The Mid-West Mission (Part 5)

“Is that it, up ahead?” Zara asked, leaning towards the dashboard as a settlement appeared to the west of the interstate. Compared to her home city of La Estrella, it was tiny. Not a hint of a high rise or skyscraper. At a guess she’d have thought the tallest building was four stories at best.

“That’s Watertown. We’ll be going past the outskirts. Brading’s to the east.” Albert explained, double checking the GuideLight mapping app on his phone. “There’s a regular bus service, the town has an elementary school but for anything beyond that? They all come here.”

Zara was quiet as the city drew closer, nibbling on the tips of a lock of hair. Summer was drawing to a close, so their surroundings were bright and the plant life still vibrant. “It’s different out here to what I was expecting.” She finally spoke, staring out the window at the city as they skirted past it on the interstate. “But I’m not sure what I was expecting.”

“You’ve spent most of your life in one of the largest cities in America, Zara. I doubt many of the shows you watch are set out here.” Albert replied, getting into lane for the turn off onto US Route 212.

“Hey, that reminds me! We didn’t cover the other stuff I asked about. Why out here, and how do we even know to look out here for this new hero?” The blonde suddenly asked, shuffling about in the passenger seat to focus on her uncle.

Albert was quiet until he got a little further out from Watertown. “We’re not sure as to why it would be someone out here. We know it is someone out here due to the efforts of mystics, seers, and those more attuned to the mysterious sides of our abilities.” A smile crossed his lips. “We actually have your father to thank, in a way. He suggested a while back that we use the information gleaned from the more magically-inclined by running it through a computer system with the ability to match references and draw up shortlists to investigate.”

“B-VOS.” Zara stated. The AI that helped run the day-to-day activities of VIGIL could process vast amounts of data in a short length of time. “So we know where to look. How do we know who we’re looking for?”

“With the help of an artifact on loan from the Ravensburg Museum, and good old fashioned leg work.” Catching her confused look, he went on. “We ask about town. Find out if anything strange has occurred. Unusual sporting achievements, miraculous saves, feats of strength.”

“Narrow it down and then use the artifact to verify?”

A proud smile was shot her way. “That’s right.”

 

Miles of rural countryside passed by before Zara sat up, seeing a small settlement come into view. “Is that-”

“Kranzburg.”

Zara slumped down in her seat. “I bet Adam’s battling the L.E.Mentals or busting a InterCon smuggling ring right now.” She sighed.

“Your brother did offer to let you shadow him. You were the one who wanted to go on a ‘proper mission’.”

The fledgling heroine couldn’t help but laugh. “Funny thing is, I passed on that as I didn’t want to be in the shadow of family. Now I’m in a car with my uncle playing spot the silo.”

“It’s important for us to make contact and extend an offer to this new hero.”

“Because Libertas never joined?” Zara guessed, getting a nod of acknowledgement.

“Plus some of the more science focused among us are hoping to get an avatar-class newline in the scanner to gather information on their nature. Their powers are limited outside of their country of origin.”

“And VIGIL has scanners in the US, one on the space station, and one north and south of the borders.” The teen guessed.

Another nod from her uncle. “Plus… It’s been nice spending some time with you.”

He sounded a little low as he spoke, so Zara leaned over to peck him on the cheek. “Don’t mind my grumbling, Uncle. I’m just not used to being this far from civilization.” She joked. “It’ll be better when we finally get to Bra- is that it?!” Her excited tones filled the car as she spotted another cluster of buildings coming up on the road, just south.

“That’s Goodwin.” Albert chuckled, patting her on the shoulder as she flomped back onto her seat. “We’ve still got a ways to go.” The sound of teenage disappointment was one the father of three was used to. “I might regret this later but… you can put another album on.”

That was all it took to perk Zara up again. “Don’t worry, it’s not Tokyo Dragonboyz!” She proclaimed, rooting through her bag to find a certain jewel case. A CD-R was quickly pulled with it, a rough scrawl of black marker pen on the front of the disc. “I burnt the Ultramachines album leak!”

As technoscreeching burst forth from the speakers, Radiant wouldn’t be regretting it later. He was regretting it right then and there.

 

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The Spelling Circle

They met every Thursday morning at ten in the little tea shop on the hill. If the weather was good, they’d get one of the outside tables and sit in the sun as they chatted over tea and cakes.

The weather was not so good today. Rain drizzled down and puffy grey clouds covered the sky. The conservatory of the tea room was nice and warm, and one by one the older women filed in after hanging their coats up and setting their umbrellas aside to dry.

“Tangerine Sage.” Mrs Barrett said with a solemn nod as she poured herself a cup. “I swear by it for all my remedies.”

“You and your sage,” Ms Maynard sighed, the spoon she was holding lightly tapping against the inside of her cup as she added the milk. “It’s no good for purification rituals. Rosemary’s the ticket there. Nothing ousts malign spirits like rosemary.”

“No, no, no, no, no. You need yew.” Dr Harris interjected as she joined the table, her greying hair pinned back in a tight bun. “Once you know how to deal with the toxic aspects of the plant it will revolutionize your spells. It cuts the effort needed for a exorcism in half at the very least.”

“The Doctor is only saying that because she has several yew trees in her garden and wants to sell components.” Mrs Talbot spoke up, placing the selection of their usual slices of cakes on the table. “Sea salt is all I need for ridding a home of spirits.”

“Ladies, we will have time for comparative discussions on components later.” Ms Yves declared. She was the eldest of the older ladies in the club, and commanded them to silence with a tap of a cake fork against a plate. “I’ve the minutes of our last meeting and apologies for today, then we have a new addition to welcome.”

Noting where Ms Yves, chairwoman of the Spelling Circle was looking, the four turned their head to spot the new arrival to the village lingering just by the precipice to the conservatory. She was barely out of her teens, blonde with straightened locks and thick rimmed glasses.

Knowing she’d never get them settled to get on with things until she introduced the young woman, Ms Yves sighed and cleared her throat. “Ladies of the Circle, this is Miss Randall, and she has just moved here from London.”

There was a commotion around the table as they shuffled their chairs out to make room, fighting with one another to secure a spot near them for the new blood. With Lady Bessingham away for the moment, Mrs Oakley in hospital for a hip operation, Professor Williams on her luxury cruise, and Ms Sanders excusing herself for feeling under the weather, they had gravitated to a smaller table for this week’s meeting.

“I-it’s nice to meet you all, Ms Yves has told me so much about you.” Miss Randall replied, carefully heading over and taking a seat near Dr Harris. The Spelling Circle were legendary, she had all the books written by members over the years. In fact, getting her library down into the converted almshouse had been the hardest part of her move.

“It’s nice to meet you too.” Mrs Talbot spoke. “Now, the most important question… what cake would you like?”

Red Eye

“What’s with the sunglasses?” The receptionist asked as he came into the lobby from the outside. The eyewear in question was a large pair of mirrored, wrap-around shades that looked straight out of the nineties.

“Winter sun.” He shrugged, signing himself with with a touch of his ID card to the NFC reader. “Any cancellations today?”

“No.” The receptionist said with a shake of her head, looking amused at the businessman in the fine suit with the radical shades. “Your first appointment is in an hour.”

“Thanks, Justine.” He smiled. “Have a nice day.” With that, he headed for the elevator up to his office. There was no one else in the cab, so he had the chance to quickly lift the shades up and peer at his reflection. He only looked for a second before slamming the glasses back down, his face blanching at what he saw.

 

“Morning, Rob!” One of his colleagues called out as he exited the elevator. “I put those files you needed on your desk. You all right?”

“Yeah, a bit of a late night is all.” Robert replied, pausing by the communal fridge to get a bottle of water out. “I’ll take a look at it before my ten o’clock.”

“Burning the candle at both ends?” The young man asked, falling into step with Robert as they headed towards his office. “Wild parties?”

“If only, Carl. Lots of reading.” Robert said, waving to the younger man as he slipped into his office. It was modern, expensive, with a lot of polished glass, black wood and metal trim. It also had a good look over the bay area outside their regional branch. Shutting the blinds, Rob sat at his desk and pulled a small compact mirror from the top drawer. With a slight tremble to his hand, he lifted his glasses to stare at his reflection again. One eye was fine, the iris a pure blue and the rest a clear white.

The other was an angry fracture of red capillaries. As he focused on the bloody eye, flashes of memory from the night before came back to him. The old tome, the mysterious scrawl that seemed to crawl along the pages. Shadows that twisted and turned before a lance of something shot through his pupil. Something stirred in the red orb. Revulsion washed over Robert and it was with lightning speed that he pulled the glasses down and took a long gulp from the bottle of mountain spring water to try and settle his stomach.

Robert Carmichael had a job to do. Any consultation with the secret society who sent him the leather-bound book with his introduction contract would have to wait until the evening..

Fleets of Flies

The alleyway was full of the sickly-sweet miasma of rotting garbage. Try as he might to avoid the black bags and strewn trash on the floor, every so often his foot would nudge against a sack. It would take a brief moment before fleets of flies took skywards, swirling about in the alley at being disturbed from feasting and fornicating.

Pressing the back of his hand to his nose dulled the stench a little, replacing it with the clinical odor of powdered nitrile gloves.

It took a bit of a trek down the alley to get into the clearing between buildings where the white tent had already been set up, along with barricades of police tape separating the rest of the world from the crime scene. Dipping into his pockets, he pulled out the blue bags to slip over his shoes.

“Carl.” One of the forensics officers called, carefully stepping around the little numbered plates to meet him. Jenny Ming was relatively new to the job, and her face had a pale cast to it.

“Jenny.” Special Detective Inspector Carl North nodded in return. His face was careworn, his short cut of dark hair greying at the temples. “May I?” He gestured past the tape.

With a nod, she helped lift it a little for him to slip under, a slight groan coming from the detective. “Back troubles?” She asked with a smile of commiseration.

“Age troubles.” He replied, carefully stretching a little as he straightened. “How bad is it?” He pointed to the tent. Carl could feel the unnatural taint in the air causing his skin to goose pimple. She didn’t speak, she just motioned him over to the door through. A quick glance was all he needed before he turned from the scene with a shiver. “You were right to call.”

The body behind him was straight out of a modern horror film, a skeleton that attempted to escape its confines of flesh. Pushing his senses out, he could feel the stain of dark magic on the corpse. It had a peculiar quality, an abruptness to it. At a guess, someone had tried to work a spell above their level and broke it off before the strain killed them. Had it completed there would have just been a pile of skin behind them and a risen horror somewhere else, ready to do their master’s bidding.

Patching Up – Part 2

“You could at least give me a hand.” Des called as his spear drove forwards to puncture the carapace of another fenmite. The large, tick-like creatures could jump fairly far and the piercing mandibles were not something the former farmer wanted puncturing his hardened leather jerkin.

“The quicker we gather these components,” Zaneer replied as his lithe hands working to pluck plants from the edge of the fenland, “the quicker we’re out of here. Besides, the Captain asked you to guard me while I gathered.”

Whirling his spear Des knocked a leaping fenmite out of its jump to the ground only to drive the point of his weapon through it. “And I only agreed because for some reason she holds you in high regard.”

“Why wouldn’t she? My skills are invaluable, and I was friends with her mother’s family.” The elf mage rose to his feet, brushing down his dark robes with a hand. “Oh, and-” With a flourish of his orb-topped staff, a burst of energy surged forth and past the human. The wave caught the leaping fenmite and sent it tumbling back into the bogs. “There’s your hand.”

“Thanks… smart-arse.”

Zaneer stood outside of the dilapidated farmhouse they had sought shelter in, gulping down the cool night air. His brow was furrowed as he sustained a small spell to vent the aroma of cooked flesh from inside. He was uncertain if he would ever queue up for one of the camp roasts again.

That could wait though. Aside from clearing the air and his lungs, he had another reason to be outside.  Drawing another wand from under his bloodstained robe, Zaneer detonated several bolts of red light in the sky above him. As minutes past stood outside in the darkness, fear started to know in his stomach.

The sight of a blue detonation in the sky to the south bought a sigh of relief from the mage. Steeling his will, he fired off several more red detonations. Base camp responded with a white and a yellow. With a flick of his wand, a green flare soared high above the farmhouse. At least someone back at camp knew they were alive.

Hurrying back inside, Zaneer dragged an old hand cart in front of the door, filled with assorted tools to weigh it down. The chances of anything intelligent and hostile tracking his signal lights was low, but only a fool eschewed sensible precautions.

“Dinner smells good.” Des groaned from the makeshift bed he’d been laid on, his leg still propped up. A poultice had been applied to the wounded and cauterized area, secured by lengths of cloth removed from Zaneer’s own robe, the cleanest ones he could find.

The elf couldn’t help but laugh. “That… isn’t dinner. Do not turn maneater on us, Des, it would be most unseemly at meal times.” Settling down near the injured man, Zaneer offered him the waterskin. “You should drink.”

Des took small sips from it, his weathered face still pale from blood loss and the poison.

Zaneer took the time to re-wet the cloth for his forehead before speaking. “Camp knows we’re out here. There isn’t anything they can do until daylight.”

“Leave a little food for me and get some rest, then. You moan something awful if you haven’t gotten a good night’s rest, I’ve noticed. Last thing I need to deal with.”

Pulling what small provisions he had bought for the trip out, he placed them near the farmer’s hand. “I ate earlier, so finish the rest off yourself.” He lied. “I cannot advise on how best to eat after your ordeal, but I’d say eat little and let it settle first.”

“And as for sleep?” Des asked, shifting awkwardly to get a better look inside the pouch.

“You will have to put up with my moaning as I put up with your screaming. There is a chance that the signal flares might have drawn unwanted attention, and should you take a turn in the night-”

“Fair point. Leg still hurts like anything.”

“It is if you stopped feeling pain when we would have cause for concern.” Zaneer stated. “So if anything changes, let me know.”

Nodding, he settled back down and stared up at the ceiling. Silence passed between the pair for a while before Des finally spoke up. “Got two requests for you.”

“Nothing maudlin I hope?” Zaneer spoke carefully, eyeing the human.

“First one might count. Humour me, as alien a concept as that is to the guy with a staff up his back.” Des replied, his speech lacking its usual fire and pace. “If things go south, get back to the Captain in one piece.”

“It does count. What’s the second?”

“Forty one years and still no idea. Magic… how’s it work?”

Taking a long look at the stricken human, Zaneer mulled the topic over before rubbing at his face with a hand. “Why not, putting it into terms that you will understand will be quite the mental exercise for me.”

A low rumble of a chuckle came from Des. “Arse.”

“Quite.” The elf smiled. “So, magic.”

Patching Up – Part 1

“Am I dying?” The former farmer asked, laid out on the ground with a leg propped up onto a barrel. His skin was pallid and clammy, and his voice hushed.

“No. There are two simple reasons as to why you are not dying.” The man tending to his wounds chuckled, working delicately with a pair of needles to remove the poisonous barbs digging into the elevated thigh. “The first is that if you were to die, I would have the satisfaction of no longer having to tolerate your company.”

“I hope the second reason’s better, because the first would also mean I wouldn’t have to put up with you… you prim, pointy-earred prick.” The patient laughed, soon trailing off to lead into hoarse gasps.

The elf’s laugh filled the abandoned farmhouse, his hands keeping steady as each barb was removed with careful motions and placed into a dish. “Oh, much better. While I may be a humble mage-”

“Humble?!” The farmer’s chuckle had him wheezing again.

“Humble and incredibly modest. Possibly the most modest in this entire cursed land.”

“No… more… hurts to laugh…” He gasped, before his carer was up and adjusting his head to make sure the airways stayed open. The addition of a cool, damp cloth placed on his forehead brought some comfort to the fire raging through his veins.

“I’m not a physician, but I am familiar with anatomy. Your leg is elevated, to reduce the bleeding. The trifling amount of blood you have lost was tainted with poison so that is some small blessing.” He spoke, thankful that the poor light in the barn obfuscated the amount of blood staining his robe. “The materials I have been gathering for my own purposes? Well, some of them can be used to help clean and treat your wounds.”

The farmer was quiet as the last few barbs were removed from his leg, the remnants of the attack that had left a large, deep gash on his thigh. “It’s bad, isn’t it, Zaneer?”

“It, well, Des…” Zaneer took a deep breath. “Cleaning the wound will be the easy part. What comes next? You will need to dig deep and harness all of your surly, bastard-esque qualities.”

It didn’t take long for the mage to sift through his component bag, removing the wooden pestle and mortar as well as some small bags of freshly collected herbs. Pinches of this and bunches of that all ground together. A waterskin provided ample clean liquid to wash out the wound.

“That wasn’t so bad.” Des spoke somewhat awkwardly, his teeth gritted.

The elf looked down at the man with a resigned expression. “The wound is too big for a poultice. You’ll likely bleed out if it’s left open.”

“Needle and thread job, then?”

Setting his jaw, Zaneer slipped a hand under his robe to reach for one of the carefully-grown wands in his caster’s bandoleer. “Alas, I have no needle or thread. If it were cauterized? I would say there’s a good chance you’ll see the rising sun.”

“… Ah.”

Taking as deep a breath as he could, Des grabbed the neckerchief laying near him and wadded it up. “Do it. A chance is better than-”

“An unpleasant certainty?” Zaneer finished for him, moving into position to weigh down his body and secure the injured leg. A small wave of his hand brought the candle up to provide better light. “Draw deep from your soul, you boorish and cantankerous pig. This will not be pleasant.” Power flowed through his hand and into the wand, a tiny orb of fire appearing at the tip of the dark length of wood.

Any retort Des might have offered was muffled by the neckerchief clenched between his teeth. It did not do such a good job muffling the screams.

The Vocal Vale

A pocket of verdant green amidst the greys and blacks of the Pilon mountain range. As soon as Avenar the Erudite, famed Wizard of Skarlshold, set foot in the valley he had found peace. From the gentle breeze that swept through the trees to the soothing sounds of a river flowing over a bed of turbulent rock, he felt the stress of his travels drift away.

His white robes hid the muted, dull surfaces of his armour and relics. The matt metals were a contrast to the glossy white staff he carried, and his short brown hair had been slicked back with a simple gel compound. Walking in to the Vocal Vale, he paused to remove his boots to better feel the soft grasses underfoot.

Legends spoke of an Enchiridion laying in this place, an artefact of the Old Age. They also spoke of other tales, of voices in the wind as it rushed past the venerable trees growing in the sheltered area and of vicious beasts calling the vale home. A smile spread across his lips as small, furry creatures scurried about in the longer grasses and shrubs nearby.

Strolling along, he drew in deep breaths of the fresh air, the smell of wildflowers carried by the zephyr. One legend spoke of a tree stump on an island, where wise men used to meditate. It was Avenar’s guess that it was close to the artefact, and by meditating there remote contact was possible with the repository of information below.

Crossing the river to get to the island he stumbled across though would be a simple matter. Tightening his hold on the staff, he began to form the spellcall in his head. The Language of Magic was complex, and it was only thanks to his mastery of his assembly relics like the staff, and the various pieces of armour he wore, that let him command the powerful forces.

Golden light pulsed from his staff, exciting the air around him as a disk of solid gold energy formed. It dipped slightly as he stepped onto it, before drifting across the flow towards the place he sought. A grove of trees had formed around the stump, providing some shelter for any pilgrims. He could already feel the mass of energy thrumming in the air, brought forth into being from the Enchiridion.

Setting his boots down to the side of the stump, Avenar sat cross-legged on the trunk with his staff laid across his lap. With closed eyes, he focused on the staff in his hands as he slipped into a meditative state.

He had lost track of time when a chorus spoke to him. “Avenar.” The voice drifted across his ears, rousing him from his efforts. “Avenar, you have come to find knowledge.”

Opening his eyes, the sun had set, leaving him in a wind-battered grove with the flowers of the trees glowing softly. “That is correct. I am Avenar the Erudite, here to make contact with an Enchiridion rumoured to lay here.”

“That is we, Avenar. You have come to find knowledge, but will leave with more than you ever thought.” The choir of voices said, their tone and volume driven by the air rushing past the branches. “We are the Trees of Information, tied to this grove and the artefacts of the Old Age that lay beneath us.”

With wide eyes, he considered his words carefully. “I am honoured that you would greet me so warmly. I am eager to learn, and have travelled a long way to come here.”

“You are driven, Avenar. You have great promise, and great potential. But know this; your destiny lies with someone else. All the lore you obtain, the skills you learn are not for your own benefit. They need to be passed down. The seeds have been sown. The Heretic will be born in the coming years. You must be ready to guide him, Avenar.” The intensity of the voice of the vale made him recoil, the lights in the trees glowing brightly as he was buffeted by the forces whirling around him.

“You say many things, but the meaning is unclear!” He replied, pushing himself to his feet. “What seeds? Who is this Heretic? What would you have of me?”

“Open your mind, young Wizard. We will show you. Prepare yourself.”

He barely had time to react before he was overwhelmed by a flash of gold light, and an intense jumble of voices filling his mind.

Pools of Light

I stood awe-struck by the phenomenon that was in the distance.

Pools of light, brilliant and of purest white, had formed on the ground.

What manner of primal force or magnificent being was attempting to break through?

What shone brighter than anything on this clear, crisp spring day?

It was Sol, of course, our home star, reflecting off a remnant of the previous days rain.

But for a fleeting moment in mind before logic took over, the world was ripe with the possibilities of magic and mystery.

Triduan (Part 10)

<- Triduan (Part 9)

For the first time since Emel was banished from her hometown, she felt happy. Not just okay, or all right, but happy. Wandering the joyous streets with Million and idly browsing in shops was a wonderful feeling. The burden of carrying the shopping was easily taken up by the demon she had wound up bound to, the tall and muscular blonde woman easily carrying all their necessary purchases in one basket.

They had raided the apothecary for components for spell powders and potions, replacing what they had used in the chasm and earthwork complex and then some. Time spent at the ironmongers and the outfitters rounded off their travelling equipment with some compact cooking utensils, camp making tools and various items of clothing to make their journey a bit easier and comfortable.

Then had come the fun purchases. Emel had resisted purchasing most of Million’s suggestions, but when it came to a silken red dress with the tiniest trim of white lace, she had relented. “You’ll need something to wear at special occasions on our travels, Master.” Million had told her, holding up a black silk dress against herself. “If you get that, I’ll get this. Then we can get some new stuff for me to wear while travelling.”

As she handed the gold coins over, Emel knew she had to beware the wheedling ways of that demon. Still, she had come to consider her less as a burden and more of a companion. Maybe even a friend.

And so they found themselves, dressed in red and black respectively, stood next to Mel-Krevin who was wearing a gaudy doublet and hose ensemble as he announced the start of the evening’s festivities. Tables had been placed out in the street during the early evening, with a canopy erected over the street to keep away any spring rains that might fall. Each table was lit with thick candles and lanterns hung overhead to provide further illumination.

“Ladies and gentlemen! As Mayor of Mel-daku, it is my pleasure to announce the first of three evenings dedicated to our local brewers, who continue to impress royalty at home and abroad with their fine, flavoursome beverages!” He announced in a booming voice, his facial hair combed as tame as it could be. “On the first night, our cups are dedicated to the good family Renstien, whose beers and ales have sated many a belly on a cold winter’s night.” A huge round of applause went up as a somewhat paunchy man stood to bow, followed by his hawkish wife and children.

“But, we have double a cause for celebration this year. For the Grolog Hive that has blighted our lands is gone! Banished by the power of the Staff of Enar, and the descendant of that same mage who wields it. A millennia ago, he imprisoned the last demon and sealed off their siege. One thousand years later. his many times great-granddaughter has worked a miracle to protect us and ensure our festival could carry on today!”

Emel blushed, looking downwards even as Million drank in the attention, waving magnanimously to the crowd. She desperately hoped that no one would spot the connection between Million and the old tales.

“So, we give thanks today not only to the brewers, who keep trade and interest going in this town of ours, but to the heroines who have done so much for us in such a short space of time! To Emel of Mardalen! And her guardian, Million!” Mel-Krevin roared, his moustache bristling outwards.

The crowds cheered, and the ale soon started to flow. While Emel had been at many celebrations in Mardalen, it was a more conservative place compared to this town. While she made sure to only sample some of the beverages for the sake of politeness, the rich ales and foamy beers left her cheeks red, her ears hot and her lips tingling.

“I can’t believe you’ve not taken anyone up on the offer of dancing.” Million teased, poking her with those long, powerful fingers of hers. “The music’s good, the food’s great, the booze is plentiful. Get out there and have some fun!”

“Million, I’m not going to dance with people I don’t know.” She replied, gulping from a cup of water. She paused when she saw the demon giving her a long, calculating look. It was then that she realised her mistake. Before she could rectify it, Million was dragging her out of her chair and down to where the others were dancing.

“You should have just asked if you wanted to dance with me. And you can step on my feet all you want, not going to hurt much.” She grinned, eyes bright with merriment as she swayed and jigged about to the fiddles, drums and violins that filled the street.

In spite of herself, Emel smiled back. It was better than tapping her feet under the table.

It was much, much later when the mage collapsed on her bed in a fit of soft giggles. Her head swam from the drink, and a combination of food and dancing had left her sleepy. Kicking her shoes off, she slipped out of her dress and under the covers. “Million?” She mumbled, nuzzling her head down on the pillow.

“Yeah, Master?” The demon replied, sat on the floor next to the bed.

“Today was good and…. good.”

Chuckling, Million reached over to lay a hand on the bed. “It was. We can stay for a few more days, right? Rest up, get some information on where to go next? If we find out where the next hive is…”

“Okay. But I don’t-” Emel trailed off, peering out from the covers at Million.

“Don’t what?”

“I don’t want to become reliant on using your powers.” She admitted, her eyelids heavy.

“You won’t. I’ll teach you the language, of course. You need to know it in case of an emergency. But there’s nothing wrong with having the power there and not using it. You need to improve your mage skills too.” Million replied, shifting her hand over to find her master’s.

Mumbling something else, the next thing to come from her mouth was the odd, quite snore. A smile spread across Million’s lips, sitting there for a while before finally curling up on the floor mat.

“Night, Master.”

Jogging back from the grocers with an apple in hand to munch on, Million came to a dead stop as she saw the coach pull into the market place. The guardsmen were from Mardalen. The people exiting from the ornate vehicle were townsfolk. Land owners and wealthy shopkeepers. They had been there on the day they banished their town’s mage for releasing the last demon in the world from imprisonment.

Vaulting up onto the rooftops with a single push of her powerful legs, she scampered back to the hotel room and slid through the open window. “Master!” She huffed, coming face to face with Emel and Shia working on potions.

“Million, there’s a perfectly good door there.” Emel smiled, the physician laughing away. She stopped smiling when she saw the serious look on her companion’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“We need to leave town.” Million sighed, her eyes downcast. “As soon as possible.”

Triduan (Part 11) ->

Triduan (Part 9)

<- Triduan (Part 8)

Everything was soft and warm, with the smell of wild flowers coming from all around her. Snuggling into the covers, Emel let out a long and content sigh. Then came the frightening thought: She had no idea where she was, or how she got there. The last she could remember was-

“Easy there, Emel.” A woman spoke in hushed tones as the mage shot up to a sitting position in bed. Her long brown hair was carefully plaited, and a slender pair of glasses rested on the bridge of her nose.

Glancing about, some clarity soon came to Emel. She was back in her room at the inn, dressed in her nightclothes, and there was no sign of Million. The sounds coming in from the open window were ones of bustling activity and good will, with musicians playing and children laughing. Rubbing at her eyes, she turned to look at the woman kneeling by the bed, a wet flannel in hand. “Where’s Million?” She asked in a slightly groggy voice.

Setting the flannel down in a bowl, the woman reached for a pewter cup filled with spring water. “Have something to whet your throat.” She smiled. “I’m Shia, the town physician, and your friend is just getting some supplies for me. I figured you were due to wake up soon, and thought it best that she was not leaping on top of you right away.”

Gulping the contents of the cup down, Emel sighed with relief. “Nice to… aah, meet you Shia. She’s okay though, right?”

The physician laughed. “Aside from worried about you, she is perfectly fine. You haven’t even asked about yourself yet, Emel.” Chuckling a little at the sheepish look on the mage’s face, she continued. “You passed out on the way back last night. Million carried you here, and has been awake watching over you. It’s just exertion from spell casting so take it easy today, drink plenty of fluids and eat well.” Pausing, she hastily added, “just not alcoholic beverages. The festival is under way as you can hear.”

Slumping back onto the mountain of pillows behind her, Emel’s stomach gave a rumble of hunger. “Sorry to have been a bother.” She admitted. “How much did she say about what happened?”

“No bother at all.” Shia stated, passing over a plate of lightly buttered, thick slices of bread for her to eat. “Million said that you cast four spells at once in a fight to get back the Baton, and you then used the Staff of Enar to destroy the hive.”

Emel was thankful for having the bread to nibble on at that point to hide her emotions. As lies went regarding the closing of a hive, Million was very quick on her feet. The staff belonging to the mage who banished the demons beforehand could easily be believed to do something that momentous. Swallowing, she nodded to Shia. “We only worked it out when we got down there, if I’d have known beforehand, I’d-”

“None of that talk for now though.” Shia interrupted. “Concentrate on resting up. You may be able to do magic, but the power comes from inside you and can easily be over-exerted.”

The door carefully inched open, drawing their attention to it. Million’s head popped around the door and, on seeing Emel awake, she bounced into the room sparing the shortest moment of time to drop the basket of supplies off before flumping down on the covers near Emel.

“Morning sleepy. It’s almost midday.” Million grinned, before peering at Shia. “And she says I’m hard to get started in the morning. Sure, I like to linger by the campfire, and spend a little time stretching and yawning, but I’m up and dressed before lunch. I swear, heroes these days.” She rolled her eyes.

“Be nice, she wasn’t well.” Shia chided gently, smiling in spite of herself. “She’s good to be up and about now, but plenty of rest, non-alcoholic fluids, and good food. I need to prepare these for the copious cases of overindulgence I’ll see tomorrow.” She hefted the basket of supplies. “Make sure you two are not among my patients then.”

“I promise, Shia. Thank you for attending to me.” Emel said with a bow of her head.

“Got a liver like iron, me! No worries here.” Million called, waving to the physician as she left. Sitting silently, she waited a moment before speaking quietly. “I was worried, Master. You were talking to me one moment, the next you were falling…”

Emel placed her hand on Million’s. “Sorry… you did good on explaining the hive though, about the staff?” Her stomach grumbled again.

“I think on my rather large feet.” Her demon replied, before pulling the covers back. “You’re going to get bathed and dressed now and I’m taking you to lunch. Bread and butter’s nice, but not suitable for two powerful heroines.”

“You’re ordering me around now?” Emel asked with an arch of an eyebrow.

“Deputized by Shia, town physician of Mel-daku, to pester and order you until you’ve recovered.” Her demon beamed. “The bath’s already run.”

Sighing, Emel hauled herself out of bed. “Yes, Nurse.” She mumbled. The sound of her companion’s laughter filled the room as she gathered various salts and lotions for bathing with.

A far cry from the subdued town they had arrived in, Mel-daku was awash with brightly coloured bunting and market stalls. As they wandered to a small restaurant set amongst flowered borders, Million explained that runners had been sent out to the nearest towns that morning informing them the festival was on, even as the townsfolk worked overtime to get everything ready.

The burgeoning coinpurse that Million carried wasn’t even touched by buying lunch, despite Emel’s repeated pleadings. “You have done so much for this town,” the restaurateur smiled with a shake of his head, “let me do this for you.”

Million was taking it better than she was. “With the hive gone, their militia can concentrate on other things. The roads will be safer, and no corruption of the surrounding countryside means they can expand more. Maybe even explore the earthworks that way. I think we can let them buy us lunch and stay for free in exchange.”

“I don’t want to get used to this though.” Emel replied with crossed arms, before unfolding them so she could have another bite of the lightly seasoned, tender meat on her plate. “We shouldn’t do good for the rewards, just-“

“For the sake of doing good.” Million said at the same time, before tearing into a chunk of meat with her fanged teeth. “Heard it lots of times before. And you’re right, but remember, you asked to pay and he said no. You can’t force the issue, can you?”

“… Fine.” Emel sighed. “We’re going shopping after lunch though. And paying. I need to replace all my spellpowders and potions, you need some more clothes, and we should take our time to replenish our supplies before we go out adventuring, make sure we’re prepared. The rest of the money we’ll set by for later expenditure.”

“I love it when you get all fiscal minded.” Million grinned, gesturing at Emel’s nose. “Your nose crinkles when you’re thinking on expenditure. Now… important question time: Dessert menu?”

Triduan (Part 10) ->