Chapter 3: The Mage of St. Mt. Vernon

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of kingdoms, it was the age of silliness, it was the epic of fantasy, it was the epoch of parody, it was the season of light, it was the season of dorkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, they had everything before them, they had nothing before them, they were all going direct to Belling – they were all going direct the same-said way. In short, this period was so far like the present period that its author decided to allude to Dickens in an attempt to bring respectability back to his work. He failed miserably.

"Way to break the fourth wall without me," Sam complained to the author.

"Huh?" Shanyese and Seth both turned to him. "Who are you talking to?"

"Never mind," the merchant replied with a sigh.

"We've been on the road for days now," Shanyese whined.

"We're getting close," Seth promised her. "And look there," he pointed out ahead, towards the sky. "See that smoke? We must be getting close to a village."

Sam frowned. "Why so much smoke?"

"Don't worry Your Hotness, it's just chimney smoke," Shanyese replied. "Then again…"

"…It's not really cold enough out to have that many fires going," Seth finished her thought, "and it's not like they'd all be making dinner at the same time. That is a lot of smoke, Sam, you're right… come, let's hurry."

The other two nodded and they began walking faster toward the hazy grey cloud hanging in the distant sky.

-~-

By the time the village came into view much of the smoke had been blown away on the wind. The fire that had been its source had burned out, so that was only natural. Now what remained were a bunch of charred buildings and the stink of burned flesh.

"Horrible…" Shanyese murmured. The tiny town was nothing but a charcoal skeleton. Every building made of wood had been burned to a point at which there was almost nothing left, and every stone structure had collapsed. But that wasn't the most shocking part. Bodies of men, women and children lay scattered among the ruins, some burned beyond recognition, others appearing to have fallen to savage, mutilating attacks. Seth bowed his head and even Sam, whose disposition was normally far from serious, became solemn. "Who could have done such a thing?"

"We should look for survivors," Seth finally declared, his voice unusually strained.

"Yeah…" Shanyese agreed and began to walk slowly toward the destruction.

Seth started to follow but quickly stopped and looked over his shoulder at Sam. "You coming?"

The merchant hesitated but then strode forward to join them. Seth set out grimly to begin their search.

They stayed together as they moved through the blackened streets, not sure if whoever or whatever had done this was actually gone. At first they found no signs of life, but after clambering over the ruins of a stone wall all their eyes immediately jumped to a circle of green that looked untouched by flames. Within this circle grass still stood unburned alongside a few weeds and wildflowers. And in the very center of the circle sat a man dressed in robes of red, reading a book. He looked completely oblivious to the destruction around him.

They stared at the man for a long time. They were incredulous that someone could be sitting among all the burned buildings and bodies with such tranquility, doing something as casual as reading a book. They didn't know how to react, and were perhaps waiting to be noticed rather than having to break the aura of silence that surrounded the circle in which the man sat. But aside from regularly turning a page of his book, the man didn't look up or even move.

"Alright, I'm bored," Sam finally announced, boldly walking up to the edge of the circle.

"Sam!" Seth and Shanyese both shouted in warning.

The merchant put his foot forward to walk into the circle of grass and abruptly crashed into an invisible wall.

"Ow!"

Shanyese and Seth chuckled as Sam rubbed his nose.

"What the…?" The merchant put his hand up against the barrier that had prevented him from entering the circle. "A circle of protection?"

"He's obviously a mage," Seth spoke up. "You're lucky that wasn't some sort of magical trap."

"Didn't the robes clue you in on his identity?" Shanyese asked teasingly.

"Well, at least now you care if I burn into smithereens. That's reassuring." Sam retorted.

"Whatever the case, it looks like this circle of protection was completely overdone – he must have even blocked out sound with it, seeing as he still hasn't noticed us," Seth said, scratching his beard.

"Well in that case, I just so happen to know a charm that should get his attention," Sam announced smugly. "But you may want to find some cover if I'm using it. This charm is known to have some side effects."

Shanyese and Seth eyed each other and nodded, going over to a pile of rubble and crouching behind it.

"Uh, not there," Sam said, watching them. "That's going to be my spot."

Seth's eyes narrowed, and Shanyese pulled a knife from her belt and held in a throwing position. "What was that?"

Sam frowned. "Do you want me to use the charm, or not?"

Mumbling grouchily, Shanyese sheathed her knife and she and Seth moved further back behind a different rubble pile.

"But I can't see from here!" Shanyese complained.

"Don't worry," Sam called out to them, "you'll get a good show out of it even from back there. Ready? One, two, three… JAMES CAMERON!"

"Who?" Shanyese and Seth turned to each other. They heard Sam hurling himself behind the pile of rubble he had forced them to vacate. And then…

"JAMES CAMERON?!?!" A monstrous, furious voice boomed like thunder through the village. Shanyese yelped involuntarily and then there was the sound of explosions behind them. Something bright streaked overhead and exploded in front of them, sending dust and ash flying in every direction. Another exploding light struck their rubble pile and they felt it shake with the impact.

"Fireballs!" Seth yelled as a searing heat washed over them. "What kind of dangerous charm is this?!"

There was what sounded like over a dozen more explosions before things finally became quiet again. Shanyese and Seth stood up shakily, covered in dust from the explosions that had struck the ground near them. Sam, in a similar dusty condition, also stood and gave them an evil smile.

"Told you it'd work!" he shouted.

"You suck!" Shanyese yelled back.

"Hey, look," Seth tapped Shanyese's shoulder and pointed a little ways past Sam. A tall figure dressed in red robes came into view. The book he had been reading with such intense concentration he held closed in one hand. The other clenched and unclenched rhythmically, as though he was trying to repress a great deal of anger. His brow gleamed with sweat that suggested exhaustion. He had, after all, just thrown off about fifty fireballs.

"Where?" the man shouted, "where is he?!"

"Who?" Sam asked, feigning ignorance.

"The one who said that name!"

"Name? What name?"

The mage stared at Sam with intensity, his eyes burning with hatred. Then he blinked and his anger seemed to fade. His face relaxed and he sighed. "Was I just imagining it?"

"Uh, do you think you could tell us what happened here?" Seth asked, stepping out from behind the rubble pile. He gestured toward the burnt-up village.

"Huh?" The mage blinked and looked in the direction Seth indicated, and he swept his gaze around to take in a full view of everything. "W-what?!? What happened to my village?!?"

"That's what we were hoping you could tell us," Shanyese said, going to stand behind Seth. "Didn't you cast that circle of protection to save yourself?"

"What? The circle? No, no!" The mage raised his hand defensively. "I only performed that spell so that I could read without being bothered! You don't know how annoying it is to get interrupted while reading a story…"

"Story?" Seth asked. "That's not a spell book?"

"Uh, ah, yes, that's what I meant," the mage laughed a little, sounding embarrassed. "A-anyways, are you sure you don't know what happened? My poor St. Vernon…"

"Saint Vernon?" Shanyese asked? "Who's that?"

"No, that's the name of this town… well, technically it's called Mt. Vernon. We were planning on naming it St. Vernon, but Vernon never ended up becoming a saint like we'd hoped. So we had to name it after that mountain instead."

"I've never heard of a Mt. Vernon. Definitely not a St. Vernon, either."

"Yeah, well, no one cares much about us," the mage said with a sigh. "Guess someone decided that we didn't even deserve to exist. Who could have done such a thing?"

"Cute little bunny rabbits bent on total world domination?" Sam suggested.

The mage looked contemplative. "No, it'd be chipmunks leading the operation. The bunnies are just their lackeys."

There was a short silence. Sam coughed.

"So, what's your name?" Shanyese eventually asked.

The mage smiled arrogantly. "Me? Why I am the great mage Albus Ged-Salian Voldmagius the Red, head of the Order of Lunitari, the Eye of Mars!"

Shanyese blinked twice. "Seriously, what's your name?"

The mage's smile fell. "Tyler."

"Nice to meet you, Tyler, I'm Shanyese." Shanyese navigated through the rubble to get to Tyler and shook his hand. Seth followed and did the same.

"Prince Seth of the Kingdom of Olympia," Seth said as he took Tyler's hand, "and mercenary for the Paula Deen Bandits."

"It is an honor," Tyler bowed.

"Please, such formalities aren't necessary," Seth said with a little embarrassment. "I don't tell most people I meet of my lineage since they always make such a big fuss."

"Prince?!" Sam exclaimed. "You? And what's this 'Paula Deen Banits' thing? You're mercenaries, not bandits, right?"

Shanyese waved his questions off. "Yeah, yeah, it just comes with the inside jokes." She turned to Sam and her eyes glinted dangerously. "Hey, Sam, the carrot goes where you think it goes."

Sam stared back at Shanyese blankly. Seth slapped his forehead. Tyler chuckled. Shanyese looked back at the mage with surprise.

"Wait, do you understand that joke? Don't tell me you're a mind reader?"

"No," Tyler shook his head. "It just sounded like it was supposed to be funny, and that made it funny, so I laughed. I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Huh." Shanyese crossed her arms. "Well Mr. Atlas Dead-Scallion van Moldius the Red, what are you going to do with your village like this? If you have any interest in mercenary work, we could use a mage."

"Really?" Tyler's excitement was apparent, especially considering that he didn't try to correct the horribly butchered name Shanyese had used. "My life has been so drama-less that I thought it'd never end! An adventure as a mercenary? Me? Yes, I'll go with you!" He practically bounded toward the village entrance.

"Oh, you never got to introduce yourself, did you?" Seth asked Sam as the merchant came to stand by him, watching the mage dance about (very uncoordinatedly) in his robes.

"Oh, but he's having so much fun dancing. I wouldn't want to disrupt him." Sam said as he walked to the mage, proceeding to flick him in the forehead "I'm Sam… oh, and 'James Cameron.'"

A/N: Originally this chapter ended with Sam as a melted puddle of goo due to his last comment to Tyler, but that made it kind of problematic for the story's continuance so the scene was cut.