Wizards don’t roll dice. No one really knows why. Some have speculated an ancient age of magic where dice were evil. But, that was a long time ago. All I know is, I’ve never seen a wizard roll dice. Not a single one. And I’ve spent my life around wizards.
Dice are still around. My master carries a pair. He fidgets with them all day. Back and forth in his hand. Does he do it for the irony? All I know is I’ve never seen him without them. They are ivory colored with black pips. Bone I think? I’ve never seen them up close as he is always rolling them in his hands. Back and forth, back and forth. From what I have seen they are worn and discolored. Maybe from his hands? I wonder how many years he’s been clutching them.
I often wondered what would happen if he let them slip. Would he conjure a spell to stop them? Would he dive to the ground to catch them before they revealed their numbers? I could ask, but he’d just scold me and put me back to cleaning. It doesn’t matter. He’s never rolled them. Never.
It’s the sound of the dice that annoy me. The tumbling back and forth in his hand. It’s like bone on bone. It drives me crazy. It gets worse when he’s nervous. And he is often nervous. That’s how it started, that night we were on the road to town. That night I saw him roll the dice.
Crunch, crunch was all I could hear. It got faster and faster, louder and louder.
It was a pretty routine trip. We needed things only he could get. You know, magical stuff. It was the kind stuff he wouldn’t trust me to get on my own. We left late. My master might be a great wizard, but he’s not very punctual. He leaves when he leaves, even it that put us here, on the road, after dark. Not that he would care. He’s a great wizard. Me? Even with him close by, the road terrified me. Everything about it.
But there we were, deep in the forest, on the road, in the middle of the night. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
“We’ll stop here for the night,” he said. Here wasn’t much of anywhere. Thick trees draped the road as it curved back around the bend. You couldn’t see the color in the trees, but it was late fall, the night was crisp. There didn’t seem to be many options for making a camp.
I pleaded a bit, with no response. Luckily, I found a break in the forest just down the way. I was glad, as there was no way I was sleeping on that road. I pulled the horses off into a meadow. The sound of the dice became louder. It didn’t stop. He rattled though dinner, desert and even smoking. I cleaned up and started preparing the beds.
“I won’t be sleeping” he said. Did that mean I wouldn’t be sleeping either?
It didn’t matter, because that’s when I heard it. It was like a million tiny feet pattering on the soft forest floor, like a swarm of beetles moving toward us.
My master set his pipe down, raised his head and mumbled, “It’s time. Fetch my staff.”
It’s time? This was planned? We were meant to be here, in the forest, at night?
We stood on the edge of the camp and looked into the clearing. I was scared shitless. My master leaned on his staff and turned the dice over and over in his hand. The sound grew closer. It became so much louder that I could no longer hear the dice.
Clouds of dust rose in the background as it approached us. I could see it start to circle around like a tornado in the clearing. I took a step behind my master. This seemed like something I should leave to the wizard.
I peeked around and saw a swarm of dust and bugs circle and circle until it settled into a dark human form. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed to absorb the moonlight.
My master moved toward the figure. I tried to keep up, but with his long, fast gait, I fell behind. His stride increased as he lifted his staff and pointed it directly at the creature. The staff lit up and a blast of light shot out toward the shape. The clearing exploded in a yellow glow. A direct hit. I could see the creature split into a thousand pieces as the magic bolt passed through them. Then just as quickly they came together again.
It paused for a second and then it spoke.
“You can’t hurt me Tobias. I’m here to collect you,” it said. It knew my master’s name? It raised its hand and unleashed a swarm of insects toward us. My master braced himself as they hit him in the chest. He groaned and flew backwards. His staff tumbled from his hand as he hit the ground.
I was terrified, but continued to run toward him. I fell and fumbled around in the dark looking for the staff. It had to be close. It had to be.
The creature continued to move toward us. Large black flying insects began circling him. Their bellies started to glow green like a swarm of lighting bugs. The clearing filled with light and was finally able to see his eyes and face.
And then I saw it. On the ground, in front of me, I could see the glow of the crystal from my masters staff.
It’s totally against everything inside me, but I grabbed the staff and ran faster toward my master. I yelled at him as I threw the staff over to him. He reached out with his and grabbed it from the air.
I stumbled up behind him. He leaned on his staff and tumbled the dice in hands. Even now? Even now with the dice? We’re about to die and he is shuffling the dice.
And then I saw it. I saw my master roll the dice. Just as the ancient evil began to fire again, my master let loose of them.
The timing was perfect.
The shot from across the meadow hit the dice in midair. They exploded into a crescendo of light.
And as the dust cleared there were several wizards standing in front of us. Some were old, some were new. It took most of the evening, but they finally got the better of the evil that had enslaved them for so many years. I did my best to stay out of the way.
I did make breakfast in the morning. It’s not an easy feeding that many happy, hungry wizards with the supplies we had, but I made due. As I gathered the dishes to wash I noticed, in the middle of it all, was a new shiny black dice with white pips sitting on the table.
I did my best to not think about it.