One of the Lelra who had originally found us guided us through he woods. I couldn’t see the paths at all, but Mhorik didn’t seem to mind. After what seemed like a long distance our companion stopped, waved to us, then turned back the way we came. Mhorik and I continued on toward the thinning edge of the forest.

“You’re probably wondering,” Mhorik said, “what that was about.”

“I’ve learned a lot on this trip, and not just the things I expected to,” I replied with more frustration in my voice than I had intended.

“Remember I told you that I hated magic at the start?”

“Yes,” I said, controlling myself better.

“After a while, I accepted it. I reveled in it. I wanted to control magic as much as I could.”

I stumbled over a tree root, caught myself, then steadied myself on the trunk. I was captivated by his words and hadn’t been paying attention to my footing.

“I went on a journey after I had learned the basics from the old wizard in our village. I found out how easily I could manipulate the magic, and how it flowed at my command. It was exhilarating to control the power so easily!”

Mhorik reached out and grasped a bit of magic. He made it glow, weaving it back and forth between his hands, playing with it as he continued.

“I found this forest and found the spots without magic, and I wanted to show off my mastery. I decided I would spread the magic from outside the forest into the areas inside the forest.”

Mhorik let his hands drop and fell back against the nearby tree. He slumped down, his face pained. I didn’t move, couldn’t move if I had wanted to, I was engrossed in his words.

“The Lelra found me. They were not kind to my intrusion. I found out later what a terrible thing I was doing.”

Mhorik looked down, tears catching the last light of the day.

“I didn’t know….”

“Know what?” I finally found my voice to speak.

“The spots with no magic are special to the Lelra. It’s where they put their ancestors.”

“What do you mean?”

“Where they store their dead.”

I was shocked at the words. “Store? Do they not burn the dead?”

“No. They bury their dead under the ground. But, they must do it in the special place as handed down by their traditions. If they don’t, and if magic infests the bodies, then they walk again.”

“Their ancestors come back to life?”

“They do not come back as they once were. They become the walking corpses we fear. Mockeries of the people they used to be.”

A shiver ran down my spine. I heard stories of the walking corpses, and the fear they brought. Mhorik had warned me that magic should not be used to explore death. He did not have to tell me again, as it seemed obvious even to someone as reckless as I am. But, the dead bodies come back to life because of magic? That was frightening.

“The Lelra who found me took me to their matron, and she kept me in her hall. I stayed there a few seasons, and she learned our language from me. Then she gave me the clay slab.”

“What was that? Some sort of symbol?”

“It was my punishment.”

“How?”

“Did you see the green wisp that escaped from it?”

“Yes.”

“That was an ancestor spirit. I was tasked with keeping it alive to prove I did not intend harm.”

My mind reeled at those words. Mhorik had a spirit with him all this time? Had he dealt with death using his magic? “Wha… ho… uh…” I stammered.

“I had to keep it safe while I kept the slab. I let it use some of the magic. I kept it alive, as I was bound to do, until I returned it.”

“How long…?”

“I first met the Lelra when I was about your age,” Mhorik said, quietly. He sagged to the ground then, fatigue washing over him completely.

I figured he needed to rest, so I settled down and took stock of the supplies given under a bit of summoned light. The waterbags were made from some sort of plant material. They were a bit smaller than the bladders we used, but the seal was tight. I had turned one of them over again and again trying to find the spout. When I found it and tasted the water, it filled me with life. I gave some to Mhorik, and he looked better as well. I looked at the food, small squares that were pale and soft. I ate the tiny piece and felt incredibly sated. The taste was… how can I describe it? Like eating cooled sunshine, unforgettable.

Morik roused himself a little while later and ate a bit as I packed everything away. We got up and continued into the darkening gloom. Mhorik kept quiet, so I did the same. We made good time and soon left the forest behind. We continued walking as the sun rose and I realized, we hadn’t stopped to rest that night! The matron had said something about the water, did she not?

We kept walking during the next day, stopping to eat a small meal near midday, but otherwise keeping a steady pace. Just before nightfall we saw a small village near a clear stream. Guards met us as we approached, gave us a friendly greeting then one of them took us to the fire in the middle of the village.

The village was small compared to the others I had seen. Only six huts surrounded the central fire, and one was obviously a place for drying. A few men sat near the fire, fidgeting with a nervous energy. Hunting spears planted upright into the ground nearby. A large man sat a little ways away, obviously the chief, surrounded by a few women and a large number of screaming and scampering children. It was a restless tribe that had finally settled down to form a village. The chief stood up to greet us.

“You are not Lelra,” he stated.

“No, we are travelers.”

“Not many out here. Where are you going?”

“We are wizards going to the convocation.”

The mood all around us soured. The guard’s eyes narrowed, the men near the fire sat upright and turned toward us, the women made quick noises that got the attention of all the children. There was a sudden and brutal silence.

“What do you want?”

“A place by the fire to sleep for the night is all we ask. We can share some of the supplies we got from the Lelra.”

“Our wizard has already left,” the man said flatly, as if that explained it all. “She will not be back for a while.”

“Who is your wizard? Perhaps I know her.”

The big man turned and walked away from us. The women were moving their children away from us, and none of the men relaxed.

“It’s cold here,” I said quietly. Mhorik only nodded.

We set up our sleeping hides near the fire, taking a lack of “no” as permission enough to share the fire. We broke out some more of the supplies, but nobody joined us. I felt too scared to say anything, so I just sat and watched the fire until weariness overtook me and I laid myself down to sleep.

It seemed like only a few minutes later when Mhorik nudged me and whispered into my ear. “We leave now.” he said in a tone that would tolerate no argument. “Grab your pack and furs and go.”

I blinked, confused to find it still dark. The fire was still going brightly, so it there really had not been much time passed at all. I could hear Mhorik making small, precise movements getting his stuff together. I hadn’t really unpacked, so it was easy to put everything away. I was rolling up the sleeping furs when Mhorik gave a shout. He bolted up and started running. I slung my pack across one shoulder, grasped the furs in the other hand and ran after him. I was running nearly blind, just trying to keep Mhorik in sight. Behind me I heard the snaps of twigs as someone (maybe two people?) were in pursuit. I heard a whoosh and the thunk of a spear hitting a tree. A curse reverberated behind me, but lacked the force of magic to power it.

I just kept running.


« Previous:

Leave a Reply