Saloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Amidst the Chaos by Licheng Mai
On the day the temple rises from the earth, let the Key guide you into the catacombs.
The light was climbing over the hills of Trickdraw Junction, trickling down into the town as a middle-aged wizard stood in the street outside his potion shop and sipped his morning tea. Felix loved to start the day with tea, starting the day with tea meant he was not starting it with famine, murder, earthquakes, or demons. Such was the life of Felix R. Brewell the Prophetic, who would rather have been anything but Prophetic, but did as the universe commanded of him.
The townsfolk were beginning to stir. The shops around him were opening up, one by one. Earlier risers getting a head start on their daily errands. Felix was content to watch them, and to sip his tea. He turned to the east, enjoying the dark mountain landscape before the sunlight would inevitably scorch the cool earth to render it hot and miserable. Something glinted, flashing brightly far away. Felix instinctively raised a hand to his eye. When he lowered it, the mountain had transformed. Two glowing eyes had taken the place of the flash, glowing like embers.
Before Felix could register what had happened, his store exploded behind him. Physically, catastrophically, the west side of his entire building ceased to exist in a magnificent puff of purple smoke engulfing the alleyway.
“For the sake of the Plague,” he exclaimed, spinning to witness the destruction, his tea spilling out of his tiny mug onto the dusty road beneath his feet.
A shadow of deeper purple moved within the magenta fog. A figure, rummaging with precision and expertise. A moment later, it was gone. The fog began to fade. The crime was already completed.
“No, no, no!” Felix’s teacup fell to the ground, forgotten. “Not again, not already.”
He threw his hands up angrily, demanding an answer from the sky.
“Is it because of the tea?”
“Mr. Brewell, sir, are you all right?” A neighbor materialized behind him, one of the sons of someone he had never bothered to make conversation with.
“Yes, yes, fine. Get out of here while you can.”
Felix pushed him aside and entered what remained of his potion shop. The west side wall was indeed missing, but the other three remained largely intact. Felix shrugged. He could make do with that.
“What happened?” The younger man exclaimed, as if not yet noticing until that very moment the fresh destruction of his establishment.
“Stay out of the way,” Felix commanded, pulling bottles from behind the now heavily damaged bar.
“Your potion shop, Mr. Brewell, your poor shop.”
Felix didn’t grace this with a response, just lifted a large scrying bowl up onto the table and uncorking a new bottle of bright blue mana.
“Are you going to fix the hole?”
“I’m going to drink,” Felix hissed, and did so, deeply from the pure mana. He hated days that started like this.
“There must be some way to fix this, some spell you have. You’re a powerful wizard, right?”
“Do I look like a carpenter? I’m a prophet.”
“What are you going to do, then?”
Felix dumped the remaining third of the bottle into the scrying bowl. He waved a hand and disturbing images began floating to the surface. Ships riding on green mist, lighting exploding from the cannons of the Junction, a red figure emerging from the east, a wizard riding a pegasus into the jaws of a demon, glowing ember eyes.
Felix splashed the water angrily.
“What was that?” the local asked, warier than he had been.
“Stuff I already knew. Why me? Why me?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brewell.”
“You shouldn’t be here,” Felix said. “None of you should be. Pack your belongings. Leave this town. Immediately. Tell everyone.”
The light in the room dimmed as a figure entered the doorway.
“You’re late,” Felix grumbled, not even looking up.
“I was guided here by the stars,” a woman’s voice said. “I have traveled for many days without rest. We have a prophecy in our culture. On this day, it comes true.”
“Yeah, yeah. Okay,” Felix said, standing. “What, you need ammo? Strength potion?”
“I need the Key.”
“Right, yeah, well, you’re too late for that.” He gestured to the hole in the wall. “They took it.”
“Who?” the witch demanded, stepping further into the shop. She was dressed in the customary robes of the coven, a flowing red dress with roses in her hair. The mask. The polished skull of the first foe she had slain. She fit the prophecy exactly.
“Some thief. He didn’t steal it for himself. You come here speaking of prophecy, you know nothing.”
“Our sacred texts—”
“Sacred texts, great. Thousands of years old, right? Give me a break. You, boy. If you’re not going to leave, make yourself useful. Hand me my hat.”
The local man did as he was told. The witch was not so easily persuaded. Felix turned to find himself facing the barrel of a gun. A floating boomstick, inches from his left eye.
“Speak sense, wizard. The fate of the world hangs in the balance. Tell me what you know.”
“I’ll do you one better.”
Felix spat into the scrying pool to reactivate it. The pegasus came again into focus.
“Who is that rider?” the witch asked.
“Me,” Felix said, disappointed. “That’s my mount. And my hat. Unless…”
His eyes lit up with excitement, and he splashed the image away.
“What’d you do that for?” the witch nearly choked from surprise and frustration.
Felix waved her off. “I know how it ends.”
“How does it end?” the young man asked.
“Trickdraw Junction is destroyed, the Temple eats all of its inhabitants, then it uproots the foundation of the court house, dragging it away to the Plague Lands, symbolizing yadayada, and wow we learn our lesson and whatever and who cares.”
“The prophecy foretold,” the witch said, bewildered.
“Trickdraw Junction is destroyed?” the local demanded in disbelief.
“I told you to leave.” Felix shrugged. “But now you can’t. Can you ride?”
“Yes,” the local said.
“Good. Witch, follow me. You, put on my hat.”
While the prophet prepared, the Junction watched on in horror as the mountain stood and approached, its ember eyes illuminating the face of a demon, or dragon, or golem of collossal size.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep their attention, from behind the mountain, riding on the rays of light from the morning sun, an armada, thirty ships strong. Following the beast like it was their sheppard, which if the prophecies could be believed, it was.
All cultures throughout Saloondria utilize the art of prophecy, by different means. Scrying pools, simple dishes to be filled mana, are these days readily available in any general store, though the use of them is still recommended only to well trained sooths. Nothing can craft greater distress than a broken or incomplete prophecy.
Trickdraw Junction is unique in the world of Saloondria. A crossroads between the good and the bad, the pure and the corrupted, the future and the past. Local prophecies created both by the native coven traditions and the more civilized sorceries alike produce the same story again and again. When the temple rises from the earth, he who holds the Key will unlock its power.
So as the creature decended, the smallfolk had a good idea of what was to come, but it must be noted: not an exact one.
For the art of prophecy is less knowing the future and more preparing for it. Small things can be influenced with proper knowledge and technique. It is true thay once a thing is known, it shall come to pass. But if a thing is predicted, the outcome can be manipulated, to the extent of the sorcerer, witch, or sayer who brought forth that piece of sooth.
Which is why when the thieves, wizards, cowboys, and knights do battle with the impending doom, a certain drunken storekeep may yet have a word in the final say.
To be continued in Part 2.
This story acts as finale to Volume 1 of Saloondrian Short Stories. In addition to here on this blog, the narrative will be captured as a game and as a chapter in the first Saloondria book. Learn more