Welcome to Spell!

Welcome to the new webpage for Spell! It is my new experimental series that follows the journey of a young wizard apprentice on his first big quest! I will be posting episodes periodically, probably every Tuesday for now. They are a little raw and nowhere near polished, but precious nonetheless. Please enjoy them, or don’t… 🙂

Table of Contents

Spell #1                       Spell #8                 Spell #15

Spell #2                       Spell #9                 Spell #16

Spell #3                       Spell #10               Spell #17

Spell #4                       Spell #11               Spell #18

Spell #5                       Spell #12               Spell #19

Spell #6                       Spell #13               Spell #20

Spell #7                       Spell #14               Spell #21

Advertisements

Spell #22

 

Moralie and Zeke rode for what seemed like an hour. They were no closer to the end of the forest than when they started. The two traveled without saying much of anything. Only the sounds of the unseen creatures kept them company. The horses were beginning to tire. It was becoming more difficult to persuade them to move quicker. Moralie made the call for them to stop and allow themselves to rest. They didn’t like the idea of stopping in such a creepy environment, but there was nothing that could be done about it.

Zeke climbed down from his horse and planted his feet into the muddy ground. It felt soft and unstable beneath his boots. He walked over to Moralie and helped her down from her horse. He brought the ball of light over to them so that they could look for a spot to sit. The area wasn’t very accommodating given the mud, but no one was worried about cleanliness.

Moralie sat down a soggy patch of grass that looked appealing. Zeke sat next to her, feeling the moisture seep into his pants. It was unpleasant, but more comfortable than being on his horse for hours on end.

Zeke wanted to break the silence between them. He wanted to tell Moralie that everything was going to be alright, but doubted that she wanted to hear that. She had just lost the two people she cared about the most; there was nothing he could say that would make it alright. He knew this, and yet he wanted to try. He hated the idea of having to watch people suffer when there was something he could do. For lack of anything to say, he simply rested his right hand on Moralie’s thigh. She reciprocated and held his hand tightly.

“How horrible that this should happen,” Moralie said finally. She turned to look at Zeke and gave him a weak smile. “It’s been nothing but trouble since we met you, hasn’t it?” She reached out and caressed his face. “And you’ve been terribly brave considering the circumstances.”

Zeke was sure that he wasn’t going to like where this was heading. He felt that Moralie was regretting the day she met him. He couldn’t blame her; things had been bad since he joined the party. Tough as it had been, they had always emerged victorious. Now it seemed that no one would come out of this alive.

Moralie was trying her best not to cry anymore. She felt that she needed to be strong for Zeke. She didn’t know why. She knew that he wasn’t a child, but she was put in charge of him. It was her job to keep him safe; she was the leader now. Rafe would have kept it together. She was good at hiding her fear. Moralie wore her feelings on her sleeve. She couldn’t be as stoic as Rafe, but she resolved to change herself to be the protector Zeke needed.

Uncomfortable doing nothing, Zeke stood up and approached his horse, who was leery of anything moving around. He spoke softly to the horse and patted him kindly. He told the horse that everything was going to be alright, even though he wasn’t sure he believed it himself.

Zeke found his master’s spell book and pulled it out of his pack. He sat down by Moralie and flipped through the pages. There had to be something in there that could help them get out of the forest. He was sure that this was not a natural forest. There was no way that a forest like this could exist and not have people talk about it. Was it possible that the Dark One sent them somewhere else, a place that wasn’t on the same plane of reality they came from? That had to be it. He hoped that Gresar had something that would bring them back to their reality.

There were spells that could bring far items nearer, there were spells that could make the caster invisible, there were spells to make the caster and anyone they touched bigger or smaller. None of these were useful. Zeke flipped through the fragile pages growing more frustrated.

Zeke stopped and took a deep breath. He needed to focus on what he wanted to know. He felt if he concentrated on what he desired, the book would know and guide him to the correct spell. He hovered his hand above the book and closed his eyes. He took a slow, deep breath and focused his energy on the book. He felt a chill wash over him as he connected with the book. Pages began to turn on their own, searching for the perfect spell. When the pages stopped flapping, Zeke opened his eyes and discovered the spell he was looking for.

“The Seeker’s Compass,” Zeke read aloud. It sounded promising. It was a four line spell, a higher level spell than he was used to. It required a little more energy. Since he had only been replenishing the light spell this afternoon, he had more than enough energy left. He eagerly read the spell in his head first to get familiar with it. When he felt that he could recite it without messing it up, he spoke: “I hereby cast a net, that traps all known within, seeking answers in my need, my location, I ask the ones above to pin, and I will follow where it lead.”

Moralie watched amazed as a white light floated up from the pages of the book and shot into the air, making a bright column. The beam quickly dissolved, raining droplets of light down upon them. The light didn’t hit the ground, instead the light flew into Zeke’s eyes. They shone like diamonds for a brief moment before the light finally faded away. Zeke exhaled and fell backward into the brush behind him. Moralie reached back and propped Zeke up by the shoulders.

“Are you alright?” Moralie asked.

“I think so,” Zeke replied. He rubbed his eyes in an attempt to see past the spheres of light that had burned their imprints in his vision. “I know the way out! I can lead us out of here! I see the exit back into our reality. We must hurry because it is closing.”

Moralie was glad to hear it. She stood up and wiped the mud off her pants. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” She approached her horse and caressed it. She wanted it calm and relaxed before she demanded it to run as fast as it could. “How long does that spell last?”

“I don’t know, maybe an hour?” Zeke wasn’t sure, but he estimated that an hour was good. It would be more than enough time to get out of there, he hoped.

He stood up and replaced the book into his pack. It was time to sweet talk the horse and hope it let him aboard. When the task was done, Zeke was allowed to mount the horse. He thought about giving it a name for a second. He would have to worry about that later. He kicked the horse on its sides and commanded it forward. The horse was only too obliged to comply. Zeke recited the light spell again and led the way through the dark forest.

Zeke and Moralie kept their eyes and ears open for anything that sounded like it might be following them. The creatures of the night continued to sing their chorus of nosies. They felt that something was watching them; they hoped that was all that they did, watch.

When the trees thinned out a bit, Zeke risked pushing the horse faster. He marveled at how eerie the trees looked as they passed. With their spindly branches it looked like they were actually reaching out for them. If he didn’t know better, he swore that they might have been.

Zeke kept his eyes focused on the light ahead of him. He didn’t pay any particular attention to what might have been on the ground around him. He pressed forward, anxious to get out of the gods forsaken forest dimension. He knew that the exit was closing soon and he didn’t want to miss it.

He was distracted so he almost didn’t hear someone shout something. As he tried to pinpoint where the shout had come from, the solid ground had given way to mush. The horse expecting to continue its pace fell into what appeared to be a large lake of mud. The horse whinnied as it tried to reach solid ground, but there was no bottom that was easily accessible. Instead, Zeke and the horse began to sink.

Zeke turned behind him in the hopes of stopping Moralie from getting stuck in it, but he was too late. Moralie and her horse were sinking as well in the mud. Zeke tried to maneuver the horse out of the mud, but all it was able to do was frantically paddle in an attempt to stay above it. Zeke knew that he had any chance of surviving this, he would have to abandon the horse. He leaned forward whispered into the horse’s ears how sorry he was that this was happening. He said that the horse had been very brave and served him well. He finally decided on a name and whispered, “You are Valiant.” The horse neighed at Zeke sullenly as he climbed off it.

Now Zeke sinking in the mud. He tried to swim in it, but the mud was too thick. Any movement only prompted him to sink quicker. He stayed as still as he could. He looked over at Valiant and saw that he did not struggle anymore. As the mud came up to his neck, Valiant gave one last whinny before it completely consumed him. “Valiant!” Zeke cried out, but the horse was gone.

“Zeke!” It was Moralie. She had managed to get back to solid ground. She stood on the border helplessly and watched as Zeke sank. She looked around for anything that might help him. There were branches on the nearby trees. She quickly went to work snapping them off. They weren’t long branches, but she figured that she could somehow weave them together and make them longer.

“Moralie, hurry!” Zeke cried out. The mud was up to his chest now. He turned around and saw that Moralie was trying to do something. He hoped that whatever it was that it would be ready to implement quickly.

He checked to see if she had been able to save her horse. He didn’t see it. He sighed. Another horse was taken by the mud. How had Moralie gotten out of the mud? He didn’t have time to worry about that. He had to worry about himself. Maybe he could find a spell to save himself. He just needed his spell book… Zeke gasped as he realized that Valiant was carrying the pack where the book resided. Now it was sinking to the bottom of the mud pit. He closed his eyes as the pain of the realization hit him.

Moralie was having trouble putting her plan into action. The branches were too brittle to come together to form a cohesive rope. She kept trying, but the branches fell apart in her hands. She cursed out loud and gazed out to Zeke. The mud was at his shoulders. Short of jumping back into the mud, she didn’t know what else to do. She barely remembered how she had gotten out of the pit. She vaguely remembered being pulled and the next thing she knew, she was near solid ground. She hated that she couldn’t come up with anything helpful. All she could do was watch as Zeke slowly sank into the puddle.

Zeke saw the despair in Moralie’s eyes and knew instantly that he was on his own. He had to think of something fast. He was sinking at a quicker pace. The book was gone, he would have to rely on himself. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Words ran through his mind as he attempted to string them together. When he found the words, he wasted no time. “Mud beneath me’ll seal my fate, allow this wizard to levitate!” But it was too late. The mud had now claimed his neck and soon thereafter, his head.

Spell #21

SPELL #21

“To all who dwell inside the dark, reveal yourselves within this spark!” Zeke uttered the spell and a bright yellow orb of light appeared in his hand. He threw it up in the air and the light exploded into a million little lights, illuminating the path before them.

“Great work, Zeke,” Moralie said.

“It’s not going to last for too long,” Zeke warned. “We should head back the way we came.” He looked behind them and couldn’t see the trail they came in on. It was like it disappeared completely. He didn’t like the looks of it. Surely, if they retraced their steps, they would be able to leave this forest, but he wasn’t too sure.

“Rafe? What do we do?” Moralie asked.

Rafe looked behind them and saw no trace of where they had come from. She didn’t like what she was going to say, but it made the most sense. She was convinced that they were no longer in Sexton, but had somehow stepped into another place entirely. “We’re just going to have to keep moving forward to the other side.” She hoped that there was another side. “Zeke, you should lead the way.”

“Me?” Zeke’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “But I don’t know where we are! What if I get us lost?”

“We can’t be more lost than we already are, right?” Simon asked. He nodded his head at Zeke with confidence.

“You’re the one who is able to produce light. It makes sense that you lead us.” Moralie said, moving her and her horse aside. Zeke moved his reluctant horse to the front of the pack. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right behind you.”

The four of them moved slowly through the dark forest, being mindful of where their horses stepped. The horses were not completely on board with moving forward. The way was too dark for them and they didn’t like the noises that surrounded them.

Zeke was trying to keep calm. He didn’t like being in the lead. He thought that he would be better off bringing up the rear. He didn’t like the idea of being a leader. He would much rather someone else make the decisions. He thought that Rafe was doing a pretty good job. He told himself that if wouldn’t be for long, it was just until they got out of this creepy forest.

The lights began to dim around them. The horses were getting more antsy. Zeke recited the spell again and more lights appeared. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to do this a lot; he didn’t want to use up all of his magical energy before they were able to get out of this place.

They moved in silence, but there was not total silence. There were high pitched chirps coming from above them, hissing coming from the ground, and some grunts and growls surrounding them. They all tried not to think about what those sounds belonged to. They kept their eyes looking forward.

Simon, bringing up the rear, heard something snap behind him. He looked back to see what it was, but couldn’t see anything. He ignited one of his fists and caught something moving away from them. It looked like some kind of wet snake judging from how the green light reflected off its surface. He turned to Rafe wide eyed and said, “There are creepy crawlies out here!”

“It’s a forest, of course there are,” Rafe said dismissively.

“But they’re following us.” Simon saw that this unnerved Rafe a little. He quickened his horse’s steps with a flick of his reins. Rafe did the same. They continued to hear the sound of twigs snapping and something dragging against the ground.

Simon tossed a green fireball behind him in the hopes of hitting whatever was following them. There was a loud hiss suddenly. “Hoo! I got it!” He listened for a moment and couldn’t hear it anymore. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He confidently turned back around and moves forward with the group. A moment later, something hit Simon in his chest and knocked him from his horse. He cried out, this caused the group to stop moving.

“Simon, what’s wrong?” Rafe turned her horse around and looked at Simon. In the fading light, he appeared to be angry and flustered. “Zeke, more light!”

Zeke recited the light spell again and brighter lights appeared.

“Something threw me off my horse.” Simon stood up and sought to climb back on his horse, but something wrapped itself around his right foot. He fell to the ground again, this time on his chest. He looked down at his feet and saw that something slimy and green had his foot. He quickly reached down and tried to pull it off. The slimy tendril was strong and had a firm grip.

“Playing hardball, huh?” Simon clapped his hands and blue sparks of electricity appeared between them. He touched the tendril and gave it a shock. There was a loud hiss from somewhere nearby. The tendril loosened its hold. Simon was able to slide his foot free. He stood up again and intensified the lightning in his hands. “What is this thing? Come on out!”

“I don’t think you want to do that,” Zeke said cautiously.

Everyone waited for something to happen, nothing did. Simon’s heart was beating hard. He was ready for action, but at the same time dreading what was hellbent on grabbing him. He couldn’t hear anything from the creature and assumed that it had gone away. It didn’t like the jolt it got. Feeling that he was safe, he stepped backwards until he reached his horse. He got back on it and looked at Rafe to let her know that he was ready to move forward.

In an instant, a white web shot out of the darkness and wrapped itself around Simon and his horse. He cried out again as they were dragged backward.

Rafe pulled out her sword and jumped off of her horse. She swung at the web in an attempt to cut Simon free. She only succeeded in getting her sword covered in the sticky slime. She didn’t give up; she continued to hack away at the web.

“Don’t let it get me!” Simon yelled. He struggled to get himself free, but he only got more entangled in the web.

Moralie maneuvered her horse over to Rafe and Simon. She pulled out her daggers and tried to pinpoint her target. It was too dark out there. She called to Zeke to come over and bring his light.

Zeke didn’t want anything to do with this creature, but he didn’t want Simon to get hurt. He obliged and approached them. He recited the light spell and threw the light out into the darkness. The light revealed a large spider like creature, eight hairy legs, six eyes, and two long tendrils waving wildly from his menacing face. The web was coming from between its two fangs.

The creature let out a loud hiss and stood up on its four hind legs. Rafe fearlessly rushed towards it with her sword poised for action. The creature swung one of its legs and threw her aside. Moralie got down from her horse and threw one of her daggers at its abdomen. It connected and the creature gave another hiss and landed on its four front legs.

Zeke was frozen. He didn’t know what to do. He had never seen anything like this in his life. What was this thing? He knew that he had to help, but he was too afraid. He should say a spell, but he didn’t have time to flip through his master’s book for anything that might damage it. So he just watched, immobile, impotent.

Rafe stood up and prepared to attack it once more. She approached carefully and waited for the creature to swipe at her. When it did, she was ready with her sword. She cut off one of its legs. The creature cried a shrill scream and stood up on its hind legs. This allowed Moralie to throw another dagger, this time, one of her fire daggers. The creature deflected it and sent it flying back at her. As Rafe and Moralie prepared for another attack, the creature decided that it had had enough and ran out into the darkness, dragging Simon and his horse along with it.

“Rafe! Moralie!” Simon shouted.

Rafe and Moralie jumped back onto their horses. “Follow him!” Rafe commanded. They whipped the reins and the horses took off. Zeke snapped out of his trance and followed behind them. He soon caught up with them and brought the light with him.

The three of them chased after the creature, following the sound of Simon’s screams. Zeke cast the light spell again and sent it in front of them. They were barely able to make out the creature ahead of them. It stayed just ahead of the light. If they blinked, they would miss it.

They saw the spider creature take a hard right into the darkness. As they approached the spot, they couldn’t see it anymore. They could no longer hear Simon’s screams. It was as if they had vanished in thin air. Rafe and Moralie called out Simon’s name in the hopes of him hearing them. There was no reply.

Zeke couldn’t process what was happening. Did they just lose Simon? Was he going to die? What was that thing? “What do we do now?” Zeke asked out loud.

“We try to find it,” Rafe said. “Come on, it went this way.” She headed off in the direction the spider creature went without even waiting for the light. Zeke and Moralie followed closely behind her.

They continued to call out to Simon, but they couldn’t hear him. They only heard the noises of the other creatures in the forest. No one wanted to admit that Simon was beyond their help. That creature had seven legs and could run faster than their horses. It knew the forest better than they did. It could be anywhere by now. They all knew this, but they didn’t want to accept it.

After twenty minutes of running around in the dark, Rafe stopped her horse. She turned to them with a grave look on her face. Her voice caught in her throat as she said, “I think… I think we’ve lost him.”

“No!” Moralie cried. “We have to keep looking for him! We can’t just leave him out here!”

“We’ve been looking for a long time,” Rafe said.

“That thing must have a nest or something, we just have to find it!” Moralie looked to Zeke for support. “Tell her, Zeke.”

“Umm, yeah,” was all Zeke was able to muster.

“It could be anywhere in here,” Rafe countered. “Are you prepared to search every inch of this forest for something we may never find?”

Moralie nodded. “I will not leave him out here to die. He wouldn’t leave us behind. We owe it to him.”

Rafe let this sink in for a moment before she nodded her head. “I agree. Let’s keep looking. Zeke, lead the way.”

Zeke nodded his head and activated the light. He allowed the light to go ahead of him so that it could properly guide them. He looked up and tried to see if there was anything in the canopy where it might hide. He couldn’t get a clear view due to the brightness of the light.

Moralie and Rafe called out Simon’s name as they went. Zeke knew that Simon couldn’t hear them. He considered the idea that the spider creature had taken him far away and was… He didn’t want to assume the worst. He wanted to have hope that Simon was still alive and he was fighting hard to survive.

Zeke also knew that they were lost. The original path they were on was far behind them. He couldn’t tell which direction was north. There was no sense of direction in this place. There was only darkness, more trees, and the denizens of the forest. It was going to be impossible to get their bearings, even if they found Simon.

They searched for another hour. They were no closer to finding Simon. The forest seemed to stretch on forever in all directions. Rafe looked to Moralie and didn’t say anything. Everything she wanted to say was in her eyes. Moralie avoided looking at them for a moment before she finally gave in. They told her that Simon was gone and they still had a mission to complete. Tears ran down her cheeks and dripped onto her fists. How could this have happened? How were they giving up on him?

Moralie wanted to call out Simon’s name until she went hoarse, but with each passing minute, it seemed less likely that they would ever find him. She sobbed as she thought about having to go forward without him. She shuddered as Rafe placed a cold hand on her shoulder.

Zeke watched as they mourned for their friend. He couldn’t believe that Simon was gone just like that. They were all happy and eating breakfast earlier today. How could today have gone so wrong so fast? He silently cursed the Dark One for this. If he ever met that guy again, he would make sure that he was made to pay for all of the hardship he put them through.

Zeke shushed Moralie as he heard some rustling nearby. Moralie dried her eyes and scanned the lit area for anything that might be creeping up on them. Rafe gazed upward to see if anything might be above them. They all heard the rustling. It made the horses uneasy.

“We should move,” Moralie said. “We’re sitting ducks.” Rafe and Zeke agreed.

Zeke tried to pick a good way to go. Any direction was as good as any. Zeke turned his horse to the right and led the way between the trees.

The rustling drew closer. It sounded like it was coming in from all sides. Zeke pondered if he should keep going forward or stop. He didn’t want to be a sitting duck, but he also didn’t want to be moving into danger. He decided to press on.

“Zeke, look! The ground!” Moralie sounded panicked.

Zeke looked down and saw that there was some movement on the ground. There were vines that were wriggling and twisting in place. He looked to his left and saw the same. “That’s unnatural.” They didn’t appear to be doing anything at the moment other than existing. “We should just keep going. Maybe it’s nothing.”

Rafe flicked the reins on her horse, telling it to move forward, but it did not move. She kicked the sides of the horse urgently, but the horse refused to move. She looked down at the horse’s feet and saw that it couldn’t move. The vines had wrapped themselves around each foot and were slowly climbing upward to get her. She was stuck. She knew that if she got off the horse, the vines would grab her. Her fate was sealed, but she wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She took out her sword and began to slice the vines away. The horse struggled to get free, bucking wildly.

This caused Moralie and Zeke to look behind them. They saw what was happened and rushed to Rafe’s aid.

“Stop!” Rafe shouted. “It’s me they want! Stay back!”

The horse bucked one last time and it made Rafe fall to the ground. The vines didn’t waste a second in snapping her up. They wound their way around and encapsulated her in a cocoon.

“Rafe!” Moralie shouted.

“Get him to the mountain!” Rafe said. “Keep him safe and get him out of here!” With that, the vines drug her away into the darkness, horse and all.

Moralie and Zeke cried out for her, but there was nothing they could do. Rafe was gone. There wasn’t time to mourn her. They didn’t want to be in the same situation. Zeke flicked the reins on his horse and encouraged it to leave this place. Moralie followed him. They picked up speed and they raced through the forest. They prayed that would find the end of it alive.

Spell #20

 

Zeke awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the door. He sat up with a start and reached for his sword. The thought that all of the mannequins weren’t dead and they were coming for him flashed in his mind. They all had decided to sleep in the inn during the night because it was easier, but the possibility that danger was still lurking about the town didn’t leave their minds. Could this be a mannequin ready to exact its revenge?

“Zeke, Simon, wake up.” It was Rafe’s voice. Unless the mannequin learned how to mimic voices, Zeke was pretty sure that he was safe. He released his sword and set it up against his nightstand.

“We’re getting up!” Zeke replied drowsily. He didn’t get much sleep during the night. He kept thinking about what had happened and found it hard to stop the memories from running in his mind. The whole town had died just because the Dark One knew that they were going to be here. He silently mourned for the people who lost their lives.

Zeke got out of bed and changed into his remaining set of clean clothes and brushed his teeth. He saw that Simon was still sleeping. He shouted to him to wake up only to be met with a moan. He was tempted to go over to his bed and rip the sheets off the bed, like his master had done to him on numerous occasion, but opted to leave him alone. They had had a rough night. Let the guy get some sleep.

He quietly opened the door and was met by Rafe. Apparently, she hadn’t left after she knocked. “Good morning, Rafe.”

“Good morning. Is Simon awake?”

“Nope, I’m going to let him sleep a little while longer.” Zeke hoped that Rafe would understand. She wasn’t one to cross, he knew this, but he hoped that she would allow him to stand his ground on this simple matter.

Rafe just shrugged her shoulders and said, “He’s going to miss breakfast if he doesn’t get up soon.” She turned away and headed for the stairway. “Just wait until we start making the bacon; he’ll get up.” She gave a soft laugh as she descended the stairs.

Zeke grinned as he followed her. He was relieved that she was taking this lightly. It was good to hear her laugh, even if it was a quiet one. His spirits lifted at the mention of the word ‘bacon’. He was hungry and couldn’t wait to dig in.

When he arrived downstairs, he found that Moralie was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. She was making flapjacks, eggs, bacon, and found some fresh squeezed orange juice in the refrigerator.

“Moralie cooks?” Zeke asked in a joking manner. “What else can you do?”

“I have yet to compile a list of my many talents.” Moralie winked at him as she flipped a flapjack. “You’ll just have to stick with me and find out.”

As Moralie finished the final batch of flapjacks, she started on making the bacon. As Rafe predicted, Simon got up and made his way downstairs. He shuffled into the kitchen and sniffed the air. He saw the spread on the table that was placed neatly in the corner and licked his lips.

“Bacon!” Simon clapped his hands in approval. “Be sure to make a lot.”

“I will.” Moralie giggled as she placed a few strips in the pan. “You’re like a bear.”

“I’ve got a bear’s appetite.” Simon patted his stomach and sat down next to Zeke.

When Moralie was done with the last of the bacon, she served everyone. They all ate until they were wholly satisfied. There were happy faces and happy stomachs all around. Zeke couldn’t remember when he had eaten so much, which had happened to be last night at the noodle shop.

“So, what’s the plan?” Moralie asked, looking at Rafe.

“We ride to the border of Septia. We should avoid stopping in any towns for fear of a repeat performance of what happened here.” The others nodded in reverence. “We will ride well into Sexton and camp outside of the town of Greenlee.”

“Sounds good.” Moralie leaned back in her chair and gave a big sigh in attempt to make more room in her stomach. “Let’s leave when the food has properly digested. I don’t think I could manage to lug my gut onto my horse.” Simon and Zeke laughed because they felt the same way. Rafe let a smile appear on her lips; she didn’t think she could get on a horse either.

Moralie stood up and took their plates to the sink. She washed them and put them away in their designated places. She knew that the innkeeper was dead, but felt that it was only right to tidy up the way she would have liked it. She dried her hands and rejoined the others.

They sat for a good hour and played card games while they waited for the food to digest. When Rafe thought it was time, they all got up and packed their belongings.

Simon was the last one to meet the others in the lobby. He carried his large bag down the stairs and grinned his eerie grin as he joined them. “Sorry, I was just making sure I left nothing behind.”

Rafe nodded her head and opened the front door. The sun was quick to greet them. They stepped outside and saw that their horses were waiting for them. They had been frightened by the raucous the night before, but they appeared to be calm now.

Everyone but Zeke was able to get on their horse on the first try. Zeke failed multiple times because his horse kept moving. Zeke grew frustrated with each failed attempt. “What’s wrong with this horse?”

“You’ve got to sweet talk him first,” Simon said.

“I’m not sucking up to a horse!”

“Then I guess you’re walking.” Simon shrugged his shoulders.

Zeke took a deep breath and glared at the black horse. He touched the horse’s nose and patted it softly. “Who’s a pretty horse? Who’s the prettiest horse in the whole wide world? That’s right, it’s you!” He said this in his best baby voice.

“Don’t patronize him,” Moralie suggested. “Talk to him like a normal person.” This amused her greatly.

Zeke complied with Moralie’s suggestion. He talked sweetly to the horse and it appeared to be receptive to his words. When the moment felt right, Zeke attempted to get on the horse and succeeded. Victory. He didn’t like that he was going to have to do this every time he wanted to get on the thing, but what was he going to do?

The four travelers were glad to put the dead town behind them. They only hoped that easier things were before them, but they all secretly doubted it.

***

 

The Dark One awoke in his luxurious bed. A sliver of sunlight had managed to sneak through the dark curtain hanging from his window. He wiped his dead eyes and sat up. He yawned and got out of bed. He dressed in a clean black robe and put the hood up to cover his face. He didn’t like looking at himself in the mirror because he would only see remnants of what remained of his face. He didn’t like to be reminded of his previous life.

He moved into his divination room and did a little light reading through his spell books. He was looking for inspiration on how to kill the wizard apprentice. That kid was tricky to pin down. He wanted to kill everyone in the Delsani party, but especially the apprentice. If he got his hands on the Alta Stone, everything would be ruined. He must not let that happen. The Alta Stone was his and his alone. The time to use it was quickly approaching. He just needed to hold out a few more days.

The Dark One picked up his crystal ball and tried to locate Lyssa. He knew that he had decided to wait another day, but he was really concerned. What did Zeke do to her? She was probably lost in another dimension, he surmised. Then an idea struck him.

Another dimension. The gears of his mind started to turn. He was brewing something evil. He could send the Delsani party to another dimension. They would be out of his hair for good. Where would he send them? There were some really great places he could go with. He picked up one of his spell books and eagerly flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for.

The page read ‘The Night Forest’. This was one of the Dark One’s favorite places. The place was completely lethal. Anyone who wandered into the forest never came out; the creatures that inhabit the forest saw to that. This brought a wicked smile to his parched, pale lips. The Delsani party was going to die in the most interesting and excruciating ways. He almost wished he could be there himself to witness it.

He set the book down and read the summoning spell aloud. Dark clouds collected above the black castle as he spoke. Lightning flashed and thunder  rumbled loudly in the mountains. When the spell was complete, he indicated where the portal to the Night Forest would be, right at the border of Septia. With the summoning done, the dark clouds dissipated and the thunder stopped. It was beautiful day on Mount Rialto and if things went well, it would be a glorious day.

***

The Delsani party made great time in reaching the border town of Tilden.  As they approached the town, they took a detour that led them around it to the east. They debated whether they needed to stop in town to get rations. Rafe decided that they could wait until they got to Greenlee to stock up.

This news disappointed Zeke because the food from breakfast was well digested and left his stomach wanting for more. He wanted to ask how much further to Greenlee, but he didn’t want to appear to be complaining. He stifled his question and rode in silence.

They made it to the border and the guards that managed it stopped them to inquire their business. Rafe told them that they were on their way to the docks in Shurebury in Sexton. The guards looked at the party with suspicion before they agreed to let them pass. They raised the gate and the four travelers entered the Sexton Kingdom.

Zeke sighed as they went through another forest. It appeared that most of the land of the South Continent was full of trees. This bored him. He was hoping that there was more than this out in the world. He supposed he liked trees alright, but all of them looked the same. He was yearning for some beautiful fields, or some majestic mountains.

A hot breeze blew through them and caused the party some discomfort. It had been a little warm before, but the temperature went up considerably. They loosed their shirts and fanned some air through the collar. They all wondered where the warmth came from, but said nothing. It was as if they had hit a wall of heat and were not fully immersed in the mugginess.

Zeke looked up at the canopy as they passed and noticed that not as much light was shining down. In fact, it appeared that the leaves were bunching together to prevent any sunlight getting through. That couldn’t be right. As they journeyed deeper into the forest, the darker it became. Zeke finally said something.

“Are you seeing this?”

Rafe nodded her head. She was in front of them, leading the way. She didn’t recognize where they were. Something was not right. They were not where they were supposed to be. She put up her hand and commanded everyone to stop moving.

“Did we take a wrong turn somewhere?” Simon asked playfully.

“It’s hard to get lost when we’re going straight the whole time,” Moralie replied. She looked up at the canopy and noticed that there was no sunlight. She got a shiver and rubbed the goosebumps on her arm. “This place isn’t good.”

“Do we go back?” Zeke asked.

“No.” That was all Rafe said. She knew that something about this wasn’t right, but she couldn’t figure out what. She didn’t know if she should continue forward or reconsider Zeke’s suggestion. The answer was quickly made for her.

The shade from the trees suddenly grew darker. It was as if the sun was rapidly setting until all was darkness. The horses were disturbed by the sudden loss of light. Their human counterparts shared their concern.

Everyone knew that they were in trouble. Zeke knew that the Dark One had something to do with this. He wasn’t going to give up until every one of them was dead. He gulped and wondered what the Dark One had in store for them.

Spell #19

SPELL #19

Rafe and Moralie braced themselves as the mannequins approached them. Their mouths were open, ready to tear away their flesh. Rafe didn’t plan on letting them get that close. She tried to raise her sword, but the hallway they were in was too narrow. She couldn’t fight here.

Moralie prepared her daggers for action. She caught a glimpse of Greta spooning some of the potion into a bottle. When she was done, Greta left the kitchen. Moralie knew that they didn’t have much time before Greta gave Zeke that potion, whatever it was.

Rafe and Moralie led the six mannequins out into the lobby where they would have more room to fight. They didn’t want to go too far from the kitchen, but it was unavoidable.

The mannequins made the first move by rushing them. Rafe reacted and stabbed her sword through one of their chests. She used her strength to pull the sword upward, splitting it in two. It kept coming at her, so Rafe swung her sword and lopped the split head off its shoulders. The body fell to the floor and writhed for a moment before it became still.

Moralie had two mannequins push her up against the stairwell. She pulled out her fire daggers and jabbed them into each of their heads. Smoke began to spill out of their heads before they burned up from the inside. The fire spread to its shoulders and eventually the whole thing fell apart into a pile of embers.

Rafe disposed of another one while Moralie took on another two. When they were done, they immediately ran to the kitchen. They scanned the kitchen for any sign of a door. Greta was no longer in the kitchen, so she had to have gone somewhere.

“It must be a secret door, camouflaged,” Rafe said. She pulled on anything that might be a lever to open the door. She knocked containers full of spices off of the shelves, pressed anything that looked like a button, and pulled on hooks on the wall. Nothing yielded a door.

Exhausted, Rafe stamped her foot on the floor in frustration. It was then that she heard a thunk. She looked down at her feet and saw that the part of the floor she was standing on was raised more than the rest of it. She grinned as she gave the floor another stomp. A click sounded by the wall next to the stove. A part of the wall opened to reveal the door.

“Excellent work, Rafe,” Moralie said. “You only had to wreck the whole kitchen to find it.”

“I should have been an interior designer.” Rafe smirked as she opened the door.

The door led them to a stairway that led underground. The way was carved out of stone. There was a light coming from the bottom of the steep stairway. Rafe knew that Greta was down there at the bottom. This was good because there was no other way in or out of this basement. Hold on, Zeke, Rafe thought, we’re coming.

***

Zeke and Simon sat in the dark room, waiting for something to happen. They had come to the inn hoping to find Rafe and Moralie. Instead, they found Greta and more mannequins. They tried to fend for themselves, but they were exhausted from their earlier battle and were captured easily. They were led to this place and abandoned.

“She could have at least let us change our clothes,” Zeke said, adjusting his towel. “I feel so helpless.”

“Well, don’t give up.” Simon sighed. “Hopefully, Rafe and Moralie are still out there.”

“What does that lady even want with us?” Zeke wasn’t sure, but he surmised that the Dark One had something to do with this. That guy really had it out for him and didn’t know why. He supposed that he could ask him the next time they met.

Zeke started to say how frustrated he was that he couldn’t use his powers when Simon shushed him. The two of them listened closely and heard footsteps coming from outside. They felt hopeful and frightened at the same time. Was it the innkeeper or was it Rafe and Moralie? They took a few steps back from the door and waited.

There was a click in the door as someone stuck a key in the lock. Zeke’s stomach dropped as Greta entered the room. Three mannequins followed her. Zeke placed his back against the wall. He saw that she was carrying a small bottle of something. He didn’t like the look of what was inside.

Greta shut the door behind her and turned to Zeke. She looked into his eyes and smiled. It was the only thing she could do to lessen the impact of what she was going to do. She told herself that all of this was for her family. She couldn’t live without them; she needed them, otherwise her life had no meaning.

She held out her hand that contained the potion and said, “I’m going to need you to drink this.”

Simon stepped in front of Zeke and said, “He’s not going to drink anything, lady. You need to back off!”

“Please, don’t make this difficult,” Greta pleaded. She took a step toward them knowing that there was nowhere else they could go. “You have to drink this.” Tears were welling in her eyes.

“What does it do?” Zeke asked out of curiosity.

“I don’t know.” Greta’s hands were shaking. She was so close to completing her task. She took another step.

Simon tensed his muscles and prepared to take this little old lady down. He ignited his fists with green flames, but he could tell that they weren’t as powerful and he would have liked. Most of his magical energy had been used up earlier.

“You need to stop right there,” Simon said. “I’m not afraid to injure the elderly.”

“Stand in my way and I will strike you down.” Greta was becoming angry. She didn’t want to have to use brute strength, but this man was giving her no choice. She snapped her fingers and two of the wooden mannequins stepped up to Simon.

Simon sent two blasts of fire in their direction. The flames danced on their bodies, but didn’t have any effect. They soon fizzled out, leaving smoke to rise. This confirmed his thoughts that he was weakening.

The mannequins picked Simon up and threw him across the room. He landed in a corner, pride wounded, but otherwise alright. He stood up and thought about charging the mannequins, but there wasn’t much he could do with them afterwards. He supposed that he could keep them away from Zeke. He decided that this would be the best course of action.

Simon ran at the closest mannequin and tackled it to the floor.

“Hold him!” Greta commanded.

The mannequin quickly got on top of Simon and pressed him down. Simon struggled to get up, but his opponent was surprisingly strong. He told himself that he had dealt with stronger and handled it just fine. He continued to fight, taking some liberties to kick the mannequin in places that would injure any man. The mannequin wasn’t fazed by this at all. It proceeded to carry out its order of suppression.

Simon took a deep breath and refocused his energies. There had to be a low level spell he could use. He was running on empty after that dragon spell he cast. He mentally kicked himself for being so careless.

Greta commanded the two remaining mannequins to seize Zeke. The young wizard fought against them, but he wasn’t strong enough to prevent them from grabbing him. Greta approached Zeke with the bottle and opened it. A pungent odor that reminded Zeke of bad cabbage and week old dirty socks filled his nostrils.

“You will drink this and it will all be over,” Greta said calmly. She brought the bottle up to Zeke’s lips. He pressed them closed and turned his head away. She grabbed his face and squeezed his cheeks. “Open your mouth.” Zeke grunted his refusal. She resorted to plugging his nose, which Zeke was grateful for, but he knew that he was going to have to open his mouth to breathe eventually or pass out, and she would be waiting for that.

Greta continued to hold Zeke’s nose. It was only a matter of time now. He would open his mouth and she would pour the potion in. It would do whatever it was going to do and she would be free. It all was within her grasp.

Suddenly, the door to the room was kicked in. Startled, Greta looked behind her and saw Rafe and Moralie standing there. “No!”She was sure that the mannequins had taken care of them. Now she was between a rock and a hard place. She should have the three remaining mannequins attack them? She needed all of them where they were. Her end goal was slipping through her fingers. What was she going to do?

“Step away from the wizard,” Rafe shouted. She raised her sword at Greta to make sure that she got the point.

“No! He must drink this!”Greta turned back to Zeke, still holding his nose. He was beginning to wiggle, still trying to hold his breath. He couldn’t hold out much longer. He was seconds away from gasping for air, she could feel it.

Zeke was beginning to see stars in his eyes. He had to breathe by any means necessary. He needed to get Greta away from him. Desperate for air, he kicked Greta in the shins, hoping that this would cause her to release him. This attempted failed, Greta only strengthened her hold on him. He closed his eyes and decided that he would open his mouth.

“Moralie.” Rafe extended her hand to Moralie, asking for one of her daggers. When she received it, Rafe threw the dagger at Greta’s back. The innkeeper cried out and released Zeke from her hold. Zeke immediately took a deep breath. The mannequins’ hold on Simon and Zeke weakened, allowing them to escape.

Greta collapsed on the floor, reaching for the dagger in her back. She couldn’t reach it despite her best efforts. She felt heat spreading from the wound to the rest of her body. She felt as if she was on fire from the inside. growing hotter with every second. She cried as she realized that she had failed in her mission. There was nothing she could do. Surely the voice wouldn’t bring her family back now. She was done for.

Rafe and the others watched as the innkeeper began to smoke. Her skin turned black with streaks of red coursing through her veins. She screamed as the heat consumed her and then she finally fell silent as she slumped over. Smoke rose out of her charred body.

The mannequins that the innkeeper controlled tumbled to the floor, no longer a threat. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

“Well, I’m glad that’s over,” Zeke said, rubbing his nose. “It’s a good thing you guys came when you did.”

“No sweat,” Moralie said, slapping Zeke on the should. “Okay, maybe a little bit of sweat.”

Simon walked over to one of the mannequins and kicked it fervently. “I hate these things! Take that!”

Rafe went over to Greta’s body and retrieved Moralie’s dagger. She saw the little bottle that Greta had been carrying on the ground next to her body. She made sure that no one was watching before she picked it up. She found the stopper to the bottle and placed it on before sticking it into her pocket. She, then, stood up and joined the rest of them by the door.

“We should probably get some sleep. It’s been a busy day,” Rafe suggested.

“Do we have to sleep here?” Zeke asked, almost whining. “This place gives me the creeps now.”

“We paid, we might as well.” Moralie said, wiping the blood off of her returned dagger. She face perked up instantly. “We get our money back! Not bad considering all the trouble we went through.”

“Of course you’re worried about money.” Rafe smiled at her friend as she walked out of the room. “Simon, quit kicking the mannequin. As if it hasn’t gone through enough.”

Simon looked up and saw that he was being left behind. He gave the mannequin one last kick before he joined his friends.

***

The Dark One set his crystal ball down and sighed in disappointment. He had watched the whole operation. He thought for sure that he was finally going to be through with the wizard apprentice. That kid was one of the luckiest people he knew. He killed everyone in that entire town for nothing. Oh well, he thought, better luck next time.

He was annoyed that he still hadn’t heard from Lyssa. She was one of his best minions. He hoped that the boy hadn’t banished her from this dimension; that would be a pain in the neck to fix. It was doable, but painstaking. He decided that he would give it another day before he went looking for her. For now, he was tired and needed to rest. Perhaps, he would dream of another way to destroy the boy. Tomorrow was another day.

Spell #18

SPELL #18

Greta led the mannequins carrying Rafe and Moralie through the foyer of the inn and down into a basement that had been converted into a wine cellar, though there were no bottles of wine stored there- the racks were empty. There were shelves of racks that lined the walls just waiting to be of use. It was apparent that Greta had every intention of starting a collection before all of this mannequin business started.

Life had been pretty routine before this morning. She and her family were running the inn and were happy doing so. The money wasn’t rolling in, but it was enough to keep them happy. Greta thought everything was going according to plan until a strange fog rolled into town. People came out of their homes and shops to investigate. It had come so suddenly and without warning. Epherma was too far from the coast to be getting this kind of fog. It was bizarre because the fog had a purple hue to it, nothing like the fog the people had seen before.

Greta stepped outside and saw that people were suddenly dropping to the ground, gasping for air. People were dying all around her. She covered her mouth and ran inside. She closed the door hard behind her and prayed that none of the fog had entered the inn. She wanted to keep her family safe. It was then that she heard something fall to the ground in the kitchen. She ran to the disturbance and found that her husband had fallen, clutching his throat for air. He uttered one last raspy breath before he died.

Greta called out to her two sons who should have been upstairs cleaning the rooms. When they didn’t respond, she rushed up the stairs to find them. She frantically searched the rooms until she found both of them crumpled on the floor of room 215. She knew that the same fate had befallen them.

She fell to her knees and began to cry. She waited for her turn to die, but instead of death, she heard a voice that was soft and sweet. She looked at the ceiling as if the voice was coming from above her. The voice told her that she was spared the tragic fate of her town so that she could serve a purpose- his purpose. The voice told her about a group of four travelers that were heading their way later that day. It told her that she would receive these strangers in her inn and when the time came, to trigger the trap that would kill them. Greta asked how she was going to help. It was then that she felt a strange sensation come over her. It was as if the chilly hand of death had brushed her and left its coldness all over her body. The voice told her that she now had control of everyone that had died in town. It was up to her to kill the four strangers. Greta asked the voice if she did this would it bring her family back to her. The voice said that he would if she completed this task for him. Greta vowed to do her very best. The voice left her, but the coldness she felt didn’t.

Greta opened the door to the basement and allowed the mannequins to deposit Rafe and Moralie inside. They were roughly tossed to the hard stone floor and left to reorient themselves to their new surroundings. “You will remain here until I’m ready for you.” She commanded the life sized puppets to leave the room and she shut the door, locking it from the outside. She prayed that the voice would return to give her the next set of instructions. She was willing to wait as long it took.

***

Rafe and Moralie stood up and rubbed their elbows, which were surely bruised by their rough handling. Rafe immediately went to the door and tried to jiggle the knob. It was locked, as she suspected, but she didn’t think it would hurt to try.

“Damn that witch,” Rafe said. She gave the door a hard kick just for good measure. Her turned around and saw that Moralie was just standing in the middle of the room, watching her. “What?”

“Nothing.” Moralie shook her head and sighed. “It’s just that you’re cute when you’re angry.” She offered Rafe a smile, but it was not well received. The room was dark for one, and Rafe didn’t feel like being flattered.

Rafe faced the door again and thought about what she’d do to it if she had her sword. She was frustrated that she allowed herself to be disarmed so easily. She felt like she was making a lot of mistakes today. She tried the doorknob again to no avail. It was just as locked as it was before. She gave the door another kick; it remained standing.

“Honey, there are better ways to get a locked door to open.” Moralie walked over to Rafe and placed a warm hand on her shoulder. She kindly moved Rafe to the side and approached the door. She pressed her ear up against it and listened for any noise on the other side. There didn’t appear to be anyone standing in front of the door. “There isn’t a locked cell that can hold the likes of Miss Moralie Grey.”

Moralie took out some tools out of her pouch and began to work on the lock. She had learned how to break locks when she was a child. After she lost her family, she had to find a way to survive on her own. She ran into a group of thieves who took her in and taught her the art of thievery. Over the years, she honed her skills and became a first rate thief. She struck out on her own for a few years, stealing to live, living to steal, before she ran into Rafe. Moralie had tried to run a scam on her, but Rafe didn’t fall for it. Rafe told Moralie that she could use her skills on adventures. The pay was good and the game was fun. Moralie had been with Rafe ever since.

Moralie had cracked open many complicated locks in her time. A simple lock on a wine cellar door was a piece of cake. With a final click, the door handle fell to the floor. She waited to hear if anyone had heard the noise before she dared to open the door. When no one came running, Moralie signaled to Rafe that she was done.

“Great work,” Rafe said. “Now to find Zeke and Simon.”

“Do you think she has them, too?”

“I’m willing to bet she does.” Rafe stepped out into the hallway and glimpsed both ways before she made another move. She knew that going left would lead them back to the lobby. She wondered if there was another room to the right.

She quietly led the two of them down the hallway to their right. They took another right turn and came to another door. Rafe attempted to open it, but it was locked. She deferred to Moralie, who was ready to be of service.

Moralie knocked on the door and asked for Zeke. There was no reply from the other side. She asked for Simon, but received no reply. She assumed that maybe they were bound and gagged so they couldn’t respond. She went to work on the lock and within a minute, the door was unlocked. It creaked as it slowly opened. Rafe checked the hallway to make sure that no one was coming.

Moralie entered the room after waiting a few seconds to see if there might have been a trap. It appeared to be another wine cellar. She stepped down into the room and looked around as best she could given the lack of light. After a good scan of the room, she decided that there was nothing of interest here. No sign of Zeke or Simon. She returned to Rafe and shrugged her shoulders.

“Then they must be in one of the rooms upstairs,” Rafe concluded.

“Don’t tell me that we’re going to search each and every one of them, right?” Moralie knew what the answer was going to be. She did not like the idea of having to sneak around the inn when they could easily just escape out the front door. The look on Rafe’s face confirmed her fears. “Alright then, let’s get started.” She closed the door behind her and rejoined Rafe in the hallway.

Rafe led the way back down the hallway. They reached the kitchen and stopped, there was movement coming from inside. She mustered up her courage and peeked her head into the kitchen. Greta was at the stove and appeared to be mixing something in a big, metal pot. Rafe wondered what she was making; probably something nefarious and evil. It looked like Greta was distracted so getting by her would be easy. She signaled to Moralie that they could continue forward. They snuck by the kitchen with no problem.

Rafe and Moralie arrived in the lobby and stopped to gather the keys to the rooms. They were not enthused with the idea of searching all of the rooms, but they didn’t know what else to do. Zeke and Simon had to be here somewhere.

For the next thirty minutes they searched the rooms they had keys for, but Zeke and Simon were nowhere to be found. Rafe thought that maybe Zeke and Simon hadn’t made it to the inn yet. There was a chance that they are still out in the town fighting the evil mannequins. If that was the case, then Rafe and Moralie needed to get out of the inn.

With newfound hope, they descended the stairs and put the keys back where they found them. Moralie went behind the front desk and searched for anything that she could steal and found their weapons. She passed Rafe her sword and pocketed her fire daggers. There wasn’t anything else that Moralie wanted. There were a lot of pens and paper, ledgers, and books of no importance. Disappointed that she didn’t find any money, she joined Rafe on the other side of the desk.

“Let’s go while the gettin’ is good,” Moralie said. “We can wait for the boys outside.” Rafe agreed and headed for the door.

It was then that they heard a door slam in the kitchen. The innkeeper was talking to someone. “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me?”

Rafe and Moralie walked over to the kitchen doorway and waited outside. They carefully peeked inside and saw that Greta was staring up at the ceiling talking to no one.

“I have them all and I am awaiting your instructions.” Greta wrung her hands as she paced. She kept gazing upward expectantly as if she would see something there.

“I hear you, innkeeper,” said the voice. “Have you prepared the potion like I asked?”

“Yes, it is currently brewing,” Greta walked over to the pot and stirred the contents briskly. “I don’t know what to do with it.”

Rafe and Moralie saw that Greta was responding to someone unseen. They couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but they decided to watch carefully and see how this played out.

“When the potion is ready, give it to the wizard. I think he’ll enjoy it.” The voice gave a slight chuckle. Greta thought it odd for it to sound so cheerful when talking about killing someone.

“Do you want me to give this to the others?”

“No, only to the wizard.”

“What do you want me to do with the others?”

“Have your mannequins have their way with them,” the voice commanded. “And then you can harvest their organs to make a great stew if you wish.”

Greta gulped. The voice laughed.

“I wish I hadn’t made so much of this potion if I was only going to give it to the wizard.” She picked up the ladle and stirred the potion some more. It was busy work, it gave her something to do. “Which one is the wizard?”

“The smaller one. He is a mere boy, but he is powerful. Whatever you do, don’t let him speak.”

Greta nodded her head.

“Oh, innkeeper?”

“Yes, Master?”

“You have company.”

Greta turned around and saw a glimpse of two heads disappearing behind the doorway. She knew exactly who they were. She clapped her hands and six wooden mannequins appeared from a door that led to the basement. She pointed to the doorway and the lumbering mannequins went where they were directed. She didn’t know how the women had escaped, but she was going to make sure that it was the last thing they ever did.

Spell #17

Rafe and Moralie were enjoying their dinner at a local pub. They were talking about how far they should ride tomorrow. Rafe wanted to at least reach the border of the Septia Kingdom by nightfall. She was in a hurry to get to Mount Rialto. If she didn’t get Zeke there within a week, it could spell disaster for the whole world.

Moralie was sipping on some hot tea when she asked, “Have you told Zeke anything about the quest we’re on?” She stared at Rafe as she took another sip.

Rafe shook her head. “I’m surprised he hasn’t asked. He’s been very agreeable so far.” She took a bite of her steak and chewed thoughtfully. She didn’t want to tell him what his role in the quest was going to be until it was too late for him to turn back. Things could get messy if she had to strong arm him into playing his part. Right now, ignorance was bliss.

“You’re going to have to tell him soon.” Moralie set her mug down and gave Rafe a playful look. “He’s going to have questions and you’re going to have to be ready. He’s only been with us two days. He’s getting a little anxious with all of the sudden threats against his life.”

“I know,” Rafe replied. She had been thinking about it for the past two days. “I just want to get a little further before I tell him what he’s mixed up in.”

“You’re afraid he’s going to hate you,” Moralie said. “for leading him on.”

“I don’t care if he hates me.” Rafe cut another piece of her steak and placed into her mouth. She really didn’t care if he hated her; she cared if he would do as he was told. She thought that Zeke was a nice kid, but the fate of the world was at stake. She needed to know that he would hold up his end of the plan when the time came.

“You’re so cold.”

Rafe knew that Moralie was judging her; she didn’t half mind. She had a job to do and it was her highest priority, everything else came second. She suddenly lost her appetite and pushed her plate away from her. She had wanted dessert, but the conversation had soured her stomach.

Moralie was the first one to notice the silence. The pub had been really jumping before with people talking excitedly and music being played on the piano, but there was nothing now. She looked around and saw that the surrounding people were still. No one moved a muscle. Moralie tapped on the table at Rafe to get her attention.

Rafe looked up from her plate and scanned the room. There were people standing and sitting in different locations in the pub, but no one spoke a word, no one moved. This was most strange indeed. Something was wrong and she was upset with herself for not noticing this sooner. Whatever was happening, she and Moralie were right in the middle of it with no defensible way out.

“We need to get out of here.” Rafe stood up and grabbed her sword which had been leaning against the wall by their table.

“You don’t think the proprietor would be upset if we didn’t leave a tip, do you?” Moralie liked a free meal when she could get it. She stood up slowly and grabbed her bag that contained her daggers.

The both of them gazed at the frozen people and waited for them to make a move. No one so much as flinched. They eyed the door and saw that it was unobstructed. They hastened their steps towards it and that was when everything changed.

There was a creaking and then the sound of splintering wood. This stopped them in their tracks. The noise was coming from all around them. There were a few people by the door that started to move, their motions were jerky at best. The people sitting at the bar stood up, the sound of wood splitting apart accompanied their movement. They all crept their way toward Rafe and Moralie.

“Oh, this is not good,” Moralie said. She clutched some of her daggers and prepared to fight.

Rafe unsheathed her sword and held it out in front of her. The people kept approaching them as they shuffled. The people by the door arranged themselves in front it, blocking their escape. Rafe brandished her sword and issued a warning for them to let her pass. The people didn’t say anything to acknowledge that they understood what she said.

“These people are possessed by some evil spirit,” Moralie surmised. It was the only explanation she could come up with. One of the people tried to touch her, but she brushed him off. “Why are we still here? Let’s push them out of the way and get out of here!”

“Let us out or I swear I will cut you,” Rafe shouted. The people didn’t seem to hear her. Rafe lifted her sword and stabbed one of the men in the chest. The man seemed unfazed by his new injury. She withdrew the blade and found it devoid of blood. She stared at it and was astonished. She gazed up at the man and saw that there was something wrong with his face. His skin was bubbling and popping. In a matter of seconds, the skin suddenly melted away and left only the blank stare of a wooden head. She gasped at the sight of this. All of the people that surrounded them had their faces melt off. It left a slimy mess on the floor. They continued to circle around them.

“They’re wooden puppets,” Moralie said, disgusted by what she had seen. “They’re not real people.”

“Good, then they won’t mind if I do this!” Rafe swung her sword and sliced one of the mannequins’ head off. It rolled to the floor in a simple thump. The other mannequins shook as their heads began to emit a horrible roaring sound. The lower part of the heads split open to reveal mouths with splinters for teeth. Their hands grew long claws that were ready to slice into them. This horrified Rafe and Moralie and caused them to back away.

“What kind of trickery is this?” Moralie asked.

“This is dark magic to be sure.” Rafe gathered her wits and charged at one of the wooden puppets standing in front of the exit. Her sword pierced right through it and out the back of it. She used the momentum from the charge to push the puppet out through the two wooden doors and onto the street. Moralie left the pub and joined Rafe outside. Rafe pulled her sword out of the puppet and sliced its head off. It let out a sigh as the spell wore off.

“Take the heads off!” Rafe commanded.

“Easy for you to say!” Moralie pulled out a couple of her daggers and stared at them. The daggers didn’t lend themselves to quick slicing. She grinned as she remembered that she had a trick up her sleeve. She reached into her bag and pulled out six black daggers. These were special because they were made by a wizard who cast a spell on them. She had been waiting for an excuse to use them.

“It’s time to light up my life!” Moralie watched as the mannequins slowly stumbled out of the pub. She attached chains to her magic daggers for easy retraction. Once there were enough mannequins in the streets, she threw the daggers at them. She counted to five and then watched as smoke began to rise out of the hit mannequins. In a matter of seconds, they caught fire and collapsed to the ground. She pulled on the chains and the daggers returned to her.

“Fancy,” Rafe chimed. She readied herself as more mannequins came at her. She spun her sword and hacked and slashed at anything that came near her. Heads were rolling on the ground when she was done. The mannequins reached out to touch her, but Rafe cut their hands off before finally removing their heads.

Mannequin bodies piled up in front of the pub. Between Rafe’s beheading and Moralie’s incendiary tactics, they were dropping fast. They couldn’t believe that the pub had been occupied by so many.

Rafe wondered how she could have missed all of this. She admonished herself for not picking up on their presence before this happened. She was usually good at picking up disturbances, but this one slipped right past her. She made a mental note to be more observant.

As the last two mannequins exited the pub, Moralie made quick work of them. As she retrieved her fire daggers from their chests, Moralie chuckled. She had been enjoying herself and was almost sad that there weren’t any left. She wiped the sweat from her brow and sighed. “Do you think this was an isolated incident?”

Rafe shook her head. “This was trap set up by some evil force. You can bet that there’s more throughout the town. Whomever is gunning for Zeke is after all of us now.”

“Who would have the power to make an entire town a trap?” Moralie asked.

“The person who knows we’re after the Alta Stone.” Rafe sheathed her sword and started walking away from the pub. Moralie followed closely behind. “We have to find the others. Chances are they were met with the same welcoming party.”

“But they could be anywhere.” Moralie didn’t like the idea of having to search the whole town for Zeke and Simon; though it would give her another chance to play with her fire daggers again if they ran into trouble.

“We’ll head to the inn. If they’re looking for us, they might head there.” Or at least Rafe hoped so. It made sense to her, it was possible that it would make sense to Simon as well. She hastened her steps, leaving Moralie to attempt to match her pace. Rafe had tunnel vision; she had to make it the inn in time. She had to make sure that Zeke was alright or this quest was all for nothing.

“Could you walk any faster?” Moralie asked, panting. She groaned as Rafe sped up. “It wasn’t a challenge, you know!”

The inn was within sight. Rafe slowed down and felt relieved. If Simon and Zeke were alright, they could pack up their things and leave this town behind them.

Just before they could reach the inn, a group of mannequins walked into the open. They stood defiantly between them and the inn. Rafe estimated that there were about thirty mannequins. She grinned. Not even enough to be a challenge, she thought.

“You take the ones on the left,” Rafe said, drawing her sword.

Moralie took out her fire daggers and stared at her opponents. They appeared to be making the same decision.

The mannequins split into two groups and crouched down, ready to pounce. Rafe and Moralie took battle ready stances. No one moved for thirty seconds. Then as if a timer had gone off, both sides sprung into action.

Rafe charged at the enemy with her sword held high until she brought it down to fell a mannequin. It reached out and clawed at her right arm as she decapitated it. Its body fell limply to the ground, head lolling beside it. She didn’t stop and raced toward the next one, ignoring the pain in her arm.

Moralie let her daggers fly and plant themselves into the chests of six mannequins. She kept her distances from them and waited for the embers within to catch fire. In a matter of seconds, flames burst out and consumed the mannequins. A shrill whistle sounded as the magic rose out of them. She was beginning to enjoy that sound. She pulled on the chains and extracted the daggers from their chests. They fell on the ground where they continued to smolder. Another set of five raced towards her. Moralie wasted no time in repeating her process. Once those were expertly disposed of, she pressed forward.

Before she was able to confront the next set, she felt a hand touch her on the shoulder. She thought that it might have been Simon or Zeke, but as she touched the hand, it was wooden and full of splinters. She left out a scream and the hand tightened and placed another hand on her other shoulder. It pulled her against its body and dragged her a few feet. Moralie dropped her chain of daggers as she tried to pry the hands off of her. They were like stone and unmoving. The other mannequins raced for her with their claws ready to slice.

“Rafe!” Moralie shouted.

Rafe risked a glimpse in Moralie’s direction and saw that she was in trouble. She sliced the mannequin she was fighting in half and turned to help her friend. The dying mannequin reached out and clamped a claw around Rafe’s right foot. She fell to the ground, dropping her sword. Another mannequin arrived and held her down. She struggled to get free, but they proved to have superior strength.

“Be careful with them, boys,” said an elderly woman’s voice behind them. “We need them in pristine condition.”

The mannequins picked Rafe up off the ground and held her. The ones that held Moralie came forward and stood ready for more instructions. The instructions came from the woman who owed the inn. Rafe sneered at the old woman and wished that she could get at her.

Greta walked over to Rafe and touched her chin. “I like your spunk,” she said. “Now, I promised my master that I would take great care of you.” She looked at Rafe’s bloodied arm and clicked her tongue. “Well, not that great of care, I suppose.” She let out a short laugh. She signaled to the mannequins that held Moralie to come forward. “And you, my dear, are lucky to be alive. I hear you had quite the day yesterday. No matter! You’re mine now. Bring them inside.”

Greta led the mannequins towards the inn. Rafe tried to wrestle them, but she failed to free herself. She grunted in frustration as they led her into the inn. She hoped that Zeke and Simon were still out there somewhere, safe. She allowed herself to be carried inside and started thinking of a way to get out of this.

Spell #16

Simon and Zeke were pressed up against the wall of the pool as the three old men slowly approached them. In the fog it was hard to see the exit, it was thick and dark.

Simon knew that it was time to take the kid gloves off. He tried to ignite his hands, but they were too wet for any flames to stick. He cursed under his breath. There wasn’t anything else he could do but punch the old men’s lights out. He made fists and punched the man nearest to him. The man’s face slackened under Simon’s knuckles, pieces of it came off and splashed in the pool. Simon gagged.

The man with the tears in his face reached his arms out to choke the life out of Simon. Zeke quickly kicked the man in the crotch and pushed him away. Doing this opened him to an attack from another man who pulled Zeke under the water. Zeke struggled to get back above the surface, but the old man’s grip was strong, much stronger that a man of that age should be.

Zeke held his breath as he splashed around. He could hold his breath for four minutes, but as panic gripped him, he was expending more energy. The urge to inhale was strong. His hands searched for something to grab onto so that he could loosen the man’s grip. He reached up and pulled at the man’s arms. The skin only tore away and disintegrated in the water. Zeke grimaced as the pieces floated by him. What were these men made of? He expected to see bone and muscles, but instead saw wood. What in the world was that?

Simon saw that Zeke hadn’t free himself yet and approached the man attempting to drown him. He gave the man a punch in the face, causing him to stumble backward. The man’s grip loosened and allowed Zeke to reach the surface. Zeke took a big gulp of air as he tried to orient himself.

“They’re not real!” Zeke said. He pointed at the men and called attention to their wounds. There was no blood, just wood. “They’re like weird puppets!”

The third man made his way to Simon in time to receive a kick in the chest. He floated away, making a path to the pool exit. Simon and Zeke wasted no time in getting out of the pool. The three men, with their skin slipping off their faces, stood in the water staring at them. They collected together and then soared out of the pool. Simon and Zeke were not expecting that at all. They took several steps backward and turned to run into the changing room.

The three men, completely free of their skin, landed in front of them, clinching their wooden fingers. They looked like faceless mannequins found in tailor or sewing shops. They each took one menacing step toward Simon and Zeke, who in turn took another step backward.

“Should we run?” Zeke asked.

“I’m not leaving here without my clothes,” Simon said. “I don’t want to get arrested for indecency.”

“I think that’s the least of our problems,” Zeke replied.

Simon waved his hands about in an attempt to dry them off. When he felt that they were sufficiently dry enough, he ignited his hands in green flames. He wasted no time in engulfing them. The mannequins were stunned momentarily, but the flames were soon extinguished. “Dammit, they’re too wet!”

The mannequins were not going to stop. They looked like they were going to run at them. Simon and Zeke decided that running was a good idea. They turned tail and ran, of course, grabbing their towels to be modest.

The mannequins chased after them through the changing room. Simon had hoped to lose them in the many rows of closets, but they never took their sights off of them.

They ran down the hallway leading to the front desk area. They stopped to see if Ingrid was still there, but she was gone. Simon heard the mannequins close behind them. He grabbed Zeke’s arm and pulled him towards the front door. When they reached the glass door, they found it to be locked.

“Who the hell locks the door with people still inside?” Zeke shouted, his voice cracking as it peaked. “We’re trapped!”

Simon began to punch the glass door in the hopes of breaking it. Unfortunately, the glass was very thick and showed no signs of cracking. Still he didn’t give up, this was their only hope.

The three menacing mannequins arrived at the end of the hallway and cocked their heads as they stared at Simon and Zeke with their eyeless faces. They clinched their fingers into fists as they approached them.

Zeke knew that he would have to come up with a spell somehow. He had been fairly lucky so far on this quest making things up on the fly. He took stock of how much magical energy he had left. He hadn’t had a chance to rest to recharge his energy stores. He was down to 35% at best. It wasn’t going to be a strong spell, but it might be enough to stop the mannequins long enough to buy some time.

Simon’s fists were bloodied as he continued to punch the glass door. Zeke stopped him and said, “We need to try something else!” Simon agreed. He started to think about what other spells he knew. He could use his Cloud of Daggers spell again, but these mannequins probably didn’t feel pain. That was a pity. How he yearned to hear their screams of anguish.

What else could defeat enchanted wooden puppets? Simon thought about using one of his dragon spells. It had been a long time since he had used one. They were generally more complicated to perform and they caused a lot of damage. Using one in such small quarters would most likely kill him and Zeke, but the enemies would be toast. There had to be something else… Maybe there was no other way.

The mannequins assessed their situation and saw that victory was within their grasp. They slowly crept towards their prey, hands clinching and un-clinching.

Zeke wished that he had brought his master’s book with him, but what use was it at a spa? Maybe if he transcribed every spell in Gresar’s book into a smaller book, it would be more portable and readily accessible. That would have to be a project he did after he survived this.

Simon stepped in front of Zeke and clapped his hands. “Stay behind me,” he said. Zeke nodded his head and hid. Simon noticed that the mannequins weren’t in a hurry to get them; he planned to use this to his advantage.

He got down on his knees and began to pray. He reached his energy down to the Old Ones and asked them to lend him more of their power. Within seconds he could feel their power surging within him. The ceremony was complete. He stood up and stared at the encroaching creatures. His eyes glowed green as the power intensified. As the mannequins began to grow mouths with sharp splinters for teeth, Simon readied his attack.

“Brace yourself,” Simon warned Zeke. The young wizard wasn’t sure what exactly he should be bracing himself for, but supposed that he would soon find out.

Simon placed his hands out in front of him and chanted words in the Elder language. The environment suddenly grew warm. He shouted a command and a blast of green fire in the shape of a large dragon raced from Simon’s hands and traveled down the hallway. The force of the attack shoved Zeke and Simon backward into and through the glass door that had been previously unmoved. The dragon spell made quick work of the mannequins and the lobby of the spa. Everything was charred and smoking, the mannequins were three piles of ash and splinters.

Simon and Zeke picked themselves up and brushed off the broken glass. Zeke’s wiped some blood from his face for he had used it to break the door. His ears were ringing and underneath that was the cutting sound of Simon’s laughter. Zeke looked at his friend and saw that he stood triumphantly and naked in the middle of the street laughing maniacally. Zeke didn’t think that he would stop. There was a crazed look in Simon’s eyes; this frightened Zeke a little.

“Simon?”

“DID YOU SEE THAT?” Simon puts his hands on his hips and laughed some more. “That was great! I haven’t used that spell in a long time!”

“I can see why,” Zeke commented. He adjusted his towel, which had miraculously stayed on, and approached Simon to tap him on the shoulder. “We should go. People are going to start wondering what happened.”

Zeke looked around them and saw that people were beginning to step out of the shops and houses to get a peek. He felt embarrassed and waved awkwardly at them. “See, we’re causing a scene.”

He reached out and touched Simon’s shoulder, but he was abruptly shrugged off. Simon raised his hand like he was going to hit Zeke. Zeke recoiled and shielded his face. There was a wild look on Simon’s face, his eyes still green, teeth bared.

“Simon!” Zeke called out.

Simon took a moment and realized that Zeke was cowering before him. It was like he had just remembered that Zeke was a friend; his face softened and his body language relaxed. He dropped his arms down to his sides and sighed. He looked back at the spa and saw the damage he had caused. He felt shame. He had done it again, he almost lost control and struck a friend.

“I’m sorry…” He bent down and picked up his towel and tied it to his waist. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” He turned to Zeke, who was still cowering, and extended his hand. “Can you forgive me?”

Zeke studied Simon for a moment before lowering his arms. He shook Simon’s hand and smiled cautiously. “Sure. The next time you try to hit me, I might not feel the same way.” Simon nodded his head, message received. “Now let’s get out of here.”

Zeke and Simon turned to walk away, but the townspeople had all but surrounded them in a wide circle. They were staring at them with blank stares. “Just go on home! There’s nothing to see here! Sorry for the disturbance!” Zeke said. The people stood and gazed unblinkingly at them. Zeke knew that something wasn’t right. They were still in danger.

“Simon, the people…” Zeke started.

“They’re puppets, too.” Simon ignited his fists, ready to call upon the Dragon spell again.

Just as he said that, the skin and clothes melted away in thick globs to the ground, revealing themselves to be mannequins. Their faces were blank and wooden. Mouths began to form, baring their glistening splintered teeth. They reached out to grab Zeke and Simon as their circle closed in.

Zeke and Simon stood side by side as they observed the mannequins’ shuffle towards them. They readied their magical energies and prepared to fight their way out.

“You get the ones on the left and I’ll get the ones on the right,” Simon suggested. Zeke nodded his head in agreement.

Simon went to work incinerating the mannequins that raced towards him. Zeke was left wondering how he could defeat the ones that were coming at him. He wished that he had his master’s book. There had to be a spell that would work in this situation. He sighed as he constructed words that would subdue his enemies. As the mannequins crept closer, Zeke wondered if he would have enough energy to summon a spell powerful enough to stop all of them. He would soon find out.

Zeke decided that he would call upon the power of fire to vanquish his foes. He gathered the words he needed and recited: “I call upon the gods of fire and flame, strike down my enemies in your name.” He raised his right hand to the sky as dark clouds formed above him. The clouds opened and a balls of flame rained down upon the menacing mannequins, igniting each and every one of them. They continued their approach until they collapsed into charred piles before him. They reached for Zeke, still intent on carrying out their directive. Zeke merely kicked the fiery crawling mannequins away. They finally stopped moving and were content to burn up in resignation.

Simon stared up at the sky and watched as the clouds dissipated into the nothing they came from. He turned his attention to Zeke and saw the ruin that lay before him. He was impressed with him. To look at Zeke, one wouldn’t assume that so much power could come from a guy so small, but surprises came in small packages, he supposed.

All of the mannequins had been destroyed. Zeke and Simon took a moment to rest. They knew that if it was dangerous to do so at this moment, but they were exhausted. So much magical energy was spent and it took a toll on their bodies. Simon knew that he could only do low level spells from this point on. Zeke had spent the rest of his magical energy on that last spell. He just hoped that he wouldn’t need to cast any more spells tonight.

“We need to find Rafe and Moralie,” Simon said, breaking the silence. “If the whole town is full of these things, you can bet that they’re in trouble.”

Zeke agreed. “But we should go back to the inn and get dressed.” He adjusted his towel and sighed. “We can’t very well help them if we’re naked.”

“This is a good point.”

Simon and Zeke cautiously stepped through the burnt bodies, mindful for any mannequin that might still be alive. Once they were through the battlefield, they made their way to the inn.