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.

Sep 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)


Phillip inched around the wall taking care not to make a sound. His reason for lurking was a pointless quest given by his master to find something only mentioned in whispered and vague rumors. It was no surprise to him that the apprentice was the one sent on this fool's errand.

To make matters worse, leads he had followed had led him to believe that the rumored thing did in fact exist and was located here. Here, in the same location as a group of orcs and gods only knew what else. 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 "unhinged," "paranoid" and "shady" would be other words said apprentice would throw into the mix, although most definitely not while in his trigger-happy master's presence. He liked his feet where they were, thank you very much.

As inane as this task was, perhaps if Phillip retrieved the magic amulet it would allow his master to lose some of that horrible paranoia and return to normal... or at least to the level of eccentricity that he had started out. If nothing else, maybe it would please the old man enough that he'd finally advance his apprentice to master 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 the wall as he looped his way around and was caught by surprised when a ruckus of clangs and thumps came from a section of the wall he'd already checked once. When he stepped 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 Phillip could only think of as a tree. As he watched, the stallion- if that was the term for someone with the top half of a human- tossed the large log aside. He let out a growl of frustration and began tugging at the gate with his bare hands, accomplishing nothing more than rattling the iron.

Phillip's sense of self-preservation told him to quickly head the other way, as far from this angry beast as possible, but curiosity led him forward. He crept forward in his soft, silent boots and stopped a few yards away just as the horse-man gave another shout. As Phillip watched, the centaur seemed to give up. He bowed his head low and brought his much-abused hands up to his head to pull at his already disheveled hair. Phillip wasn't sure if that was how centaurs normally wore their hair, but was willing to bet it was from an extended time of frustration.

At a loss about what to do about a distraught centaur, Phillip nervously cleared his throat. 

When the centaur spotted him, he didn't reach for the discarded tree as Phillip had feared. Instead the centaur gestured at the gate. "Please! Your aid I need. My sister in there be!"

And here was another surprise: the pleading centaur spoke his language. While heavily accented, he was perfectly understandable.

"Woah. Hold on." Phillip held his arms out in front of him to deter the pleading in the centaur's voice and bleary brown eyes. "There are orcs in there. I can't just wander in and ask them to hand someone over."

The centaur shook his head hastily, causing the braids mixed into his hair to fling over his shoulders. "No! Gone most of them should be. Her kin cleared them out and left, but never did she leave."

That didn't sound too promising for the missing sister. "But how do you know she's-"

The centaur glared at him with enough vehemence to cause Phillip 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 stare at the gate and Phillip was almost surprised not to see this one melt like the gate to the west, "enter I cannot."

The centaur 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. He did have to get inside, though, especially if it were true and the orcs were all dead, so this would be a chance to appear to do something heroic without that being his actual goal. "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 couldn'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 gave a slight nod. The centaur let out a whoop and swished his tail, then said, "Wait for you here I shall."

Phillip walked over to the rope and yanked to be sure of its strength. It seemed okay, so he quickly tied back his long hair and tucked his robe into his belt. 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 ruin of the town that the thought occurred to him, Wait, how did a centaur get over the wall using a rope?

-----------------------


Meren opened her groggy eyes and blinked dazedly at the dim light. Her thoughts were sluggish and she rubbed the back of her head as she sat up. Where am I? I feel like a building fell on me... As she looked up at the small hole in the ceiling that let in the waning sunlight, she recalled that it technically had.

She groped around for her backpack until 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... No, that was a ridiculous thought. No one would want to break into a village of orcs.

Right, orcs, that was why she was here! She climbed unsteadily to her feet and listened for any sound. Nothing. She could call out, but would alerting a potential enemy to her location be wise? Probably not. But as the daylight faded, she cursed the lack of something useful in her bag. She needed a torch, a candle, anything that lit. She had never needed this before when her people's sight adjusted well to moonlight, so it had never occurred to her to carry a source of light.

She dropped to the ground and extended her arms to see if there was anything here she could use. Her hands found shapeless and unidentifiable debris, but nothing that had potential for fire. Further groping in the dark located her bow, thankfully still in one piece. As it was little use at the moment and she didn't want to lose it again, she unstrung it and tucked into her quiver. When she returned to her exploration, something sharp brushed her finger. She snatched her hand back and wrapped it quickly in the fold of her tunic. Fumbling around blindly in the dark was pointless, unless the point was to jab herself with shards of broken glass. She half stood so she could feel along with her boot and toppled back over when she tripped on something that rolled. She instantly regretted reaching down to see what she'd kicked. Smooth and cool, it could only be bone. She grimaced and forced herself to reach forward. Yes, that was a skeleton. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. As she was 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, the rising panic of being underground, and curiosity, curiosity won out. 

On the lookout for more glass and bones, she inched across the floor on hands and knees until she found what she'd flung away. It was some kind of cold stone 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, then retreated back over to the wall. Within a moment her hands found the cold stone. Hadn't the hole seemed larger, vaster, infinite just 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 would come soon enough. Perhaps in the light she'd 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.

After a fitful night of little rest, Meren was awoken by light glinting off the broken glass and into her eyes. She stood and stretched out kinks from sleeping in a corner. 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. She stepped back until her shoulders bumped the wall. Judging from the shape of its skull and teeth, it had been some sort of goblinoid. This didn't bother her too much; at least it was long-dead instead of recent. Sharing this hole with a freshly dead monster would have been unbearable.

As the day wore on and the little light filtering through the crack in the ceiling began to fade again, something did become distressing: the lack of sky, trees, fresh air. She couldn't go another night trapped here in the dark. No elf could. She began to shout, no longer caring if the attention it brought was something that meant her harm. She cried out her brother's name, general pleading alternating with cursing, anything to catch the attention of something. Anything.

It was to no avail. She shouted until she was hoarse and exhausted, then grasped for her waterskin to drain it of the last few drops. She needed to do something to let Kryro know that she was here- he had to still be out there!- but nothing was down here except some trash and a goblin skeleton. A skeleton that grinned at her from somewhere in the darkness. Darkness underground in a space that seemed to be getting smaller by the minute... What had she gotten herself into?

Exhausted and starting to hyperventilate, she sunk to the ground directly under the gap in the ceiling to try to get as far away from those walls as possible. Again she clutched at the necklace resting against her leather armor. In the dim light of day she'd been able to make out that it was something vaguely green and gold, but also entirely useless as anything except an ornament. When it began to grow warm, she figured 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. Telling herself that she'd only shout one more time, she called in a cracking voice, "Kryro, get help! I'm here!"

Something made her point up at the bit of moonlight and she gasped when a bright flickering of flame shot out of her hand. That got her to stop stressing about being underground. She stared at her hand in utter disbelief and wondered if she was truly going mad. Elves didn't spawn fire and she was pretty sure that halflings didn't, either. She'd been in here for too long. Far too long.

She could almost hear that ex-goblin laughing at her terror. She covered her pointed ears with her hands and shut her eyes. Silently she willed her brother to get her out, Somehow, please! He always called himself her protector although she'd never felt as though she had need of one. Now, though, she took back every time she'd glared at him for saying that. She would gladly accept protection if it meant getting out of here and returning to her trees and the open air.

With her eyes so tightly closed, she failed to notice a small glow of light in the old cellar. The amulet she wore around her neck had turned a shining, gleaming green.

Part 4 can be found here.