Archive for the ‘Humans’ Category

The older woman sat near the fire, warming herself as the cool breeze blew in from the sea. She often felt cold these days, despite wearing the heavy robes of a wizard.

Next to her was an older man. He was dressed lightly. In the light of the fire you could see his dark skin and thick muscles. He was one who gathered food and carried it back to the village. He gazed at the woman with a slight smile on his face.

To the side of the fire were a group of children and young people. A boy sat in front, dressed in heavy robes similar to the ones the woman wore. But, he was not as comfortable in them as she was.

In the fire, a figure of light was hoisted up on the hands of a multitude hidden in the fire. The figure carried a staff and waved it around.

“And that,” the woman said, “is the story of of when I went to the convocation. It was an exciting trip, right?”

The children let out shouts of agreement. A few got up and enacted parts of what they had just seen. One crawled around like a speaking beast, another pretended to be one of the rock men and protected the first. They burst into laughter.

The woman turned her gaze to the boy in the robes. “Well, what do you think?”

He shifted a bit, moving away from the fire. He shrugged and looked at the ground.

“Are you afraid?”

He boy looked up suddenly. “No, I just…” his voice trailed off.

“You’re lying.”

His face grew red. “I don’t like magic.”

The woman nodded. “He didn’t like magic, either. Mhorik. He said he hated it when he was your age.”

“I don’t like the way that old crone Moonwind teases me. It’s not fair!”

The woman chuckled. “Many parts of life are not fair, my apprentice. But, we must still do the best we can.”

“Do we really have to go to the convocation?”

The woman took a deep breath before answering, preparing for the old argument again. “Yes. I have not been back for all these years. I let my own fear and hatred keep me away. Even when Katia came, I refused to go. But, it is not fair to you.”

The boy played with some dirt on the ground. “I don’t care if we go.”

“But, I do. It is important for you to not hide from your fear. You are powerful. More powerful than I was at your age. I want the others to understand.”

The boy let out a sigh. He had already been through this fight, and he knew he wasn’t going to win this time, either.

“Go get some sleep. We will leave in the morning when the others get here.”

The boy got up and walked away from the fire.

“Dorua,” the older man said quietly.

“Yes, I know. I’m stubborn in my old age.”

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

Dorua gave a short laugh.

“I was going to say that our son will be fine. You are right, he is powerful.”

Dorua smirked. “You are not that quiet boy I fell in love with all those years ago. Now you are a bit too sweet with your words!

He stood up and offered his hand. Dorua grabbed it, and he pulled her into an embrace.

“Did you really not fall in love with me that night you returned?”

Dorua looked at him and smiled. “I still need some mystery, don’t I?”

Balar chuckled. “Have a great trip.” He gave her a last hug and walked back to the buildings in the village.

Dorua stood there, looking at the dying fire. She grabbed the pouch of ashes that hung at her neck and gave them a squeeze. She felt the warmth there and smiled.

“That was some story,” a voice came from the darkness.

Dorua rested against her staff, not even looking at the voice. “How long were you there, Carves-the-Foundation?”

“Since near the beginning. I heard you talking and didn’t want to interrupt.” A stone man appeared out of the darkness and into the light of the fire.

“You still haven’t changed.”

“But, you have changed a lot. And that boy, he grows so fast, doesn’t he?”

Dorua smiled. “Yes, yes he does. They all do.”

“Are you ready for the trip?”

“I am now that you are here. I’ll finish preparations tomorrow, and we will start the travel the next day.”

Dorua watched the dying flickers of the fire.

“It is time I returned and set things right.”

In the gloom of the setting sun, I panicked. I started running through the trees toward my only hope, toward the dying light of the sun. I stumbled out of the trees into a flat, sandy area. The restless deep stretched out before me.

The sea! It had been so long since I had seen it. I stood there in the fading light, inhaling that familiar scent and listening to the crash of the waves against the shore. I realized that I was very close to home. I walked along the beach as the sun set, and in the distance I saw the village’s fire. I continued on toward that beacon.

Dark shapes moved around the fire, villagers keeping a vigil and maintaining the fire. One stopped and started to wave, probably a hunter with keen eyesight able to see me even in this dim light. Half a dozen other figures were near the fire, all watching me.

As I got closer, I noticed that they weren’t waiting to welcome me. Spears were at hand. I became worried until one called out my name.

“Dorua!”

One of the figures ran down the slope with nothing in his hands. I got a brief glimpse of his face before he swept me into a giant embrace.

“Balar,” I managed to say before the wind was knocked out of me. He put his arm around me and lead me back to the fire. The others circled us, asking questions.

“Dorua, you are alone! Where is Mhorik?”

Wounds I had been working to close were ripped open again. I would have to repeat the story. But, I was too tired tonight.

“Later. I will tell the story tomorrow. I am weary and would like to rest tonight.” I leaned heavily on the staff.

There was murmuring, but nobody spoke against me. Balar put his arm around me again and helped me to the sacred hut.

I was pleasantly surprised by Balar’s behavior. After he avoided me when I was leaving, I was worried he would forget about me. To be honest, I had not thought about him very often when I traveling. But, now he was personally helping me. At one time I would have fallen in love right then, but now… wounds were still too fresh.

I said goodnight to Balar and went into the hut. I dropped the pack on the ground, got out the sleeping furs, and basically fell asleep as soon as they were spread out.

I awoke the next morning in a bad mood. My mouth tasted of dust, and dirt was caked all over my clothes and skin. I stripped out of my travel robes and put on a light shift. I went out to the sea and washed off the grime and let the cool water wake me up and purify me. Back to at the hut, I dried off and found a heavy ceremonial robe. After dressing, I grabbed the staff and walked out toward the the village fire.

I found a few villagers guarding the fire. The stood up to meet me as I approached.

“Tell the village that I will tell Mhorik’s story when the sun is at the peak of the sky.”

The guards nodded and wandered off. I sat on a nearby stone, and looked at the fire. With my sight, I could see part of Mhorik in the fire, a portion of his power still protecting the village. I remembered the tablet Mhorik carried, and a crazy thought crossed my mind.

I took the pouch of ashes out and laid it on the stone. Carefully, I coaxed the power out of the fire, and put it into the pouch. A bit of concentration, and I found the power remained there. I now had a definite reminder of Mhorik’s power I could carry with me.

I sat near the fire, and watched the village come to life. I saw people go through their daily routines. Some gathered food, some prepared food, others took care of children or the infirm. It was the old village I had remembered, but it was changed. No, I had changed.

As the sun approached the top of the sky, people came to the fire and sat down. When most had gathered, I stood up, and stamped the staff on the ground three times. I wove a wisp of magic into it and into my words as I remembered Mhork doing so long ago.

“Friends, it is good to see you again.” I looked out in the crowd and spotted some of the people I knew. I smiled at Sama, and saw Balar sitting next to her. “I have traveled far to the convocation, and I have seen many wonderful things.” I took a deep breath, preparing myself.

“But, I bear sad news. Our friend Mhorik has fallen. Wizards at the convocation cast a spell at him that destroyed him.”

A gasp arose out of the audience, and there was murmuring. I stamped the staff on the ground again, giving it a bit more magic to emphasize the sound.

“Mhorik may be gone, but he is not forgotten. Thought his teachings, I have become a Wizard. I bear his staff, a sign of his faith in me.”

The noise of the crowd died down, and all eyes were on me.

“I swear to you, I will protect this village. Yes, we have enemies, but we also have friends. I have met spirits of the forest. I have met the rock men of the mountains. I have met kind wizards from far away who now live in our lands. I have met animals that walk and speak like we do.”

There were quiet murmurs.

“My friends, will you accept me as your wizard?”

A thunderous noise erupted from the crowd. A group of people surged forward and lifted me up. “Dorua!” came the shouts from around me.

I held tight to the staff in one hand, and gripped the pouch of ashes in the other. I knew Mhorik would still be proud of me.

My mind raced as I noticed the missing magic. Looking around, I started to recognize the area and I realized that my feet had carried me back near the village of the Lelra.

“You are alone, apprentice Dorua,” a Lelra voice whispered behind me. The presence I had sensed, but could not see.

“I am no longer an apprentice, ” I said, steadying racing pulse. “And I have news for the matron.”

I turned and saw what looked like one of the two Lelra who had first found Mhorik and me, but I wasn’t certain. I never even learned their names.

His pale green eyes looked into mine and a frown perturbed his serene face. “I see. I fear I know the news, and I will take you to the matron. She will want to hear.”

He walked past me, and I followed. This time, I was able to see the path he was taking. I was still surprised when we came to the village, as the buildings were still not easy to pick out. My guide lead me to the doorway I recognized from what seemed like forever ago, and we entered the large room with walls made of plants.

The Matron sat on her chair, looking down, but something was different. Her color had perhaps faded. The green of her hair seemed to have a bit of brown mixed in.

“Dorua,” the matron called as I entered. She stood up from the grand chair and walked toward me. “You come to tell me the news I have already heard from the wind.”

“Mhorik is dead,” I said flatly, delivering the news.

She fell to the ground as if a blow had struck her. Attendants rushed to her, but she raised her hand and waved them away. “I had known and I did not want to believe. But now you are here with his staff and show me the truth. It is true, he has left further than our ancestors.”

I took a few steps forward and lowered myself to the floor. I set the staff between us.

The matron reached out and laid her hand on the smooth wood of the staff. “He was a beautiful soul. Bold and kind in the way that only you wizards can be.”

She looked up and our eyes met. “You are the same.”

Again, people compare me to him. I looked away, emotion threatening to overwhelm me. I could only nod.

The matron stood up, then offered me her hand. I grasped it, and she helped me to my feet.

“I would ask you to stay with me, but you have a village to protect. I only ask one thing: stay here for the night, so that we may remember Mhorik together.”

I smiled and nodded. “I would like that.”

The matron sent others off to prepare a feast for that night. We sat and told stories. She told me her version of the story about how she had met Mhorik, young and brash and disturbing the careful balance. As she talked, others entered the hall and listened. Some told stories of when Mhorik stayed, about how the wizard taught them the value of learning form outsiders.

I showed everyone the pouch of ashes, and after a deep breath, told he story about how Mhorik had found me that night when the forest burned. I felt ashamed as I finished my story, telling of the destruction of a forest in a place of such beautiful nature.

“He was wise to see the promise in you,” the matron said as we were served slices of a sweet fruit. “You have power, and he taught you to control it.”

“I feel I have more to learn yet,” I said quietly. “But, now I have no teacher.”

“The wisest of us realize that we never stop learning. And, that we can learn even without a teacher. Now you have that wisdom for yourself.”

We spent the rest of the evening talking about Mhorik, remembering his life. As more people told stories, I realized how many lives he had touched in his life.

I slept well that night, for the first time in what seemed like a long time. The soothing food, the comfortable environment, and pleasant memories of Mhorik lulled me into peaceful sleep.

The next morning, I found some of the sweet fruits and some bladders of the sweet water waiting nearby. An attendant ran off as soon as I stirred, and the matron arrived to greet me soon after.

“It was pleasant seeing you again. I appreciate that you told me the news.”

“You seemed to like him.”

“Very much so. And I like you as well. If you should need anything, know you have friends here.”

“Thank you.”

“Please, take these items on your journey. I wish we could spend many more nights telling stories, but you have responsibilities.”

I nodded and gathered up the supplies. “I appreciate this. I appreciate our friendship.”

The matron smiled. She summoned a Lelra over and spoke with him quickly. “He will guide you along the way out of our village. I hope the wind carries you back soon.”

“I hope so, too. Farewell.”

I walked out of the hall and through the village. I could spot more of the buildings and doorways now. I waved to the people I saw, and many waved back. My guide lead me out of the village and through the woods on a faint path. I was lost in thought, and the guide didn’t say much until he turned, said something and left. I watched him leave and continued on my way, still lost in thought about all that had happened to me on my trip.

The day I walked almost by instinct, still wrapped up in my own head. I should have found the river that we followed to get toward the sea, but I had been too preoccupied with my own thoughts.

The sun was low in the sky when I stopped to rest. But, as I looked around terror gripped me: I had no idea where I was.

I swallowed hard as I asked Carves-the-Foundation, “What is your news?”

“I must return to the caves. I have received a message that I am needed.”

I exhaled and nodded. “I understand.”

“It has been a joy to travel with you and to help Mhorik find peace. I wish I could have known him as well.” Carves-the-Foundatinon’s face showed a sad expression.

I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled. “The very best part of this trip home has been your companionship. I hope we will meet each other again.”

“I would like that, too.”

I gathered my gear together, packing it together tightly. Young ones sniffed around, curious about my actions. When I was ready, I turned to the pack as a whole and gave a bow.

“Sad to see stories leaving,” Lookout said as he approached. “Many wishes for safe feet on travels.”

“Thank you,” I said, fighting back the lump in my throat. “I will cherish your kindness.”

I couldn’t resist making one last bit of magic to show off. I created a miniature image of Lookout, dancing in place as he had the previous night. Nearby members of the pack gathered around, and cries of joy came from all corners.

It was time to leave. I gave Carves-the-Foundation a hug, which seemed to surprise him. “Farewell, my friend.”

“To you, too, wizard Dorua.”

I walked along a thin path. From behind me I could hear the howls and yowls of the pack saying their goodbyes. I stopped once more, turned to wave, then continued on.

The forest was thick around me, and I kept mostly to a barely visible path. I walked for days, setting up small camps to rest at night, but covering as much ground as I could.

I was alone with my thoughts for the first time this trip. I caught myself talking to Mhorik, asking some question out loud before I realized there was nobody there to hear me. I’d gasp, look around slightly embarrassed, and then grip the staff and carry on. I came to realize how much I really missed Mhorik, and I came to realize how lonely being a wizard can be.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, but the ground sloped gently downward, away from the mountain and toward the sea and home. I would cast the occasional spell to get my bearings, but I still got turned around a few times.

Late one night I saw a glow up ahead as the night started to fall. The light was too dim to be a village’s fire, so I reasoned it was probably a traveler like me. I approached carefully as to not spook to other person. I let my footsteps fall heavier than normal, and called out when I was almost to the clearing.

“Greetings, traveler. May I share your fire?”

“Oh, welcome!” It was a feminine voice and sounded slightly startled.

“I am the wizard Dorua, from the village near the restless deep.”

I entered the clearing, and a lump formed in my throat. A woman sat in a simple robe with a staff across her lap. She was waving her hands, building up the fire on very little fuel.

She was a wizard.

“Welcome, sister. Forgive me, I am trying to maintain this fire. We are near the supposed home of the tree spirits, so I don’t want to tear down more wood.”

She looked up, and her face showed that she recognized me. I held my breath in anticipation of an attack.

“You! You’re the one who shamed Riversdepth!”

Her face showed a smile, open and without hostility. “Come, sit by the fire. I am pleased to meet such a famous person!”

She wove her hands in the air a few more times, and the fire burned more brightly.

“I thought you were an apprentice? You carry a wizard’s staff.”

“My master, Starwise, was killed. Attacked by other wizards at the convocation and a spell ate at him as we left.”

Her hands flew to her face. “No!” she gasped.

My vision blurred as my eyes started to water, but I gripped the staff. “I burned his body as the ritual requires. I am the village wizard now.”

She sat, unmoving, and looked at me for a few moments, collecting her thoughts. “I am sorry to hear. I knew Starwise, and I am ashamed of those who could not accept him as one of us.”

I exhaled in relief. “I am sorry, I did not hear your name.”

“Oh! I forgot my manners. Apologies, Dorua. I am called Wildfire by some, Katia by others. I knew Starwise, and I know his cousin Moonwind. I live in a village near the sea, on the far side of Moonwind’s village.”

I smiled. “You freely tell me your name? So, you agree with Mhorik that names have no power?”

“Not entirely. Names have some power, but not as much as other wizards fear. I knew you were using your name given at birth, for example.”

I nodded. “I knew Mhorik’s name, and could never land a spell on him.”

“Starwise was a powerful wizard. Although, I sense some of that same power in you.”

I felt a slight smile form on my face. “Thank you.”

“Starwise was a good man. No, a good wizard. I remember visiting Moonwind and seeing him there often. Moonwind was always a lazy teacher, but Starwise taught me the real lessons that helped me. And, he taught me about the hidden pictures in the skies.”

It was a great gift to find an old friend of Mhorik. I asked her to tell me more about him, and learned many things about him. I would tend the fire, and she became very animated, sharing stories about her childhood and learning magic. I shared a few stories of my own.

It became late, and we slept soundly next to the fire. In the morning, I got up and prepared some food from my pack that Wildfire ate eagerly.

“You are a better cook than he ever was!” She laughed as she enjoyed the meal.

We broke camp and walked together a little while longer.

“We should travel together!” Wildfire offered.

“As much as I would love that, I have another matter to attend to. You said the tree spirits live nearby?”

“Yes.”

“I know the Lelra, as did Mhorik. I should tell them of his passing.”

Her face showed surprise. I guess I told her yet another thing about Mhorik she didn’t already know.

“I understand. It was a blessing to meet you, Dorua. I will come to visit you sometime.”

“I would like that.”

She grabbed me and hugged me tight. She took a step back and looked at me, smiled, then walked off without another word. She turned and waved, and I waved back.

I started walking with no particular goal in mind. But, after a few minutes it hit me like a punch in the stomach. The tears started, and I crumpled over to the ground. I didn’t realize how much I could miss Mhorik until now. I just sat there, blubbering and sobbing, missing my teacher. Missing my best friend.

Afterwards, I sat there exhausted. I wiped my eyes and nose with the sleeve of my robe.

My mind sprang to attention when I felt like I was being watched. I looked around, but couldn’t see anyone.

Did Wildfire return? I reached out for magic to cast a spell, but found… nothing.

Carves-the-Foundation made a noise like grinding rocks while moving forward to meet the beast.

“Oh, rock one. Regret my actions,” the beast said in a frighteningly clear voice.

“This wizard is with me. No quarrel?”

“Yes I see a lightning eater.”

“Yes, and a friend. No quarrel?”

The beast stepped forward. I saw a lithe body covered in dark fur with a wolfen head on top. Standing upright, the creature towered over me. It’s gold eyes shined in the gloom of the dusk as it looked me over. I felt a quaver of fear under its gaze.

“No quarrel, rock one. This one Lookout.”

“I am Carves-the-Foundation, and the wizard is called Dorua.”

The beast dropped to all fours, moving low to the ground and looking up at Carves-the-Foundation.

“I hear the old one. Elders howled it before me.”

“Thank you.” Carves-the-Foundation said. I didn’t understand what had just happened.

“Take to pack?” the creature asked in a low voice.

“Yes, it has been too long. Please lead us, Lookout.”

Carves-the-Foundation motioned to me, and I followed. “What is going on?” I asked in a low voice as I got close.

“No need to whisper, he can hear easily.”

“Oh.”

“This is one of what we call the speaking creatures. This one can speak your language, which is rare.”

“They have their own language?”

“Yes. They are ancient friends with the Korodan, and we have talked to them many times in the past. I mentioned them before.”

I thought for a moment. “You fought an ancient enemy together.”

“You were listening to my stories!”

“A good wizard learns as much as she can.”

“The speaking creatures have shorter lives than we do, but they pass down stories about us so that they remember us when we visit.”

“He called you an old one?”

“Yes…”

“How old are you?”

Carves-the-Foundation looked up at the sky.

“My name in your language is Carves-the-Foundation. Do you know what that means?”

“The foundation is the bottom of something?”

“Yes, the foundation is the first thing.”

“The first….?”

“Nobody knows for sure. I was there when we first fought the green enemies of the speaking creatures many of your lifetimes ago.”

I fell into a stunned silence. Is this what it is like to talk to the first person who ever existed? What would it be like to have such a long life like that? I was in awe of my new-found friend.

We entered an empty clearing and the speaking creature stopped. He let out a series of three, short barks and the area exploded with motion. From under bushes, out of trees, through the grasses, and even seemingly appearing up out of the ground a whole group of creatures appeared. Some were wolfen, but there were a myriad of other types, too. They seemed to be clustered into similar groups; cat-like over here, other wolfen ones over there, and a few I couldn’t even try to recognize over in the back. They started barking, yelping, and howling all at once. These sounds must have been their own language.

A few of the speaking creatures came over and bowed low to the ground in front of Carves-the-Foundation. A few came up to me, particularly the smaller and younger ones, sniffing me and poking at my clothing with interest.

The first creature we met, Lookout, came over to me. “You have name Dorua?”

I tried to give my friendliest smile, despite the slight feeling of dread I had. “Yes. You are the lookout?”

“Yes, have name Lookout. You are lightning eater?”

“You mean… do I have magic? Yes.”

“Please, show the pack?”

I almost called out to Mhorik, then I realized that I was the wizard now. I grasped the pouch of ashes I was carrying, and found the courage to continue on.

“Yes. Have everyone move back.”

Lookout turned to the crowd and gave a short yowl. A few barks and wave of his arms and the group moved back to the edges of the clearing.

I took a deep breath. It was almost completely dark now, so I started small. I summoned a small gout of fire, and a spark of light. I had them move in a slow pattern, growing in intensity. There were animal sounds from all around the clearing. I heard small feet scamper and bushes rustle. I moved the lights lazily, slowly building up.

I then drew pictures in the air with the light and the fire, mostly to see if I could. I created an image of myself in crude form and made it wave. I formed a scene of my village, with waves of the sea lapping up against the shore. I drew images of the friends I had made along the way: Calvis, Cloud’s Reflection and his son, and Carves-the-Foundation. I drew an image of a bearded figure at the end, but I couldn’t bring myself to draw his details. With that, I snuffed out the flames and it all fell into darkness.

The night erupted into howls and calls. Many surged toward me, and I felt and smelled their breath upon me. The reached out to touch me and nuzzle me. Although I couldn’t see anything, I felt a strange sense of comfort as the speaking creatures surrounded me.

“The pack seen what beauty!” I heard Lookout speak to me nearby. “All impressed.”

The celebration when on for quite a while. I created a small bit of light and saw the animals capering and dancing all around.

But, it was too much for me. Exhausted, I fell asleep where I was when the activity calmed down. I awoke the next morning part of a pile of bodies. Some were stirring, and I took the opportunity to free myself.

Someone offered me a bit of raw meat, but I politely declined and got a bit of food out from my pack. Carves-the-Foundation saw me and came over.

“That was truly beautiful last night.”

“I think the pack approved.”

I heard the low rumbling laughter. “Yes, I have never seen these speaking creatures so excited.”

I chewed on my breakfast a bit more, taking in the scene. Feeling a bit of pride in my show from last night.

“Dorua,” Carves-the-Foundation said as I was eating, “I have some sad news.”

I looked at the pile of dust and grasped what happened immediately. I leaped to my feet and ran through the door, past the Korodan at the door. Down the hallway, more by instinct than actual memory, and to the chamber of statues. I got there just in time to see a statue change from unliving rock to the body of Carves-the-Foundations.

My new friend sees me and a rumbling laugh comes from him. I ran forward and threw my arms around him.

“I am glad to see you are safe,” I say, drawing him into an embrace.

“I assumed something like this would happen and was prepared this time. My transition was easy”

We walked back to the room. Carves-the-Foundation helped me to move the body to the side, I sat at the table.

“We should leave soon. What time of day is it?”

Carves-the-Foundation paused for a moment, looked to the side, and replied, “The sun has fallen toward the land. Soon it will be dark.”

I unsuccessfully tried to stifle a yawn. “I must sleep before we go. Let us leave near when the sun returns.”

Carves-the-Foundation nodded. “I will return just before the sun ascends. Sleep well.”

I had trouble getting to sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Mhorik. At times I would doze off, then wake suddenly thinking my mentor was still there. Then I would remember, and it felt like I was crushed under the weight of the grief that struck me.

The next morning I was gently awoken by Carves-the-Foundation. A quick spell summoned the spark of light again, then I grabbed my staff and got up. I asked Carves-the-Foundation for some water; a basin with clear, warm water was brought to me. I washed myself, took care of other necessities, ate a small breakfast, and prepared myself for the day. I put on some traveling clothes, packed the supplies, and prepared myself for the journey. Carves-the-Foundation came back into the room and with the gentle grace I came to expect, picked up the body and carried it in front of him.

Carves-the-Foundation lead us through the corridors, back to the great crystal chamber that I saw in what seems like a lifetime ago. I stopped a moment to appreciate the colors once again, and swallowed a lump in my throat. I nodded after a while, and we continued on our way.

“Tell me about your home.”

“Hmm?” I said, coming out of my thoughts.

“You have seen my home. Tell me about yours.”

“It is a small village near the restless deep. A few huts. We hunt, fish the sea, and collect food from the woods. Some people make things: baskets and packs from grasses, clothes from furs, that sort of thing.”

“You have friends?”

It had been a while since I had thought about my friends back in the village. I felt a touch of longing for home.

“Yeah. Sama. She is nosy and bossy, but she looks out for me. And, Balar, her brother.”

“What is Balar like?”

“Quiet. But strong. He lives in his older sister’s shadow. He gathers food from the forest most of the time.”

“They sound nice.”

We walked in silence for a moment. Out of nowhere, Carves-the-Foundation said, “I miss the sea.”

That seemed like a strange thing to say as we were leaving a home deep in the mountains.

We walked quietly for a bit longer, and I felt the need to fill the pause. “Tell me something about your home I didn’t know before.”

“Let’s see. Ah, should I tell you about the fire breather?”

“Something that breathes fire?” That seemed frightening.

“Yes, a large beast sleeping in a chamber, far below our home. We dug through the stone and found a sealed chamber with this giant beast. We could feel the heat through the stone. We dug deeper and saw the beast, covered in scales and soot. Ash flew out as it breathed, as if breathing fire. We did not disturb it, just sealed the tunnel behind us.”

“That’s scary. I wonder how it survives.”

“No idea. But, now you know something else about our home.”

We talked a bit more about the area. I never did work up the nerve to ask him about the sea.

Once outside, we set off over the mountain. Carves-the-Foundation picked an easy path, easily carrying the body with his tremendous strength. We made it over the mountain before night fell, and we set up camp.

“Do you sleep?” I asked, as I set down the sleeping furs.

“Not really. I used to, long ago, but I learned that all I really needed was a quiet period to think. You found me during one of those periods in the crystal chamber.”

My face burned with the memory of that encounter.

“It was a rude awakening,” he said with a rumbling chuckle. I smiled at his humor, despite my shame.

“Well, I need sleep otherwise it gets hard to concentrate. And I need concentration if I want to work any magic.”

“Go ahead and sleep. I will rouse you just before the sun rises again from the ground. Good night, Dorua.”

“Good night, Carves-the-Foundation.”

That night, my dreams were unusually vivid. I dreamed I was in a cave, and I saw my friends there. Sama, Balar, even Mhorik were there. We built a fire that burned brightly and grew brighter and brighter. Eventually the fire engulfed the entire cave until we were standing in the fire, but were not consumed.

I woke up drenched in sweat.

Carves-the-Foundation was above me, the rumbling voice low and quiet. “You didn’t seem to be sleeping well.”

I threw off the sleeping furs and let the air cool me own. “A strange dream. It should have been frightening, but I don’t think it was.”

“You don’t think it was?”

“I can’t really explain it.” It was hard to put into words how something so frightening could also be comforting in a strange way.

I decided to just get up and got ready for the day. A quick breakfast of dried meat and we were off.

“The village is pretty close now. We should find it well before the sun reaches the top of the sky.”

Soon, I saw the smoke of cooking fires in the sky between a break in the trees. We quickly found the village after a little more walking. It was down the hill from us, through the thinning forest.

It was surprisingly large for the area, a number of huts constructed from forest wood and mud. I could make out a few people were moving about in the cool morning air, cleaning up the morning breakfast and tending to the day’s activities.

“Hail, Carves-the-Foundation!” a voice called out from above us. In the tree, a young woman sat in the branches, casually tossing a rock from one hand to the other.

“Hamol!” Carves-the-Foundation called back. “It is good to see you. How is Anare?”

“The same as always. Who is this new person?”

“A wizard. I am guiding her for a bit.”

“Another wizard?”

“There is another wizard here?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“Yes, there are two that arrived a few days ago. They are in the village.”

I could feel the rising dread. What if it were some of the wizards from the convocation?

I sat there in shock, staring at the body. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I gripped the staff tightly in my hands.

“I… I n-need time,” I mumbled to nobody in particular.

“I will be nearby,” Carves-the-Foundation rumbled. I heard quiet footsteps, then the sound of the door being shut.

I wanted to cry. I wanted the tears to flow. I wanted the pain to overwhelm me. But I sat there, just staring at the body. Mhorik’s last words repeating in my mind.

“…always made me proud.”

Maybe I was cried out already. Maybe I had found some strength I didn’t know I had. I don’t know, but while I still missed Mhork, I realized that sitting around wanting to cry would not help.

Distant memories came to me from long ago, lessons from Mhorik about how to deal with death.

“The most important thing is that you should not cast spells on the corpse.” Magic had a tendency to do unpredictable things.

I braced myself against the staff and stood up. The staff felt natural in my hands.

I went to the door and found it slight ajar. “Could you get me some hot water?” I asked.

“Right away.” I heard the footsteps echoing down the hallway.

I went to our packs and drew a deep breath. I opened Mhork’s pack, laying out the contents. I needed something to steep in the water to preserve the body.

Then I realized I might have a problem. Looking over at the body, I shifted my perception. Just as I feared, the spell was still in the body, still slowly consuming it. I would need to purge that spell as well lest it have some terrible effect.

I took a steadying breath, and then sorted through the herbs and supplies. I picked out a mint that would be good as a preservative, but what would eradicate the spell? Then I saw the pouch of powder.

It was a dangerous thing, a potent reagent. Harmful to the touch and deadly in large doses, it disrupts the flow of magic in one’s body. But, I didn’t have to worry about the deadly properties affecting Mhorik anymore.

The door creaked open behind me, and Carves-the-Foundation walked in carrying a large stone basin of water. It must have been very heavy, but he moved with a grace that made it seem like nothing.

The basin was too small to submerge Mhork into. But, I had a thought. “One moment,” I called before Carves-the-Foundation could leave. “I need your help.”

He turned back toward me. “What would you need of me? Just ask.”

“I need to purge a spell still lingering in his body. But, this powder is a deadly to me. Perhaps your stone body…,” I trailed off.

“Would not be affected by such a poison. I understand.”

“But, I do not know for sure.”

“In the short time we have known each other, I feel a certain kinship to you, Dorua. I will take the risk.”

I let out a small sigh of relief.

“Plus,” he continued with a low grinding noise that was probably laughter, “You have already failed to kill me once.”

I laughed despite myself. Then I focused entirely on my task at hand. I crushed some of the mint between my hands and dropped it in the water. I mixed it thoughtfully, using a stick and no magic. Then, I sprinkled the powder carefully into the basin.

“Let that settle, while we prepare the body.”

I went over to Mhorik’s body and carefully removed his clothing. He looked thin, mere skin stretched over bones. I moved him to a spot on the stone floor, and placed him in a ritual position.

I went to the pack and got out a scrap of cloth. “Take this, dip it into the basin then use the water in the basin to wash the body.”

Carves-the-Foundation took the cloth and dipped it into the basin as I instructed. I held my breath, but nothing seemed to happen. Carves-the-Foundation turned to Mhorik and worked quickly and efficiently, wiping the body down.

I shifted my perception to see what was happening. As I expected, the reagent disrupted the spell. It moved away from the areas wiped down, until it was finally snuffed out with the final wipe of the cloth.

Carves-the-Foundation made a low rumbling noise, and then a noise that sounded like rocks tumbling down a hill. From outside, Shakes-the-Walls came in and took the basin of water out.

“Be careful…” I said.

“I told him.”

That rumbling must have been their speech. But, I turned my mind back to the ritual.

I took some of the furs and draped them over Mhorik. I rolled him over, and wrapped the furs around him. With some rope, I secured the furs tightly around the body.

“That should keep the body safe, but I need to perform another ritual later and burn the body. I need to be outside for that. I also need some herbs I don’t have.”

“There is a village outside the mountain. The place where I learned your language. We could go there.”

My brow furrowed. “We?”

“I would carry the body. Or did you intend to carry it yourself?”

I took a deep breath. I had not thought that far ahead.

“I would appreciate the help,” I said quietly.

“Oh,” he said abruptly, and I looked back to see a stone hand held up between us. Flakes of rock fell from the hand, slowly at first but gaining speed as cracks spread along the arm. “That powder had…” he started, but didn’t finish.

His body turned to dust within the space between one word and the next.

The question took me by surprise, but I mastered myself quickly. “Yeah, I would like to see.”

Carves-the-Foundation motioned for me to follow him and walked to the doorway. I got out of the chair and moved quickly. Down a hallway, past a few other Korodan standing watch, and into another chamber. In my sliver of light, I could only see a small way into the chamber. A few statues stood, inert, in the chamber. They lacked the spark of life I had seen in the other Korodan; simply vessels waiting to be filled.

From behind me, I heard a thump and a rumble. I turned my head and saw Carves-the-Foundation with a hand on the wall, making the rumbling noise. Suddenly, the whole chamber became a blinding spectacle, as crystals glowed from the walls and ceiling. When my eyes adjusted, I gasped in surprise.

I still could not see the end of the chamber. Not because it was lost in darkness, rather because it passed beyond the limits of my sight. The statues were lined up 30 abreast, and the rows went back seemingly forever. I noticed one of the statues in the front was missing.

“That is where your new body came from?” I asked, pointing to the empty spot.

“Yes. Sometime later I will build another statue there.”

The sheer number of statues boggled my mind. Why would they need so many? Why would they prepare such a number and store them in such a chamber?

A thought came to my mind and raced to my tongue. “Do you fear an attack?”

The stone figure stood for a moment. “I can see why you would think that. But, the truth is rather more plain: I like creating the statues.”

For some reason, that admission brought a smile to my face. The sheer joy of creation can be an intoxicating thing.

“You created all these?”

“Most of them.”

“Can any Korodan use them?”

“Yes. We can use almost any rock, but having a figure in the shape of a body speeds the process if we are prepared.”

“How does the body change? I noticed your face was the same as before.”

“Hmm. That’s harder to explain. Part of is is what we chose, but another part of it is based on our… our spirit, you could say. Our appearance mirrors some aspect of our spirit, but that appearance can change over time.”

“But, someone can always tell that it is the real ‘you’ in that body?”

“Usually. We have not had anyone get confused.”

We stood in the chamber for a while longer. I gazed at the statues. I tried a few spells, trying to figure out a way to count them all. But, even counting something as specific as mouths was too much for even my spell ability. After a while, I just let the awe of the place smother me.

The silence of the chamber was broken along with my reverie. “Dorua.” Carves-the-Foundation called to me, his voice dropping again to the low rumble that made me worried.

“What is it?”

“We should go back. Shakes-the-Walls says that the other wizard is calling for you.”

“Mhorik!” Worry pressed heavily upon my mind, and I followed Carves-the-Foundation back to the original room. As I got closer, I heard the hoarse whisper of my name, a pleading voice repeating it over and over.

I rushed through the door and over to the pile of furs where my master was laying. “I am here, Mhorik, I am here.”

His hand reached out and grasped mine. “Dorua.”

“Yes, I am here. Everything is fine.”

“No,” his voice cracked. “I can feel it.”

“Feel what?”

“The spell eating at me. I… I do not have long.” Mhorik’s eyes opened and fixed on me. He let go of my hand and groped at the wall until he found his staff.

“Take this,” he said, more dropping the staff than handing it to me.

“You are scaring me.”

“This staff has some of my power. Others will recognize it and will understand.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “No, no, no….”

His hand, soft and cool, gently wiped away the tear from my cheek.

“You are a full wizard. I have known this, time for you to realize it.”

“No, I am weak, I am foolish, I still need you,” I pleaded, emotion cracking my voice. “Please.”

“…always made me proud,” Mhorik said, his voice trailing off to a whisper, then a rattle, then nothing.

And, then the person that shown me the mystery of magic, the man who had made me who I am today, left this world.

How could that face be there after I had burned it away? Was that carved to mock me? To punish me? To drive me to madness?

Then the talk of a “new body” made sense. “You have another body.”

The figure smiled. “I should expect a wizard to be observant.”

From behind me, I heard stirring. I turned to see Mhorik struggling to sit upright. I crawled over to him to support his frail body.

“Korodan,” Mhorik whispered. “I had never seen them.”

The stone figure moved closer to us. The rumbling voice taking on a softer edge. “Yes, we have been called Korodan in your tongue. I spent much time with others of your kind in my life, and I learned the language.”

Mhorik reached his hand, brushing his fingertips along the arm made of stone. He smiled, and sank back down to the floor. With a gentleness and grace I would never expect of stone, the figure slid gentle hands under Mhorik and lifted him up. The stone person turned toward the door and walked forward with a simple, “Follow me.”

I scrambled to my feet and followed. We went through corridors, many lit with the glowing crystals we saw in the first chamber. After a few minutes, we went into another small room which had been set up with a pile of furs in the corner. The stone person gently set Mhork on the pile with the care a mother might give a newborn.

“I remember the wizards slept on furs, so I had some gathered.”

“My pack,” I started to say, and the figure pointed to the corner.

I ran over dug through the supplies, and got out some herbs from inside. I crushed them between my hands, and took them over to Mhorik. Some I put in his mouth, others I sprinkled over his form. I shifted some of the furs to cover him, and heard a soft snore soon after.

“Come,” the figure said to me, his voice soft and low. “We have much to discuss.”

He walked out of the room, making hardly a sound. I followed him out to the hallway, and to a nearby room. A simple table and crude chair were set up, and the figure waved me toward the seat.

I collapsed into the chair. “I am sorry…,” I started

The figure waved his hand. “I should have known better than to startle a wizard. The chamber is beautiful, and I let my thoughts wander there. I did not expect a visitor.”

My face burned with shame. “I should have controlled myself.”

“I do not lay blame on you. I am sorry that I was not able to recover faster and help you and the other wizard sooner. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let us make a proper introduction. My name in your language would be Carves-the-Foundation.”

I wiped my eyes. “I am Dorua, and in the other room is my master, Mhorik. We are wizards.”

“I am no expert in flesh bodies, but your master does not seem to be faring well.”

I swallowed hard. “A spell was cast on him. I saved him, but it has had some ill effects. It is consuming him.”

Carves-the-Foundation frowned. “I am sorry. We Korodan do not understand magic the same way wizards or the way the tree folk do. As much as it pains me, we have no way to help you.”

I nodded, and the tears I had been trying to fight back flowed. Heavy sobs shook my body as it all came crashing down on me. The world receded as my dark despair clouded my vision.

The world came back to me later and I found myself curled upon the floor. My head was cradled into the lap of Carves-the-Fondation.

“Seeing you like this hurts me inside in ways your fire could not.” The voice was barely more than a vibration to be felt instead of heard.

I sat up, and looked at the figure. I saw genuine concern in the face that looked back. “Thank you.”

I sat up, and rubbed my face, taking a slow breath. Carves-the-Foundation sat nearby. watching. To take my mind off the situation, I started telling him about the trip so far. We ended up talking for what seemed like an entire day, sharing stories.

I learned that the Korodan here were a small group. Most of them were old, some with memories going back before they learned how to form bodies made of stone. There were five of them originally, who met by chance. I learned that the other figure in the room was Carves-the-Foundation’s child, Shakes-the-Walls. I didn’t understand how stone could have children, but I did not ask.

They were intensely curious, and had followed people around many times int he past. They had fought with an ancient enemy with green skin, protecting some speaking creatures who were not able to defend themselves. They learned that people of flesh did not share their long lives, and the constant cycle of death and rebirth meant that their friends were all too short lived in their perspective. The Korodan mostly lived on their own now, learning the extent of who they were.

“We are strong, nearly invulnerable,” Carves-the-Foundation explained. “When the green ones attacked our friends, we were able to defeat them easily.”

“And, you have other bodies if you are defeated in battle,” I said.

Carves-the-Foundation nodded his head. “Would you like to see them?”

I don’t know what I was thinking. After being immersed in magic for a few weeks, a person made of rock should not have scared me. But, I panicked. I saw a threat, and my mind worked on instinct. And, for a wizard in control of powerful and deadly forces, giving into instinct is dangerous.

Fire came to me immediately, and I set the statue ablaze. The statue took a step toward me and raised its arms, and I strengthened the spell. Flames burned with magical intensity, melting the stone face unrecognizable. Then I sent a blast of air, to suddenly snuff out the flames, and cool the stone, causing it to crack. Chunks of stone fell to the floor, and the whole stone body collapsed into a pile of rubble on the floor.

The reality of what had just happened slammed down on me. I stood there, stunned, while hands grabbed me from all sides and held me down. I realized later that there were others in the room, and they leapt into action when I attacked that person. They hauled me out of the chamber, into a dark corridor and into a room. I came back to my senses when Mhorik summoned a spark of light to chase away the darkness. My thoughts leapt back to him when his pale face loomed over me.

“Not your best plan,” he said, his breathing labored.

I made him lie down and created my own spark of light so that he did not have to maintain his. I cared for him the best I could. I looked around, but our packs were nowhere to be found.

How long were we down there? The passing of day and night aren’t measured under the ground. The rock people do not sleep, so there was never really any way to tell from the amount of activity outside the door. Simple meals made of fungus and other odd plants were brought at irregular intervals, so I couldn’t tell from that. The pained regret seared into my mind replayed the horrific melting of that stone face in my mind any time I closed my eyes. My worry for Mhorik deprived me of any remnants of my usual sleep cycle. It could have been a day or even a few weeks we were stuck in there.

My mind ran in circles in the emptiness of the room. I tried to think of ways to escape, but the stone walls and doors were beyond my ability. I tried to study the patterns of magic in the stone, but my mind just couldn’t grasp it. The runes scarred onto Mhorik gave me no hint at which one would manipulate the stone. My mind considered ways to move lightning fast, to escape out of the tunnels and back to the surface. But, a simple stone door, barred from the other side, stopped any plans I had.

It was obvious that Mhorik’s condition was not improving in the darkness of the room. He was not eating, and he looked painfully thin. Sweat coated his face most of the time, despite the cool environment underground.

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed one night. “I should have gotten help.”

His eyes fluttered open. “No,” he said simply.

“What?”

“Not… your fault,” he managed as he lifted his hand to my shoulder.

“I could have gotten help. We could have gone to the Lelra.”

Mhorik shook his head. “No. It’s a… not their spell. Nothing I… have seen before.”

“We could have done something, anything!”

Mhorik rested for a bit, then said, “This spell consumes me. No way to reverse it.”

Panic gripped me. “Did I…?”

“No!” Mhorik yelled, then fell into a fit of coughing. “Not your fault. Magic… not always easy to control.. Your first lesson.”

Tears welled up into my eyes as I remembered that painful night.

“I am a failure,” I said through my tears.

“No.” Mhorik’s voice was soft. “I am proud, Dorua.”

Tears blurred my vision, but I heard the soft snoring of him falling asleep. I dried my eyes and got some sleep myself.

I awoke some time later to see the door open. Sleep clouded my thoughts, so the plans I had hatched did not come to mind when the stone figure walked into the room. My thoughts flew to Mhorik.

I threw myself on the ground in front of the figure. “Please, please, I made a mistake. You must help my master.”

A voice that rumbled like stones rolling down a mountain replied, “What is wrong?”

I looked up, feeling a bit of hope in my heart. “My master, he is ill. He is afflicted by some spell, and I do not know what it is.”

“Does he have another body prepared?”

The question made no sense to me. “I do not understand.”

“Does the spell prevent him from taking a new body?”

“New body…?”

“They are not made as we are,” another voice rumbled from the doorway. “They only have their one body.”

I looked to the doorway and my mind reeled: I saw the figure I had burned, the face that had haunted me since we had been locked into the room.