Archive for the ‘Korodan’ 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.”

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.

The ice fell all during the night, crashing and cracking in the darkness. I took out the sleeping furs and wrapped them around us, trying to stay warm. Mhorik shivered against me, but we survived until the light broke the next morning. When I could see, I climbed out from under the outcropping. The ground was covered in ice, and I could still see my breath in front of my face. The way down would be dangerous, but the way up was impossible.

Mhorik finally spoke up. “We must go back and travel along the foothills. There is another pass, an easier one, but it will take us longer to get there.”

We gathered up our gear and climbed down, carefully, painfully. What took us part of a day going up took us the entire day coming back down. A few times I slipped and fell, but luckily Mhorik kept his feet the entire day. At the base, we made camp at the same place we had the night before.

“I’m sorry, you were right, I should have listened to….” I started in a rush of words.

I was interrupted by Mhorik’s sharp laugh. He shook his head. “No, I was a fool. I should have known better. Riversdepth is clever, and she could weave a spell that would wait until we were on the mountain.”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “But how?”

Mhorik just shook his head again. “I’m not sure. I’ve heard that some people are able to make magic wait, to observe like a living thing. But, that is beyond my ability.”

Frustration grew inside of me, and I gave a small growl. I would get my revenge one day.

Then I heard snoring coming from Mhorik’s direction. At least he was able to get some sleep. I set watch, catching sleep in small pieces when my mind wasn’t racing with worry.

In the morning, we set out along the foothills. We wound our way through the valleys, out of sight of any that might look from a distance. Mhorik said he didn’t smell anything. We traveled, we ate, we slept, and we traveled some more. Mhorik seemed in good spirits, but I wasn’t certain that his health was improving at all. I said nothing, and kept my worries to myself.

We found the pass in the middle of the day, with the sun’s heat full upon us. As Mhorik had described, the pass was much lower, and the slope much easier than the first pass. Again, I convinced Mhorik to wait, to rest up before we tried the climb, but this time he agreed.

The night passed quietly. Again, I couldn’t sleep because of a mix of worry for my master, and the strange sounds. Several times that night I heard rocks fall off the mountain and tumble into the hills below. This didn’t make me feel confident about the trip up the mountain. I inhaled deeply many times that night, letting the cool air of the night calm my nerves as much as I could.

The travel the next day was easier than I had hoped. The gentle slope was easier for both of us, and Mhorik kept up a good pace. We were half way up the side when suddenly my breath turned to a white cloud in front of my face.

“Not again!” I yelled in frustration. I looked to the sky, and saw the clouds forming quickly. I looked around and spied a cave in the mountainside, just a bit ahead of us. I slid my arm under Mhorik and lifted him up, running as fast as I could toward the cave. We got inside just as the thumps of ice sounded outside. I put Mhorik down and caught my breath.

“You certainly move fast when you want.”

I shrugged and smiled. “I saw safety and went for it.”

“Well, a bit more room here than our last hiding place.”

I conjured a spark of light and looked around the cave. To my surprise, it extended down into the earth, past the range of my spell.

“Do you want to see what’s down there?” Mhorik asked. I looked at him, it seemed a bit out of character for him.

“We don’t have anything better to do right now.”

He conjured his own spark, and we walked further into the cave. It lead down at a gentle slope, enough to feel it but with stable footing. The cave was wide and tall, and neither of us had to stoop as we made our way deeper into the earth.

The temperature dropped a bit, and I pulled out the sleeping furs for us to wear as cloaks. The floor evened out so that the slope was either less noticeable or entirely gone. I lost track of time and I’m not sure how far we walked, but it felt like a long distance.

But, all thoughts of going back vanished when we caught a glimpse of the grand chamber ahead. The glow of various colors caught our eye. Mhorik lead the way, moving faster than I had seen him since we left the grove.

When we reached the great chamber, it took our breaths away. The huge chamber was covered in large, glowing crystals, showing every color possible in nature. Reds, greens, oranges, blues, the whole chamber was a dazzling. Mhorik had an expression of sheer joy on his face. We stood for a while, bathing in the beauty around us.

“Oh, look at this.” I had found a strange statue of a small man hidden in an alcove of the chamber. Mhorik tore his eyes away from the crystals and walked over to where I was.

“I’ve never seen anything…,” he started to say when the eyes of the statue opened and stared right at us.

“It seems,” said a rumbling voice that I felt as much as I heard, “that we have visitors.”

Seamist stood over the two of us, looking down with the light of the fire behind her.

“I’m casting magic.” My voice sounded small and distant.

“Good,” her voice had an edge of ice to it. I saw a stick in her hand, its end glowing with embers from the fire. “I was going to give my apprentice a lesson. It’s time he learns a second rune.”

I glanced over at Mhorik, his eyes telling me not to get involved. But, I couldn’t ignore the malice in her voice.

“Which one?” I asked, trying to steady my voice. “I know a lot.”

She looked at me with hard eyes. “Pick whatever one you like.”

She held the stick out to me, and I took it. I took a breath and held it, thinking quickly and coming up with a plan. I looked into the apprentice’s eyes, and try to show as much sympathy as I could. I took his arm carefully exposed his arm.

I touched the burning end to his flesh, but he didn’t move or jerk at all. “This is the rune of healing. It stops bleeding and eases pain. It is associated with the numbing herbs, and the star sign of the twins.” I traced the rune, focusing on my own rune to help ease the pain. After I was done, I looked and found the scar rune to be nearly perfect.

Seamist watched, a leer on her face. “I guess you have learned well, my sister.” She turned back to the fire and joined Mhorik, continuing some conversation.

“Did it hurt much?” I said in low tones.

He shook his head, and kept looking at the scar.

“Do you understand the rune?”

He nodded. “You used it to deaden the pain. I saw it.” He looked at me, his eyes damp with tears that dared not fall.

I leaned closer to him, my lips next to his ear. “I am Dorua,” I whispered carefully.

“You have a name already?” came the barely voiced rely.

“Since I was born.” A sharp inhale of breath.

“I… I… I’m Calvis.”

I put my arm around him and hugged him tight. I could feel his body quake in the embrace. After a moment, I went to lay down on my sleeping furs and fell quickly to sleep.

Waking up the next morning, we continued as we had before. We spent the next several days climbing up the pass. Mhorik and Seamist were usually up front, and Calvis and I followed behind. I taught him more about magic, and he was an eager student. I told him about my friends back in the village, and he told me about his village. We became good friends.

One day we were walking all together when Seamist asked Mhorik, “Have you heard stories about the rock men in this area, Starwise?”

“The Korodan, yes,” Mhorik responded. “I have heard the stories, but never seen them.”

“I wonder if they are just idle stories. Something other wizards make up to scare apprentices.”

Mhorik shrugged. “Perhaps. Some said the same thing about the Lelra, but I have seen them.”

The wizards fell silent as we climbed up a particularly steep part of the trail. Calvis scrambled up ahead of me, and over an edge. His arm came down, and I grabbed it to help myself up. When I stood up, the sight took my breath away.

This was the top of the pass. In the clear weather I could see forever down the other side. Ahead of us we saw the great groves of trees stretch out in and endless sea of green. Yet, the sea of water I had always known was nowhere to be seen.

Mhorik was doubled over, near the side, is breathing ragged.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Enjoy the view, don’t worry about me.”

I stood there, letting the power of the surroundings wash over me. But, all too soon we were on our way climbing down the far side of the pass. Mhorik straightened up, having caught his breath, and went down the far side of the pass. As I prepared to descend, a hand grasped my arm and yanked me back.

“I know what you’re doing,” that dreaded voice hissed in my ear. “Oh, you’ll get what’s coming to you.”

It was the third day with the strange animals. The small one kept making contented noises, seeming to grow bolder as he interacted with the smaller animals. One of the wolf-like ones, colored white, had started to make noises like the group. He couldn’t quite communicate fully, but they all had very basic conversations. The old one learned more about them, about their leader and their young ones. The concept of “young ones” was hard for the group to understand; could they make their own young ones?

The animals were also curious about the group. At a rocky outcrop, one of the animals had used her claws to carve out part of a figure that looked like the hard one. The group made the pleased noise as they looked at it, and the animals seemed to enjoy the company of the rocky ones.

Instead of seeking the quiet of a cave, the group had been sleeping in the open with their new friends. There was a vein of rock that was exposed to the open air, which gave them some comfort. But the night in the open brought unfamiliar sounds.

A new noise cut through the air that night, a loud piercing sound, that made all the animals sit up alert. The bigger animals grabbed the smaller ones and put them on the small table of rock, then formed a tight circle around them. The leader was making loud noises and searching around as one of his partners stood guard over the little ones.

There was a crashing through the brush as a small cat figure emerged into the open, chased by two small green creatures making the screaming noise. Their sharp claws swiping to try to catch the young one finally caught him on the side, sending him tumbling with a yell. The leader looked in the direction of the yell and dropped to all fours, running to his little one, but could not make it in time.

The hard one moved faster than anyone anticipated. He swung his harm and connected hard against the side of one of the green beasts, sending it sprawling. It made gasping noises and red fluid flowed out of its side. The other green monster ran into the hard one and bounced back, but made an even louder screaming noise. It dove toward the fallen green beast and bit at it, tearing chunks of meat from the fallen. Suddenly a small pack of the green ones leaped out of the bushes and descended on the fallen one. In short order, there were only broken bones and a splash of red where the body had been. The green mob turned their focus to the group.

The fast one and the hungry one had joined the hard one, forming a wall between the green monsters and the animal friends. The leader had grabbed his little one, leaking red fluid on his side as the green monsters had, and put him with the rest. The leader took his place in the group, facing the monsters and preparing for an attack. But, the group had decided to protect their friends and stood close, blocking the direct approach. The whole group were standing together by now, even the timid small one. They made an aggressive sound together, which made the green ones hesitate slightly before one launched an attack. Where one went, the rest followed.

The group swung their arms, crashing down upon the heads of the green monsters. More of them poured out of the underbrush, but the wall formed by the group held firm against the incoming tide. Any that got through were met by the small one who could still deal significant damage against the soft flesh of the green ones. But, the wave of monsters kept coming. Some would throw themselves at their fallen kin, devouring them in large chunks, while others would throw themselves against the group. The green ones could see the animals in a group behind the rocky wall and charged to try to get to the prize.

It happened so suddenly that nobody could react. A particularly large green one hit the old one while he was fighting and pushed him aside. Through the temporary breach that large one and five others rushed through before the old one regained his balance and closed the gap. The small one moved to block them, but they proved too much for him. The smaller creatures tackled him and knocked him over. They set upon him, digging their claws deep into his stone and pulling at his arms. The large one lumbered up and raised its foot, stomping hard on the small one. The force drove the small one into the ground with a crunch as splinters of rock flew everywhere. The large green monster pulled his foot back and howled in pain, but only a bunch of broken rock remained where the small one had fallen.

A cry came from the animals as the leader and a few others ran forward. Their claws dug into the flesh of the large green one, and it was brought low with repeated blows. The smaller ones were too quick, and dodged past the attackers to run toward the group. Murder was in their eyes as they ran forward, claws slashing the air and teeth biting the air in anticipation of more flesh. Just as the pack of green ones almost reached the group, a cry of surprise came from the small animals in the middle.

Leaping out from the group was the small one! He had used the carved rock of the outcropping to form a new body. It was more refined than his old body, taking on some of the form of the partially carved figure. But the rest of the group immediately recognized him. He swung his new arms in the air and brought them down hard on the green monsters. He crushed their bones and knocked them aside. He moved back toward the wall, catching any of the green ones that had broken through. Eventually, as suddenly as it started, the green ones started to run away off into the gloom of the darkening night. Their mad screams fading into the night.

The animals stood at the ready for quite a while longer as the group gathered together to examine the young one. The group went to the nearby water source to wash off the red fluid that had covered them. They went back and saw the animals starting to wind down and try to get some sleep. The large white one came forward and made the appreciation noise. The group returned the noise and spread out. They were energized by the fight, and would spend the night on the watch for the green monsters, but they did not return that night.

The group stayed with the animals for a little longer, but the green ones didn’t bother them anymore. Eventually the group decided that they would move on, leaving their animal friends for a while. But, the friendship between the animals and the group endured for a long time afterward.