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.