Milaran had climbed as far as he could go, knowing he was surrounded by Tullully’s men. He’d cast nearly every magic in his head, but the price on it was too high.
Tullully would have that head and eat the brains inside, gaining his power (very little) and his knowledge of the art (likewise, he decided, in light of his circumstances). It was how Tullully maintained control of the wagons, how he ensured his place at the top. Any dead kin or foe’s head was delivered to Tulully and the patriarch helped himself to any spells remaining in their sweetbreads.
It was Milaran’s own mistake that got him here. He had let it slip that there was a scroll he’d seen while abroad in Skaarsport. Someone talked and now his great uncle wanted the spell. And he’d likely get it too.
Milaran reached into his pocket and pulled out a pink, hairless thing shaped vaguely like a cat. It was a familiar he’d grown from his body weeks before. It couldn’t help him now, so he tossed it as far as he could, letting gravity carry it down the mountain. With any luck, it would bear witness to his last great moment.
The men were working their way up the slopes. He pushed them out of his thoughts and repeatedly recited the new spell he’d learned, taking care to replace certain pronouns. He went over the new formula over and over until it replaced what had been there. It was during his seventy-seventh recitation that an axe fell.
Tullally ate Milaran’s brains straight out of the skull, which had been opened from above, set on a special table and decorated with paint and jewels. The family had been assembled and the charges. No one had objected, of course. All new knowledge was to be shared with the head of the clan, and he would show them Milaran’s crime as soon as he’s finished eating his brains.
Tullally could taste the places where old family spells had resided in the boy’s brain: How to make a ball of magic, How mold one’s flesh into a small companion, The first spell that taught the language of magic. These were all familiar flavors that Tullally himself had taught countless boys in the camp.
After much poking and prodding with his spoon, Tullally found a new taste on the right side, near the front. It was clearly of a very different lineage of the magic. In food terms, it tasted as different from the rest of this brain as oysters differ from a white bean. It was salty to taste and rubbery in texture. His spoon scooped again and he had it–a spell not known in the east of the continent, perhaps not cast anywhere in many millenia.
The boy’s last spell, the treasure he’d secretly learned in the north.
Not four feet from him, watching from between folds of the tent, was a small, pinkish creature, vaguely shaped like a cat.
After scraping in the last bite of that lobe, Tullally stood and proceeded out of the tent and into the open, away from the camp toward the nearby pond. The family followed, anxious to see that their leader had gained. Tullally felt the words rise from his gut, like strong whisky riding a belch. The first syllable was an ‘esss…’ sound, which he held as long as he could for dramatic effect. Then he moved through the syllables, recognizing very little of it.
The last syllable left his lips, a reflexive first-person pronoun. It had all built up to that last syllable, but by the time he’d said it, there was no turning back or changing.
Immediately, his bones began to liquefy into a sticky mess, not unlike tar. His body fell over without any support and he rolled out of his clothes. He was a pinkish something, covered in hair. What became of Tullally rolled with slope of the ground, down toward the pond and slid into the water. The family slowly approached, trying to see down in the water.
Tullally still lives as a formless thing in the water. He must drag himself onto land and struggle to get his mouth facing upward in order to cast a spell. He is a level 12 mage and knows 21 spells, including Turn One’s Own Bones to Jelly a level four spell and a unique gift from his kinsman.
I don’t usually indulge in fiction when I post ideas. For some reason this one seemed to demand it, even though I don’t have the knack for narrative writing.
I should acknowledge Harlan Ellison’s short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream as inspiration for the final form Tullally takes, even though he clearly has a mouth.
I am indebted to someone from the OSR, perhaps Zak S., maybe James Raggi IV, maybe some other OSR superstar, for the idea that mage brains contain spells that can be turned into potions or other edible magics. I did some searching but couldn’t find it. If someone knows who came up with that (in the context of D&D) please post a comment! Thanks.