“As you all should know, maintaining the barrier between the worlds is the most important task of a sorcerer. While it is not as grand as the duty the sorcerers that fight those that would abuse their gifts and harm others seems to be, it is a far more serious one.
“Sorcerers who have been tasked with the maintenance of the barrier have proven themselves to be of the highest standing. Both in magical prowess, and in their very character. That you have been chosen to do this task is the highest honor you could have been given and you should...”
On and on and on. This old man simply would not shut up. He's been droning on like this for hours now. We get it. This purgatory sentence of ours is a huge honor, now can you stop talking about it?
I didn't want to do this. I wanted to be out there fighting evil with the other sorcerers that weren't called to this life sentence. I was thrilled and honored when my teachers said that because of my skill I was being given the most important task a sorcerer could ever have. To be given such an important duty at my young age was almost unheard of. I just knew that they had seen my potential to do the greatest good and were putting me where I could be of the most use. That I was going to do great things with my gifts.
If they'd told me that it was standing around a ball of magic all day I wouldn't have been as happy about this.
Sure, this barrier is important. Every sorcerer was told from day one about it. How there didn't used to be two worlds. How before there was just one. But a small group of people wasn't gifted. They had no magic, no shifting powers, no way of practically protecting themselves against the dangers that our world had to offer. So in a desperate attempt to save these people, Bahati, Amadahy, Aeron, Chenya, and Dauid – five of the greatest sorcerers in that time and since – weaved the barrier, forever separating that world and this.
But since magic can't work without people to keep it alive, a select few sorcerers and sorceresses are chosen to constantly maintain the barrier, working in shifts. No one actually knows what will happen if it goes down. People just assume it will be bad. And they're probably right. And I know that this really is an honor, but that doesn't mean I want it. Let the older people – the ones who have fought their battles and made their names known – do this chore. Don't trap young people like me in here. It's just cruel to do that.
“Kele! Focus! What I'm telling you is important.” Sufficiently chastised, I bowed my head differentially and mumbled an apology.
My teacher sighed in resignation. Glancing around at the other young sorcerers, I saw with a bit of relief that, while I was the only one who had been called out, I definitely wasn't the only one who was bored witless.
“Believe it or not, I understand your impatience. At your age, you want to be out doing things that seem far more exciting and grand than maintaining the barrier. But it is vital work and you should all be honored. There is no more important task than this. If the barrier were to fall, the world that we have worked for thousands of years to keep separate would be exposed to ours, along with its dangers. The noble goal that the Five had in keeping them separate would be undone. This is something that we cannot allow to happen.”
“But surely by now they've developed enough over there that they can handle the risks of this world. Why not just let them know that we exist and if they can't survive, then it's their own fault for not progressing enough in the several thousand years they've had. Why punish us for their inability to adapt?”
I felt more than heard the collective inhale of my fellow chosen students at that bold claim. He might not have been the only one to think it, but Chua was certainly the first one to say it. Of all of us chosen for this imprisonment, Chua was the one I was the most surprised about. The people tasked with maintaining the barrier are known for their calm personalities, and vast amounts of patience, as well as their magical skills. And while Chua may have been unmatched in magic, he certainly didn't have the temperament needed for a task like this. Though it was possible he was chosen for his magical skills. From what I've heard, maintaining the barrier is hard work and takes a good deal of focus. It was why only the best were chosen for it. His magical skills would certainly be useful in this.
But it still didn't make sense that he would be one of the chosen few. Of all the people who I trained with, Chua was the only one that I was ever nervous around. Most of the people that I trained with and under would socialize with the others. During training we were focused and would weave magic as we were told, but outside of training, we would relax.
Except for Chua. I always kept an eye on him when we were in the same room. I don't know what prank was being played on us when he was granted the ability to weave magic. His skills may have been unmatched, but he had an air of cruelty about him. Judging by his willingness to let the people of the other wold die rather than do his assigned duty, I wasn't imagining this cruelty.
The glare that was leveled at him from our teacher was enough to make everyone, even Chua, take a step back in fear.
“The protection of alllife is the calling of sorcerers, Chua. In this world and in the other. Even if they are unable to survive in this world, we know with certainty that have have thrived in the other. Maintaining the barrier is the only way we can ensure that those of both worlds live in peace.
“Despite the lack of grandeur that the task of maintaining the barrier provides, it is not a punishment. It is the truest test of your skills as a sorcerer. While you are in the barrier room, every part of your being is focused solely on the barrier. Never will you encounter a more magically taxing task. While inside that room, there is no room for error. If your mind wavers, the resulting backlash from your powers reacting with the barrier could very easily kill you. I have seen many over-confident sorcerers and sorceresses meet their deaths in this way.
“One more whisper of letting those from the other world learn of this one and possibly die will result in a month of solitude. Am I understood?”
Chua, as I had done earlier, bowed his head differentially and apologized for speaking out of turn. As our teacher turned his gaze away and continued lecturing about the importance of maintaining the barrier, slowly all of us relaxed. Incurring the wrath of the elders wasn't something any of us did intentionally. A month in solitude would have been a light punishment in comparison to what could have been given.
Despite trying to pay attention to what was being said by my old teacher, I continually found my mind wandering to other, more exciting things. However, I made sure to at least look like I was paying attention this time to avoid my teacher's irritation. Thanks to Chua's belligerence, he was in an extremely bad mood. All of us were making sure to be on our best behavior around him until he relaxed.
Gods above why does this lecture have to be so boring? We've been taught about the barrier and its importance since we were children. We didn't need to hear all of this again now that we had been tasked with the job of maintaining it. Barriers in general were simple to maintain magically. All you had to do was focus your magic on it, picturing the barrier in your mind. While it did take practice to learn how to focus your mind on the barrier and the magic being woven at the same time so that the magic would channel itself into the barrier that was in the desired shape, once the basic skill was mastered, barriers did not take a lot of work.
Even the backlash wasn't new information. We'd been warned about backlashes in the early days of learning magic. It happened when you didn't focus your magic properly. It would either build up to be too much for what you needed, or too little. In either case, the magic that was being focused on would literally explode, causing a backlash. Largely backlashes were little more than a nuisance, causing a headache and a small amount of shock as our bodies tried to cope with our magic rebounding and striking us instead of what we were trying to achieve. In rare cases, the shock was bad enough to be fatal, but that always happened because the magics being woven were great and required a large amount of focus. Which brought a question to my mind.
“Elder, you said that many sorcerers and sorceresses died if they had a backlash from the barrier. But isn't the fatal nature of backlashes from magical sources as fast as the barrier the reason that we have many sorcerers focusing on the barrier? Why does the magic from the others not partially shield us from the backlash?”
The approving glance from the elder at those questions caused me to beam with pride. It was rare for the elders to show approval of things we have said or done in so visible a manner.
“You are correct, Kele, when you say that the backlash from the barrier should a sorcerer or sorceress lose focus is the reason we have multiple people maintaining it. While the magic of other sorcerers who are weaving magic with you will protect you from a backlash in most cases, the complexity of the barrier makes the backlash too strong for the magic of the others to protect you should you lose focus. If you do not concentrate on your task, you will die from this lapse of focus.”
I wasn't the only one surprised at this. While it was well known that some magics were stronger than others, a magic that was so strong that the support of the strongest sorcerers alive couldn't protect you from the backlash was unheard of. Judging from the expressions of the other students, they were just as shocked at this revelation as I was. Perhaps I should have been listening to the elder's ramblings about the barrier after all.
After a few moments of stunned silence, my teacher continued talking about the barrier and reinforcing its importance to us.
After listening to him talk for a few more hours, though this time actively paying attention to what was being said in case it was as important to know as the backlash being fatal, he opened the door that led to the barrier room.
The room itself was simple. I circular room with a focus – in this case an image of the barrier – in the center of a circular pedestal. Standing quietly around the pedestal were five sorcerers, all of which had their hands placed on it.
As impressive as the focus was, the first thing that I noticed was the magic itself. Despite being connected with the arcane arts, and feeling magic all of my life, this was the first time its presence in a room was so strong. The energy coming from those sorcerers was practically visible it was so intense.
We had barely taken a place to quietly observe when the door opened again and five more sorcerers entered the room, standing next to the first ones and focusing their magic on the barrier.
For the briefest of moments, the energy in the room dropped slightly as the first five removed their hands from the pedestal. But in the next instant, the magical energy was the same as when we first entered the room, the second shift pouring more of their magic into the focus.
Feeling my teacher gently tap my shoulder, I looked at him and saw that he was indicating that everyone should leave the room.
“Over the next several weeks you will be trained in the fine details of the barrier. At the end of this training, you will all join a shift in maintaining the barrier for a brief period of time. This will allow you to sense how much magic you need to focus into it without overworking yourselves.
“During the brief times you are on the barrier shift, you will notice that the magic is weaker than before you joined in. This will only be temporary until you have fully learned exactly what the barrier needs from you. This will mean that the barrier is weaker, however. During these times of weakness, all of you need to be focused. If you feel the barrier waver at any point in time, you must lend your aid to your fellow student.
“Return to your quarters. You will find texts on the fine details of the barrier within, details that are not taught to the rest of the students. Your task is to study these texts and know them as well as you know your own magic. That is all for the day. Dismissed.”
Part of me suspected that there was a reason we were shown the barrier at the end of our first day of learning about this duty. I was in so much awe at the magics that I felt in that room, that not only did my complaints about being sentenced to maintaining it disappear, I was almost excited to read the texts that the elders had provided. Laughing slightly at the elder's cleverness, I nonetheless walked to my room without complaint and obediently cracked open the first of the thick tomes.
Despite believing that reading these books on things I had been told about since I was very young would be difficult work, I found to my surprise that it was fascinating reading. The magics used in weaving the barrier were lost to us now; the techniques known but the ability to use them gone. It made reading about these old techniques and weaving arts far more interesting than I had anticipated them being.
Just as I was getting to the details on how to maintain the barrier, I felt something odd. It felt like when I was reaching out to my magic to weave a spell, but something about it was off; though I could exactly place what it was. It felt like there was an electric current running through my body, centering at the core of my magic. It wasn't painful, but it was extremely uncomfortable.
Standing up from my desk, I left my room with the intention of investigating what this was. Every step forward I took made this current stronger, though it still wasn't painful. I was eventually brought to the barrier room, where the current was so strong I was starting to worry I would experience a backlash if I moved any closer to the door.
Hearing a noise behind me, I saw the elder who had brought us to this door earlier.
“Kele, what are you doing here? You should be studying.”
“I was studying, Elder,” I said, “but then I felt something strange magically and was led here.”
At this, the elder gave me an odd, probing look, as if trying to determine if I was telling the truth or not. Closing his eyes, I felt him magically probe the barrier, but judging by his expression, he felt nothing out of the ordinary.
He had barely turned his gaze back towards me when the door burst open and five sorcerers ran out. I barely had time to see that there was another shift in position around the pedestal before their magic slammed into me, throwing me against a wall. Next to me, the elder was also slammed into the wall, both us of help up by their magic.
“Which of you did it? Which of you tampered with the barrier?”
I was so shocked at the accusation, I was unable to find my voice for a long moment. Someone had tampered with the barrier? Surely not. Surely such a thing was impossible. The barrier was the closest thing that sorcerers all around the world had as a sacred object. While we might mention the gods above in oaths, for the most part we were uninvolved with them. But the barrier we all, in some manner, held in something akin to reverence.
“That's impossible. No one can tamper with the barrier. The magics are too old and too great for even our strongest incantations to so much as scratch it.”
“Be that as it may, Elder, someone tampered with the barrier, and it wasn't anyone in the room. The two of you are the only ones outside the door, so it has to be one of you.”
Could the tampering of the barrier be what I had felt?
“You felt it?” The question, barked at me by an unforgiving sorcerer startled me greatly. I hadn't known I was speaking aloud.
“I'm not certain. All I know is I felt something unusual while I was studying in my room.” At the prodding of the five sorcerers, I related all that I had felt and done.
The release of the spells that held me pinned to the wall was so sudden that I stumbled forwards in an effort to not fall to my hands and knees.
“Can you remember anything else about what you felt? Are you certain that it originated here?”
I nearly answered in the affirmative when I paused, a memory trying to come to the forefront of my mind.
“No. I wasn't fully aware of it at the time, more focused on the unusual energy, but it felt like it was coming from outside the complex. As if there was a line of energy being drawn that originated from somewhere outside.”
One of the five sorcerers looked at the elder, and then glanced at me. He nodded and snapped his fingers, and I found myself warped back to my room, the door shut and barred closed. After the initial surprise at this, I let out a resigned sigh and sat back down at my desk.
I was in solitude. I had done nothing to deserve this, but if the others wanted me in solitude, then I was going to remain there until I was allowed out. I decided to at least use the time productively and dug through the magical books to see if I could discover what could have caused that energy that I felt.
I knew that I had an unusual type of magic. It was able to detect powerful spells, but only when cast on a massive scale, such as the barrier room. For me to be able to sense it from a distance, the spell had to have been on an unknown scale of power.
Despite all the knowledge that I had at my fingertips, I could find nothing that would possibly tell me what it was that I had felt. Or what it was that had affected the barrier.
An hour of studying later, food and water was sent to my room. When I saw it, I couldn't help but breath a sigh of relief. While I had known that food would eventually be supplied if my solitude hadn't ended by then, the food they sent was of a good quality. Whatever the reason I was confined to my room may have been, it wasn't a punishment.
On the third day of solitude, I felt another current of energy run through me. It felt like what had happened the last time the barrier had been tampered with. As much as I wanted to see what was happening, with my door barred, there was nothing I could do.
After five days of solitude, with food and water being sent to my room periodically so that I wouldn't starve or get dehydrated, my door unlatched. Recognizing the summons for what it was, I marked my place in the book I was reading and left the room. Solitudes were always followed by a meeting in the Council room. In most cases it was to see if the student had learned the lesson provided, but since I wasn't in trouble, I had no idea what the meeting would be to discuss.
When I arrived, the formality of the elders caused me to pause and wonder if I wasn't being punished after all. For all the elders to be in the same room was rare. They only all met in dire times.
“Kele. We have spent the last few days discussing what happened with the barrier.”
“If I may, Elders,” I spoke up, taking a great risk by interrupting the elders. “Two days ago, I felt another current of energy, exactly like what had happened with the barrier five days ago. Was another attempt on the barrier made?”
Despite the elder's annoyance at my interruption of her, she did not punish me as I had expected she would.
“You are correct. Another attempt on the barrier was made. We are not certain who or what is causing these disturbances. Nor do we know what affects are being caused.
“Kele, as you are the only one who has felt these disturbances, you are being tasked with discovering who is causing them. You are also being tasked with discovering what changes have been made. In our world and the other if necessary. In your room you will find a bag with all the tools we have deemed necessary for this trip. You will have two hours to go through this bag and add anything you feel you will need.”
Despite my fear at the large task I was being assigned, I couldn't help but feel excited by it. This was what I had hoped for. The chance to discover the world, see what it has to offer. Perhaps I would even become as well-known as the Five, or other great sorcerers known to history.
Making sure to keep my expression neutral, I bowed to the elders and backed out of the room.
As I had been told, there was a bag on my bed. Looking through it, I saw a round blue stone, slightly smaller than my fist. A speak stone. I was expected to report to the elders periodically. A note next to it told me how frequently they wanted these reports. There was also a canteen of water, and about a month's worth of food. Beyond that, it would be up to me to provide for myself.
A pouch so small I almost missed it was in a side pocket of this bag. Opening it, I saw gold, silver, and copper coins. A note next to it told me that I was being provided fifty gold, two hundred silver, and five hundred copper. Should this supply of money run dry, I could ask for more, but if I was found to have spent the money frivolously, I would not be allowed it.
The only things I ended up adding to the bag were my clothes and a few books. Then, focusing my magic, I opened up my Pocket, placing only the pouch of money on my person and the rest of the bag's contents inside the Pocket.
Taking a last glance around my room, I realized that I would need at least some bedding for the times where I wasn't in a town and there was no shelter available. Weather could be unpredictable and while it was a simple matter to conjure a campsite, having a few things already on hand would make the task a little less strenuous on my magic.
Deciding that I was as ready as I could be for the task I was assigned, I headed, for the first time in a very long time, outside of the compound. I had no idea where I was going to start, or how to go about asking for information on the barrier, but I hoped that ideas would come to me if I simply set out.
I was tempted to let out an oath the the gods. The elders had made this task harder by keeping me in solitude. Magics on the scale of the two that I had felt before always left a residue that I was able to detect for at least a small period of time. Where I had thought before that I was remembering the energy coming from outside the complex when questioned about it, it was more likely that I was detecting the residue of that spell; the stress of being questioned about what I had felt making me unaware of it at the time.
By keeping me trapped in solitude for five days after the first current, and two days after the second, all residues were completely faded beyond my ability to sense them. If the elders had just come to their conclusions at a faster pace, I would have had at least a slight trail to follow. Instead I had nothing to go off of.
Letting out a frustrated sigh, I found a large flat rock and reached out my hand into my Pocket. Pulling out the bag, I dug through it until I found what I was looking for. I pulled out a large map of the continent, placing it on the rock with four small stones to provide an anchor.
Studying it for a long while, I considered the type of magic I had felt. Even with a vast number of sorcerers, a spell being woven on the scale that I had felt couldn't have been done without three things. First, something to channel the magic would be necessary. But as objects of that sort were common, that wasn't of much help to me. Less helpful was the fact that catalysts came in every shape and size imaginable, as varied as we sorcerers were.
A focus would also be needed, so that the spell would have a direction to go towards. Again, focuses were common among places of sorcery, and even more varied than catalysts. They ranged from magical images of the target of the spell to mirrors. It was even possible that a picture of the barrier, if done exceptionally well and was highly accurate, could be used as the focus. Those weren't as common, and pictures of the quality that would be needed to be a useful focus were even less common. But without knowing for certain if that was what was being used, I couldn't search for people with the knowledge and skill required to make such a picture, nor could I search them out.
The last thing that was required was space. My teachers had always described the magic we wove as needing room to breath. The more complex the spell, the more breathing room that was required. A small spell like starting a campfire wasn't complex, and so could be done in a small area. A spell as complex as the one that was disrupting the barrier would require a vast amount of space. This would be the starting point for my search.
The nearest place that possibly had enough room to weave this spell was about three days travel to the west. Though with the harsh terrain that the quickest path provided, it would likely take two to four days longer than that.
My path decided, I carefully replaced the map and placed my bag back inside my Pocket. For a brief moment, I wished that I had the long staffs that training sorcerers needed. A walking stick would be a boon for a journey such as this.
The first half day of traveling wouldn't be difficult. The path was smooth, and it would be a simple matter to make good time traveling it. The problems would come later. The path hit rocky terrain that was impossible to navigate unless you were traveling by foot. To avoid this terrain, it took a lengthy path around it. While traveling that path would be easier, it would also lengthen the journey by over a week due to its length. If I crossed through the terrain, it would be harder, but it would only take a few days longer than I would have liked.
Even though I had decided on taking the more difficult route, I was still not looking forward to it. Part of me wanted to take the longer path simply because it was easier. But even though it hadn't been expressly said, the elders had strongly implied that time was of the essence for this task. This meant that the longer route, while easier, was the one I needed to avoid for the sake of speed.
When I had reached the difficult terrain, night was falling. Not wanting to try and cross it in the dark, I found a place to make camp, and after pulling my bedding out of my Pocket, magically lit a small campfire.
My first day of actual journeying was decidedly underwhelming. I was surprised. The world isn't exactly the safest place to be traveling alone. This thought did remind me of a basic precaution I should have taken. Reaching into my Pocket, I pulled out four stones, placing one at the four corners of my camping site. After the last one had been placed, an invisible barrier was erected. While not impervious, it should be enough to give me a warning should something try and attack me during the night.
The next morning, I packed up the campsite carefully, making certain that I hadn't forgotten to pack anything that I might need. I was aware that I was completely uncomfortable. I had, despite bringing bedding, managed to sleep on top of a rock that was digging into my back when I woke up. My clothes were dirty, and there was ash on my face.
Every child hears grand stories of adventures. Of the heroes we all pretended to be growing up. Why did none of these stories mention the discomfort that comes with traveling? I could have laughed. All the time I spent only five days ago bemoaning the fact that my magical skills meant I was tasked with the barrier and not with traveling the land and keeping peace, and now that I had gotten my wish I wanted nothing more than to be back at the complex.
Shaking my head and deciding to work as quickly as I could so that I could be done with this miserable experience, I started picking my way through the rough terrain.
I should have seen it coming. After all, the stones weren't exactly dark. But I was so caught up in my own misery, that I was caught off guard despite everything being in my favor.
I was focused on finding the easiest way out when I loud scream broke my focus. I had barely turned to look when black feathers were all I saw clearly, wings beating on me, though not strongly.
Reflexively, I shouted a spell and threw my attacker back, pinning it against a nearby rock. Of all the things I expected to see, this wasn't it.
She looked like a flier. But the winged ones didn't usually stray from the mountains where they made their homes. And despite only ever seeing a few fliers in my life, none of them looked like her. What on Melith was this girl wearing? Her clothes were far to thin to provide any sort of warmth on the mountains. And I had never seen anything resembling that material before. The only thing that looked normal were the wings. The rest of her was completely unusual.
She was also shouting curses at me. Those were certainly unusual curses. She had an odd accent. Definitely not from the mountains. But with wings that large, it was the only place that made sense.
“Let me go! What's the big idea holding me up like this? How are you doing this, anyway? When I get down from here you're going to regret this!”
“Considering that you won't be able to leave that rock until I let you, you might want to consider being polite to me.” Despite her strangeness, this girl was certainly amusing. “Since when do the winged ones not recognize a sorcerer when they see one?”
“Sorcerer? Winged ones? What are you talking about?”
Part of me wanted to believe this was some sort of trick. That she was trying to make me believe she was clueless so that I would release her. But there was something about her that made me wonder. She seemed genuinely terrified. And that added to her strange accent and clothes told me that something wasn't right.
“I'll make you a deal, winged one-”
“Stop calling me that! My name is Ava! Not winged one.”
“Very well, Ava. I'll make you a deal. If I let you go, you don't attack me. And I'll answer any question you have, if you answer my questions as well.” I could see her studying me just as I was studying her. I was almost impressed. She was apparently unwilling to trust me immediately.
“All right. But only if you promise not to... do whatever it is you did to pin me here in the first place.”
“A fair request. A truce, then.” I snapped my fingers and released her. Perhaps she knew about the barrier. If all went well, I could be on my way home soon. But now that I had a chance to ask her any question I desired, I could think of none.
“What's your name? I told you mine, it's only fair that I know yours.” This girl certainly wasn't shy in stating her mind.
“I don't remember winged ones being so direct. But I suppose you are correct in that I should introduce myself.. My name is Kele.”
“Kele? I'm gonna call you 'Kel.' It's easier.” She seemed to find my irritation at this shortening of my name amusing. Since when were the winged ones so immature? She looked to be close to my age, yet she was acting like a child.
“What are you doing here, Ava?” The question seemed simple enough. But the look on her face nearly had me retracting it. She looked terrified and incredibly sad.
“I... I don't know what I'm doing here. I don't even know where 'here' is. Six days ago everything was normal. Then in a freak accident, these... growths showed up. I couldn't go home. I'd be an outcast. A freak. No one likes what isn't understood. I was just trying to get to a beach so that I could be alone. Then I fell from the sky and next thing I know I'm here. I've been here for three days and I just want to go home even though I can't.”
That was definitely not an answer I expected to here. Winged ones never fell. The sky was their home more than the ground was. So how could one – wait.
“Six days ago? That was when things first became strange for you?”
“What happened to my questions?”
“There's no time for that! I have an important task to complete and I think you're involved somehow. Even if you never wanted to be. Answer my questions, and then you may ask anything of me and I promise to answer it.” She wasn't happy with that arrangement. But she nodded in resignation.
“Yes. Six days ago my life was turned completely upside down. These disgusting things on my back showed up. And they won't even work for any decent period of time.”
“You weren't born with wings?”
“Of course I wasn't born with wings! What kind of insane person are you that you thought for even a moment that these tumors were a normal thing?”
Slowly I was putting the pieces together. She definitely wasn't from these regions. That much I could tell from her clothing. But she might have been from farther away than I had first imagined.
“Ava, if I showed you a map, could you point to where you're from on it?”
I started to reach out to open my Pocket when I stopped. She didn't recognize my magic for what it was when I pinned her to the boulder. If my guess was correct, she had never seen magic before. That meant that if I wanted her cooperation, I would have to go to lengths not to frighten her further.
“I think when you attacked me earlier my bag went flying. The map is inside it. Wait here and I'll see if I can find it.” Walking out of her range of vision, I opened my Pocket and retrieved my bag. Walking back to her, I was relieved that she had cooperated enough to stay were she was.
“I lucked out. It wasn't very far away.” Pulling out the map, I laid it on the ground in front of her.
“Do you see your home on here?”
“What kind of map is this? I don't see anything recognizable on this. What's with this mountain region? There's no way I've never heard of a mountain range this large.”
She was from outside the barrier. Only someone from outside wouldn't recognize the Conleth Mountains. It would appear that part of my task was completed. I had found a change brought about from the barrier being tampered with. But instead of making my task simpler, it was made far more complex. The gods must be laughing at me. This was going to be a difficult explanation. Why she was here I wasn't even about to guess, but since she was here, I had an obligation to at least explain what I could.
“You're in Melith. This land is very different from your own. Here people with wings are common, in some regions at least.” Over the course of several hours I told her about my home, answering her questions as they were asked.
“But why do I have these wings? That's the one thing I still don't understand.”
“The barrier was woven from benign magics. The Five imbued their desire to keep your kind safe. I cannot say with any sort of certainty why you have wings. But if I were to guess, I would say that your fall coincided with the tampering of the barrier. Being benign in nature, the magics that were formed from it must have sensed your danger. The barrier being in an altered state must have allowed the magics to be able to act freely. Your wings were probably given to you in an attempt to save your life.”
“So why am I here? You said this 'barrier' of yours was tampered with twice. I can buy friendly magic trying to keep me safe. And if it was being tampered with both times that I was plummeting to my death, I guess I can buy it only affecting me during those times. I guess I'm just unlucky enough that both times I was falling to my death. But why send me here. It's already proven that it can change me, so why not just give me gills or something?”
“I imagine that the results of your first fall were meant to send you here. Once your wings were granted to you, the magics would have identified you as a resident of this world. They were just completing what they started by bringing you here.”
“Well, your magics aren't very good at their job. These wings that they 'granted' me don't work very well.”
“That I can help you with. I'm afraid I can't remove them. That's beyond my skills. But I can make it so that you can use them more easily. Winged ones are built differently than most people. Their bone structures are different, and they have different muscles. When your wings were given to you, I imagine that the way you were built changed as well. You have new muscles that you haven't trained yet to be strong enough to hold your for extended periods of time. The fluctuation of the barrier only lasted for a small period of time. If it had lasted longer, your wings would probably be fully functional. Instead they're only strong enough that you can use them with effort for small periods of time.
“I can magically bring these muscles to their full strength. You'll be able to use your wings at will, and your frustrations at their slow responses to your commands will cease. But it will hurt. It will very likely hurt as much as when you initially got them."
I watched Ava consider what I was offering. She was, understandably, reluctant to voluntarily put herself through even further pain simply to be able to use her wings; wings that she didn't even enjoy having.
“All right. I'll let you do it.” That surprised me. For someone who hated having wings at all, she was surprisingly willing to put herself through agony to be able to use them. I was impressed.
“All right. And I promise that, if you wish, once my task is complete I'll take you to the elders so that they can attempt to remove your wings.” She seemed happy to hear that.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Absolutely nothing.” Walking behind her, I focused on what I needed to do. Gathering the magic into a single, focused point, I laid my hand directly between the base of her wings, letting the magic move through me and into her, strengthening the muscles.
As I had known would happen, she let out a scream of pain. Loud enough that I wondered if I shouldn't have placed the ward stones down before doing this. They wouldn't have stopped anything from hearing her screams, but they would have bought me time should anything attack.
Mercifully, the process was a short one, and I was soon able to remove my hand.
“Are you all right, Ava?”
“I think so. Though I don't think I want to try out these supposedly enhanced muscles any time soon. Don't you have any magical way to get rid of the pain?”
“There's no need to. It will fade soon enough.
“I do wonder, though, if you've been here by yourself for two days, how have you survived?”
“I grew up on a mountain. I know how to identify poisonous plants, and there's fresh water just over there.” The look she gave me implied that she considered me unintelligent.
“As glad as I am to have helped you, Ava, I do have a task to accomplish. As you were affected by the barrier's tampering, I think it would be best if you came with me. That way, once my task is complete, I can immediately take you to the elders.” Part of me wondered if I would regret this. This girl would never be able to hide in a crowd. Even if she didn't have those large wings, with her clothing, anyone would be able to identify her as being an outsider.“Well, if it's the easiest way to get rid of these things, then fine. I guess I have no choice.”
“Then get up. We don't have time to waste while you sit there and think about the fact that you're in pain.” I didn't wait to see if she would listen to me, instead turning and heading off.
“Wait. Just let me get my bag. It has some spare clothes.”
“Leave it. I have money. I'll get you clothes that don't stand out.” The sooner I could get her into normal clothes, the better. Or at least clothing that wasn't so garishly colored.
“What's wrong with what I'm wearing? I'll have you know that these clothes are very popular back at home.”
“If we were in your home, then that would be fine. But we're not, and you stand out in what you're wearing.” Honestly, how thick was this girl? I couldn't help but roll my eyes. I thought she understood that we weren't in her home. Why would she expect what was popular on the other side to be popular here?
“Did you miss the wings? I don't think I'll be hiding in a crowd any time soon. Where do you plan on finding clothes that will still allow these things to move when I need them to?”
I stopped walking at that. She had point. Fliers tended to stay in the mountains. It would be difficult if not impossible to find clothing for her that would still enable her to fly but wouldn't be so obviously different.
“Do you at least have anything that's not made of such thin material and isn't bright green?”
At that question, she stopped and looked down at her clothing, an almost sheepish grin on her face.
“Yea, I hate this shirt, too. A friend decided that bright green would go with my eyes because they're green. But the shade she picked is obnoxious. I only kept it because she's a good friend. Give me a few minutes to change, I have some darker colored shirts in my bag.”
Walking off, she came back, true to her word, wearing a different shirt, this one a dark red. A bag was slung over her shoulder, presumably the one she had intended to get earlier.
“If you're finally ready to get moving, I've lost several hours already.”
“If your magic is so great, you should be able to just teleport to wherever it is you're going.”
“Teleportation is beyond my ability. Only a very few have the power to do that. The rest of us have to travel the conventional way.”
“Is anything not 'beyond your ability? You couldn't remove my wings, you can't teleport. Tell me. What can you do? Change your eye color from hazel to green when the light hits them just right? Or maybe change your hair color from brown to bright pink. You have to be the worst excuse for a magical person I've ever seen. You're definitely no Merlin.”
“Merlin? How do you know of him? I would have thought that those beyond the barrier would have lost their history.”
“Wait. Merlin was real? And King Arthur? And Camelot?”
“King?” I couldn't help but laugh at her sudden enthusiasm. “Apparently those on the other side of the barrier don't remember their history beyond a few names.
“Yes, Merlin was real. He was the greatest sorcerer ever to walk Melith. And, yes there really was an Arthur. He was the greatest fighter that their hometown of Camelot had ever produced.
“The two were born during the tail end of a war. With Merlin's magic, and Arthur's strength, people rallied behind them. The stories say that they almost single handedly turned the tide of battle. When the war was over, they were the ones credited with the victory. Despite Arthur's fighting prowess, it was Merlin who people remember. He was the one to first master our most complicated spells. Spells such as teleportation. They also say he was the first and last sorcerer to be able to summon creatures of magic to do his bidding, though there is no proof of that. He was the one who trained the Five years later.”
“So is everyone here magical or something?”
“No. The ones who the barrier was formed for couldn't survive for another reason. They were a group of people who refused to fight. Refused to defend themselves for any reason. The barrier came about because another war was brewing. One that promised to be far larger and more destructive than the last. Your first people were starting to be captured or killed. The first calling of all sorcerers is to protect all life to the best of our abilities. Since it would have been impractical for all of us to protect your kind, the five decided to weave the barrier. It took them from the battlefield, but they did the most good.
“The war lasted for centuries, with new sorcerers taking up the call of maintaining the barrier as the years passed. When the war was over, it was decided that your people had been too long away from this world. The shock would have been too great. We also had no way of knowing what changes you had made for yourselves. We were able to sense that there was life, but that was all. We knew nothing of your lives or achievements. For the continued safety of your people, it was deemed that the barrier needed to be maintained.”
“And that was what your job was going to be. But I don't get why you're the only one that could sense the barrier being tampered with.”
“I have a rare gift. One only seen once every few centuries. When powerful spells are woven, I can sense them. I can't sense what they're for, or pinpoint their origin, but-” I stopped when I saw that, instead of focusing on where I was headed, I was too busy talking to this girl.
Thanks to that mistake, I was hopelessly lost. I couldn't even backtrack with any sort of confidence.
I looked at the girl next to me. Her body was still sore. I had noticed that, despite her keeping pace with me admirably, the way she held her body told me that she was still in pain. However, her wings were the only way we could possibly navigate out of here.
< Message edited by Gingkage -- 2/1/2014 14:04:44 >