind. Change of topic: you go on and on about how long you've been following this map – granted, if I actually believed you, which I still don't - how long exactly have you been trekking about?”

Months!” Giovanni chimed in from up ahead. “I'd say it's been almost half a year at least.”

Months,” Hartley replied with a small smirk. “At least half a year I think.”

I just said that.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “I think one of you needs to be mute to even things out a bit.”

The jester turned on heel and began walking backwards as well to join the conversation. “Ah sure! And you can be blind, it'll be perfect! Walk a bit faster if you can and I'll jab out your eyes – then you may have the knife and cut out my tongue. It'll go just swimming.”

Roy's face turned bright red in indignation, for Giovanni had wounded his pride more than the two of them knew. Hartley laughed his strange, monotone and overly loud laugh. “A deaf musician, a blind painter, and a mute comedian – it sounds like a very entertaining novel waiting to be written. Not that you need any further handicap to be terrible at what you do, Giovanni.”

Roy's face only grew redder. “...You shouldn't joke about the blind.”

Gio huffed, looking equally indignant. “Yes, shame on you. Don't make fun of disabilities!”

Hartley frowned and stopped in his tracks, staring past the pair at an ominous oncoming horde off in the distance. “Stop and turn around. Infected.”

The trickster and artist nearly tripped over themselves to see that the ginger spoke the horrible truth.

Not more than ten meters away, hidden just barely by a curve in the path was a great hulking flock of misshapen humans with torn clothes and gray skin and mangled mangy black hair growing in odd places on their bodies. Almost as soon as they saw them, the stench of rancid animal met their collective noses. This was Roy's first time seeing so many, and so close. He'd had an unlucky encounter with the large ape-beasts early upon entering the shadow, but while those were horrid in every way imaginable... this was both parts tragic and grotesque.

The artist covered his mouth, hissing quietly, “D-do they see us?”

Hartley growled and tore the artist's hands from his face, “What?!”

Giovanni flipped around and gave them both a death glare, mouthing something slowly, 'shut up, the both of you...!'

Roy got the shut-up bit at least and nodded. It must be very convenient for these two to communicate with mere lip-reading - he'd be more impressed if he wasn't about to shat himself. The infected didn't seem to notice them, but they did seem to be moving their way as if in a herd.

Sweat rolled down Giovanni's back as thoughts raced through his mind, 'Up the trees...!' he mouthed hurriedly. Hartley grabbed Roy's arm and led him to the nearest climbable pine. They scrambled up as high as they could without making too much noise. Giovanni followed up, though much more slowly.

Hartley was mouthing things furiously down at the jester as he made the slowest climb imaginable. Roy's dark hair was plastered to his head with perspiration and his heart caught in his throat. The first infected just barely made it under Giovanni's foot.

What are you doing...?? Climb...!” He hissed as loudly as he dared, there's no reason why this jester should be struggling up each branch at such a pace, especially in this emergency.

Giovanni couldn't drag his eyes away from the ground as the horde passed beneath him, his trembling was so intense, the branch itself shook under his weight. While it was true these beasts seldom looked up, the noise was getting worrisome.

Hartley could see the leaves trembling and could only imagine the kind of racket it was causing. Fear for Giovanni's life took over. The jester was still all too within the creatures’ reach, and a half-dozen had already paused curiously, gnashing their horrible disfigured mouths.

Without thinking, and to Roy's shock, Hartley swung down his branch to Giovanni's. Thanks to the blond, they were going to be discovered regardless, the jester needed to be out of their reach. The ginger nearly lost his footing grabbing a couple fistfuls of his partner's tunic and hoisting him over his head to the higher branch.

A sickening snap shook the trunk of the tree, Roy gasped, the combined weight had been too much for the limb, and he saw the musician lose his footing over a sea of malformed humanity.

NO!” The artist wasn't very fit, but adrenaline pushed him off his perch, swinging a leg down to Hartley's aid. The musician waved his arms wildly and barely managed to grasp the tip of Roy's boot.

Hartley's heel collided with the top of one of their heads and instantly the beasts went wild. As soon as they were spotted every mangled man, woman, and child began clamoring over each other manically. The noise of screeching was deafening. Already Hartley's cloak was being torn from his neck, dragging him towards the mob.

The extra pull made Roy's arms scream. “HOLD ON!!” He wouldn't allow himself to let go of the branch. But no amount of desperate chemical-fueled panic could give Hartley the strength to grasp Roy's moss-slick boot. Before the artist even knew it, the weight was gone. By the time he had scrambled back up on his branch, Hartley was consumed by a mass of fur and rabid fangs.

AAGH!!” Giovanni sat gasping, having some sort of panic attack against the trunk of the tree, stock frozen and unable to do anything. Hammering filled Roy’s ears as an instinctual fear gripped his heart unlike any other. He jumped to his trembling feet, balancing on the branch long enough to lob a tightly packed sack from his sidebag right in the center of the ravenous mob. Yellow powder cloud exploded every direction upon impact – but to Roy, it appeared more a light gray.

Mere seconds later, the yellow-coated mob began shrieking in terror and scattered like roaches, clawing at their own skin and tripping over themselves and eachother to escape. Roy bravely (or stupidly) leapt from his branch and landed messily on the ground. “RAAAGH!!” He waved his arms wildly and chased them off - The Infected's screams echoed through the forest as they ran for their lives, fading out of sight.

Hartley's frantic, kicking body appeared as the dust settled, his screams finally prevailing above all. He was writhing on the ground, trying madly to get the sticky powder off him. He was wild with terror, near frothing at the mouth. “CALM DOWN IT'S OKAY!” Roy cried, grabbing Hartley by his arms and dragging him off the path, into the forest. Water, he needed water! Wet leaves would have to do – He tore Hartley's clothes off as quickly as he could and started shoving handfuls of grass and moss and any wet shrubbery he could find, mopping the yellow substance off Hartley's skin.

Are you bit?? Are you bitten?!?” He gripped Hartley's face and forced eye contact as he spoke.

AEEEGH!! GET AWAY FROM ME!!!” Roy finally grabbed his canteen off his belt and emptied what was left inside onto Hartley's face. The artist's vision was already a little warped from the affects of the powder on his hands, but he'd grown accustomed to the affects.

Hartley's screams finally died down and he dissolved into frantic panting sobs.

He leaned over the ginger's face “Hartley! It's enchanted! It's just the powder!”

The musician's wild eyes became more focused and he shakily nodded. “P-powder...!”

Yes, it's paint! It's just dry paint powder; I use it in my work! Mix it with oil it turns to paste, mix with water and it dissolves. It's enchanted paint. It makes you feel things. Do you understand. There's nothing to be afraid of, the monsters are gone! It's just magic!”

Hartley's breathing leveled out with some effort and he continued to nod. “Magic...!”

Roy relaxed his grip. “....Are you bitten?”

I... I don't think so...” He sat up and checked his body – scrapes and bruises, but nothing that could be a bite. He was lucky. Too lucky, “No... I'm not – LOOK OUT!!”

A loud slobbering zombified woman threw herself out of the bushes just feet behind them with a cannibalistic roar. Terror engulfed the artist and the musician, as they were both under the affects of the yellow powder.

A wide circular bladed hoola-hoop flew through the brush and decapitated the ape-woman mid-lunge. Giovanni leaped in soon after it and kicked the head away in disgust, “Ugh!”

He retrieved his ring from the trunk of a tree and checked the surroundings before coming to the pair's sides. “Are you two alright??”

Roy gulped and collapsed against Hartley. “Y...yes...” He stared at his stained hands and hurriedly wiped them on the grass until they were clean.

Giovanni...” Hartley pulled himself to his feet. “Are you alright?”

I'm fine. You?”

I'm alright... thanks to our artist.”

Roy found himself swelling with pride as he accepted the helping hand from Giovanni. The blond slapped a hand roughly on his shoulder. “Thank you....I wasn't sure it would work... I've never... used it that way...”

You'll have to tell me about that later... Let's get a fresh set of clothes for you.” Gio grabbed Hartley by the arm and led him through the underbrush.

Together they trod back out into the clearing and Hartley retrieved his bag, trampled on the ground. Roy carefully extracted the garments and let the musician dress himself.

After a lengthy silence, Giovanni spoke up. “Look... Hartley, I- about the tree. I'm... sorry... It was my idea, I should have-”

It's okay, I understand,” Hartley replied, adjusting his fresh cape.

Roy finished rubbing the musician's sack around in the dirt to clear it of yellow paint, “So... What was it? The monsters?”

The trickster kicked at the ground and decided it was best to set his pride aside. “Look... I'm afraid of heights, okay? It's stupid, I know...”

Oh...” An acrobat afraid of heights? Well weren't they a trio.

You can laugh if you want.”

After what they went through, the last thing Roy felt was the urge to do anything of the sort. “I won't... I'm...” He sighed and shook the dirt off Hartley's bag before handing it back to him. “I'm colorblind...”

Hartley and Giovanni stopped and stared at the shortest of them with mild shock. “Wait... you're....”

Roy glared at the ground. “Yes... The powder... er, paint – it's a gimmick to get people to like my paintings. Otherwise it's just... uninspired. To say the least.”

For once Hartley was the one going out of his way to see what Roy had to say, crouching down to get a better look at his mouth. “That's....” He grinned, looking up into the artist's gray eyes, “That's spectacular.”

You're just saying that because I saved your sorry lives...” Roy blushed and started down the path stiffly. “.... But thanks.”

Giovanni beamed. Hartley passed the map to him and he activated it before continuing on their way.

><><><

Do you think we could walk around it?” Alberich stared up at the black cloud circling ominously overhead as he carefully walked along a long piece of drift wood.

It was the evening of the fifth day of their travels. Thanks to Alberich's alchemy, they didn't need to forage for food. He was able to make salt water fresh and turn rocks into bread. And thanks to Marcello, they didn't need to worry about weather conditions getting too harsh. It seemed they were unstoppable, and that made the Alberich a little more confident and willing than when they first started. It also helped that they hadn't run into any monsters along the way. Just distant roars coming from inland that sent chills down their spine. But with a cliff separating them from the forest, lined with driftwood for them to walk along to keep from being tracked, the two of them began to feel safer every day. But both of them, even the enthusiastic Marcello was dreading the inward curve in their trajectory about two days ahead. It was a path that would funnel them directly through the looming shadow of a black hole.

The wizard hopped from one log to another quite a bit further ahead. Suddenly he turned on his heel, holding his hat as the sea wind tried to sweep it off his head. “I'm not sure if it would be quicker or less dangerous my dear alchemist. I've heard the beasts patrol the border just as much as they lurk within – it would be more trouble than it's worth when held to light of the time we would save.”

I understand that... it's just... I can't fight. And neither can you,” Alberich pointed out, fiddling with his hood. “Together we can survive the time it would take to go around, there's not really a hurry.”

The first is true - but I suppose a little wind or lightning could deter anything.” Marcello wasn't accustomed to using his magic for combat, but with danger around every corner he had to be prepared to do anything. He looked back at Al and offered, “And you could change the face of a beast to gold or something with your powers.”

...I've never used it on a person before, or any living creature – I wouldn't dare. What's so urgent that we couldn't just go around? We're already in this together. I don't care if it takes a whole month to get around that thing – I'd rather just avoid it. ”

Marcello didn't exactly agree that those deformed things were people at all. Then again, he'd never seen one of these 'Infected' – or the giant monkey monsters either - just vivid tales and the fear in the eyes of survivors.

They were survivors – in a way. The sound of a roar echoing from far off made him shudder. It was hard to balance on all this driftwood, but Alberich insisted any animal or beast would be unlikely to track them if they avoided making foot prints along the beach.

The questions concerning their rout made Marc a little nervous. Alberich was far from willing on this little trek, but Marcello knew Al wouldn't split off with him. Less for the lack of courage or knowledge of where to go, but more an unspoken duty to keep the wizard safe. All the arguing and name-calling – it was just a petty facade brought on thanks to a cushy life. It felt like they were brothers – Marcello intruding on Al's privacy whenever he pleased like an irritating younger sibling. Now they were marching into the belly of the beast, at his own behest with Alberich trudging along behind.

They spent time together because they felt like they found strange solace in each other's company. Now they weren't just the only wizards in Centrala – for all they knew, they were the only Centralans left at all. He couldn't bear to think what would happen if he inadvertently led Al to his death, but he had his reasons for their haste. Something that was eating him up inside like a disease.

Alberich?”

Yes, Marcello?” The alchemist yelped and nearly slid off his log.

The Weather Wizard stopped and backtracked, helping Alberich steady himself. “I'm happy you are here with me.”

The alchemist stared at the strong hand gripping his forearm and then at Marcello. “Well... I haven't much a choice.”

No, you did. You could have gone on your own – but you haven't left my side. I led you to believe we're following this map because I've been very spoiled and unwilling to compromise. But there's... more.” He let Alberich's arm go and took a seat on a log, kicking sand at a crab scuttling by. “Ever since this card came to me... I've felt... a great apprehension. This dread... Like something terrible is going to happen.”

Al crossed his arms and joined his counterpart, staring into his eyes with an unreadable expression.

Marcello sighed and rest his head in his hand.“It feels like the world is ending. And that whatever's at the end of this map will... perhaps... prevent it? I don't know if I'm making any sense....”

You're not getting religious on me, are you?”

What?”

Al managed a half-grimacing smirk. “You are beginning to get rather emotional... I don't know if I like it. Go back to where you were dragging me into an adventure – be smug like this is what you've always wanted. I don't want to think that this a kind of quest to save the world.

I want you to tease me and be reckless. I thought we were throwing our lives away here. I don't want to feel remorse. I'd rather just be irritated at you.”

Marc raised his head, frowning at Alberich.

My heart is too soft.” The alchemist stood up and continued down the beach.

The wizard sat there in silence a while, staring out at the ocean. He wasn't sure what to think of that, but he supposed it was strange, even for Alberich, that is. He thought the alchemist would appreciate the openness, but his own apprehension probably wasn't something Alberich wanted shared with him. The wizard sighed and rubbed his temples – he was confused.

Suddenly a dark figure leaped up from behind Marcello and tackled him into the sand. They were ambushed. “AGH!!”

Marc found himself pinned by a large, heavy man, covered in tattoos. He turned his face and spat out sand, yelling past the huge hand at his mouth, “ALBERICH!” But it was too late – the alchemist was in the dirt – also pinned by a stranger. Marcello struggled to no avail. He felt his ankles being tied to his wrists and was immobilized before he even laid a hand on his wand.

Alberich was heading for a similar situation – but as soon as the rope bit into his wrists, the Alchemist roared. His bonds disintegrated in a flash of green smoke as he rolled over, kicking the shocked assailant in the stomach before army-crawling away. The pair jumped to their feet circled each other. Al fumbled free his small serpentine dagger from his belt – it wasn't the kind for combat. Just a surgical tool used by alchemists and doctors for extracting blood from corpses, with many curves and a divot that ran its length.

YAHH!” He swung wildly at his captor, who ducked and dodged every slash with ease. A bladed boomerang deflected the last few swings, beating Alberich back before the fiery-haired stranger planted a strong right hook right across the alchemist's face. Marcello cried in anger as his friend fell flat on his back like a cut down tree.

Finally the stranger spoke, holstering his strange choice in weapon. “... Well that was unexpected.” He grabbed Alberich by the foot and dragged him over to where Marcello still lay pinned.

Who are you?? Bandits??”

Hold your tongue.” The man seated on Marcello's back growled.

Pirates actually. Haeta, take everything – food, water, weapons, clothes. Everything they have. We have a long journey ahead of us.” Seoirse searched the horizon. “And hurry.”

Pirates. Their fowl stench could have been enough to clue Marcello in. He struggled violently against his bounds as he was rolled over and searched. His savage captor took his belt, sword and bag. He felt his hat lift from his head and the apparent leader of the two donned it. “What do you think, Haeta?”

Give that back!!”

Haeta grunted and pulled Marcello's wand from his boot. “Captain.”

Seoirse examined it. “Mages! I didn't know they traveled in packs.” He crouched down by Marcello's face and poked his cheek with the end of his own wand. “Luckily for us, definitely not the warlock kind.” He smirked darkly. “Not much food on you.... Not much of anything. Do the two of you live near here?” He stabbed his cheek a little harder. “A nice little wizard's hut?”

Haeta grabbed Marcello's long hair and pulled his face up hard. “Got lots of food there, I bet.”

Marcello just glared and squirmed harder, sucking in a breath, “HEEEEEEEELP!!!”

The two pirates looked at each other, irritated. The Captain shrugged and stood, “Shut him up.”

Heata punched the wizard out cold without a second thought.