Sep 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. He was about to give up the search when a ball of flame shot 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 until the rock began to emit a bright glow. This was 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 in the head 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 from where he guessed the blast had come. As he approached yet more fallen masonry, he heard a weak shout from somewhere nearby. Whatever it was, it wasn't a language he knew, but it didn't sound threatening so he followed it. He was led to a small hole in what seemed to be a much more 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. It didn't matter that whoever this was wouldn't understand him. At least he'd given warning. "I'm going to drop this in so we can see."

Whatever was down there stopped blathering, as though it knew he was trying to help. He thought for a moment. No, definitely a she, which probably meant the centaur he was asked to find. How was he supposed to lift up a horse? The eyes moved 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 stared. She was neither the centaur he'd been expecting nor the orc he feared it would be. 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 his age, but with elves that guess could be decades off. She was garbed mostly in 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 her skin 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.” 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 it, anyway. He reached into his bag for the rope he'd picked up at the wall. "Hold on.”

He dropped it down and within seconds the girl had scampered up, 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. She was about a foot shorter than he was, which was normal for an elf, he supposed. To Phillip’s relief, the frantic, scared look was now gone from her eyes. 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.

She bit her bottom lip and stepped further away from the crumbled building, then dipped her head. "Thank you greatly for getting me out of there.”

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

The girl broke into a chuckling fit that she tried unsuccessfully to hide behind her hand. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then asked, "Kryro? Frightening? What, did he get tangled in a tree and bring it down on you?"

Okay, that was maybe why he thought "halfling.” Her laughter certainly sounded like the ones he'd known. But he hadn't known that before trying their language on her... Crossing his arms over his chest, Phillip frowned. "I'm serious. There was a tree involved and he was beating a gate with it."

She looked at him for a second, then raised an eyebrow, shifting the vine tattoos near her eyes. Phillip found this surprisingly charming and 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 and she stopped mid-sentence to start again. Did all elves jump annoyingly from subject to subject like this? "But how did you find me?"

"There was a ball of fire.” Phillip stared at her as he said those words. Surely this small elf hadn't... "Did you do that?"

She had to be 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 fidgeted with the glowing rock, tossing it from hand to hand. "I thought I'd imagined that. I was so frightened and worried.... then this necklace thing I picked up felt warm and then that...that fire thing happened."

This called Phillip's attention to the simple necklace hanging from her neck. In the light of the magicked rock, it almost appeared to have a dim green glow. Could this be what his master was looking for? As the pair made their way over to the nearest part of the wall, he tried to recall exactly what the old wizard had said about it. From the girl's comments and what he thought he remembered about it... yes, it was likely one and the same as the item he sought. Even if it wasn't, something powerful enough to cause elves to shoot arcane 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 she 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 touched the stone of the necklace. "This, you mean? I did find it. Yes, I am."

Phillip cursed silently to himself. Time to turn up the charm. "But do you think I could have it? I did rescue you."

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

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. When both of them were back on the ground, he started 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 deep in sleep. He gently removed the amulet with the now purple glow from around her neck. He thought briefly of leaving her there and darting off, but a 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 two days and that human still had not come back, either. He knew he shouldn't have trusted a shady-looking human. 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 a 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. Kryro galloped over. "What happened to her?"

The human lowered Meren to the ground, gently Kryro was relieved to see. He hesitated for a moment, then stood, 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. Blinking up at Kryro, her eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. "You're green," Meren mumbled dazedly in Halfling. 

Kryro looked down to see what she meant. He was still the same shades of brown he had always been. Now it was his turn for confusion. "Meer, are you okay? Why would I be green?"

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

That wasn’t exactly an answer. He glanced over at the human who looked posed to run away. When he realized Kryro's gaze was on him, 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 to a vindictive glare as she climbed to her feet, muttering low in Elvish. To the centaur's bewilderment, it sounded much like "Winged creatures of the forest, aid me.” She gestured towards the wood behind them, then point at the human, whose necklace momentarily flickered between purple and green. The 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 bolted, 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, she collapsed to her knees. 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.

Meren 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 bothered him greatly. That had looked suspiciously like magic, but she was no shaman… Kryro 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 pass out for a second time.”

She frowned but listened, 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. Emerald sparks flashed between Meren's hands and grounded 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. He knew Meren would never do anything to hurt him... or at least the Meren he knew would not. The fact that she was sparking and summoning nocturnal animals was worrisome. He had the feeling that they should keep this a secret.


Part 5 can be found here.

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