Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 8

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 8
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,
Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 9)

When Meren neared camp she was greeted by the sound of raised voices. From the sound of things, Tawarthel was yelling at someone. The wood elf grimaced but was glad she wasn't on that side of the scout leader's temper for once. She'd begun to quietly move around camp towards her tent but froze when she heard the timid voice speaking quietly in reply: Kryro's. How did he get himself into trouble when he hasn't even been here? Meren wasn't about to leave him to the wolves, though.

Changing course to head in the direction of her brother, she remained out of sight in order to try to catch what was going on. From the sound of things, Kryro wanted permission to go out and find her, claiming some sort of hunch that he was needed. Tawarthel was not impressed by this and wouldn't let him leave, and from the sound of things seemed a bit confused as to why Meren was gone in the first place. Blast it. That spell that hit my father didn't extend to her. Why didn't I think of that?

But maybe she could try actively to get it to work this time? It would be worth it to get her scouting partner out of that mess he'd stepped into. Closing her eyes and focusing on the woman standing a few yards away, Meren began to softly chant. But as she stepped out, about to begin speaking with the scout leader to complete the spell, something went wrong again. Her hand grew tingly, as it had last time, but that was where the similarity ended. Instead of the woman being struck by a mind control spell, the energy flew off behind and above her, settling on top of the tents where it formed into four globes of light in the evening sky.

Uh oh... she though. How am I going to hide that? As she prayed silently that no one would notice, Kryro's head raised. Tawarthel noticed this even though she hadn't seen the lights, and turned her head, her long braid swinging around, to see what the centaur was looking at. Meren cursed under her breath as she attempted to figure out how to cancel out a spell that she hadn't meant to cast. She tried calling out a few words in elvish ranging from "dim!", "darken!" "snuff!" and a last desperate "go away!", but none worked. Tawarthel was now looking from the flickering torch-bright globes to Meren and back to the lights, her mouth agape. Kryro met Meren's eyes and shrugged helplessly, mouthing silently to her "Now what?".

Meren could only shrug in response. About to dart out of the temporary village when no other plan presented itself in her head, she froze when she heard more shouting, this time outside of camp and in a harsh, guttural language. A few yards away, the centaur's eyes widened and Meren saw his lips move. This didn't look as though he was trying to talk with her this time, however, and if the wood elf had to guess, he was trying to translate what was being said. When his face went pale, she realized he understood and that it couldn't possibly be good news.

"Orcs!" he said, turning to the blond elf and grabbing her arm to get her attention. "Orcs have found the camp and are attempting to surround us!"

Tawarthel blinked, then aimed a glare almost as fiery as the newly created globes of light at Meren before bringing her fingers to her lips and letting off a series of shrill whistles. Both Meren and Kryro recognized that alert; it was a warning that an enemy was close to camp and everyone was needed with their weapons ready now. When she saw that glare directed at her, Meren realized what had happened: her newly created lights had allowed the orcs to find a camp that was normally well hidden. But how had they gotten through past the sentries around camp? The wood elf's heart sunk into her stomach as soon as she'd posed that question. Of course. They'd probably followed her. She'd led them here.

Feeling a strong mix of shame at being so preoccupied that she hadn't noticed something trailing her, anger that something had and distress that something could happen to her kin, Meren took off running east, the direction she'd heard the orcs calling from. One elf might not be enough to keep enemies away, but she was going to try. Fear for herself was the least of those emotions right now, but she'd admit to feeling a lot better when she heard loud hoofbeats following her.

The two reached the edge of camp just as a group of orcs did. As Kryro began swinging the large club he carried, Meren held back, her hand paused above her quiver. She could trust her bow. The arrows wouldn't go astray. But... she also knew that she possessed a spell that would work far better on a troop of enemies in a time where there was no need for stealth. Magic, weapon, which should she use? What decided this for her was three of the orcs moving in formation to surround the centaur, their spears and swords raised in preparation to attack. An arrow would only be able to bring down one, but magic would have a better chance of clearing them all away from him.

Meren lowered her arm and brought her hands in front of her, her palms facedown. She began to chant again, this time calling on the fire spirits to aid her and not let this one backfire. Please, she pleaded silently, I need this to work! She felt her hands grow warm and sighed in relief, then took a step to the left to move around her brother. Keeping her attention on where she was pointing, small jets of flame shot out of her fingertips and into the band of orcs. Six gave various incarnations of yelps and shouts; two of these began beating at their tattered tunics while five fell to the ground. Three of these stopped moving but the other two slowly rose back to their feet after getting their flaming garments under control. What struck the young wood elf as odd, though, was one of the ones that was now still wasn't one she'd hit with flame.

Something worse caught Meren's eye and pulled her attention away from strangely passed out orcs. Two of her streams of fire had become errant, soaring past the intended targets and into the bushes behind them, and the plants were beginning to ignite. To a wood elf, fire is always much, much worse than any kind of enemy. Orcs may carry swords, but fire could jump from tree to tree at an alarming rate, destroying the land the elves were responsible for keeping safe. Now Meren began to panic. She didn't have any water spells and she doubted any water spirits could hear a non-shaman when this camp was so far from the nearest creek; fire, earth and air were always far more handy but she couldn't think of anything she could ask of them to help. As far as she could tell, her magic differed from that of a shaman, but as a wood elf, spirits played an important roll even to a scout. But what else could she do?

The centaur's shout brought her attention back to the small battle in front of her. In her distraction, Tawarthel and two other elves had come up next to her and had begun firing into the melee. The original orcs were still there, six still singed and smelling even worse from that, but another two had joined them, leaving six still attacking. Kryro now had a gash on his flank, probably what had caused the shout. Seeing him hurt brought Meren back to action. She unslung her bow from her shoulder and fired an arrow ahead at the orc swinging at Kryro, bringing it down. The centaur gave her a quick thankful smile before swinging the club at the next.

Aiming at a second one, Meren froze with the bowstring pulled back. The fire in the woods was shrinking, seemingly to be putting itself out. In a few moments it had all but vanished, fading into a few smoldering embers and curling leaves. There was now a burned gap there, but that was it. What? How? I didn't- Meren started to think before realizing that this was the least of her problems at the moment. Her kin had the upper hand, though, or at least more luck. When two of the orcs tripped over their fallen comrades, the elves were able to take those down, and when the remaining three tried to flee, a hail of arrows brought those down, too. Recognizing a forced slumber when she saw one, Meren opened her mouth to warn her kin that three fallen orcs weren't actually dead, but Kryro had that covered. Odd time for it though it was, Meren couldn't help smiling a little at that. We do make a good team, don't we? Now if only she could figure out why those now ex-orcs had been knocked out. In theory she could have caused it, a Sleep spell being one she possessed and having spells that infamously warped into other spells could have been another factor, but not this time. Two spells couldn't happen simultaneously and that fire one had gone off perfectly for once, even if it hadn't quite done as intended. Perhaps those orcs were just narcoleptic?

The next part of the story can be found here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 7

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 7
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,
Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 8)

When the smoke had cleared, the young man's drastic change of appearance had startled Meren, but she knew better than to mention it. If he reacted the way she assumed he would, his narcissism would be a horrible distraction and he was already distracting her enough. His previously tanned skin was now tinged a definite purple, as far as she could tell from the bits she could see, and that long hair of his was now scattered on the ground in black clumps, but even this was less strange than the fact that the purple smoke had returned when he'd spoken to her; this time, however, it was issuing from his mouth along with the words. Thankfully he didn't seem to notice this problem, either. Meren was no stranger to magical unexpectedness and she very much hoped she hadn't been the cause. This wasn't a reaction she'd ever experienced, but her magic regularly did some odd things. She had been reaching for the trees behind her when the smoke had surrounded him...

But that magic was her best chance at protecting her forest, and themselves, of course. The elf gave a silent prayer to the earth spirits to let her magic work this time and began the first words of the only spell she could think of that would help: the one that had given her such strange results last time. Focusing her power into the ground beneath her, she called to the roots, vines and bushes not far from where she knelt. This time the plants answered, to her relief, and she felt the green energy flow towards her. It moved quickly, much faster than it had done in the past, but she was able to keep it from pulling out of her grasp. When a thick tendril headed towards the man standing behind her, she forced it up rather than out.

Now sensing the familiar feeling of thick forest around her, she opened her eyes to glance up into a dense thicket of plant life that had once been a clearing and up at the only orc caught on this side of the thorny wall, who was about to beam her with a heavy club. Reacting rather than thinking, she rolled to the left, the ground jolting her ribs as she dove. She felt around frantically for her bow, knowing she would never be able to fire an arrow off at this close of range at such a disadvantage. The orc swung the club back but as he was bringing it back around, he flew over her into the new thicket. Meren climbed to her feet, rubbing her sore side. What happened? I didn't do that... The answer became clear, but surprising. Phillip, coughing uncontrollably with smoke blooming out of his mouth and looking quite ill under that new color, brought his quarterstaff back to the ground to lean heavily on it. Injured and clearly unable to breathe fully, the man had found enough strength to swing his staff around in her defense. This, as nothing else he'd done so far had, impressed the warrior-trained elf. Impressed and shocked; she honestly hadn't thought him capable of such an act, physically or by inclination.

As the man dropped to his knees in another coughing fit, Meren pushed through the circle of forest surrounding them to look for any sign of the other monsters. She circled outwards, finding bits of bone, which she kicked further apart in case they could somehow later reform. She assumed that as the trees grew, they'd pulled the slow-moving skeletons into pieces. This was a relief, but less of one was the lack of any orcs. Being much quicker on the uptake than the undead, they must have fled when the spell had begun. They hadn't seemed too happy to be working with skeletons in the first place, so perhaps trees springing up under their feet had pushed them too far. She only hoped that they'd become so frightened that they wouldn't come back.

Thinking they were at least safe for the moment, she retraced her footsteps back to where she'd left the human. Her knowledge of woodlands and a good sense of direction meant she was positive of this fact or else she would have thought she was in the wrong place. The small clearing now lacked any wizards, purple or no. Okay... Well, at least he's finally gone. This was mostly a relief but part of her had been wanting an answer about what had happened. Why skeletons? And why had the human's appearance shifted so drastically? This was certainly something she wanted to speak to her brother about. Kryro would be just as confused as she was, but perhaps he could reassure her that she wasn't going crazy. Maybe by now he's back at camp? That thought in mind, she headed back home.

The next part of the story can be found here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

About to take on the Brotherhood of Dread...

July 4th, 708CC
2nd day of Brightmoon

The phases of the moon are particularly important at the moment; according to our "guide", we will need to be able to reach our destination within a certain phase. I explained this, as well as our adventures over the past week or so, over in the journal of my group. Here I will just write of things that are more personal in nature.

First, a minor observation- minor because personal is not the same thing as important. When trying to find ways to hurry to our destination, Ayman's Haste spell was brought up. Just... no. I am sorry but I will never allow that spell to be cast on me. Gaining a few minutes of extra speed is not enough to balance out making me one year older. This does not seem to bother the rest of my traveling companions but it very much does to me. Why, I will not explain though they are likely to learn the reason at some point, but I cannot do anything that will make me age faster than I already am. I have a good reason for this, even if I am too reserved to explain it.

Now to move on to what is actually important. If there is one thing I dislike more than the aristocracy, it is evil priests. "Loathing" and "repulsion" do even begin to describe that hatred. As much as I would like to never have to face these abominable creatures again, I am also quite impatient to get this quest sorted out and the duke rescued... if the vile priests have not already taken control of his will and bent it to their own. We certainly need to rescue the duke, but we also need to be prepared for what shape he may be in. This is not just goblins and a stray evil bugbear cleric or two anymore. This is a huge temple of the Brotherhood of Dread, the priesthood that already wants to see us destroyed. How can I get my friends to understand what we may face there?

I am not just speaking of undead or monstrous minions, either, which are things we have defeated before. My companions see me throwing around mind control magic on a regular basis with little effort and I am limited in what I can do with it, being bound to a priesthood of Good and my own principles (yes, mischievous people do have those). These individuals will not have my morals; they will not refrain from using us as they wish should their magic take hold. When you are mind-controlled, you lose who you are, your ability to think and react properly... that sounds obvious, I know, but it is not a good feeling to be on the wrong side of that, particularly if the person wielding the magic is using it for nefarious purposes. Even getting hit with mild mind-control is not pleasant (been there- how do you think we Messengers learned?) but my kind is at least harmless. I need to get my friends to understand what they may face so they can be wary. They are not nearly wary enough.

I do not think they understand how much of a threat Tarus still holds. I know I am coming off as paranoid and peevish, but I am feeling paranoid and peevish. I do not understand why the others seem to trust him. After using magic for well over a decade I know my limits and the reach of what I am granted by my god, particularly when it comes to charm and beguilement as those were what I was taught first. Something as empty-headed as a goblin will remain beguiled for quite some time, but a human priest? I would not be surprised if the spell wore off before we even reached the temple and then what? Once an evil priest, always an evil priest; how can we know that the moment he breaks free from the spell I placed on him, he won't gleefully stab one of us in the back- or worse? This is a spellcaster who has tried to kill us on more than one occasion. I know the kind of magic he wields and how it can be twisted so I will continue to keep a watchful eye over him, being the only one who truly knows what to look for and how to cancel it. This is fine and good for now, but one Messenger cannot possibly shield his friends from ranks of those with this kind of magic. Not for the first time, I wish I had one of my brothers or sisters by my side as I approach evil.

Hermes, please guide our steps, let me keep my wits and my magic ready so I can protect those I travel with. I know my magic is not the most powerful, but let it serve us well. Please.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 6

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 6
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 7)

Meren retrieved the rope and stashed it back into her bag before turning to face the wizard again. Only then did she realize that she'd had her back to him the whole time, but he hadn't even moved. He had a sad, distant look on his face, as though he was thinking hard about something, and it wasn't until she'd walked over and poked him in the arm that he snapped out of it. As he blinked down at her, Meren noticed that his eyes were an uncanny shade of dark brown, almost a black. Is that normal for humans? she wondered, although this didn't hold her attention long. "I'll lead you to the edge of our lands. Be sure not to come across here again because the other guards won't be as kind."

"Trapping me in a hole is kind?" he asked bitterly. When he saw Meren frown again he bowed his head, letting his now rather-mussed long hair fall over his face, and clutched at his quarterstaff. "I didn't mean- look, thank you for getting me out and fixing me up. I do appreciate that, elf-girl."

Meren could tell that something was bothering him but wasn't sure if she should pry. Instead she just nodded as they began walking, or hobbling some, in his case. "It's fine. I do have a name, you know. It's Meren."

"Surprisingly pronounceable. I'll try to remember that for the next time I need a healer... not that if I get hurt, I'll wander around a forest, of course. And I'm Phillip, by the way." The wood elf was relieved to hear his voice take on a less cynical quality.

She couldn't resist asking, however, why a human wizard was wandering a forest. "Why were you here this time?"

There was that sad look on his face again and Meren almost felt bad for asking. Almost, because she knew herself to be far too inquisitive to let something like that go. "I'm trying to get home. My master-" he stopped in mid-sentence and began to look around again, frantically looking from side to side.

"Isn't here," Meren finished, assuming that that was who he was looking to avoid. She was sure of that; anyone wandering this area wouldn't be doing so undiscovered for long, whatever this master was.

As his dark eyes went large, the wood elf was sure that she'd hit a sore spot, or, rather, a paranoid crazy spot. He whispered to her, "No, you don't understand. He's... horrible, evil, unhinged. He may not be here, but what if one of his servants are?"

Now Meren was entirely confused. Why would servants be a problem? Didn't humans just use them for pouring tea or watching their children or something? Clearly this was a cultural misunderstanding. "Come again?"

Phillip shook his head and continued in a low voice, "You don't want to understand, elf-girl. Trust me."

The wood elf tried to shrug nonchalantly, but this actually had her somewhat worried. Whatever had gotten to the young man had obviously upset him and she didn't think he was faking that fear. Maybe if she changed the subject? "Alright, I won't ask. Where is your home?"

For some reason that subject did seem to calm him down and he loosened his grip on his quarterstaff, his knuckles fading from the white that they'd become. "Birchlyn. It's a village-"

"To the southwest," Meren answered with a smile, one mystery solved. So that was why he spoke Halfling! She knew that to be the nearest town to Woodedge, a halfling village and, oddly enough, where the shorter side of her family was from. Since he was local, that would mean that he at least had heard of the forest he'd ended up in. "You overshot when trying to get back there and ended up in the outskirts of Fayiron."

For the first time the elf saw the wizard give a genuine smile, which made him look a lot less haunted. "Then I am close to my destination. That is good to hear!"

Meren was extremely curious about those halflings who must have taught him their language; he was quite fluent, so it was likely that it wasn't something he'd picked up secondhand. She was just about to ask him more about his home when she was startled by horrible laughter to her right.

They'd left most of the trees behind them and Meren's curiosity had left her not to realize just how out in the open the two of them were, which wouldn't have been a problem, except for the group of monsters that seemed to have them surrounded. There was that orc the elf had wished for earlier and two more of its kin. But even worse than that were … well, they had to be what Phillip was talking about earlier.

Meren shuddered as she was hit with deja vu. Here was a handful- flock? Horde? Graveyard? Words flipped through her head- of skeletons, which were upright and walking towards them, clinking slightly as they moved. No wonder Phillip's so jumpy! she thought. Gripping her bow tightly, she drew an arrow from her quiver and put it to the string. If these things thought they could just stroll into her home, they had another thing coming to them, or so Meren hoped. She had a feeling arrows would only harmlessly go through the more boney enemies. She looked over at the man, her only backup in this mess. Phillip had frozen in place, his eyes wide again and he appeared to be trembling slightly. Meren sighed. Yeah, that's a big help.

Careful to keep the monsters in her line of sight, she kicked the wizard in the shin. It wasn't the injured one, but it hurt enough that he scowled at her, fear replaced by annoyance, which had been the elf's intention. "Now what?" she asked. Before the human could reply, one of the orcs began to speak.


"A new friend? Too bad for her we'll have to kill her, too," the orc said in the human tongue. Phillip glanced over at Meren, worried about her reaction to that statement. Upon seeing her expression of complete incomprehension, he realized she had no idea what the orc had said. One small favor there.

Taking a deep breath as he tried to keep his fear under control, he asked, "It was a waste of time to follow me, was it not? Don't you have something more important to do than follow one worthless apprentice?" Maybe they'd listen if he sounded like his master...

No such luck. The orcs only sneered at him while the skeletons, lacking faces with which to emote, remained still, which disturbed him even more. Maybe if I can get the green ones away, the creepier ones will follow, he thought as the skeletons continued to stare at him with empty eye sockets. He gave a shudder and looked over at the elf. She, too, hadn't moved further than to ready her bow and Phillip hoped she'd be be willing to cover for him with it if his idea didn't work.

The man reached into the neck of his robe with his free hand to retrieve the amulet he'd left hanging there and tugged the chain over his head. Assuming what he hoped was a powerful wizardly stance, but worrying he simply looked like a ragged, injured, terrified boy, he thrust the amulet forward. Doing his best to make his voice boom, he demanded, "Stand back or I'll unleash the full fury of this arcane amulet!"

To his amazement, this worked. Partly. The orcs stepped back, looking nervously between themselves. Phillip gave a quiet sigh of relief. Now can I get this thing to actually do something? For all that his master had desired it so much, he'd never actually used it, or if he had, it wasn't in his apprentice's presence. He concentrated deeply on the charm danging from his hand, trying to weave the power he controlled around it. Preoccupied by this, he didn't notice that Meren had begun chanting next to him. Since his eyes were directed at the item in his hand, however, he did take notice of its current state: the stone began flickering between purple and green. After a few seconds it settled on a deep blueish-purple, as though both colors had combined into one. He had only a moment to wonder about this, however.

Suddenly struck by what felt like a bolt of lightning, or as though a cat the size of an elephant had rubbed against his leg, he fell to his knees. As a cloud of purple smoke engulfed him, he began gasping to try to breathe through the heavy fog. His lungs felt on fire, his skin tingled, his head rang. What's going on? Never had his magic done anything like this, even as a new apprentice; the most he'd done was catch a book on fire, but this was a bigger problem than a bucket could fix.

As he gasped and wheezed, he felt something grope for his arm and he flinched back, knowing what kind of horrible things were near. When he saw the tattooed vines on the hand rather than bones or claws, he let out a sigh of relief, which caused him to break into another coughing fit. Leaning heavily on the elf and his staff, he was able to get to his feet as the smoke began to clear, but something was wrong... his lungs continued to ache and he felt a draft on the back of his neck, which contrasted greatly with the hot tingling of a moment before. And his hands, why did they look so discolored? Meren gave a gasp and he looked over to see her staring at him with her mouth open, but before he could ask, the sound of approaching rattling made him look past her. The monsters, no longer frightened since the smoke had all but dissipated, were approaching again. The orcs seemed to be staying as far from the skeletons as they could, but all were moving forward.

Phillip was at a complete loss. He couldn't run, he could barely breathe and what would happen to a spell if he couldn't stop coughing while trying to recite the necessary words? He was defenseless; all he'd be good for would be getting in Meren's way as the monsters sent after him got her, too. Perhaps if she could get back into the thick part of the forest, she'd lose them. He couldn't get away, but he had no reason to expect her not to want to flee.

His mind now made up in a decision he couldn't really comprehend, he found the elf's hand again. He dropped the amulet into it and whispered hoarsely, "Run, elf-girl. They want me, not you."

Her reaction surprised him as much as his own had. Meren looked up at him, her green eyes narrowed, and shook her head defiantly. "This is my home. My land. My magic. They have to get through me."

Before he could do more than blink at her vehement reaction, she dropped to the ground in a crouch, letting go of her bow to clutch the grass, keeping the amulet in her one hand. As the monsters neared, she began to chant in her unfamiliar airy language. Hoping she knew what she was doing, Phillip gripped his staff tightly with both hands, pushing back the pain in his ankle and the ache that still filled his lungs. If an elf was willing and brave enough to face monsters obviously arcane, then a wizard darn well could do the same.

Part 7 can be found here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 5

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 5
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 6)

Phillip wandered through the treeline in a stupor, leaning heavily on his new quarterstaff as he pushed through the undergrowth. The briars and thorn bushes snagged and ripped the hem of his black robe, but he hardly noticed this, so preoccupied by a memory he could not erase. His master had given up the illusion magic he'd excelled at and abandoned it in favor of Necromancy, the magic an Illusionist normally could not use any more than a snake could use a boot. Phillip still shuddered at the thought. And what the once-Illusionist had done with it... he shuddered again from the memory of those skeletons created when his master had looted a cemetery. He'd tried to convince the wizard not to do this, but Phillip had been so frightened and horrified that he'd ended up hiding when those pleas were ignored, invoking more anger when his master had realized his assistant was not there. The only thing going for the young wizard at that point was that the old man had been too preoccupied with his newly created servants to give much attention to the person he was supposed to be training.

The old wizard had been getting progressively more and more disturbing and this had been the last straw; grabbing what he could carry, his apprentice had fled. In hindsight, he should have left as soon as his master had begun slipping down that slope towards horrifyingly crazy, but Phillip had been holding out so that he could become a master wizard in his own right, not that it had become possible in the end. By that point his master had only been casting magic Phillip either could not or would not do. Caught not quite at the status of full Illusionist, but no longer truly an apprentice either, the young man had grabbed the amulet he'd recovered for his master years before on the way out, not trusting it to the warped old man, and with the vague hope that it could aid him in some way, possibly to fill in for the training he still lacked. Who would take in a mostly-trained twenty-six year old apprentice, anyway? That was why he hadn't left Bluecoast sooner; he'd had no idea of where to go.

He glanced down at the ash staff in his hands. It was a gift sent from his father, a skilled woodworker who knew nothing of magic but was aware that most wizards carried staves. He also knew that his son's favorite hobby was astronomy, or something with stars, anyway. That had always been a bit over his head, but the man had apparently caught on enough to know that it would be a good theme for an almost-wizard's staff. Seeing the intricate stellar carvings in the wood had sent a wave of sudden homesickness over the young wizard. A longing for a time when he didn't have to wonder what horrible monster he'd have to see that day (and that wasn't even counting his master...) had hit him like a ton of bricks. Home may not give him the new master he sought or the end to his training, but it was at least a destination.

He'd left the coast behind and headed west in a long trek back to his homeland. Slowed by the fact that he constantly felt the need to look over his shoulder in case skeletons or something worse were at his heels, he had made it two-thirds of the way when this pensiveness left him lost. He thought he'd been following a trail through sparse woodland but he had lost track of it.

Walking slowly in a small circle to try to at least get a bearing of which way north lay, he heard a snap and was dropped into a large pit. As he tried to push himself to his feet, he heard a quieter snap; the cause of this was readily apparent by the terrible pain in his left ankle. Trying to keep from blacking out, he used the staff to support his weight so he could survey the hole which he was beginning to suspect was actually a trap. The evenness of the dirt walls validated this assumption and the arrow drawn and aimed down from above the pit proved it. Yes, this most certainly was not his year.

He raised one hand up in surrender, the other being far too busy holding him upright to join its brethren. He began to wonder if he could fire off any sort of spell without falling over when this was interrupted when the figure said, "It's you again?" He recognized that voice and now very much wished he had a way to get out of here.

Grimacing at the pain that shot up his leg, he shuffled backwards until his back hit the dirt wall. Of all the elf traps he could have fallen into, it was the one she was guarding. At least this particular elf wasn't likely to actually fire at him- or so he hoped. He stared up and wondered if he should duck. As is probably obvious, the language the archer had spoken was Halfling.


Meren patrolled the forest alone. Occasionally Kryro had to report to his own tribe and this was one of those times. Wanting to stay on guard, however, she'd managed to convince her father to allow her to do so on her own. She still wasn't sure how she'd accomplished this, but she had a hunch. The centaur had kept insisting that she had magic, which she denied at first because wood elves were not magical, but soon she had started to experiment, figuring that it was a sort of weapon and it would be foolish to not use everything at her disposal to protect the forest and elf camp. This she kept secret from all but her brother and had tried to not use it anywhere near where her kin could possibly see; as well as being unmagical, elves were rather... superstitious about it, and that was putting it nicely, but she had a feeling that some magic had been working through her as she'd argued with her father. Her fingers had felt tingly, a sure sign that she was pulling energy again, and his green eyes had taken on a glazed quality while she was speaking. She hadn't stuck around to see if she'd truly been the cause and had hurried out as soon as she'd gotten his approval just in case she had done some sort of spell and said magic wore off.

So alone she roamed. Alone until she spotted a glint in a place that shouldn't have anything shiny. Sneaking forward in her soft leather boots, Meren crept behind some ferns and low greenery to get a closer look ahead. The glitter was coming from the sun reflecting off the silver-embossed tip of a wooden quarterstaff. The elf rolled her eyes. She was all for using bits of fallen trees as weaponry, but why wrap something so ostentatious around it?

When the figure turned, the reason became clearer- it was that blasted infuriating wizard again, wasn't it? Meren still wasn't sure what to make of him but knew she didn't want him roaming around her forest. Although was it more out of wanting him gone as she'd want any intruder to leave or was it not wanting a more trigger-happy scout to find this particular nuisance? The elf sighed. Trapping him would be best. Closing her eyes and trying to focus the green energy of the forest into doing her favorite spell, the energy decided that it had its own desire, as the elf had occasionally found to happen. Instead of the forest reaching out and rapidly growing into a dense thicket, it remained in place, but what didn't remain in place was the ground between her and the human. The black-clad man gave a startled gasp as the dirt under his feet vanished, then a yelp of pain as he apparently hit the bottom of the pit that had appeared under his feet. Well, that works, too, she thought with a shrug.

She put an arrow to her bowstring out of habit and crept forward to the edge of the pit. Now getting a good look at the man's rather pain-filled face, she saw that it was indeed who she'd thought it was. Unfortunately. Why couldn't she be rid of this human for good? I guess bats weren't enough to scare him away, she grumbled to herself.

"It's you again? You're trespassing on guarded lands." Why did she want to add "again"? The last time she'd had the pleasure of his acquaintance, he hadn't been in the forest. She could almost recall... she shook her head. No matter, that wasn't important.

"Would it help if I said I didn't realize where I was?" he asked hopefully, giving what she thought was far too innocent of a look.

Meren sighed again. He likely wasn't going to be a threat to the forest but why was he here? She lowered her bow and cursed at the complication that had presented itself. She was almost wishing she'd found an orc blundering through the underbrush instead.

Well, if he really had hurt his leg, as it appeared from his stance, he wasn't going to be able to move fast if she got him out of the hole. The trick would just be not to turn her back on him, which she vaguely recalled had been her mistake last time. And this time she had magic at her disposal, as well. She patted the pouch at her hip where she'd begun storing the bits of plants and miscellaneous trinkets that seemed to make her magic function better- usually, although that latest spell fumble could attest to this not always being the case- to reassure her that it was still in place. She gave a small smirk. Yes, she'd be alright even without her brother to back her up.

Leaning down over the pit, she crossed her arms over her chest. "I suppose I can let you out. But try anything and you'll find another pit beneath your feet." Not that she could likely duplicate a result like that, but he didn't have to know that. When the young man shook his head frantically, she asked, "Do you think you can climb?"

The human bit his lip, but nodded. "I'll have to try."

Meren took a few steps back and looked around for a tree to which she could knot the end of her rope. Luckily her misplaced spell had backfired in the middle of the woods instead of a desert, so she was able to find a good sized one. Pulling the grey rope out of her satchel, she knotted the one end around the tree trunk and dropped the other end down into the hole.

The wizard hobbled over and lobbed his staff up and out. It took all of his strength, but he was able to pull himself out. Once back on the surface, however, he sat down heavily, his face gone ashen, clearly hurt from that injured leg.

He's never going to get out of my forest that way, Meren thought, but pity was beginning to take the place of her irritation and she began to riffle through her bag to try to locate her healing supplies. Her mother had been the tribe's healer and had passed that knowledge on to the young elf; Meren had always assumed that the reason she was less inclined to automatic violence than the rest of her kin was because you don't really want to hurt something when you become used to patching things up instead.

Finding what she needed, she crouched down next to the human and began to tug at his boot. He immediately gave a shriek of pain and swatted her hands away. "What are you doing, elf-girl?" he demanded through clenched teeth.

The frown she gave made him shrink back; momentarily puzzled that he should find her threatening when she was clearly trying to help, she answered calmly, "You're hurt or have you not noticed? I was going to wrap that up for you until you can find a healer, but if you'd rather just sit here alone in an area known to be patrolled by wild cats, that's your choice." Okay, so that was a lie, but maybe he'd let her help if he thought trouble would approach soon.

His eyes wide, he began to look around desperately, as though Meren had brought an assortment of large pet cats with her. Holding back a chuckle, she grabbed his boot again. This time he remained still and allowed her to work, but it wasn't until she'd finished and given him some herbs to chew on to help with the pain- this time not lying about that, although she'd been tempted to hand him some simple tea leaves instead- that the color began to return to his face. Using the staff to get to his feet, the young man tested his ankle. He winced slightly, but this time didn't look about to faint, which Meren considered a job well done.

"You did well. Thank you," he told her, his voice sounding sincere.

Meren shrugged as she got to her feet and began putting the herbalism kit back into her bag. She didn't really know what to say to that because she probably shouldn't have helped him. Even her brother would have left him in the pit... or perhaps not. Kryro wasn't like the rest of her kin, either, and would probably have lifted him out of the hole, but only to leave him injured and to his own devices.

Part 6 can be found here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 4

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 4
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5)

It appears that the centaur was right, Phillip mused to himself as he crossed the undeniably empty village. There was nothing. He could have charged in here with an army and trumpets blaring and there wouldn't have been any more reaction. There was also a definite lack of any centaurs; he'd passed many a monster corpse, but no sign of anyone not green and none of those once-monsters had on them anything remotely like what his master was seeking, either. About to give up the search and grumbling once again about this stupid quest, he jumped when he saw what appeared to be a ball of flame shoot up towards the sky not far to his left.

Quickly snatching up a rock and pulling a piece of lightly-glowing phosphorescent moss from the pouch at his belt, he muttered a few words and waved his fingers above both objects, causing the rock to emit a bright glow. This was likely a waste of magic, but he didn't feel like fumbling through his pack for a torch and he wanted to hurry to see what caused the blast without tripping over something in the rapidly fading light. Rock in hand, he scurried forward. If nothing else, he could beam anything that approached with the stone, as unlikely as that would be in this ghost town.

Phillip figured there there was no need to be silent and began softly calling out when he neared the spot he reckoned the blast had come from. As he approached yet more fallen masonry, he heard a weak shout come from somewhere nearby. Whatever it was, it wasn't a language he knew, but it didn't sound threatening so he bravely followed it. He was led to a small hole in what seemed to be a recently collapsed building. Holding the glowing rock above his head to try to see in the gap, he was startled by two gleaming green eyes staring up. Whatever the eyes belonged to said something; from the tone of voice, it was probably something like "help," although for all he knew, it could have been saying "artichoke."

"Stand back," he informed whatever was down there, not that it could understand him. "I'm going to drop this in so we can see." He could always make another lit rock if he had to.

Whatever was down there stopped blathering, like it- no, definitely a she. Possibly that centaur? How am I supposed to lift a horse up, anyway?- knew he was trying to help. He saw the eyes move back a pace and he dropped the stone. As she reached down to grab it hesitantly like she was afraid it would be hot, Phillip was again surprised. She was neither the centaur he'd been expecting nor the orc he feared it would be (or was it the other way around?). Instead, staring up at him with eyes so frightened and wide that he could clearly make out the whites, was a young elf. She appeared to be in her late teens, but with elves that guess could be decades off, garbed in mostly leather in shades of what must have once been russet and brown but were now almost uniformly grey; even the green tattoos that wound around most of the skin Phillip could see were mostly a dull, grimy grey. Her pulled-back brown hair had fallen partly out of its tie and was also caked in dust.

"Here, I'll throw down a rope," he told her. It wasn't until he saw the shocked look of comprehension on her face and her frantic nod that he realized he hadn't spoken in his language, but the Halfling tongue, the language he'd learned as a child and had rarely used since. Now why would I say that to an elf? he began to wonder, but shook his head. Whatever the reason, she seemed to know that, anyway. "Hold on," he added as he reached into his bag for the rope he'd picked up at the wall.

He dropped this down and within seconds the girl had scampered up it, weighing surprisingly little. Phillip realized why when she got to her feet after first giving what sounded like a small prayer of thanks to the ground. For all that she looked near his age, she was about a foot shorter than he was, which was normal for an elf, he supposed. The frantic, scared look was now gone from her eyes to the human's relief; he'd had no idea how to deal with a violent centaur and would have had even less of an idea of what to do with a frightened elf.

Dipping her head slightly, she said, "Thank you greatly for getting me out of there! I'm terrified of being underground." Even just speaking of this made her appear uncomfortable; she bit her bottom lip and stepped farther away from the crumbled building.

The human was about to brag about how it was no big deal and how he rescued young women on a regular basis when she snatched the rope out of his hands. "Wait a second, this is my rope, isn't it? Did my brother send you over?"

Thrown off by the fact that a girl was unmoved by his chivalry, he could only blink at the last part of her questioning. "That was your brother? He said he was looking for a sister, but I'd assumed that was another centaur." He looked off into the distance like the rampaging horse-man was coming after him with a log. "He was frightening! Err... no offense intended," he added hastily.

The elf... halfling? Was was he getting the idea of both from her, anyway? The elf did something he wasn't expecting. She broke into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. "Kryro? Frightening? What, did he get tangled in a tree and bring it down on you?"

Okay, that was maybe why he thought "halfling"; she certainly sounded like the ones he'd known. But she didn't have to be so dismissive of what he'd said, either. Crossing his arms over his chest, Phillip frowned. "I'm serious. There was a tree involved and he was beating a gate with it."

The elf looked at him for a second, then raised an eyebrow, shifting the vine tattoos near her eyes, which Phillip should have found disturbing, but for some reason didn't. He was glad when she interrupted that thought by saying, "You're serious? He must really have been worried. He doesn't usually-" A thought seemed to occur to her; did all elves jump annoyingly from subject to subject like this? "But how did you find me?"

"There was a ball of fire," Phillip started to answer. He stared. Surely this small elf hadn't... "Did you do that?" Was she a wizard, too? He didn't think elves, or at least any kind of elf colored to look like a tree, had wizards, but where else would that fireball have come from?

The girl looked confused, then thoughtful. Moving the glowing rock from hand to hand, she fidgeted. "I thought I'd imagined that. I was so frightened and worried.... then this necklace thing I picked up felt warm and then that..." she fumbled for words, "fire thing happened."

Now Phillip finally noticed the simple necklace hanging from her neck. In the light of the uncanny rock, it almost seemed to have a dim green glow. Was this what his master was looking for? He tried to recall exactly what the old wizard had said about it as they made their way over to the nearest part of the wall. But from what the girl said and what he thought he remembered about it... yes, it was likely one and the same as the item he sought. And even if it wasn't, something powerful enough to cause elves to shoot magic flame would likely be almost as good of a prize in the eyes of his master. How to get it off the girl, though...

As the elf secured the rope so they could climb back down from the wall, he asked as nonchalantly as he could in an attempt to keep his voice free of that hope of possible impending freedom, "Were you going to keep that?"

She looked confused by his question. "I did find it. Yes, I am."

Phillip cursed silently to himself. Trying to act as charming as possible, he asked, "But do you think I could have it? I did rescue you."

The elf almost looked as though she was going to agree then quickly shook her head. "No. If it's all the same, I'd rather keep it. This could come in handy."

He gave another mental curse, this time stronger. He'd have to do what he should and normally would have done in the first place. Why was this girl making him act so strangely? He began to chant softly, counting on her apparent lack of knowledge of his language to disguise what he was saying, and moved his hands in a theatrical gesture which he, however, couldn't hide. She had time to ask, "What are you-" before she crumpled to the ground, this time deep in sleep. He gently removed the chain with the now purple glow from around her neck and thought briefly of leaving her there and darting off, but that voice inside that he was coming to recognize and rather dislike instead made him pick her up and swing her over his shoulder. He dropped the chain over his neck and bent down to retrieve the torch-stone she'd dropped. Then, moving clockwise around the wall, he headed to where he'd last seen the centaur.


Kryro was not happy. His sister had been in there for days now and that human still had not come back, either. He knew he shouldn't have trusted a shady-looking young human, but what choice had he had? He was probably long gone by now, having stolen Meren's rope and likely using it to scale from a side not visible to the centaur. Blasted two-leggers. Cannot trust any of them. Elves excluded, he added hastily, Those you could always just trust to do something thickheaded and dangerous.

When he saw the human come around the wall carrying some sort of light in his hand, Kryro had been about to take those silent insults out on him when he realized the man was also carrying an unconscious and rather grimy Meren. "What happened to her?" the centaur demanded, galloping over to them.

The young man lowered the elf gently, Kryro was glad to see, to the ground. He hesitated for a moment, then stood confidently, brushing at the embroidered stars on his black robe. "I think she was hit in the head. She should be coming around soon, but you should probably get her out of here."

You do not have to tell me that twice, Kryro thought to himself. He knelt down, never a fast motion when graced with so many legs, and felt her forehead. Or tried to. The centaur yanked his arm back when a spark leapt over to his hand.

Luckily that spark seemed to shake her awake; she gave an "Ouch!" and opened her eyes. Blinking up at the centaur, her eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. "You're green," she mumbled dazedly in Halfling.

Kryro looked down to see what she meant. Nope, still the same shades of brown he had always been. And why was she using that language, anyway? Now it was his turn for confusion. "Meer, are you alright? Why would I be green?"

Rubbing her head, Meren sat up. Still speaking that language, she muttered, "Feel all tingly..."

Yes, that really answered that one. He looked over at the human who was still standing there. Still there, but looking posed to run away. Realizing the centaur's gaze was in his direction, the man gave a sheepish shrug. Kryro had been called many things: large, good with languages, clumsy, horsebutt (Gee, thank you for that one, Meer), but never stupid. He knew that human was hiding something.

Dazed though she was, Meren was on top of this. How she was on top of it, though, left Kryro even more disturbed. She blinked at the man a time or two, then switched that to a vindictive glare as she climbed quickly to her feet. Without any hesitation, she spoke low in Elvish. To the centaur's bewilderment, it sounded much like "Winged mice of the forest, aid me". Wondering what she meant and thinking she must really have hurt her head, he saw her gesture towards the wood behind them, then point at the human, whose necklace momentarily flickered between purple and green. The young man was now most certainly not looking comfortable. When a swarm of bats flew out of the treetops and towards his head, he became even less so. Giving a yelp, he turned and ran, trying to outrun something that could move far faster than he.

This left Kryro satisfied, but also incredibly worried and even more disconcerted. Before he could ask Meren what in the name of the earth spirits had just happened, he saw her collapse to her knees, looking visibly drained. The centaur had the presence of mind to catch her before she fell and held her steady. "What is going on?" he demanded, his voice breaking from worry.

Meren blinked at him. "I don't... what happened?"

It was rather fuzzy to the centaur. Why did this feel so familiar? "There was a human here. You threw... bats... at him." He wasn't sure if he wanted that memory to clear up or not, it seemed so strange.

The elf looked perplexed for a moment, then simply nodded. If Kryro had to guess, he would say she was simply too overwhelmed and tired to care about flying things, a fact which was bothering him greatly. That had looked suspiciously like magic, but she was no shaman...

The centaur shook his head. Whatever Meren was or was not, she was still his sister and he still had to get her home safely. "Just get on my back."

Dazedly she started to argue, "But centaurs don't let people-"

"Most centaurs do not have exhausted elven sisters who have been throwing woodland creatures around until they appear ready to fall over for a second time," he pointed out.

That long sentence was clearly too much for her to comprehend in her current state. She obeyed, climbing up and wrapping her arms around his chest to keep in place. As they fled back into the woods, Kryro felt warmth on his chest. Looking down, he saw that emerald sparks were flashing between Meren's hands and grounding on his skin. It didn't hurt, but it tingled slightly and he wondered if this was the feeling she'd mentioned earlier. Whatever it was, he hoped it was harmless, but knew Meren would never do anything to hurt him. ...or at least the Meren he knew would not. The fact that his sister was sparking and summoning nocturnal animals had him worried; centaurs and wood elves were not keen on magic, to say the least. We better not tell her father, he decided, his gut telling him that this would be wise.

Part 5 can be found here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 3

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 3
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)

The young man inched around the wall, careful not to make a sound. He was lurking here because of a quest given by his master. A quest, he grumbled internally, Right. To find some stupid item that he only heard rumors about. So of course the apprentice has to go on this fool's errand.

To make matters worse, leads that he had followed had led him to believe that it did in fact exist and was located here, in the same place as a group of orcs and who knew what else. Phillip knew, though, that if he came back empty handed, or at least without bearing word of its whereabouts, his master would not be at all pleased- and that would be an understatement. The old wizard had never been particularly kind, but over the past year or two he'd become downright... well, evil, in his apprentice's opinion, although "crazy," "paranoid" and "shady" would be other words said apprentice would throw into the mix, although most definitely not while in his master's presence. He liked his feet where they were, thank you very much.

As inane as this task was, perhaps if he retrieved that magic amulet for his master it would allow him to lose some of that horrible paranoia and return to normal... or at least to the level of eccentricity normal for a spellcaster. If nothing else, maybe it would please the old man enough that he'd finally advance his apprentice to full Illusionist, meaning Phillip could get as far away from Bluecoast as possible and never have to deal with that madman again.

So maybe this search wasn't so pointless after all.

Phillip had heard no sound coming from within while looping his way around most of the wall so he was surprised when a ruckus of clangs and thumps sounded from nearby. Stepping away from the wall to look around the curve of the stone, he spotted something that surprised him even further: a male centaur slamming an iron gate with what the young man could only think of as a tree. As he watched, the stallion- was that a term for someone with the top half of a human?- tossed the large log aside and with a growl of frustration, began pulling at the gate with his bare hands, accomplishing nothing more than rattling the iron.

Most of Phillip was telling him to quickly head the other way, as far from this angry beast as possible, but curiosity led him forward. Still moving silently in his soft boots, the young man crept forward, stopping a few yards away just as the horse-man gave another shout. As he watched, the centaur seemed to deflate; he gave one more shout of frustration, then bowed his head low, bringing his hands up to his head to pull at his already disheveled brown hair.

Unsure of what to do with a very distraught centaur, Phillip cleared his throat. Instead of jumping, as the young man expected he would, the centaur just turned slowly to face the sound. As the human got a good look at him, he realized why: for all the strength the centaur had been exhibiting, he appeared to be utterly exhausted.

When the centaur spotted the young man, his bleary brown eyes widened. Before Phillip could say anything, the centaur spoke up. "Please! Your aid I need. My sister in there be!" And here was another surprise: the pleading centaur spoke his language. Heavily accented, but perfectly understandable.

Understandable, but also unfortunately demanding. "Woah. Hold on," Phillip said, his arms held out in front of him. "There are orcs in there. I can't just wander in and ask they hand someone over."

The centaur shook his head hastily, his long hair flying. "No! Gone most of them should be. Her kin cleared them out and left, but never did she leave."

That didn't sound too hopeful. "But how do you know she's-" Phillip began to ask.

The centaur glared at him with enough hostility to cause the young man to take a few steps back. "Their injured they removed and with them she was not. Inside she must then still be. Get her, I would, but," he now directed his glare at the gate and Phillip was almost surprised not to see this one melt like what had apparently once happened to the one to the west, "enter I cannot."

Biting his lip, he again turned to look at the human. "Gone the orcs all should be. For now. Get her out before more come, I would like. For her please look."

Phillip sighed. This was not how he wanted to spend his day and any other time he'd have hurried away from such a request, but... he did have to get inside anyway, especially if it were true and the orcs were all vanquished at the moment, so this would be a chance to appear to do something heroic without that being his actual goal. And a small part of him actually wanted to help... he chose to ignore that voice and said, "I could try, I suppose... but how would I get in?"

The centaur turned and pointed to a rope dangling from the wall to the west which Phillip hadn't noticed. It blended so well into the grey of the stone that unless you knew it was there, it wouldn't be seen. "To get in that did she use." There was such intense entreaty in his eyes that Phillip had to look away. "So look for her you will?"

Phillip nodded slightly and the centaur gave a whoop and a swish of his tail, the human noted, and said, "Wait for you here I shall."

The young man walked over to the rope, tugging it to be sure of its strength. It seemed okay, so he quickly tied back his long hair and tucked his robe into his belt and began to scale it. It wasn't until he had reached the top of the wall, stored the rope on his pack and located a set of stairs leading down into the town that the thought occurred to him, Wait, how did a centaur get over the wall using a rope?


Meren groggily opened her eyes and blinked dazedly at the dim light. Where am I? She thought sluggishly. She groaned and sat up, rubbing the back of her head. Ugh, I feel like a building fell on me... as she looked up at the small hole in the wood ceiling that was letting in the fading evening light, she recalled that it technically had. Groping around for her backpack, she found it near her feet. This she began digging through but quickly threw down with a frustrated curse. She'd left her grappling hook and rope behind on the wall, hadn't she? She'd been in such a hurry to explore that not only was it now no use for her, anything could use it to get in... but who would want to get in to a village of orcs?

Right, orcs, that's why she was here! Rubbing her head again, she stood and listened for any sound. Nothing. She could call out, but would alerting monsters to her location be wise? Probably not. But as the light faded, she now cursed the lack of something else in her bag: a torch, a candle, anything that lit. She'd never needed one before, being able to see fairly well in moonlight, so it had never occurred to her to carry a light source. Maybe there was something here she could use?

Dropping to the ground, she began poking around, her hand finding shapeless and unidentifiable debris, but nothing that had potential for fire. Poking around further, she located her bow, thankfully still in one piece; this she unstrung and tucked into her quiver, as it was little use at the moment and she didn't want to lose it again. Returning to her exploration, something sharp brushed her finger. She snatched her hand back and wrapped it quickly in the fold of her tunic. Now realizing that it was stupid to fumble around blindly, she half stood so she could feel along with her boot- then immediately fell back over when she tripped on something that rolled. Reaching down to see what she'd kicked, she instantly regretted it. It was smooth and cool; it felt like bone. Grimacing, she prodded forward and, yes, that was a skeleton, alright. Ugh. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. About to climb back to her feet to get as far away from this as possible, her hand knocked something that skittered across the dirt floor. Torn between disgust, some amount of panic at being underground, and curiosity, curiosity won out.

On hands and knees she went across the floor, now on the lookout for more glass and dead things, and soon found what she'd flung away: some kind of cold stone thing on a chain. Unsure of why she did so as it was absolutely no help in the dark, she dropped the chain over her head. Not knowing what else to do, she inched her way over to the wall. Was it really that close? Hadn't the area seemed... larger a moment ago? Was it a moment ago? How much time had passed since she fell down here? Meren shut her eyes tightly and grasped at the stone lying against her chest. Morning had to come soon, right? Perhaps in the light she'd magically be able to to see a ladder out of here. Right, she thought, and 'Ro will lead a centaur rescue party that's magically able to climb walls. May as well wish for the unattainable.

Light shining off some sort of mirror on the floor and into Meren's eyes woke her. Stretching out kinks from sleeping in a corner, she stood. Her view was no better by the filtered slight light of morning. No magical ladder or grappling hook- or centaur rescue party- greeted her. What she did learn, however, was that the skeleton had been staring at her all that time. This made her shudder and take a step back against the wall. Judging from the shape of its skull, it had been some sort of goblinoid. This didn't bother her too much at first, but as the day wound on and the little light filtering through the crack in the ceiling began to fade again, something was really starting to bother her: the lack of sky, trees, fresh air, locations without dead goblins... Would alerting potential monsters be any worse than another night spent underground? At this point, that would be a definite no. Unable to help herself, she started calling out. She shouted her brother's name, general pleading and cursing in shifts, anything to catch the attention of something, anything.

But this was to no avail. Shouting until she was hoarse and exhausted, Meren grasped for her waterskin, drinking the last few drops. She needed to do something to alert Kryro that she was here- he had to still be out there!- but nothing was down here except some trash and a goblin skeleton. That grinned at her somewhere in the darkness. Underground in a space that seemed to be getting smaller by the minute... Oh no, what had she gotten herself into?

Exhausted and starting to hyperventilate, she sunk to the ground directly under the gap in the ceiling, trying to get as far away from those walls as possible. Again she clutched at the stone laying against her leather armor; it was something vaguely green and gold, as she'd been able to make out in the dim light of day. She began to feel it grow warm and figuring she was growing delusional from being caught in the one place a wood elf would never voluntarily go, or possibly delirious from lack of water and that knot on the back of her head, she ignored this and instead called in a cracking voice, "Kryro, get help! I'm here!" Something made her point up at the bit of moonlight and she was shocked to see a bright flickering of flame shoot out of her hand. That got her to stop stressing about being underground. Staring at her hand in utter disbelief, she wondered if she was truly going mad. Elves don't spawn fire... she muttered to herself in a daze. She could almost hear that ex-goblin laughing. Covering her pointed ears with her hands and closing her eyes tightly, she silently willed her brother to get her out, Somehow, please! He always called himself her protector which she'd begrudgingly went along with, not feeling as though she had need of one. But at the moment? I take back every time I glared at you for saying that. Just get me back to the forest! With her eyes closed, she failed to notice that now some light did exist in the old cellar. The amulet had turned a shining green.

Part 4 can be found here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 2

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 2
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 3)

Seasons passed. It was autumn and Meren and Kryro were now assigned to the south; so far it had been uneventful but they figured it was at least a change of scenery. Assuming they were in for another long, quiet day on watch, Meren climbed up into a tree just off the narrow forest path while the centaur took up position further back, his brown coat and tanned upper half blending him into the surrounding foliage. The wood elf was just getting settled comfortably on her branch when she was startled by heavy footsteps sounding nearby that were approaching at a good speed.

She braced her back against the trunk, bow at the ready, but what she saw was far more enemies than one quiver of arrows could take down: a great rank of orcs. Knowing her bow to be of little use at the moment, she instead tucked it over her shoulder and stretched out flat on the tree limb, trying to get a better look at the monsters as they filed past. She could not tell what they were saying as they hurried along, but they seemed to be driven on by a single orc near the back. This one was garbed differently; instead of leather armor over a ratty tunic and carrying a club, spear or sword as the rest did, this one was wearing an assortment of mismatched leathers and furs and waving around a large staff, from which bones and other nasty looking adornments dangled. Meren wrinkled her nose, although it wasn't from smell; she was too high off the ground for that. Something told her that this one was a shaman, never a type of person to mess with, especially not when surrounded by a vanguard of heavily armed warriors.

Knowing it would be wiser to let them pass rather than make her presence known, Meren remained still, hoping that the centaur would do the same. He was further back, but would have had to be deaf to not hear the racket these green monsters were making, which she knew he was not. Once she judged the orcs to be far enough away, she swung herself down from the tree and darted off to find Kryro. This was too many for a single elf and her partner to deal with; they were going to have to alert her kin. She frowned at this realization and silently chided herself, That's what I get for wishing for some excitement.


As they neared the wood elf encampment, Kryro could not help fidgeting nervously. This was never a place in which he felt particularly comfortable. He knew many of Meren's kin were not overly happy with the fact that she had chosen a non-elf as her scouting partner, but he was a member of her tribe and he was a centaur, not some strange non-woodland race. It was not that odd for wood elves and centaurs to work together, but he supposed it was more than slightly strange for one to be allowed the status of elf.

The tribe leader had approved of him, though... Without paying attention to the fact that he was doing so, he reached across his chest to touch the vine tattoo that trailed from his right shoulder to his collarbone. Mixed in with the green tendrils, hidden to all but those who knew what to look for, was the symbol of this wood elf tribe. Meren, along with the rest of her kin, also possessed this mark somewhere in her much more expansive tattoos. Kryro, however, also had the rune for his adoptive sister's name woven into the design, signifying that there was one elf in particular who vouched for him, or something like that. He had never quite understood what this all meant, but Meren had assured him that this was a great honor.

This reassured him slightly, but the not-particularly-approving looks he received from a few of the elves in camp still left him unnerved. When they reached the command tent, Meren gave him an encouraging smile before stepping in ahead, pulling aside the tent flap so he could duck under. Fortunately, once inside, the high roof- high for an elf, anyway- was above his head so he was able to stand comfortably. Well, comfortably in terms of space; the glares he received from two of the four elves at Eryndir's side did little to make him want to stick around.

Meren took a step into the center of the room, moving a pace ahead of the centaur. She bowed her head and brought her right hand behind her neck, the action for greeting elves higher than one's rank. The fact that a group of seemingly feral and individualized elves actually had some sort of organization had always surprised Kryro. When he had once asked his sister about this particular action, she'd explained that it meant that she was admitting that the other elf was in control; the movement signified drawing an arrow from her quiver and offering it to his or her service. What would happen if the elf doing the bowing were not wearing a quiver at the moment was something the centaur had always been curious about but too embarrassed to ask. Then again, he could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen a wood elf sans archery equipment.

As Meren began talking he wondered idly if some just wore it as an accessory rather than purpose, tuning out the necessary greetings and established words. This was another thing he never really understood about the elves. Why did they take so long to get to the point? Finally he heard his companion say, "Father, Kryro and I discovered what appeared to be a warbard of orcs led by a shaman. They were on the east path heading north."

"You are certain that was a shaman?" asked one of the elves. This was not Eryndir, but the tribe's own shaman, an elf seemingly older than the rest with jagged red hair streaked with a few strands of white. This was not one of Kryro's favorite people, to say the least; in the centaur's opinion, he always showed very little respect towards the young elf.

Frowning at Meren, the shaman continued saying to her, "As I am sure you are aware, orc shamans very rarely go into combat with their troops."

The centaur could tell that Meren really wanted to fire off a rude retort, but was relieved when she answered simply, "Yes, sir. I am positive of what I saw."

The shaman looked over at the leader, a deceptively unremarkable elf with close-cropped brown hair, clearly expecting some support there. Instead, Eryndir nodded. "I trust my daughter's judgment here, as I would hope you would. If she says she saw a shaman-led warband, then there is one heading north."

Meren looked pleased to hear this. Kryro knew that while her father did trust her, he also did not like to speak dismissively to the other tribe elders. Now the centaur just hoped that the news he was about to give would be taken so well.

Kryro stepped forward and mirrored the movement his sister had done in greeting, feeling somewhat foolish because he did lack a quiver. Trying to make his voice sound with a confidence that he did not feel- for all that he was always courageous while out in the forest, no matter the problem, stick him in front of an audience and he always felt like a colt again- he said, "Sir, I have information as well. As they went past, I heard what I assumed to be that shaman telling another, possibly an underling, that they had to hurry because someone else was seeking... something. A kind of magical item from the context, but I will admit that my Orcish is not quite perfect and the one speaking was vague about the subject matter." He was rambling, he knew it. Oh how he hated that habit of babbling when nervous! However, he was not really sure how to explain what he had heard any better than this. He knew at least a handful of languages, but Orcish wasn't one of his more fluent ones.

He glanced down at Meren in time to see her open her mouth then quickly close it, but her green eyes were wide. Had he forgotten to inform her that he knew a spattering of that language? It was not as though that came up in daily conversation... "Hey, Meer, can you guess what horrible monsters I can converse with today?". Reminding himself to apologize for that later, he looked over at the older elves. Most looked at least some level of skeptical, but Eryndir gave a nod and his green eyes, so much like Meren's, looked worried.

One of the elves, a blond female Kryro knew to be the scout leader, was the first to speak. "Eryndir, I have not heard of this and the centaur himself admits that his knowledge of that language is flawed. How would we know if this is the truth?"

I never said that, Kryro grumbled to himself but gained a boost to his rather low ego when Eryndir again surprised him by siding with the young scouts. "Kryro has proven his reliability in the past, as well as his skill with languages. He may admit to not speaking perfect Orcish, but likely he knows it better than he is claiming. We should heed the information he carries."

Kryro could feel himself blush; he could not recall Meren's father ever directing such supportive words towards him. He bowed his head again, half to show gratitude, half to hide his face behind his long hair. The leader's support was not gaining him, or by extension Meren, any friends, however. When the centaur lifted his head again, he saw that now all four of Eryndir's companions were frowning at them. He was relieved when the leader's next words to them were, "Thank you both for relaying the information here with such haste. The elders and I must now discuss how to handle this situation. You two are free to leave."

Meren and Kryro bowed again and it was all the centaur could do not to flee out of the tent, which was fortunate because his hooves likely would have gotten stuck. As it was, he again needed his sister to move the flap for him as they left. The centaur was actually glad to hear the elves bickering behind them since it meant they probably were not paying attention to his fumbling. Hopefully. It is bad enough that a centaur is Meer's protector, but a clumsy one is even worse, he silently berated.

As if sensing his mood, Meren placed a hand on his side as they left the last tent behind them. This action did help and Kryro couldn't help smiling down at her in gratitude. It was not always easy, but having a sibling and a scouting partner he trusted entirely did make all the interracial interactions worth the awkwardness. He worried for a moment if the elves would take a while debating this, then shook his head at his own obtuseness; of course they wouldn't. Wood elves were all about action and any intruders anywhere near their border would be dealt with quickly and efficiently, never knowing what had hit them. Kryro wouldn't be at all surprised if by the next morning an equally large vanguard of elves had been gathered, sent off and halfway to wherever the orcs were heading with the monsters taken care of by nightfall.

And judging by Meren's determined look and the direction of her steps, her goal was to get there first. Ah, there is that independent elven spirit! Kryro thought. Possibly not the best time for it, but it was his job to follow. He could always drag Meren away if there was a problem.


Kryro's assumption had been correct. Without waiting to see what her kin decided, Meren had led them with little pause for rest back to where they had last seen the orcs. From there, picking up the trail had been simple. "Nothing like a troop of heavy-footed monsters to leave their mark on the place," he heard Meren mutter as she took in the blatant disregard they'd had for the forest.

As they had pushed their way through, the centaur's reaction was much the same and he shook his head at a snapped limb on a young sapling as they walked past. "There's a blasted path here!" Meren complained, "Why'd they have to destroy all the plant life around it?"

Kryro raised an eyebrow as though she'd asked the world's dumbest question. "Orcs, Meer. I do not think any orc in existence has ever looked at a tree and thought 'Gee, I should be its friend'. Only you elves voice that ideal."

Apparently choosing to ignore that comment, she continued walking, pausing only to say over her shoulder, "Come on, horsebutt. We have forest-wrecking green things to find."

I really wish she would stop calling me that, Kryro grumbled to himself.

They made good time and by sunset had reached the edge of the forest. The orcs had led them straight to that village, as the two of them could have guessed had their memories of the existence of the place not been horribly fogged.

"Oh, how wonderful," Kryro remarked sarcastically as he took in the high stone wall and the iron gate off in the distance, "Now they are fortified as well as numerous. I very much hope you have a good plan."

Meren shrugged. "I'm going to sneak in and scout ahead. I want to see what they were after."

Kryro rolled his eyes skyward. That was exactly the reaction he feared she'd have. Wood elves were not known for heading towards danger equipped with a plan and always assumed their bows would be all they needed. "I said a good plan. Going in alone is not a good plan, and unless those gates open, I cannot follow."

"We'll see." Meren said simply.

Kryro doubted even orcs would be dumb enough to leave their front door unlocked and sure enough, after circling the wall as stealthily as possible and checking the four gates they passed, no entrance passable by a man with four legs presented itself. One had been locked tightly and one apparently rusted shut; those had been the two most likely candidates. The farthest one had large boulders of fallen masonry blocking the entire entrance and the one they were now standing at had actually been melted into a mess of metal. What had caused this left Kryro more worried than he'd been when they had arrived.

"I'll have to scale the wall," Meren offered, her green eyes bright from the prospect of getting to climb something.

Of course, Kryro thought with a shudder, leave it to an elf to find any opportunity to end up high above the ground. "I was afraid you would say that. Are you certain that you do not want to wait for your kin?" Here was his stupid question of the day; of course she would not.

Meren smiled at him, clearly doing her best to make it seem like this was no big deal, which, to her, probably wasn't. "I'll be fine, 'Ro. I'll just pop in, look around, then climb back over. Alright?"

The centaur sighed, then gestured upwards. The sooner she got this foolhardy plan over with, the sooner they could leave. "Be careful."


Which she'd tried to be. She'd silently tossed a rope over the wall, dexterously climbed it and had landed lightly on the other side. Then she'd quietly snuck around, listening keenly for any sound of approaching footsteps. What she'd failed to do was wisely keep an eye on the ground in front of her. She got halfway across the town when her elven senses failed.

Her back pushed up close to the one remaining wall of a crumbled building, she took a step sideways. The weight of a small elf was too much for a wooden floor that had already met its share of fire, falling timber and clumsy orcs. It gave way, dropping her through the floorboards onto a dirt floor coated in dust. She would have been fine, had that remaining wall not decided to join her. Most of the stone rolled harmlessly but loudly in the other direction, but a few fell into the new hole, much like a large game of pool. As Meren stood on a shaky ankle, one of the smaller but far more enthusiastic stones ricochet off the cellar wall and beamed her on the back of her head. Her last thought as she fell forward was, "Dammit, 'Ro was right." Luckily it was a small rock because those would have been embarrassing last words, but as the world went black, she wished her brother had fewer legs.

Part 3 can be found here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Deleted Scene

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Deleted Scene
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,
Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10)

(Months after posting this story, I recalled that I had written a scene somewhere in the middle that didn't fit with the flow of the rest, so it was removed. After talking to my writing-partner-in-crime, she told me I should share it. This isn't particularly polished and it's downright sappy probably why I dropped it early on, but when your elfsister asks for something, you give it to her. Unless you happen to like brooding, love-sick half-elves, feel free to ignore this. ;) ~Meri)

Raff was on watch or, rather, staring off into the distance with a hand wrapped around the jade pendant that hung from his neck and watching nothing but his thoughts, when he felt someone sit down on the log next to him. Too close next to him, as he scooted away with a half-hearted glare. Apparently not deterred by the stare, Charity moved a bit closer and asked, "What's bothering you?"

Can't she see I want to be alone? Raff moved away again. "How do ye know something's bothering me?"

"Because you've been staring at that same spot for twenty minutes; at least we know nothing is going to attack from that direction," she replied with a mischievous grin, "And you won't let go of that necklace so whatever is bothering you must have something to do with that. I'm not blind."

He looked down at his hand as if just noticing that he'd been holding it and let go, trying to hide his embarrassment with a shrug. "I'm just worried is all."

"'Worried' seems to be an understatement. Is there anything I can do to help?" the woman asked in a soft voice. Is she flirting? Normally Raff wouldn't mind some amusing and harmless flirtation, but he was far too preoccupied to be anything but irked at this.

"Unless you know how t'tell if someone far away is safe, then likely that's a no," he answered, trying to keep his voice just on the chilly side of calm. Yes, she was bothering him, but she also didn't deserve outright rudeness. Yet.

Still not getting the hint, or at least blatantly ignoring the hint, she continued prying. "Ah, that would be the girl who gave you the necklace?"

He silently cursed the inquisitiveness of his clerical brethren, but knew full well that he'd annoyed enough people the same way. He sighed, knowing that she wouldn't leave him alone until she got the truth out of him, but he couldn't help being a little sarcastic in his answer, "You're half right. Aye, I'm worried that something may have happened to her."

Inquisitive though she might be, Charity wasn't stupid. She caught that change in tone and Raff was pleased to see her quickly drop the flirtation act. Probably thinks that would be futile, which isn't strictly true, but I'll let her keep believing that. "He's another Messenger, isn't he? And since you mentioned that he's far away, you probably haven't heard from him in a while?" she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

Raff blinked, both startled and impressed; he knew by now that Charity was quite intelligent, but she was even sharper than he'd have given her credit for if she could jump straight to that conclusion without missing a beat. "How'd you know that?"

"Like I said, I'm not blind. Whenever something about this quest and the attacks are mentioned, you get really quiet and grab that necklace."

"I didn't realize I was being so obvious." Raff had always prided himself on his acting ability and now it seemed to have failed him at a time that he really needed it.

"I doubt anyone else noticed. Everyone's rather preoccupied," she reassured him. "I only noticed because I was... um..."

She looked embarrassed, so Raff just shook his head, knowing the reason. "Don't worry about it. You didn't know." Changing the subject, he continued, "But aye, I am very worried; normally he sends me a letter every fortnight or so but I haven't gotten one in almost three months. I know letters can take a while t'catch up to us when we're on assignments, but it shouldn't be that long."

"Maybe his were stolen?" That had also occurred to Raff, but hadn't cheered him up any then, either.

"That's what I'm wondering. The thought of some sick thief reading it isn't a good one, but it's better than what has me so frightened. What if he was attacked by that same thug who went after me? Last I knew he was over on the coast, but that was months ago and without a letter I don't have a clue where he is."

The woman thought for a while before saying anything else. "Do you think you'd know if something happened to him?"

"I don't know. Possibly. I hope I would." With a wry smile he added, "Although now I know why we're not really supposed to become close to anyone; in a situation like this it becomes a burden." The woman saw his smile grow softer as he went on as if just talking to himself, "But I'd never swap that burden for being in a position where I didn't have someone t'worry about..."

He'd spent much of his life worrying that his boyfriend would get himself into some horrible trouble, so this was nothing new; yes, he wasn't completely innocuous and was actually far better than Raff at magic and let's face it, far smarter, Raff's thoughts chimed in to his vexation, but what good was magic if you were already run through with a sword or eaten by a dragon? Possibly you could still cast a spell while inside a dragon, but it wasn't something Raff had ever wanted to test in order to allay that particular fear. Yet all that worry was somehow worth it. Love really does make for a complete lack of sense, but as mine has pointed out numerous times, I'm already good at senseless. What's one more personality quirk when I already pride myself on possessing an assortment of them? He grinned to himself, not caring if Charity saw.

She noticed, but was just glad to see that he'd gotten himself out of his funk. "Ready to finish watch now? We don't want any orcs swarming camp, right?" she asked with a smile.

Raff stood up and dusted his robe off. "You know as well as I do that there aren't any orcs left in this part of the world." He returned the smile and gave her a hand to help her up. "Next time say kobolds or goblins. Nice try, though."