Hidden Magic - Chapter 6

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Meren retrieved the rope and stashed it back in her bag. Only then did she realize that she'd had her back to Phillip the whole time. When she faced him again, it was to find that he remained where he stood with a sad, distant look on his face, as though he was thinking hard about something. It wasn't until she'd walked over and poked him in the arm that he snapped out of it. As he blinked down at her, Meren noticed that his eyes were an uncanny shade of dark brown, almost a black. Was that because he was human or because he was a wizard? "I'll lead you to the edge of our lands. Be sure not to come through here again because the other guards won't be as kind."

"Trapping me in a hole is kind?" When he saw Meren frown he bowed his head, letting his now rather-mussed long hair fall over his face. "I didn't mean- look, thank you for getting me out and fixing me up. I do appreciate that, elf-girl."

He sounded sincere enough. Meren nodded as they began walking at the speed of his slight limp. "It's fine. And I suppose if you're going to keep showing up, I should ask you your name. I'm Meren."

"Surprisingly pronounceable. I'll try to remember that for the next time I need a healer... not that if I get hurt, I'll wander around a forest, of course. I'm Phillip."

Now that they were being civil to each other, Meren wasn't going to wait on asking the thing that had bothered her since she found him in the pit. "Why were you here this time?"

There was that sad look on his face again that made Meren regret asking. "I'm trying to get home. My master-" he stopped in mid-sentence to glance over his shoulder.

"Isn't here," Meren finished, assuming that that was who he was looking to avoid. She was sure of that; anyone wandering this area wouldn't be doing so undiscovered for long, whatever this "master" was.

As he gulped audibly, Meren was sure that she'd hit a sore spot. He whispered to her, "No, you don't understand. He's... horrible, evil, unhinged. He may not be here, but what if one of his servants are?"

Now Meren was entirely confused. Why would servants be a problem? Didn't humans just use them for pouring tea or watching their children or something? Clearly this was a cultural misunderstanding. "Come again?"

Phillip shook his head and continued in a low voice, "You don't want to understand, elf-girl. Trust me."

Whatever had gotten to Phillip had obviously upset him and she didn't think he was faking that fear. Deciding to change the subject to try to calm him, she said, "Alright, I won't ask. Where is your home?"

Phillip loosened his grip on his quarterstaff, his knuckles fading from the white that they'd become. "Birchlyn. It's a village-"

"To the southwest," Meren answered with a smile, one previous mystery solved. So that was why he spoke the halfling language! She knew that to be the nearest town to Woodedge, a halfling village and, oddly enough, where the shorter side of her family was from. Since he was local, that would mean that he had at least heard of the forest he'd ended up in. "You overshot when trying to get there and ended up in the outskirts of Fayiron."

For the first time she saw him give a genuine smile, which made him look a lot less haunted. "Then I am close to my destination. That is good to hear!"

Meren was extremely curious about those halflings who must have taught him their language. He was quite fluent, so it was likely that it wasn't something he'd picked up secondhand. She was just about to ask him more about his home when she was startled by horrible laughter to her right.

They'd left most of the trees behind them and Meren's curiosity had distracted her from just how out in the open the two of them were.

They were surrounded.

There was that orc she had wished for earlier and two more of its kind. But even worse than that were ... well, they had to be what Phillip spoke of earlier.

A chill ran through Meren's body as she was hit with deja vu from her time stuck in a hole. Here was a handful-- flock? Horde? Graveyard? Words flipped through her head-- of skeletons, which were upright and walking towards them, clinking as they lurched forward. Gripping her bow tightly, she drew an arrow from her quiver and put it to the string. If these things thought they could just stroll into her home, they had another thing coming to them. She had a feeling arrows would only harmlessly go through the more boney enemies and looked over at Phillip, her only backup in this situation. He had frozen in place, trembling and eyes wide.

Careful to keep the monsters in her line of sight, she nudged Phillip in the shin with her foot. It wasn't the injured leg, but it was enough to get him to scowl at her. Annoyance replaced fear, which had been her intention. "Now what?"

Before Phillip could reply, one of the orcs began to speak.


"A new friend? Too bad for her we'll have to kill her, too," the orc said in the human tongue. Phillip glanced over at Meren, worried about her reaction to that statement. Upon seeing her expression of complete incomprehension, he realized she had no idea what the orc had said. One small favor there.

He took a deep breath to keep his fear under control before speaking. Perhaps they would listen if he sounded like his master... "It was a waste of time to follow me, was it not? Don't you have something more important to do than follow one worthless apprentice?"

No such luck. The orcs only sneered at him while the skeletons, lacking faces with which to emote, remained still, which disturbed him even more. If he could get the orcs away, the dead things might follow. Another glance at Meren showed him that she had raised her bow. In theory she'd be be willing to cover for him with it if his idea didn't work.

He reached into the neck of his robe to retrieve the amulet and tugged the chain over his head. Assuming what he hoped was a powerful wizardly stance, but worrying he simply looked like a ragged, injured, terrified boy, he thrust the amulet forward. Doing his best to make his voice boom, he demanded, "Stand back or I'll unleash the full fury of this arcane amulet!"

To his amazement, this worked. Partly. The orcs stepped back, looking nervously between themselves. Phillip gave a quiet sigh of relief. Now the trick was getting the amulet to do something. For all that his master had desired it so much, he'd never actually used it, or if he had, it wasn't in his apprentice's presence. He concentrated deeply on the charm danging from his hand, trying to weave the power he controlled around it. Preoccupied by this, he didn't notice that Meren had begun chanting next to him until the stone began flickering between purple and green. After a few seconds it settled on a deep blueish-purple, as though both colors had combined into one.

Suddenly struck by what felt like a bolt of lightning, or as though a cat the size of an elephant had rubbed against his leg, he fell to his knees. As a cloud of purple smoke engulfed him, he couldn't see, he couldn't breathe. His lungs were on fire, his skin tingled, his head rang. Never had his magic done anything like this!

While he gasped and wheezed, something groped for his arm and he flinched back, knowing what kind of horrible things were near. When he saw the tattooed vines on the hand rather than bones or claws, he stopped trying to pull away. Leaning heavily on Meren and his staff, he was able to get to his feet as the smoke began to clear, but something was wrong. His lungs continued to ache and he felt a draft on the back of his neck, which contrasted greatly with the hot tingling of a moment before. And his hands, they looked so strange, unless his sight was still blurred from the stinging fog...

Meren gasped, staring at him with her mouth open, but before he could ask, the sound of approaching rattling made him look past her. The monsters were approaching again, no longer held back by the smoke that had all but dissipated.

Phillip was at a complete loss. He couldn't run, he could barely breathe, and what would happen to a spell if he couldn't stop coughing while trying to recite the necessary words? He was defenseless; all he'd be good for would be getting in Meren's way as the monsters sent after him got her, too. Perhaps if she could get back into the thick part of the forest, she'd lose them.

His mind now made up in a decision he couldn't really comprehend, he found the elf's hand again. He dropped the amulet into it and whispered hoarsely, "Run, elf-girl. They want me, not you."

Her reaction surprised him as much as his own had. Meren looked up at him, her green eyes narrowed, and shook her head defiantly. "This is my home. My land. My magic. They have to get through me."

Before he could do more than blink at her vehement reaction, she dropped to the ground in a crouch, letting go of her bow to clutch the grass, keeping the amulet in her one hand. As the monsters neared, she began to chant in her unfamiliar airy language. Hoping she knew what she was doing, Phillip gripped his staff tightly with both hands, pushing back the pain in his ankle and the ache that still filled his lungs. If an elf was willing and brave enough to face monsters obviously arcane, then a wizard darn well could do the same.

(Originally written and shared in October 2011)



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