July 21, 1861
Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C.
“…a Gauntlet of Challenge will be placed in front of the challenged caster by the challenger, tied to a location of the challenger’s choosing. Both casters will be brought there, and their duel will commence.”
– Hamp Fledgeling, Guide to Wizarding Duel Etiquette.
Vernon smelled magic. He felt pain. There was nothing else Despite his powers, he had been punched in the face such that he couldn’t make out anything besides colors.
He fought back as best he could, but Amos was still the better combatant. Amos hit, then jumped back, then hit again. Vernon dimly thought, I’m going to die today.
Once Vernon realized that Amos wasn’t hitting him any more, several minutes later, he tried to look around. Immediately, he realized he was on the floor.
“Vernon? Are you awake? And, more to the point, all right?” asked Estrella. It sounded like Estrella, at the very least.
Vernon tried to say he was, but he was unable to speak, which implied that he wasn’t, in fact, all right. Instead, he shook his head.
From where he believed Estrella to be, he heard, “Vjnf dlbmr, iej ez jlglpi nn ez jlglmhjmcjn gmam hmr, gehl al m hlqh!”
Immediately, Vernon could see and hear. The punches were healed. Slowly, he stood. He saw something on the floor.
“A gauntlet… oh, no.”
President Lincoln, who was also there, asked, “Is that what I think it is?”
Estrella looked. “It is. Amos, are you out of your mind?”
Vernon nodded. “I believe he is.”
“You’re not going to accept his challenge, are you?” asked Lincoln.
“Unfortunately, I have to. It’s Arcane Law or some cacamas like that, ‘Oh, if ye don’t accept a wizard’s challenge, ye’ll face the consequences!’” explained Vernon, his voice rising and his accent thickening.
The President and Estrella exchanged glances. The latter asked, “Can you defeat Amos?”
“Well, my Core is-” he closed his eyes “-about… 90% restored. It’ll be tight, but… but I should be all right.”
“Didn’t you just get knocked out?”
“Oh… well, I guess, but…”
“But nothing. I’ll accept the challenge instead of you.”
Recklessness, on its own, is dangerous. When a battering ram hits the gates of an old castle, the gate shatters. If the gate is new or reinforced, however, the ram itself might break. Suspend your “well actually”s and logic for a moment and allow this extended metaphor to be completed.
Now imagine two of the aforementioned rams pointed at each other. This metaphor doesn’t work. How about this: A fire hose can put out a fire, but is also destructive. Two fire hoses, sprayed in each other’s directions, can destroy in half the time. That’s a better metaphor, but enough lampshading.
The aforementioned twin conduits, Estrella and Vernon, fired at each other. Both pushed each other away from the gauntlet. Neither cast a spell, for they knew if they did then their impending duel would be lost.
The President watched, trying to figure out what to do. Bill also watched, but in fear.
As the siblings fought, and the others watched, the window opened, nearly inaudibly. Through the miniscule gap slunk a gray-and-green shape. It watched as the two wizards struggled, and chirped twice. Then, it walked off.
After several minutes of fighting, in which Vernon and Estrella were effectively playing keep-away, finally, there was a victor (though, in this case, victory means “a different fight). Vernon picked up the gauntlet, placed it on his right hand, and, careful not to close it into a fist, tightened both leather straps. He then closed the steel-shelled fingers and vanished.
July 21, 1861
Mizgom Cuzh, Nessus
The devil moved a pawn forward, taking his opponent’s knight. Said opponent chuckled.
“Perhaps I should have seen that coming, my friend.”
From behind him came two chirps. He looked at the source, and nodded. He turned to the devil. “My apologies, friend, give me a moment. I have a problem to resolve.”
July 21, 1861
Vernon opened his eyes. Around him, he saw a verdant field, with still-growing cornstalks, slightly below his knees, planted uniformly. In the distance was a farmhouse, and further still was a town. Like the planted corn, the town was small, but, if Vernon had to guess, had the potential to become a city in the near future.
Get over here and die, Hislop, came an Amos-like voice in Vernon’s head. He sighed. Vernon turned to where he assumed Amos to be. Sure enough, there Amos stood, a look of rage upon his face.
In the sky, a dark cloud, which had been hanging overhead, finally decided to make its move. Single dots of rain softly hit the ground.
“Amos, I don’t know how many times I have to tell ye this, I didn’t kill Oren.”
“Who did, then?”
“I don’t- augh!” Something hit Vernon in the chest. The odor of magic emanated from Amos. “Fine, then. You want to do this? Let’s go.”
Vernon raised his hands as if holding a large sphere. Within the location where this sphere would be, the air wavered like the ground on a hot day. He shot forth this sphere, hitting Amos squarely in the chest.
Amos blinked instinctively. He felt something hit him, interrupting his spell, and then fade. He looked down, to see… nothing. Blinking again, he realized that, though his eyes were empty, his vision was obscured as if his eyes were filled with tears.
Amos cursed. “Oh, you are going to pay for that.” The rain picked up, and more clouds moved in. While Vernon prepared to cast another spell, a bolt of lightning fell from the sky, striking Vernon, who fell, burning and screaming. Before Vernon could stand, Amos fired a cloud of daggers at his form.
Through the corn scurried a small, shadowy shape. It chirped at a scared rat, which squeaked. The shape seemingly nodded. It darted through the torrential downpour towards the flashes and the smell of magic.
When it arrived, it chirped loudly. It saw Vernon writhing on the ground. It turned to Amos and chirped quite loudly. Amos looked to his left at the noise.
He said inquisitively, “Bas-” He was interrupted by the ground rising around his feet.
Vernon, somehow, had recovered from being both struck by lightning and stabbed nearly 30 times. Slowly, he returned to a standing position. Unable to see, he reached out with his arcane senses and peered into the Astral Plane.
A powerful arcane presence to Amos’s left. It turned towards Vernon, and a voice emanated from it. “Samblarsen 7:1…” it whispered.
Vernon felt the Astral Plane moving around him. Like a tube of toothpaste, he was forced through an Astral Tunnel and out into a familiar room.
July 21, 1861
Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C.
Abraham Lincoln paced the room. Vernon Hislop, who had decided to help the war after 24 hours (but then decided to do so after no time) had vanished. Lincoln assumed that he was dead. What are we going to do now, besides lose? he thought.
Bill Stewart, ordered to return to the post office, hid, door barricaded. He waited for the message saying that the war was going to be lost.
Estrella Fawns, somewhere on the Mansion’s roof, stomped the ground-roof, more accurately-repeatedly. She muttered, “Vernon, you”-she cursed-“idiot. If you get yourself killed out there…” she trailed off.
“What’re you doing up there?” asked a slightly drunk voice.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“I guess I deserved that. You’re the wizard Estrella, right?”
“I’ve heard a lot about you. My name is Andrew, Andrew Johnson, and I’m the Vice President.”
Vernon Hislop was confused. He’d just been struck by lightning and almost killed, but he’d somehow survived. Then he was told “Samblarsen 7:1,” which he assumed was a passage in the Ainaparma. He wondered what it meant.
At least, he would have, if the teleportation wasn’t instantaneous. He blinked, and suddenly was in the Yellow Oval.
President Lincoln, pacing the room, blinked upon his arrival. “Ah! What the-”