The Breath of Purpose
“You were supposed to look nice.”
The Thing facing me was anything but. I swore I’d done everything right, completed every aspect of conjuring correctly, but I clearly missed something, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a fix, especially since the Armored Men were coming soon and in no realm was my deceit going to be acceptable.
“Grrrrrrah,” replied the Thing, its guttural voice perfectly matched to mammoth proportions, fearsome teeth, and arms like oversized hydraulic pistons. Lucky for me it didn’t seem to know what to do with them yet.
“Right. Okay. Let’s see…” I took a quick survey of the items on the floor before me. A bottle of Castor oil, and a half-empty one of tequila, the silver kind. There was a can of Coke and jars of ground cumin and nutmeg, too, though from the single whiff I’d gotten, I wasn’t convinced of either of those as appealing flavor.
And I double-checked the quantities I’d scribbled on half a piece of paper: tablespoon, 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup and 2 teaspoons each of the spices, followed by one breath of purpose and the incantation, and all the while the enormous Thing stared at me out of eyes the color of Mountain Dew, its slow, hot breath filling the room. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t moved.
“Do you ah, want some water or something?” I winced as another of the Thing’s muggy exhales wafted over my face. “Do you even understand what I’m saying?”
So, yeah. I attempted a smile in case the Thing could interpret facial expression, and bent to gather the ingredients and get them to a safe place, seeing as I was going to have to try the whole Breath of Purpose potion endeavor again. I didn’t take my eyes off the Thing and when its shoulders rose and fell in what looked like a sigh I began to wonder if maybe there was a little going on in that great big skull.
“I think I’ve made a mistake,” I explained as I took a few steps sideways to set the jars and bottles on the dining room table. It was the only furniture in the room, and wasn’t accompanied by chairs, so the creature I’d brought forth had a reasonable amount of space to occupy, which it did quite effectively.
“But I’m going to fix it.” The Thing cocked its head and despite grey, leather-like skin and a bony brow protrusion, I found it reminded me of a quizzical puppy. I turned just enough to face the end of the table and began assessing items in a hurry, shooting glances over my shoulder to keep the Thing in my sights.
“I don’t know if you can drink this stuff but starting over is all I can think of.” By then I was measuring and combining and pondering the order of items and I forgot to keep checking on the creature, but I heard the click of claws on my Pergo and my next glance brought me face-to-face with a wide grey nose, the nostrils like flat strips, black whiskers twitching.
I went still but as my rounded eyes examined the Thing, I realized its dark olive pupils were aimed down, at the table. It had come over to watch me prepare the potion. I lifted the cumin and measuring spoon in slow motion but when the Thing remained calm at my side, watching and humidifying the room, I gained confidence, and soon all I had left to do was breath once into the covered jar, stir the liquid, and recite the spell. And that’s when the ceiling came crashing down.
White dust blinded me as chunks of drywall poured from above. I threw my arms over my head and ducked, frozen with indecision. Armored Men would be just beyond what remained of my dining room wall, poised in a line, their posture upright and various weapons too, and I knew to fear those armed with wands more than those with whips and axes, for their reach extended far beyond material shaped by humans.
“Give over to us and you may be spared.” The Man I knew best was speaking, and he’d lied. Then again, my deceit gave him just cause. Still crouching, I began picking my way through rubble toward the back bedroom, and brushed ceiling particles from my forehead and cheeks.
“Hiding is your answer, Nystal. We will not give another chance.” He wasn’t fibbing this time, and I figured I had a fraction of a minute to comply, but I’d made my decision when I’d stolen the spell and apologies would get me nowhere now. I reached the door to the bedroom, slipped around the frame and pressed my back to the armoire, and not two seconds later the dining room was leveled, and most of the kitchen too. Pieces of my home fell like rain.
My skin burned, and I realized the Armored Men were loaded with supernatural energy, overloaded actually, which did not give me much hope. Today it seemed they’d just as soon flatten my entire lot than bother with a search.
A search was what I needed though, if only for the extra minutes I’d be given, minutes I could use to formulate a storyline whose end wasn’t me as a dissembling corpse. I couldn’t see them but the Armored Men would be encircling the house nonetheless.
“Your game is over, Nystal.”
I cowered and tried to crawl at the same time, the Man’s voice scared me so much. He’d come through my back door like all was normal, as if my abode wasn’t a ruinous shell, and now he leaned over me, thick wand pointed at my head, the gilded red helmet hiding his face.
“It wasn’t a game. No one person should have the spell.”
The helmeted head drew back and I imagined the scorn present in the eye’s of its wearer. “It is not for you to decide.”
“That’s the rub, isn’t it?” I couldn’t fathom an Armored Men partaking in discussion with a wanted thief but I’d use the situation if able. I started to slide up the armoire. “I believe many are deserving of that decision. I believe in what I did, Morath-Moro.”
Armored Men were of a mind that only their master could use their names yet I was fortunate enough to know this Man’s full title. I took satisfaction in his forearm crushing my throat and the point of the wand near my eye. I was getting to him.
“I am sick of your notions, Nystal,” he ground out next to my ear. My vision had become a wash of scarlet. “You are d—”
A handful of deep breaths later I fully realized what had happened. The Man was a metallic heap of crimson on the floor to my right and I was staring at a tall, mottled-grey wall of hairless skin.
“Holy hell. I forgot all about you,” I said to the back of the Thing. It had taken up position between me and the rest of the world and with sudden clarity I understood the potion hadn’t been wholly wrong, that I’d indeed summoned a protector, just not a pretty one. I had no time to sort out why however, for my favorite Man had started to straighten and by the way the Thing sniffed the air I suspected Armored Men were close.
“Do your thing, Thing,” I said for my own benefit, because I was having one of those absurd, out-of-whack moments when you feel humorous at a time when happenings are anything but. The Thing didn’t care though, and I tried to fit into the space behind the armoire as its powerful arm shot to the side and knocked down the Man, who’d just managed to gain his feet. More Armored Men streamed in, from the destroyed side of the house, from the broken bedroom window and from the hall.
The Thing was surrounded; a grey mountain of thrashing limbs and bared teeth, and Armored Men flew in all directions, their armor clattering in small explosions of sound.
The Thing’s bellow followed two Armored Men making contact with their axes, which turned out to be their worst move ever as green vapor blasted from the axe wounds and into their faces. They were shrieking in an instant and their helmets melted, and then their heads; metal and blood a pulpy mass of gore that spread down their polished breast plates.
All was still, with Armored Men pausing to gape at the remains of their comrades and the Thing going into a slouch, breathing heavy as it swung its head slow, watching the attackers. I could see murky-green fluid running from its wounds.
“Maybe we should discuss this situation,” I called out to Morath-Moro, though I could see only the tip of his helmet past the Thing’s shoulder. “Losing Men cannot be what your masters had in mind.”
Moro moved closer to what was left of the kitchen, to where he could see me hiding. “Nothing can come of it. We will bring you in, alive or not.” Pulling back, Moro moved quickly to the broken window and with alarm I glanced around, noticing too late that the Armored Men had vacated the house.
“Watch out!” The Armored Men’s magic arrived as the warning left my mouth, and I felt the suffocating pressure of the Thing’s weight as it covered my body with its own. Waves of power rocked my house and I felt the floor crack beneath me. Repeated booms signaled to me the final demise of the only place I’d been able to call home, and I wondered how the Thing and I hadn’t been destroyed. At last the noises ceased, but I was still as good as blind with the Thing upon me.
“Remove the creature and bring Nystal to me.” Moro’s voice, muffled through the Thing’s flesh. I could sense its tensing of muscles, the gathering of strength, and then it vaulted from me and I heard screaming. Scrambling to stand, I saw first-hand as the Thing tore the arm off an Armored Man and sunk its canines into another one’s neck, tearing right through the armor and nearly removing his head. The Thing swung from man to man, almost graceful, leaving blood and horror in its wake, and still the Armored Men came, Morath-Moro urging them forth.
“The thief! Seize the thief!”
I was unprotected, standing stupid amongst dust and broken concrete, and as Armored Men advanced from all sides, circling me, I understood. I was finished. And I believed it right up until the moment the Thing leaped.
Landing next to me, the Thing roared, a bass sound that trembled the belly, and with a deliberate sweep of its claw, the Thing opened its body from hip to neck. Foaming liquid splashed out, and green gases filled the air and sent Armored Men clambering over one another to get away, shouting as armor softened and adhered to their skin. Moro was watching, I saw his helmet as it moved, and as the Thing continued to leak destruction all over his men he lifted his wand, uttered a string of words and began to fade, his few surviving soldiers disappearing with him. A moment later they were gone and I looked down.
“Oh no.” I dropped to my knees when I saw the Thing’s bulk spread on the rubble. It’s lashless eyes gazed skyward, lids lowering and lifting in slow blinks and when I took in the extent of its injury, and the fading of its skin, I was startled by my feelings .
“I’m sorry,” I said, uncertain. I’d known the spell to be for this very purpose, yet I couldn’t help mourn the loss of its creation. I watched the Thing breathe its last and when it turned to dust I rose, made sure the slip of paper was in my pocket, and started walking. I had a purpose too, as thief, and bringer of potions, and knew as I always had, the Breath of Purpose was for everyone.