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Kirrin: The Pact of the Blade®

Elqanah – 2nd Era
Pre-Age of the Gemkith

Kirrin Belledair’s eyes batted as he felt his consciousness begin to wane. The ritual was drawing more from him than he had anticipated. It didn’t matter, he was going to see it through.

Purple energy crackled from his hand as it danced in bolts across his steel sword as it lay on the pedestal. The dark light gave an ominous glow to his determined countenance. A dark, hollowing feeling washed over him forcing him to redouble his concentration. He bared his clenched teeth as a bead of cold sweat ran down the side of his face.

Just as Kirrin was about to give in to his failing resolve, the runes that ran up both sides of the blade filled with a purple light. He barked a laugh in excitement. Almost there, he thought. I can hold out for a few more minutes.

A drop of blood ran from the mage’s nose and down his lip. He let go of the sword long enough to wipe it away with his sleeve as he kept his focus on transferring the life force into the sword with his other hand. This was his last chance. He was failing at the traditional approach to magic, and he was certainly no sword master. If he was going to get that insufferable Sebastian, he needed something extra. This was it. This had to be it. Suddenly the blade turned a dull black and an unearthly moan echoed in the small, dark chamber. Finally, Kirrin could stop casting the spell. He staggered backward and smiled as he said “Hukvah Shly.” At his command, the lights swirling about the sword immediately sank into the blade as if being sealed to it. With the words spoken, he collapsed against the wall as darkness overtook him.

Kirrin….” A soft, raspy voice called to the mage at the edge of his consciousness. Kirrin fought to awaken, but he was still too frail. “Kirrin, wake up…” There was a shuffling of footsteps, and Kirrin felt himself being lifted by two strong arms. He was too weak and dazed to care. Moments passed and he felt his head bob from his carrier’s steps.

Soon, Kirrin felt the familiar softness of his bed and the warm rays of sunlight as he was laid down. “Thank you. I will stay with him for a time,” the voice said. Kirrin fought once more to force his eyes open and finally let himself slip back into slumber.

When Kirrin finally awoke, he opened his eyes hesitantly. The bright glare of the sun through his window stung worse than he could ever remember. He closed them for a few more moments in an effort to let them adjust. Strangely, in that moment he felt something new internally. Something about him had changed that he couldn’t put his finger on. He felt somehow less than his former self; he felt… emptier. His brow furled as he thought, If that is the price, so be it.

Finally braving the sting of the sun, Kirrin opened his eyes once more. The room swirled for a moment and finally started to settle in recognizable patterns. He blinked once, twice, thrice, then shifted his gaze about the room. A blurry figure came into focus. It was an old man with a long beard in worn blue robes that sat in a chair looking out of the four windows that reached to the ceiling and folded into half of an octagon.

Great. The young mage sat holding himself up with his arms behind him. He looked down at his bare, well-defined torso. Well apparently they took my robes. Kirrin searched his room from where he was and stopped his gaze on the man with a knowing look. “Where’s my sword?”

“Somewhere that you will not find it,” the man replied, never shifting his gaze from the scenery outside. “When I was a young man, I desperately wanted to be a legendary wizard. I studied hard, practiced often, and stayed awake long into many nights. My instructor was a great wizard, and an astounding teacher. He was a strong speaker and a kind critic, unless strict discipline was necessary.

“I often times found myself at odds with this man. I thought I knew all he had to teach me, as absurd as that sounds. But he was patient with me. I imagine that was very trying for him. When I came across the teachings of Sandre, I all but abandoned his classes and training. Sandre thought that one could forgo the unpleasantries of training, studying, and practice by skipping to graduate studies and picking up the rest by context. Of course, there is a reason you do not hear the name of Sandre spoken amongst the great scholars of magic. His lessons failed demonstrably. And I was set back in my studies as a result of my time with his works.”

The man turned his gaze to Kirrin with a look of saddened disappointment in his eyes. “What you have done is reprehensible, Kirrin. You have given up a part of yourself in the name of expedition, and you will suffer the rest of your life for it.”

Kirrin’s face flushed as proud anger swelled in his chest. What made this old fool think he knew what he had been through or what hardships a Viscount had to endure? “Touching story, Raoulin, but don’t pretend to know what’s best for me. The Belledair name is at stake here.”

Hurt came to Raoulin’s eyes as he looked on at his pupil. It was a look Kirrin had seen many times before, and each time he saw it, the demeanor seemed to grow a little softer. The proud student’s outbursts appeared to be becoming more expected by his tutor. “That is no excuse, Kirrin. In time you could…”

“I don’t have time! Don’t you get that? Besides, I suck at magic. You and I both know that. I had to do something, or I would never be as good as I need to be.”

“So be it. Time has shown that you will refuse any advice I offer, so be on your way. Do battle with the Kallifaxes over some petty land disagreements to show the world that you are stronger than they are. You will find yourself emptier in the end for it anyhow.”

As Raoulin turned his gaze back to the beautiful morning outside, Kirrin stood from his bed, slid on his mithril chain mail and white tunic over it, then threw on his black, leather long coat. He ran his hand down the coat’s tough exterior, outlining the elaborate designs along its length before connecting each clasp with care over his torso. One of the benefits of being wealthy was being able to afford armor that was as stylish as it was effective.

Kirrin rubbed his short, blonde hair angrily. He doesn’t get it. It just takes one man in the family being lax for the name to be destroyed. I’m going to make darn sure it isn’t me.

 Hukvah Shly.” As Kirrin spoke the words, a sword-shaped purple light appeared in his hand. The light slowly faded into his black weapon.

’My power’ in the old tongue. How appropriate,” Raoulin commented snidely.

Kirrin looked over his shoulder and curled his lip up in defiance before sliding the blade into its sheath and storming out of the room. The ritual was nearly complete. The blade just needed to take a life, and Kirrin had the perfect victim in mind.

As the door slammed behind him, a tear ran down Raoulin’s face. He stared out of the window for some time, an apologetic look in his eye as if she were sitting outside looking back at him.

Kirrin followed the giant, green orcs down the dark hallway stoically. A pungent odor hung about the cavern so heavily that he felt he was trudging through a light layer of muck and grime in the air. The mage closed his eyes momentarily to gather his senses once more. He knew this was going to be a dangerous and disgusting affair, so he steeled his resolve with that fact in mind.

One of the orcs ahead held up his blade as he chatted with the other guard. “Tur rach da schoor ra.” As the other monster laughed, his hunched over form bounced up and down causing the light from his torch to flicker on the walls.

Kirrin narrowed his eyes at them. He wanted to know what they were saying, but he would have to wait. Who knew how long the exchange before him would take? Taking in the orc’s massive size, Kirrin had the sudden urge to flee. His legs grew heavy and his head light. With a shake of his head, he tried to remember every time Sebastian Hallifax had come to visit. He forced himself to remember.

Kirrin’s mind went back to every instance that conniving son of a marquess would visit to “celebrate” expansion of his family’s land. In reality Sebastian was there to rub it in the faces of the Belledair Family as their share of the kingdom continued to wane. Kirrin’s parents played the role of nobility well, but Kirrin wasn’t so keen on the vanity. His parents would host, wine, and dine the Hallifaxes knowing well they were being mocked but swallowing their pride to protect their family from attack. Kirrin had to choose not to attend those banquets. Two outbursts were too many.

Kirrin took a deep breath, his ambition steeled once more. Never again.

The guards stopped at a tall archway at the end of the tunnel and stepped to the side. Kirrin walked into a huge cavern with orcs strewn about eating, drinking, and engaging in typical revelry. Bones like a ribcage from whatever monster they slew ran from the floor to the ceiling of both sides of the room, and the center led up to a flight of stairs with a throne at the top. An old orc with several rings in the two large teeth that protruded from his large under bite sat back lazily gnawing on a half-eaten leg of poultry with two scantily-clad female orcs chained to his seat. When he noticed Kirrin, he stood quickly and howled boisterously.

Kirrin covered his ears as the room joined him in howling. He genuinely feared the roof would cave in on them, the sound reverberating and causing the cavern to tremor visibly.

After a moment, the orc Kirrin presumed to be the chief held up his hand and the howling stopped. Every yellowed eye in the room fixated on the pink fleshling in their midst.

Kirrin’s heart raced, but he stood with confidence knowing that weakness would not earn him what he came here for. Any crack in his façade, and his leg bone could be the next one the chief was gnawing on. He quietly mouthed the words to his spell. His ears softly grew more jagged and the tip came into a point. When his tongue grew fat and rutted in his mouth, he held back a gag.

Kur ra ruk cuk cha. Sor re voo lei nah,” the chieftain began. Though the language was Orcish, Kirrin understood him clearly, his spell taking effect just in time. He heard, “Tiny pink one. Why have you chosen to enter the Orc Kingdom to die?

The room erupted in what sounded like apes whooping and hollering. Kirrin opened his mouth to speak, and the room feel silent. He silently prayed his spell would work as the tome had said. “Coor roh tay. Keer ree Vookra nawk shey.” (He said, “I have come from far away. I wanted to see the Vookra tribe of legend.”)

The chieftain ran his hand down the long strip of hair that ran from his lip to the bottom of his chin and beyond. “Jeerie coonie voo loo nah. Kume Vookra shu too meh loo.” (“It was foolish to come so far to die. Why do you want to see the legendary Vookra anyway?”)

Shere rat Vookra ah vuhl rhoop myoo tah. Boo lah koo vere ree!” (“To challenge your champion for the Vookra’s allegiance. In a fight to the death!”)

The chieftain’s eyes went wide and he beat his chest as the orcs let out a wail then began dancing and chanting a tribal melody. They threw bones in the air and slapped the ground, some even slugging their brethren if they were close enough. Drool ran from their lips as freely as if they were staring at a freshly cooked meal.

The chieftain raised his hand and stopped the chaos in an instant. He looked around the room with his eyes narrowed. Closing one eye and slipping his tongue into his nose in concentration, his gaze stopped on an orc. Silently he raised a finger and singled his target out.

An unimposing minion stepped through the crowd. He was smaller than all of the other orcs, even smaller than Kirrin. With his skinny arms and boney joints, he couldn’t have weighed much more than one hundred pounds. He sauntered over to a table with an assortment of bone and wooden weapons testing them contemplatively. When he stopped at a massive jawbone with teeth that had been artificially serrated, Kirrin quirked a brow in incredulity. The orc attempted to lift it with a heavy grunt and veins protruding from his neck.

The orc turned and smiled knowingly at Kirrin when he saw the human’s disbelief. Walking over to his master, the monster bowed before him. The chieftain ran his hand over the smaller one’s wiry hair and pulled an upside-down skull from a bubbling vat next to him. Tugging at a tuft of hair, the master pulled the tiny orc’s head back and poured the liquid into his mouth.

The orcs about the room began chanting and swaying back and forth as the little one sat still for a moment. When he fell to the floor, the room quieted once more. He convulsed for a moment, his limbs bouncing about wildly, before jumping to his feet and screeching an unearthly sound causing the room to whoop and holler again. Everything about the small orc’s demeanor changed. His skin turned darker, his back expanded, his bones stuck out further, and most especially there was a new crazed, murderous look in his eyes. He ran erratically back the table and lifted the jawbone with ease.

Kyyaaahh!

Kirrin gulped hard and his eyes went wide as he was beginning to second guess his plan.

The chieftain lifted his tribal scepter into the air and shouted, “Vere ree!” (“To the death!”)

At the proclamation, the smaller orc charged Kirrin wildly with speed that surpassed anything he had ever seen. Kirrin leapt to the side and avoided an overhead chop that sank the teeth of the jawbone into the dirt where he was standing. As the orc jerked the weapon free, a bolt of arcane energy slammed into him, setting him off balance. The crazed monster shouted thrice, each utterance louder and more maniacal than the last, then rushed toward his opponent.

Kirrin took a deep breath, widened his stance, and mouthed another quick spell. Just as the orc’s weapon bore down on him, a translucent bubble appeared and took the impact, electrified shards scattering into the air around them. The spell did little to deter the mindless orc. He slammed his weapon down furiously crushing teeth from the jawbone and cracking the shield in the process.

As the weapon broke through the shield, Kirrin used the opportunity to reverse the momentum of the swing. He thrust his arms forward on either side of the weapon and magically sent it flying across the room.

The ravenous orc bit down into Kirrin’s arm and twisted frantically. “Arrgh!” Kirrin cried out as he wracked his brain for a plan quickly. He knew trying to pull free now might leave him with one less limb, but he had little time to think of much else. He put his hands together on the other side of the orc’s head, closed his eyes as he turned his head. A blinding light blasted into the room.

The dazed orc stepped back and held his head giving Kirrin time to look at his wound. Quickly placing his hand over the bite marks and clenching his teeth in preparation of the searing pain, he sent a small flame into the marks to cauterize the wound and stem the bleeding. Pain washed over him, nauseating him and making him nearly pass out. He shook the feeling quickly knowing any short lapse in cognition could spell a gruesome death. Kirrin needed this to work. His family’s legacy depended on it.

With steeled resolve, Kirrin looked back at the orc that was quickly regaining his composure as well. “Hukvah Shly,” he said, drawing an audible gasp as his sword returned to his hand. The orc that had been holding it turned a dumbfounded look to his hand.

I’m going to end this now. I have to.

The one orc that was incapable of being phased by Kirrin’s trick, his demented opponent, was bearing in on him again, massive jawbone in hand once more. A waver in the small orc’s arm and a bloodshot look of exhaustion in its eyes drew Kirrin’s attention. The potion must be wearing off… or he’s reaching his physical limits. Either scenario played well into the mage’s favor. Even with the laceration in his arm, he could use this to his advantage.

Kirrin smiled.

When the orc swung the now-mostly-blunt weapon around his side, Kirrin brought his sword up for the parry. “Lahadof!” he shouted. The jawbone met the sword, and the bone disintegrated into shards of light and ebbed out of existence.

Unfazed by the display, the orc leapt toward Kirrin, but the mage was ready. Kirrin slid his sword between the monster’s ribs. An energy coursed over the orc’s body as he stared absently at the mage before the monster went limp. Kirrin threw the body to the dirt beside him, a wave of relief and doubt washing over him.

The orcs of the room whooped and hollered, and Kirrin casually slipped his blade back into its sheath. His movements were cool, but his heart was racing. He only had to keep up the ploy a little longer. The chief needed to see him as a strong warrior and ally.

Kirrin turned to the chieftain, fought the swimming feeling in his mind as the room quietened, and reenacted his translation spell. “Koo roo kai. Sei fye nai.” (“I have bested your best. Swear your allegiance to me.”)

The chieftain regarded Kirrin closely for a moment, rubbing the elongated tuft of hair on his chin. Deafening silence pervaded the room as every orcs’ eyes were glued on their leader. Finally, he gestured to a female warrior to his side and she handed him a horn with an exaggerated curve. He threw it into the dirt at Kirrin’s feet.

Vookrani valishe doo. Fye shee ree voyanah.” (The Vookra honor their words. You have our allegiance.) The chieftain pointed to the horn. “Jay rah pah voo Nasutogon. Blei nah shjee nah.” (“That is the horn of the mighty Nasutogon. Blow it when you seek our aid.

Kirrin picked up the horn and tied it to his belt. He hit his chest as he looked at the chieftain in respect, and the chieftain acted in kind. The mage turned and walked out of the cave triumphant. He would need to return home to tend to his wounds. Pieces were falling into place, just as they needed to. The Hallifax’s day was coming.

 

Ephraim: The Afflicted Tome ®

The chirps of the indigenous birds of the rainforest hang on the air as Ephraim and Roald make their way down the beaten path. The humid air causes their silken robes to cling to their moistened bodies. With each step that draws them closer to their destination, they feel the threats of the jungle’s wildlife and harsh environments diminishing. The trek has been long and hard, but they will soon be rewarded by reaching their the city they set out for.

Ephraim’s agitation begins to show through as exhaustion from the trip takes its toll on his emotions. “I find it hard to believe that this is the only scribe that could put a tome together for us.”

“The only one? Certainly not.” Roald answers as he casts a smirk over his shoulder. “If you want a tome that will subsist during the journeys you and I will be taking, you must be willing to traverse wherever necessary to find the best at their craft. We are drawing near now anyway, so keep up and stop your grumbling.”

“I’ll stop my grumbling when I can get a bite to eat and stop walking.” Ephraim replies under his breath. When Roald glances back over his shoulder with a look of indignation, the student quickly looks into the forest to avert his gaze. I’ve gotta learn when to keep my mouth shut, he thinks.

As the splendorous city of Queloria peaks over the hill, Ephraim’s contention is all but washed away, setting a look of awe on his tired face. The beautiful city with white walls and towers sits back in an alcove in the light gray mountain behind it. A beautiful blue waterfall cascades behind the castle at the back of the province. Dark blue accents dot the serene whites of the city’s buildings, giving the city a beautiful contrast in design.

Ephraim takes a deep breath. Aromas of a floral spring fill the air making the city’s aura all the more pleasant. The combination of being nestled into a mountain and the grand waterfall backdrop combats the calefaction of the jungle air around the magnificent city, bringing it to a temperate climate. Everything about the environment calms their nerves and refreshes their spirits.

Roald turns around to face his apprentice as they approach the city’s ivory gate with beautiful designs that reveals the excellent craftsmanship of its makers. “You appear to be in a better mood already. Stay here for a moment, and I’ll talk to the guards. Perhaps they will grant us entry without taxation I can help them understand the urgency of our quest.” As the teacher makes his way to a guard standing by the doors, Ephraim continues to take in the splendor of the scenery. A movement in his peripheral vision catches his attention. He’s able to make out that it is a dirty child holding an empty drinking pouch and it seems to be approaching him. With a quick turn of his body he is able to ignore the oncoming inconvenience and put some distance between them.

I should help her. Ephraim feels a pull to turn around and comfort the child, and pulls his Topaz from his pouch. He runs his finger across its cool, smooth surface as he examines a small crack on it while keeping his walking pace. I can’t use up my Topaz though. I am definitely going to need it to make myself some drinking water soon. She’s right outside one of the grandest cities in Elqanah. Surely someone will see her and help her. He peers into the reflection on the gem to see that she has diverted her attention to someone else that is giving her the same consideration as he is. An approaching figure startles him, causing his abrupt stop that narrowly keeps him from plowing into it. His teacher, who is returning from talking to the guards, stands before him. The student’s heart sinks as he sees Roald’s angered expression.

“Wow. You scared me.” Ephraim chuckles. The teacher’s unrelenting gaze gives him further discomfort. “So are they going to let us in?” He attempts to make casual conversation to deter the inevitable scolding he feels is approaching. He winces as Roald tears the Topaz from his grasp and walks over to the little girl. The teacher bends over and uses the last of the gem’s essence to fill the little girl’s drinking pouch. The jumping and laughing she exhibits in elation that should be a heart-warming sight is like daggers in Ephraim’s heart as he watches her thank his teacher for an act he knows he should have committed. After exchanging a hug with the girl, Roald hands her a nice-sized pouch with gold coins and rubs his hand on her shoulder. He begins walking back to Ephraim as she runs back out to a little hut outside the city walls.

“How are we going to make water for ourselves without Topaz or gold to buy more?” Ephraim asks sheepishly in a poor attempt to mask his embarrassment.

Roald’s scowl slowly fades away as he pauses for a moment. He takes a deep breath and habitually rubs his hand over his beard to smooth out the area around his mouth. Ephraim reads this telltale sign of his teacher’s attempt to calm himself and gathers a little relief. “You don’t understand this now, but you will soon, Ephraim. Just have faith and when you read the tome we are here to get, it will all begin to make sense.” Ephraim looks away in discomfort as Roald begins walking toward the now-opening gate.

“I wanted to help her, you know. I just don’t see how much help one pouch of water is.” The pupil’s words cause Roald to pause and look back at him. The instructor turns back puts his hand on Ephraim’s shoulder.

“Everyone wants to help, Ephraim. Intentions are good, but you have to be driven to action. It’s only through compassionate action that poverty is slain; one small act at a time.” As Roald turns back and begins walking into the city, Ephraim oddly begins to feel challenged and empowered. Where he recently felt shame, he now feels compelled and eager. He feels his shocked expression shift to a determined grin as he follows his leader into Queloria’s gates.

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The pair make their way through the hustle and bustle of the crowds in Queloria to The Redeemed Scribe. The tranquil sound of the rushing waterfall at the back of the city lends itself to the serenity of the city as merchants and townsfolk converse in a scene that would be a little chaotic in any other township. Mist that sparsely hangs high casts a glorious rainbow over the pristine walls, but doesn’t prevent the sun from giving light to the kingdom. Ephraim glances over as he notices a blue gleam in his peripheral vision, but quickly looks away as he notices it is on the ring of a stern-faced guard. He is quickly reminded of his lessons about the aristocratic Mayim Nation. The wearing of the gems by their Gemkith in their rings is symbolic of the role the nation plays in the grand scheme of the world. Rings signify a ruling position, and the Mayim consider themselves nothing less than worthy of that classification. Ephraim focuses his attention back to his path as the pair walk under an azure canopy set against the white walls of the scribe’s shop and walk through the door.

An aromatic wave of ink and wood floods their noses. Ephraim takes a moment to pause and admire the craftsmanship of the room. The white walls, floor, and ceiling are fashioned so seamlessly that it appears as if the room was naturally formed from the building itself. The walls are lined with ornate walnut bookshelves filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Large, arched windows at the back of the shop give light to the laborer who is milling away at meticulously binding books. The beauty of the room soon tarnishes as Ephraim meets the shopkeeper’s grim gaze from across the counter. He is a tall, dark-headed man wearing a fine silken robe. His work in the press has earned him a few black ink stains on the red and gold material as well as on his cheeks.

“It’s about time you got here, Roald.” He scorns. “You know I’m not supposed to be making these books for you, and I received your request six months ago. If King Zolia were to find out…”

“I know, Saul, and I thank you.” Roald interrupts, “This is the soonest we could journey here, I swear it. What can I pay you for your labor?”

“Just… consider us even for that time you saved me in the jungle.” The shopkeep says as he sets the two tomes up on the counter.

Roald grasps Saul’s shoulder with a grin and says, “Thank you, brother. Our friendship is valuable to me beyond words.” He turns and hands one of the books to Ephraim. The apprentice leans into catching the book as he expects the weight of the deceptively large object to drag his arms to the floor. Roald fights back a grin as his student regains his composure. He runs his fingers over it as he studies the amazing workmanship of the leather cover and the facets embedded into it. The art depicts an armored angel spreading its wings over the city of Queloria.

With a look of puzzlement, Ephraim turns his attention to the book’s maker and asks, “So what is so dangerous about this book?”

Saul looks at Roald with mild disbelief. “You didn’t tell him what’s in the book?”

“I thought it best to keep a little ambiguity until we made it out of Queloria. The less he knows of it in these walls, the better.” Roald exchanges nods with the scribe and turns to Ephraim. “Come. We risk our ally’s lives by staying here any longer than need be. We will make our way to the lapidary to get these gems fitted for the facets in these tomes.” He turns back to Saul to issue one more statement as they step out of the door. “Farewell, and may the next time we meet be under better circumstances.”

“Take care, Roald. I pray your path is made safe for you by the One who watches over us.”

As the pair walk out of the room, the shop’s workman in the back wipes beads of sweat from his brow and watches with a look of desperation and malice in his eyes.

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The next morning, Ephraim steps out of the Rosehall Inn at the town’s center. Rushing waters from the backdrop of the city enhance the repose of the dewy morning in Queloria as the lingering mist shifts about through the streets. He assumes that the bustle of the townspeople reserves itself to the afternoon, leaving the morning even more tranquil and pleasant. The sounds of the waterfall and the revisited floral fragrance add to the peacefulness of the scene. He can’t help but find himself wondering how a king of such a peaceful and beautiful kingdom could entertain the idea of punishing someone over a book.

After a few moments, Roald steps out of the inn and hands his pupil’s tome to him. He thought it better to keep it himself for the night in case someone were to catch wind of the book’s creation in the city and the guards were to search the inn that night. The teacher certainly didn’t want to risk his apprentice’s life, but he also didn’t want him reading it without first being told the importance of what its pages contained.

Ephraim is compelled by the book’s exquisite craftsmanship to run his hand over the cover once again as he collects his thoughts for the morning. His mind drifts as the art on the book draws his loose focus. The grooves in the design naturally draw his fingers from one side to the other. As his appendages reach the edge, he has to remember his promise to his teacher and fight the urge to crack it open and read its contents. Roald finishes lacing his boots and notices his student’s fanciful state. He draws Ephraim’s attention back into reality by saying, “Right then. Are you ready to go?”

Ephraim lingers in his trance momentarily and lightly shakes his head with a smirk as he tries to imagine a reason for such a fuss over a collection of words. “Yeah. Let’s get going.” As the two begin making their way down the city’s stone walkway, the pupil’s fleeting resolve loses out to his curiousness. “You are going to tell me why it’s so dangerous to have this book, right?”

“I promise to tell you the moment this city’s walls disappear behind the hill, but right now we need to focus on making it that far.” Roald pauses for a moment as he hears a crowd jeering and chanting. The pair follow the sound, and as they round a corner and emerge from an alley way, they see why the streets are empty this morning. A crowd of people have gathered in a corner of the city that has obviously not been kept as well as the merchant’s square where they have been. The dusty streets lead to a platform where a man in an executioner’s hood bearing a giant axe is standing. The crowd standing around the platform is restless and calling for blood. A town guard leads a man with a hood over his face onto the platform and next to the executioner’s block. The mage feels his heart sink as the soldier jerks the black veil off to reveal the face of doomed man.

“Saul the Scribe, you have been charged with printing religious propaganda that has been outlawed by the state of Queloria.” The guard declares. “The penalty for said crime is death by beheading and is sentenced to be carried out immediately by order of King Zolia. How do you wish to plea?”

Saul looks over his shoulder at the soldier with an icy glare. “Does it matter?”

“The criminal wishes to not give a plea, what do the good people of Queloria say?”

“Kill him! Kill him!” The crowd begins to chant. Roald’s rage builds flushing his face as the watchman allows the humiliation to ensue momentarily.

Ephraim turns to him to ask, “What should we do?” But his query doesn’t penetrate Roald’s fixation on the scene unfolding before them. The guard raises his hand to calm the crowd so they can hear him speak.

“The people have spoken! Do you have any last words, criminal?”

Saul’s skims the crowd. He ponders on how the city that he had so loved, and had so loved him, could so quickly be calling for his life. A rogue tear streaks through the dirt on his cheek as he tries to find the words to express what his heart feels though his resolve does not break. His eyes meet Roald’s. He reads the anger in them as Roald reads the call for hesitation in Saul’s eyes.

“If there is one among you that has sympathy for me, I tell you not to grieve. Do not make it known if you do have sympathy for me, for you would do so at the exchange of your life.” Ephraim glances at Roald as he begins to understand that Saul is speaking to them. His teacher’s expression is gradually softening from hard anger to disconcerted sorrow for the inevitable loss of his friend. “You have many important things ahead of you in your life. Do not risk them for one that is doomed. Go be the change the world needs. I go now to meet my Creator; the merciful Savior of manki…” The guard punches him, ending his proclamation.

“You won’t spew your religious nonsense from my stage, filth.” He shoves Saul to his knees. Roald spins Ephraim around and they begin making their way toward the city gate in an attempt to prevent himself from acting out. His fingers begin to clutch his tome tightly as his anger continues to rise. The feeling of helplessness and sorrow sends a cold shudder down his spine as their pace hastens. He can’t escape the vicinity soon enough to prevent hearing the cheers calling from behind him that affirm his fears. His friend is dead. A torrent of emotions flows through him as they round the last corner, placing the town gate just ahead of them.

“Come on, Ephraim. We have to get out of the gates before the people of the town lose interest in what’s going on back there. They will undoubtedly begin searching everyone to find the books he made.” Roald says. Ephraim looks at his teacher sympathetically as he follows his command. “I have a good rapport with the guard here, so let me talk to them, and maybe they will let us through without checking us.”

Ephraim waits as Roald makes his way over and begins speaking with one of the guards at the left side of the gate. As he notices a guard from the right side of the gate giving him an unnerving glare, he begins to slightly shift uncomfortably in place. A cold bead of sweat accumulates on his brow as he feels the guards eyes make their way to his tome. He quickly slides the book into the arm opposite of the guard which only further raises the sentry’s suspicion. Ephraim knows he is about to be found out. To his fortune, the gate begins to slide open as Roald approaches him. The keen teacher notices the alert guard and casually turns from moving toward Ephraim to leading him through the aperture to hasten their exit.

“Hey! You!” The guard shouts from behind them. “Let me see that book!” As the pair pick up their pace, the guard becomes certain he has found who they are looking for. “It’s them! Quick, shut the gates!”

“Run!” Roald shouts as the pair barely clear the opening to the closing gates. Ephraim breathes a sigh of relief as they emerge on the other side of the city walls and the doors slam shut behind them. The moment is short-lived as he sees the impending handful of guards that keep watch from outside the city. Roald turns back to his pupil to say, “Ok. The Mayim Empire is known for using water-elemental gems, so you know what to counter with, right?”

Ephraim issues an eager nod with a determined grin as his eyes begin to shine green. A glowing mist of the same color begins to trail from the Peridot on the face of his tome as he throws his empty hand overhead. The ground beneath them quakes as a nearby boulder separates from it and barely blocks an incoming razor-sharp, liquid wave. Like controlling a marionette, the mage swings his arm around and sends the boulder smashing some of the guards and pins them against the city wall. The white barrier cracks behind them from the pressure of the attack. As he focuses on controlling the boulder, he begins to feel the air condensate around him. He turns to see two remaining guards with sapphire-colored glowing eyes; one creating a liquid bubble around his head and the other preparing to unleash another slicing attack. The back of his throat collects moisture as he takes one more deep breath before his head is completely encased in a fluid sphere. Unable to keep his concentration, he drops the boulder and covers his mouth and nose. Desperation sets in as he realizes he can’t gather the focus needed to block the attack from the second remaining guard. His vision begins to darken and he feels his consciousness beginning to fade as he tries to keep his footing.

Roald turns back from taking down a few guards to see his struggling pupil. His rage that is still burning at the loss of Saul is fueled beyond control at the sight. His eyes begin to shine with all of the colors represented on his tome simultaneously, causing them to take on a malicious purple hue. A trail of mist of the same shade follows his book as he begins his assault. In fluid motion he causes the two guards to turn their attacks on each other. He turns and ignites two men that are recuperating from being slammed into the wall by a boulder. With a spin of his body he sends the boulder that Ephraim used crashing into the four poor charred and bleeding people he has just overcome. As his relentless onslaught presses on, the guards inside the city have gotten the gate back open and are beginning to advance on them. Roald’s darkened gaze petrifies them with fear as he sends a mountain of earth rising in front of the gate to trap them behind it.

Ephraim coughs and gasps for air as he begins to regain his focus. The realization that Roald is getting dangerously close to becoming drunk with power exhorts him to call to his mentor, “Roald! We’ve won! Let’s get out of here!”

Roald’s eyes quickly lose their shine as he regains his composure. A glimmer of shame skims his eyes as he pauses momentarily. He doesn’t let the moment linger, knowing that the people of Queloria wouldn’t remain behind his wall for long. As Ephraim runs past him, he quickly falls in line behind his student as they vanish back into the jungle overgrowth.

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As Ephraim emerges from the jungle with his teacher, and he finally feels that they are safe from the Quelorian guard, he looks down the road ahead. The seeming unend and mystery of what lies beyond the mist connecting the forest on both sides of them a metaphor for his destiny. After travelling a short distance, his anticipation overcomes the flurry of other emotions their time in the city gave him, causing him to finally swallow the lump in his throat and ask the question that had been circling his thoughts since he first touched his tome: “Why are they killing people for this book?”

The discerningly somber look in Roald’s eyes makes Ephraim’s soul cry. The student offers a wry smile in solace to his teacher’s misery. Roald responds, “Do you remember the lesson you were taught about the turning of the eras, and the Hero of Elqanah?” Roald finally asks.

Ephraim is hesitant to offer his answer. “I do. Of course I do. But why don’t you tell me what you know so I can make sure you’re right,” he says jokingly. The wisecrack does little to lighten the mood. Roald stops and throws his head back with his eyes closed in disappointment. He takes a deep breath as he runs his hand over his mouth again, smoothing out the short hair of his beard. He looks over his shoulder for a moment to assure they are alone and glances around for a spot for them to sit. He gives a slight head gesture towards a small alcove off of the path with a few logs laying about. As Ephraim passes by the tree line, he notices a green mist trailing from Roald’s tome. The creaking of tree trunks causes him to look back and see that the trees have bent in and are blocking the clearing from the sight of the road. Roald takes a seat on a log and pats the spot next to him as he looks at Ephraim.

“Have a seat, Ephraim.” A hurricane of thoughts blows through the pupil’s head as he follows Roald’s command. “How much do you really know?”

“Uh,”

“Honestly.”

Ephraim lowers his head. “Not much.”

“Okay. I’ll start from the beginning: when Elohim created Elqanah, He made two humans to live on it. They lived peaceably for many years amongst the wildlife and vegetation. One day, a dragon that was jealous of the relationship the humans had with Elohim convinced the humans that they should use their magic to create a being of their own so they could be like their Creator. So the couple worked their magic together to create a creature unlike anything that had been created before. They made the creature and named it Maveth.”

Ephraim’s jaw dropped open. He remembered the beast Maveth from several stories. It roamed the world killing mercilessly and leaving many dead in its wake. It was said that no person every died of natural causes in those days. That Maveth eventually found you and ended your time when he was ready. He was an indestructible, unwavering force of destruction.

“I see you remember that name,” Roald lightheartedly jested. “I would hope you didn’t forget him. The humans went into hiding and the races of the world grew out of their children. During Maveth’s time on Elqanah, many prophets gave hope to its inhabitants by foretelling of a Hero that would come and destroy the creature. After centuries of the races of Elqanah surviving the beast’s grasp, the Hero came. He lived His life teaching people of the ways of Elohim until His time to meet Maveth came.”

Ephraim’s happiness bubbled out as he said, “And He killed Maveth?”

“No. Maveth killed Him.”

Roald’s abrupt delivery of the unexpected turn of events shocked his pupil, causing him to suddenly lean back. Ephraim turned the thoughts over in his mind momentarily before asking what anyone likely would in that situation: “what happened to Maveth?”

“That’s where it gets beautiful, Ephraim. Everyone expected an epic battle between the Savior of Elqanah and death incarnate, but He didn’t fight him. In fact He accepted His death willingly in spite of being the Chosen Savior. Many people battled the beast before Him, but he could never be bested. It was the necessary sacrifice for the Savior to be raised from death by Elohim to conquer Maveth once and for all. His death saved us all from Maveth’s tyranny over the races of Elqanah.”

Ephraim’s face lit up as he began to feel a little overwhelmed with joy. Then he began to wonder, though, as his thoughts drifted back to the events in Queloria and the book in his hands. “But what does that have to do with them killing the scribe back there?”

“The book in your hand has been attacked since it was written. Men have tried for years to wipe it from the face of Elqanah. It is a combination of the scrolls written by the prophets that tell how people of the time should live, the history of Elqanah, the prophecies of the coming Savior, and eye witnesses that walked with the Savior during His time here. It helps us understand the nature of Elohim, the Creator, and how we can grow closer to Him.”

“But why would someone want to destroy that?”

“You’ll understand more when you get the time to read and study it, but generally men don’t want to be told how to behave and act. The dragon that was present with the first humans still imposes his malicious intent amongst men, and tries to destroy the book as well. It is only under Elohim’s guidance that this tome has survived through centuries of attempted destruction to be in our hands today.”

Ephraim has a hard time processing it all. He rubs his fingers and thumb back and forth across his forehead to alleviate the swirling sensation inside of it as he tries to take it all in. “Why would that matter though? Don’t people still want to know what happened?”

“Well, with the passing of time, and the spreading of lies by the dragon, some people have come to believe that the history of the Savior is a myth. Nothing more than a legend told to the youth and weak of the world to give them a false hope.”

“But what do they think happened to Maveth? He isn’t around killing people anymore.”

“They tie him with the records of the Savior and question his existence too.” Ephraim leans back with his hands on the log behind him for a moment and contemplates what he is being told. Roald reads the look on his face and stands up before the student can question further. “As I said, you’ll understand better when you have ample time to read and study it. For now, we need to separate ourselves from Queloria and make our way to our next destination.”

“Which is where?”

Roald looks back as the trees begin to unfold ahead of him and smiles with a shake of his head. “That, my student, will be revealed to you in time.”

Ephraim: A Test of Aptitude ®

The air is cold and wet in a pitch black cave where a lack of sight heightens the sense of hearing. The cave is all but silent, save the intermittent splashes from drops of water falling from the ceiling into puddles on the floor. The shuffle of footsteps echoes through the quiet cavern as a light begins to glimmer at the entrance. A man with short black hair, peppered with gray and a short beard is holding a small, glowing object that lights his way above his head as he leads a young man. The older man is wearing long purple robes and black sandals, both with extravagant white trimmings. The younger man has shiny, brown hair that reaches the bend in his back. It is tied low, just a few inches from the bottom. He wears simple brown sandals and his long blue robes are outlined in golden yellow. The leader suddenly stops and puts his arm out to bring his apprentice to a halt as well. As he shines the light to survey the room, the walls shimmer and dance with reflections. He nods his head.

“This is it, Ephraim. Where I let you take the lead.” The light he is holding extinguishes and the leader grabs Ephraim’s arm. He places an object in the apprentice’s hand and closes it around the smooth, hard surface. The darkness lending to Ephraim’s heightened sense of feeling makes it easy to distinguish the item as a well-cut gemstone. His heart begins to beat against the inside of his chest as the reality of the impending task begins to set in.

I’ve known this time was coming, but now that it is here, I don’t know if I’m ready. He thinks. The thoughts have to be pushed aside as his teacher continues.

“Extracting the essence of Opal will make it a source of light. Remember your lessons, focus on its essence, and draw it out.” Ephraim clutches the gem tightly and silences his nerves as he closes his eyes to concentrate. He pauses, allowing his conscience to go deep into the center of the gem as he searches for the source of its energy. Seconds seem like minutes as he feels his thoughts digging deep within the stone. Suddenly he feels the corners of his mouth raise in a smile in the dark cavern.

“Found it.” He whispers.

“Good, now draw it out. Remember not to force it out, rather tempt it into leaving the stone.”

As Ephraim persuades the stone’s essence to leave its locality, slowly a light begins to glimmer through the cracks in his fingers. “There it is. Now give it a little push.” The mentor says. Ephraim concentrates a little harder and the light begins to shine bright. Ephraim opens his hand and the bright light illuminates his delighted expression. The euphoric feeling of accomplishment beginning to overwhelm him, extinguishes quickly as his mentor brings his focus back to reality. “Now give it some direction and push it a little more.” The teacher explains. Ephraim holds the gem above his head, he magically causes the light to split behind them, and draws the sides of the light in front of them into a cone-shaped directional beam. “Your progress is exceptional, Ephraim. Let us continue.” The student hides a grin at the compliment from his mentor.

As the two continue toward their destination, Ephraim grows more concerned about the task ahead. “Teacher, tell me again about these imps I will be fighting.”

“You are a graduate, Ephraim. You don’t have to address me as your teacher any longer. Call me by my name please.” The younger mage acknowledges his request with a nod. “As to your query, the imps are cave-dwelling creatures that command different forces of nature. The creatures that inhabit this cave will likely be lightning imps. They are nimble creatures, and their ability to fly makes them a hard target. Wide-arc range spells will work best against them.” Ephraim’s brow furls while he makes mental notes of his teacher’s answer as the two duck into a narrow passage in the cave. “While battling these creatures, you must remember to keep focused on your task. If you feel you are losing the fight, look for an escape first, and look for a route that allows you to grab your objective on your way out second. Don’t take long though, because you will most certainly have the surviving creatures in tow.”

A drop of water falls onto Ephraim’s cheek as they are walking through the tunnel. He wipes the cool water from his face and notices another light ahead through an opening at the end of the tunnel. “Put your Opal away. We want to have the element of surprise on our side.” His teacher explains. “We should ample sight from here forward.” They squat near the end of the tunnel and Ephraim pulls up his nice robes to keep them from sitting on the dirty cavern floor before placing his gem back into his pouch.

“Tea…” Ephraim stops himself from using his mentor’s title, “Roald, I don’t understand why we wear our best garments on a quest into a filthy cavern. It’ll take me forever to wash the dirt out of them.”

Roald hides a chuckle as he shift his gaze from ahead to Ephraim. He answers matter-of-factly, “your attire speaks directly of you. If you were to dress in rags and ran across enemies, they would think you were an easy target. We wear our best apparel to give the impression that we can afford the best gems, which detours most lowly bandits. It creates a facade that we are able to afford the best gems to defend ourselves.”

Ephraim nods and looks around the corner of the tunnel wall. The room is a large, open space with a healthy amount of sunlight shining in through an opening in the elevated ceiling. With the absence of the offsetting light from his Opal, the light pouring in from the ceiling becomes much more imposing. The sting of the brightness causes him to shield his eyes as he searches the room for signs of life. Nothing catches his attention for a moment, but then he notices something glimmering in the light. Across the room, a slanted wall has formed a natural shelf for a shiny, white gem that sits in the perfect spot to reflect an array of dazzling colors that couldn’t have been better placed if it were intentional.

“It looks like I found the Moonstone, but I don’t see any imps.”

“Do you have a Spinel?” The teacher asks. Ephraim turns away to hide a look of confusion as he digs through his satchel and finds the small, peach-colored stone.

“I do. What does it do again?”

“Use it and find out.”

Ephraim closes his eyes and begins searching for the gem’s essence. He almost feels as if he is beginning to get lost in the stone as he wanders. After a few moments he opens his eyes to a whole new sight. The walls seem to blur and his sight is the only one of his senses that doesn’t fade. Ephraim is startled when he looks at Roald and notices a glowing aura around his teacher.

“The life-detecting gem.” Roald says with a voice that sounds distant and muffled as he instructs Ephraim. “It is a true treasure for Gemkith that like to hunt in dense forests for wildlife. Take a second to look around the room and see if you notice the imps now.”

The dreamy haze is almost dizzying as it causes the walls to wave slightly while he looks around the room. Suddenly he notices two similar auras floating on the other side of a cavern wall off to the side that lies between him and the Moonstone. The loud thump in his ears is almost deafening as his heart begins to race. “Roald, I have only studied battle magic. I don’t know if I…”

“The highest importance of spell casting is confidence.” Roald interrupts. “In the heat of battle you don’t have time to doubt or think about your next action. You have to react to the situation as it arises.” The guide pulls a light purple stone from his pouch as he steps into the room. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.” He says as he begins to fade away. “I won’t let you die. Now get out there and retrieve that stone.” He vanishes leaving only the sound of his footsteps.

“I wish I could just use Alexandrite.” Ephraim grunts with a whiny tone. “It would make this a lot easier.”

“In time, my young apprentice. You need to be able to use the Magestones before moving into Wizardstones. They are much harder to understand and communicate with. Now which spell are you going to attack with?” Ephraim puts his Spinel away and crosses his arms thoughtfully as he thinks before issuing an answer.

“Wind has a high arc attack spell.”

“But we are in a cavern where wind is relatively scarce. What is the most abundant resource in here?” Roald asks. Ephraim thinks, and thinks… and thinks, the task ahead of him harming his focus. His already-lacking train of thought is disturbed as he hears the sound of his guide’s foot tapping. The hint goes unnoticed by the apprentice. “Look under your feet, dear boy.” Roald says in as much of a shout as he dares. Ephraim’s eyes widen as he looks down, finally coming to the correct answer.

“Earth…” He smiles gleefully as he quickly reaches into his pouch to find a Peridot. He clinches it with his eyes closed for a moment to gather all of his courage, then begins walking into the room as he reopens them.

“Hold one moment.” Roald’s command causes Ephraim to slide to a halt, the shuffle echoing in the quiet room. “You have your offensive stone, but what will you block their attacks with? You need to be able to put up a barrier as well, so grab an Amethyst in your other hand.”

Ephraim grabs the gem from his pouch with a bit of hesitation as he thinks about how he can use the new stone, pauses to take a breath, and starts making his way toward the winged creatures. He sprints behind the wall that the imps are behind to gather himself one last time. He takes a deep breath and looks down at the Peridot in his hand. “Confidence.” He whispers. His body tingles as the excitement and fear, but mostly fear, of battle sets in. The nervous heat of his cheeks begins radiating as a rogue bead of cold sweat runs down his brow. At this proximity, the apprentice can begin to hear the vermins’ movements. One of the imps begins sniffing as if it knows that someone else is there before letting out a low, gurgled growl. Ephraim realizes that he is about to lose the edge of surprise so he looks around the room quickly for a projectile for his first attack. His eyes come to a stop as he notices thinly-connected stalagmite sitting a few feet away from him. He clinches the Peridot and as he begins to use its essence, a green light begins shining through his fist and out of his eyes, the magnitude of the emanation matching that of the determination set in the fleshy orbs that they come from. The large rock snaps as it lifts off of the ground and he spins around the wall toward the imps. The green light trails like a mist with the swing of his arm as the rock follows the movement and smashes one of the imps into the wall. The other foul creature whips its wings downward, launching it into the air.

“Screeeeee!” It shouts as it throws a ball of lightning at Ephraim. The sphere of electricity gets within inches of his face, and he lifts his other arm to block the attack with a force field. While the block stops the spark from hitting him, the force from the blast launches him across the room into another wall in the cavern.

“Ugh!” His grunt echoes loudly in the chamber as a bolt of pain shoots up his spine. He shakes his head letting the spare strands of hair that escaped his low ponytail whip around his face and slide over his angered expression as he looks up to see the monster approaching quickly. With a quick jump he is out of the line of the Kamikaze dive of the imp. The Mage uses the manifestation essence of the Amethyst to project a ghostly image of himself where he once stood. The trick is successful and the imp runs straight through the ghost and into the wall behind it. While still aloft, Ephraim swings the arm holding the Peridot to break off a stalactite above the imp and brings it crashing down as he lands simultaneously. Dust from the smashing rocks billows out and soon after the imp comes flying through the cloud at him. The mage doesn’t have time to react, allowing the imp to sink its sharp teeth into the top of his shoulder. A deafening wail pierces his ears, to be recognized seconds later as his own voice as the piercing pain shoots through him. He throws his hand with the Peridot up and brings a large chunk of rock from the floor smashing into the creature and forcing it to release its hold on him. Just as the rock is about to smash into the ceiling, the imp flies out from behind it and its path is quickly redirected back into an attack.

“You are blindly swinging, Ephraim.” Roald’s voice surprises his apprentice, causing him to glance around. “Remember to stay on defense and wait for the right moment to attack.” Ephraim steps out of the way as the beast swoops past him. Quickly the imp circles around for another attack.

Defense. Wait for the opportunity. Ephraim looks through the strands of his messy hair with angered determination as he lights up his Amethyst to create a dozen ghostly copies of himself. He and his images scatter in different directions causing the imp to pause. It takes a moment to look around, lets out a furious scream, and curls up into a ball. Bolts of electricity swirl around the creature like fingers reaching into the cavern before concentrating into a ball around the beast. Suddenly the imp throws his body open and a large surge of electrical energy bursts into the room. All of the ghostly images evaporate and Ephraim is thrown to the ground. The imp has to land to gather its energy for the next attack which leaves time for Ephraim to stand and gather his wits.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Ephraim shouts. A fierce green light emanates from his eyes and the jewel in his hand again. Suddenly rock from different places in his vicinity gathers around him before forming on him like armor. The imp sees its impending danger and is back in the air again with a flap of its wings. Its energy hasn’t recovered enough for a lightning attack so it begins flying toward the mage for a physical assault, its basic intellect not grasping the physics of the protection the armor affords. Ephraim waits for the creature to get close before throwing all of his strength into a jumping uppercut. The shot lands on the imp, and sends it flying into a stalactite on the cavern ceiling causing its impalement. Ephraim lands and lets the essence of the Peridot fade causing the stone armor to fall off of him. He bats his eyes when the exhaustion of the fight begins to set in as the adrenaline begins to dissipate in his system.

“Well done, Ephraim.” His instructor states plainly as he becomes visible again. The look of solemn pride in his eyes softens the pain Ephraim is masking. “Let’s take this Moonstone to be cut into a usable gem.” Ephraim puts the Amethyst into his pouch and as he opens his hand to look at the Peridot, it turns into green sparkling dust and falls through his fingers. “It appears that you got all of the essence from that gem. You were fortunate that it ran out after the fight.” Roald clasps his pupil’s shoulder causing him to wince in pain. The teacher smiles unapologetically as he holds a Peridot in an open hand toward the Moonstone. The gem breaks out of the rock wall and flies into his hand as they make their way back out of the cave.

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The stinging light from the sun blinds them as they emerge. Ephraim holds his hand over his eyes as they walk back out into the open field. When the two get back onto the road, the ache of the student’s weary body begins to heighten causing him to lightly limp as Roald explains their course.

“We will travel to Limone. There is a lapidarist there that will give us the best cut to get the most essence out of this Moonstone.”

Ephraim looks at Roald in confusion. “Wouldn’t we get more out of the stone if we didn’t cut it? Doesn’t cutting the stone make it lose some of its essence?”

Roald lightly shakes his head before responding. “Think of the gem’s essence as its soul, for lack of a better word. If you cut off your finger, do you lose a part of your soul? The essence is the gem’s being. That’s why when you used up the essence from the Peridot, it crumbled into dust.” He explains before turning a leery eye on him. “You must have forgotten this from class.”

“I learn better from experience. I can be taught something from a book, but until I see it in the outside world, it doesn’t become real to me.”

“Well then, we need to keep you in these training quests as much as we can.” Roald looks down the road as he finishes his sentence. There is a horse-drawn carriage making its way down the road in their direction. The apprentice begins to feel worried as he sees his mentor straining his eyes to investigate the oncoming group.. but his heart sinks when Roald’s eyes go wide. “ Just as I feared. Ephraim, step off of the road quickly.” The teacher pushes his student and the two begin following the road alongside it, just a few yards away.

“What’s wrong, Roald?”

“That is a caravan from the Romi Empire.” Roald notices Ephraim’s vacant stare but can’t tell if it is from nerves rendering him incapable of comprehension or lack of attentiveness in class; he suspects the latter. “Another detail you missed in class, I suppose. They are the gypsy tribe from the south. Since they are wanderers, constantly blowing from one location to the next, they favor wind stones, which can be a hard magic to combat. They are crafty charmers, Ephraim, and they like to use stones that control your emotions. If they can gain control of your emotions, they can get you to trust them, or even blindly serve them. Even with only trust on their side, they can rob you blind and be gone before the enchantment wears off.”

Ephraim blinks for a moment, stunned and unable to find the words to accurately convey his inquiry. Whether from exhaustion or fear, he is unsure. “How do you fight control over your emotions?” He finally asks.

“There is no stone magic that can block those abilities; it is all in the power of your will. The best way to keep from falling under their spell is to not look into their eyes. It’s a lot harder for their magic to work on someone who isn’t giving them their full attention. As they get closer, you will need to keep your hand on your pouch so they can’t snatch it away, and your eyes straight ahead of you. Now keep quiet, they are almost upon us.”

As the cart gets closer, Ephraim has to fight the urge to look at them. The squeak of the wagon wheel taunts him and the allure of the legendary beauty of the gypsies makes it hard to continue to look away. As if an undeniable magnetic force is drawing him to the cart, a wave of seductive power washes over him, pressing down on his will to the breaking point. His curiosity gets the better of him and he glances up to see a beautiful young woman riding on the cart. Her fine garments set her apart from her raggedly dressed, albeit colorful, companions. Her loose fitting apparel and thin sashes drift behind her majestically in the wind while the two men with her wear rags on their heads and clothes fitting to a bandit.

Ephraim can’t make himself look away as her magnetism gets more and more strong. She looks over to him and their eyes meet. His peripheral vision begins to blur, his skin goes cold, his heart races, and he soon finds that he can only focus on her gaze. Time seems to slow as the caravan rolls by, but the eye contact is eventually broken as Roald’s lowered head passes through their line of sight. Ephraim shakes his head, which causes Roald to look up at him. The guide considers him curiously for a moments before realizing the head shake’s connotation; that Ephraim just came out of a spell. He quickly looks down to his pupil’s hip and Ephraim’s eyes quickly follow.

“You didn’t keep your hand on your pouch, you fool!” They quickly look back to see a gypsy hopping back into the travelling cart carrying Ephraim’s stone pouch. Ephraim’s face flushes in embarrassment. “She used a concentration spell to keep you in a trance while her lackey grabbed your gems.” Roald breaks off into a sprint with Ephraim close behind. “You have some field experience with Peridot, so use this.” He says as he tosses a stone to his apprentice while in stride.

“They’re coming. Yah!” The wagon driver shouts as he whips the reins of the horse after noticing the two magisters advancing toward them. Ephraim stops and throws his arm up with the Peridot, a look of renewed determination replacing that of exhaustion on his face. The sudden rush of adrenaline purges the pain of the last fight from his body as it courses through his veins. Suddenly a large mass of earth rises in front of the nomads causing their horses to stop abruptly.

“We can’t get away. We’ll have to kill them!” The gypsy that charmed Ephraim yells. The nomads jump out of the cart and begin rushing toward the two mages.

“Here they come, Ephraim! They keep their gems in anklets, so watch their feet!” Roald calls back as Ephraim begins to give chase once more. As the young female rushes toward Ephraim, a light trails behind the gems in her anklet. A yellow light twirls behind her looking almost like a mist as she leaps into the air. Her majestic call to entice the weak of will as she performs amazing leaps and twirls in her feats of agility. With a final twist of her body she spins a kick around and a blade of wind blasts into Ephraim. His hair whips in front of him as he is thrown back into some bushes in the nearby wilderness.

The gypsy turns to see Roald preparing an attack, and begins rushing toward him. The mage swings his arm in a semi-circle over his head releasing stones in an arc around him. One of the gems, a White Moonstone, begins radiating and the world seems to come to an abrupt stop around him. The mage’s time-slowing spell causes the gypsies to run so slowly that it seems as if they aren’t moving, and the stones seem to practically float over his head. Roald looks at the approaching nomad and lets a look of grim satisfaction sneak onto his face. A rainbow of colors begins to shine from his eyes as the gems over his head begin to glow. As the Quartz begins to shine brightly, he feels the aches of a tired, old body melt away. He closes his hand and a flame engulfs it as he breaks into a dash. Colorful mists trail behind him as he runs past the first gypsy and toward his other sloth-like targets.

He moves swiftly as the Quartz nullifies the wear age has left on his body and gives him super-human physical qualities. A fiery punch causes the first male nomad to go flying into his wagon. The once crawling speed of his approach is multiplied into a fiery bolt of speed in his departure. The carriage explodes in a ball of flame causing pieces to go flying in all directions. Roald catches one of the wagon’s wheels as it floats by, and with a quick spin, launches it toward the drifter that snatched Ephraim’s gems. He uses the wind power of his Citrine to give the wheel a boost to maximize its speed. As the wheel crashes into the thief, he flies backward and releases Ephraim’s pouch. After a shallow attempt to fight back his laughter, he holds his hand out and uses his Apatite to telekinetically carry the bag back to him.

He turns back to where his stones are floating in place and glances back to the female gypsy as he walks by. Standing beneath the gems he makes a quick swing of his arm and retrieves all of the stones he released earlier. He places all of them but a Peridot back in his pouch as he looks back to the gypsy. With one more look at his accomplishment, he feels his excitement peaking and with a flick of his wrist he raises a pillar of earth inches in front of her face. He slowly raises his arm in the air and snaps causing time to return to normal. The gypsy plows into the pillar and falls onto her back with a grunt. She sits up quickly with a her eyes widened to what appears to be dramatically past their physical capabilities as she stares at the mage. She opens her mouth to speak, but she is silenced as Roald makes the earth beneath her encase her hands and feet with the Peridot that remains in his hand.

Ephraim pops out of the bushes with stones in hand and ready for action. As he begins to look around dazed, the green lights emitting from his eyes begins to dissipate. Roald smiles a bit pretentiously back at his pupil as he drops his stones into his pouch. The student shakes his head in disbelief, his mouth agape.

“How… All I heard was an explosion!”

“That is why we have three semesters of lessons on Moonstone. Time Magic can be a powerful weapon.” The teacher explains with a smile.

“So I can do that with that Moonstone we just got from the imps?”

“First of all, it’s only White Moonstone that has time essence. Secondly, it’s expensive and you would not use it properly so you’ll get a stone when you are more trained with it.” Roald begins walking down the road. “Come, before we are met with more trouble.” Ephraim looks around the battlefield once more, not completely able to comprehend what took place there before rushing to catch up with his mentor. As pair begins traveling back down the road toward the city, smoke from the smoldering cart pours into the colorful dusk sky. The trapped gypsy tugs defiantly with her hands and feet, stubbornly trying to free them before she spits on the ground and waits for the trapping spell to wear off.

“Don’t think this is over, mage.” She hisses through her gritted teeth. “You’ll see me again.”