Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

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.”

We walked carefully as night fell around us. The broad road through the plains was easy to follow in the light of the moons above. But my nerves jumped at every sound, worrying that someone would follow us and attack us again. We traveled through the next morning, only camping once the next night had fallen. Mhorik practically collapsed as soon as we stopped, and I quickly set up camp to make him comfortable.

I was exhausted, but I didn’t dare sleep. I lit the fire and kept one eye on Mhorik, the other scanning the distance for any that might approach. Although I’m certain I let my mind wander and dozed off, nothing happened that night.

“You look awful,” I said as Mhorik stirred the next morning.

A slight smile crept onto his wan face as he brushed his fingers through his tangled beard. “You certainly have a way with people, dear,” he replied, his voice small and brittle.

I pulled out some dried meat and tore off a chunk for him and another for myself. I chewed it slowly, letting the saltiness clean the morning taste from my mouth. I tried not to stare at Mhorik, but he did not have the appetite he should.

He sniffed at the air. A frown emphasized the deep wrinkles on his face.

“What is it?”

“Some… trouble is bubbling up around us. Someone is casting a potent spell, and I don’t think it’s good.”

“Is there anything we can do? Can we counter it?”

Mhork shook his head. “Even if I were not feeling ill, I don’t think I could counter power on this scale. We should move as fast as we dare today, away from this place.”

I hurriedly packed up the campsite and gathered our gear. I made sure to carry most of the weight, trying to give Mhorik the least strain I could even as we traveled.

My nerves finally calmed down after not seeing anyone or anything for a few days. I focused on the mountain rising before us, letting it guide me so that I did not have to put much thought into walking. Every night we set up camp, and I’d sleep only a bit while Mhorik slumbered fitfully. Every morning he’d awake, sniffing the air and worrying about some magic power building up around us. Eventually I started smelling something different, something I didn’t recognize on the morning’s breeze.

We got to the hills at the base of the mountain. I saw the path up, but didn’t really recognize it. Going up a mountain pass is different than coming down. The climb looked like it would be difficult for us, especially with Mhorik in his rough condition, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle it immediately.

“Let’s rest here for a day or two. We should gather our strength before we climb back up the mountain.”

Mhork shook his head. “No, something bad is following us. Resting here will only ensure that it catches up with us. We must press on.”

“A compromise: Let us rest here tonight, then, and we can climb up after the sun has cleared the horizon.”

“No, we must…”

I put my hand on his shoulder, and pushed him down gently. “You are in no state to go climbing. We rest here.”

I wanted to protect him, I wanted to let him gain his strength. But, my heart broke as I saw my master, the one person I respected most in the world, sink the ground unable to fight against even my gentle push. I set up the camp as he sat there with a dark expression on his face. He fell asleep and then, only then, did I allow myself the quiet tears I held back. I was scared, afraid for him. Knowing that we had to push on, but fearing for his life.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I didn’t even doze off. I just watched over the wisp of a man sleeping near the fire.

The next morning I upheld the compromise and packed our gear for the climb. Mhorik did seem to be in better spirits, eating the chunk of dried meat I offered him with some of his old vigor. I smiled, thinking that perhaps I had just been too tired to fight off worry.

The climb was difficult, but we made good progress. I would lead, finding paths and footholds that let us climb ever upward. I’d often turn around and pull Mhorik up behind me. I thought we would get over the pass in less time than we had before.

Then I saw my breath appear before me as the temperature dropped suddenly. Then ice started to fall from the sky. Small pebbles of ice appeared at first, bouncing against the ground. Then the larger chunks fell I had never seen this before, my mind not quite comprehending what was going on.

I tried to push on, but the ice got underfoot and caused me to slip and fall. The amount of ice falling from the sky was just too much.

Mhorik grabbed my shoulder and pointed toward a rock outcropping. I put my arm under him and we moved quickly to get out of this deadly weather.

“The spell has caught us. I do not think we can continue on,” he said, with an air of defeat.

“What can we do? Where can we go?” I tried to keep my voice calm; I think I succeeded. Mhorik didn’t answer.

We sat under the outcropping, huddling together for warmth. But I shivered from fear more than the cold.

I coughed hard, choking on the dust that had gotten in my nose and mouth. I spat and sat up. The only thing I could hear was a loud buzzing in my ears.

I saw Mhorik sprawled nearby. Blood and dirt covered his face. The other wizards that had gathered around us had been thrown in all directions and were just now stirring. People were running toward us to see what the commotion had been.

Riversdepth staggered to her feet. Her black robe had been ripped to shreds and hung on her loosely. She seemed to take a step toward Mhorik.

Moving faster than I thought possible, I ran to put myself between her and Mhorik. I saw his staff and snatched it up, holding it between us. I felt a potent heat pump through my body as I got ready for whatever she could throw at me.

But, all I saw in response was fear. Her eyes focused on me and went wide. She mouthed something I still couldn’t hear while she backed away. The other wizards who had come with her, including Seamist, backed away from me and melted into the dark passages of the grove.

When they were gone, I turned my attention to Mhorik. I hurriedly cast a spell to stop the bleeding. His body shook with violent coughing, then his eyes sprang open. I bent down and grabbed his hand, pulling him to his feet and putting my arm under his. I was scared with how frail he felt, how easily it was that I lifted him up and practically carried him with me to our campfire.

I put him down on his sleeping furs, and he felt immediately into a deep sleep. I felt drained, but the fire in my blood wouldn’t let me sleep for several hours.

Morning came and I awoke with a start. Mhorik was sitting nearby, wrapped tightly in his furs despite the warmth of the sun. The crackling of the fire let me know I had my hearing back.

“Are you…,” I started, moving toward the frail looking man sitting there.

“I am alive,” he muttered. “Thanks to you.”

“I didn’t know what to do!”

“You did fine. You did better than I did.”

I sat in quiet for a moment. I wanted to ask endless questions, but I didn’t know what to do.

“We leave before the sun sets tonight. Gather your items and say your goodbyes.”

I nodded. That answered a few of my questions, at least.

I set to packing our items. When most of the things were put away, I went to find Cloud’s Reflection. I asked him to go keep an eye on things for me, and he simply smiled and headed off toward our campfire.

I figured my time was limited. I tread carefully through the grove, trying to avoid anyone I didn’t know. I met a few of my new friends and said I was leaving. I didn’t go into much detail, because I wasn’t sure what those details were, exactly. The sun was starting to descend when I finally went back to the campfire to find Mhorik.

Mhorik was sitting near the fire, out from under his furs. His robes hung on him loosely, and he looked more fragile than I had ever noticed before.

Cloud’s Reflection and his son got up to meet me. “He is fine. A few people came to talk to him, but they were friends he said.”

I nodded. “We’re leaving….”

“He said. I told him you should wait. There are stories of unnatural weather, and strange creatures prowling outside the grove.”

I looked to Mhorik, but he just shook his head. “No, we must leave tonight.”

Cloud’s Reflecting swept me into a tight embrace. “It was good to meet you, sister. I wish you both safe travels.”

“Thanks.” I smiled the first honest smile I had felt all day.

I gathered up our belongings, shouldering some of Mhorik’s usual load. He struggled to his feet and leaned heavily on his staff.

“Safe travels to you, Cloud’s Reflection. I hope you find a home. Be wary of who you count as friends here, though.”

Cloud’s Reflection nodded and kept an eye on us as we left. We took off across the field, avoiding the main grove. The sun set behind the horizon as we climbed a nearby hill.. From the grove, I saw the glow of blue flames for the last time.

The next week flew by. Strangers became friends sharing the common bonds of magic. We talked about spells, we created magic together, we shared concerns about what goes on in our villages, and we offered suggestions to each other. I talked to a bunch of people and learned so much in such a short period of time. Those few days were some of the most intense in my life.

But, during this time I had an odd feeling of something not being quite right. Just beyond my perception something seemed to be happening. People treated me differently: some went out of their way to meet me, and others went out of their way to avoid me. Groups of people would hastily depart when I walked nearby. Furtive glances toward me from fellow apprentices. Open glares from some wizards as I moved within the grove.

One evening I was sitting off to the side in the main clearing eating a small snack. Another apprentice came up, a girl who had been friendly before, and sat next to me.

“So, what’s it like?” she asked.

I swallowed the mouthful I had. “What?”

“You know, having a male master.”

People had talked about it, but nobody had been quite this direct. “It’s fine. I’ve learned a lot from Starwise. You’ve seen my ability.”

“Yeah, but don’t think it’d be better to learn from a real wizard?”

Something about her tone irritated me. “Starwise is a real wizard.”

She looked off into the middle of the room and bit her lip. “I’m just saying, you’re smart and all. Maybe think about finding a new master here. Many of them would take you.”

The other apprentice got up and left before I could form a retort. I was just perplexed at what that was all about.

That night, things turned ugly.

I was sitting with my master, discussing a spell I had learned about day. I didn’t tell him about the other apprentice, figuring it was a silly thing to fret over. As we were talking, a group came up and surrounded us.

I looked up into the faces and recognized two: Riversdepth from my presentation, and Seamist who traveled with us over the mountain pass. They had a hard look on their faces.

“Greetings, sisters,” Mhorik said, leaning against his staff and climbing to his feet.

A sneer came across Riverdepth’s face. “Oh, greetings, great Starwise. But, do not count us as sisters, cur.”

He lost the friendly look on his face, and his eyes narrowed. “What is the meaning of this?”

Seamist’s voice dropped to a deadly whisper. “You do not know your place, and your apprentice is a fool. Isn’t that right, Dorua?”

After not hearing that name for a week, it hit me like a physical blow. I stared at the group in disbelief.

“And you, Mhorik. I know our name. And with your name, I have power over you.”

My eyes grew wide with fear, but Mhorik just laughed.

“That is where you are wrong. You believe that superstition. You have no power over me any more than you have power over any other wizard here.”

“Oh, no. That is where you are wrong. I will show you my power over you,” Riversdepth said as her eyes blazed with sudden magic.

Mhorik’s face became strained and sweat suddenly beaded on his forehead. He was straining against some unseen force, baring his teeth with the effort of fighting back.

Thinking fast, I did a trick I had learned this week. Holding my breath, I extended my sight to perceive magic. I saw luminous ribbons emanating from Riversdepth, fueled by the other wizards nearby. The ribbons surrounded Mhorik, constricting and threatening to crush him. His own magic was a painful blaze of light, but it was being smothered by the ribbon.

I blinked my eyes and looked at Mhorik. His face was furrowed with exertion, and a thin trickle of red blood ran down from his nose. His white knuckles wrapped his staff and I could see he was losing the struggle against so many others.

I held my breath again. All that magic was binding him, constricting him. But, I saw a lose ribbon. Reaching out my mind, I grabbed that strand and gave a pull.

Then the world detonated all around us.

I snapped to attention and time seemed to slow down. The world faded around me until all I saw was the cloth hurling toward me, lit by the blazing blue bonfire.

The fire rune leapt to my mind. Control it, Dorua! A small amount, not a fire, just the heat. Steam billowed from the cloth as it sailed toward me in slow motion. Wind next. A big gust at first, then slow as the cloth dries. Snuff the heat, and bob the cloth into the air.

The rest of the world came into focus once again as I heard a collective gasp from the group. All five of the dark-robed wizards stared at me. I turned toward Mhorik, who just stroked his beard with one of his more enigmatic smiles on his face.

“I see you are not to be underestimated,” Amberstone said, regaining her composure. The wizard who had hurled the cloth frowned and narrowed her eyes at me. Murmurs erupted from the crowd.

Mhorik motioned for me to follow him. I quickly snatched the cloth from the air and handed it back to Ambermoon. “I believe courtesy dictates I should return this to you.”

A slight smile crossed Ambermoon’s face as she took the cloth. I turned to follow Mhorik.

We returned to our seats. The wizards talked some more, but I barely heard a word. I was giddy. I controlled the magic perfectly. Perfectly! I felt the ebb and flow of magic around me, and I was lost in the currents for however long we were there.

“Let’s go.” Mhorik’s voice drew me back to the present as he got up and followed the crowd out of the clearing. We walked back along the paths, out of the grove to the field, and back to the fire.

“Well,” Mhorik said as we got back. “That was some show. You certainly will be remembered after that.”

My face cracked open with a smile. “I did good?”

“The magic was amazing. The politics you stumbled into, however….” Mhork’s voice trailed off.

“What do you mean?”

“That other wizard was Riversdepth. Let’s just say she doesn’t like me much. I think she wanted to embarrass you, but instead you made a fool out of her.”

I sat quiet for a moment, the glee of victory ebbing. “Is this bad?”

“No worse than usual.”

We sat quietly for a bit. i stared into the fire, when a timid voice with a heavy accent interrupted my thoughts.

“Can we join you, yes?”

A painfully thin man stood nearby, with a young boy. Their robes were colorful and foreign, but worn and still dirty from travel.

“Yes,” I said without knowing why. “I am the apprentice of Starwise.” I had learned my lesson.

“Could any not know who you are?” the young boy said in a similar accent to the other man as he sat down. “Everyone saw you!”

My hands flew to my face. Everyone did see me up there, didn’t they?

“She’s a bit overwhelmed right now.” Mhorik laid his hand on my shoulder.

“I see. It is nice to meet you, Starwise. I am Cloud’s Reflection from the empty plains.”

“I am not familiar with the empty plains,” Mhorik said. “Where are they?”

“To the far south. Few wizards in that land. They have bad reputation, and people are as willing to hunt them as to ask their assistance.”

“What brings you so far north?”

“Our village was attacked and burned. A warlord attacked, and our magics were powerless against him. He enslaved the village, and we fled for our lives.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Cloud’s Reflection. What happened?”

“The warlord lead an army of green skinned brutes. They were savage.”

“Green skin? Sounds like Kobolds, but would not be so easily controlled.”

We sat in silence for a bit, until Mhorik asked, “Is this your apprentice?”

“Not truly. He is my son, although he does show some promise with spells.” The boy smiled.

“Well, I hope you find shelter in these lands. Be wary, some tribes distrust traveling wizards, as my apprentice and I learned on our travels here.”

Cloud’s Reflection nodded. “Let us hope to find some good news here. Thank you for your kindness, Starwise.”

The events of the day finally crashed down on me. Fatigued weighed me down as I struggled to get my sleeping furs spread out. Worry about the next few days gnawed at my stomach, but sleep took all the same.

I let out a breath of relief when I saw a woman step onto the edge of the brook.

“Well met, sister,” the wizard said as she stepped forward and slipped off a lavish robe. I stared, stupidly, as she set her robe along the side and stepped into the creek. Complex rune scars covered her arms and chest, with dozens of symbols woven into an intricate pattern. I could feel them pulse with magic.

I looked up and saw a bemused smile on her face. “I see you are young and likely an apprentice, so I will forgive your lack of courtesy. I am Amberstone, high wizard of the clan of the icy mountains. And you are?”

“Um… apprentice of Starwise, of the tribe near the restless deep,” the words stumbled out of my mouth. I hastily added, “We just got here.”

My face burned, and I scooped up some water cool myself and scrub off more of the grime.

“Well, apprentice, let me give you a lesson that it seems Starwise neglected. Courtesy dictates that you should introduce yourself to other wizards. It helps to avoid confusion and conflict.”

I nodded dully, looking away and scrubbing myself in the water. “Sorry.”

“Do not worry. We will see your true worth tonight, won’t we?” A slight smile carried on her voice.

I nodded again, then stood up and walked toward the bank and my clothes. “I will see you tonight, Amberstone.”

“I look forward to it, apprentice.”

I shook to get most of the water off, then wrung out my hair. I slipped into a light robe and my ceremonial cloak then grabbed my traveling clothes then went back to the fire.

I found Mhorik sitting near the fire. He had stoked it and build it up. A thick smoke was billowing out of it, heavy with the scent of sacred herbs.

“I met Amberstone,” I said as I dropped my clothes next to the bags and sat down near the fire.

Mhorik looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “The master of the convocation?”

Words failed me. She was the master? My face burned again with the shame of having been rude to her.

Mhorik took a look at my worried face and laughed. “Do not worry, she does not offend easily. She is respectful of all wizards.”

I glanced at Mhorik, but he stroked his beard with one of his “I know what you’re thinking” smiles on his face and said nothing. I took a deep, calming breath to settle myself.

“So, when is the presentation?” I finally asked.

“Shortly before sunset. There will be a cry to draw us to the grove. Until then, rest up. You will need your strength.”

I sat and watched people moving around, turning things over in my mind. The fear crept back, pushed by the shame. The afternoon passed while I was lost in my thoughts. It was the cry that shook me out of my stupor, a yell that seemed to come from right next to me, echoing off every surface. I was amazed at the use of magic.

“Let us go,” Mhorik said, using his staff to get to his feet. “It is time for the presentation of the apprentices.”

We walked back to the grove, turning from the main path into a twist of side paths. After a few minutes, we left the canopy and entered a huge clearing.

The sight took my breath away. The clearing was almost large enough to fit an entire village. A stone floor took up most of the space, flat except for a raised part in the middle. A fire burned on the raised area, but it was bright blue in color. A large group of people were already gathered here, and more were entering from other paths along the side.

Then it struck me, these were all wizards. Every single one. My mind reeled.

Mhorik walked down toward the raised center. There were some low wooden benches where we finally sat down. I sat next to him and spent my time looking around, watching people fill the clearing.

A whistle pierced the air, and the murmuring of conversations stopped almost at once. Five people in hooded cloaks, faces obscured, walked from the edge of the clearing. The crowd parted silently, allowing them to travel to the center.

When the five arrived at the center, they took places in front of the fire. The started a low murmur, building in intensity and obvious magic. The fire blazed a brighter shade of blue as they raised their arms to the sky. Finally, they threw back the hoods and turned away from the fire. In the middle, I saw Amberstone.

“Sisters and brothers!” she spoke, her voice amplified by magic. “We gather again for the convocation. We welcome those joining us today, and now we will be introduced to the apprentices.”

One pair got up, an older wizard and her young apprentice. I could barely understand the words, the accent was so thick. After the wizard gave her name, her apprentice turned toward the five robed wizards.

“Apprentice, let us see what you have learned. I see the rune of light on your arm, create a light for us.”

The apprentice’s finger went to the rune scar on her arm. She traced it and a small orb of light appeared before her.

The five murmured their appreciation and the apprentice smiled. The pair walked off the raised center and back to the benches.

Five other pairs went up, did a trick, and went back down. Finally, Mhorik nudged me as we stood up. Fear clawed at me, but I stared intently at Mhorik’s back as I followed him to the center. I would have followed him into a fire if he had lead.

“I am Starwise, wizard of the village near the restless deep. I present, my apprentice.”

My mind went blank, and I simply copied what I had seen the others do. I turned to the five women. Amberstone gave a small smile, but the others looked at me impassively. It was Amberstone who spoke.

“Earlier today, I saw the rune of wind on you. An advanced rune for an apprentice. Let us see your mastery.” She pulled a piece of cloth from somewhere. “Keep this in the air.”

“Oh, but this is the apprentice of the great Starwise!” another of the women said. “Surely she needs more of a challenge.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mhorik turn defensive.

The other woman snatched the cloth from Amberstone’s hand and wove a spell. A splash of water erupted from her hands as she crumpled the cloth into a wad.

“Keep this in the air,” she said as she threw the cloth right at me.

I looked up into Seamist’s face, trying to muster my courage. “What?”

“I see you trying to steal my apprentice.”

And then I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.

“I’m just being friendly. I do not want your apprentice. I’m still an apprentice myself.”

Seamist let out a sharp, mocking laugh. “I know how those male wizards are. I won’t let him take what is mine.”

I understood, but I decided it wasn’t worth arguing. “Let us continue on our way. Perhaps you will see that Mhorik isn’t after your apprentice.” With that, I went back to the edge and climbed down the far side of the pass.

The next few days are uneventful, except for some hard looks from Seamist when I spent time with Calvis talking about magic. I didn’t let it bother me.

The mountainous trail gave way to a worn path across a broad plain. I overheard Mhorik and Seamist talking one morning as I was waking up.

“We should be there before the sun reaches the peak of the sky,” Mhorik said.

“Yes, I am certainly looking forward to the end of our journey.” I’m sure Mhorik caught the true meaning behind her words.

We indeed saw the sacred grove before the sun had finished climbing the sky. The plumes of rich smoke rose into the air from dozens of magical fires fueling potent spells. Two figures stood at the edge of the grove, watching our movement. The two women forward to meet us as we got closer.

“Hail, travelers. You approach a gathering of wizards,” one of the guarded wizards spoke as we approached.

“I am a wizard, Starwise, from the village by the restless deep. I am traveling with my apprentice, with the wizard Seamist, and with her apprentice.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Seamist scowl. She was insulted that Mhorik spoke instead of deferring to her.

“I see. Pass sisters and brothers, and be welcome.”

We entered the grove and Mhorik turned to Seamist. “Thank you for your company,” he said as he gave a small bow.

The scowl was still on Seamist’s face, but it turned to her familiar insincere smile. “Sure.” Then she turned to Calvis, “Apprentice, follow me.”

As she marched off, I grabbed Calvis’ hand and gave it a small squeeze. “Good luck,” I whispered. I let his hand go and turned to follow Mhorik.

“Where are we going, master?”

“We go to find a place to camp, then I will find out what ceremonies will take place. Traditionally, the presentation of the apprentices happens first thing every night.”

My hands felt suddenly sweaty as I realized that we were in the middle of a more wizards than I had ever even met before. I took a deep breath and held it a moment to calm myself. Exhaling, I looked around trying to understand exactly what I had gotten myself into.

We walked along a wide path through the grove, with the tall trees forming a canopy above. Other people were walking along the path, and still others were gathered into small groups and talking. The air was cool here and the sheen of nervous sweat made me shiver a bit. But, everyone seemed… well, normal.

We left the grove and walked into a large area where the grasses had been cut short. I saw many fires here with clusters of people and possessions around each one. As we walked, I noticed that most of the fires near the entrance were surrounded by only women, with male apprentices and male wizards taking up positions further away. Near the far edge of the the field, was a dying fire with nobody around it. Mhorik walked to that spot.

“Any reason we are so far away from the grove?”

“I’m an old man and I need my sleep. The groups around the fires near the grove tend to be too loud.”

I figured there was more to it, but I didn’t argue.

“Set up our camp here. I’ll get some herbs of protection for us and find out the schedule. Over there is a small creek,” Mhorik pointed with his staff. “Wash the dust of the road off yourself and put on your ceremonial cloak.” Mhorik pointed in the distance with his staff and set off.

I unpacked our belongings, setting out the sleeping furs and a few items. I unrolled my ceremonial cloak, checked it for damage, and took it with me to the brook.

Something about the thought of washing made me finally feel the dust and grime from our travels. I felt filthy and was overjoyed to see the creek just beyond the grasses. I quickly got out of my traveling clothes and slipped into the cool water. I dunked my head under, letting the water flow all around me. I stood back up, and started scrubbing myself with sand from the creek bed. I rinsed the sand from my hands and wiped the water from my eyes.

The sudden shadow looming over me made me nearly jump out of my skin.

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.”

The sounds of pursuit did not follow, but we did not stop. We ran and ran some more, dodging around the trees until we found a large clearing, lit by the light of the moon above us. Mhorik finally stopped and we both leaned over to catch our breaths. “I guess,” he said between gasping breaths, “they don’t like outside wizards.”

Mhorik and I waited for a bit, and when we didn’t hear any pursuers we set up a light camp in the clearing. Without a word, Mhorik threw down his sleeping furs and slumped down on the ground. The fatigue had caught up with him, and he pretty much just passed out. I was still too shaken, my body still too tense from the frenzied run in the dark, to sleep. I decided to keep watch. I created a small fire and concentrated on it, keeping it fed with my magic instead of trying to find wood. The remaining few hours of night passed quickly, my fire keeping any potential threat at bay.

We continued on into the rough territory. It would have been slow going even if I hadn’t been worn out from the previous night. Trees usually surrounded us, but occasionally we came across a clearing where we saw a mountain loom ever closer each time.

“We’re going to that mountain?” I asked one morning as we ate a small breakfast. I had found a few eggs in a nest and we set them to cook in some water.

“We are going over it. Just past it is the convocation. If I haven’t gotten us too lost, there should be a pass we can take. Be ready for a long, hard hike.”

Mhorik was right. We went over some gentle hills and at the foot of the mountain, the going got much harder. There was still an obviously marked path, but the way was rough and treacherous.

We came to a place where another path met up with ours. Glancing down the path, I saw a few figures moving towards us.

“I see two others.”

Mhorik turned and looked. “Yes. Let us wait for them.”

We ate a quick bite from the Lelra supplies while waiting. I saw a woman in a light but highly decorated robe lead a young man in ragged clothes up the path to us.

“Well met,” Mhorik said when they were close. “I am the wizard Starwise, and this is my apprentice.”

“Hail, wizard.” The woman gave an insincere smile. “A fellow traveler. I am also a wizard called Seamist, and I am followed by my own apprentice.”

“The way is treacherous, let us head to the convocation together?”

The woman’s insincere smile didn’t fade from her face. “Yes, that would be prudent,” she said without enthusiasm.

Mhorik and Seamist went on ahead while I followed behind. I looked at the apprentice and smiled.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

He looked at me like I had slapped him. “I won’t tell you,” he said narrowing his eyes with suspicion.

I held my breath a moment as I realized my mistake. My face burned as I fell silent. Mhorik was talking to Seamist, discussing issues of magic and news from afar. They seemed to mostly ignore us.

We trudged on for a while before stopping for the night. Mhorik had me create the fire, which seemed to have impressed Seamist. We shared some of the Lelra supplies with the others, much to Seamist’s delight. She seemed to warm up a bit to Mhorik, but I could sense some hesitation behind her actions.

As the two elder wizards settled into discussions, I took the opportunity to try to strike up a conversation with the apprentice again.

“Can you control fire?”

“No,” he responded quietly.

“What forces have you learned?”

“Just movement.”

I pulled up my sleeve and showed him my rune scars. “I’ve learned these.”

He looked and frowned. Pulling up his own sleeve, I only saw one scar, and it was rather poor and misshapen for a “movement” rune.

“I don’t like studying magic,” he said quietly, letting his sleeve drop back in place and staring at the fire.

“Is it not a great honor?”

He shrugged. “I’m the only person to show any ability in our village. Seamist curses that she could not find a ‘proper’ apprentice, how she had to settle for me.”

I felt my face flush with anger. It wasn’t right! I saw how Mhorik must have felt when he was younger, why he hated magic. I looked my own scars when a thought struck me.

I glanced quickly at Mhorik and Seamist, sitting far away absorbed in their discussion. I concentrated on my own movement rune, kicking up a bit of dust, to fix it into my mind. Then I focused on the healing rune I used to set my own scars. Reaching over, I took the other apprentices arm and whispered, “Keep quiet.”

I focused my magic into his arm and reshaped the rune to be more accurate. He sat, amazed, as I poured my effort into the work. When I was done, I looked up; the two elder wizards hadn’t noticed at all.

“There, that should help.”

He looked down, then at me. Closing his eyes, I could feel the magic draw toward him, and then he extended it to hurl a stone from near his feet down the side of the mountain. He opened his eyes and smiled, dropping his sleeve in place.

“What’s going on here?” the feminine voice said from over us. Terror filled my heart.