The crossbows took on a life of their own. With a single thought, Finster reshaped the wood of the crossbow bolts. The tips pointed toward the gabled ceiling. The soldiers pulled the triggers. The bolts shot out in loop-da-loops and sailed short of the mark with a clatter into the stairwell.

“Get up there!” Crawley ordered two soldiers that stood at the based of the spiral staircase. “His parlor tricks won’t last forever.”

The husky soldiers rushed up the steps with wary eyes.

Summoning more of power from the mystic well the fed his blood, Finster focused on the stairwell. With his hand in an open grip, he twisted it in the air.

The stairwell groaned. The iron railing bent. The wooden steps cracked and popped. The heavy staircase livened like a snake. The metal coiled around them. It constricted and crushed. The soldiers screamed.

Looking up at Finster, Crawley started for his sword. His hand pulled back.

Finster winked at him. “Having second thoughts, Commander Crawley.”

“No, just changing strategy.” He shouted out, “A dozen gold to the man who brings him down!”

The soldiers, just shy of a dozen, moved in an organized scrambled. Oh dear, there are so many of them. The Master of the Inanimate got to work. He reached deeper than he had in years. With a thrust of calculated thought, the chairs, stools and table’s on the floor took life of their own. With patrons still in their chairs, screamed in horror, as the wooden objects carried them and charged into the hard-eyed soldiers. One soldier was bowled over. Another knocked to the ground by a table. In a small world gone mad, a soldier with a large eye patch stabbed a patron through the chest.

“Easy on the people, Arly! It’s only sticks your fighting!” Crawley snatched up a walking stool and smashed it against the bar. “It’s just firewood!”

A large rectangular table blindsided two more soldiers. They went down howling and chopping with their blades. The table legs jabbed into the men’s bodies and legs.

Seeing his ragtag army of furnishings getting chopped and smashed to bits, Finster executed another command. Catching Crawley looking away, he made a twitch of his fingers. The floorboards beneath the commander curled back one by one and swallowed him whole. Dusting off his hands, he said, “Ah, that should buy me enough time.” He went to his bookshelf, gathered a few choice items, and tucked them into a rustic leather travel bag. He slid one bookshelf over, slipped through the crack and snuk down into the kitchen. A backdoor awaited, half-open, green fields as far as the eye could see.

Eyeing the pots bubbling on the flames, he considered burning the entire place down. It will be such a time consuming pursuit if I don’t. Besides, it would be those soldiers fault, not mine. They started this. Then again, what of my supplies. Perhaps I can send for them. The clatter and angry hollering in the tavern grew louder. I hope I don’t regret this.

Without looking back, he walked right out the back door. The fields of green darkened on the left side and right with over fifty heavily armored soldiers. Finster froze. There was no way out of this. Even in his prime he’d have trouble with it. I hate soldiers. They don’t have enough brainpower so they must rely on manpower. Every brute thinks he can fight. They breed like rabbits. Abominable!

He puffed for air. His knees wobbled. He hadn’t exerted himself like that in years. He was drained.

Crawley appeared from around the corner of the building. He dusted the dirt off and walked up to Finster. Looking down at Finster he said, “That was a nice trick Finster. You dropped me right into the cellar.” He showed a bottle of wine held in his grip. “I found this down there. A good year.”

“Consider it a gift. I’ll put it on my tab.”

“Why, thank you.” Crawley swung the bottle into the side of Finster’s head. The magus dropped to the ground. “Huh, look at that. The bottle didn’t break. Seems it’s more sturdy than you.” With a scowl he kicked Finster in the gut a few times. “How about a drink, Finster?”

Wheezing, he replied, “Sorry, I only drink with friends. You aren’t a friend, but you had your chance.”

“You should have come peacefully, Finster. I told you there was no way out.” Crawley uncorked the bottle and drank. “Not bad for this pig pit.” He tossed the bottle inside the kitchen door. “Sergeant. Make sure all of my men are out, kill anyone that’s not one of us if they haven’t had the sense to fell, then burn it to the ground. When the villagers wail make sure they know that Finster did it. That’s the price when you resist men of authority.”

Finster spit blood. “I knew you were bad. Anybody with a face like that has to be bad.”

Crawley let out an evil chuckle. He gave a nod to his men. They drug Finster away. Crawley took Finster’s travel bag and threw it inside the door. Within a minute, the tavern caught fire. It burned in a huge pyre of flame. Innocent men were put to the sword, including, Tuberlous.

“There’s a price for slaughtering the innocent,” Finster managed to say.

“You should know,” Crawley replied. “Strip him down, sergeant.” The sergeant was a greasy brute with more beard than face. His fingers were like sausages. “We need to make sure he doesn’t have any tricks up his sleeve. Search him. Search him good. Everything from his ears holes to his, well, you know.”

After the search was over, the sergeant brought Finster to Crawley. Finster wore nothing but held his robes in his hands. “Well done, Sergeant. Now, time for step two.” He held a black pouch and emptied into his hand. A dark green beetle-shaped object filled half of his big hand.

Finster recoiled. The blood in his face drained.

“You know what this is, don’t you, Silver Snake?”

Finster replied, “I swear, you’ll get no trouble from me. Please, don’t put that thing on me!”

“No, I can’t do that. I have orders. Besides, I’m curious to see what this little jewel does. I think you know. Perhaps you can tell me?”

“It will deprive me of my talent.”

“Really? So it will make your tongue shrivel. No more smart alecky comments. I like it. Perhaps I should get one for my wife. Heh-heh-heh.” Crawled dangled the object in front of Finster’s eyes. Small insect legs with barbed feet spread out and wriggled.

“You’re sweating again, Finster. And it hasn’t even pricked your skin yet.” He nodded at the sergeant. “Arly, spin him around.”

With strong hands, the Sergeant Arly whipped Finster around. “Crawley, please, don’t do this! I’m not worth it! That is a rare item. Use it on one more worthy than me. I’m harmless.”

“No, I’ve got orders. I follow them.” Crawley slapped the jade beetle between Finster’s scrawny shoulder blades. “It’s done.”

Finster let out a blood-curdling scream.