Aug 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)


Meren and Kryro found themselves assigned to new locations in the forest with each passing season. While so far their positions had proven uneventful, Meren figured it was at least a change of scenery, and a nice change to boot. The southern part of the forest was particularly vibrant in autumn.

Assuming they were in for another long, quiet day on watch, Meren climbed into the fiery orange leaves just off the narrow forest path. Kryro continued deeper into the wood, his brown coat and tanned upper torso blending him into the surrounding foliage. Meren was settling comfortably on her branch when the rumbling of heavy footsteps sounded from the east.

She braced her back against the trunk, bow at the ready, but these were far more intruders than one quiver of arrows could take down. Knowing her bow to be of little use against a great rank of orcs, she instead tucked it over her shoulder and stretched out flat on the tree limb to get a better look at the monsters as they filed past. She could not tell what they were saying as they hurried along, driven on by a single orc near the back. This one was garbed differently than the rest. Instead of leather armor over a ratty tunic and carrying rough spears or notched swords as the rest did, this one wore an assortment of mismatched leathers and furs. He waved 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 this one was a shaman, never a type of person to mess with, especially not when surrounded by a heavily, if shabbily, armed company.

It would be wiser to let them pass rather than make her presence known. She remained still and hoped Kryro would do the same. He was further back, but with all the racket the green intruders were making he had to be aware of them. Once she judged the orcs to be far enough away, she swung herself down from the tree and darted off to find her brother. 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.


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As they neared the wood elf encampment, Kryro could not help fidgeting nervously with his club. He knew many of Meren's kin were not overly pleased that she chose a non-elf as her scouting partner, but he was a member of her tribe and he was a centaur. It was not too odd for wood elves and centaurs to work together, although he supposed it was more than slightly strange for one to be allowed the status of elf. 

Yet the tribe leader had approved of him. To reassure himself of this fact, 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 their much more expansive tattoos. Kryro, however, also possessed the rune for his adoptive sister's name inside the design, which signified there was one elf in particular who vouched for him. Or something like that. He had never quite understood what this all meant, although Meren had assured him this was a great honor.

While this memory bolstered his confidence, the disapproving 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 to pull aside the tent flap so he could duck under. Once inside, the high roof left him plenty of head room to stand comfortably. This comfort only extended as far as the space around his body, however. The glares he received from two of the four elves at Eryndir's side did little to make him want to stick around.

Meren stepped into the center of the tent, 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 repeatedly surprised Kryro. When he once asked Meren about this particular action, she'd explained it meant that she was admitting 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 Kryro had always been curious about yet 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 wore it only as an accessory rather than for purpose, tuning out the necessary greetings and established words. This was another thing he could not understand 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 warband of orcs led by a shaman. They were on the east path heading north."

"You are certain one was a shaman?" asked one of the elves. This was not Eryndir, but the tribe's own shaman, an elf 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, the shaman 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 rarely go into combat with their troops."

Kryro could tell Meren really wanted to fire off a rude retort at this condescension and 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, as I would hope you would. If she says she saw a shaman-led warband, then there is one heading north."

Meren let out a sigh of relief only audible to Kryro because he stood near her. He knew that while her father did trust her, he also did not like to speak dismissively to the other tribe elders. Now the centaur hoped the news he was about to give would be taken so well.

Kryro stepped forward and mirrored the movement Meren had done in greeting, feeling somewhat foolish because he did lack a quiver. For all that he was courageous out in the forest, no matter the problem, stick him in front of an audience and he felt like a colt again.

Trying to make his voice sound with a confidence he lacked, he said, "Sir, I have information as well. As they went past, I heard what I assumed to be the shaman telling another, possibly an underling, they needed 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 his habit of babbling when nervous! However, he was not really sure how to explain what he heard any better than this. While he knew at least a handful of languages, 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, her green eyes flitting to his face in an unasked question. Had he forgotten to inform her that he knew a spattering of Orcish? "Hey, Meer, can you guess what horrible monsters I can converse with today?" was not a sentence that came up in daily conversation. Reminding himself to apologize later, he looked over at the older elves. While most appeared to be at least some level of skeptical, Eryndir gave a nod. His green eyes, so much like Meren's, were 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 his knowledge of that language is flawed. How would we know if this is the truth?"

That was not what Kryro had said. His rather low ego gained a boost when Eryndir again sided with the young scouts. "Kryro has proven his reliability in the past, as well as his skill with languages. Although he may admit to not speaking perfect Orcish, likely he knows it better than he is claiming. We should heed the information he carries."

Kryro felt his face flushing. 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 by the leader's next words to them. "Thank you both for relaying the information here with such haste. The elders and I must now discuss how to handle this situation. You both 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 Meren to move the flap for him as they left. Kryro was actually glad to hear the elves bickering behind them since it meant they probably were not paying attention to his fumbling. It was bad enough a centaur was Meren's protector. A clumsy one was even worse.

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 interspecies 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 during a time of threat and any intruders anywhere near their border would be dealt with quickly and efficiently, never knowing what hit them. Kryro wouldn't be at all surprised if by the next morning an equally large vanguard of elves were gathered, sent off, and halfway to wherever the orcs were heading with the orcs 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 the independent elven spirit! Kryro thought. Possibly not the best time for it, but it was his job to follow. He could drag Meren away if there was a problem.

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Kryro's assumption was correct. Without waiting to see what her kin decided, Meren led them with little pause for rest back to where they last saw the orc company. 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 had for the forest.

As they pushed their way through, Kryro'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 at the obvious question. "Orcs, Meer. I do not think any orc in existence has looked at a tree and thought 'Gee, I should be its friend'. Only you elves voice that ideal."

She continued walking, pausing only long enough to say over her shoulder, "Come on, horsebutt. We have forest-wrecking green things to find." 

He really wished she would stop calling him that.

They made good time and by sunset reached the edge of the forest. The orcs had led them straight to the abandoned human village, which felt strangely familiar to Kryro. He took in the high stone wall and an iron gate off in the distance. "Now they are fortified as well as numerous. I very much hope you have a good plan."

Meren nodded her head towards the gate. "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 invariably 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.”

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 centaur presented itself. One was locked tightly and one apparently rusted shut; those were 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 caused this left Kryro more worried than he'd been when they first arrived.

"I'll have to scale the wall.” Meren's eyes were bright with the prospect of a climb.

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 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 pop in, look around, then climb back over. Okay?"

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

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Which she'd tried to be. She'd silently tossed a rope over the wall, dexterously climbed it, and landed lightly on the other side. Then she'd crept 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 made it halfway across the town when her scout training failed.

With 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 the remaining wall not chosen this moment to collapse. Most of the stone rolled harmlessly but loudly in the other direction, but a few rocks joined her inside the new hole. As Meren stood on a shaky ankle, one of the smaller, far more enthusiastic stones ricochet off the cellar wall and beamed her on the back of her head. When the world went dark, she wished her brother had fewer legs.

Part 3 can be found here.

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