I knew rage. The world swam with blood. We stalked the halls slaughtering frogs everywhere we found them. Twice we were forced to fight a lizard folk, but somehow we managed to subdue them rather than kill them. I believe it was Bob who had the steadying hand there. Me, I was out of my mind with grief and anger. It wasn’t until Liz pulled me back from killing three frogs who had surrendered did I even realize I had been wounded in many places, nicks and bruises that while not life threatening, would have slowed me down in previous battles.
I was just sick of all the death, if that makes any sort of sense. Even as I write that sentence I realized the irony of my words. I had to sit in that hall and collect my thoughts for in that instance I could see how easy it would be to slip over the edge and become that which I loathed. Liz disarmed the frogs and locked them in a storage room. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. Breathing had been a struggle for a while. I had driven myself beyond exhaustion in the hours we stalked the halls. My throat hurt from the shouting, which would be a problem when I got around to healing the others. I couldn’t find the divine for a bit. Rage is not conducive to gods who abjure mindless violence. Violence against a worthy foe is one thing. Slaughtering the weak, despite their complicity in heinous crimes, shaded the white with too much gray.
So we sat in that hall, Bÿglar and Sparkle at one end, watching for enemies, with Bob and Rufus down the other end of the passage. Liz sat with me and placed her hand on my knee while leaning her head on my shoulder. She did not speak, but her presence helped to cool my blood. Impudent wrath coursed in my veins. I wanted to lash out, break things, make them pay. But no matter how many of the frogs I killed, it could not assuage the pain in my soul; could not fill the hole in my heart.
When my breathing had calmed to the point I could hear more than the throbbing heartbeat in my ears, I began to hear other voices. The three frogs, bound and captured, wept. They did not rail or shout. That was for the brave and the foolhardy. These three, simple followers of a corrupt power, wept for their families.
Gods I hated myself in that moment. Is this how good people did bad things? Granted the frogs were, as a civilization, cowardly, base and greedy. But honestly, doesn’t that apply to many of the world’s people? I must’ve sighed heavily because Liz patted me on the leg and stood, holding out a hand for me to rise along with her. When I was on my feet she hugged me and called Rufus and Bob to join us.
“Merric has a new plan,” she said as if she could see inside my head. The other two looked at me, watching for a clue to my mood. I didn’t have much of a plan, of course, but with Liz’s prompting the idea formed to the point I could articulate it.
I went to the storage closet and reached for the door. Bob’s hand shot out, grabbing me by the wrist, a look of fear in his eyes. How far down the line had I travelled this day? I turned and pulled him into a hug, letting the comfort of his stout frame and warm heart settle the last of my wrath.
“I won’t hurt them,” I said as I stepped back.
He looked into my face, touching my left cheek with his gloved hand. He glanced at Liz who nodded and that seemed enough for him. He stepped back and I opened the door.
The three frogs began to wail then. I was an avenging angel, mighty and covered in the spattered remains of other frogs. I cannot imagine what we must’ve looked like in that moment. So I did the things I understood to do. First I used one of the cantrips I had learned on that first day I could feel the divine. I pushed the limits beyond any I’d tried before, but I seemed to succeed. In one instant I looked a horror, and in the next, I was scrubbed clean. Blood and gore vanished in a blink and I knelt to the frogs, cutting their bonds and helping them each to their feet.
They were wounded and afraid. I knew a little of resolving that so I did the best of my calling. I healed them, calming their fears and bowed my head.
“I beg your forgiveness,” I said in the language I had always attributed to Liz’s people. Seems it is a broader language, one shared by any of the scaled races, and apparently, the frogs.
They did not respond, of course. I mean, would you? They did look at one another in confusion and fear, expecting some new torture, but I did not rise, and the others stepped back, giving them access to the door and the hall.
“I beg you take my words to the remainder of your people,” I said, looking up for the first time. “Tell them we would parley with the wizards. Tell them we will make a truce with your people if they come to terms. Tell them we will take the slaves you have captured and free them to their own devices.”
They looked around, eyes nearly as large as my head, panic apparent on their faces. “Or flee,” I said, understanding. “Tell any you see that we will not attack any who go unarmed. We are here for our friends.”
“And Leviathus,” Rufus broke in. Man he really hated that guy.
“And the human wizard,” I said, nodding. “Will you take our parlay?” I think Alfred would be comfortable with my attempt, though he was a much wiser ambassador than I.
Two of the frogs edged toward the door and when we did not stop them, hopped down the hall as if hell hounds were on their heels. Perhaps that is an apt description of who we had become.
“I will take your message,” the final frog said. I sat back on my heels and looked at this amphibian. He was mottled purple and green, colors that seemed more rare among those we’d ever fought. Perhaps it was a matter of rank, or a happenstance of birth. No matter, he looked into my face and did not shirk.
“We know of your coming,” he said, his voice as serious as any I had heard. “The old ones spoke of your coming in the ancient of days. He bowed then, touching his webbed left hand to his forehead. “You are he who comes to break the world.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I replied.
For a long time he watched me, his eyes luminous orbs that held a depth and wisdom greater than I had ever considered the frogs having. “You may not have a choice in the end,” he said. “But I see in your eyes that you speak truth. I will warn the Lump of your words.”
I shook my head at those words. Lump? The froggy wizards were considered a lump? Could that be a happenstance? After all the years of being called Useless Lump, the coincidence boggled me. I moved aside and let him go. Bob escorted him to the end of the hall where Bÿglar nodded, accepting my actions without question.
“What is your name?” I called out.
“Nebuchadnezzar” he croaked and then was gone.
I sat back against the inside of the closet and closed my eyes. Let the others watch. We had some time before word would come back.
Either we would parlay, or we would fight to the death. Whichever, I was too tired to think for a little while.