natural

The room smelled of leather and wax.  A desk took up most of one wall, a bed another, a small window would have invited in the sunshine if the thick drapes had not been shut against it.  Two candles on the desk provided the only, flickering, light.  A small bookcase, only two shelves and those only half full, was on the third wall within reach of the desk.  There was no door to the room.  It required magic to get in and magic to leave, as per its design and intent.  The creator favored privacy so he could study uninterrupted at his leisure.

He had come to his room that morning to tidy the place up a bit.  He would soon have an apprentice he would be bringing along to study and practice the craft.  However, he had soon gotten distracted in the particulars of a spell he had been toying with.  The few books he did keep were more a set of observations and ideas rather than written spells.  He was of the belief that magic was organic, natural, and couldn’t not be controlled simply with words.  It had to be felt, breathed, tasted, touched, lived.  Some of his peers laughed at him and called him a fool and yet sometimes their magic failed them.  His magic never failed.

Still, they flourished in their schools and their traditional methods, advancing through hierarchal ranks, accumulating spell books and scrolls, accolades and apprentices.  He became the recluse, happy to practice the craft in his own way, confident in his abilities and his assumptions of the art.  He was fine with that arrangement until a recent trip to the nearby town and had resulted in a deviant attempting to rob him of his meagre possessions.  He had called upon his magic to foil the heist.  A passerby had witnessed the exchange and had begged him to teach them.  After a prolonged conversation, it was learned that the passerby, still a child in many ways, had failed in the traditional schools but still wanted to learn.  He saw this as an opportunity to prove his theories were correct.  If he could teach another his methods successfully….

Light sprang from his hand as he finished the spell.  He had called upon the flame from one of the candles on his desk to share its illumination with his flesh, then he called upon the light itself to intensify until it was as though his hand had become a torch.  He pointed his palm at the dark corners of the room to reveal the cobwebs gathering dust in the shadows and that reminded him of the task he had meant to set upon.  Closing his hand the magic dispersed and the light went out.  The candles continued to flicker in the stirrings of his movement.  The room still smelled of leather and wax.  Nothing had changed.  Everything had changed.

and then

IMG_4096

A breeze tugged at the hem of his robes.  He was aware of the slight play in his attire, as he was aware of everything around him, but it held no true interest or concern.  He simply catalogued the wind speed, should he have need to factor it into a spell later, and moved on.  There were miles yet to cover before the sun set on the day and the miles already covered had not been kind.

Puffs of dust lifted away from each footfall and then settled before the next step was taken.  It wasn’t the only sign of his passing, but these marks in the trail were the most obvious.  Not that he expected to be followed, or cared if he was, but he was still mindful of the evidence he left behind.  There were tricks and spells he could use to hide his back trail, but he was in too much of a hurry to bother.

The sun lowered itself upon the horizon, spreading the last of its warmth and glow in shrinking patterns and shapes.  He marked the stretching shadows.  He marked the settling chill.  He marked the changing colors in the sky above.  Each of these could be a factor if his magic was called upon.  Still, he progressed steadily forward.

When the moon decided to slip free from hiding, he would stop for the night and use its muted glow to make a hasty camp and eat.  He would trust his wards, woven into the fabric of the clothes he wore, to protect his short sleep and then in the morning, before the sun had begun to climb free of the opposite horizon, in its chase after the moon, he would journey on.

His destination waited two days ahead of him.  There would be a fight.  Blood would be spilled.  Hopefully not his own, but one could never be certain of these things before they had actually happened.  Still, even uncertain of the outcome, he must go.  He owed it to those who had gone before him.  He owed it to himself.

Thinking of the looming battle stirred emotions best left in check until his journey was over.  Electricity crackled from his clenched hands and fire roared briefly in his eyes.  Closing their lids, but not stopping his forward steps, he took a deep soothing breath and when he opened his eyes again the fire had gone.  He tucked his rage away, saving it to unleash when he arrived and faced his tormentors.  The fire rightfully belonged to them and they would see it in due time.

where there’s smoke

The demon rose from her shadow and plucked the arrow from the air moments before it would have hit her outermost magical shields.  The shaft broke in two as the massive hand in the darkness crushed the missile in its grip.  Then feathers and stone sharpened head followed the split shaft into oblivion as the demon swallowed the weapon into its depths.  While the sorceress had sensed the projectile coming towards her, and had no doubts that her own spells would have protected her from harm, she was still fascinated to finally get to see her guardian in action.

Pulling her gaze away from the demon, she followed the flight of the arrow to see if she could locate her attacker.  The celebrations were still swinging wildly around her and when no immediate threat showed itself she began to suppose it could have been an accident, a celebratory firing into the sky that went errant.  She didn’t actually think that was the case, but it had already been a strange day and wouldn’t discount any theories until she was certain what had happened.  She also wanted to make certain it had been a deliberate attack before she alerted the dragon to it, but sensing its presence in her mind she turned back to see the beast staring at her.

Its snout rose in a sneer and its voice filled her head, “Go find out if it was deliberate.”

She nodded in deference to the dragon’s request and went to find where the arrow had been fired from.  The demon, pulling free from her shadow again, stalked in front of her, sniffing the air to pinpoint the projectile’s path.

The King, noticing the sudden reversal of the dragon’s mood, while shying away from the tremendous amount of heat pouring off the beast’s scales, stammered, “Is everything alright?”

“I doubt it,” the dragon growled, digging its claws into the stone floor and tearing boulder sized chunks free with ease.

A small tendril of smoke escaped the beast’s maw and rose to collect in the domed ceiling of the grand hall.  The dragon had fit through their modified opening after it used its magic to shrink to a quarter of its normal size, which it had done only after circling the King’s castle four times so he, and all his citizens, could see its true form.  And, much as the sorceress had predicted, the King had fumbled over his words of greeting and deference until the dragon had shrunk to a more manageable size for his tiny brain to comprehend.  Even after the festivities had kicked off without a hitch, the King had continued to tremble and cower next to the might beast.  It had pleased the dragon greatly.

The whole day, up until it had felt the arrow’s vibrations cutting through the air as the projectile approached the witch, had pleased the dragon.  It had enjoyed stretching its wings for the flight down from its cave.  It had enjoyed feeling the fear wash over the citizens of the kingdom as it roared overhead.  It had relished the scents of the various dishes that had been cooked and served just for it and the glint of the sunlight casting rainbows around the jeweled offerings.  But then someone had fired an arrow at the witch…

The beast had sensed the witches hope that it had been an accident, but it knew better.  There had been too much velocity, and too much accuracy in the shot for it to have been anything but a direct attack.  The dragon knew what she would find, knew the archer’s death would be quick, if not painless, and knew how much he would enjoy razing this kingdom to ash in his wrath.  The fire swirling within the beast began to ratchet up to an inferno.

clarity for her path

Considering how far she has pushed herself beyond the limits she’d known previously, and that she had come through the ambush with her life, something two of their force couldn’t also say, the sorceress was very pleased to wake cold, aching, and exhausted on the floor of her study.  Finding her feet, a smile testing her lips despite the pain that wracked her body and mind with every movement, she carefully made her way down the hall to her quarters where she nestled deep within the soft covers in search of restorative sleep.

The time she had spent unconscious on her study floor had been productive in allowing her body time to start its recuperation, but had done little to give her the depth and scope of the rest she actually needed.  Her vision swam away from her as she clumsily stumbled and fumbled towards the land of dreams.  Warm color reached for her and she slipped comfortably into its embrace.

Intangibles swirled around her, floating in drifts, and she made no attempt to understand the loving caress of the visions.  She had learned in her training, long ago, that not only was it futile to attempt to control dreams, but trying to could keep her from relaxing deeply enough for her body to repair itself and her magically well to refill.  So, the images splashed on and she drank them in as they came.  Some were terrifying and others were uplifting and she took them all in stride.

The dragon appeared prominently in splotches of red, only to be replaced by the wizard dripping in yellow, and then the black etchings of the dead.  Behind them all the warmth of orange and purple pulsed in time to her heart and eventually those two colors devoured the rest until all her mind hummed in vibrant hues of green.  The tall grasses of the river’s fields swayed in a gentle breeze running down from the mountain passes above.  It was beautiful and serene and the sorceress’s mind finally relaxed to the point it needed.

Then a fire sparked by a lightning strike on the highest peak, turned to an inferno by the previously gentle breeze, leapt from the mountains to eat of the lush grasses, and she felt the fire within her soul burn anew.  Recharged, her eyes opened wide and she sat upright in her bed.

She knew it was foolish to take meaning from her dreams, but she knew she had received a glimpse of truth and clarity.  Fire was her salvation.  Closing her eyes, she settled back into sleep, knowing she would need to be fully rested for her road ahead, to go call upon the dragon again.

in a word, death

She had not survived the jaws of the dragon and placated its anger to be threatened and struck down by mere mortals.  She would not back away, as prudent as it would be.  She quickly surveyed her prey, for the roles had reversed once the fire within her had started to burn wildly, and understood that they knew, despite their numerical advantage, that she was a real danger to them all.

Her ex-apprentice was first to act, he stepped sideways and threw his arms out towards her.  Lightning sizzled from his fingertips and the electricity’s charged fingertips reached for her.  A wave of her hand and the arcs bent backward to strike those standing on either side of the wizard.  One managed to deflect the energy.  The other had been so focused on the spell it was attempting to cast that the bolt caught him unaware and sent him tumbling to the ground.  The smell of charred flesh immediately filled the air and steam rose in waves from his burned flesh.  Evidently he had misplaced his trust in any protection spells he had cast ahead of the melee.

The four remaining adversaries quickly scrambled away, creating distance between themselves so that kind of blowback couldn’t happen again.  The sorceress used the moment of panic and movement to unleash a spell of her own.  She pointed at her original betrayer, the wizard she had once apprenticed, and spoke the single word of dark magic that would stop his heart.

“Xmaerth.”

He fell, mid-step, clutching at his breast.  His protection spells disappeared along with his life, and his body crashed into the mud.  Drops splashed against his pale skin and his sightless eyes sank into the muck.  It wasn’t the torturous death she had wanted in her revenge upon him, but she was satisfied that he would trouble her no more.

She was allowed no time to revel in the minor victory as three spells were slung at her nearly simultaneously.  The archaic weavings of protection she still had wrapped around her absorbed the fireball that had meant to consume her.  Compared to the heat of the dragon’s flames, the fireball wasn’t uncomfortable and was barely discernible at all.  That allowed her to notice the ground sinking beneath her feet as a spell tried to pull her into the earth.  A quick counterspell and the sorceress was freed of its grasp, and then she deflected another burst of lightning.  However, rather than being able to turn it back upon her attacker, she only managed to send the bolts spiraling into the empty river bed.  The standing pools of water sizzled and sent steam spraying towards the heavens.

The sorceress spun to catch the movement of each of the three that still stood against her.  They had finally taken up good positions so she couldn’t not face any of them directly without turning her back on at least one of the others.  She had no recourse left but to clear the field of battle long enough to retreat.  Raising her hands to the heavens she chanted the words, then calling on the last of the energy burning in her soul, she brought her arms down, palms pointed to the ground.  A concussive boom echoed maddeningly, and the ground shifted from the force of the magical blow, as a circle of fire swept away from the witch.  The flames burned everything they touched: grass, earth, water, and stone.  Nothing could resist its appetite.

As her adversaries were distracted saving themselves from the heavenly cleansing fire, she stepped into a hidden portal and safely passed through to her study, where she once again lost consciousness sprawled on the floor.