Well I was hoping to have the book finished by now, but I am still working on the ending. There is so much potential in it and I want to get it right. Unfortunately this means that the release is being pushed back a little bit more.
“How much?” you ask.
As little of a delay as possible. Once I finally have the book completed, my wife and I will do our final editing pass and we will release it immediately. When that happens I will let you know right here.
There have also been some delays in getting the cover finished. I hope to be able to reveal that soon.
So in the meantime, I thought I would try to tide you over with chapter one.
SPOILER ALERT if you have not finished Protector of the Grove, you should stop reading here. Otherwise, enjoy!
Fist’s dreams were disturbing and violent. This wasn’t unusual for the ogre. He had lived a life often filled with violence. It was part of him, something at odds with his gentle nature. What made these dreams stand out tonight was how vivid they were.
They began with a recurring dream. It was one that Fist had dreamt dozens of times since leaving the Thunder People tribe. It was always similar with only minor variations, and had become so commonplace to Fist that it didn’t cause him anxiety anymore.
He was wearing his apprentice robes and reclining, floating peacefully on a bed made of cloud, unafraid of being so high in the sky above the earth below. Life was perfect. After all, he was learning so many things and he had friends now and Justan had survived his meeting with Jhonate’s father. Fist relaxed in the fluffy softness, content just feeling the hot sun on his body.
His peace was interrupted by a thudding noise. He sat up and turned his head to see his father Crag running at him, his large feet obliterating the clouds beneath him with every step. Fist didn’t know how his father had gotten up there, but following closely behind Crag was an army of winged beasts, dark and terrible.
Crag yelled at him to stand up and fight, but Fist didn’t want to. He laid back on the cloud and closed his eyes, focusing on the warmth of the sun, the part of him that knew this was a dream willing the darkness to go away. But it didn’t work. The sounds of his father’s footsteps and the approaching army grew louder until Fist opened his eyes and Crag stood over him, blood running down his body from several open wounds. His face was as pummeled and swollen like it had been the last time Fist had seen him; beaten nearly to death by Fist’s own hands.
“Go away father,” Fist said sadly. “You’re dead.”
“Toompa!” his father yelled and swung his arm down in a mighty punch. Crag’s fist caught Fist in the chest and knocked him through the cloud. Fist watched his father’s disappointed face get smaller and smaller as he fell unprotected through the sky towards the earth below.
Normally Fist would plunge into water at this point, but this time the dream shifted and he never struck the ground. Instead, he was back in the mountains of his youth, at the edge of the Thunder People territory. His robes were gone and he was wearing only fur wraps like he had in the old days, but he was carrying the mace Lenny had made for him. It was a good thing too, because he needed it for the horde that approached him.
It was at this point that he forgot it was a dream. It was real and Fist was angry; angry and fearful because his tribe was under attack. His face contorted with rage as he swung his weapon back, its magic enhancing his speed. The mace was long and heavy with a spherical head. One half of the head was covered in wicked spikes, the other half with rough ridges and Fist put it to good use.
He punctured and tore through flesh with the spikes and bashed in the heads of the enemy with the ridges. He couldn’t identify the assailants right away. Their faces were blurry. But what did it matter? They fell around him as if they were made of melons, smashing and splattering to pieces, showering him with gore.
Fist exhulted. The battle was easy. The enemy’s attacks were weak, leaving nothing but superficial wounds on his skin. Why had he been so fearful?
He looked around for the rest of his tribe and found himself battling alone, surrounded by the enemy. Had the others fallen to the enemy or had they abandoned him? He didn’t know the answer, but he fought on, destroying the enemy with tireless strikes.
Then something caught his eye. A lone boulder rose above the enemy ranks. The faceless horde clawed at the rock, trying to climb it. Sitting atop the boulder was Squirrel’s leather pouch and by the way it contorted, Squirrel was still inside!
Fist shouted and began forcing his way towards his friend, but the enemy resisted. Something about them had changed. No longer did they burst apart and yield before him. They held firm, each one of them taking several strikes to bring down. Their weapons improved too. Several times Fist felt daggers pierce his flesh.
He ignored the wounds and fought on, bellowing for Squirrel to flee. The pouch continued to move as the enemy climbed toward it, but Squirrel did not come out. Fist arrived at the boulder and started to climb, pulling the enemy climbers down as he went, ignoring the fierce stabbings of the assailants behind him. Finally he reached the top of the rock and stood exhausted. Blood dripped from his body, some of it his, but most of it the enemy’s.
He looked down at the crowd surrounding the boulder and a haze lifted from his mind. The enemy was no longer faceless. To Fist’s horror, they were men and dwarves and elves and even ogres. These were people he recognized. Many of them he had met during the war. And he had mown so many down.
Fist shouted apologies, but their familiar faces didn’t seem to recognize him. They screamed mindlessly, clawing at the rock. Shaken, he picked up Squirrel’s pouch and peered inside.
Squirrel wasn’t there. In his place was a monster. It was a huge thing, a mix of wild beasts, and way too large to fit in that small space. Before Fist could drop the pouch it leapt out, increasing in size and bowling Fist over, sending him plummeting off of the rock into the howling masses below . . .
Fist’s legs spasmed and his eyes flew open as he awoke with a gasp. Breathing heavily, he realized that he was in his room in the Mage School dormitories. He was lying on his side in the oversized bed Darlan had procured for him and his head was pressed into his honstule flower pillow. He was also sweating profusely.
With a groan, he threw back his blanket and sat up. As he did so, a pile of seeds fell out of his ear, striking his shoulder and cascading down his hairy torso in a tiny avalanche.
“Squirrel!” he grumbled, brushing the seeds off of his body. Several of them had fallen onto his bed and he swept them off of his mattress with one large hand, knowing that he would have to sweep them off of the floor later, but preferring that to returning to a bed with little seeds in it.
This was a constant game Squirrel played. He had started it the day they had first met. Whenever Fist was asleep, Squirrel would hide nuts and seeds somewhere on the ogre’s body. In the beginning he had done it because he felt safe with Fist and it was his way of claiming Fist as his new home. But along the way as Squirrel’s mind had grown larger and more complex, his reasons for the little game had changed. For awhile it had become a test of his stealth as he tried to see how many seeds he could hide on Fist’s body without being caught.
Now Squirrel’s game was more of a prank, made all the easier because of large variety of food available at the school. People were giving Squirrel nuts and seeds all the time and as a result, Fist found them everywhere. Not just when he woke up in the morning, but everywhere he looked. Squirrel left them in the pockets of his robe, in his books, in his coin purse, and in every drawer Fist used. Squirrel thought it was hilarious.
Fist yawned and, from the stuffy sensation in his ear, he knew there were more seeds in there. He leaned over and shook his head, fumbling at his ear with one thick finger, trying to get them out but he was only able to dislodge a few. He smacked the side of his head, but to no avail.
Squirrel! he grumbled again, this time through the bond, not wanting to wake his roommate. Fist looked around for his bonded, knowing that the mischievous creature was close by.
A sliver of early morning light peered in the room through the one small window, illuminating a tidy place with two beds, two desks, and two wardrobes. Out of necessity it was the largest room in the dormitories and Fist shared it with his friend, Jezzer.
To Fist’s relief, he hadn’t woken the man. Jezzer had already risen, making his bed before leaving. The old man had a habit of waking early and was often up and gone before the ogre. Jezzer was sixty five and the oldest cadet at the Mage School in centuries. He claimed that the older he got, the less sleep he needed. Fist envied the man that ability.
Knowing that he was alone, Fist reached up and palmed the light orb that was mounted in the sconce above his bed. Wincing at the sudden brightness, the ogre’s eyes fell on Squirrel’s pouch. It was sitting on Fist’s desk where he had left it the night before, the runes stamped into it’s deerskin surface glowing softly to Fist’s magesight. It was a gift from Beth and she had made it well. It was nice and roomy, silk-lined, and had extra pockets for storage. The large lump in it told him Squirrel was still inside. The beast was ignoring him, pretending to be asleep.
“Squirrel!” Fist commanded both aloud and through the bond. “I see you in your pouch. Come here.”
What? Squirrel replied innocently. His little head popped out of the top and he yawned, pretending that Fist had just woke him.
“You’re not fooling me,” Fist chided him. “Now get these seeds out of my ear.”
Squirrel let out a chattering laugh and exited the pouch, leaping from the desk to the bed to Fist’s shoulder in a series of bounds. His little laugh was an odd thing, sounding more like a snicker than anything else. He had just developed it in the months after the war. He was wearing one of the small vests Darlan had made for him. This one was red with tiny gold trim.
My seeds! Squirrel exclaimed, peering into the ogre’s ear.
“Yeah, you put them in there. Get them out,” Fist complained. His ear canal was itching now. “Why did you do it anyway?
It is funny, Squirrel said.
“No. Not funny,” Fist said. “And not nice.”
Though Fist couldn’t see him, he knew Squirrel was rolling his eyes as he reached one dexterous paw into the ogre’s ear. He messed around for a moment, pulling out seed after seed. It tickled horribly and Fist winced as he tried to stay still, hoping that the animal wouldn’t scratch him with his little claws. Finally Squirrel stopped.
“Did you get them all?” Fist asked, turning his head to look at him.
Squirrel stared back at the ogre, his mouth hanging open in a parody of disgust as he held out an arm caked up to the shoulder with clumps of ear wax. A small black seed was clutched in his hand. He let go of the seed, but it remained stuck to his hand. He shook the seed off and looked around for something to wipe his arm on, worried that he would stain his vest.
Fist could feel his irritation through the bond. The ogre snorted. “Don’t look at me like that, Squirrel. It’s your fault for sticking them in there.”
Sill stiffly holding his arm out to the side, Squirrel began walking down Fist’s arm towards the bed.
“Don’t wipe that on the blankets,” Fist warned. Squirrel let out a little grumble and hopped down to the floor, then went under the bed to wipe his arm on one of Fist’s dirty socks.
Fist stood and stretched. It was an abbreviated form of a stretch instead of the full stretch he wanted to do. When fully erect, the ogre was eight feet tall and the hair on his head brushed the ceiling. His morning stretch now consisted of arching his back and rotating his shoulders, his arms sticking straight out to the sides. His back popped in a series of cracks as he did so.
“I had such a bad dream, Squirrel,” Fist grunted and walked to the wardrobe to retrieve his clothes. “It felt so real.” Indeed, he had been able to feel the blood of the enemies sticking to his body. He’d smelled their viscera as it spilled to the ground. He felt a wave of nausea at the memory and swallowed. “Why did I have a dream like that?”
Squirrel didn’t respond directly, but Fist felt a trickle of sympathy come through the bond. This was often the way they communicated with each other. Even with the growth of Squirrel, many of the things Fist felt and experienced didn’t make complete sense to him. Yet the animal always tried his best to understand. Sometimes he even surprised Fist with his observations.
Fist tried to shake the dream from his mind as he dressed, putting on a button-up shirt and linen pants before donning his apprentice robe. The robe was voluminous and made of a light material so that it wasn’t too warm for comfort. The colors represented Fist’s magical strengths. The main color was black representing Fist’s strength in earth magic, while the blue and gold trim work on the sleeves and hem represented his secondary strengths in air and water. Darlan had even modified it, further since he was training to be a war wizard. She had added a runic symbol to the back, a large blue circle with a lightning bolt through it.
Fist looked at himself in the room’s lone mirror and shook his head. He had been wearing student robes for nearly six months and still didn’t feel natural in them. While wearing the robes he didn’t look like an ogre at all. Someone who had never seen an ogre might think him just a giant of a man with a brutish face.
He waved a dismissive arm at the mirror and turned to look at the large shield and breastplate that stood next to the wardrobe. Now those were the things he felt most comfortable wearing. Despite everything he was learning at the Mage School, Fist was a warrior at heart. At that moment he wished that he was in Malaroo with Justan. There were battles going on there. He could have been making a difference.
Frowning, he sat back down on the bed to put on his socks and boots. The boots were a gift from his half-orc friend Bettie and were runed to keep the leather strong and supple despite the punishment he put them through. He liked them. They were quite comfortable. The socks, on the other hand, were something he wore at Darlan’s insistence.
That thought reminded him of his first business of the day. He needed to tell Darlan what Justan been through the day before. He had spent the first part of the night talking to Justan about it through the bond and the ogre had promised Justan that he would let his mother know.
Fist stood and moved to the window. The dim light outside had told him it was early and a quick glance at the clock tower confirmed it. Darlan had told him she had a council meeting this morning and it would be at least an hour, maybe two before she was done. He scratched his head. What to do until then?
“What do you think, Squirrel? What should we do this morning?” Breakfast was being served at the Dining Hall. He could eat first, but then what? “Should we go to the library and study?”
No. Squirrel jumped back atop the table and shook his head, pulling a nut out of his cheek to chew thoughtfully. Boring.
As much as Fist enjoyed the library, Squirrel became stir crazy after just a few minutes. Lately this meant that the creature spent his time messing with people. The gnome librarian Vincent was his favorite target.
“Hmm.” Rubbing his itching ear, Fist opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a thin book. On the cover, written in Justan’s staccato handwriting was the title, Fist’s Book of Words. Justan had given it to him as a gift before leaving with Jhonate to work on rebuilding the academy. The pages were filled with complex words and their definitions, each word marked with a date.
Fist’s new word of the day was a tradition that had started back during their time at Coal’s Keep. It was a way for the ogre to expand his vocabulary and Fist enjoyed it. Justan hadn’t wanted the tradition to end while they were separated, so he had added enough words in the book to last the ogre a year.
“Let’s see,” Fist mumbled while flipping through the pages to find the current date. He ran a finger down the page. “My word of the day today is . . . skullduggery. Ooh. It means, ‘Underhanded and devious dealings. Trickery and scheming’.” He tucked the book away in one of his robe’s many pockets, a wide smile splitting his face. “That sounds like you, Squirrel!”
Squirrel cocked his head at him wryly.
“I know what we’ll do this morning,” Fist said, thinking of something that better fit his current mood. He pulled Squirrel’s pouch over his shoulder and held it open. “Let’s go visit Charz.”
Okay! Squirrel replied. He climbed to the top of the pile of books on the desk and dove inside.
Fist reached back into the pockets of his robes and withdrew a supple leather glove that he pulled over his large right hand. Then he used that hand to grab his mace from its resting place leaning against the desk. Protected from the weapon’s magic, he rested the haft of it on his shoulder and headed out the door.
The ogre didn’t get to carry his mace with him very often at the school. Though the increase in academy soldiers at the Mage School since the end of the war had led to a loosening of weapon restrictions, it was generally frowned upon for students to walk around armed. Darlan had arranged a few exceptions for Fist since he was training to be a war wizard, though. He was allowed to carry the mace with him when practicing war spells with her at the Testing Center or when sparring. This morning he planned to do both.
Fist smiled as he exited the building. It was the tail end of winter now and most of the region round about was still starting out each morning with a hard frost, but not here. Fist breathed in the fresh and balmy air of the Mage School and sighed. What a beautiful morning. He looked up into the blue sky and raised his arms, letting loose the mighty stretch he had wanted to do earlier.
One perk of staying at the Mage School was that it never got too cold in the winter. Or too hot in the summer, for that matter, thanks to the magic of the Rune Tower. Darlan had explained it to him once. Evidently, in a time long past, the Rune Tower had been infused with a special weather spell. Throughout the year it absorbed any excessive heat or excessive cold. It stored this energy, expelling it when needed to counteract the ambient temperatures and keep the Mage School grounds at comfortable levels. This allowed their gardens to continue producing food even in the harshest winters.
Charz’s quarters were located across the center square in a building next to Professor Beehn’s cottage. It was only a five minute walk from the dormitories, but Fist wanted to stop by the Dining Hall first and that would take him out of his way and all that walking around was going to suck away his time. Smiling, he switched the handle of his mace to his unprotected left hand and ran.
The magic of the mace increased his speed, helping him to run nearly twice as fast as usual. It had been an awkward feeling to get used to in the beginning, but he’d had the mace long enough by now that he was used to it. The downside of using the mace was that the increase in speed was tiring, which was why he carried it in the gloved hand most of the time.
Fist sped around the edge of the dormitory building and cut across the green towards the Dining Hall. The ogre made a fearsome sight, running at high speed with his wicked mace in hand. Luckily, it was still early enough that the area wasn’t crowded with students. Those few that were up and about took a few wary steps back when they saw him coming.
Fist switched the handle of the mace back to his right hand and slowed down just as he reached the open doors. He stumbled inside, his mace held high, causing several students to gasp. Breathing heavily, he lowered the weapon.
One old wizardess stood from her table and wagged a finger at him. “Be careful, ogre! Don’t you know that thing’s dangerous!”
“Sorry, Professor Landrine,” he said sheepishly.
“I don’t care what the new rules are. Weapons do not belong in the Dining Hall,” she grumped, sitting back down.
“Sorry,” Fist said again, bowing his head and hoping that she didn’t demand he leave and return without the weapon. Rules were one thing, but he was an apprentice. If Landrine told him to do something, he would have to do it. To his relief, she returned her attention to her breakfast and the open book beside her plate.
“Fist!” said a younger voice and the ogre turned to see his friend Neau sitting at a table nearby. Neau was a portly young cadet wearing a red and blue robe, showing his strengths in water and fire. Jezzer was sitting next to him in his gray robe. The two men had half-eaten plates of food in front of them. “Come sit with us. ”
“Oh, I can’t,” Fist replied. The two men were part of a small group of friends Fist had cultivated at the school along with Charz and Antyni the elf. He reached up and rubbed at his ear again. “I’m just grabbing something quick and then I need to go to Charz’s place.”
“He won’t like that,” Jezzer warned in his aristocratic tenor voice. “You know how he is about his mornings.”
“I know,” Fist said. The giant liked to sleep in. Some days he wasn’t up before noon.
“Then stay here instead,” said Neau. “We were talking about what happened last night. Did you hear about the newest council member?”
Fist’s ears perked up at that. There had been a lot of speculation over who the last member would be. The rest of the council had been silent on the matter, including Darlan. “Sorry. I’ll meet you at the library later for study. You can tell me then. I have stuff to tell you, too. You won’t believe what happened to Justan yesterday.”
The two students nodded and Fist went to stand in line. To his relief, the queue was fairly short and he didn’t have long to wait. He grabbed a dozen boiled eggs and all the cheese-filled rolls he could stuff in his pockets. The manager of the kitchens, Chef Richard, gave him a dour look and Fist explained that he was taking food for Charz. With a resigned grumble, the man stuffed a stack of sausages in a bag of waxed paper and handed them over.
The moment he left the Dining Hall, Fist switched the mace to his left hand and ran away, the sack of sausages clutched in his gloved hand. The quickest way to Charz would be to cut across the center square and head between the class buildings, but he knew there would be too many people there. So Fist took a more circuitous route, sprinting around the main part of the square.
He enjoyed the run. Moving at such a fast speed was the closest thing Fist could imagine to flying. He laughed as the wind whipped past his face, ignoring the stares of the passersby.
As he passed the buildings, the wide expanse of the grounds opened before him and he looked past the manicured lawns with their winding paths, to the wall that surrounded the school. Fist’s laugh faltered. If there was one obvious thing that showed the Mage School was different after the war it was the wall.
What had once looked like a fifty-foot-tall cliff hanging over the grounds was now only half its original height. Earth wizards worked on raising the wall higher every day, but it was slow going. The taller the wall became, the heavier it was and the more magic it took to get it to rise. In the beginning it had risen several inches a day, now it only rose a few inches a week. Some of the wizards predicted that, at the current rate of decline, it would take years to bring them to their former glory.
The other major change at the school was the academy presence. As Fist crossed the main road he could see the new cluster of buildings and barracks at the base of the wall. Until work on the new academy was finished, students were being taught here. It was part of a bold new relationship between the warriors and wizards, one that was hoped to be beneficial to all. Fist couldn’t see why it wouldn’t be.
Once he had bypassed the main square, he curved towards the storage buildings. While the class buildings were finely built with ornate trim work, these were little more than squat warehouses. Charz’s place was actually a section of one of the storage buildings that had been walled off for his use.
By the time Fist stopped at Charz’ door he was breathing heavily, his energy drained by the use of the mace. The last few months he had spent focused on magical studies had really reduced his stamina. Fist knew that Justan would have had him training more. He made sure never to bring it up during their late night talks.
He didn’t bother knocking. Charz would never have answered. So, his mace gripped in his gloved hand, Fist pulled open the heavy warehouse door and walked in, leaving it to hang open behind him to let some light in.
The interior of Charz’s place was dark and dank, almost cave-like. Wizard Beehn had built in a few windows, but Charz had boarded them back up. The light from the open door illuminated a room quite different from Fist’s. For one thing it was much larger, a necessity when housing a ten foot giant, with ceilings twice as high as Fist was tall. It was also a mess.
There were multiple dressers and wardrobes and desks around the room for the giant to use, but they were mostly empty. Charz was what Darlan called, ‘a pile person’. He kept his clothes piled on top of one table, his other various belongings piled on top of other various pieces of furniture. Scraps of garbage were cast around everywhere else.
As for the giant himself, Charz was sleeping in the corner of the warehouse farthest from the door. He was laying face down on a pile of fine mattresses that Beehn had hauled up from somewhere deep inside the Rune Tower. Charz thought the mattresses a hilarious waste since, with his thick rocky skin, he would have been just as comfortable sleeping on straw or wood shavings or gravel. Fist figured that the giant would have been fine with anything, as long as it was a pile.
The ogre walked up and prodded the giant with his foot. “Charz! Wake up.”
“Mpf,” The giant mumbled and planted his face more firmly into a mattress that looked to be covered with pink silk. The wide wet spot under his face told Fist that Charz had been drooling in his sleep. Fist nudged the giant again, but he refused to respond. The ogre pursed his lips, pondering the best way to wake him, preferably without getting beat on.
Me! said Squirrel and the fuzzy beast exited his pouch, a chunk of bread clutched in one hand. Fist raised an eyebrow. He didn’t remember putting a roll in Squirrel’s pouch.
Squirrel jumped down and scrambled across Charz’ back, heading towards the giant’s head. The little beast let out a little snicker of anticipation and Fist took a couple steps backward, knowing what was coming. “Careful, Squirrel. He might squish you.”
Squirrel crept in close, sneaking over Charz’s neck to press his furry face into the giant’s ear. He then let loose with a loud high pitched, “Chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-chi!”
Charz rose to his knees with a roar. Squirrel skittered away just in time to avoid the rocky hand that slammed into the side of the giant’s face with a thunderous crack.
“Gah!” echoed his booming voice. His mouth was wide open, his eyes confused.
“That’s enough!” Fist said in alarm. But Squirrel was already at the giant’s other ear.
Charz yelled again and grabbed for him. “Die, you fur-covered mosquito!”
One thing most people underestimated about the rock giant was his speed. Charz’s body was enhanced by magic and despite his size, he moved as fast as a man. Luckily, Squirrel was faster. The little beast darted out of his grasp, then slid down the giant’s back and skittered across the floor of the warehouse to hide behind one of the piles of trash.
“Calm down, Charz!” Fist said, holding out a pleading hand. He hastily began preparing a spell in the back of his mind.
“What the hell was that, Fist?” Charz demanded. He jumped to his feet, towering head and shoulders above the ogre. He was wearing nothing but a tight pair of small clothes and a heavy iron chain with a crystal pendant that hung around his neck.
“I came to ask for your help with something,” Fist said.
“Well that was a stupid way of doing it!” The giant growled, his lips twisted with rage.
“I didn’t know what Squirrel was going to do,” Fist lied.
“Yeah, right.” Charz said and some of the anger left his voice as he let out a wide yawn. “What time is it, anyway?”
Fist knew the giant wouldn’t be happy about the hour. He shrugged and generalized, “Morning time.”
“Morning? You woke me up early and you brought your mace?” Charz asked, eyeing the weapon. “You know better than this.”
“I know you like to sleep longer, but-!”
“And I was up late last night, too! The new council historian arrived and I had to carry all her heavy stuff into the tower!” Charz complained. “Blasted old lady with her trunks full of books . . .”
“I brought breakfast.” Fist lifted the paper bag. “Sausages and eggs and cheesy rolls.”
Charz sniffed at the savory smell rising from the bag and jerked it from the ogre’s hand. “I guess I do usually miss breakfast.” He stomped over to the nearest table and shoved a pile of empty liquor bottles off of an oversized chair. He plopped down onto it, causing the chair to creak in protest as he looked in the bag. “There ain’t that many sausages in here.”
Fist rubbed at his ear again. It really was itching something fierce. Maybe Squirrel had scratched him somewhere deep in there. “I was kind of hoping we could share them.”
“Don’t push your luck,” Charz grumbled, tossing a handful of sausages in his mouth. He spoke while he chewed, “You said something about eggs and rolls?”
Fist dug a half-dozen eggs out of his pockets as well as several rolls and set them down on the table next to the giant. He grabbed another roll out and bit into it himself. As with all Mage School food it was really good. The bread was crusty and the cheese was savory and, as he swallowed and took the next bite, he could already fill the stirrings of extra energy that only magic could provide.
Charz looked at the food in front of him and snorted. “More of a snack, really,” he said and tossed two eggs into his mouth, not even bothering to peel them.
Fist heard it crunching in the giant’s teeth and wondered what it was like? He had never tried eating them that way before. Did the shells have a flavor of their own? He pulled one out of his pocket and bit into it. He chewed, grimacing at the way the shell shattered under his teeth. Not pleasant.
Charz finished off another egg and bit a large roll in half. “What are you doing here, anyway? Ain’t you supposed to be studying with Sir Edge’s mom in the mornings?”
“She’s in a council meeting, so I thought I would come and get you to spar with me,” Fist replied. He took out another egg, but shelled it this time.
“Spar?” The giant raised a hairless rocky eyebrow as he chewed some more. “You mean you want to try out your new spells on me.”
Fist looked away from Charz and chewed the egg, wishing he’d had some salt and pepper. “While we are sparring, I will use my magic. So, yes. That too.”
The thing that made Charz an ideal sparring partner for Fist was the giant’s unique ability to shake off damage. The crystal pendant that hung from the iron chain the giant wore allowed him to heal from most types of wounds. Fist had seen huge holes blown into the giant by Justan’s bow. He’d even seen the giant half melted to glass. Both times, the magic had healed him back to normal.
“But you’re not supposed to be practicing those spells without Sherl around,” Charz said. He pointed a finger at Fist. “She says they’re ‘too dangerous’.”
“I know,” Fist said, rubbing his ear against his shoulder. “But we’re going to do it anyway and hope she doesn’t find out. It’s called, ‘skullduggery’.”
Charz frowned. “I don’t think that’s what that word means.”
“Yes it is. It’s my word of the day,” Fist replied. “It’s in my book if you want to look.”
The giant rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say. Still, you’re crazy if you think I’m gonna just stand there and let you shock me with lightning spells.”
“It’ll be more than that,” Fist promised. “We’ll fight, too. I need the exercise.”
“Yeah, right. If you really wanted to fight, you would have brought your shield and armor.” The giant upended the paper bag into his mouth, knocking in the rest of the sausages.
“I know you like the challenge,” Fist said in a tempting voice.
Charz’s attitude was quite different from the way it had been when Fist first met him. At one time, the thrill of the fight had been the only thing the giant cared about. That mindset had gotten him into trouble and he had spent a century imprisoned next to a cave. He was reformed now and wasn’t a danger, but the thought of a good battle still excited him.
“Hmph,” Charz said, his mouth full. He gave Fist a sideways glance, then swallowed. “You are one of the best fights in this place, I’ll give you that much.”
“Then you’ll come?” Fist said.
“I guess so. I-.” He slammed a heavy fist on the table, barely missing Squirrel, who jumped out of the way at the last possible moment. “Don’t you even think of eating my food, you little weasel!” He swung his hand, causing Squirrel to jump over to Fist and scurry into his pouch. Charz gestured at the ogre. “You tell him that I’m not forgiving him that easy. He’ll have to make it up to me.”
“He hears you,” Fist assured him. He dropped a roll into the pouch. Thanks for waking him. He received a satisfied chuckle through the bond in response.
“Alright, let’s go then,” Charz said. He stood and walked towards the door.
“You’re not going to get dressed?” Fist asked.
Charz’s shoulders slumped and he walked over to the table piled with clothes. He shuffled through them and pulled out a torn pair of pants and a shirt that wasn’t too badly stained. He began pulling them on. “I’m tired of these stupid wizards, insisting I walk around dressed all the time. I’m terrible on clothes.”
“I know what you mean,” Fist said. And he did. No matter how well humans tried to tailor clothes for him, they usually ended up damaged in some way. “Better material is what we need.”
“I know!” Charz replied. “I keep telling Alfred that all I need is a pair of pants that stretch.”
He bent over beside his pile of mattresses and picked up his trident. The three-pronged weapon was large and frightening, as tall as the giant was. The two outer prongs were sharpened like swords while the taller center prong was shaped like a spearhead. The metal had been etched with water runes and Fist knew wounds it made were slow to heal. His goal for the day would be not to get hit by that thing.
They left the warehouse and headed west towards the Magic Testing Center. It wasn’t too far away. Just a quick stroll and they were there. It was a large rectangular building consisting of rows of rooms specifically made for the purpose of testing out dangerous types of spells.
Fist stopped just outside the main door and opened Squirrel’s pouch. “You should get out, Squirrel.”
Squirrel didn’t argue. He usually liked to watch when it came time for Fist to fight, but this time he knew what kind of spells the ogre planned to use. He left the pouch and darted over to the nearest tree.
Fist and Charz entered the building. The female mage on duty saw the two of them approaching and smiled as she handed out a key. “Try not to break the place, you two.”
“Thank you,” Fist said as he took the key from the woman.
It wouldn’t be a problem. Each wall in the place was reinforced by multiple runes protecting them from magical or physical damage. They headed down the hallway and soon arrived at their assigned door. The rooms were all pretty much the same.
Fist opened the door to a space slightly larger than Charz’s place. It was wide and open and empty with a dirt floor. Perfect for the ogre’s purposes.
Charz walked to the center of the room and turned to face him, his trident at the ready. “Let’s get started.”
“Just a minute.” The ogre stabbed the spiky tip of his mace into the ground, then took off his glove and removed his robe. He then placed both the robe and Squirrel’s pouch into a rectangular trunk next to the door where it would be protected from his spells.
Fist picked up his mace, feeling the quickness of its magic overtake him.
“You ready?” Charz asked with an eager smile.
Fist sent out threads of earth and air, wrapping them around his body. He started the strands vibrating. Shimmering sparks of electricity flared up all around him. “Let’s fight.”
Charz laughed and charged.