Continued from The Ass Returns.
“You two aren’t going to get anything done just staring at that snake. It’s not too big, is it? I could have beaten it off by now.” The ever-filthy wanderer, Piper, observed with bored eyes. His ever-present flute case rested on his lap as he leaned forward to watch. Crooked teeth bit at the tip of his thumb in irritation. “At this rate, that little snake will eat one of you for dinner.”
Leopold growled. He was injured and exhausted. The ‘little snake’ was at least four times his size, and apparently without weakness. It drew back, ready to strike at the young man directly in front of him.
“Worthless.” Piper grunted.
Angered, Leopold raised one hand and slowly clenched it into a fist.
The snake stopped mid-strike and began to quiver. Powerful muscles strained, but could not move.
The young psychic glanced at the man just to one side of the snake and yelled. “Now, Vin!”
Vin drew a fine, pointed sword from its place at his side and dashed forward. He leapt forward with a shout and drove the point under one of the snake’s back scales, and into the giant serpent’s spine. With a jerk, he pulled his rapier from the beast. Instead of flying out, it remained as it was– embedded within the spine of the creature.
“And that’s why you don’t try to kill it…” Piper sighed and rose to his feet. “Lucky for you, I know how to deal with this.” The masked man walked to the still snake. With bandaged hands, he gripped the sword and shifted its angle before he slid it from the flesh of the serpent. “You idiots are hopeless.”
Piper paused for a moment as he held the sword by the base of its blade.
“Absolutely hopeless.” Piper agreed with himself as he tossed the sword to its proper owner. “Maybe we can find something better suited to novices if we keep going, then.”
“Let’s just go to the labyrinth, Piper!” Leopold groaned impatiently. “It can’t be that difficult, if a man with no weapon can manage! Besides that, we have Vin, who is excellent with his sword, and I can make enemies unable to move at all!”
Piper sneered. “You know nothing.” He grinned viciously. “If you’re so exited and ready to kill yourselves, be my guests. I care not at all for your impatience.” The wanderer yawned. “I’ll just lay back down and go back to my nap. The sunshine and breeze are much better company, after all.”
With that, he dropped to the ground and pulled his wide-brimmed hat down over his tan and stubbled face.
Vin and Leopold looked at each other and walked away, certain they could manage without Piper. Behind them, the vagabond lifted the brim of his hat and watched them go. Once gone, he stood and stretched with a grunt. He squinted up at the sun and smiled. “About time. I thought they were going to keep dawdling all day.”
Piper began to follow the two men at a distance. He hummed a chipper tune and walked with a bounce in his step.
Oh, it was a beautiful day for an adventure!
As Piper followed his would-be followers, he reflected that perhaps he might have been too hard on them. A small voice in his head assured him it was for the best. They wouldn’t survive, if he was too soft. Ah well, it was fun to make them a little angry.
The rest of the trip to the labyrinth was uneventful, much to Piper’s dismay. They arrived before he would have liked, and the two younger men almost ran in headlong before he grabbed each by a shoulder and yanked them back. “Tch, forgetting your lessons already?” he asked in a cold voice. “We enter cautiously. We know for certain there are traps, and most are horribly fatal.” He waved a hand about, like a fop telling a boring story. “But who am I to tell such strapping young men how to survive the labyrinth I’ve survived four times already?”
Vin and Leopold looked at each other, then at Piper.
Leopold began to speak. “Weren’t-” he interrupted himself, “Didn’t you tell us-” he stopped mid-sentence and thought better of it. “Alright.” The young man agreed.
The three set up camp just outside dangerous, walled challenge, and with Piper keeping watch, the camp soon fell into a restful sleep. The sound of Piper’s flute was soft and soothing, and when he finished the song with a long, trailing note, he stared up at the stars. Briefly, he saw a star shoot across the sky. He closed his eyes and made a wish. His wish was silly, but it felt good to voice, even if only internally.
Tomorrow, if he could delay it no longer, the three were going to enter the Black Tangle.
Piper stayed awake as long as he could before he woke Leopold to keep watch.
Leopold woke with no trouble and looked up at the man he chose to follow. He paused as he spotted something unfamiliar in the firelight, hiding just under Piper’s mask. Leopold wondered if it was fear, but it didn’t seem right, that Piper should fear anything. He sat up and leaned against a tree as he watched Piper lay down, with his boots as a pillow.
As Piper shifted onto his side, into a curled position, Leopold thought back to earlier that day. Piper pushed them hard and made no try at helping with the snake. He berated them horribly, and sent them away. However, in the end, Piper followed behind them and stopped them from stepping into a dangerous place before getting proper rest.
He couldn’t decide if Piper was some sort of an odd-thinking saint, or simply a jerk who cared. He pushed the thought from his mind as he stared up at the sky. Even with such a bright fire, he could see so many more stars than when he had been in the city, just two months past. The moon was high and slim, returning from the place it went when it was blackened.
Absently, as he drifted back to sleep during his watch shift, he wished he understood Piper, who had been so kind back in the city.