Archive for the ‘Second Age’ Category

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.

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 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.

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I said, controlling myself better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t know….”

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

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

“What do you mean?”

“Where they store their dead.”

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

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

“Their ancestors come back to life?”

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

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

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

“What was that? Some sort of symbol?”

“It was my punishment.”

“How?”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

“How long…?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You are not Lelra,” he stated.

“No, we are travelers.”

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

“We are wizards going to the convocation.”

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

“What do you want?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just kept running.

The two figures appeared from nowhere. One moment Mhorik and I were alone, the next we were not. I jumped back and instinctively grasped for magic that wasn’t there to try to protect myself.

One figure walked toward me, holding a club ready in his hand. He (I think it was a ‘he’) had rich, dark skin and impossibly green hair that came down to his shoulders. His clothes were unadorned, made from some sort of fine vine twisted upon itself instead of the usual furs and hide. I looked at his face and a sound like a babbling stream came at me. Despite the panic that should have been overwhelming me, I felt almost passive.

My attention snapped to Mhorik who was saying something in quiet but quick tones. Even without magic, he still had an edge of authority to his voice that demanded attention. I saw him carefully take out something wrapped in an old hide from his pack. He put it gently down on the ground and unwrapped it, revealing a slab of dried dark clay. He picked it up carefully and handed it to the other figure standing near him. The figure looked at the slab, then turned to the other figure, making some noises that sounded more like speech, but nothing like actual words.

“Be still, Dorua. I have this under control,” Mhorik said, a sense of controlled urgency in his voice.

I tried to respond, but my tongue just wouldn’t move in my mouth. The figure near me turned away toward his companion and I felt a weight lift off of me. “Mhorik?” I managed to croak.

“Just be still,” he repeated. I shook my head and tried to regain my senses.

The two figures talked for a bit, then the one turned back to Mhorik and reverently handed the clay slab back to him. The strange person made some hand motions and turned away, putting the club away on his belt.

“Dorua, get ready. Don’t worry, everything is fine.”

I felt my body fall back under my control. I took a deep breath to steady myself, then I got to my feet and went to my pack. I quickly put things back in and slung the pack over my shoulder. Mhorik had put the slab back in its hide wrappings and put the bundle back into his own pack. He got up and put his hand on my shoulder. “We will go with them.”

“Who are they?” I asked, having completely shaken off the stupor from before.

“They are the Lelra, guardians and masters of this forest. We will see the matron.”

“Matron?” I asked, not familiar with the word.

“She’s the female that leads them.”

“Like a wizard?”

“Not exactly,” Mhorik said quietly. “All the Lelra seem to control magic in some way.”

I looked at Mhorik in shock. “All of them?”

“All I have met. Their magic tends to be subtle, though. Do not try to use magic while we are here.”

We walked in silence the rest of the way. We took no discernible path through the forest, but the Lelra didn’t hesitate, merely walking through the area and turning at seemingly random times. I ached to reach out and see if there were some magic guiding them, but I didn’t dare go against Mhorik’s words.

Finally we stopped. One of them turned around and held out his hand.

“We wait here,” Mhorik said quietly. The figure turned and left.

I finally dared to look around, and the sight took my breath away. What I thought was a merely a dense forest turned out to be a small area full of… people… like the two that guided us here. Some nearby carried filled baskets, entering what I now saw as doorways into buildings made of living plants. They moved quickly, stealing glances in our direction. Looking carefully, I also saw a few small ones peeking out from lit doorways, eyes wide in wonder at us.

My attention was drawn back to the figure who returned, stepping through what I now recognized as a doorway. He waved us toward him, and Mhorik put his arm around me to guide us through.

We entered an impressively large room, the walls made of living leaves of nearby plants. There was a dim, green light infusing the area, and it took my eyes a minute to adjust. Mhorik had already taken off his pack and had taken out the bundle again. He was unwrapping it as he stepped forward.

Just as I thought I couldn’t be startled anymore that day, my eyes fell on the magnificence of the far end of the room. A lavish and ornate chair, fashioned from the living wood of a tree, dominated the whole far side of the room. Upon it sat a dark matron, unquestionably powerful just by her mere presence. She sat upright, looking down upon the rest of the room and all the people below. I felt insignificant in her presence, and then she spoke.

“Mhorik,” she said, the words sounding odd on her lips as if she had never spoken aloud before. She drew a breath and started again, “Mhorik, you are returned.”

“Yes, matron.”

“The cycles pass and time weighs upon you. But, my mind blossoms with joy that you have returned.”

Mhorik’s hand reached up and stroked his beard. “It has been so many seasons.”

“Yes. You have brought back the symbol.”

“I have. I have kept it all this time as you told me to.”

She reached out her hands, seeming simultaneously spry and supple like a young girl’s, thin and wiry like an old woman’s, and powerful like a hunter’s. Mhorik held the slab out and gently gave it to her. Her face lit up as she held it. The matron then blew on it gently, and the symbol glowed a bright green. She gasped, obviously surprised. She then grasped the slab and with great effort cracked it in two. A small wisp of green came out and floated away as she spoke something that sounded like the rain against a roof at night. She then looked at Mhorik.

“You have proven yourself powerful, dangerous, but kind. You have also proven some of our wisest to be wrong in their assumptions. As we agreed so long ago, I will give you one boon. Name it.”

“I only wish free passage through your domain, matron. Perhaps some supplies, if you can spare them.”

A laugh like the quiet ocean waves came from her. “Easily granted, wizard, for you and your companion.” She said something and two figures ran off out of the room.

“Tell me about your companion, Mhorik.”

“This is my apprentice, Dorua. I am teaching her the ways of how to properly control magic.”

“Dorua,” the matron said, feeling the form of the words as they left her mouth. “I like that name. I see she has part of your power.”

“Yes, it is as I had hoped. Our ways are not so different.”

“I see they are not, as you told us seasons ago.”

The two figures came back in, carrying a bundle of supplies with them.

“Take these with you. The water is from the sweet spring here and will give you energy. The food is nourishing and will clear your mind as you need.”

“Thank you, matron.”

“You know our rules, but I will explain them to Dorua,” and she looked directly at me. “You are under our protection in this wood. Stay to the path we will show you. Do not harm any living thing intentionally. Do not bring fire into our bounds. Leave the stone cairns as you find them. Finally, do not alter the balance of magic here. Do you understand?”

I had no choice but to nod. But, looking into her face I saw her mouth break into a smile. “Learn well, Dorua. Mhorik has proven himself a potent teacher.”

I withered under her glance. “Thank you, matron,” was all I could manage to say.

The elder chewed slowly, but grinned broadly.

“White stone fine, wizards can jump again,” it sounded like the elder said.

“That’s our permission to leave?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“But, let’s wait until after we have some of that meat!”

“A wise decision,” Mhorik said, and we waited for bowls to be passed to us.

We ate heartily from the roasted meat and then slept soundly by the fire of the other tribe that night. Mhorik and I sat out early in the morning before most of the tribe was awake to avoid any other sudden requests from the elder.

By midday we were within sight of the restless deep, almost back on our original path. Something about the sea invigorated us, and we kept up a faster pace than we had the previous days of our trip. Things were going well over the next few days… until we met a far river flowing into the sea; the stone bridge had been washed away by the rushing torrent of the river.

Mhorik wiped the mosture off his beard in damp aura of the overflowing river and fell into a sour mood. “We’ll have to hike up the river to find a place to ford across.”

That night, as we made camp, I felt bold and tried to stir up some discussion to take Mhorik’s mind off the detour. “What was it like when you first touched magic?”

Mhorik looked away from the small fire he had been building up with magic. “Huh? Why do you ask?”

“I was thinking about when Moonwind asked about you taking me as an apprentice. It sounds like most apprentices are detected before they do something… something like I did.”

Mhorik frowned and look back at the fire. “I don’t know if that’s the case.”

“Did your master find your power before you tried to control magic?”

“Not exactly. As has been said, males usually don’t control magic that often. The first few times I tried, our Wizard told me to stop, almost scolding me. It was only after none of the females showed any ability that she agreed to help me harness my ability.”

“So you didn’t lose control like I did?”

“Dorua, you shouldn’t focus so much on that one event. I know you remember the horror of what happened, but you learned the most important lesson about magic that night: it is not a thing that is easily controlled. It is chaotic.”

“But…”

Mhorik didn’t let me interrupt. “Some wizards never learn this lesson, and they don’t just hurt others, they destroy themselves.”

I sat in silence for a while, the words hanging over us. Mhorik finally broke the quiet, “There is no ‘normal’ way for people to discover their control of magic. We just do and we hope for the best.”

I murmured something in agreement and turned in for the night.

We continued on for the next few days. Mhorik resumed the magic lessons and I eagerly learned what I could. The lessons meant a lot more to me as I could practice them freely and try out new things.

We settled down one night, resting a moment to catch our breath before setting up camp a little earlier than usual, when out of nowhere Mhorik said, “I hated magic when I first learned of it.”

“What?” I said, surprised by this admission.

“I hated it. It made me different than all the other children. I didn’t want to be different.”

I sat, barely even breathing, not knowing what to say.

“But, I accepted it. I learned the lessons and I can shape magic. That is what my early experience was like.”

“Oh,” I said, realizing how stupid it sounded only after I uttered the word. After what seemed to be an eternity of silence, I dropped off my equipment and went to gather some wood for the night’s fire.

I brought back the kindling and pieces of wood. As I tried to gather the magic to light the fire, nothing happened. Frustrated, I reached out to the surrounding area and found no magic around.

“Mhorik. There’s no magic here.”

Mhorik looked around tried to reach out himself, and his face showed the truth. “I didn’t think we were that close to the sacred place of the forest. Be on your very best behavior.”

It was then I noticed the two figures who had joined us.