Episode 8

The Lord of the Socks

Episode 8: Fight or Fright

I’d never seen Nonac happier. He jumped forward, smiling and laughing as his enormous sword whistled into the nearest skeletons and zombies. Bone fragments and rotten flesh flew everywhere.

Princess Frederica was close behind him, weaving in and out of the undead monsters and bashing them to pieces with her mace. Bum-stabber and Fil showed their proficiency with spears and maintained a protective barrier around Korac. Nut-boy and I crouched down at the wizard’s feet, hoping he could offer us some protection from the hoard.

Korac began chanting and, a second later, balls of flame erupted in midair and flew into a group of skeletons wearing armor and wielding scimitars. Their dry bones immediately burst into flames as Korac started his next spell.

I have to admit to a sick fascination at watching Nonac and Frederica go about their grisly work. It was as if they’d trained together and knew the other’s moves. As one would press the attack, the other would protect them from a rear assault. Often, they stood back to back while surrounded by several undead at once. I worried about Nonac accidentally chopping Frederica in half but he seemed to always know where she was.

“Myrick, make yourself useful,” Korac grunted as he let loose another fire spell.

When I looked around us, I saw about a hundred charred remains. More undead were shambling toward us, though. I looked up at Korac. Sweat poured from his brow.

“Uh,” I intelligently said.

“I need more time between spells. Use the Anklets. Run around and distract them.”

“No, that’s okay. I’m happy staying right here.”

Korac’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t make me use the last of my magic reserves to kill you. Go!”

Without taking time to think about it, I jumped up and ran screaming toward a group of skeletons. And, much to my disappointment, I succeeded in getting their attention. It made me wonder how they could even notice me if they were just magically animated bodies, but I didn’t have time to delve deeply into the philosophy at that moment.

They shook their spears and turned toward me, making strange barking sounds as they gave chase. Against my better judgment, I slowed down a little in order to keep their attention on me. I glanced over and saw that Nonac wasn’t busy at the moment, so I steered toward him.

“Nonac, incoming!” I shouted.

He gave me a grin as if I’d just rewarded him with a thousand golds. Nonac leaped into the air, flew over my head, and landed amidst the skeletons. I had no idea the giant could jump that far and high. He swung his sword and hit the group so hard, I think several of the skulls flew all the way to Duragath.

I continued that strategy. My socks easily kept me out of the undead’s reach, enabling me to entertain several guests until Nonac, Frederica, or Korac were ready to do their damage.

As Nonac dispatched the last group I sent his way, he looked about him, frowning. “Vhat? Vhere dey all go? Nonac just getting started.”

I did one last lap to make sure there weren’t any others coming. I stopped next to Korac, gasping for breath. Korac nodded my direction but was too tired to say anything yet. Nonac and Frederica returned as well with their weapons resting on their shoulders.

I found Nut-boy several yards away hunched in a ball next to a ruined wall. At first I feared he was injured, but he looked up as I approached. “Are…are they gone?” he asked.

“For now.” I helped him up and we headed back to the group.

“Were you injured?” he asked me.

“No. Just a little winded is all.”

“But why were you screaming the whole time like you were being tortured?”

“Screaming? I wasn’t screaming.”

Frederica smiled as we approached. “Yes, you were. I could always tell where you and your followers were. Came in quite handy, actually.”

“I was screaming?” I asked myself. I swallowed and realized my throat felt raw. “Oh.”

“It was annoying, too,” Bum-stabber muttered.

Korac stood up straight and took a deep breath. “We best keep moving. It’s already dark and there’s no telling what else Xern might send our way.”

We picked up our gear and resumed our trek toward Xern’s compound.

As we walked, Frederica said to Nonac, “That was some good work you did back there. I’m glad you came with us. I don’t think we could have survived that onslaught without you.”

Nonac looked at her but didn’t say a word. The goofy smile returned as he slowed his pace.

Frederica patted his arm before walking on ahead.

I trotted up next to Nonac. “Are you okay, buddy?”

“Yah,” Nonac said, staring at Frederica’s back. “She pertiful. Goot fighter. Perfect mate.”

I didn’t know how to break the news to Nonac, so I tried to be gentle. “Yeah, well, I’m afraid she’s out of our league. After all, she is a princess and all.”

Nonac didn’t answer, he just kept smiling and staring at her back.

A couple of hours later we reached the foothills below the jagged peaks. In spite of my magic socks, my feet were tired and I wanted to lie down and rest. We only encountered a couple of small groups of zombies on our way there, but Nonac blissfully took all of them out for us.

I looked back along our path. “I wonder where Sister Nyn went. I hope she’s okay.”

“We needn’t concern ourselves with her,” Korac said. “She went a different direction. Now, everyone make sure your medallions are still in place. The other side of this hill is where the army encountered the time binding spell.”

We started the arduous climb. There were no trees around, only a few scraggly bushes. It was eerie but at least it gave us a clear view to watch for undead. The moon was up, but it didn’t cast much light. It seemed as though the ground soaked up the light and refused to give it back. Korac had to pick up a stick and infuse a light spell into it in order for us to see the trail.

Nonac took point and reached the top of the hill first. He shouted down, “Many people ahead.”

When we joined him, we looked down and saw several hundred soldiers lined up as if marching. None of them moved, though. Some had one leg held up as if they were going to take another step but their bodies remained frozen in place.

“Wow,” I said. “That must be one powerful spell.”

“It is,” Korac answered. “More powerful than any living wizard or sorcerer alive today can do. This is indeed an ancient and powerful magic.” He swallowed hard and clutched his light stick as he started down the hill toward the army. The rest of us followed.

When we reached the army, Korac said, “And don’t touch any of them. Even with the medallions, the magic may overpower you and bind you in time as well.”

I jumped clear of the man I was about to poke. I was just curious to see whether he was still warm or not but decided it wasn’t worth finding out. I didn’t want to join him in his stationary march.

As we skirted around the soldiers, Nut-boy said with a shudder, “It feels like a graveyard.”

Once past the army, we headed up a winding trail leading up to the ridge between the two peaks. It was steep and soon had everyone gasping from the exertion except Nonac and me.

Korac noticed I wasn’t struggling. “Myrick, scout ahead and see if there are any dangers.”

“Do I really need to go and look? I mean, we know there’s an ancient evil wizard—”

“Sorcerer!” Korac corrected.

“Sorry, ancient evil sorcerer. And he has a gang of rotten thugs waiting for us, too.”

“Just do it.”

He didn’t have to raise his hand to snapping position for me to know the consequence of disobedience. I grumbled as I activated the magical speed of my socks and headed up the path.

I encountered nothing but rocks and shrubs all the way to the entrance of the cavern. It almost looked like a normal cave mouth but I could tell it had been carved into the solid rock. The opening gave the impression of a giant mouth waiting to consume its next victim: me. I stopped there and wondered if I should venture into the darkness or not.

After several seconds, I shouted, “Cabbage, no!” Why was I even thinking of doing something so foolish? I slapped myself in the forehead to make sure I got the message. “You think you can tangle with an undead sorcerer and come out ahead? Come on, Myrick, you’re smarter than that.” I looked at the cave mouth again. “But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to just peek inside.”

I stepped up to it and stuck my head into the cave mouth, ready to bolt the other direction if I saw anything that could shorten my lifespan. Before I could see anything, I heard a snap and felt something like a wave of water plow into me. I flew backward and landed on the rocky ground, rolling several feet until a boulder stopped me. My vision spun and it seemed like cotton had been shoved into my ears. It took a minute to shake off the effects of whatever had knocked me back.

“That must have been one of those magic traps,” I said to myself. “Oh well, I tried.” I pushed myself up and walked stiffly back down the trail.

Rattling sounds came from behind me. I twisted about and saw skeletons and zombies pouring out of the cave mouth.

“Oh cabbage.” I turned around and ran for my life down the hill, stumbling several times as I struggled to keep from tumbling headfirst. To my surprise, my undead pursuers were keeping up. It was as if they had been given the same magic as my socks. It took all my speed to get back to my group ahead of them.

“Incoming!” I yelled when I saw Nonac.

Nonac didn’t react. He was smiling, but the smile didn’t grow wider like I expected. Instead, he stood completely still.

No one else moved either. Frederica, Nut-boy, Korac, Bum-stabber, and Fil were all as motionless as statues. I slowed down once I reached them. Weren’t the medallions supposed to protect them? To my horror, I noticed none of them had the medallions on. The leather straps were still there, but the medallions had disappeared. I reached up to grab mine and discovered it wasn’t there, either. I felt an ashy residue as if it had somehow been consumed in a fire.

The undead troops slowed down and walked toward me, grinning. Of course, it’s hard for skeletons to do much else, now that I think about it. They lifted their rusted swords, spears, pikes, and maces as they circled around me.

“Myrick,” I heard whispered. It was a high, eerie sound that sent a chill through me. How did the skeletons know my name? And how could they speak without lungs and lips?

I didn’t take time to ponder these new philosophical issues as I took off running as fast as my magic socks would carry me.