Spell #15

Zeke and Simon reached Room 215 and set their belongings down on their respective beds. Zeke chose the one next to the window so that he could gaze at the town below. There were people lighting the lanterns on the street, illuminating the night. Zeke was in awe of the simple town life. He spent most of his time inside the shop in Valora. Very rarely did he step outside to engage in the village life. This quest was a big deal for him.

Simon took his cape off and breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t realize how heavy it was. He wondered if this was the equivalent of a woman taking off her bra. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Zeke, what do you want to do tonight?”

“I’m still really sore from that fight this morning,” Zeke said, taking stock of his body. “I think I’ll stay in and order room service.” He jumped on the bed and laid down. His muscles appreciated this choice.

“Oh come on, that’s boring!” Simon said. “We should go out, get something to eat, and then check out the town.” He walked over to Zeke’s bed and stared down at him. “Please?”

“No, I’m tired and sore and…”

“And a wuss,” Simon added.

Zeke sat up in anger. “I am not a wuss! I’m just tired…”

“And a wuss.” Simon poked at Zeke’s tired and achy left arm. Zeke insisted that he wasn’t a wuss. “Prove it. Come out with me.”

“I know that you’re trying to peer pressure me into going out because you have low self-esteem and are too afraid to go out and do things on your own.” Zeke gave Simon a mischievous grin. If Simon was going to play this game, Zeke was going to make sure that he regretted it. “But baby birds gotta fly away from the nest sometime. Mommy isn’t going to be around forever.” Zeke was delighted to see that this had irritated Simon.

“I have great self esteem!” Simon said. He flexed his muscles. “And who needs self-esteem when you’ve got arms like these?”

“Then go out by yourself and have a great time!” Zeke laid back down and placed his hands behind his head.

“Wuss.”

“Scaredy cat.”

Zeke and Simon stared at each other awkwardly for a few minutes. They were having a test of wills. Zeke was sure that he was winning until Simon started to smile his toothy smile. This disarmed Zeke and made him doubt his resolve. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue looking at him when he was trying to smile. Why was he so bad at it? Zeke rolled his eyes and let out a frustrated sigh.

“Fine, I’ll go out with you.”

Simon perked up and yanked Zeke off the bed. “I knew you would! Let’s get some grub and then we could go to that bordello!”

“I don’t think I want to do that,” Zeke said. He didn’t like the idea of being around that many women who only wanted to have their way with him. He didn’t have any experience with women other than letting them think that they are right all the time. Gresar kept him busy that he didn’t have room for romancing women. He wasn’t even sure if he liked women.

“Now who’s the scaredy cat?” Simon said. “Oh that’s right, you’re a virgin! Well after tonight… oh ho ho!” He clapped his hands and laughed.

“Ugh.” Zeke suddenly felt a pit in his stomach as he thought that the night could only get worse from here.

***

Zeke and Simon found a nice noodle shop and ate their fill. They hadn’t eaten anything since Pimeria and brought their appetites. When they finished their third bowl of noodles, they decided that they had enough. The waitress tried to entice them with dessert, but they declined. They didn’t want to think about food again for the next two days. The waitress left to tally up their bill.

“So, are you ready to party?” Simon asked with crooked smile on his lips.

“I’m ready to go back to the inn and rest.” Zeke patted his full belly and leaned back in his chair. He needed to stretch and let the food settle in his stomach. “After all that fighting business earlier today, I’m beat.” He looked at Simon and saw that he wasn’t liking that answer. “What?”

“I’m still thinking about getting you laid,” Simon said.

“Well, stop it!” Zeke leaned forward and whispered. “It’s creepy.”

Simon laughed while Zeke blushed. “Don’t feel bad. This is supposed to be a boys’ night out. We go to the bordello, meet some ladies, have a little fun… eh?”

The idea repulsed Zeke. “You can do that if you want, but I’m not coming.”

“You aren’t now, but if you’re lucky, you will be later!” Simon laughed at his little joke. “Come on, kid!”

“I don’t see why my getting laid is so important to you.”

“It would give me an excuse to play around, too,” Simon admitted. He sighed loudly. “But I understand if you don’t want to go. We’ll just do something else.” He was looking forward to meeting some women, but he supposed that Zeke just wasn’t ready for that kind of action.

After the waitress brought them their bill, Zeke and Simon paid it and left the shop. Simon didn’t want to go back to the inn right away. He wanted to have some fun with Zeke, but was unsure of the right way to bond with him. He tried to remember what the innkeeper had said was here in town. Didn’t she say that there was a bathhouse around here somewhere?

“What would you say to a nice dip in a pool?”

Zeke glanced at Simon and wondered what he was up to. Sure, a dip in the pool sounded nice, but he was sure that Simon was going to suggest that there was a pool at the bordello where they would be surrounded by beautiful women. That was not the kind of action he was looking for.

“What kind of pool?” Zeke asked, curious.

“There’s a bathhouse around here somewhere. I think we should check it out. Are you up for it?” Simon looked at Zeke, asking him to trust him. The young wizard scanned his face for any sign of treachery and found none. Zeke nodded his head. “Outstanding. We’re going to have a great time!”

Simon and Zeke headed off towards the center of the town. They asked a local where the bathhouse was located. Once they received the directions, they made a beeline to their destination.

They arrived at a large black stone building that stuck out amongst the surrounding beige buildings and huts. It looked like that it was hand-hewn from the stone that lay just beneath the sandy ground. It appeared to be old and weathered from the outside; they could only imagine what the inside looked like.

They reached the front glass door and cautiously pushed it to be allowed in. The inside didn’t match the outside at all. The black stone walls were sleek and polished. The floor matched the walls and had a thin red carpet trail that led to the front desk. The air was slightly humid and warm. It had to be from the hot springs.

A black woman sitting at the front desk stood up and greeted them. She beckoned to them and smiled. “Don’t be shy. Come on in!” Simon and Zeke sped walked to the front desk and bowed to her. She was wearing a black and white uniform along with a name tag that read ‘Ingrid’. “Welcome to Whitechapel Hot Springs! How are you gentlemen this evening?”

“Tired,” Simon and Zeke said in unison.

Ingrid offered them a grand smile. “You’re going to be so relaxed in a moment. Now, we are a full service bathhouse where you can receive a massage, hot stone treatment, manicure, pedicure, acupunture…” She read the looks on their faces to see if they might perk up at any of the things she was mentioning. They did not perk up. She just offered another award winning smile. “But it looks like you’re here for the hot springs.” Their faces lit up at the mention of the springs. It’s always the springs with the tourists. “The price for ninety minutes is going to be thirty pankos.” She watched as Simon and Zeke opened their pouches and took out their gold and silver pieces and counted out the amount requested. She collected the money and deposited it in a steel box. “Thank you. Here are your towels. Follow this hallway back and the men’s spa in on the right. Don’t even think about sneaking over to the women’s spa.” She frowned as she said this. “We’ll be watching.” Her face turned pleasant again. “Enjoy and thank you for choosing Whitechapel Hot Springs!”

Simon and Zeke bowed again and followed Ingrid’s directions to the men’s spa. There was a room where people could leave their belongings in closets. Simon picked the third closet in the third row. He was happy that he found it empty. He began to undress and place his clothes inside it.

Zeke undressed nearby. He was so happy to be out of his dingy clothes. He made a mental note to find better clothes in the morning; he wanted to look like a wizard, not like a shabby stable boy, which his current outfit denoted.

Zeke undressed down to his underwear and began to walk towards the pool. Simon just happened to be looking at him and grabbed him by the arm.

“What?” Zeke asked. Simon pointed to a sign. It listed the rules of the pool area, mostly no running, no diving, and the last bit said no underwear allowed. He did a double take at this. “No underwear? But…”

“Rules is rules!” Simon said as he stripped out of his underwear. He closed his closet and stretched. “Man, it’s good to be free!”

Zeke blushed as he begrudgingly took his underwear off. He covered himself with his hands as he followed Simon to the pool. Simon commented that Zeke’s modesty was unfounded because he had been naked when they met. Zeke had forgotten about that. He still felt better hiding himself.

As they reached the pool, they noticed that they had the place to themselves. Zeke relaxed a bit knowing that he wasn’t going to have to share with other naked men.

The pool was well lit with glowing stones at the bottom. The steam rose from the water and created a fine mist above the pool. The water was the perfect temperature, not too hot, just right.

Simon and Zeke found it easy to slip right in. Their muscles began to relax the instant they hit the water. They let out collective sighs of relief as they swam. They floated on the surface and let the worries of the past two days slip away. This was bliss. Zeke didn’t want to leave this place.

Simon and Zeke sat in the pool in silence for a moment. Zeke’s thoughts wandered to what the quest was actually about. Why were they looking for the Alta Stone? What did it do? Why did the Dark One want it? Why did Rafe want it? Why do they need him? He wanted to ask Rafe these questions, but she was so enigmatic; she kept things close to her chest. He surmised that she would not give that information freely. Zeke looked at Simon and wondered if he would tell him things he needed to know.

Simon caught Zeke looking at him and raised an eyebrow. “Is there something on my face?”

“No…” Zeke, suddenly self-conscious, looked away. “I have some questions I’d like to ask you.”

“I have some answers I’d like to give you.” Simon chuckled as he sent some warm water Zeke’s way.

“Why are we looking for the Alta Stone?”

Simon sat up and stared at Zeke. He looked like he had been taken by surprise. Zeke could see that Simon was carefully constructing his answer.

“We’ve been dispatched by the Oracle of Vernai to seek it out. She said that darkness is coming to the world and if we don’t retrieve the Alta Stone, all will be lost.” Simon’s look was stark, like he was upset that Zeke had asked him about the quest.

Zeke wanted more information, but he was hesitant to ask. He gulped as he realized how scary Simon was being at this minute. Should he push it?

“What does the stone do?”

“I’m not exactly sure.” Simon’s eyes shifted forth and back from Zeke and the door to the changing room. “The Oracle made it seem like it was highly dangerous and to be handled with care.” He knew what question was coming up next and he dreaded it.

“Alright, that doesn’t tell me much, but I suppose it will do for now,” Zeke said. He noticed how uncomfortable Simon was getting. He had one more question and he needed to ask it.

“Why did Rafe push so hard for me to join the quest? It was apparent that you needed a wizard and I suppose any one would do.” He waited for Simon’s response. Another question came to mind. “What are you expecting me to do?”

Simon burped and patted his stomach. Zeke’s last question was the one that he was dreading. He tried not to let his awkwardness show, but he supposed by the look on Zeke’s face that he was failing. This was the question that Rafe did not want him to answer. He couldn’t very well tell him that he didn’t know, but he couldn’t tell him the truth either. He had to find a way to stall him. Fortunately, the answer presented itself when three men walked into the room. Thank the gods!

“I don’t think we should talk about it here,” Simon whispered.

Zeke sighed and cursed at the old men in his mind. He wondered if Simon actually planned to answer his question in the first place. He would just have to ask him again later. Or maybe ask Moralie. The problem with that was that Moralie seemed to be quite close to Rafe. He might have an even harder time getting information from her.

The three old men made it to the pool and stepped in cautiously. They looked at Simon and Zeke and smiled. “Nice night for a bath, right?” one of them asked. Simon and Zeke simply nodded. “Yes, a very nice night.” When all three of them were in, they all sighed in unison. They walked to different corners of the pool and sat down.

At first Zeke didn’t think anything about this. The men were having a spirited conversation about how nice the night was and what their wives were doing tonight. Zeke thought that it was highly agreeable for them to be talking about their lives in the town. But then the conversation stopped suddenly and a feeling that they were no longer safe set in. He glanced at Simon and saw that he was feeling the same way.

Simon felt that something about these men wasn’t quite right. He signaled to Zeke that it was time to leave. He stood up and stretched. “Well, gentlemen, it’s been great and all, but it’s time for us to get to bed. Zeke?”

“Coming!” Zeke stood up and proceeded to walk to the steps. The three men stood up and gave them an icy glare. “You guys have a nice night.”

The three men closed in on them, blocking the exit to the pool. Simon and Zeke’s thoughts were confirmed that they were no longer safe.

A mysterious fog rolled in and covered them. Zeke and Simon knew that this was no ordinary fog; it was charged with dark magical energy. As the fog covered the three men, their faces began to contort and twist while they approached. The two adventurers braced themselves for an attack. Zeke didn’t like the idea of fighting old men, but he wasn’t above it.

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Spell #14

SPELL #14

The Dark One had spent the night in the fields of Everlong. He enjoyed being underneath the stars. It was a great way to commune with nature. He still had the basket of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but the ants had gotten to them and were enjoying themselves. He could have banished them to the AfterWorld, but he decided that ants were just following their instincts, no reason to banish them. He took it as a compliment that the ants were loving the sandwiches. They were made with love, why not share?

It was now midday and it was hot outside. The Dark One came to the conclusion that he had had enough of sitting in the fields and wanted to go home. He stood up and packed up the picnic blanket and basket, ants and all. He chanted some words in an ancient language and created a summoning circle, which caused the grass to burn a ring of fire around him. He recited a few more words and in a flash, he was gone, leaving a smoldering fire in his wake.

In an empty room in a dark castle on the North Continent, the Dark One appeared in a puff of smoke and a ring of fire. He waved the smoke out of his face and stepped over the ring. He was reminded of the mental note he made to research a way to teleport without the smoke- it was bothersome.

He set the blanket and basket on the floor and walked out of the room. He traveled through the dark corridors in silence, plotting his next move on the wizard apprentice. The boy had overcome all of the challenges the Dark One had put in his way. Either that boy was really good or the challenges were really weak. He was going to have to step it up a notch.

The Dark One finally reached his destination, the divination room. This was where he cast most of his spells. He had an idea that he was really excited about and he wanted to get to work on it right away.

In the center of the room sat a large black table that was covered in books containing the darkest spells known to man. He picked up a stack of books and set them on the floor. This revealed a crystal ball that had been covered up. He had been looking for that for a week. He grinned and picked it up. He maneuvered it around in his skeletal hands for a bit before activating it. A white light shone from it before it settled on an image of the apprentice.

The boy was laying in a bed with healers tending to a wound on his stomach. The Dark One wondered who could have given it to him- it wasn’t one of his minions. Did that mean that someone else was trying to kill him too? Who could it be? He would have to send out his crows to find out.

The Dark One waved his free hand and the image changed to a view of town, Epherma. This was what he wanted to see. This town would serve as his next checkpoint. It was here that the party would meet their end.

He chanted some words and fog began to form around the crystal ball. As it did this, a fog appeared in the town. People came out of their houses and marveled at how odd it was. It was midday and the sun was shining, why was the fog rolling in. The Dark One chuckled because their questions will be answered in a few moments and they weren’t going to like it.

Live through this, I dare you, thought the Dark One. The stage was set, all he needed were the players.

***

The healers worked their magic on Zeke and healed him up nicely. He had a decent scar to show for his troubles. He was impressed with it. He had earned his first battle scar. He wasn’t as good as Rafe, not by a long shot, but he learned that he could hold his own. He was proud of that accomplishment.

Simon walked over to Zeke and lifted up his shirt to gaze at the scar. “That’s pretty impressive, Zeke. I wish I had been there to see you get that.”

Zeke pulled his shirt down and said, “It’s not like it was a spectator sport, Simon. I was fighting for my life.”

Simon lifted the shirt back up to look at it again. “It’ll be a great tale to tell your children. Zeke the Bold bravely faced down a stranger bent on his destruction. He quickly smote his ruin in the woods and saved the fair maiden in distress.”

Rafe looked up from her post by Moralie’s bed and glared at Simon. “I was not in distress. I was merely unconscious.”

“Sounds like distress to me.” Simon flashed Rafe a grin. “Anyway, this scar is amazing. Not as as amazing as mine, but still good.”

“Oh, where are your scars?” Zeke asked, pulling his shirt down again.

Simon pulled up his shirt to reveal his barrel chest and tight abs. There were scars up and down his torso. He was about to explain how he had gotten each of them, but Rafe cleared her throat, signaling that now was not the time. “There you have it. One day, all this will be yours.”

Zeke wasn’t sure if he wanted to have that many scars. It hurt to get the one he had; he didn’t particularly want the pleasure of getting more than this one. He shook his head and walked over to Moralie’s bed. She was sleeping. This reminded him of how she had gotten to be that way.

So much had happened to him in the past two days. He wondered how much longer this quest was going to be. They were on South Continent in the Septia Kingdom. Mount Death was on the North Continent somewhere in the Secunda Kingdom. At the rate they were moving, it might take them a week or two to get there, that is if they survived the journey. He wondered what the Dark One had in store for them.

“When Moralie wakes up, we’re going to get our horses and travel to Epherma like we planned,” Rafe said. “I don’t want to push Moralie too hard by going as far as Tilden.” She looked at Moralie and sighed.

“Don’t worry about her,” Simon said. “She’s a tough bird; she can handle it.”

Moralie stirred and said, “Could you guys keep it down? Dying girl over here needs her beauty sleep.” She sat up and smiled at her friends. “Man, you could wake the dead with the amount of yapping you produce.” Simon and Zeke approached the bed and welcomed Moralie to the world of the waking. “So, we’re going to Epherma?”

Rafe nodded her head. “Do you feel you’re able to ride?”

“Sure. I feel 200% better than I did last night.” Moralie slowly got out of bed and saw that she was in a hospital gown, complete with the gap in the back. “Where are my clothes?”

Rafe held up a bag and tossed it to her. “Get dressed and we’ll meet you in the lobby.” She stood up and walked to the door. As she opened the door, she noticed that Zeke and Simon were still looking at Moralie. “Boys, come on. Let a girl change in peace.” Simon and Zeke tried to hide their disappointment and finally left the room. “Lechers.” She closed the door behind them, allowing Moralie some room.

***

The party departed from Pimeria in a hurry to put the bread village behind them. They doubted that they would stop there again based on what had happened to them there. They rode through the woods cautiously, being aware of everything that was around them. They didn’t want to be surprised by Shadow Walkers again.

Zeke felt that he was ready for anything now that he had two battles under his belt. He had his sword strapped to his back within easy access should he need it. He had thought briefly about finding the swordsmith and returning the sword to him. He didn’t like the idea that Duncan could possibly come back for it at any moment. As he held the sword in his hands, he felt that the sword somehow knew of his intentions. He felt its energy and it soothed his doubts and assured him that things were going to be just fine. He ultimately decided that he would keep the sword. He had fought so hard to retain it that it would be a shame if he gave it away. It was better off with him than some poor unsuspecting person. He would gladly bear the burden the sword came with.

It took most of the day for them to reach Epherma. When they reached the border, the sun was setting. They had ridden nonstop for fear that they would be jumped by unknown forces. They all breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived.

The border watchmen stopped them at the town gates and asked them to identify themselves. Rafe told them that they were on a journey and needed to stop here for the night. She said that they would be leaving in the morning. This seemed to please the watchmen and they allowed the party to enter.

Zeke marveled at how Rafe was able to talk to people. She was forceful, yet polite. She wasn’t nervous at all. He knew that if it had been left to him, he would stutter and feel guilty, like he was trying to get away with something. He would probably end up in a holding cell due to appearing suspicious.

Rafe asked the townspeople where their best inn was located. Once she received the directions, she led them to the Apple Orchard Inn. There was a sign that hung from the wall that depicted two apple trees and a goat. They weren’t sure where the goat came into the equation, but it was cute enough that it didn’t matter. There was a place to hitch their horses outside. They dismounted and tied their horses to the poles before entering the inn.

The lobby was decorated like it was an orchard. There were pictures of trees and apples hung around the room. The check in desk had a small tree figurine that served as a bell. There were chairs lining the small room and they had pictures of happy goats on them. Zeke wanted to know what goats had to do with apple trees. No one else seemed to care.

Moralie approached the desk and rang the bell. “Hello?” she called. She waited for a few minutes before she rang the bell again. She leaned over the counter and saw that there were a set of keys resting on the desk. She was tempted to just take them and give them to her friends. Her thief mentality was showing. She was going to give it another ten seconds before she took them. At the seventh second, an older woman came in and greeted them.

“Welcome to the Apple Orchard Inn. My name is Greta, how can I help you?” She smiled at Moralie and company. She had soft tan skin, her face was slightly wrinkled, but not enough to suggest that she was someone’s grandmother. Her shoulder length brown hair had some streaks of gray in it. She wore a blue dress with a white apron that had some stains on it. She had just come from the kitchen where she was preparing dinner for the guests.

“Hi, we’d like two rooms, please,” Moralie said, looking back at Rafe to see if she had done a good job. Rafe nodded.

“One bed?” Greta asked, looking at Simon and Rafe, and then Moralie and Zeke.

Moralie shook her head. “Two beds, please. One room for the gentlemen and one for the ladies.”

Greta felt embarrassed by her assumptions and nodded her head. “Oh, yes, of course.” She looked down at the desk and found the keys. She picked them up and handed them to Moralie. “This is for room 202 and this one if for 215. They are both on the second floor.” She patted Moralie’s hand. “If you need anything, come find me. My sons are about the inn tidying things.” Greta started to walk away before she stopped and turned to them. “How long will you be staying?”

“Just a night,” Rafe said.

“That’s perfect.” Greta clapped her hands. “Then you must venture out and see the town. We’re got a lot of entertainment here. We have a bathhouse two streets down, dinner theatre down the way, great food downtown.” She looked at the gentlemen and grinned. “There’s even a place for the men that enjoy the company of women, if you know what I mean.” She giggled and blushed. “If you need help finding your way around, there are some maps on that table over there. Please enjoy your stay.” She bowed and then left them for the kitchen.

Moralie turned to her friends and shrugged her shoulders. “Let’s get to our rooms and then have a great night!” They all agreed and made their way to their rooms, not knowing that trap had sprung.

Spell #13

Zeke stood ready to make the first move. He was full of confidence that the sword provided. It was almost taking the pain of his injuries away. If there had been any time to analyze it, Zeke would have been frightened by how different the sword made him feel. He needed to stay focused and think about that later.

Zeke shouted as he ran towards Duncan. He raised his sword high which caused Duncan to raise his to defend. Zeke grinned menacingly as he swiftly brought the sword down and cut Duncan’s belly, just like Duncan had done to him. Duncan winced, but didn’t go down.

“Tough guy, eh?” Zeke said. He went in for another attack, but Duncan blocked it. He wasn’t going to be fooled again. Zeke would have to come up with something else.

Duncan went on the offensive and drove Zeke back several paces with his barrage of attacks. Zeke was able to defend himself, but he was losing ground. He wanted to stop retreating, but Duncan wasn’t going to let up.

Zeke summoned some energy from the sword and prepared to blast Duncan. Duncan felt the energy pooling and prepared to defend. When the red burst of energy was released, Duncan returned fire with his sword’s energy.

“We’ve done this already, boy!” Duncan called out. “You’re running out of tricks aren’t you?”

Zeke wanted to give the illusion that he still had something up his sleeve when all reality, but it was true; his bag of tricks were all out. He pushed the energy out as far as he could, but Duncan pushed harder and eventually won out. The green energy hit Zeke and tossed him backward into a tree. Duncan didn’t waste any time and rushed him. Zeke used the sword’s energy to create a barrier between the two of them. Zeke needed some time to regroup.

Duncan ran into the shield and fell to the ground. “You coward! Come out here and face me!” He banged on the shield with his sword; green energy versus red energy. Duncan’s was stronger. He pressed hard on the shield and caused it to shrink. When he saw that he was making a dent, he took out his amulet and chanted some dark language. The amulet glowed bright red.

Zeke looked out and saw what Duncan was doing. The amulet was synced with the sword and Duncan was using it to absorb the shield’s energy. Zeke had forgotten Duncan had that. It was the reason why Rafe wasn’t with him. He needed to get that amulet away from him. Maybe he could come up with a spell to get it from him. That would require more time, something he was losing.

The shield grew weaker by the second. There wasn’t much time left. Zeke had succeeded in catching his breath, but he was no closer to having a plan. He felt the sword’s energy reassure him that it was going to be alright; something else that would have caused some confusion under other circumstances.

Zeke was ready to face Duncan again. He brought down the shield. Duncan was in mid swing. Zeke rolled out of the way just as Duncan’s sword stabbed the space he had just occupied. He got up and stood ready to attack. He saw that Duncan was having a little trouble getting his sword out of the tree. He used this opportunity to rush his enemy, shouting as he ran. Duncan simply raised and arm and blasted Zeke with his amulet. Zeke was flung back several feet and he rolled as he hit the ground.

“You are beginning to bore me,” Duncan said. He succeeded in pulling his sword out of the tree and regained his quest to end Zeke’s life. He confidently strode over to where Zeke was lying and kicked him in the gut. Zeke cried out because the pain from his wounds became unbearable. “You thought that you could best me; a mistake that you wouldn’t be making again.”

Duncan raised his sword and prepared to impale Zeke. “This will be over soon.”

Zeke had only seconds to act before he would become skewered. He decided to attempt to get the amulet away from Duncan. “Dark magic beyond my reach, amulet to me, I beseech!”

Duncan felt the amulet start to leave him. He pulled back in an attempt to keep it from Zeke. This caused a distraction and allowed Zeke to raise his sword and stabbed Duncan in the gut. Blood spilled onto him as it traveled down the sword. Duncan gasped in surprise and dropped the amulet. Zeke immediately grabbed it and used it to blast Duncan away from him.

Zeke stood up and was in awe of what he had just done. He felt this surge of adrenaline pump through him, which made him feel a little giddy. Had he just beaten a dark wizard? He, a simple wizard’s apprentice bested a great wizard from the North Continent? People might sing songs of his bravery.

His daydream ended abruptly as he heard Duncan sputter and cough a few yards away. His muscles aching, his stomach burning, Zeke slowly walked over to Duncan, who was lying bloodied on the ground. Zeke knew that he could end his life right now. His sword demanded more blood and Zeke wanted to see it.

Duncan looked up at Zeke and gave a gurgled laugh. “You had better kill me, boy…” He coughed up some blood. “Do what Gresar could not.”

Zeke wanted to kill Duncan. The power that was running through him was more than capable of killing Duncan. He gripped his sword tightly and started to raise it. Just as he was about to bring it down, he took stock of what Duncan had just said. He said that he must do what Gresar could not. When Gresar won his battle against Duncan, he didn’t kill him. Zeke started to think about whether he really could take a life. He wasn’t sure. Duncan wanted Zeke to kill him, why should he deny him that?

Zeke looked into Duncan’s eyes and saw hatred, anger, and defiance. They were daring Zeke to commit the deed. They were testing him. Zeke felt that if he did kill Duncan, he would be no better than him. He wasn’t ready to have that on his conscience for the rest of his life. Zeke lowered the sword and sheathed it.

“It’s over,” he said. He stepped away from Duncan and turned his back to him. Duncan looked close to death. If he didn’t kill him, he would surely die on his own. He wasn’t going to stick around to watch him die. That was not on his list of things to do today. He was going to go look for Rafe.

Duncan laughed hoarsely as he watched Zeke walk away. “You are weak! You will regret this!” He summoned the dark energy within him and started chanting. A purple haze appeared around his body and seeped into his wound and slowly began healing it. It would take him a while, but he would be up and walking again.

***

“Rafe?” Zeke walked in the direction where he thought she had flown. He stepped through the woods cautiously, careful not to miss anything. He looked behind every tree and every stone. The woods seemed to go on for miles. She could be anywhere, he thought to himself. She could be injured or worse, dead. He didn’t want to think about her death. If it did turn out that Duncan had killed her, Zeke decided that he would go back and finish Duncan off himself.

Zeke thought about how the amulet had blasted him away several times. He never went more than a few yards. Maybe she wasn’t too far away. He continued to keep his eyes open for any sign of her. He walked for ten more minutes in the presume trajectory and before he stopped. He should have found her by now. He looked behind him and scanned the area. Maybe she was lost. Maybe he was lost.

“RAFE!” he shouted. He turned around and called out her name again. He did this in all directions. He listened carefully for any response. He didn’t hear anything, not even a bird. He sighed and he pondered what he should do next.

He supposed that he should double back and go in another direction. He looked around and wasn’t sure which direction he had come from. “Oh, brilliant.” He regretted not having a compass. He tried to look at where the sun was, but the canopy of leaves was too thick. He took a deep breath and decided to go forward. He hoped that it was the way he came.

He called out for Rafe as he walked. The woods were so silent it was eerie. It was like the trees had secrets that they weren’t ready to divulge. Were they keeping Rafe from him?

He continued walking until he heard a moan. He stopped walking instantly and listened. He heard someone cough. It had to be her!

“Rafe, is that you?”

Another moan and a cough.

Zeke walked in the direction where he thought he heard the noise. “RAFE!”

“Zeke?” It was Rafe’s voice. It was coming from in front of him to the right.

“I’m coming!”

He raced through the woods until he finally found Rafe sitting up. She had some blood on her forehead. He knelt down next to her and held her, like she had held him this morning. “Rafe! I’m glad you’re okay!” He tore a piece of his shirt off and used it to blot away some of the blood.

She looked at Zeke and saw that he was bloodied as well. “What happened?”

“That guy on the horse took out his rage on me, but I’m okay,” Zeke said. “Can you stand?” Rafe nodded her head. He helped her onto her feet and whistled. “Man, you flew pretty far. This thing packs quite a wallop.” He held up the amulet and grinned.

“Yes, it does,” Rafe agreed. She took stock of where they were and smiled. “I know where we are. Let’s get back to the hospital.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The two of them walked back to the area where they had been sparring. Zeke looked around for Duncan and saw that he was not where he had left him. He gasped and looked around frantically. Where is he? He was dying; he couldn’t have gotten up and walked away, could he?

“What’s the matter?” Rafe asked.

“Duncan should be here, but he’s not.” Zeke looked up into the tree branches to see if maybe Duncan had managed to get up there to ambush them. He couldn’t see anything up there. He assumed that Duncan was nowhere near them now. Duncan was right, Zeke did regret not killing him. Now he had to worry about the next time they met. Would he have the strength to fight him again? Only time would tell. For now, he was just happy to get back to the hospital and heal up.

Spell #12

Zeke gasped as he watched Rafe fly out of sight. He was counting on her to back him up. Now that she was gone, he was on his own. He hoped that he had retained enough of what she taught him to survive this duel, but he was pretty sure that he was going to die. He gripped the sword and hoped that he could master it before his inevitable demise.

“Are you ready, boy?” the man in white asked.

“My name isn’t ‘boy’,” Zeke said, resentful of being dismissed as a mere boy. He was a wizard’s apprentice and he wanted the respect that came with it. “My name is Ezekiel Martens, apprentice to Gresar Mallory.”

The man nodded his head and grinned. “Ah, I know of Gresar. He is a great wizard!”

Zeke smiled at the man and hoped that he had some common ground with him. Since he knew Gresar, maybe he would give up this whole duel business. Maybe they could go get a beer in town and talk about how great Gresar is.

“Isn’t he great?” Zeke asked.

“That he is.” The man’s eyes glinted for a moment as he thought about Gresar. “He bested me in a wizard’s battle. I still owe him a good trouncing.” He looked over at Zeke and licked his lips. “I suppose his apprentice will have to do for now.”

Zeke gulped. There went his hope of skipping the whole mess. The man intended to finish this duel. He wanted to buy some more time until he came up with a plan of action. “So, I told you my name; who the hell are you?”

The man raised his sword and replied, “I am Duncan Tyrell, a wizard from the North Continent. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

Zeke didn’t remember hearing Gresar ever mention him. He debated whether he should say yes if it meant that he got to keep his head. In the end he decided that it was better to die an honest man than a liar. He shook his head solemnly.

“It’s too bad,” Duncan said. “I’m pretty great myself.” He popped the bones in his neck and cleared his throat. “Now, if you are done stalling, I’d like to get on with it.” He poised himself in the battle ready stance.

“Oh, brother,” Zeke said to himself. He tried to strike a similar stance that Rafe had taught him. He didn’t know if he should make the first move or if he should let Duncan make the first move. Zeke was sure that if Duncan went first, he would most certainly finish him off in an instant. If he went first, then Duncan would know that he was inexperienced. He needed to be smart about this. He didn’t have a prayer of beating this guy, but maybe if he could get a few hits in enough to dissuade Duncan from wanting to finish the fight, he might have a chance to walk away from this in one piece.

Bored by Zeke’s indecision, he stepped forward and swung his sword, aiming for Zeke’s throat. Zeke was able to deflect the sword away from his neck in time. Duncan swung again, aiming for Zeke’s chest. Zeke blocked that attack as well. Duncan gave one attack after another, but the apprentice was able to defend himself each time. Duncan let out a short chuckle, amused that this boy was putting up such a fight. He admitted that he was a little impressed that Zeke could block him so easily. He just had to keep this up and eventually the boy would tire, then he would have his victory.

Zeke kept up with the defense, but desperately wanted to attack. Duncan didn’t leave him with an opening to attack. He knew that Duncan was only trying to run him down before he went in for the kill. He tried to remember what Rafe had taught him. It hadn’t been that long ago, but there were so many tips that she had given him that it was hard to differentiate them all into what was useful now. He would have to improvise to stay alive.

“You give up yet?” Duncan asked.

“Of course not!” Zeke decided that he was done playing defense and with Duncan’s next swing, he ducked down and spun around, using his right leg to trip Duncan. Duncan fell and Zeke rose. Zeke aimed the red sword at Duncan’s neck. “Do you yield?”

Duncan looked genuinely upset by this turn of events. “Never to the likes of you!” With his green sword, he hit Zeke’s sword away from his neck and stood up. “So we’re fighting dirty are we? Well, let me show you how I fight dirty!” He wiped the dirt from his previously clean white outfit and licked his lips. He swung his sword around for sport before he went in for Zeke’s blood.

Duncan rushed Zeke head on. This took Zeke by surprise and he stumbled backward to avoid having his head skewered. Zeke was about to fall, but he caught his balance and repelled the dark wizard’s attack. Duncan was fast and swiped at Zeke’s belly and cut him.

Zeke gasped as he felt the blade slice his flesh. He backed away from his enemy and looked down at his wound and saw that it wasn’t too deep, just enough to draw some blood. Now he was angry, but furthermore, scared. He couldn’t afford more hits like that. It was not pleasant nor was it fun. He was sure that he could use a spell to mend himself if he was lucky enough to only sustain this one wound.

Duncan raised his eyebrows and smiled at Zeke. “Are you having fun yet?” He raised his green blade and showcased the blood that was dripping from it. “I got first blood and it was easy. It was almost like you’ve never held a sword a day in your life!”

Zeke didn’t want to tell him how right he was. This made him madder. He used this anger to fuel his resolve. He needed motivation. He needed to hurt Duncan bad. He wanted to. He stood up straight and felt his belly burn. He let out a whimper which betrayed his tough facade. He nodded his head at Duncan, indicating that he was ready to begin again.

Zeke was the first one to make his move. He raised his sword over his head and brought it down in an attempt to cleave Duncan’s head in two. Duncan brought his sword up and blocked the attack. He quickly brought it down and gave Zeke another slice in the stomach, deeper this time. Zeke cried out and spun around, his back to Duncan. The dark wizard used this opportunity to kick Zeke in the back. This caused Zeke to stumble forward onto the ground.

Zeke wanted to lie down, but not with his face covered by the dirt and fallen leaves and his butt sticking up in the air. He brought his right hand to his stomach and felt the blood ooze out of him. Duncan was right behind him, preparing to deal the final blow. He had to get up. The ground was so comfortable, though.

Working against the pain, he got to his knees and spun around. Duncan was coming for him. Zeke grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it up into Duncan’s face. This disoriented the dark wizard enough to stop him in his tracks, allowing Zeke to get up and out of the way. Zeke used this moment to swing his sword and cut Duncan’s back. Duncan cried out as he was taken by surprise. His white top was slowly turning red.

Zeke was pleased with himself, but he knew that he didn’t have long to revel in this small victory.

Duncan spun around with a sweaty face full of dirt. There was anger in his eyes. He did not like being bested by a mere boy twice in a row. He had been toying around with Zeke, but now it was time to take off the kid gloves.

Duncan gripped his sword tightly and started to mumble some words under his breath. His sword started to vibrate as a green light emanated from it. Wind stirred the fallen leaves into a frenzy around him. As the mumbling became progressively louder, the wind grew more intense. Soon, he was shouting in words that Zeke did not understand.

So, this is dark magic, Zeke thought. It was the only thing that made sense.

Duncan had his head lowered in the beginning, but now it was raised. His eyes were closed, but in an instant, they opened and they were bright green. Duncan stopped the incantation; the spell was complete. He shouted and aimed his sword at Zeke. A green blast of energy shot out of the blade and flew toward Zeke.

Zeke quickly dove to his right, but it was not in time to stop him from getting hit by it. The green energy singed Zeke’s right shoulder. He fell to the ground, holding his pained shoulder. Smoke was rising out of the wound. He looked up at Duncan and was frightened by the crazy green lit eyes. He scrambled to get away from him before he unleashed another blast of energy. Duncan followed him with his eyes.

Zeke looked at his sword and thought that maybe his could do the same thing as Duncan’s. The question that came to mind was: “Is this a dark magic sword or a light magic sword?” Could he use his magic to manipulate the sword’s power? He had to try, but he didn’t know where to begin.

Duncan laughed as he watched Zeke stand up. He sent another blast of hot energy towards Zeke. The apprentice raised his sword and swung so that the blast hit the blade and was rerouted to a nearby tree. Sparks ignited the tree on fire.

“So, we’re using magic now?” Zeke asked. He got no response from Duncan, only laughing. “Fine by me!”

He wracked his brain for a spell that he could use that would enable him to use his sword’s power. He wished that he had brought Gresar’s spell book, even though he knew that it couldn’t provide him with the support he needed. It was too heavy and Duncan wasn’t going to allow him time to find the right spell. This, too, he would have to improvise.

Duncan approached Zeke with the intent of shooting him again. Zeke continued to back away slowly while he thought of a rhyme. Why did these spells have to rhyme? He wanted to close his eyes so that he could concentrate on the right words, but Duncan continued to shoot at him. When he was close enough, Duncan attacked with the green sword again.

Once again, Zeke was on the defensive. With each deflection, he took another step back. He was sure that he had finally found the right words, he just needed to collect his energy. Not all of it had returned from last night’s banishment of the witch, but he had enough for this spell. “Crimson sword full or power, unlock your secrets in this hour!”

Zeke’s sword vibrated in his hands. He almost dropped it, but with his blood soaked hands, he was able to get a firm grip. The sword’s blade began to glow bright red. Magical energy flowed from the sword into Zeke’s body. He felt himself grow stronger. This would more than make up for the deficit of energy he had lost last night. The sword’s true purpose was suddenly revealed to him. This sword was the devourer of souls. This pleased him. He knew a soul that needed devouring.

“So you’ve unlocked the power of the sword,” Duncan said. “It will not be enough to save you.”

“We’ll see about that,” Zeke replied. He felt invincible now. Any doubt he had in the beginning was now replaced with newfound confidence. The sword ached for blood, it didn’t matter whose it was. Zeke aimed the sword at its former master and urged the energy to build up until he willed it to shoot out of the blade. Red energy flew towards Duncan at an alarming speed. The dark wizard blocked it and redirected it to a tree behind him. Zeke shot another blast. Duncan took a few steps closer and deflected the blast to another tree.

Zeke prepared one more blast; it was going to be a big one. When all of the energy was gathered, he released it. Duncan was quick. He raised his sword and released the energy from his sword. The two streams clashed in the center. This lasted for a moment before there was a big explosion of white light. This sent both wizards flying in opposite directions.

As the light dimmed, Zeke and Duncan saw that the battlefield was now bare. The trees had been uprooted and thrown aside in all directions. They stood up and walked toward each other, ready to battle again. They met in the middle of the battlefield, each sporting their wounds, Zeke a little worse for wear. It was obvious that they were both tired. Neither one of them wanted to quit. They just looked at each other and grinned.

“You ready to finish this, boy?” Duncan asked.

“I am, old man,” Zeke replied. He could see that Duncan liked his response. For a moment there, he could see that he respected him.

Both fighters struck a battle ready stance and prepared for the final round.

Spell #11

Zeke and Rafe left the busy marketplace and headed back towards the hospital. Zeke was admiring his new sword. He could feel the power it had inside it. He was eager to test it out. He wasn’t sure why Rico wanted to be rid of it so badly, but he was glad to own something so pretty.

“I take it that you would like to try out your new sword?” Rafe asked, looking behind her. She smiled when she saw him gaze at the sword excitedly. She remembered the day she got her first sword. She thought that she was invincible. It wasn’t until her father taught her how to use a sword that she began to feel confident in her skills. She was looking forward to teaching Zeke how to master his sword. She was a little unclear how its magic would come into play. She was also worried about why Rico was in such a hurry to give Zeke the sword. This didn’t sit well with her, but what’s done was done. She would just have to keep an eye on it.

“Would I? What kind of question is that? Of course I want to try it out!” Zeke said. “I can’t wait to use this baby in battle!”

“I think you’re far from winning any battles with that thing.” Rafe chuckled at Zeke’s enthusiasm. “Let’s check in with Moralie and Simon first, and then I’ll take you out of the city to train.”

Zeke and Rafe returned to the hospital and entered the room where Moralie was recovering. Moralie and Simon were engaged in a deep conversation when they entered. All talking stopped and they smiled at them. Zeke held up the red sword and triumphantly set it on Moralie’s bed.

“Look at what I got today!” Zeke pointed to the sword at Moralie’s feet.

“It’s a sword,” Moralie said. “It’s a pretty sword. Not many of those lying around, I can tell you that much.” She reached down and picked it up. She examined the red blade carefully. “It’s a magic sword, too. Where did you get it?”

“In the market place! Ask me how much I paid for it!” Zeke was bursting with pride.

Moralie shrugged her shoulders. She knew that a sword like this would cost a lot of money, more money that a mere wizard apprentice could ever hope to have.

“I got it for free! FREE!”

Moralie examined the sword again. Something like this would never be free unless there was something wrong with it. There wasn’t anything obviously out of place. The craftsmanship wasn’t the greatest. She had seen some well made swords in her day. She had even stolen a couple of them. She got an uneasy feeling about Zeke’s sword. There was something dark about it, but she couldn’t really put her finger on it. She wanted to warn Zeke about using the sword, but she didn’t want to rain on his parade. He was very elated about it, so she decided to let him have his little moment. She shot a look over to Rafe and saw that she looked like she was having some of the same concerns.

“Looks great, kid.” Moralie handed the sword back to Zeke. “Just be careful where you swing that thing. You might put someone’s eye out.”

“That’s the point!” Zeke laughed. “Get it? Point? It’s a sword… with a point?” The others groaned at his terrible joke. He chuckled as he returned the sword to its sheath. “Rafe said that she’s going to teach me how to sword fight.”

Simon shot a glance to Rafe and gave her his toothy grin. “Don’t let her work you too hard. She’s a tough teacher.” He winked at Zeke.

Zeke didn’t know what to do with the face Simon was making, but he awkwardly grinned and waved. “Sure thing.”

Where will you be?” Simon asked Rafe.

We’ll be on the outskirts of Pimeria, near the woods.” She walked over to where she left her sword last night and picked it up. “We won’t be there for very long- maybe an hour or two. It depends on how well the student does.” She strapped her sword to her back and indicated to Zeke that she was ready to go.

Wish me luck!” Zeke waved goodbye to Simon and Moralie. They waved to him as he and Rafe left the room. He was sure that they were eager to get back to the conversation they were having before they were interrupted. He wondered what they had been talking about for a few seconds and then the rush of sword practice took over from there. He couldn’t wait to test out his new sword.

***

To the north of Pimeria, a lone man dressed in all white rode his horse toward the city. He looked down at the bustling city from a high hill and breathed in the fresh country air. He reached underneath his shirt and pulled out an amulet with a red stone embedded in a gold chain. It caught the light of the sun and pulsated red light. The man smirked as he replaced the amulet underneath his shirt. He knew that what he was looking for was nearby. It was mere moments from his grasp. It had taken months to finally track it down, but now his sweet reunion was at hand. He snapped the reins and commanded the horse to move forward.

***

The sound of swords clashing could be heard throughout the woods outside of Pimeria. Rafe had shown Zeke how to hold a sword and then trained him on some simple sword wielding techniques. She was amazed by how fast Zeke was taking to the instructions. He wasn’t quite a natural, but he was getting it. She taught him the things that her father taught her when she was a young girl. There was no better swordsman than her father. He was the royal trainer for the army of the kingdom Quartia. She learned from the best. She felt honored that she would have this chance to train a student his teachings.

Now Zeke and Rafe were standing several paces apart with their swords held at the ready. Rafe grinned at Zeke and beckoned to him. Zeke raised his sword and yelled as he ran toward her. He brought his sword down to strike, but Rafe easily deflected the attack, knocking his sword out of his hands. It landed on the ground with a mighty thud. She also knocked Zeke to the ground. She didn’t have to do that, but she enjoyed it. Her father did the same thing to her.

“I almost had you,” Zeke said, rubbing his behind as he stood.

“You never almost had me,” Rafe said, brushing her blond hair out of her face. “Now let’s go again. Don’t hold back. I can take it.”

Zeke was panting loudly. He wanted to take a break, but Rafe wouldn’t let him stop. He now understood what Simon meant when he said not to let her work him too hard. In a way, he didn’t want to stop either. He wanted to prove to Rafe that he could hang in there, that he could take anything that she threw at him. They had been working at it for a solid two hours. He felt that his body was going to give up long before she would.

He walked over to his sword and picked it up. It vibrated slightly and tickled his hand as he held it. He dropped it and stared at it for a moment. Rafe looked at him curiously and then at the sword.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked.

“No, it just…” Zeke cautiously picked up the sword and gripped it tightly with his right hand. He waited for it to vibrate again, but it didn’t. He looked up at Rafe and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it was nothing.”

He slowly got back into a battle ready stance and waited for Rafe’s instructions. She nodded her head and Zeke took off running towards her. This time he held his sword with the tip jetting out in front of him. He was sure that he was going to get her this time. Rafe made quick work of his attack and blocked it. She tried to knock the sword out of his hand, but this time he held onto it tight and he brought back for another attack. He was almost too quick for her, but she brought her sword back and caught the blade just in time. They continued to spar until Rafe finally kicked the sword out of his hand and held her blade at his throat.

“I concede,” Zeke said breathlessly. He put his hands up and got down on his knees.

“You don’t have to kneel, Zeke,” Rafe said, amused that he would go that far. “Please stand.”

“Rafe?” Zeke looked over at his sword and saw that the blade was glowing a red light. He pointed to it and Rafe turned her attention to it. “Should it be doing that?”

“It’s a magic sword, who know what it’s supposed to be doing.” Rafe didn’t like the looks of it. She watched as Zeke stood up to retrieve the sword. Something wasn’t right; she felt it in her bones. She regretted letting Zeke get that sword. Maybe Rico was right for being hesitant in giving it to him.

Zeke bent down and picked up the sword and felt it vibrate in his hands. It was a challenge to hold it. It tickled his hands and made him want to drop it, but he held on tightly. The sword began to produce a low hum. He looked to Rafe for an explanation, but she couldn’t offer him one. They continued to stare at the glowing, vibrating sword.

Another humming sound was heard from somewhere nearby. It was of a higher pitch than that of the sword’s. They seemed to harmonize with each other. Zeke and Rafe tried to pinpoint the location of the second hum. It wasn’t too far away from their current location- and it was getting closer every second.

When the humming got close enough, Rafe suggested that they hide. They quickly ran to the nearest trees and concealed themselves. Rafe had an afterthought of hiding their trail. They had greatly disturbed the ground where they had been sparring, it was a dead giveaway that there were there. It was too late for the second hum was among them now.

The sword’s humming grew louder as the second hum reached them. Zeke wanted to bury it inside his shirt in the hopes that it would muffle its sound. There didn’t seem to be a way of stopping it. He rolled his eyes and sighed as he waited for whatever was going to happen next.

The sound of a horse neighing alerted Rafe and Zeke that someone was there. They risked a glance from behind their trees and gazed upon a man dressed all in white dismounting from the horse. He was holding up a red amulet that glowed a bright red. He walked around the area where Zeke and Rafe had been sparring and let the amulet hone in on its prey. The sound of the harmonizing hums fluctuated depending on where he pointed the amulet. When he was satisfied, he put the amulet away and the humming stopped. Zeke was overjoyed by this.

The man cleared his throat and said, “I believe that you have something that belongs to me.” He paused and stared at the two trees that Rafe and Zeke were hiding behind. “If you return it to me right now, I will spare your lives.” He waited for a response. There was only the sound of the soft breeze passing through the leaves. “I offer you this chance to walk away with your heads firmly attached to your necks. Squander this chance and you won’t live to regret it.”

Rafe and Zeke exchanged glances. They knew that he was talking about the sword. Zeke didn’t want to give it up; he got it fair and square. Sure, he didn’t have any money invested in it, but he wasn’t going to just hand over his sword over to some blowhard.

Rafe looked at the man and decided that this man was not a good man. Threats aside, she could just sense that he was up to no good. Based on what she had seen of the sword, it was probably used for evil purposes. She posited that someone had separated the sword from its master in an attempt to reduce the amount of terror it caused. Now Zeke had it. What would happen to him if he used the sword?

“Are you still silent?” the man in white shouted. “So be it. I will take it back by force.” He reached out his hand at the tree that Zeke was hiding behind and gathered up his magical energy to summon the sword.

Instantly, Zeke felt the sword vibrate as it tried to leave him. He tightened his grip and resisted the pull. He felt the sword begin to pull him out from behind the tree. He tried to secure a foothold on an exposed root. He only succeeded in tripping over it and being dragged out into the open. Rafe attempted to grab his arm, but she was too far away.

The man in white looked down at Zeke as the sword dragged him forward. He ceased the summons and watched as the sword fell to the ground. The boy looked relieved. “So, you cling desperately to my sword like a babe to her mother’s teat. Amusing.”

“I could have done without the mental imagery, thanks,” Zeke said, standing.

The man extended his hand expectantly. Zeke looked at it and simply shook his head. “You would dare to deny me?”

“This sword is mine now. I bought it, it belongs to me.” Zeke raised the sword and pointed the blade at the man.

The man stared at Zeke with his steely dark eyes and scanned him up and down. “I can tell by the way you hold the sword that you don’t know how to use it.” This caused the man to chuckle. “You are but a boy. You have no use for this sword. Give it to me.”

Zeke looked at the sword for a moment. He saw that the blade was still glowing. It had so much power within it, he could feel it. He wanted to possess that power. Still, he had half a mind to give it to him. He didn’t want to upset this guy any more than he already was. The sword wanted to go back to him, he could feel that, too. He didn’t get good vibes from this man. Maybe it would be better if he didn’t have it.

“Don’t give it to him.” Rafe stepped out from behind her tree and raised her sword.

“I was wondering when you would appear.” The man was amused by this. “Another lamb for the slaughter. I suppose the time for talking is over. Give me the sword while you still draw breath.” Rafe and Zeke continued to point their blades at him. He bowed his head and said, “Very well.” He reached into his shirt and pulled out the amulet.

Before they had a chance to blink, an unseen force emitted from the red stone and threw Rafe and Zeke backward into the trees. They fell limply to the ground, but they didn’t stay there for very long. They quickly got back up and took account of their limbs, they were unbroken. They stood ready for another attack. Rafe just wanted to wipe the smirk from his face.

The man raised a black eyebrow at their defiance. While he had only used a fraction of the amulet’s power, it was usually enough to knock someone unconscious. He was impressed by their boldness.

“Alright, boy. I propose we settle this like men.” He walked over to his horse and took a sword out of his pack that it was carrying. The blade of this sword was green. He returned to Rafe and Zeke and swung it a few times to get a good feel for it. It wasn’t often that he used this sword, but he didn’t tell them that.

“We will duel for control of the sword. The winner gets the sword.”

“And the loser?” Rafe asked.

“And the loser will die.” The man gave a menacing grin. “What do you say?”

Rafe stepped forward. “I accept. I will duel with you.”

The man looked at her and chuckled. “My duel will not be with you. He possesses my sword, he will fight me.”

Before Rafe could argue, the man shot a red blast from the amulet and it sent her flying far into the woods. She landed on the ground with a hard thud and did not possess the strength to get up. He had used more power to pack a harder punch. She soon lost consciousness, despite her best efforts to remain otherwise. Her last thoughts were a silent prayer that Zeke would survive. That remained to be seen.

Spell #10

Zeke awoke to the sound of talking. He opened his eyes and saw sunlight streaming in through the window. He had slept the whole night. He didn’t mean to do it, but it felt good. His body was no longer sore. He sat up and saw that Rafe and Simon were sitting by Moralie’s bed. They were laughing at something. He stood up and walked over to the bed and saw that Moralie was awake and well. Her soft, white skin looked healthier with even tones of red. He smiled as Moralie turned and looked at him.

“Moralie, you’re alright!” he said, stating the obvious.

“Yes! I believe that I have you to thank for that.” Moralie beamed with positivity. “Thank you so very much for saving my life.”

“You would have done it for me.” Zeke blushed. Though he didn’t know what they would have done if it had been him hit with the Reaper’s Curse. Without them being able to read his master’s writing, it would have proven difficult to help him. He just had to be glad that things worked out they way they did.

“From now on, I’m just going to ask if I can steal your food before doing so,” Moralie joked. “I’ve learned my lesson.”

“We should really let Moralie rest,” Rafe said. She stood up and ushered Zeke away from the bed. “We’re going to go get some breakfast and then we’ll shop for some supplies.” She signaled to Simon to join them. He stood up after kissing Moralie’s hand.

“Aww, you guys got to spend all morning talking and laughing with her,” Zeke protested. “I want my time with her!” He was being pushed out of the room by Rafe. He tried to wave goodbye to her, but he was successfully escorted from the room. Simon closed the door behind them. “Do you think that she’s going to be safe by herself?”

“I think you delivered a powerful message last night that there’s no messing with us,” Rafe said as they walked down the hallway. “Whoever is gunning for you will think twice about attacking us for a while.” She patted Zeke on the back.

Zeke wanted to tell her that he knew who was gunning for him, though he didn’t have much information other than that his sandwiches were scrumptious. He wondered if he had any room left for breakfast. In response, his stomach gurgled loudly. Simon and Rafe laughed as they left the hospital.

“Let’s go take care of that, shall we?” Simon asked. Zeke nodded his head and chuckled, embarrassed.

***

After a satisfying breakfast, the three of them went back to the hospital to check on Moralie. She was still doing well and recovering just fine. The healers said that if she continued at this rate, she should be ready to leave tomorrow. This was great news to Rafe.

Just as Zeke was about to sit down with Moralie and get to know her a little better, Rafe tugged on his shirt and asked him to come with her. “What’s the big idea, Rafe?” he asked, a little irritated.

“We still need to shop for supplies.” Rafe’s eyes glistened as she looked him dead in the eyes. There was something behind those eyes that Zeke was curious about. They hid something from him. He assumed that there was a lot of pain behind those eyes. He supposed that it was the reason she was so serious all the time. For this reason he decided not to toe the line and followed her out of the room. “So, what supplies do we need? I hope you packed enough food for us all.”

Rafe shook her head and gave him a coy smile. “We’re going to get you some useful weapons.”

“Weapons?” Zeke realized that he didn’t have any weapons. He never needed them before, but he supposed that since someone that likes to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches was dead set on killing him, maybe he needed them now. “Can I get a sword? A really big sword that shoots lightning bolts at people! That would be awesome!”

Rafe laughed a little and said, “I think we might start you off with a standard, run of the mill, ordinary sword before we start on the magical swords.” She led him out of the hospital and back onto the busy city streets.

Rafe and Zeke walked through the streets in silence for a little bit, but Zeke wanted to ask her a few questions. Who was she? Where is she from? What did she want with the Alta Stone? Why does she need him and what does she expect him to do? He was slowly working up the nerve to ask. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. What was he so afraid of? He swallowed and decided to go for it.

“Rafe?”

“Oh, here it is!” Rafe turned down one of the streets and disappeared.

Zeke ran and turned the corner to find that the street was packed with people looking at goods on either side of the street. He tried to find Rafe in the crowd of moving people. How did she get so far so quickly? He decided that he was just going to have to go in after her. He joined the crowd and tried to maneuver around the people who had been walking, but suddenly decided to stop with no warning. He ran into a lot of people because of this.

He was so busy trying to get by people that he didn’t really notice what the merchants were selling. At this point he didn’t care; he just wanted to get out of there alive. He was about to pass a table when he felt someone tug on his shirt. He spun around and was about to get physical with the person who dared to touch him when he saw that it was Rafe. He realized that he had his fists ready to fight and lowered them.

“So feisty this morning,” Rafe said, smiling. She led him to a table that was covered in swords. The portly merchant selling them looked up at Zeke and bowed to him. “I was just explaining to Rico here that we are looking for a suitable sword for you.”

“You’re right, he is rather scrawny,” Rico said. “Maybe something lightweight would be best.”

Zeke felt embarrassed by his little arms and was a little insulted that Rafe would say something like that about him. “Hey, I work out!” He lifted his arms to show the progress he had been making at the gym. Unfortunately, no one was impressed.

Rico sifted through his swords and held one up for Rafe and Zeke to inspect. It was a regular sword that had a long, straight blade with no frills or thrills. Zeke looked at it and was underwhelmed. He reached out and held it in his hands. It wasn’t heavy at all. He wished that there had been enough room to swing it around dramatically. There was hardly any room to breathe.

“That is the sword for you,” Rico said. “I call it the Lady Killer.”

“That’s a horrible name for a sword,” Rafe said, frowning at Rico. He raised his hands and waved them in an attempt to pass blame.

“No, no, no! You misunderstand.”

“How could I misunderstand a name like ‘Lady Killer’?”

“It’s a figure of speech!” Rico said, sweating profusely. “It means that ladies love men who carry this sword. It slays them so to speak.”

“I think you had better find a more appropriate name for it then.” Rafe took the sword away from Zeke and set it back on the table. “Give him another sword.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Rico sifted through the many swords before pulling out another one. It was similar to the first one only the hilt was wider and the blade was longer. “It’s slightly heavier, but I think the boy will manage.” He handed it to Zeke.

Zeke felt that this sword was rather blasé as well. It was a bit heavier, but without having the space to test it out, there wasn’t really much he could say about it. He wanted something more dashing, more stylish, something that would make people tremble when they saw it. “What’s this sword’s name?” He noticed how Rico nervously looked at Rafe before responding. He just lowered his head.

“It doesn’t have a name,” he lied. He took a handkerchief and dabbed at the sweat that was running down his face. It wasn’t particularly hot that day. “It’s made of high quality steel and handcrafted it myself.”

“What do you think, Zeke?” Rafe asked.

Zeke pretended that he was being giving it a real critical look. In reality, he was bored with it. He supposed it was a good a sword as any. He didn’t have any real emotions about it either way.

“He’s not impressed, Rico,” Rafe said, eyeing Zeke suspiciously. “You’ve got one more chance or we’re out of here.” She took the sword from Zeke and set it back on the table.

“Do you have any magic swords?” Zeke asked. “Something that will allow me to channel my powers?” Rafe flashed him a serious look, he ignored it. If he was going to buy a sword, he was going to get one that he wanted. He gave her a determined look that told her that he wasn’t going to back down. She simply nodded her head and looked to Rico for an answer.

“Magic swords? Erm…” The sweat dripped down Rico’s face. He gave Zeke a look that silently pleaded him to reconsider his request. When he saw that Zeke wasn’t going to rescind his request, Rico sighed and reached underneath the table. He pulled out a sword with a red blade and matching sheath. He set it on the table and patted it. “This is the only one I have. I made it for a wizard about a year ago, but he never came to pick it up. I bring it with me every day on the off chance he’ll come for it.”

Zeke’s eyes lit up as he picked it up. It was light as a feather and balanced right. He could feel it buzz with power. This was more like it. “I’ll take it!”

“I don’t think you really want it,” Rico said. “I believe that it’s cursed. Just the sight of it makes me shiver.” He shook as a chill traveled throughout his body. “It brings nothing but bad luck.”

Zeke pulled out his coin purse and set it on the table. “How much do you want for it?”

Rico looked at the purse and gulped. He wanted to take the money, but he felt bad about profiting on someone’s future bad luck. He knew that he couldn’t live with himself if he took the money. He shook his head and said, “Keep your money. Just get it away from me. Please!”

“Gladly!” Zeke was more than happy to take back his coin purse. Free magic swords didn’t happen every day! He put the sword into its sheath and put it on his back. “Nice doing business with you, Rico.” He extended his hand to shake Rico’s, but Rico declined. He didn’t like the idea of shaking hands with a dead man. Zeke retracted his hand and wiped it on his pants, making sure that there wasn’t anything unsavory on them.

“Come on, we should go,” Rafe said. She thanked Rico for his time and she walked away, leading Zeke through the crowd.

Zeke wondered what was up with Rico all of the sudden. He didn’t think about it again. He risked a glance back at Rico to see how he was holding up, but he couldn’t see him anymore. Zeke turned around and waded through the crowd of people on the street. He suddenly felt like he had made a mistake, but it was too late now.

Spell #9

Zeke was adrift in a warm sea. The water felt so good that he just wanted to lay in it forever. He closed his eyes and reveled in the serenity. The sea was a soft golden color. He could feel its power surge through him. It was a power that was foreign to him, but it didn’t feel hostile. It was just something else there to support him. He didn’t want to over think it, so he cleared his mind and enjoyed the lulling sensation of the small waves.

“Ezekiel,” called a familiar voice. It was the voice of his master.

“I hear you,” Zeke said, eyes still closed. He could feel his master close by.

“I see that you are not in Valora.”

“I’m sorry, master, I’ve been called on a quest of my own,” Zeke said, finally opening his eyes to look for Gresar. He found that he couldn’t move his head to look up. He didn’t mind, he wanted to stay curled up in a safe position. “I can understand if you are angry with me.”

“Quite the contrary, my boy,” Gresar said. “I am extremely proud of you.” His voice carried a smile in it. “You stood up to a high level dark witch and held your own. I lent you some of my power to banish her.”

Now it made sense where that extra energy came from. Zeke was grateful. “Thank you, master, for looking out for me.”

“Always,” Gresar said. “No matter where I am, I will always be there for you.”

“Where are you?”

“I am not at liberty to discuss that right now, but know that I am safe.”

Zeke felt a warm hand upon his shoulder. He knew that it was Gresar holding him. He didn’t realize how much he missed his master until this moment. He was reassured knowing that Gresar was looking out for him, even from a distance.

“You must wake up now,” Gresar whispered. “Your friend is dying. She must drink the potion before her soul leaves her body.”

Zeke nodded his head. “I understand.” He closed his eyes and willed himself to wake up. He hoped that he would be able to converse with his master again soon. In dreams anything is possible. He embraced the warm water one last time before he drifted away to the waking realm.

***

Zeke awoke in Rafe’s arms. He wondered how long he had been asleep. His body felt heavy; it was hard to sit up. He looked up at Rafe and saw that she was smiling. He wondered when she had gotten there. It was then that he remembered Moralie. He sat up and looked at the bed where she was lying. She didn’t look any better. As he stood up, his body ached. He didn’t remember doing anything strenuous, but using so much magical energy at one time tended to tire the body.

“We got the ingredients you asked for,” Rafe said, standing up as well. “We didn’t know what needed to happen after that, so we waited for you to wake up.”

“Good…” He saw the basket that Rafe had carried in containing all of the things he needed. “I need a large bowl to mix everything in.”

As if on cue, Simon came in holding a medium sized glass bowl. He gave Zeke an A for effort smile as he handed him the bowl. “Got you covered.” Zeke nodded his head in thanks.

Zeke was a whiz at making potions. He prided himself on being able to make the best potions in Valora. That was where he excelled above his master. His potions were more potent than his master could ever manage. When this became clear, Gresar allowed Zeke to handle all of the potion making that the customers needed.

Being able to read his master’s instructions, he carefully added each ingredient into the mix. When all of the ingredients were mixed according to the instructions, he carried the bowl to the bathroom where he could add some water. He then asked the healers in the hospital for a heat source. They led him to their kitchen where their potion master was mixing up some of their own potions. Zeke poured his mix into a cauldron and allowed it to simmer until it was time to bottle it.

With a ladle, Zeke poured some of the potion into a single serving potion bottle. There was more than enough left over that he allowed the hospital’s potion masters to bottle some for other victims of the Reaper’s Curse. They thanked him profusely. Zeke said that he would write down the recipe for them after he was done.

He quickly raced to Moralie’s side where Rafe and Simon were waiting. They looked worried because he had been gone so long. Zeke worried that he might have been too late. He told himself that he would have to try. He handed the potion to Simon who was holding Moralie up. She wasn’t entirely lucid, but she was awake enough to be able to drink. Simon poured the dark red potion into her mouth. When it was all gone, Simon set her back down.

“How much time does it take to work?” Rafe asked.

Zeke didn’t know. The instructions didn’t say what to look for after the potion had been administered. He only shrugged his shoulders in response. They would just have to wait and see what happened.

It was getting late. The sun had set long ago and the moon had come up. The bustling night life of the city was beginning to take hold. People were heading to restaurants and pubs to have a good time. While Zeke thought it would be a good time for the three of them to go and let Moralie rest, he was too tired to think about eating or partying. He just wanted to sleep. He looked at Rafe and Simon and saw that they felt the same way. All of them were too worried about Moralie to sleep. But eventually, sleep overtook them. They slept hard and deep. The healers came into the room to check on Moralie and found them all sleeping on the floor. They left and returned with blankets and covered them.

As Zeke drifted off into sleep, he hoped that he would be able to speak with Gresar again and learn his location. Instead of his master, he dreamt of someone else. It was of a man sitting in a field under the night sky. He was cloaked in black and his face wasn’t visible, only his lips, which were smiling. The man motioned to a wicker basket that was seated next to him. He opened the basket to reveal several sandwiches that Zeke knew to be peanut butter and banana with just a touch of honey. Zeke felt himself desiring one.

“Come join me, young wizard,” the man said. He patted the blue and white checkered blanket next to him. Zeke slowly drifted over to him and sat down. He didn’t have much choice in the matter. It was as if the man had willed it.

“How did you know that I am a wizard?” Zeke asked.

“I know all about you.” The man reached past Zeke and took out one of the sandwiches. “I know you love these sandwiches. Please, take one.”

Zeke didn’t have to be asked twice. He reached into the basket and took a sandwich. He greedily bit into it and chewed happily. This was true happiness. The honey was just perfect. The banana and the peanut butter danced on his tongue and the roof of his mouth. It was then that he wondered if he was really there with the man or if this was just a dream.

“It’s a living dream,” the man said, reading Zeke’s mind. “I have brought your consciousness to me and we are sitting here on Mount Rialto.”

Zeke choked on his sandwich, but didn’t dare to spit it out; it would be a waste of a good sandwich. When he was able to swallow his bite and turned to the man. “Why did you bring me here?”

“I just wanted to know who I was up against.” The man took a bite of his sandwich and munched quietly. “I was surprised that you were able to banish my associate so easily.” This was muffled as the peanut butter was thick and sticky.

A chill traveled down Zeke’s spine as he realized that this man who was offering him tasty sandwiches was affiliated with the dark witch that had tried to kill him. Was it him who was to blame for all of the misfortune he had faced today? He saw that the man in black nodded his head. Zeke sadly lowered his sandwich. Maybe it wasn’t as good as he thought.

“Do not fear, I cannot harm you in dream state,” the man reassured. “I wanted to see you for myself before my forces destroy you. You seem like a nice boy. You are more powerful that I thought you would be.”

“Don’t sound so impressed,” Zeke said, trying to appear tough. “I did banish that witch of yours.”

“Don’t start with the big head. I know you had help from your master.” The man chuckled as he watched Zeke’s ego deflate. “I am currently tracking his whereabouts and when I find him, I will crush him.”

Zeke was glad to hear that the man didn’t know where Gresar was. He hoped that he would stay hidden a little while longer. What was this guy’s deal with wizards? Why does he want them dead? Why was he afraid of them? What does he think they’ll do to him?

“Please continue to eat the sandwich.” The man took another bite. “Don’t worry, I didn’t poison them. You are going to need your strength.”

Zeke begrudgingly took another bite of his delicious sandwich. He wanted to get more information out of the man, but all he could focus on was the sandwich. While admittedly he was hungry, he knew that this was a great opportunity to learn what he was meant to do on this quest. What was the Alta Stone to this man? Why was he willing to kill to protect it? Did he have the stone already or was he looking for it, too? He supposed that if the Alta Stone was on Mount Death and they were currently on Mount Death, it was safe to assume that the man knew where it was.

“Oh, and great work on that potion,” the man said once he swallowed his sandwich. “Your master is a genius. Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand on your own and stop riding on his coattails.”

“Don’t think I should be taking career advice from someone who is trying to kill me,” Zeke commented.

The man chuckled. “I suppose you’re right.” He took another bite of his sandwich, moaning as he chewed.

The two of them sat in silence eating their sandwiches. Zeke felt weird being happy while sitting next to the person who was trying to kill him. The man said that he couldn’t hurt him, but was he lying? He obviously couldn’t be trusted.

The man in black finished his sandwich and wiped the crumbs from his face. “Well, that was pleasant. I’m afraid the meet and greet is over.” He extended his skeletal hand to Zeke in an offer to shake his. Zeke reluctantly shook it. The cold, bony fingers felt fragile in his hand, but they had a powerful grip. “We should do this again soon.”

“Bring those sandwiches and it’s a deal,” Zeke said without thinking. He felt himself drifting away into the night sky. The man in black waved to him as he floated away. Zeke thought that for being an evil person, he sure had a sweet disposition. He was going to be an interesting adversary that he would have to watch carefully.