Chapter 16 – The Brothers’ Struggle Part 1
John ducked behind a tree as it was quickly turned into a pincushion by arrows, bolts, bullets and rays. As it turned out, the proprietor of Fred’s Discount Swords was no fool and was able to see through the brother’s grift. As such John found himself hunted through the woods, separated from his brother, with his prised cart and liquor supply burnt to the ground. He would have preferred it if they had robbed him; burning it was a waste of good drink.
The worst part of losing his booze was that it meant he couldn’t fight back. Well, couldn’t effectively fight back. A bartender gained more abilities the more they drank. Having no drinks meant no power. One of the only abilities he could use was his 80⁰ flame ability. When he first got it, he could only adjust the temperature of existing fire, but when he practiced it a lot he became able to make a small, somewhat warm, fire in the pam of his hand. He thought of it as warm, but compared to normal fire, you could probably call it cold. Still, he could burn paper and cloth with it and it made a handy light. Its main purpose seemed to be brewing drinks mid-air. He didn’t know how that worked; it just seemed to.
He ran a hand through his hair with frustration and thought about what to do next. If Jacob were there, they might be able to win a fight. Alone, running was about all he could manage. He had though that they would have stopped chasing if he ran far enough, but they hunted him like wolves. His one real option was to run towards the most dangerous monsters he could find and that the so called ‘players’ tasted better than he did. Not that that would stop them. Those demonic bastards didn’t die when you killed them. It was extremely unnerving. As much as he was grateful he wasn’t in the great city when it fell, he did miss the good old days when you could put a knife in a guy and feel safe knowing he’d never bother you again.
The woods he ran through were uncomfortably hot, a temperature that was made worse by an unnaturally dry climate. Part of him wondered how the woods stayed so green despite the lack of water. He quickly pushed those thoughts down and continued to push himself forward. As he ran a bolt struck deep into his calf. The metal hit bone and he could feel a shattering pain spread through his fatigued body. The effort involved in moving to that point had numbed his body but that blissful comfort had disappeared in a moment to be replaced by the agony of hellfire, eating away it his leg.
As he collapsed heavily to the ground, like a felled tree or a sack or rocks, he began to roll down a nearby steep decline. Unable to control his speed, he rolled ever faster, praying to whatever would listen that he wouldn’t hit a tree. Apparently his plea went unheard, or at least ignored, as just as he reached the peak of his speed he collided with an old and rotting tree. John struck the thin thing side on, and he could feel his body contort and break, struggling to shape itself around the tree. The tree also had a hard time dealing with the impact, breaking under the strain and rot. It fell on top of him, though it was braced by its stump and the hill and there was little pressure on his broken body.
He could hear a distant cracking sound and felt his mind slip and blackness overtake his sight.
He came back to his senses, after an indeterminable amount of time, in an instant. The sharp pain from his leg magnified itself several times over, as a hoard of rats stripped the flesh from his leg. He screamed and panicked. He kicked and battered them with his other leg and a branch. Seeing him active again, the rats fled.
His leg was beyond hope. What remained of it was a blood soaked stub. He could feel his blood flowing steadily from what was left of his leg. While the shock was still fresh, while he couldn’t truly feel it, he lit his 80⁰ flame and started to sear the wound. The fire was nowhere near hot enough to seal it in an instant and instead was a slow boil. If he had been thinking more clearly, he could have used his flame to light the wooden club then used that to seal it faster. Instead he prolonged his own pain and suffering. After nearly a full minute of burning his skin, the job was done. He felt weak. The blessing of sleep called to him. If he had been even the slightest bit wearier he would have passed out again. However, he knew that if he did, the rats would return and he wouldn’t wake up.
Bracing himself on a long branch he pushed himself up. He was in a dark and cold cave or cavern with nearly no light aside from his flame. What little light that occurred naturally in that place was the result of some glowing bugs of unusual size. The air of the cavern didn’t provide any answers as to which way to go; it flowed strongly in one direction then turned around and blew the other. It was like the steady breathing of a giant.
He pushed himself forward once more, hopping slowly for each step, hoping that the stick he relied on would hold. He coughed, phlegm filled his throat and he struggled to get air. Panic and will to live fired once more and he started striking his chest. Shaking, coughing; he tried all he could to grasp air. He fell forward as his struggles broke his brace and he hit the cold stone ground with a sharp impact.
Luckily the impact dislodged the phlegm and he could breathe again. The bad news was that the phlegm was actually blood and a broken rib was likely lodged somewhere it shouldn’t be. He crawled, almost dragged, himself. He could hear the rats, like vultures, waiting for him to stop; waiting for an easy meal.
As they flooded towards him he had some of his first good luck of the day; he recognised a nearby tree-root that was protruding from the cave-wall. It was the root of a tree that was jokingly called a booze-bush. One of its unique traits was that the roots contained a very high sugar content and as the tree started to die, they would ferment into a very sweet liquor.
Grabbling at the root and breaking it off, he prayed that the tree was dead. This time is prayer was answered and he could hear the soothing slosh of the viscid brew. Without a moment to loose, he downed the drink and activated one of his best bartender abilities. A green-purple flame burst from him mouth, spreading like a serpent through the air. The rats tried to react but within a moment the cave was alight with the spirit fed fire. He could hear the screeching and smell the scent of burning hair.
With some small satisfaction he lay on his back and let out a laugh. Pain filled his body beyond anything he had ever imagined possible but that stilled seemed small compared to the simple joy of killing a rat. More than anything else, he hated the world.