How to Use Your Sneak Attack Damage to Win Any Argument
“Is something bad about to happen?” Chael watched with Mahani as the kobold scrapmaster waved his newly-gloved hand around.
“No, he won’t be able to use it,” replied Mahani.
“You sure?” asked Chael, wincing slightly as the kobold thrust his hand skyward.
“I’m sure,” said Mahani, brushing stray hairs out her face.
“I thought kobolds were natural sorcerers.”
“They have dragon ancestry, but this is different,” said Mahani, “It’s about skill. That glove is just an instrument.”
“Well, I’m not worried about him being good at it, I’m worried about him being bad at it. You don’t have to be a harpist to make a lot of terrible noise.”
“No, it’s not like that,” said Mahani, “It’s not a harp. It’s like, a flute or something. It takes practice just to make a sound.”
“So, why the glove then?” asked Chael.
“It’s the power source.”
Mahani exhaled. “Okay, summoning takes three things. Power. Know-how. And know-who.”
“Power is pretty straight forward,” she went on, “Either you have it in your blood already, like some kobolds do, or you build a powered instrument, like a glove or a staff or something.”
Chael straightened up. “So how is it powered? Godstone?”
“Sure,” Mahani shrugged, “Some are. This one just uses opalized filament.”
Chael nodded, pretending to know.
“Witch yarn,” said Mahani.
“Right,” said Chael, “So then know-how is what? The spells?”
“Yeah, it’s the gestures and stuff, but it’s more about how to sort of wake up the astral plane without touching it? I don’t know. It takes intense concentration, though. Will power, self-control.”
“Self-control? Why?” asked Chael.
“To stay focused, keep patient, to not, like, slide into the astral plane yourself. To control your thoughts, basically.” She swiped more hair out of her face, “It’s like, you know, not thinking about blue lizards.”
“You’ve never heard that? Try not to think about a blue lizard.”
“I’ve never even seen a blue lizard.”
“Doesn’t matter, does it? It’s still almost impossible not to think about one once you know you shouldn’t.”
“Right. Like not thinking about being tortured by kobolds.”
“Yeah, Exactly.” She finally grabbed her hair up in both hands, “It’s difficult.”
“It certainly is,” agreed Chael. Everyone has a thing that bothers them. Spitting, people cracking their knuckles, small spaces, rubbing their hands on certain kinds of fabric. For Chael, it was torture. Chael hadn’t even tried being tortured, but had already decided they weren’t into it.
“So how do you do it?” asked Chael finally, watching the kobolds streaming in and out of their terrible burrow.
“What? Summon something?” asked Mahani, struggling to tie her hair back with itself.
“No,” said Chael, “Control your thoughts.”
Mahani paused, looking at Chael strangely. “Practice. Training. Little tricks you teach yourself.” She finished putting her hair back. “You really are stuck here, huh?”
Chael laughed, looking back out through the bars, “Well, I don’t sit in cages talking with people for fun.”
“I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s still the best conversation I’ve had in fifteen years but — “
“Where’s you mantel?” she asked.
“Where’s your mantel, Chael?” she asked again.
Chael looked back at her.
“That’s what they call it right? Your, you know, job. Your abilities. Your little halo thing — ”
“I’m between mantles,” said Chael, firmly.
The girl stood up. “Between which mantels?”
“Hey I told you,” Chael stood up, towering over the girl, “I didn’t kill your little friend’s mom. I don’t murder demons, okay? That’s not my thing — ”
“But if it was your thing you could walk through these bars, right? You could fly out of your little birdcage right now,” shot back Mahani.
Chael scowled. They knew birdcage was more than just a fairly accurate description of the cylindrical wooden cage they were in, it was also a not-too-subtle insult. Birdman was a common demonic slur for angels. “Watch it, lady. Don’t — ”
“What color is that mantle again? Black? Angel of Dea — ”
“Okay, fine. You’re right. Absolutely. I could walk right through the bars. I could walk right through and kill every kobold here. Reach into their chests, pull out something important. They’d try to shoot me and hit nothing but air. Then, after ridding the world of kobolds, I’d could come back through these bars — I mean why not, it’s so easy for me after all— and kill you and your familiar, too. It would be fun. I love murder. All angels do. I could wash my new, glorious black hair in its blood. The Black Mantel comes with hair, did you know that? Probably. Sounds like they teach you everything in witch school. Except, wait, nope I can’t. Can I?” Chael pointed to the top of their bald head. “No halo. No mantel. No tricks. I’m stuck here just like you, just like your dirty little dretch, waiting to be tortured to death.”
The girl looked disgusted. “Just stay away from him, okay?”
“Well, I’ll do my best to control myself. I’m sure I don’t have as much will power as a seasoned summoner like you but — ”
“I’m not— “
“Hey, by the way, I was meaning to ask, how much will power did it take to kill all those dogs?”
Mahani stopped, stunned. It was a sucker punch. Chael wasn’t exactly proud of it, but sneak attacks seemed to be the only way they ever won a fight.
“I — ”
“I heard you stopped Summoning after that,” said Chael, twisting the knife.
“I did stop,” said the girl, through her teeth.
“You sure?” Chael looked back at the demon asleep behind Mahani.
Her eyes shone with anger. “Yes, I’m sure! Glig was brought here by someone else.”
“Doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?” said Chael, “So is that why you can’t just send it back yourself? Is that why you’re dragging it through the badlands. Which direction is hell again? East? Seems like the roundabout way to me but I’m sure you have it under control.”
“No, I — ”
“Oh, wait, or is it because you stopped.”
“I have stopped! Believe me, if I could send him back myself I would have.”
“Then why do you still have that?” Chael pointed out toward the glove.
“Because, f— “
“Back out of retirement, huh? Funny how th — “
They both stopped mid-sentence.
Chael knew the sound. The semi-melodic trumpet-like voice of a dretch. It was awake. Pulling itself up off the cage floor onto its clawed feet, looking around the cage.
Chael chewed the inside of their lip, trying to calm down.
The girl kept her eyes locked on Chael. “You sure?”
“Breep,” replied the demon.
“Chael.” Mahani said slowly, “This is Glig.”
It took a small step forward, looking up slowly at Chael with beady, black eyes.
“And he just figured out how to get us all out of here.”
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