Simon and Zeke were pressed up against the wall of the pool as the three old men slowly approached them. In the fog it was hard to see the exit, it was thick and dark.
Simon knew that it was time to take the kid gloves off. He tried to ignite his hands, but they were too wet for any flames to stick. He cursed under his breath. There wasn’t anything else he could do but punch the old men’s lights out. He made fists and punched the man nearest to him. The man’s face slackened under Simon’s knuckles, pieces of it came off and splashed in the pool. Simon gagged.
The man with the tears in his face reached his arms out to choke the life out of Simon. Zeke quickly kicked the man in the crotch and pushed him away. Doing this opened him to an attack from another man who pulled Zeke under the water. Zeke struggled to get back above the surface, but the old man’s grip was strong, much stronger that a man of that age should be.
Zeke held his breath as he splashed around. He could hold his breath for four minutes, but as panic gripped him, he was expending more energy. The urge to inhale was strong. His hands searched for something to grab onto so that he could loosen the man’s grip. He reached up and pulled at the man’s arms. The skin only tore away and disintegrated in the water. Zeke grimaced as the pieces floated by him. What were these men made of? He expected to see bone and muscles, but instead saw wood. What in the world was that?
Simon saw that Zeke hadn’t free himself yet and approached the man attempting to drown him. He gave the man a punch in the face, causing him to stumble backward. The man’s grip loosened and allowed Zeke to reach the surface. Zeke took a big gulp of air as he tried to orient himself.
“They’re not real!” Zeke said. He pointed at the men and called attention to their wounds. There was no blood, just wood. “They’re like weird puppets!”
The third man made his way to Simon in time to receive a kick in the chest. He floated away, making a path to the pool exit. Simon and Zeke wasted no time in getting out of the pool. The three men, with their skin slipping off their faces, stood in the water staring at them. They collected together and then soared out of the pool. Simon and Zeke were not expecting that at all. They took several steps backward and turned to run into the changing room.
The three men, completely free of their skin, landed in front of them, clinching their wooden fingers. They looked like faceless mannequins found in tailor or sewing shops. They each took one menacing step toward Simon and Zeke, who in turn took another step backward.
“Should we run?” Zeke asked.
“I’m not leaving here without my clothes,” Simon said. “I don’t want to get arrested for indecency.”
“I think that’s the least of our problems,” Zeke replied.
Simon waved his hands about in an attempt to dry them off. When he felt that they were sufficiently dry enough, he ignited his hands in green flames. He wasted no time in engulfing them. The mannequins were stunned momentarily, but the flames were soon extinguished. “Dammit, they’re too wet!”
The mannequins were not going to stop. They looked like they were going to run at them. Simon and Zeke decided that running was a good idea. They turned tail and ran, of course, grabbing their towels to be modest.
The mannequins chased after them through the changing room. Simon had hoped to lose them in the many rows of closets, but they never took their sights off of them.
They ran down the hallway leading to the front desk area. They stopped to see if Ingrid was still there, but she was gone. Simon heard the mannequins close behind them. He grabbed Zeke’s arm and pulled him towards the front door. When they reached the glass door, they found it to be locked.
“Who the hell locks the door with people still inside?” Zeke shouted, his voice cracking as it peaked. “We’re trapped!”
Simon began to punch the glass door in the hopes of breaking it. Unfortunately, the glass was very thick and showed no signs of cracking. Still he didn’t give up, this was their only hope.
The three menacing mannequins arrived at the end of the hallway and cocked their heads as they stared at Simon and Zeke with their eyeless faces. They clinched their fingers into fists as they approached them.
Zeke knew that he would have to come up with a spell somehow. He had been fairly lucky so far on this quest making things up on the fly. He took stock of how much magical energy he had left. He hadn’t had a chance to rest to recharge his energy stores. He was down to 35% at best. It wasn’t going to be a strong spell, but it might be enough to stop the mannequins long enough to buy some time.
Simon’s fists were bloodied as he continued to punch the glass door. Zeke stopped him and said, “We need to try something else!” Simon agreed. He started to think about what other spells he knew. He could use his Cloud of Daggers spell again, but these mannequins probably didn’t feel pain. That was a pity. How he yearned to hear their screams of anguish.
What else could defeat enchanted wooden puppets? Simon thought about using one of his dragon spells. It had been a long time since he had used one. They were generally more complicated to perform and they caused a lot of damage. Using one in such small quarters would most likely kill him and Zeke, but the enemies would be toast. There had to be something else… Maybe there was no other way.
The mannequins assessed their situation and saw that victory was within their grasp. They slowly crept towards their prey, hands clinching and un-clinching.
Zeke wished that he had brought his master’s book with him, but what use was it at a spa? Maybe if he transcribed every spell in Gresar’s book into a smaller book, it would be more portable and readily accessible. That would have to be a project he did after he survived this.
Simon stepped in front of Zeke and clapped his hands. “Stay behind me,” he said. Zeke nodded his head and hid. Simon noticed that the mannequins weren’t in a hurry to get them; he planned to use this to his advantage.
He got down on his knees and began to pray. He reached his energy down to the Old Ones and asked them to lend him more of their power. Within seconds he could feel their power surging within him. The ceremony was complete. He stood up and stared at the encroaching creatures. His eyes glowed green as the power intensified. As the mannequins began to grow mouths with sharp splinters for teeth, Simon readied his attack.
“Brace yourself,” Simon warned Zeke. The young wizard wasn’t sure what exactly he should be bracing himself for, but supposed that he would soon find out.
Simon placed his hands out in front of him and chanted words in the Elder language. The environment suddenly grew warm. He shouted a command and a blast of green fire in the shape of a large dragon raced from Simon’s hands and traveled down the hallway. The force of the attack shoved Zeke and Simon backward into and through the glass door that had been previously unmoved. The dragon spell made quick work of the mannequins and the lobby of the spa. Everything was charred and smoking, the mannequins were three piles of ash and splinters.
Simon and Zeke picked themselves up and brushed off the broken glass. Zeke’s wiped some blood from his face for he had used it to break the door. His ears were ringing and underneath that was the cutting sound of Simon’s laughter. Zeke looked at his friend and saw that he stood triumphantly and naked in the middle of the street laughing maniacally. Zeke didn’t think that he would stop. There was a crazed look in Simon’s eyes; this frightened Zeke a little.
“DID YOU SEE THAT?” Simon puts his hands on his hips and laughed some more. “That was great! I haven’t used that spell in a long time!”
“I can see why,” Zeke commented. He adjusted his towel, which had miraculously stayed on, and approached Simon to tap him on the shoulder. “We should go. People are going to start wondering what happened.”
Zeke looked around them and saw that people were beginning to step out of the shops and houses to get a peek. He felt embarrassed and waved awkwardly at them. “See, we’re causing a scene.”
He reached out and touched Simon’s shoulder, but he was abruptly shrugged off. Simon raised his hand like he was going to hit Zeke. Zeke recoiled and shielded his face. There was a wild look on Simon’s face, his eyes still green, teeth bared.
“Simon!” Zeke called out.
Simon took a moment and realized that Zeke was cowering before him. It was like he had just remembered that Zeke was a friend; his face softened and his body language relaxed. He dropped his arms down to his sides and sighed. He looked back at the spa and saw the damage he had caused. He felt shame. He had done it again, he almost lost control and struck a friend.
“I’m sorry…” He bent down and picked up his towel and tied it to his waist. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” He turned to Zeke, who was still cowering, and extended his hand. “Can you forgive me?”
Zeke studied Simon for a moment before lowering his arms. He shook Simon’s hand and smiled cautiously. “Sure. The next time you try to hit me, I might not feel the same way.” Simon nodded his head, message received. “Now let’s get out of here.”
Zeke and Simon turned to walk away, but the townspeople had all but surrounded them in a wide circle. They were staring at them with blank stares. “Just go on home! There’s nothing to see here! Sorry for the disturbance!” Zeke said. The people stood and gazed unblinkingly at them. Zeke knew that something wasn’t right. They were still in danger.
“Simon, the people…” Zeke started.
“They’re puppets, too.” Simon ignited his fists, ready to call upon the Dragon spell again.
Just as he said that, the skin and clothes melted away in thick globs to the ground, revealing themselves to be mannequins. Their faces were blank and wooden. Mouths began to form, baring their glistening splintered teeth. They reached out to grab Zeke and Simon as their circle closed in.
Zeke and Simon stood side by side as they observed the mannequins’ shuffle towards them. They readied their magical energies and prepared to fight their way out.
“You get the ones on the left and I’ll get the ones on the right,” Simon suggested. Zeke nodded his head in agreement.
Simon went to work incinerating the mannequins that raced towards him. Zeke was left wondering how he could defeat the ones that were coming at him. He wished that he had his master’s book. There had to be a spell that would work in this situation. He sighed as he constructed words that would subdue his enemies. As the mannequins crept closer, Zeke wondered if he would have enough energy to summon a spell powerful enough to stop all of them. He would soon find out.
Zeke decided that he would call upon the power of fire to vanquish his foes. He gathered the words he needed and recited: “I call upon the gods of fire and flame, strike down my enemies in your name.” He raised his right hand to the sky as dark clouds formed above him. The clouds opened and a balls of flame rained down upon the menacing mannequins, igniting each and every one of them. They continued their approach until they collapsed into charred piles before him. They reached for Zeke, still intent on carrying out their directive. Zeke merely kicked the fiery crawling mannequins away. They finally stopped moving and were content to burn up in resignation.
Simon stared up at the sky and watched as the clouds dissipated into the nothing they came from. He turned his attention to Zeke and saw the ruin that lay before him. He was impressed with him. To look at Zeke, one wouldn’t assume that so much power could come from a guy so small, but surprises came in small packages, he supposed.
All of the mannequins had been destroyed. Zeke and Simon took a moment to rest. They knew that if it was dangerous to do so at this moment, but they were exhausted. So much magical energy was spent and it took a toll on their bodies. Simon knew that he could only do low level spells from this point on. Zeke had spent the rest of his magical energy on that last spell. He just hoped that he wouldn’t need to cast any more spells tonight.
“We need to find Rafe and Moralie,” Simon said, breaking the silence. “If the whole town is full of these things, you can bet that they’re in trouble.”
Zeke agreed. “But we should go back to the inn and get dressed.” He adjusted his towel and sighed. “We can’t very well help them if we’re naked.”
“This is a good point.”
Simon and Zeke cautiously stepped through the burnt bodies, mindful for any mannequin that might still be alive. Once they were through the battlefield, they made their way to the inn.