Tales From Mortia: Rilly

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Pangaea, Sep 25, 2016.

  1. Pangaea

    Pangaea Forum Moderator

    So here's a story I wrote in 2012. I have it posted on fictionpress but I'll post it here to read at your leisure. Please enjoy. (;

    ... and reality collapsed in on itself and tore into thin shreds like so much old paper.

    The End

    That's a really bad way to start this tale. Let's start at the beginning of this mess instead.

    Tales from Mortia: Rilly


    There once was a great warrior named Delon. He travelled the world and back and experienced many things most people can only dream of and some things people cannot even dream of. He righted many wrongs and saved countless lives. His outstanding list of victories over various evils is only comparable to his outstanding looks. His exploits enjoy global fame and many seek to follow the footsteps of Delon. Many seek to follow his footsteps in the same way many seek to follow the footsteps of any great hero. They simply admire the hero's courage and power but do not actually care much for being anything like the hero. That would be too much effort. Delon never met a foe he could not defeat, a town he could not save, or a woman he could not woo. His skill with a sword or a bow was unmatched.

    His origin is unknown but many believe he started on his path to success and fame from an early age. It was in those early years his name began to spread. His success started after he became the first person to ever punch a tree in the face and tell the tale. From that point onwards, he travelled the world and learned all of its secrets. His wisdom matched only by his wit and his savagery in battle calmed only by his love for all life. Delon was a great man. He was probably the greatest man that ever existed or ever will exist. This tale has nothing to do with him.

    It has to do with someone else.

    A man walked into the stuffy tent with an unreadable expression. He seemed to ignore the various smokes and odours filling the cramped area. Instead he focused on the glass orb sitting quietly in the centre of the small stand. The orb gave off the distinct feeling that it did not want to be disturbed. The woman seated behind the small round table leaned forward and peered at the man with a questioning raise of her eyebrow. The man narrowed his eyes as he stepped forward and glared at the woman.

    "What can I help you with?" asked the woman pleasantly. The first rule of good business is to never turn away a customer, no matter how unfriendly or suspicious they appear. Actually, the first rule is to be willing to lie and tell people what they want to hear but not turning away customers is a close second.

    "Tell my future," said the man simply. He tossed a few gold coins onto the table. The woman regarded them as a mother might regard her young children.

    "Very well. I shall call upon the netherworlds. Hear me, ye spirits of-"

    "I don't have time for that nonsense," said the man, cutting off the woman's prepared speech. "I am pressed for time."

    "Oh," said the woman with a defeated tone.

    "I know that's all for show," said the man as he narrowed his eyes further. The woman regarded him for a moment and felt surprised she did not notice his hat sooner.

    "I see. Very well," said the woman as she held her hands out to the plain glass orb sitting on the table. It began to pulse before she even touched it. A strange humming filled the tent.

    The woman's face twisted in concentration and confusion as she stared into the swirling colours and shapes. She glanced back at the man with slightly widened eyes before peering more intently into the now glowing orb. Something was wrong. She looked at the man, slightly horrified. Somewhere deep down in her bowels, she felt a great uneasiness. It could have just been bad goat's milk from breakfast. But she only served bad milk to cats and customers. The cats never complained but it would give the customers a stomach ache and they would return the next day for a remedy. Quite an effective business strategy. If it was not milk, it could only mean one thing.

    Suddenly, the orb went black and the strange pulsing and humming stopped. The woman stared at the orb with a look of disbelief, her eyes wide and mouth agape. She looked up at the man to see a satisfied expression on his face. She looked back at the orb, hoping it read wrong. It remained a deep black with no other shapes or colours. The woman looked back up at the man and simply stared in bafflement. The man gave her a smile and tossed a bulky, leather coin pouch onto the table. It jingled as it fell over and several gold pieces rolled out.

    The man strode out of the tent with a strange smile playing about his lips. The woman stared after him before looking down at the coins scattered on her table. She reached over to them and began to scoop them into the pouch. The orb pulsed quietly, showing its displeasure with her behaviour. The woman looked at it and pulled the pouch into her lap.

    "I'm not being greedy. He gave it willingly," said the woman as she continued to look at the orb. It flashed a strange orange hue. The woman frowned. "No. Besides, I might as well enjoy what's left of the world."


    And sitting in the Great Hall of the Crystal Palace at the centre of the world, they watched. One turned to the others and received nods.

    "It is time."

    Chapter 1: Fated Meeting

    It was almost too dark to see. The only light in the Tunnel was from the glow of strange orange mushrooms growing everywhere. The sound of water constantly dripping echoed in the darkness and never got louder or softer no matter which direction she walked. Stalactites and stalagmites littered the ceiling and floor and the rocky, uneven ground made walking difficult but she pressed forward. The Tunnel seemed to twist and turn and there were even inclines every so often. However, she could feel she was going deeper in the Tunnel the further she walked. It was commonly believed anyone could figure out the insides of caves based on arbitrary things like mushrooms and rock formations. People were usually wrong. It took a lot of expertise to master cave exploring. Or just a bit of luck. Just as she approached a sharp downward slope, she heard a surprising sound.

    "Oh hell," said a female voice.

    She immediately started to make her way down the slope to try to find the other person. Just as she finished descending, she spotted a young woman slumped against a large rock. Judging from her attire, the other girl was clearly some sort of thief. There was no mistaking that purple jumpsuit and black hood. Whilst tightly gripping her staff, the woman stepped forward.

    "Um, hello."

    "The hell!" said the thief, obviously surprised to see someone else in the Tunnel.

    "No need to be rude."

    The thief looked her up and down and frowned. The last thing she wanted was a conceited magician seeing her in her current state. And the other woman was clearly a magician. She wore a long, white and yellow robe and clutched at the wooden staff in her hands. The thief snorted when she noticed the floppy, pointed hat. It seemed all magicians wore floppy hats. In fact, whatever type of magic the magician practised, the hat was very important. It let people know how important the magician was. Or at least powerful enough to do something unspeakably horrible if someone upset them.

    "What's so funny?" asked the magician as she narrowed her eyes at the thief.


    "You're one to talk, thief. At least I have an honest profession."

    "Whatever," said the thief, looking away. She hoped the magician would leave.

    "And I help people too."

    The thief gave the magician a suspicious look. "What are you on about?"

    "I'm a cleric."

    "Damn it."

    "You're hurt, aren't you?"

    "None of your business," said the thief, again looking away from the magician.

    "No need to hide it. You can't hide it from me anyway. We clerics are trained to sense when others are injured."

    The thief gave an overly polite smile. "Thanks, I don't need your help.”

    "Fine but this is no place to be injured," said the cleric, turning to leave.

    The thief bit her lower lip. "Wait!"

    "What?" asked the cleric as she turned to face the thief again.

    "I'm injured, okay? I ran out of potions while trying to fight a drake."

    "You tried to fight a drake?"

    "It was only a little one."

    "Even so!" said the cleric quickly looking around.

    "It's not around here."

    A few moments of silence passed as the cleric regarded the thief. "You don't even look old enough to be out of academy."

    "I'm sixteen."


    "Got a problem with that?" asked the thief with another frown. She was beginning to dislike the cleric even more.

    "Wow, and you're trying to fight a drake?" asked the cleric as she crouched down beside the thief.

    They were closer so they could make out more about each other. The thief seemed younger than sixteen. Her long, blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She had large, dark eyes and freckles. The magician appeared to be a few years older. She had tanned skin and short, dark hair that stuck up from underneath her hat.

    The cleric looked the thief over. "It's your ankle, isn't it?"

    "What? Yeah, how'd you know?"

    "I told you. Clerics are trained to sense the injuries of others. Now just sit still and let me work."

    The thief was about to ask what was happening when she noticed the tip of the cleric's staff starting to glow. The thief realised the cleric was muttering some kind of incantation. She made several motions with her hand, waving her staff around in the process. Suddenly, the thief felt a warming sensation throughout her body. It focused on her left ankle. A soft, red glow emanated from the cleric's staff. A strange tingling sensation swam around the swollen foot, and suddenly, the thief felt the pain vanish. She looked at the cleric in surprise. She only ever heard about the power of clerics before then. She knew of potions but the abilities of a cleric were far superior. Doctors existed but most people did not trust their 'new age' methods. Why would anyone wait around and let their body heal 'naturally' when they could get a potion from an alchemist or find a cleric to instantly heal you? The cleric sat back and smiled.

    "Thanks," said the thief as she looked at her foot. She flexed the ankle several times.

    "It's what I do," said the cleric with a small nod. "My name is Toya."

    "I'm Zel," said the thief as she began to change her opinion about the cleric.

    "So how did you get down here anyway?" asked Toya after a few moments of silence.



    "You know, with legs and feet? I developed the habit at an early age," said Zel. "You know, walking places?"

    "That's not what I meant," said Toya with a frown.

    Zel gave a suspicious look. "But what are you doing down here?"

    "Well, I ... was just ... exploring ... " said Toya as if she was fishing for words.

    "You're lost, aren't you?"

    "That's not the point."

    Suddenly, there was the echo of someone or something approaching. The two young women looked at each other in shock. If a drake found them, they could be in real trouble.


    Tag muttered to himself as he flew. He was near the Temple but felt uneasy. In fact, the Temple was the very reason he flew in the first place. Not only was it faster than walking, and much kinder to grass, but it was also impossible to reach the Temple without flying. The Temple itself was flying and it made no sense for someone to reach it on foot. Unless, of course, that someone's feet could fly. Then it made perfect sense to go to the Temple on foot.

    Tag did not fly particularly fast so he had a chance to take in the sights. He had never flown that way before and it was something different. There were many trees and hills below him. These were very kind trees indeed. The last forest Tag flew over threw things at him and nearly knocked him out of the sky. Being knocked out of the sky would not be worth bragging about so Tag avoided it. It did not help his reputation either way, however. He was still a misfit.

    "And why should I be called a misfit? Just because I can't ... " Tag trailed off and listened hard.

    He thought he heard a disturbance but could not be sure. That is, he was not sure until someone smacked full force into him. The two tumbled in mid-air and nearly fell but Tag acted quickly and righted himself and his flying vessel. The other person groaned and looked around with a wild look in her eye.

    "Watch where you're going or we'll both fall down. And then the trees will laugh and ... " Tag trailed off again when he finally looked at the stranger.

    Something about her brown hair and innocent eyes gave him a strange sensation. She sat up and nearly fell off again. She yelled out and made a peculiar face. She wrapped her arms tightly around the flying vessel and looked at Tag with wide eyes.

    "What? Have I got something on my face?" Tag ran his hands around his face. He raised an eyebrow and stared at the girl.

    "What's going on here?"

    "Well, I was busy minding my own business, flying to the Temple, when you came and flew into me."

    "Flew into you?"


    "Flew into you?" The girl's voiced raised an octave as she looked down. She saw where she sat and realised the ground was far below. Several moments of awkward silence passed.

    "Sorry to be rude but I'm going to have to ask you leave me alone now and let me on my way," said Tag with a slight smile. After all, one should be polite, even if someone flew into you for no good reason.

    The girl tightened her grasp. "What! We're flying!"

    "Sh! Sh! Not so loud!" Tag ducked his head and looked around suspiciously.

    The girl turned her wide-eyed gaze to Tag. "What's going on?"

    "Sh! We're going to get caught if you keep on like that."

    The two sat in silence for several moments. Tag looked around as if he was about to be caught doing something wrong. The girl looked around with an expression suggesting she was trying to make sense of things. This was her problem because anything worth doing should make as little sense as possible, according to the philosophers.

    "I think we're okay. But you nearly knocked us out of the sky!" Tag relaxed and sat back.

    The girl swallowed hard and sat up. She looked at what she was sitting on and blinked. "Is this a giant toothbrush?"

    "Yes, I'm flying my toothbrush to Temple. We've already gone over this."

    "Flying toothbrush? You mean like a flying carpet?"

    "Flying carpet? Don't be ridiculous," said Tag with a slight chuckle. The girl simply stared at him. "Oh, you're serious? You must not be from around here."

    "No, and why did we have to be so quiet earlier?"

    "Wow, you really aren't from around here. We almost got caught that's all!"

    "Oh, caught by who?"

    "By gravity, of course. You don't really expect gravity to approve of me flying around do you?" asked Tag, raising an eyebrow. The girl just stared at him. Tag sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment. "You mean to say that you flew all the way up here without knowing how to fly?"

    "The last thing I remember is ... " said the girl with a frown. She trailed off and a look of horror flashed across her face.


    "I don't remember anything!"

    "Well, this puts us in a bit of a predicament," said Tag after several moments of silence.

    The girl blinked. "What?"

    "Well, I can't very well show up to Temple with you! The other monks will get the wrong impression."

    "Other monks?"

    "Scoff away but I'm a monk."

    "Well, what do you mean?"

    "Just that I've brought a pretty girl to Temple!" said Tag throwing his hands in the air and shaking his head. He was obviously upset.

    The girl was too worried about him being upset to catch the compliment. She suddenly started as if she remembered they sat facing each other on a toothbrush flying through the air. Tag leaned back on the bristles and put his face in his hands as he shook his head. The girl tensed up and squeezed her legs together around the handle of the toothbrush, afraid to fall off.

    "What's wrong with that?" asked the girl after several moments.

    "You're not from around here."

    They passed into silence again. Tag shook his head slightly and looked up at the girl. She simply stared back with a distressed expression on her face. It was obvious to Tag she was uncomfortable, given she did not know how to fly. He sighed and shook his head again.

    "What's your name?"


    "You have a name right? Mine is Tag."

    "Oh, that's a nice name," said the girl with a smile. A pretty smile if Tag had anything say about it.

    "And you are?" asked Tag after a moment of silence.

    "Oh. I'm Rilly," said the girl with another smile. Tag felt his knees go weak. An accomplishment considering he was sitting.

    "Well, Rilly, there's only one option."

    "What?" asked Rilly. Her face still showed uneasiness at flying.

    "I'll have to drop you off at the nearest town."


    Tag raised his eyebrows, waiting. He expected her to thank him for going out of his way to help her. He was, after all, in the middle of something. Rilly simply sat and hugged the handle with her legs. Her muscles were tense and she had her jaw set as if she was willing herself not to fall off. Tag sighed and looked around to figure out where they were. He looked around for any sort of familiar landmark but all he could see was the expanse of the forest beneath them. He remembered he never flew this way to get to Temple and silently cursed his timing. If he was along his normal route he would know exactly where a town was and could take Rilly there with no problem. Of course, that would mean Rilly would not have flown into him in the first place.

    In fact, Fate follows its own designs so it probably did not matter which way Tag went. They would meet no matter what. Fate would not let her fall out of the sky to her death. Probably.

    Chapter 2: In the Tunnel

    The two young women scrambled around to find somewhere to hide. The footsteps were suddenly directly behind them so they snapped their attention to the bend in the Tunnel. A man's head peeked around. He had dirty blond hair and blue eyes. He looked at the two young women and nodded. “I thought I heard someone,” he said and promptly disappeared.

    Zel and Toya shared a glance before staring at where the man's head appeared. Several moments passed and the two women realised the man was not coming back. They shared another uneasy glance before Zel stood up and cautiously made her way to the curve in the Tunnel. She peered around the corner and saw the man walking nonchalantly down a smaller passage branching off the main one. She felt Toya's presence beside her.

    “Who was that?” asked Toya with a baffled expression.

    Zel shrugged. “Hell if I know.” She turned to head the opposite direction.

    “Hey, where are you going?” asked Toya as Zel began to make her way back up the slope.

    “I'm getting out of here. I've got better things to do like not being stuck in this tunnel.”

    “Aren't you curious about that guy?”

    Zel stopped her ascent up the slope and frowned in thought. “No.”


    “Look, thanks for fixing my ankle. But don't think we're friends or anything,” said Zel as she casually began to climb further up the slope.

    “Not even a little curious?” asked Toya with a slight pout.

    “Curiosity milked the cat ... or something.”

    Toya frowned and watched as Zel stood at the top of the slope and looked around. It was obvious she was lost too. The Tunnel had a strange way of disorienting people, even experienced cave explorers. No one knew exactly where it led but rumours suggested it lead to a great treasure guarded by a demon. Many heroes and explorers tried to find the treasure in hopes of obtaining wealth and fame. No one ever succeeded. There were better ways to achieve wealth and fame. Gambling, for instance. Although it usually required more starting funds, it had about the same chance of success and was less life-threatening. Unless one borrowed money and did not pay back the loans. Then one got to stand in shady alleys and have conversations with nice men with clubs.

    “You're lost too,” said Toya after a moment of silence.

    Zel frowned. “I just have to head back the way I came.”

    “But that guy seemed to know his way around. I bet he can help,” said Toya making a general gesture for them to follow after him.

    Zel seemed to consider it for a moment before sighing and making her way back down the slope. Toya smiled and gripped her staff tightly. The two walked around the bend and headed into the side passage they saw the man disappear down. They walked for some minutes, the only sounds coming from the endlessly dripping water and the pebbles crunching beneath their feet. Toya whistled a nameless tune but stopped when she noticed the irritated look on Zel's face.

    “How did you hurt your ankle anyway? Doesn't seem like something a drake would do,” said Toya finally.

    “Don't worry about it,” said Zel with a hint of embarrassment in her tone.

    “Did you trip?”

    “I said don't worry about it!”

    “You did trip! And here I thought you were an expert at walking after all that talk,” said Toya with a slight chuckle.

    Zel pointed her finger up and sucked in air to respond but was cut off by an explosion further down the passage. Instinctively, the two women ducked and covered their heads. Smoke rolled over them from the direction they headed. Someone coughing caught their attention as they stood back up. They could see the glow of fire dancing off the walls some distance down the passage. They shared a glance and quickly, but cautiously, made their way forward. They were surprised with what greeted them as they made their way around a large up-crop of rock.

    The strange man lay upside down against a rock, coughing. Smoke rolled off his body and several areas of his clothing glowed red in small circles as if embers burned. The body of a small drake lay some distance down the passage. Several tiny fires burned near a small crater between the man and the drake. Toya noticed what appeared to be a small camp even further down the passage. The man continued to cough but noticed the two young women staring at him with confused expressions. Toya instinctively gripped her staff in preparation to help the man. Zel stood akimbo and frowned. Finally, the man stopped coughing and looked towards the body of the small drake. It lay motionless, a good portion of its face, neck, and right shoulder charred black. Toya took a tentative step forward and gestured towards the drake.

    “Did you do that?”

    “Nice day for it,” replied the man without righting himself. He simply lay with his legs propped up against the wall and his head skewed at an odd angle.

    “You don't seem hurt,” said Toya with a tone suggesting she was disappointed in some way.

    “Seems that way. I guess the little fellow smelled my food cooking and came to steal it. I surprised him and blasted before he could respond,” said the man. It appeared as if he attempted to shrug but because he was still upside down against the wall he only managed to slide further onto his back.

    “Wait, you did this?” asked Zel in disbelief.

    The man peered at her. “Who are you?” he asked, remaining upside down.

    Zel shared a glance with Toya. She shrugged slightly. “My name is Zel.”


    The trio fell into silence. Toya raised an eyebrow and glanced back and forth from the man to the body of the drake. Zel frowned and stared at the small crater and fires. The man simply continued to lay upside down as if his awkward, and probably painful, position was normal.

    Finally, Toya cleared her throat. “So you attacked a drake with a fire attack?”

    “Yes,” replied the man with a slightly confused expression.

    Toya and Zel shared another glance. “You know they're practically immune to fire, right? I mean, they are a species of dragon after all,” said Zel with an incredulous tone.

    “Oh, well that would explain why it's been so hard,” said the man as he attempted another shrug.

    Toya watched as he slid further down and continued to twist his neck. “Um, isn't that uncomfortable?” she asked as she gestured towards his awkward posture.

    “What? This? No.”

    Zel frowned. “It looks uncomfortable.”

    “Nope, I've had this cloak for years,” said the man with a smile.

    Zel and Toya exchanged a wide-eyed glance. “So, um, what are you doing down here?” asked Toya.

    “Collecting drake skins. They sell quite well,” replied the man, still remaining in his awkward position.

    “Wait, you came down here on purpose to fight drakes?” asked Zel. The man nodded. “With fire?” The man nodded again.

    Toya and Zel exchanged another wide-eyed glance. “Are you, like, some kind of crazy person?” asked Toya.

    The man frowned in thought as if he needed to give the question serious consideration. “I don't think so,” said the man finally. “Yes, I'm fairly certain I'm not.”

    “But how ... do you fight like that?” asked Toya. “You don't even have a hat!”

    “I admit I'm not a very good wizard but I manage,” said the man with a confident nod.

    “Wizard? Don't you mean mage?” asked Toya with a concerned tone.

    The man frowned in thought. “Oh, maybe.”

    The trio fell into silence again as Toya looked at Zel with a shocked expression. Zel simply looked at her, unsure of what to say. In fact, she was never very clear about the distinction between the various groups of magic practitioners. Toya sputtered something unintelligible and looked at Zel for help. The thief only managed a shrug. Finally, the strange man righted himself and stood. He stood only a little taller than the two women and appeared to wear several layers of clothing. Small patches of his clothes were burnt or still glowing red and he smelled of smoke. He looked from Zel to Toya before making his way towards the dead drake.

    Drakes were noted for being the smallest species of dragon. They were not nearly as invincible or dangerous as their larger cousins and tended to live in caves and tunnels. Drakes usually left humans alone except when drakes did not leave humans alone. They were known for attacking travellers and caravans passing through or seeking shelter in caves and tunnels. Toya and Zel watched as the strange man examined the drake before shrugging slightly. He began to drag it back to his makeshift camp.

    “Y-you're not a real mage, are you?” asked Toya with a baffled tone. Her expression continued to convey shock and confusion.

    “Self taught, actually,” said the man. Toya looked at Zel again. The thief shrugged and started to follow the man to his camp. It was an odd sight.

    A small fire sat in a clearing he obviously made. Some kind of pot sat over the fire and something white bubbled away inside the pot. A high pile of dark green leather lay off to one side and a tent sat on the other. A pile of clothing lay halfway inside the tent and halfway out. Several pots and pans lay scattered between the fire and tent. It was obvious the man was in the Tunnel for some time. Zel shared a surprised expression with Toya as the man pulled the drake's body near the pile of skins. He sighed loudly before patting himself down. Billows of smoke rolled off his clothes. He sat down on a large rock pulled next to the fire and bubbling pot.

    “How long have you been down here?” asked Zel as she looked around the unimpressive camp.

    “A few days I guess,” said the man with a shrug.

    “A few days?” asked Toya with a tone of disbelief as she stared at the pile of drake skins.

    “There were a lot of them in this area,” said the man. He seemed proud of the fact.

    Zel shook her head. “You are crazy.” The man frowned as if considering it.

    “But, you're not a real mage! How is this possible?” asked Toya with a whining tone as she clutched her staff.

    “Never mind about that. I'm more interested in getting out,” said Zel before the man could respond.

    “Oh, nice meeting you then,” said the man with a smile.

    He turned his attention to his bubbling pot and stirred it. He idly stared at it, dropping the conversation just like that. Toya shared a look of disbelief with Zel. The thief frowned and stepped towards him. He looked up with a surprised expression, as if he did not expect to see the two young women standing there. He looked from one to the other and raised his eyebrows. Toya shook her head as Zel swore under her breath.

    “Well?” asked Zel after a moment of silence.

    “Yes?” asked the man.

    “Are you going to show us the way out? We're lost,” said Zel as she clenched her teeth.

    “Way out?” he asked as if he never heard of the concept before.

    Toya gave a slight nod. “Yes, the way out of this Tunnel.”

    “Way out ... I don't know the way out,” he said with a shrug before turning back to his stew.

    Toya looked to Zel with wide eyes. “The hell! You don't know the way out?” asked Zel with an exasperated tone.

    “Nope, can't say I do,” said the man as he stirred his food. His nonchalant answer made Zel stop just short of yelling. She could not believe it.

    “Wait, you came down here to hunt drakes with fire and you don't even know the way out?” asked Toya.

    “I suppose I'll find my way out when the time comes,” said the man with a nod as he looked to his pile of drake skins. He appeared to be calculating something.

    “But ... you ... why … ” said Toya as she sputtered and fished for words. It was obvious she was as confused and disturbed as Zel was.

    “You're insane!” said Zel after several moments.

    “If you keep saying that I might be inclined to believe you,” said the man as he looked at Zel. The thief narrowed her eyes at him, silently wondering why now of all times she noticed how good-looking he probably was when he was not covered in dirt and ash and smoke.

    “Look, she and I need to get out of here. How much longer are you going to be down here?” asked Toya.

    The man regarded Zel as if she would produce the answer. She squirmed slightly under his gaze. Finally the man looked back at his stash of skins. “I'll have to see how much I can get off this little fellow here. I might have enough.”

    Toya looked at the stash in slight disgust, as if she could already see it decaying. Most people were confused when it came to how quickly dead animals and things decayed. In fact, the warm, damp air of the cave would preserve the drake for weeks before it started to decay. Or warm, dry air. Warm air of a certain moisture, at any rate. Regardless, dragons were magical so they probably wouldn't even decay. Maybe.

    Zel motioned for Toya to follow her and the two young women walked away from the camp a few steps. The man went back to his stew. “What are you doing?” asked Zel.

    “What do you mean? He's got the most experience in this cave and I'm sure he knows the way out. We'll have to trust him.”

    “What! He's totally insane!”

    “But he's our only chance. We're both lost down here. He's been here for days.”


    “Hey, you're free to do what you want. We're not friends or anything, remember?” asked Toya with a slightly smug expression.

    Zel bit her lower lip and looked back at the man. “Fine. But if he kills us or something I'm blaming you.”

    Chapter 3: In the Forest

    Rilly kept her eyes tightly closed the entire time Tag flew his giant toothbrush towards the ground. Tag decided one spot was as good as another so he simply picked a clearing in the forest to land. Rilly felt the air rushing by her as they descended. Even after she felt them hit the ground, she kept her eyes closed. Tag sighed loudly as he stepped off and look around. The thick trees grew tall all around them and Tag was unable to spot any trails or sign posts nearby. He looked back to Rilly and shook his head as the girl slowly opened one eye and looked around nervously. She let out an explosive breath of relief and jumped off the toothbrush. As soon as she hit the ground, she fell flat on her face.

    Tag rushed over to help her up. “Are you hurt?” he asked. She stirred but did not immediately get up. “Or just embarrassed?”

    “I'm fine,” said Rilly as she stood and tried not to look at Tag. Her cheeks were flushed red.

    Tag simply raised an eyebrow and shook his head slightly. Then, for no reason whatsoever, his toothbrush burst into flames. Rilly yelped in surprise and ducked behind Tag. She clutched his arms tightly as she cried in fear. Tag took a step back in shock and stared in disbelief as the bright flames reduced his toothbrush to ash. The fire, having consumed the flying vessel, immediately died down. Only a large charred patch of grass remained. Tag simply stared in open-mouthed shock. Finally, he shook Rilly off and took a step towards the black wedge of ground.

    “What did you do?” asked Rilly.

    “Me? What did you do?”

    “What? I didn't do that!” said Rilly with a shocked expression.

    “Well, I can't make fire out of nowhere. I'm no mage. And why would I burn my own toothbrush for no reason? Also it was our only method of travelling,” said Tag as he looked around.

    Rilly whimpered slightly, unsettled by Tag's words. Tag shook his head and looked Rilly up and down. He silently wondered why the gods would send her into his path but he firmly believed things happened for a reason. This is a good philosophy for people who do not take the time to stop and consider anything philosophically. Lots of things happen for no particular reason. Like the creation of battery-powered soaps one can find in the big city markets. Or toothbrushes exploding into fire. Or someone sitting down and considering anything philosophically.

    “So what do we do now?”

    “Great, now I won't be able to get to Temple for awhile,” said Tag to himself as he frowned in thought.

    “We can't just stay out here,” said Rilly as she clutched her hands together under her chin and looked around the ominous forest.

    The trees seemed to be watching them with interest but there was no telling what kinds of creatures lurked in the shadows of those great branches. In fact, the trees did not even seem that interested now that Tag looked around in careful consideration. They just seemed concerned about the fire. Now the flames were gone so they lost interest in the two people. Tag sighed and scratched his head. Rilly looked scared as her eyes darted around the forest. It was after midday and Tag was unsure how much longer the sun would stay up. With another sigh he started towards the west. After a dozen steps he stopped to see Rilly still standing in the same place.

    “Are you coming?”


    Rilly remained standing for several more seconds before following. Tag rolled his eyes but remembered she was not from the area. It was only natural for her to be afraid. Tag silently wondered how she even got there since she didn't know how to fly. He sighed again as he got lost in thought. They approached the tree line. Tag was so deep in thought he looked up just too late. A brown shape ran into him and knocked him over before scurrying up a nearby tree. Rilly squealed in surprised and knelt beside Tag to help him up. He muttered an oath and looked up at the brown shape. It was a small monkey. It was about the size of a large toddler which is about half the size of a large monkey. Rilly followed his gaze and looked at the monkey with wide eyes. It looked back at them with its head tilted to one side.

    “It's a monkey,” said Rilly as Tag stood up and brushed himself off.

    “Yes, thank you.”

    “Why is it wearing a skirt?”

    Tag narrowed his eyes at the monkey and noticed the green cloth around its waist. A simple piece of rope wrapped around its waist to hold the material in place. Tag realised the monkey held something in its hand. It was his coin pouch. Even though he was monk, Tag still had some, albeit small, wealth. He was glad he did not join one of the vow-of-poverty sects. He narrowed his eyes at the monkey and let out an exasperated sigh.

    “He stole my wallet,” said Tag with a sour expression.

    “Oh. Why?'

    “I don't know. Maybe banana prices went up.”

    Tag stared at the monkey as it stood on the tree branch. Rilly looked back and forth from the monkey to Tag, waiting for something to happen. Finally, Tag sighed and started towards the monkey. The small simian seemed to narrow its eyes before jumping to the ground. The two walked towards each other and stopped a metre apart. The monkey looked Tag up and down before glancing at Rilly. Tag narrowed his eyes and stared down at the monkey with an unreadable expression.

    “Give me back my wallet.” Surprisingly, the monkey complied.

    “What!” said Rilly from some distance away. “It understands you!”

    “Just as I thought,” said Tag as he tucked his coin pouch into his belt.


    “It's not a monkey,” said Tag as the monkey fidgeted nervously.

    “Ooo!” said the monkey.

    “What?” asked Rilly again as she raised an eyebrow.

    “Ooo ooo!”

    “I don't understand,” said Rilly as she looked at the small monkey. It looked at her in an unusual way.

    “Why would you try to steal my wallet?” asked Tag.

    The monkey fidgeted again. “Ooo.”

    “Ah, I see.”


    “Well, I'll have you know that I'm a monk helping a lady in distress.”

    “Lady in distress?” asked Rilly with a confused expression.






    “Wait, stop,” said Rilly as she held her hands up.

    Tag and the monkey looked at her. “Yes?”


    “How can you understand it? And how can it understand you?”

    “I already told you. He's not a monkey,” said Tag casting a glance at the monkey.

    “Ooo!” said the monkey with a pleading tone.

    “She's got to know.”

    “Ooo ooo,” said the monkey as it hung its head. Silence descended over the group. Rilly looked around, feeling like someone was watching them.

    Tag sighed. “He's a druid.”


    “A druid. He's taken the form of a monkey.”

    “Ooo,” said the monkey with what Rilly assumed was a frown.


    The monkey shook its head and looked around before darting up into a tree. Tag did not seem interested but Rilly watched with interest. Quite the opposite of Tag but totally repetitious and unnecessary to point out. There was a lot of rustling in the trees and Rilly felt a peculiar tingling sensation in the air. Tag glanced up at the tree in mild interest, halfway between his earlier attitude and Rilly's attitude. Finally, there was a slight popping sound and a man fell out of the tree. He hit the ground with a loud grunt and immediately looked at the tree as if it had insulted him.

    “Whoa!” said Rilly as she took a step back.

    The man slowly stood and rubbed his head. He wore nothing except a green loincloth held around his waist by a piece of rope. He had long orange hair and a thin beard. His body was covered in dirt and a few leaves stuck in his hair. He had the same eyes as the monkey. He shook his shoulders slightly and glanced at the tree one more time. Finally he turned to Tag and Rilly. He stood a great deal taller than Rilly. Tag's head managed to come up to his nose.

    “Well,” said the man as he brushed himself off.

    “I don't understand,” said Rilly.

    “She's not from around here,” said Tag when the man gave her a confused look.

    “What happened?” asked Rilly.

    “Just a bit of druid magic,” said the man.

    “But why a monkey in a forest? Aren't they usually in jungles?” asked Tag.

    “Well, yes,” said the man and tried his best not to look guilty and embarrassed.

    “What's your name?” asked Rilly.

    “Oh, how rude of me. My name is Rew,” said the man with a slight bow.

    “That's a nice name,” said Rilly with a smile. Tag felt his heart skip a beat.

    “Yes, well, we'll be going on our way then and leave you to it,” said Tag as he took Rilly's arm and began to lead her away.

    “Going where then?” asked Rew.

    “To find a town so I can drop this young lady off and be on my way to Temple,” said Tag without turning to face Rew.

    “Oh, you're one of those monks.”


    “Um. What am I supposed to do in this town?” asked Rilly.

    “What do you mean?” asked Tag as he stopped walking.


    “Wait, how did you guys meet?” asked Rew.

    “She flew into me,” said Tag. Rilly looked uneasy.

    “Oh. Which town are you heading to, then?”

    “Um, I saw one a way back towards the west,” said Tag as he squinted up at the sky. It was taking on an orange hue, suggesting the sun was beginning to set.

    “You're going to travel through this forest at night then?” asked Rew.

    “Is it dangerous?” asked Rilly as she looked around at the trees in alarm.

    They seemed to be watching again. Indeed, if trees were inclined to eat snacks and drink soft drinks, they would be doing so. The thirty-third rule of the forest is to never pass up free entertainment. The thirty two rules before it involve a lot about growth rates, proper trail hiding techniques, and general forest behaviours. Free entertainment was hard to come by because animals and things could only provide so much. It got dull after so many years of the same. But these three strangers in the forest were new and fascinating. Plus, the trees wanted to keep their eyes on them in case any more fires spontaneously sprung up.

    “Um. We'll be fine,” said Tag.

    “Old Stump is a two day journey on foot,” said Rew casually.

    “What?” asked Tag.

    “Is that a town?” asked Rilly.

    “Two days,” said Rew with a nod.

    “But I just saw it an hour ago!”

    “That was flying. You'll have to cross streams and traverse gorges and all sort of forest things,” said Rew. “You'll need a guide.”


    “He's joining us?” asked Rilly as Rew strode up beside them. “You're joining us?”

    “He's going to help us find this town and that's it,” said Tag as he narrowed his eyes.

    “You don't like me very much, do you?” asked Rew when he noticed Tag's expression.

    “I am a monk, after all.”

    Rew nodded and the trio walked in silence for some time. Rilly's mind raced. She knew she should be afraid or at least bewildered. However, this was all new and exciting for her. She could not remember her life before running into Tag but she knew it had to be dull and boring. If she could remember anything she knew perhaps she always wanted to have some kind of adventure. Now she was walking through a mysterious and dangerous forest with a monk and a druid. It was the kind of adventure she always dreamed about maybe! Unless she did not dream about adventures. In which case, this was not the type of thing she always dreamed about.

    “So what was that fire I saw flare up back there?” asked Rew.

    “You didn't do it?” asked Tag as he raised an eyebrow.

    “No, I'm a druid not a mage. Besides, I wouldn't produce wild fire like that even if I could.”

    “Oh. Many friends that are trees, then?” Tag asked sarcastically.

    “That's right,” said Rew with a nod. Tag rolled his eyes. He never liked druids.

    “So, where are we heading?” asked Rilly.

    “Old Stump,” said Rew.

    “It's on a river so I expect they'll have decent trade,” said Tag.

    “Why would that matter?”

    “I need a new toothbrush. I'll have to go back to the Temple as soon as possible.”


    “Hey,” said Rew, “Have you ever thought about using some nice rocks?”

    “No respectable monk would fly on a rock.”

    “Flying rocks?” asked Rilly.

    “Witches have brooms, druids have rocks, and so on. It's the natural order of things,” said Rew.


    “Are you sure though? I could find a nice rock and you could head to the temple before the sun sets,” said Rew.

    Tag frowned because he did not pronounce the capital T. “I'm not flying on a rock.”

    “Suit yourself.”

    “This little detour is going to cost me. I bet it'll be penance for a whole month!” said Tag as he shook his head. Rilly patted him on the shoulder in a comforting way.

    Chapter 4: Out of the Tunnel

    Zel stretched her arms, glad to finally be out of the Tunnel. Toya shielded her eyes from the setting sun with her hand as she looked around. How they got out of the Tunnel remains a mystery. This is what happened:

    The man continued to idly stir his bubbling food. Toya and Zel sat nearby, uneasy expressions on their faces. The man seemed oblivious to their apprehension. The sound of dripping water and the slow bubbling of the pot lulled Zel into a sleepy state. For some reason she felt safe with Toya. Even if things went wrong, Toya was a cleric and could heal injuries.

    Zel turned her half-shut eyes towards the man sitting by the pot. She watched him for a moment. “So what's your name?” she asked.

    The man glanced at the two women but turned back to his stew. Several moments of silence passed.

    “Hey! Don't ignore me!”

    The man looked at Zel with a confused expression. “What?”

    “I just asked what your name is.”

    The man turned back to his stew. “Oh.”

    Zel glanced at Toya. She had an amused expression and slowly shook her head. “Well?” asked Zel.

    “Oh, I thought you were talking to the wizard,” said the man with a gesture towards Toya.

    “I'm a cleric actually,” said Toya with a frown.

    Zel shook her head. “No, I'm talking to you. What is your name?”

    “My name is Dave.”

    “What kind of name is that?”

    Dave simply stared with an unreadable expression. Silence overcame the trio. Dave turned back to his stew with a gleam in his eye. Toya and Zel exchanged another glance. He was by far the most interesting person either of them had ever met. Finally, Dave pulled the pot off the fire and sat it on the ground beside him. He looked around until he spotted a dented metal bowl. He snatched it up and dipped it into the pot. It hissed but Dave quickly pulled the bowl out, full of the white soup.

    “We'll have to share. Or take turns,” said Dave casually.


    “The bowl.”


    Toya raised her eyebrows, surprised he was offering food to them. Dave extended his arm and held the bowl towards Zel and Toya. They shared a glance. In fact, Toya was feeling hungry because she healed Zel's ankle. Any amount of magic requires a significant amount of energy from the magician, similar to running a race or tackling large elephants. Dave continued to hold the bowl out. Toya glanced at Zel again and took it with a nod of thanks. Dave smiled and turned back to look at his stash of drake skins. Zel watched as Toya held the bowl in her hands and blew on it. After another quick glance at Zel, she tipped the bowl to her lips. Immediately her eyes watered and she pulled the bowl away. She coughed several times and looked at the white broth with a raised eyebrow.

    “What is this?”

    “A metal bowl. People use them for all sorts of things. I got it at-”

    “I meant the soup,” said Toya with a pained expression.

    Dave stopped short and frowned at the pot. “I don't know.”

    “How the hell can you not know?” asked Zel as she raised her eyebrows.

    “It's just some random things I threw together. I even put some of the cute mushrooms in it,” said Dave with a shrug.

    “Cute mushrooms?”

    “You know, the glowing ones? They're all over the place.”

    “From this Tunnel?”


    “Aren't they toxic?”

    “Oh. Maybe.”

    “You put poisonous mushrooms in your stew?” asked Toya with a shocked expression. She held the bowl out at arm's length and gave it a suspicious glance.

    “So it seems,” said Dave with a shrug. He looked down at his pot as if he was considering something.

    Zel and Toya exchanged another glance. Zel mouthed the words “I told you so” but Toya simply shook her head. Again, the trio fell into silence. Zel simply stared at Dave as he looked at his pot of white broth. Toya coughed again and began to wonder how poisonous the mushrooms could be and if she had enough to become sick. Without a word, Dave upset the pot and watched as the angry white broth spilled around his boots. Zel raised her eyebrow and watched Dave. Toya continued to look at the bowl in her hand, as if it would make a difference. Then without another word, Dave stood up and set about the freshly killed drake. He pulled a large knife from under the pile of clothes. Zel shot a wide-eyed glance at Toya. She missed it because she continued to frown at the metal bowl in her hand.

    “Not for the squeamish,” said Dave over his shoulder.

    Zel was about to ask what he meant when he plunged the knife into the drake's neck with a sickening, meaty squelch. Zel quickly looked away and noticed Toya regarding the gore with mild interest, the bowl obviously losing its appeal. Zel felt sick to her stomach as she heard the cutting and tearing of the skin. Suddenly, Dave gave a gasp of surprise.

    “What's wrong?” asked Zel as she turned, fearing that he cut himself.

    “I don't know where this knife came from!”

    Zel stared at him with open-mouthed disbelief. Dave stood over the drake carcass and looked at the knife in his hand with an expression of horror. He glanced up at Toya and Zel with a pleading look in his eyes. He glanced between them and the knife several times before sitting down on his rock again. He frowned, obviously deep in thought. He turned the knife over and over in his hand before looking up and staring further down the passage. Without warning he threw the knife.

    He turned to Zel and Toya. “Okay.”

    Zel glanced at Toya, who simply shrugged. “What?”

    “Let's go,” said Dave as he stood up again.

    “We're finally getting out of this place?”

    Dave nodded and walked to his tent. He rummaged for a moment before pulling out a strange Cube made of a bluish-silver metal. It was about twenty-five centimetres all around. Strange gems were arranged around the outside in some kind of pattern. Zel's eyes lit up when she saw the item. It was obviously valuable. Toya, on the other hand, stared in disbelief. Dave, on the third hand, looked at it with a satisfied smile.

    “You have an Aldric Cube!” said Toya with an awed tone.

    “A what?” asked Zel as she looked at the gems. They looked like blood-red rubies.

    “An Aldric Cube!”

    “Yes, I do,” said Dave with a proud nod.

    Zel glanced at Toya. “What is it?”

    “Only one of the most rare and powerful mystic artefacts ever created!”

    “Plus, it's magical,” said Dave.

    Zel noticed the gems seemed to be a sun-yellow topaz now. “What?”

    “An Aldric Cube! But how?” asked Toya, her tone and expression still filled with disbelief. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes as if trying to make sure she was not dreaming. It was a useless attempt because dreams usually smell better than the Tunnel. That should have been a sign it was not a dream.

    “A faerie gave it to me after I saved her,” said Dave as he set the cube down and opened the top. “She was some kind of queen or something.”

    Zel watched with wide eyes as the gems changed to ocean-blue sapphires. “What the hell is it? It's changing colour!”

    “It's made of kyrillium and ailite. I always thought they were just legends,” said Toya, still holding the metal bowl full of possibly poisonous broth.

    Zel did not bother to ask what kyrillium or ailite was. She simply stared at Dave. He grabbed the piles of clothes and stuffed them into the Cube. Zel stared in shock, knowing the Cube could not possibly fit them all. It was obvious the Cube was larger on the inside than the outside.

    “What the hell!” said Zel, obviously unaware the Cube was larger on the inside than the outside.

    “I told you. It's magical.” Dave continued to clean up his makeshift camp, stuffing everything into the Cube. Finally, he gathered his drake skins and pushed them into the small metal box. Toya simply watched with a look of shock and awe. Zel couldn't take her eyes off the ever-changing colours of the strange gems.

    Finally, Dave looked around the immediate area and nodded. “All packed.”

    “What about the fire?” asked Zel.

    “What about it?”

    Zel raised an eyebrow. “Aren't you going to put it out?”


    “Because ... forest fires and things!”

    “It's okay. There aren't any forests down here. Trust me, I checked.”

    Zel simply shook her head as Dave stuffed the metal Cube into a large, leather sack slung from his shoulder. Toya shook her head again and stood, tossing the metal bowl to the ground.

    “Okay, lead the way.”


    Zel watched Dave walk a few steps. “I thought you didn't know the way out!”

    “I don't.”

    “Oh.” Zel frowned but stood and walked behind Toya. The two young women followed Dave down the passage. They walked in silence for some time. Zel glanced around, unsure if anything looked familiar. Toya seemed to be more interested in watching the leather sack containing the magical Cube. Dave did not even seem to care about rock formations or the growth patterns of the mushrooms. He simply walked. Toya followed behind him a few paces with Zel just behind her. They walked even further in silence. Then they walked a little further in silence.

    Finally, Zel could not stand it. “Where the hell are we going?”


    “You don't know the way! You're lost,” said Zel as she frowned and narrowed her eyes at Dave.

    He shrugged. “You have to be lost before you can know where you're going.”

    As soon as he finished speaking the trio crested a small incline and saw the opening to the Tunnel. Zel's eyes went wide and she cast a disbelieving glance at Dave. Toya, on the other hand, smiled and quickened her pace out of the Tunnel. The trio walked out of the darkness and into the sunlight. Zel stretched her arms, glad to finally be out of the Tunnel. Toya shielded her eyes from the setting sun with her hand as she looked around.

    “Thank you,” said Toya with a smile as she turned back to Dave.

    “No, thank you.”

    “For what?”

    “The company of course. Much better than those drakes trying to eat me,” said Dave with a smile.

    Zel wheeled around and narrowed her eyes at him again. “Where are you heading?”

    Dave shared a glance with Toya, who simply shrugged. “I was heading to Old Stump. It's not far, maybe a day's journey south. That's where I do my trading.”


    “Why do you care?” asked Toya as she raised her eyebrow.

    Zel opened and closed her mouth several times but did not answer. She simply snorted and turned her head away.

    “You're welcome to come along I guess,” said Dave with a shrug.

    “Wait, Old Stump?” asked Toya, alarm in her voice.


    “How! I was just near Turtle Back!”

    Zel looked at Toya and frowned. “That's all the way on the coast.”

    “I know!”

    “That's like over a hundred kilometres from here.”

    “I know!”

    “You really were lost, huh?” asked Dave.

    Toya shook her head. “I was checking out some cairn stones just outside Turtle Back, there was a flash, and then I was lost in the Tunnel. They must have translocated me here!”

    “That's stupid,” said Zel with a snort.

    “You just watched him stuff an entire camp into a small metal box,” said Toya as she pointed to Dave. “What's so hard to believe about what I'm saying?”

    Zel bit her lower lip and hesitated. “Fine. I just don't know much about all this magic stuff.”

    “What aren't there any wizards or anything where you're from?”

    “Well, there's a fortune-teller but no real magic,” said Zel with a shrug as she glanced at Dave. He stared off into the trees with a peculiar expression.

    “Where are you from anyway?”

    “My home town is Dent Hill,” said Zel, looking ashamed.

    “Isn't that the town associated with the great temple in the sky?”

    Zel frowned. “It's pronounced Temple.”

    “That's what I said.”

    “No, you said temple.”

    “Um. What's the difference?”

    “Just forget it,” said Zel with an irritated expression. She glanced at Dave again. He still stared into the distance as if watching something.

    “Wait,” said Toya, “That's quite a distance to the east. What were you doing in the Tunnel?”

    “I told you, I was fighting a drake.”

    “But why?”

    “Don't worry about it.”

    “Come on, you can tell me. Was it something for your academy?”


    “Please tell me.”

    Dave cleared his throat and pointed in the direction he stared. “Isn't that a druin? It doesn't seem happy.” Zel and Toya exchanged an alarmed glance before looking where Dave pointed. Sure enough, a druin headed towards them. And it was approaching rapidly.

    Chapter 5: Still in the Forest

    Tag muttered to himself as they walked. He didn't like druids. Especially druids who tried to steal wallets. But especially Rew because he seemed to be interested in Rilly. Tag felt jealous. They walked for some time as the sun continued to slide down the horizon. Various animal calls broke the silence and a light wind whipped at their faces. Rilly's eyes were wide as she looked around at the towering trees and various vegetation. Some of it looked back.

    “Okay, we should set up camp for the night,” said Rew finally. He stopped, causing Tag and Rilly to stop.

    Rilly looked at Tag before turning to Rew. “What?”


    “Um,” said Tag as he looked around. “How?”

    “Don't you have some provisions and things?”

    “No, I was heading to Temple, remember?”


    They fell into an awkward silence, each person realising how silly they felt for heading into the forest without provisions. Tag thought he could hear some trees sniggering. Rilly clasped her hands underneath her chin and looked at Tag with an expectant expression. Tag sighed and looked around again. Nothing changed. If it had, he would have just fainted anyway because it would have been a shock. Rew sniffed as he folded his arms.

    “I can sleep just fine with nature. I'm a druid after all.”

    “Yes, we know.”

    “No need to be rude.”

    Tag frowned and looked around a third time. They were not even on a trail and the darker shadows were creeping out from the denser areas of the forest. Rilly seemed scared and Tag did his best to put on a confident front. He liked Rilly. She was very pretty and it was clear she did not care he was a misfit. That, or she didn't know. A voice in Tag's mind told him it was the latter but he ignored it.

    Finally, Rew cleared his throat. “I can find or make some shelter if you'd like.”

    Rilly's eyes lit up. “For real?”

    “Sure, just let me check this area out.” Rew looked around before spotting whatever he seemed to be looking for. Without another word, he strode off into the thick of the foliage. Tag watched him go and slowly shook his head. He turned to Rilly. She smiled at him before looking around the area. Tag felt his knees go weak again and hoped she couldn't hear his heart beating. The darkness was slowly washing over them and the stars and moon were just beginning to come out.

    Tag glanced up and frowned. He hated audiences. “You're not cold are you?” he asked as he took a step towards Rilly.

    She shrugged. “Perhaps a little.”

    “You can wear my cloak if you'd like.”

    “Oh, thanks!”

    Tag nodded and removed his cloak before handing it out to Rilly. As she took it, their hands brushed against each other. Rilly blushed slightly as she wrapped the cloak around her shoulders. Tag felt his heartbeat pick up and a wave of warmth rushed over him as he looked at Rilly. He took another casual step towards Rilly. She smiled at him again. Tag opened his mouth to speak but as he did so, the cloak around Rilly's shoulders burst into flame. She squealed in surprise and threw the cloak to the ground. She quickly ducked behind Tag and stared with wide eyes. As quickly as it started, the fire died out and the only thing remaining of Tag's cloak was a pile of ashes in the shape of a freshly burned cloak.

    Tag blinked and turned to face Rilly. “What the heck was that?”

    “I don't know!” said Rilly with a slight pout.

    “Why are my things always bursting into flames?”

    Rilly hung her head. “I'm sorry.”

    “It's not your fault. Maybe it's my punishment for not showing up to the Temple today.”

    “Hey!” called a voice. Tag and Rilly turned to see Rew rushing back through the trees and waving his arms. “Hey stop!”

    Tag looked around. “Stop what?”

    “Oh, the fire is gone. Okay. What are you doing? Don't do that!” Rew seemed upset.

    “I'm sorry,” said Rilly, hanging her head again.

    “Don't be. She didn't do anything. I don't know what happened,” said Tag as Rew eyed Rilly suspiciously.

    “Well, stop all the same. Some people around are very uncomfortable with random fires like that.”

    “You mean trees?”

    “That's what I said.”

    “No, you said ... nevermind,” said Tag as he shook his head.

    Rew looked Tag up and down. “Come on. I found some warmth and shelter.”

    Tag hesitated but began to follow Rew. Rilly clasped her hands underneath her chin again. Tag noticed she didn't immediately follow and turned to motion for her to follow. Rilly nodded slightly and began to follow Rew. Tag made sure to walk beside her. Not just because he liked her but because he felt like he had some duty to her. They walked some dozens of paces. Tag and Rilly found it hard to navigate through the thick vegetation with such little light. The moon and stars offered little under the thick canopy of trees. Rew finally stopped beside a strange formation of rock. Tag peered at them, unsure of what rocks so large were doing in the middle of a forest. He knew better than to question them about it.

    “We can sleep here. It's safe and sheltered from the wind and any possible rain,” said Rew as he ducked into a small cave of sorts. Tag hesitated but ducked in after him. Rilly took a deep breath and also made her way into the cave. She sat on one side with Tag whilst Rew sat on the other.

    “This is nice,” said Rew with a smile no one could see.

    “Let's just try to sleep,” said Tag, a little uneasiness in his tone.

    The trio slowly fell into sleep. Rew nodded off first, feeling at ease with nature. Tag listened to his steady breathing and couldn't help but wonder what Rilly thought about. It was too dark to see anything more than vague shapes, even though his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Tag sighed to himself, wondering what the other monks at the Temple were doing. Would they even care that I'm not there? he thought. Finally, he heard Rilly's breathing slow down and fall into a steady rhythm. Tag felt himself nodding off with the strange feeling that someone was watching them.

    Some hours later the sun peaked over the horizon and looked around. It saw how few people paid attention and decided to make a run for it, hoping no one would notice.

    The sound of chirping birds woke Tag from his sleep. He felt warm, almost uncomfortably so. He felt something nestled up against his chest as he lay back, leaning on the wall of the strange cave. He didn't open his eyes but his mind tried to tell him something was wrong. After unsuccessfully falling back asleep, he opened an eye. The sunlight immediately assaulted his vision and blurry shapes slowly came into focus. He saw the opposite side of the small cave but not Rew. A peculiar thought peaked around his immediate concern of where Rew could be: something raising and falling against his own breathing. He opened his other eye and looked down at his chest. A mass of brown hair greeted his eyes. Tag blinked and several seconds passed as his mind worked at what it meant. Finally, he realised it was Rilly. She must have fallen over during the course of the night. Or maybe Fate just had a sense of humour.

    The sleeping girl lay half on him, her head against his left shoulder. Her arms lay limply down his front, her hands dangerously close to his waist and coin pouch. He blinked and tried to stop his heart from exploding. He failed and started to panic, his chest starting to heave violently. Then to make matters worse, his brain made him aware of just what that nice, soft feeling on his right arm was. Tag looked around with wide eyes, feeling guilty and panicked. Mostly it was just a strange excitement. After a few seconds, Rilly stirred and slowly pulled herself up. Tag stared at her with wide eyes, trying to keep his breathing from breaking his ribs.

    Rilly mumbled something and rubbed her eye before turning her head and looking at Tag. “Good morning,” she said as she yawned, totally oblivious to his panicking. Tag tried to reply but only managed a strangled sound. He was infinitely grateful to the gods Rilly woke up. Things almost got out of hand because they almost got into hands.

    “Where's Rew?” asked Rilly as she looked around the cave and stretched. Tag noticed the small amount of exposed midriff and managed another garbled response. “I'm hungry,” said Rilly as she stopped stretching and looked around the cave again.

    Finally, Tag began to calm down. His heart slowed towards normal and his breathing did not heave his chest. “Ah, good morning.”

    Rilly raised an eyebrow. “Where is Rew anyway?”

    “I just woke up too. I don't know.”

    “Hey!” called a voice. “Time to get up sleepys!”

    Tag groaned slightly as Rilly crawled out of the small cave. Tag followed close behind and stood up in the warm sunlight of the morning. Rew stood with an armful of pale melons. Their shape reminded Tag of that nice, soft feeling on his arm. His brain suggested things to him as he looked at Rilly from behind. Rew seemed proud of himself as he sat down cross-legged and placed the melons at his feet. Rilly also sat. Tag shook his head and seated himself near Rilly.

    “What are these?” asked Rilly as Rew began to pull the rind of a melon.

    “Satche melons. They're good eating if you can find them.”

    Tag snorted. “I've never heard of them.”

    “That's because you're not a druid.”

    Tag frowned but remained silent. He looked up at the strange rock formations looming just behind. He stared at them to the sound of Rew pulling the rind off the first melon. Tag realised there were actually three separate rocks in a small semi circle. There was a strange humanoid shape to them. Tag's eyes went wide as he turned back to Rew.

    “They're trolls!”

    Rew and Rilly looked at Tag. “What?”

    “I knew there was something strange about these rocks!” said Tag. “They're trolls!”

    “Oh. They were trolls. They've long since been turned to stone,” explained Rew. “They've been stone for as long as I can remember.”

    Tag seemed upset about that fact but Rew was casual as he handed a large wedge of melon to Rilly. She took it with a nod of thanks and watched Tag in curiosity. He sputtered something unintelligible as he flailed his arms about in a vague gestured towards the rocks. Even though she had amnesia, Rilly knew what trolls were. In fact, she knew a lot of things including her own name. It was a strange amnesia she couldn't figure out. She knew who she was and knew about the world. The only things she could not remember were her life prior to meeting Tag and how exactly she got into the air in the first place. Rilly thought about Tag as he waved his arms at the rocks and argued with Rew about something. Rilly was not paying attention to the words.

    Tag was a nice person. Odd, Rilly had to admit, but nice. His mop of black hair was unkempt and only stayed out of his eyes because of a leather headband. Rilly assumed it was part of his monk outfit. Rilly knew what monks were but she never heard of the Temple he always talked about. It seemed to Rilly he was a devout person and was probably a very high rank. Rilly felt herself blushing slightly when she realised she was staring at Tag. He had a kind of boyish attractiveness and Rilly found herself smiling whenever she looked at him. She quickly looked down at the fruit in her hand, glad no one noticed how she stared.

    Strangely, the fruit felt incredibly soft, softer than normal melons. It felt exactly like a melon, only softer. It had pale yellow meat and a very sweet smell. The cool juices seeped out onto Rilly's hand. She glanced back at Tag. He still seemed upset and continued to argue with Rew about the troll-rocks. Again, Rilly knew she should be concerned about her condition and what she would do when they finally got to Old Stump. However, she felt safe with Tag and knew he would not let anything bad happen to her.

    Finally, Rilly's stomach reminded her why she held the strange soft melon. She bit into the fruit. The fruit was sweet and crisp with a juicy tinge of a berry flavour. “Mm,” she said. “This is good!”

    Tag stopped waving his arms around and looked at Rew with narrowed eyes. Rew grinned at him before turning to Rilly. “Glad you like it. There's plenty more.” Rilly nodded and wolfed down the wedge of melon in her hands. Rew chewed thoughtfully on his own piece of fruit as he looked at Tag. “I suppose you'd like some too?”

    Tag grunted and glanced at Rilly. “Please.”

    Rew quickly handed him a wedge and the three ate the melons in mostly silence. Birds and other various animals sung a forest chorus to the trio as they ate their breakfast. It sounded beautiful. Unless one considered the birds were off-key, the wind in the trees was off-tempo, and the wood nymphs had not even shown up for practice. Tag felt someone watched them intently. He glanced around as he chewed. His eyes met Rew's eyes. It seemed Rew had similar suspicions because he looked anxious as well. The trees watched but that wouldn't concern Rew.

    Something else watched them.

    “Mm,” said Rilly with a smile. “These are really good!”

    Chapter 6: Unexpected Discovery

    "Things are not progressing quickly enough," said one.

    "Things are fine," said a second.

    "Don't meddle in the affairs of mortals," said a third.

    "Something must be done," said the first.

    "Don't meddle," said the third again, this time with more force.

    "You have meddled before," said the first, staring hard at the third.

    "She's right you know," said the second with a nod.

    "That was different," said the third after a pause.

    "This is important. She is our sister," said the first.

    "Very well," said the third. "Even if we're not supposed to."


    Zel and Toya started to run as the druin drew closer. Dave simply stood and watched its approach.

    “What are you doing?” asked Toya.

    “Are you just going to stand there?” asked Zel.

    “Yes,” said Dave.

    “Run!” said Zel. She and Toya were now a dozen metres away.

    The druin was so close they could hear its heavy breathing.

    Dave dropped his pack onto the ground, the metal Cube inside clunking like it was much too heavy for a normal person to carry. The druin focused on Dave and swished its tail around as it got within metres. Dave simply stood firm and flexed his fingers. Zel and Toya stopped their retreat and stared in shock and astonishment. The druin lunged, its claws outstretched to skewer Dave. He simply dove to the side and rolled away. He quickly popped back to his feet and faced the druin once more. It gave an annoyed growl and began to stalk a slow circle around him. Without warning Dave extended his hand with his palm facing the druin. He splayed his fingers and a jet of fire shot out of his palm and engulfed the druin. Toya and Zel stared with wide eyes.

    The druin growled in pain as it stumbled backwards and shook its head. A black smear ran down its left shoulder and arm but it did not appear to be hurt. The druin growled again as it swished it tail in agitation. Dave simply stared at it with a strange expression. The druin took a step back and fired its own blast of red-hot flame. Dave dove out of the way but not before scorching part of his cloak. It glowed red around the ragged end where the fire burnt it. A small trail of smoke rose from the end. Zel bit her lip and took an unconscious step closer.

    “Fire won't work!” said Toya as she gripped her staff tightly. She could sense pain in the air and knew she would need to use her magic soon.

    Druins, like all dragons, were practically immune to fire. The larger and stronger the dragon, the more immune. Druins were well-known for attacking anything unfortunate enough to wander into what it thought of as its territory. It usually happened to unsuspecting travellers. It was like a thief breaking into a house to find the home-owner waiting with a fistful of knives and the ability to breath fire. Which actually happened more often than one would think. Unlike the strange home-owner, druins often lived in several places at once, claiming a wide area as their home. A safe place one day would have an angry druin the next. It certainly made travelling more interesting.

    The druin prepared to charge again. Suddenly, there was a buzzing in the air and a crackle of electricity shot across Dave's front, from one hand to the other. He held his hands up and narrowed his eyes at the druin. The creature hesitated. A thick bolt of lightning formed between Dave's hands and shot out towards the druin. It looked exactly like a storm. Actually, storms had thunder and rain and wind. This, in fact, looked nothing like a storm. It looked like lightning. The lightning streaked through the air as Dave's hair stood on end. The druin gave a startled cry and tried to dodge. It was too late and the arc of lightning connected with the druin. With a concussive detonation, the lightning threw the druin back several metres where it lay motionless. Dave coughed and blinked several times.

    “So much for that,” he said as Zel and Toya stared. A long silence fell over them as Zel and Toya stared from Dave to the druin and back. Dave simply stood with a bemused expression.

    “What the hell was that?” asked Zel as she slowly approached the druin to make sure it was dead.

    “B-but you're a flame mage!” said Toya in disbelief.

    “I am?” asked Dave as Toya walked towards him. The three fell into silence again, unable to comprehend the situation. Zel stared at the druin, a skosh afraid of Dave. He was so calm yet obviously had incredible power. Zel didn't really understand the different magics but she knew there was something unusual about him. Other than the fact his cloak still burned and smoked.

    “T-that's impossible!” said Toya as she shook her head and continued to stare at Dave.

    Zel shook her head and stepped beside Toya. “What the hell?”

    “H-how can you ...” said Toya but trailed off as her eyes went wide and her mouth fell open. She actually took a step back from Dave. “No, that's impossible!”

    “What's going on?” asked Zel as she glanced at Dave.

    He shrugged. “I don't know.”

    “Y-you ... but ...” Toya could hardly speak. She simply stared at Dave with an expression of fear and reverence.

    “So, anyone hungry? I made that soup but we never actually ate it,” said Dave after a moment of silence.

    Zel turned to Toya, who simply continued to stare. Zel sighed and stepped forward to slap Toya out of her shock. But on the way, Zel's left foot suddenly found her right foot very interesting and decided to visit. As Zel tried to step forward she kicked her own feet from underneath her and fell to the ground in a heap. It proved useful because it worked just as well to bring Toya out of her shock. She looked down at Zel, who muttered curses as she tried to stand. The flush of embarrassment on her face was evident even before Toya saw her face.

    “That's a strange way to walk,” said Dave casually as he retrieved his bag.

    Zel grunted and stood, awkwardly balancing without putting weight on her right ankle. “Damn.”

    “Are you hurt again?” asked Toya with an incredulous expression.

    Zel frowned and glanced at Dave. “Yes.”

    Toya nodded, glad it was only something so minor. She expected someone to receive a terrible injury from the druin but was relieved. Which is why people should never expect or assume anything, especially when agreeing to free goat's milk from fortune-tellers. After a few moments, Zel's ankle was healed and she flexed it several times before standing akimbo and frowning. Toya could tell she was trying to hide her embarrassment.

    “So now what?” asked Dave.

    Toya turned to him with wide eyes again. “You're ... the ...”

    “Stop trailing off and finish your sentences,” said Zel.

    “You don't understand!” said Toya as she waved her free hand at Dave.

    He simply looked around before realising she was motioning to him. “What don't I understand?”

    “No, she doesn't understand. Oh my god,” said Toya as she looked at Dave with a slightly horrified expression.

    “Just spit it out already,” said Zel with another frown.

    “He's the sorcerer!”


    After breakfast, Tag, Rilly, and Rew continued their journey west. The breeze continued through the morning but it was still warm. Rew tried to strike up a conversation a few times but Tag wasn't one for much talking, other than to himself. Rilly was too busy looking at the trees and ferns in fascination to provide much conversation. Rew was content to strike up a conversation with the grasses as they walked. It was near noon when they came to a large cleaning with a wide stream of slow water. It was as clear as water and not very deep. Tag stood on the bank and stared intently at the fish swimming back and forth a few metres out. Rilly simply continued to look around at their surroundings, obviously amazed. Tag suspected it meant she was from a large city like Algrith, the capital.

    “What are you doing?” asked Rew when he noticed how Tag looked at the fish.

    “We only had some melons for breakfast,” said Tag trying hard not to think of the nice, soft feeling on his arm he felt that morning.


    “Fish would make a good lunch.”

    “You can't eat another living thing!” said Rew with a horrified expression. At his outburst, Rilly turned her attention to her travelling companions. She looked from one to the other before walking towards them.

    “You eat plants and they're living,” said Tag as he noticed Rilly approach.

    “Yes but not the whole thing! And they consent anyway. I never eat anything without getting permission,” said Rew with a matter-of-fact nod.

    “What's going on?” asked Rilly as she walked up next to Tag at the edge of the water.

    “He wants to eat fish!” said Rew, throwing his hands up in the air and walking away.

    Tag watched him for a moment before turning to Rilly. “Are you hungry?”

    “I guess so.”

    “Okay, I'm going to try and catch some fish.”

    Tag shot a final glance towards where Rew stood with his back turned. With a sigh, he waded into the stream until it came up to his knees. Rilly watched him with a small smile. She couldn't stop herself from blushing as she thought about waking up on his chest. She guessed she fell asleep and fell over onto him. Rilly silently wondered just what he thought about it. He certainly seemed upset when she first woke up. Rilly narrowed her eyes in concern. Maybe Tag secretly didn't like her and was upset because she slept on him, even though it was an accident. Given the chance, Rilly realised she would like to sleep there again. She felt sad to think Tag might not like her. Or worse, that he might dislike her.

    A loud splash broke her out of her reverie.

    Tag sputtered something as Rilly turned to look at him. He sat in the stream, dripping wet. Water soaked his clothes and hair as he sat with a sour expression. He stared at a spot just to his right. Rilly figured he probably tripped and could not help but giggle. In fact, the nearby fish also giggled, only it appeared as a small trail of bubbles from their mouths as opposed to a laugh. Rew seemed pleased as he strolled back towards the bank. Tag muttered something else and stood, a sheet of water falling from his lap. His wading and splashing kicked up a fair amount of silt and the cloud followed him as he waded back to the bank. Rew seemed pleased and Rilly continued to giggle. Tag's legs felt like jelly because of her laugh. He tried to hide his blushing but only managed to make himself more embarrassed.

    “Serves you right,” said Rew with a satisfied nod.

    “Shut up,” said Tag as he cast a withering glance at Rew. Rilly simply smiled as Tag tried to wring out his clothes. Water pooled around the ground at his feet.

    “I hope you're satisfied. I can get us some real food,” said Rew as he looked around the area.

    “Fish is real food,” said Tag as he continued to wring out his soaking clothes. Rilly watched him, a smile still playing about her lips. Tag glanced at her and felt silly. She must think I'm an idiot, he thought.

    “Okay, I'll be back in a couple minutes. Wait here,” said Rew as he glanced at Rilly before walking off into the trees again.

    Silence descended on the two remaining in the clearing. Or nearly silence. Wet clothes squeezing together sounded alongside the gentle tones of the water and the songs of the off-key birds and not-present wood nymphs. Rilly shivered slightly as the breezed kicked up. Tag sighed, sad he didn't have his cloak to offer Rilly. Unconsciously, Tag took a few steps towards Rilly. She didn't seem to notice, instead she hugged her arms around her chest and looked around. The breezed whipped up violently but then died down again.

    “Cold?” asked Tag, suddenly realising they stood side-by-side.

    “Maybe a little. I guess you're cold too,” said Rilly. Tag raised his eyebrow. “You're wet,” said Rilly.

    “Oh.” Awkward silence overcame them. Rilly looked around the area before her eyes fell on Tag again. He glanced at her but quickly set his attention back to his damp clothes.

    “We should build a fire so you can dry them,” said Rilly.

    “That's not a bad idea,” said Tag as he looked around.

    A fallen tree lay just on the edge of the clearing. Tag sighed, glad Rew was not nearby. Druids obviously didn't like the idea of fire. Tag was sure he would throw a tantrum. Tag shook his head and started towards the log. Then again, thought Tag, this tree is dead so I don't think it'll mind. Tag paused mid-stride at the thought. He glanced at the trees nearby, wondering what they thought. Then, without warning, the log only a few steps in front of him exploded into flames. Tag fell back in surprise and stared in disbelief. Rilly squealed and clutched her hands underneath her chin. Tag turned his head slowly and looked at her.

    “You ...” but Tag trailed off.

    Rilly gave a slight pout. “What happened?”

    “I don't know,” said Tag as he stood and retreated from the burning log.

    The orange and red flames danced in the air. Tag could feel their heat even at his distance away. Strangely, the flames seemed to be leaning towards him. It was then something clicked in Tag's mind. They were leaning towards something behind him. He slowly turned and looked at Rilly in disbelief. She frowned slightly and shifted uneasily.

    “Hey!” shouted Rew's voice. He came charging back into the clearing carrying several different fruits in his arms. He stopped short when he saw Tag staring at Rilly. Rew frowned and looked to the burning tree. He felt a wave of relief wash over him, realising it was long dead. “What's going on?” asked Rew as he walked towards Rilly.

    Rilly turned to him. “I don't know what happened!” Tag glanced at the log before staring at Rilly again.

    “Things are a little nervous here,” said Rew as he looked around at the trees. They watched with baited breath. Not only was this quality entertainment but there was also a fire threatening to spread if left unchecked.

    Tag sighed loudly and pointed to Rilly. “She's a flame mage.”

    Chapter 7: Change of Plans

    The sun dipped below the horizon. It looked like some giant dipped a large, golden cookie into the dark depths of the milk of space. Actually, because the sun was not edible, as far as was known, a better metaphor would be: It looked like some giant mass of burning hydrogen millions of miles away dipped below the horizon. At any rate, the sun was setting. The awkward trio paid no attention, however. Toya stared at Dave in shock, horror, and awe. Zel stood with her arms folded across her chest and a frown on her face. Dave stood with a bemused expression, eyes wandering before falling back on Toya and Zel. A bird chirped, hoping to start an evening chorus. When none of its fellows joined in it felt silly and flew off in embarrassment.

    Zel sighed, breaking the awkward silence. “What does that mean?”

    “The sorcerer is only the most powerful magician in the world!” said Toya, waving her arms around again.

    “Sorry,” said Dave with a slight shrug. Zel frowned again and raised an eyebrow. She found it hard to believe someone like Dave could be an all-powerful magician. Then again, she did witness him create both fire and lightning. Zel did not know much about the high magics but she knew enough to know that was impressive and difficult. Not to mention Dave took down a druin with one attack.

    “You're sorry? I'm the one that should be sorry!” said Toya. Her mind raced. Here she was, a simple cleric, in the presence of the sorcerer. She always heard stories about the great sorcerer. Toya shook her head slightly as she continued to stare. Unlike a mage or a wizard, sorcerers were capable of almost anything. Whilst mages were limited to their natural element, the sorcerer could produce any. Whilst wizards were limited to spells and enchantments, the sorcerer could perform magic at will.

    Dave shrugged. “Well, I'm still hungry and we still haven't eaten.”

    Zel glanced at Toya. “Me too.”

    “I'm hungry too, actually,” said Toya with a slight frown. She felt drained from healing Zel twice, even if they were only minor injuries.

    “Okay, I'll go find some food then,” said Dave before promptly walking off.

    Zel and Toya watched him go. Toya shook her head slightly as she fiddled with her staff. Zel glanced at it and realised the strange jewel on the top looked like the gems embedded in Dave's strange metal box, though they did not change colour. Zel frowned in thought as she sat down and leaned against a tree. She and Toya were still near the entrance to the Tunnel in a lightly forested area. Zel yawned loudly in the waning light as Toya sat down beside her. They shared a glance.

    “So, what's so great about a sorcerer?” asked Zel.

    “For starters, there's only one.”

    “I see.”

    “Like I said, the sorcerer is the most powerful magician in the world. He's capable of any high magic, including healing magic,” said Toya with a gleam in her eye.

    Zel yawned again. “You seem impressed.”

    “I am! I'm only just out of academy. I haven't even properly finished my senior project yet. That's why I was visiting that cairn near Turtle Back.”

    “What the hell does that mean?”

    Toya gave Zel a confused expression. “What? Doesn't the thief academy have anything like that?”

    Zel fidgeted. “Um. Not as such.”

    “Wait, you don't know?” asked Toya as Zel frowned. It quickly faded. Zel sighed. “Are you even a real thief?” asked Toya with a raised eyebrow. Zel sighed again and looked down at her hands. Toya giggled. “You're not!”

    “Hey, shut up!”

    Toya smiled at Zel. It made sense. Zel looked uncomfortable and was content to look at the sky. Toya nodded slightly. No one as cack-handed and accident-prone as Zel could really be a thief. Toya figured Zel was in the Tunnel trying to prove her worth, or something along those lines. Toya wondered why Zel chose something as dangerous as the Tunnel. She realised Zel might not have had a choice. It could have been an appointed task. Still, sixteen was old to be starting in an academy. Toya frowned in thought and glanced back at Zel.


    “Nothing, just thinking,” said Toya with a shrug.

    Zel fidgeted with her hands again. “So the sorcerer ...”


    “Um. Is he really that great?”

    “Yes! He's the Head Wizard and Arch Mage. He's basically the leader of all magicians.”

    Zel wilted slightly. “Oh.”

    Toya raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, I thought you didn't care much for magic.”

    “I don't,” said Zel as she furrowed her brow.

    “Then why do you care about Dave?” asked Toya, her eyebrow still raised.

    Zel didn't answer; she simply looked up. The few wisps of cloud remaining in the dusk sky hung high. They enjoyed the view and did not have to worry about sharing their air space with other clouds. Or birds. Clouds hated birds and birds hated clouds because of a long-standing dispute. It involved a bet and an unpaid debt. A stiff breeze kicked up the leaves and grass. Zel shuddered slightly and glanced around.

    “Wait, you like him, don't you?” asked Toya with a smug expression.

    Zel did her best to stifle a giggle. She failed and started to blush. “No, don't be stupid.”

    “You do!”

    “I said I don't!”

    Toya chuckled and pointed at Zel's face. “You're blushing!”

    “Shut up!” said Zel as she buried her face in her hands. Toya continued to laugh and patted Zel on the back in a friendly manner. Surprisingly, Zel didn't shrug it off like Toya expected.

    Some distance away, Dave walked through the trees. He glanced around, hoping to spot something edible. Given the proper stomach, anything could be eaten. Dave considered this as he walked, wondering how hard druid magic would be to learn. He had no goal in mind other than finding something to eat. He had the nagging feeling in his mind he was forgetting something important. He shrugged and continued to walk. He glanced back to the clearing just disappearing from view. The two young women were a strange pair and Dave wondered why they were in the Tunnel.

    “I wonder why they were in the Tunnel,” said Dave. He frowned as he thought about them. He realised he didn't know the cleric's name. She seemed nice enough. Zel, the thief, was very pretty. Dave nodded slightly, as if answering some unspoken question.

    “I wonder if there's really anything to eat out here,” said Dave as he looked around.

    “You have plenty of food in the Cube,” said a voice.

    “Oh right. Thanks.” Dave turned to head back to Zel and Toya.

    “Wait,” said the voice with a sigh. Dave turned and waited. A young girl appeared out of the trees. She stood just taller than Dave's waist. She had long white hair stretching down to the backs of her knees. Her skin was pale, making her deep green eyes appear to glow. She wore a long white dress and no shoes. Dave simply stood as she walked up to him. She stopped a metre in front of him and looked up at him with a strange smile.

    “You must not go to Old Stump,” said the girl after a moment of silence.

    “Oh, okay,” said Dave, turning to leave again.

    The girl sighed again. “Wait.”


    “Head to Turtle Back.”

    “Where the cleric is from?”

    “It's no coincidence.”


    “Find the girl named Rilly. Take her to the cairn near Turtle Back.”

    “Okay,” said Dave with a slight nod. Without another word, Dave strode away. The small girl watched him go with an unreadable expression. Dave walked back to the clearing to find Zel and Toya sitting against a tree. He walked over to them and sat down without saying a word. They all exchanged glances before Toya and Zel looked at Dave with expectant expressions.

    Dave blinked. “Oh, right. The food.” He rummaged in his pack and produced the metal Cube. Toya's eyes lit up as did Zel's but for different reasons. Dave opened the lid and began to rummage in the Cube. Zel and Toya watched in amazement as he pulled out bread and cheese and dried meats. They shared a glance.

    “You've had that all this time?” asked Zel.

    Dave looked down at the food scattered on the grass in front of him. “Probably.”

    “What kind of answer is that?” asked Zel as she glanced at Toya. Toya shrugged as Dave continued to pull food out of the Cube.

    After a few more moments, Dave stopped and look down at the pile. Several loaves of different kinds of bread, several hunks of cheese, a variety of fruits, and four large chunks of dried meat sat between him and the two women. Zel and Toya exchanged a glance. It was obvious to them Dave was rich. The only indication he could be richer would be if the food was solid gold. Of course, gold food would make them all very rich and probably dead from starvation or heavy metal poisoning. Even without solid gold food, it was obvious Dave had some kind of wealth. They shouldn't have been surprised. Dave was the sorcerer after all.

    “Well, dig in,” said Dave as he gestured to the pile of food. He wasted no time in grabbing a hunk of the meat and biting into it with a satisfied expression. Zel and Toya exchanged a glance before also digging into the sudden feast. The trio ate in relative silence as the sun continued to disappear. Crickets and other night-time creatures began to sing. Their chorus was much better than the daytime chorus of birds and not-present wood nymphs. At least the crickets were in tune.

    “Thank you,” said Toya as she finished off a grape.

    Dave gave her a blank look. “What for?”

    “The food?” said Toya with a raised eyebrow. Dave looked around before looking at Toya with a bemused expression.

    “It's getting dark,” said Zel.

    “We should set up camp then,” said Dave with a nod.

    Zel and Toya shared a glance. “We?”

    “We're heading to Turtle Back tomorrow,” said Dave.

    “We?” repeated Zel, trying not to blush.

    “Actually, I really should go back and figure out what happened,” said Toya after a moment of thought.

    “See? Everyone's going,” said Dave with another nod. He began to pull tents and blankets out of the Cube.

    “We should start a fire,” said Zel absently. She looked around for suitable kindling.

    “Oh, I can do that,” said Dave. He stood up and looked around before dashing off. Before Zel or Toya could do or say anything, he returned with a large, dried log. Zel felt a fresh wave of blush creeping onto her cheeks. It was obvious Dave was also physically strong. He deposited the log a safe distance away and stood over it with a strange look on his face.

    “You may want to cover your eyes,” he said. Zel half closed her eyes and turned her head away. Toya shielded her eyes with her hand. Dave nodded and turned back to the log. He held out his hand, palm forward. A great blast of cold air shot out and coated the log in a crust of frost. It shimmered in the early starlight.

    Dave frowned. “Wrong one.”

    Before Zel or Toya could ask what he meant, Dave fired a stream of fire out of his palm. The log burst into flames, shooting embers and smoke up into the night sky. The light and warmth from the fire immediately washed over the trio as Dave went back to setting up the tents. Zel and Toya exchanged a glance.

    “Um, isn't that dangerous?” asked Toya.

    “What?” asked Dave, poking his head out of one of the tents.

    “Having a fire like that?” said Zel as she pointed to the dancing flames.

    Dave looked at the fire before looking back to Zel and Toya. “No.”

    “Won't it spread though?” asked Toya with a raised eyebrow.

    “I enchanted the log. The fire can't escape it,” said Dave before disappearing back into the tent.

    Toya stared, mouth agape. “Incredible.”

    Zel shook her head. “I don't get it.”

    The log cracked and fell apart as it burned. Zel watched in fascination. Even though it burned brightly for some time, it did not appear to get any smaller. She sat near the fire, hugging her knees to her chest with one arm. In her other hand she held a small stick and poked at the fire. It had been hours since Dave set up their camp. He disappeared into one of the tents shortly after and was probably asleep. Zel glanced at the three tents arranged in no specific order. She was amazed at how able Dave was, even though he came off as a gormless person teetering on the brink of insanity. Toya lay nearby, a small black book in her hand. She lay on her side, her elbow propping her up. She read from the book just loud enough for Zel to hear her mumbling. Zel watched her for a moment before turning back to the fire. It had been a strange day for her and she had met strange people. Zel began to consider giving up her dream to be a great thief in favour of becoming a magician.

    Toya yawned loudly. “I'm going to sleep now.”

    Zel turned her head and watched Toya stand up and stretch. She climbed into the far left tent. Zel frowned. She wasn't sure why but she felt she could trust Toya. Zel yawned and tossed the stick into the fire. She wondered if there was a reason she met Toya and Dave. Zel climbed into her tent, unaware of the small girl watching them from a distance.

    With a nod, the pale girl disappeared back into the trees, a strange smile still playing about her lips.

    Chapter 8: On the Way

    Rew looked from Tag to Rilly to Tag to the burning log. He could sense the uneasiness of the vegetation in the immediate area. It buzzed in his head like a swarm of angry bees. As a matter of fact, the angry bees buzzed some distance away near their nest in a hollow log and not actually inside Rew's head. Even though the log was already dead it was dangerously close to a cluster of trees and some ferns growing near the bank of the stream. Rew looked back to Rilly. She shifted from one foot to the other with an uneasy expression.

    “It explains the random fires,” said Tag.

    Rew shrugged slightly. “I suppose but we need to be careful.”

    “I'm sorry,” said Rilly as she hung her head.

    “It's okay. There's nothing wrong with being a mage,” said Tag as he patted her on the shoulder.

    Rew looked around. “Um. The fire is going to spread unless we do something.”

    “Like what?”

    “There is a stream right here.”

    Tag looked at the stream and then at the blazing fire. Rilly still had an anxious expression but Rew was only interested in the fire and the trees. Tag knew the trees certainly only cared about the fire and the trees. With a sigh he put his hand on Rilly's shoulder. When she looked at him, he smiled. He hoped to reassure her.

    “It's okay. You just need to get some training so you can control your magic,” said Tag with a slight nod. Rilly smiled back.

    Rew now stood between the log and the stream with a tense expression. “Um, help me with the fire please.”

    Just as Tag began to wonder how they could do anything, a stiff breeze swept through. It cut across the stream and clearing like a knife through hot butter. Of course, anything could easily cut through hot butter because hot butter would most likely be melted and, therefore, liquid. Tag did his best to not shiver in his damp clothes but failed. Rilly gave him a sympathetic look. A shout from Rew got their attention. They turned in time to see a small wave swelling from the stream.

    Even though the water lapped against the banks in the breeze, it was not nearly enough to cause an actual wave to form and speed towards the burning log. Just as the fire from the log started spreading to the grass and ferns around it, the wave doused the flames. The trio stared in amazement at the smoking ruin of the log.

    "What was that?"

    "That seemed unnatural."

    "I didn't think there was enough of a breeze."

    Would be a normal conversation following something as strange as the sudden wave. However, the trio responded thus:

    Rew took a deep breath. “Okay then.”

    Tag nodded. Rilly bit her lower lip and looked at her hands. “Something wrong?” asked Tag when he noticed her expression.

    “Am I really a flame mage?”

    “Well, you started the fire right? It definitely wasn't me,” said Tag with a slight shrug.

    Rilly looked at Tag, an anxious expression on her face. “What does it mean?”

    “You can create fire and stuff.”


    Tag nodded. “I guess you just didn't know about it until now.”

    “What do I do now?” asked Rilly.

    Tag furrowed his brow. He was unsure of how to answer. It occurred to him he and Rilly only met the day before under unusual circumstances. Tag was unsure why but he again had the feeling he had some sort of duty to Rilly.

    “Something supernatural just happened,” said Rew.

    Tag and Rilly looked at him. He sat cross-legged, his hand resting on the trunk of a nearby tree. There was a strange sensation in the air. He turned his head to look at his two companions.

    “What do you mean?” asked Tag.

    Rew ran his hand on the bark. “Something was here.” Tag and Rilly exchanged a glance. “I don't know what but there's something strange going on,” said Rew as he stood. “The trees are nervous.”

    At that moment Tag's stomach rumbled. He gave an embarrassed cough as he glanced at Rilly, fearing what she might think. She stood with a slightly amused smile on her lips.

    Rew nodded as he walked to them. “Right, lunch.”

    He gestured towards the pile of fruit he brought back earlier. The trio sat down and looked at the bounty. There were more satche melons, some pears and apples, and what appeared to be thick, red bananas. Tag wasted no time in selecting an apple and biting into it. Rilly simply stared at the red bananas, wondering what they could be. Rew set about to pull the rinds off the satche melons. Finally, Rilly grabbed one of the strange elongated fruits and examined it.

    “What is this red banana thing?” she asked.

    Rew glanced up at her. “A red banana.”

    “They grow up here in the north. The yellow ones grow in the south,” said Tag.

    Rew nodded. “And the blue ones grow in special places.”

    Tag raised his eyebrow. “Blue?”

    Rew nodded just as he pulled the rind from the melon. He immediate took a bite and looked at Rilly. She still held the banana in her hand with a puzzled expression.

    “You can eat the peel on those,” said Rew with a gesture to the long, red fruit in Rilly's hands.

    There has been some debate about why so many different fruits existed and why they existed in some many different colours. Several theories were formed to explain it. One suggested the Creator had a sense of humour and wanted to make people wonder about the meaning of life as it pertained to fruit. Another was that a subordinate created all the fruits when the Creator was not looking. Another still said the Creator simply threw some paint on the original fruit and decided to call it a different fruit because of its different colour. The fourth and most popular theory was: hey stop worrying so much about something as silly as fruit colours and ask more important philosophical questions like “what is the meaning of life?” and “where exactly can I purchase some high-quality lavatory paper?”

    Rilly bit into the red banana. It had the same flavour as a normal banana with a slightly sour and tingly undertone.

    “So we're still going to Old Stump?” asked Rew after the group ate in silence for a few minutes.

    Tag glanced at Rilly. “Yeah, that's the nearest town I think.” Rew nodded.

    Rilly fidgeted. “Am I dangerous?”

    Tag and Rew exchanged a glance. “No, you're fine,” said Tag.

    Rew shrugged. “Just don't do whatever you did again.”

    Rilly frowned. “I don't know what I did.”

    “Well just don't do that again then,” said Rew with a slight nod.

    Tag gave him a flat look and shook his head slightly.

    When the group finished the fruit Rew gathered, they prepared to leave. Tag stretched and patted down his still damp clothes. It was a little uncomfortable but the fire from Rilly did manage to dry them out some. Rew seemed perfectly content to walk around almost completely naked; a fact Tag seemed to forget until he stopped and looked at him. Rilly still seemed anxious and nervous but walked beside Tag as they trekked through the forest. They walked for some time in silence.

    Rilly finally cleared her throat. “What did you mean back there about me getting training?”

    Tag looked at her and scratched the back of his head. “Well, there are academies for mages and wizards and such. I suppose you train there to learn how to control your talent.” Rew glanced back at them but said nothing.

    Rilly rubbed her hands together. “A wizard academy?”

    “Think of it as a school for learning about magic and whatnot,” said Tag with a nod.

    “Is there one in Old Stump?” asked Rilly after a moment of silence passed.

    Tag frowned. “I don't know. I doubt it.” Rilly seemed confused. “The academies are usually in big cities like Algrith. Aren't you from a big city?”

    Rilly frowned in thought. “I don't remember.”

    Tag nodded. “Oh, right. Forgot about that.”

    Rew glanced back at them. “What's this now?”

    “She's lost her memory,” said Tag with a sigh. Rilly nodded, a sad expression on her face.

    “I see,” said Rew, unsure of how to respond. “Is it serious?”

    Rilly frowned. “I don't know. Obviously I remember my name and stuff. I just can't remember anything before I ran into Tag.” Tag's heart jumped as she said his name.

    “Maybe you should see a fortune-teller then,” said Rew with a shrug. Tag failed to hide his surprise. Surprise and jealousy he didn't think of that.

    “A fortune-teller, huh?” said Rilly as she frowned in thought.

    “There's probably one in Old Stump,” said Rew.

    Tag narrowed his eyes. “You don't know?”

    Rew shrugged. “I've never been to Old Stump.”

    “But I thought you said you knew about this forest and stuff!” said Tag, waving his arms around.

    Rew shrugged again. “I never said that.”

    “But-but you're guiding us!” said Tag with a horrified expression. “You're just as lost as us!”

    Rew shook his head. “I don't know anything about this forest and I've never been here before. But that doesn't mean I'm lost.”

    “What?” asked Tag, obviously upset. Rilly patted him on the shoulder.

    “I've been getting directions from the trees. We're not too far from the town now.”

    Tag grumbled something and shook his head. He never liked druids. Now he liked them even less. He immediately felt guilty because Rew really was a nice person, even if he tried to steal Tag's wallet when they first met. Rew even went out his way to find them shelter and food as they travelled. Tag glanced at Rilly and sighed, his anger dissipated. A shout caught Tag's attention. He looked up and saw four small figures rushing towards them.

    Each figure brandished a crude sword. Rilly squealed and ducked behind Tag just as he came to a stop. There was a strange displacement of air beside them. Tag looked around but did not see Rew anywhere. Only his loincloth and rope lay on the ground. For a moment Tag feared something terrible happened until he heard a bird chirping directly above his head. Tag looked up and saw a strange orange bird. It had the same eyes as Rew.

    Tag frowned. “Why are you a bird?” The bird chirped as it flapped its wings.

    “What happened to Rew?” asked Rilly from behind Tag.

    Tag prepared to answer when he realised the four small figures were directly in front of him now. He whirled around and faced them. He blinked, surprised to see four gnomes.

    Gnomes were greasy little creatures known best for their smell. They usually lived in filthy hovels constructed from whatever they could find. Despite their skills in nothing, they succeeded largely by way of thievery. Also, sometimes dancing in the streets for money. Their dark green skin glistened in the sunlight from the bodily oils covering them. Their matted black hair matched their tattered black clothes. Each one carried a rusty spike of metal fashioned into a crude sword. Tag looked down at them. The tallest one stood just higher than his knee and menaced at him with yellow teeth bared. The bird overhead chirped as it flew around them in a circle above their heads. Rilly cowered slightly behind Tag.

    “'ive us o wallot!” said the lead gnome.

    Tag leaned forward slightly. “What?”

    “Aye say 'ive us o wallot!”

    “I ... can't understand you,” said Tag, feeling silly.

    “Gut 'is throt an' we git it fom body,” said a second gnome.

    Tag turned his head towards Rilly. “Now would be a nice time for some fire if you could.”

    The orange bird overhead chirped again and flew to the nearest tree. It sat in the branches with an uneasy expression.

    “I don't know how!” said Rilly.

    “'and ovar tha wallot or we gut you,” said the lead gnome again. He held his crude sword in the air.

    Tag simply looked down. Despite their small size, Tag knew they could do some serious damage with their rusty knives. Tag glanced back at Rilly and noticed she seemed genuinely afraid. Tag felt a surge of courage as a deep need to protect Rilly welled inside him. He quickly turned back to the gnomes and kicked his foot out without thinking. It slammed into the nearest gnome and sent it sailing through the air several metres. It fell to the ground in a cursing heap.

    The nearby bird chirped.

    The other gnomes stared in shock for a moment before turning to face Tag with renewed menace. Tag silently swore and prepared to dash off. He knew he and Rilly could easily outrun the gnomes. Just as the gnomes charged and raised their swords to attack, a flash of fire erupted from behind Tag. He tensed up, feeling the heat rush by him. The flames engulfed one of the gnomes. The other two stopped in their tracks and stared in horror at something behind Tag. He risked a glance.

    Rilly stood with an unreadable expression. She held her right hand up, palm facing outwards. Fire appeared from around her elbow curling around her forearm before concentrating at her palm. The stream of red-hot flame shot out from her palm. Tag stared in bafflement. He had some experience with mages before, even a flame mage. It looked nothing like Rilly's display of power. It also did not feel the same. Tag had been around fire plenty of times but the jet of flame less than a metre from him felt real. However, something in Tag's mind told him if he were to put his hand into the stream of fire it wouldn't harm him.

    It only lasted for a few seconds. The fire died away as quickly as it appeared. The gnome it engulfed was gone, nothing but a charred patch of grass remained where it stood. The other two gnomes shared a quick glance before rushing to the third gnome just picking itself off the ground. They exchanged a few words before rushing off. Tag watched them go before turning to Rilly with an astonished expression. She blinked and looked slightly confused.

    The orange bird chirped.

    Chapter 9: Old Stump

    Rilly blinked. Tag blinked. The bird chirped again.

    “Wow,” was all Tag managed to say. Rilly had a slightly guilty and horrified expression. Tag looked around before approaching Rilly. “Well, they're gone now.”

    “I'm sorry,” said Rilly as she looked at her hands in concern.

    “For what? You saved my life! Or knees at least,” said Tag with a shrug.

    The orange bird chirped and flew over to them. It landed on the ground beside the loincloth and rope. It fluttered its wings.

    Tag glanced at it before smiling at Rilly. “That was amazing. I thought you didn't know how.”

    “I don't!”


    Rilly bit her lip and flexed her fingers several times. A light breeze shifted through the grass and whipped at their hair. The bird chirped as it pecked at the loincloth.

    Tag put his hand on Rilly's shoulder. “Hey, it's okay. We-” The bird chirped loudly and cut him off. Tag frowned. “Anyway, we-”


    Tag shot the bird a withering look. “I said, anyway, we can-”

    Chirp. Chirp.

    Tag sighed and looked at the bird with a frown. “What?” The bird chirped as it pecked at the loincloth again. Rilly raised an eyebrow. Tag sighed. “Oh.”

    “What is it? And where is Rew?” asked Rilly.

    “That bird is Rew.”

    “Oh.” The bird chirped again with a tone of annoyance.

    “Um. Look,” said Tag. “He's ... kind of naked right now.”

    Rilly raised an eyebrow as she glanced down at the strange bird. It took a few seconds for her to catch on. A flush of embarrassment swept onto her cheeks and she quickly turned to face away from the bird. Which was silly because people looked at naked birds all the time. The bird chirped again.

    Tag sighed. “He's going to change back now.”

    Rilly nodded without turning around and even went as far as taking a few steps away. The bird chirped again and pecked at the loincloth one more time. Tag rolled his eyes but also turned his back. There was a strange sensation. An amount of air displaced. There was a slight popping sound followed by the sound of someone quickly snatching up a garment. After a few seconds, Tag felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned around to see Rew just finishing off the knot in the rope around his waist.

    “It's okay now, Rilly,” said Tag. The feel of her name on his tongue tingled. He liked it. Rilly hesitated and slowly turned.

    “Gehh,” said Rew before coughing.

    “What?” asked Tag as he raised an eyebrow. Rew held up a hand and continued to cough.

    Rilly took a step towards them. “Is he okay?”

    “I'm fine,” said Rew with a final cough. “Just tried to chirp again is all.”

    Tag looked at him with a slightly fascinated expression. Rilly nodded slightly as she took another step towards the two young men.

    “Okay. So. That was something else,” said Rew as he looked at Rilly with wide eyes.

    Rilly blushed. “I don't know what I did.”

    Tag snorted and nodded his head towards Rew. “Better than him anyway.”

    “Hey, I didn't see you doing anything!” said Rew. Rilly raised an eyebrow at the exchange.

    “I kicked a gnome in the chest. It could have stabbed me! And why turn into a bird anyway? You could have changed into something useful,” said Tag with a sour expression.

    “Yes, well ...” Rew trailed off with an embarrassed cough.

    Tag's eyes widened. “You did it by accident!”

    “No,” said Rew quickly.

    “Aha! So that's it. You meant to change into something else. Some druid you are,” said Tag with a snort.

    Rew hung his head and sighed. “That's not it.”

    “What then?”

    “I just ...” Rew trailed off again and glanced at Rilly. She continued to watch the exchange.

    “Wait, are you even a real druid?” asked Tag as he raised his eyebrow.

    “Yes! Don't be silly. I just ... those gnomes startled me. It was a reflex change,” said Rew with an embarrassed and guilty expression. Tag raised both his eyebrows. Rilly only managed one. Rew sighed. “Look, can we just get moving? I bet those gnomes live near Old Stump. I know we're close.”

    Tag regarded Rew for a few seconds before sighing and nodding. He turned to Rilly and motioned for her to follow as he continued the way they were originally heading. Rilly followed close behind, still glancing at her hands with a puzzled expression. Rew breath a sigh of relief, glad they did not ask more questions about his shape-shifting misfortune. The trio walked for some time, finally coming to a hill at the edge of the heavy forest.

    “So you don't know how you did that?” asked Tag as he slowed his pace so he walked beside Rilly.

    Rilly shook her head. “No. I just ... did it.”

    “Strange. It wasn't like the last few times either. We actually saw you do it this time,” said Tag with a thoughtful expression as they ascended the hill.

    “We're here,” said Rew after a few more steps. The trio stopped at the top of the hill and took in the scene.

    Old Stump was a large town as far as small villages went. However, it was nothing compared to actual cities like the sprawling metropolis of Algrith, the city that never slept. In fact, Old Stump was a small fishing community with no real respectable taverns or guilds. There was a small outpost for the Merchant Guild in Old Stump but it only existed because of the trade passing by on the waters of the Urn River. Even the Thieves Guild left Old Stump alone. Mostly.

    There was the famous case of Hopping Jack. He attempted to steal the altars from the town's only holy site: a small shrine just north of the actual town. Of course, it was impossible for him because he was not strong enough to lift and transport several slabs of stone larger than a person. It was surprising what people would do for the priceless gems embedded in the slabs. Many tried to pry the gems loose but all failed. It was not until Jack that someone was daft enough to try to steal the whole shrine. Local lore suggested the shrine was dedicated to the nearby demon in the Tunnel of Ak. Old Stump was the only town near the Tunnel so it did make sense to some. Logic had nothing to say on the matter.

    The town itself consisted of a large cluster of buildings loosely placed along the three major roads. One road went north, one went south, and the other disappeared into the forest heading east. Near the bank of the Urn, several docks stuck out into the water. A variety of fishing vessels waited both at the docks and out on the river. One could see the boats some distance up and down the river, their nets hanging in the water inviting fish to dinner. A lot of fish would agree but find out too late the menu consisted of green vegetables, a variety of sauces, and, most importantly, fish.

    “Well, let's go,” said Tag as he started down the hill towards the town.

    Because they came to the town from the south-east, they entered via the southern road. The sun hung high in the noon sky as they walked along the road. The town bustled with activity. Stall owners tried to out-shout each other and gain the favour of the many customers who walked on the streets. Children dodged in and out of the crowds committing acts of childhood. There was a faint waft of fish scent on the breeze. Tag seemed uneasy in the large crowds. Rew seemed concerned about the number of meat stalls. Rilly seemed fascinated. She drank in the hustle and bustle of the crowd with wide eyes. She felt strange, cloudy memories.

    “We should find an inn,” said Tag after they walked along the street a distance.

    Rew frowned. “You guys can sleep indoors. I prefer to stay outside.”

    Rilly looked around. “What about a fortune-teller?”

    Tag furrowed his brow. “I guess we could try to find one.”

    “This town is certainly big enough for there to be one,” said Rew with a slight nod.

    As they walked, Tag spotted a tavern on the corner ahead of them. “Let's stop in for a drink,” he said.

    Rew narrowed his eyes. “I didn't think monks were allowed to drink alcohol.”

    Tag actually managed a chuckle. “Not my order.” Rilly remained silent but followed close behind Tag.

    The sign above the tavern read The Fish Head, obviously paying tribute to the town's livelihood. Or the owner was just lazy when it came to names. Either way, the tavern sat on the corner of the major southern and eastern roads. Just as the trio approached the door, Tag stopped and looked around with a frown. It was then he noticed a strange man watching him with hungry eyes. Rew and Rilly didn't notice and continued into the tavern with Rew in the lead.

    The air inside was thick with smoke and the scent of what one hoped was beer. The patrons sat around at the various tables, drinking and laughing in the usual fashion. Most did not even acknowledge Rew and Rilly's entrance. Several moments passed as Rew and Rilly looked around the establishment. Rilly finally noticed Tag's absence. She pointed it out to Rew.

    “He's probably taking care of something,” said Rew with a shrug.

    “Like what?”

    Rew shrugged again. “Privy?”

    Rilly frowned and looked at the door, expecting to see Tag come in at any moment. Several more moments passed. Rilly turned around to see Rew all the way at the bar. He talked with the bartender. Rilly sighed and continued to wait, her hands clasped underneath her chin. Tag failed to enter the tavern and Rilly began to worry. Rew came back to her side, carrying a large mug of beer. He took a sip as Rilly pointed at the door.

    “He's still not here!” she said.

    Rew nodded. “I can see that. No need to get worked up.”

    Rilly bit her lower lip. She had a feeling something bad was happening. She fidgeted. Rew sipped his beer, realising some of the patrons were watching them. Several more minutes passed. Rew continued to drink his beer and Rilly continued to look anxious.

    “I'm going to find him!” said Rilly before rushing out through the door. After a few moments Rilly rushed back in through the door. “I don't see him anywhere!” she said with a concerned expression.

    Rew blinked at her. “Um.”

    “Come on, Rew! We have to find him. I just know something bad happened,” said Rilly as she made towards the door again.

    Rew caught her by the shoulder as he sat his half empty mug on the nearest table. “Okay, hold up.”

    Rew led the way, opening the door and ushering Rilly outside again. He chanced a glance at the patrons of the tavern. They all stared with blank expressions. They all saw it happen but refused to believe it. It wasn't that Rew stole half a mug of beer, even the bartender seemed unconcerned about that. They all saw Rilly's quick exit and then her entrance a few moments later. They all wished she would have opened the door before going through it.

    Outside, Rilly looked all around with a frantic expression. Rew stared at her in disbelief for several moments. Rew furrowed his brow, sure Rilly's hair was brown when he last actually looked at it. Now it was a cascade of deep red. Finally, he tapped her on the shoulder. She felt solid enough.

    “What? Did you see him?” asked Rilly as she turned to face Rew.

    Rew shook his head. “No, actually it's about you. Are you feeling okay?”

    “Yes, why?”

    Rew shrugged slightly as he glanced back at the tavern door. “Oh, you just walked through a solid, wooden door just now.”

    Rilly blinked. “What?”

    “Didn't you notice?”

    “No.” Rew was unsure of what to say. He felt shocked, horrified, and also fascinated. Rilly bit her lower lip and looked at her hands again. “What's happening to me?”

    “We should try to find that fortune-teller right now.”

    “What about Tag?” asked Rilly with another frantic expression. She looked around again, hoping to spot him.

    “He'll be fine. Let's go see what's going on.”

    Rew led her through the streets back towards the markets along the southern road. It took no time to spot the overly colourful tent nestled in an alleyway. Rew sighed and led Rilly by the wrist towards the tent.

    It was stuffy inside, full of strange odours and smokes. There were makeshift shelves along either side of the tent, lined with various bottles of liquids. In the centre of the tent sat a wooden table. On the centre of the table sat a strange orb. It appeared to be sleeping. Rew and Rilly looked around the tent. A bead curtain at the back of the tent parted and a woman with long, black hair stepped towards them.

    “Welcome!” she said with a great smile. Rew and Rilly turned to her. “What can I do for you?” asked the woman.

    “We need a fortune-teller,” said Rew.

    The woman smiled again. “You've come to the right place. My name is Mindi.”

    Rew glanced at Rilly before stepping forward. “Something strange is happening.”

    “I see,” said the woman as she sat down at the table and tapped the orb. It stirred. Rew blinked and stared. Nothing moved in the slightest and he was sure inanimate objects couldn't move. He wondered why he thought he felt the orb stir.

    Rilly stepped forward. “I need help finding my friend, Tag!”

    “Okay, okay,” said Mindi as she tapped the orb again and leaned over it.

    “Wait, please do a reading of her,” said Rew as he pushed Rilly forward.

    The woman nodded and placed her hands on the sides of the orb. “I call upon the spirits of the netherworlds. Hear me, ye-”

    “Can we speed this up please?” asked Rew. He wasn't sure if he was going crazy or if he truly saw Rilly's feet not touching the ground for a second.

    “Fine,” said Mindi with a frown. “Why does no one care for the incantation any more?”

    Rew had the distinct feeling the orb stared at him with an expression of impatience and annoyance. Stared without eyes. Rew shuddered slightly and looked away. Rilly bit her lower lip and looked into the orb. Colours and shapes flashed inside the orb. They swirled together as a strange humming filled the air. Mindi furrowed her brow in concentration. The orb fell silent, the colours and shapes draining from it.

    Mindi tapped it. The orb did nothing. Mindi sighed. “Are you sure?”

    “Sure of what?” asked Rilly with a confused expression. Rew turned his attention back to the orb.

    “Oh sorry, not you,” said the woman as she frowned at the orb.

    “What does that mean?” asked Rilly as the orb sat in silence.

    Mindi sighed again. “Well, you don't exist.”

    Chapter 10: To Turtle Back

    “What?” asked Rilly with a horrified expression.

    “You don't exist,” said Mindi before adding, “I'm sorry.”

    Rilly turned to Rew. He simply stood with a surprised expression. Rilly sputtered several things, none of which turned out to be words. Mindi pursed her lips and looked down at the orb. It said nothing.

    “Of course I exist! I'm right here,” said Rilly finally.

    Mindi nodded. “Yes, you're real. But that's not the same thing.”

    Rew and Rilly shared a glance before Rilly stared at Mindi. “What is that supposed to mean?” asked Rew.

    “Um, it's kind of like the gods,” said Mindi. “You're not a god are you?”

    Rilly gave the fortune-teller a withering look. Rew, on the other hand, stared at Rilly as his mind went over the things that recently happened. Rilly walked through a door, twice, and hovered above the ground for a moment. Perhaps there was more to Rilly than anyone knew. Rew wondered if it had anything to do with her memory lose. Before he could contemplate further, Rilly distracted him by waving her hand through a shelf full of bottles containing suspicious liquids.

    Every good fortune-teller always had a stock of mysterious and suspicious liquids on hand. Some were potions for healing and curing illnesses whilst others were aphrodisiacs or laxatives. It was very important not to confuse the latter two. Others were more potent tonics for situations when rocks started to talk, which happened more often than one would think. Still others were truly mysterious and suspicious liquids. Not even the fortune-teller knew where they came from because they just appeared for no reason. Occasionally a customer would insist on buying one and would wake up the next day with the ability to see around corners or see sidewise in time. Sometimes the customer would return, glowing orange or pink, and demand a refund. The potions sold by fortune-tellers were the sole reason they all had a 'no refund' policy.

    “That's stupid. You make no sense,” said Rilly as she waved her arms around, her hand going through a shelf.

    “Please watch you don't knock over my wares,” said Mindi, unaware that Rilly's hand already passed through the shelf.

    Rew sighed. “Look, calm down, Rilly.”

    “I am calm. She's not making any sense.”

    Rew opened his mouth to protest but stopped and merely sighed again. It was at this point he realised the temperature in the tent was slowly, but steadily, increasing. The orb noticed too.

    “Hey, I don't make these things up. I just give you the reading,” said Mindi as she held her hands up in a defence.

    They passed into silence for a few moments. Rilly stood with her arms folded across her chest and a frown on her face. Mindi simply sat and waited. The orb watched with an amused expression. Of course, the highly polished sphere of crystal had nothing to express with and this made Rew worry. He cleared his throat and tried not to look at the orb.

    “If you could just tell us where our companion is,” said Rew.

    “Okay, let's see now,” said Mindi as she placed her hands on either side of the orb.

    Shapes and colours filled the orb as a faint humming filled the small tent. Rew watched with wide eyes as the colours and shapes melted into one another and swirled together as if they were doing a strange mating dance. Of course, colours sing during their mating rituals but Rew thought a dance was more appropriate. Rilly continued to stand with a frown but even she watched with interest. After a few moments, Mindi sat back.

    “Well it looks like your friend Tag is in Turtle Back.”

    “What?” asked Rew. “He was just with us!”

    Rilly raised an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”

    “Turtle Back is over a hundred kilometres from here!” said Rew. Rilly blinked.

    “Hey, I just give the readings,” said Mindi as she looked down at the orb again. It pulsed a quiet blue.

    Rew shook his head. “That makes no sense. It's all the way on the coast. How did he get all the way down there in a few minutes?”

    “Maybe he flew? He's a monk after all,” said Mindi.

    “No, his toothbrush was burned to ash,” said Rew as he frowned in thought.

    “Oh. Maybe he had another?”

    “No, that was his only one,” said Rilly with a sad expression.

    “Well, that's where he is,” said Mindi.

    A few moments of silence passed. Rew knit his brow in thought whilst Rilly bit her lower lip and waited for him to say something.

    Finally, Mindi cleared her throat. “Well, that's two readings. They were easy enough so five silver pieces should be enough,” she said.

    Rew and Rilly exchanged a glance. “We don't have any money.”

    The orb flashed an orange as Mindi pursed her lips. “You know what, that's fine. I just got a bunch of gold coins I won't be able to spend in time so consider it a going-away thing,” said Mindi.

    “What?” asked Rew.

    “Oh, the world is about to come to an end. Reality is going to be destroyed. That sort of thing,” said Mindi as she waved her hand slightly. “Happens fairly often actually.

    Rew and Rilly stared at her with dumbfounded expressions. Rilly managed to blink. “You can't possibly be serious,” said Rew after a moment.

    “But I am serious,” said Mindi. “Just a few days ago a man came in for a reading. I didn't notice it at first but he was a wizard.” Rew glanced at Rilly. She shrugged. “Anyway, his reading said he would throw reality out of balance and destroy everything. He paid quite well,” said Mindi with a fond glance back towards her bead curtain.

    Rew accidentally looked down at the orb. It tittered at him. Rew quickly averted his eyes, hoping his mind would stop suggesting such impossible things.

    “I don't believe that,” said Rilly finally.

    “Well, it's true,” said Mindi with a slight shrug.

    Rew looked at the fortune-teller. He felt the orb staring at him. “Well, thanks.” The orb flashed a quick yellow. “Um,” said Rew. “I mean, thank you very much for everything you've done. You've been very generous.”

    Rilly raised an eyebrow as she watched him squirm. Mindi simply frowned at the orb before shaking her head. Rilly turned and left the tent without another word. Rew quickly followed, glad to be away from the orb.

    Mindi watched them go before sighing and looking at the orb. “That wasn't necessary.”

    Outside the tent Rew and Rilly walked down the street with no destination in mind. Rilly seemed nervous and anxious. Rew sighed and put his hand on her shoulder. Rilly stopped walking and turned to Rew with a deeply concerned expression. Rew thought he could even see tears beginning to form in her eyes.

    “Hey, it'll be okay. Look, we'll head to Turtle Back right away,” said Rew with a firm nod.

    “Do you really think he's there?” asked Rilly.

    “I'm sure of it.”

    Rilly glanced at the tent. “You think she was telling the truth?”

    “Of course.”

    “Well, then wasn't she telling the truth about that wizard?”

    Rew frowned. “I don't know. Anyway, we should get going now.”

    “But how are we going to get to Turtle Back?” asked Rilly as they started walking again.

    Rew smiled. “I'm a druid, remember?”


    The sun washed over the land like light sweeping through a forest. Philosophers throughout the ages wondered at the rise of the sun. Some considered the sun a god and said the full flare of its glory during the sun rise and sun set were the best times for worship. Many of those who believed such things stared long and hard, hoping to be enlightened. They all went blind. It was not a very popular religion after that. Others considered the sun to be the other side of the moon. The shift between night and day was just the earth rotating underneath the great celestial body. It never accounted for why the sun rose in one place and the moon in a different place. Philosophers were terrible scientists. Another more ambitious idea was that the sun was a vast amount of molten gold in the sky. Several greedy men tried to construct towers to reach the heavens and take the gold for themselves. They all failed because they ran out of slaves either because of falling from great heights or being crushed by tonnes of stone when the towers collapsed. Which just proved how important quality engineers were.

    Through it all, the sun continued to rise each morning and set each evening, never giving its opinion about its own nature. This led to other philosophical ideas like "does the sun rise because it's morning or is it morning because the sun rises?" Which said something about the nature of philosophy. And the sun. If it didn't know what it was doing, why did humans try to understand?

    Of course, the trio did not contemplate philosophy as they roused from their sleep and exited their tents. It was just another morning. However, this was not just another morning.

    “So I guess we should head for Turtle Back now?” asked Toya as the trio ate breakfast. It was the same foods from the night before. Dave shrugged as he chewed a mouthful of cheese. A mouthful more suitable for a great whale. Crumbs and saliva sprayed out of his mouth as he gagged on too much cheese. Zel and Toya watched with amused and slightly disgusted expressions.

    “That's to the south, huh,” said Zel as she stood and stretched.

    “Yes. Honestly, I'm surprised those stones translocated me so far,” said Toya with a serious frown. She knit her brow in concentration.

    Dave coughed but continued his struggle to chew.

    Zel glanced at him and shook her head. “It'll take a few days to reach it.”

    Dave coughed again and shook his head. With great effort he managed to swallow most of the tremendous mouthful.

    “What?” asked Toya.

    Dave coughed again before answering, “We have to hurry, if I understand correctly.”

    Zel raised her eyebrow. “Understand what?” Dave simply nodded. Zel and Toya shared a glance. “Um?”

    “But don't worry. We'll get there in plenty time,” said Dave with another nod.

    “You're not making sense,” said Toya after a moment.

    Dave stood. “I have to go home first and get some things. Did you guys want any more food?”

    Zel and Toya shared another glance. “Go home?”

    Dave nodded as he stuffed all the food back inside his Cube. Without another word he narrowed his eyes slightly and disappeared in a puff of golden smoke. Zel and Toya stared at the spot he disappeared from for a long time. Finally, Zel turned to Toya. She stared with wide eyes.

    “What the hell was that?” asked Zel. Toya shook her head. They fell into silence. Some time passed before Zel sat down beside Toya. They continued to stare where they last saw Dave.

    Toya frowned in thought. “Maybe he translocated himself to his house.”

    Zel looked surprised. “He can do that?”

    “The sorcerer can do almost anything. Like I said, he's the most powerful magician alive right now.”

    “Oh.” Zel shifted uneasily. Toya was content to sit and wait. Zel decided to ask a few questions that were plaguing her since the day before. “So, um, what's the deal with the Cube?”

    Toya raised an eyebrow. “You mean the Aldric Cube?”


    “It's only one of the most powerful and rare artefacts! No one knows how many there are but there can't be more than a few.”

    “What's so great about it?” asked Zel with a raised eyebrow. Toya blinked. “I mean, how does it work?”

    “Well, contrary to what logic suggests, it is not bigger on the inside than on the outside.” Now Zel blinked. “Okay, listen. It's basically a portal to another Place. It's kind of like a doorway. It's just a matter of opening it and reaching into the other Place to get what you need.”

    “Um, okay,” said Zel, totally confused. “How does that work?”

    “Well, it is made of kyrillium and ailite.”

    “Yeah, what the hell is that?”

    Toya looked surprised. “You don't know what they are?”


    “Kyrillium is only the world's strongest and hardest metal. It's indestructible. Only powerful magicians can create a heat source great enough to work with it.”

    “Oh, maybe I have heard of it,” said Zel with a slight frown.

    Toya nodded. “Yeah but it's pretty rare and expensive. See, not only is it indestructible but it also absorbs magical energy.”

    “Okay, what about the eye light?”

    “Ailite is probably the most magical substance in the world. It has innate magical properties. The crystals in their pure form are used for all sorts of magical equipment.”

    Zel looked up at the tip of Toya's stuff. “Like your staff?”

    “Yes, the jewel on the top is ailite. But it's not pure. A simple staff like this doesn't require the pure crystal. Good fortune-tellers use pure ailite crystal balls, though.”

    “I see.”

    Toya nodded. “That's what makes the Aldric Cube so rare and powerful.”

    “It must be worth a fortune.”

    Toya shook her head slowly. “It's priceless.”

    As soon as the words left her lips and drifted away on the breeze, Dave reappeared in another puff of golden smoke. Zel and Toya jumped in surprise. Zel managed to fall and land awkwardly on her wrist. There was an audible snapping sound and Zel immediately cried out. Dave did not appear to notice. He finished securing something inside his now bulging bag and turned to face his companions. Toya knelt over Zel as the latter cradled her right arm in her left. She whimpered slightly.

    “What happened?” asked Dave kneeling down beside them.

    “Just a bit of an accident,” said Toya. Zel's face flushed and she bit back the tears stinging her eyes.

    “It wasn't the knife again, was it?” asked Dave.

    Toya raised an eyebrow. “Knife?”

    “Um, this kind of hurts,” said Zel as her arm continued to swell and bruise.

    “Right, let me take care of that,” said Toya. She brought her staff down to Zel's arm and began her soft chant. With a few arcane gestures, a red glow surrounded Zel's arm. Within seconds the swelling and bruising disappeared and Zel breathed a sigh of relief. Dave watched with an unreadable expression. Finally, Toya sat back and gave a heavy breath. She looked winded. Zel flexed her arm and splayed her fingers several times before smiling at Toya.

    “Thanks, Toya.”

    “No problem.”

    “Aha!” said Dave as he jumped up and pointed at Toya. Zel and Toya exchanged a quick glance. Dave shifted his pack before pulling something black and small out. “Well, are we ready to go to Turtle Back?”

    Chapter 11: Turtle Back

    Toya and Zel looked at the object in Dave's hand. It was a small, black cube about five centimetres all around. The top had a small, blue sphere in the very centre. Toya and Zel stepped forward to get a better look.

    Dave nodded slightly. “This is my compass.”

    Zel raised an eyebrow.

    “It's not pointing anywhere,” said Toya with a slight frown.

    Dave gave her a flat look. “That's not how compasses work.”

    Zel and Toya exchanged a glance. “Um.”

    “Anyway, I already know where I'm heading,” said Dave.

    “What does it do then?” asked Zel.

    Dave motioned for the two young women to come closer. They shared a quick glance. Toya shrugged slightly and stepped next to Dave. Zel took a deep breath, trying not to feel too embarrassed. Dave smiled at them before closing his fist around the compass. The air surrounding them wavered and warped. Zel and Toya stared in shock and awe. There was a flash of light and the trio found themselves standing near a large city gate. There was a strong scent of salt on the cool breeze.

    “What the hell!” said Zel as she spun around, taking in their new surroundings.

    “We're at Turtle Back!” said Toya as she looked at the city with a broad smile.

    The sound of waves crashing into land was loud but not loud enough to overcome the din of the bustle of Turtle Back. The city itself filled a half-moon swath of beach nestled between two cliff faces. Ships of all sizes milled about in the small bay as if they had minds of their own. Of course, ships needed crews to do anything more than drift on the ocean and eventually sink. However, there were some ships that didn't need crews because they were of the magical sort.

    The most famous case of a magical ship was the Little Hen. It appeared four years before it was built. The captain had the misfortune of purchasing the ship and setting sail with a crew before finding this out. They were never seen again until they returned the next day. They had bewildered expressions as they sailed into the port at Turtle Back. Their cargo, which was grain, had turned into several kinds of cheese, a few of which did not actually exist. They returned to Turtle Back four years later with a shipment of grain. By that time the captain and crew were all retired and living in far off parts as successful cheese merchants. Which raised the question, “What the hell?”

    Turtle Back was a large port city thriving through the trade of goods, most of which were legal. Because of the staggering amount of goods passing through, every main street through the city was lined with merchants and purveyors of "exotic" goods from "distant" lands. They even made sure to put the quotation marks on their signs. Every main street except Main Street, of course. Main Street was a narrow lane along the western border of Turtle Back. Its only attraction was the campus of the Glitterforth Academy, home to all wizards of the city. Main Street was the only street in Turtle Back that was not, in fact, a main street. The wizards in Glitterforth probably thought otherwise.

    “How the hell!” said Zel as she stared at the many wagons going in and out of the city gate.

    “We're here,” said Dave.

    Toya waved her arms. “You translocated us!”

    Dave nodded.

    “What the hell!” said Zel again. She stared at Dave and Toya.

    “Well, it's still early,” said Dave as he squinted at the sky. “We should rest some before finding Rilly.”

    Zel and Toya shared a glance. “Who's Rilly?”

    “Oh. Um. I don't know,” said Dave with a shrug as he started towards the city gate.

    Zel and Toya exchanged another glance. “What is that supposed to mean?”

    Dave shrugged. “I was told to find Rilly and take her to the cairn.”

    “The cairn! I almost forgot,” said Toya as she squinted at the eastern cliff looming overhead. Zel followed her gaze and spotted vague shapes near the top of the cliff. “I should probably report back on what happened to me,” said Toya after a moment of silence.

    Zel realised her voice was further away and spun around to see Dave and Toya already heading through the gate. She rushed to catch up.

    As the trio walked the busy streets, Zel noticed most of the people in the town had tanned skin and dark hair, very much like Toya's. It was then Zel realised Turtle Back was probably Toya's home-town and not just where she studied magic. The warm climate and sea air accounted for the complexion of the citizens. Of course, there were countless other people from all over. Zel saw a group of gnomes dancing on a corner to something someone might mistake for music if they accidentally listened to it. The small crowd gathered around the gnomes seemed entertained and that was what mattered. At least, to the gnomes.

    Zel noticed she was falling behind again and rushed to catch up. She tripped on an uneven flagstone. As she fell forward, she tried not to call attention to her embarrassment. Of course, the crowds filling the street watched. Most of them watched until she fell before carrying on with their business. A few onlookers laughed slightly whilst others winced as Zel fell face-first into the cobblestones. She quickly scrambled to a kneeling position as her head throbbed. She felt her face swelling and could feel the trickle of blood beginning to slide out of her nose. Toya and Dave turned around just as the scene unfolded.

    “Hell,” said Zel as she clutched at her bloody, and probably broken, nose.

    Toya rushed to her side. “Are you okay? What happened?”

    “Another accident?” asked Dave as he stopped just in front of Zel. Zel looked up at him with a horrified expression.

    “It'll be okay,” said Toya as she pursed her lips. The crowds continued on their business, generally ignoring Zel and the commotion she caused.

    “Damn,” said Zel as she tried to pretend Dave was not there to see her. He frowned at her but said nothing.

    “Okay, move your hand so I can look at it,” said Toya. Zel reluctantly let go of her face. Toya pursed her lips and knit her brow. “Your nose is broken.”

    “Oh, thank goodness. I thought, you know, the pain and blood was from something else,” said Zel with a sour expression.

    Toya gripped her staff and brought the tip towards Zel's face. “No need to be rude.”

    There was a soft red glow and Zel felt a warmth wash over her. The staff glowed for a few moments and Zel felt her face beginning to shrink back to normal size. The pain abated and Toya sat back with a heavy sigh.

    “Done,” said Toya with a smile.

    Zel grunted and frowned as she cast a glance up at Dave.

    He stood akimbo with an unusual expression as he looked at the sky. The wind kicked up lightly before settling down.

    “Well,” said Toya as she stood and brushed the front of her robe off.

    “Let's just go,” said Zel as she also stood, a flush of red still invading her cheeks.

    The trio started walking again, heading towards Glitterforth Academy. Zel felt angry at herself for falling and hurting herself yet again. She was especially upset because it was in front of Dave, again. Toya seemed happy to be in her home-town. Dave had a strange demeanour about him. Zel bit her lower lip and wondered what he thought of her. Just as the trio approached the end of the street, Dave stopped and looked up. Toya and Zel also stopped and waited.

    “Oh, they're here,” said Dave whilst still looking at the sky.

    Zel and Toya shared a glance before looking up. They saw nothing except clouds and birds. They shared another glance. “Um,” said Zel.

    Dave nodded and started walking back the way they came.

    “Hey, where are you going?” asked Toya.

    “I've got to meet Rilly and take her to the cairn,” said Dave without turning around.

    Zel and Toya shared yet another glance. Zel shrugged and started to follow. Toya sighed and followed. The trio backtracked all the way out through the gate. Dave stopped at nearly the same place they first arrived. He turned towards the north and stared at the tree line as if he expected something. Zel and Toya stood on either side of him and also looked. They waited. Just as Zel prepared to ask what they were doing, two figures appeared from the trees. One was a mostly naked man; the other was a young woman with bay hair.


    Rilly followed Rew back out of Old Stump. She had no idea what he had in mind or what he meant. She didn't understand what him being a druid had to do with the situation. She was far too worried about Tag to notice much of her surroundings. Rew led the way back into the forest some distance before looking around with a thoughtful expression. Rilly chewed on her thumbnail as she watched Rew. He furrowed his brow and approached the nearest tree. He put his palm on the bark and uttered sounds. They were not words. Rilly managed to raise an eyebrow. Several moments passed.

    “Oh,” said Rew. Rilly raised her other eyebrow. Rew nodded and turned. “Come on.”

    He led the way further into the forest. Rilly followed, still worrying about Tag. She knew deep down something was wrong. She felt sick. They stopped in a small, rocky clearing. Rilly looked around when she noticed how pleased Rew looked. He smiled and gestured towards a protruding rock near the centre of the clearing.

    Rew started towards it but stopped when Rilly didn't follow. “Come on,” he said.

    Rilly raised an eyebrow. “What?”

    “We're going to Turtle Back, remember?”

    “Um. How?”

    “Flying of course.” Rilly simply stared. “Druid,” said Rew as he pointed to his chest. Rilly blinked. “You don't remember?”

    “Um. Remember what?” asked Rilly.

    Rew sighed. “I can fly us there on this good rock here. We'll get there in an hour or two.”

    “Fly?” asked Rilly with scared expression.


    Fly?” repeated Rilly.

    Rew sighed again. “Look, it's perfectly safe. It's a lot faster than walking.” Rilly hesitated. “Come on. You want to find Tag right?”

    That was enough to make Rilly step forward. When she and Rew stood a pace away from the rock, the ground shook. Rilly looked around in horror but Rew smiled and sat down. He closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate.

    “We can't fly on a rock!” said Rilly when she realised what Rew said.

    Rew frowned up at her. “Not with that attitude we can't.”

    “You can't be serious!”

    Rew sighed and stared at Rilly. “You're going to hurt the rock's feelings.”

    “Rocks don't fly. That's impossible.” Rew's mind went to the events in Old Stump. He shook his head and motioned for her to sit. Rilly remained standing.

    “Look, trust me, okay? We can fly,” said Rew.

    Rilly hesitated again but remembered Tag. She slowly sat with a tense expression. She looked around. The ground heaved. Rew closed his eyes again and smiled. Rilly shifted and bit her lower lip. There was a slight breeze brushing through the clearing. Rilly had to wonder how windy it would be in the sky. Before she realised it, she noticed the tops of the trees beside her. She cautiously glanced over the side of the rock. She panicked.

    Rew sighed again. “Stop thrashing around.”

    “We-we're flying!”


    “On a rock!”



    Rew smiled. “Rocks just need belief. Well, and some druid magic.” Rilly looked around with wide eyes as the tree tops dipped below her field of vision. She could feel how unsteady the rock was. “Just trust the rock,” said Rew.

    “Trust the rock?” asked Rilly with a flat expression.

    Rew smiled. “Yes.”

    Rilly took a deep breath and did her best not to imagine falling. She thought about it. After all, flying was just falling sidewise through the sky and that was not so bad. Rilly snapped out of her reverie as the wind dramatically increased against her face. She realised they were zipping through the air. She looked around but could not see Old Stump anywhere. Even though she had little experience, Rilly knew the rock flew much faster than Tag's toothbrush did.

    In fact, druids learned how to fly rocks long before any other method of transportation existed, except feet. Scholars throughout the ages wondered how the druids managed to make tonnes of rock fly through the air. Non-druid scholars, that is. The druids, of course, knew exactly how it was possible. The rock simply needed someone to believe in it. The druid simply had to believe and convince the rock it could fly. Druids chose rocks over animals because they viewed all life as sacred. If people rode animals, what stopped them from riding other people? Nothing. Slave-carts became very popular among the rich. Contrary to the name, no cart was involved; the slave simply acted as a beast of burden and carried their master around.

    Rew smiled when he noticed her expression. “See? Not so bad is it?”

    “What?” said Rilly. The roar of wind drowned out their voices even though they shouted.

    “Where?” said Rew as he looked around. Rilly also looked around before giving him a confused look. Rew sighed and patted the rock like one might pat a horse. It slowed. “Maybe you should try to rest some? You don't look so well,” said Rew. Rilly looked pale and the glow of her hair was gone. She looked sick.

    “I'm just worried about Tag,” said Rilly as she hung her head.

    “Just try to rest some. We'll be there in no time,” said Rew as he patted the rock again.

    Rilly nodded and pulled her knees to her chest. She rested her back against a wedge of rock sticking up from the surface. The wind picked up again as the rock sped through the air again. It was lost on Rilly because she was already asleep.

    “Wake up,” said a voice.

    Rilly grunted and opened her eyes. She lay on the rock in a clearing in the trees. Salt wafted on the breeze and Rilly could hear the hustle of a nearby city. She stood up and looked at Rew. He smiled at her and motioned for her to follow. She glanced around, unsure of where they were. She realised she fell asleep. It was obvious they were in a clearing near Turtle Back. Rilly followed Rew towards the tree line. A strange trio appeared to be waiting for them as they exited the trees.

    Chapter 12: Not the End

    Rew glanced at Rilly. She looked pale, weak, and seemed out of breath. Rew noticed her hair was turning brown again.

    He sighed. “Are you okay?”

    Rilly nodded and patted her stomach. “Fine.”

    “Are you sure? You just slept for an hour even though it's only morning. And you look sick.”

    “I said I'm fine,” said Rilly with a frown. “I'm just worried about Tag.”

    Rew sighed again, doubting her words. He doubted her worry was the only cause of her sickness. However, Rilly was proving to be the most unusual person Rew ever met.

    They walked slowly, Rilly seeming to lose all her motivation. Rew kept warily eyeing the strange trio standing and waiting for them. He could tell one of the women was a wizard because of her clothes and staff. The other woman appeared to be a thief of some sort. It was strange to see them together. The third person, the only man of the group, was the strangest of all. Rew furrowed his brow, noting the man's strange clothes; there were several burn marks on them. He stood with a strange smile as he watched Rew and Rilly. The two women stood with confused, apprehensive expressions. The nearby trees watched with no expression but Rew knew they watched. After some time, Rew and Rilly finally stopped a few metres in front of the strange trio.

    “Hello,” said the man with a nod towards Rilly.

    Rew and Rilly shared a glance. Rew noticed Rilly's eyes for the first time. There was a deeper blueness to them than he remembered.

    “Are you ready?” asked the man, still looking towards Rilly.

    Rilly glanced at Rew. “Um.”

    “What's this about?” asked the thief.

    “That's what I'd like to know,” said Rew as he cautiously regarded the strange trio.

    The man peered at Rilly as if he recognised her. Some moments of silence passed.

    “Um,” said Rilly. “Who are you?”

    Toya glanced at Dave and Zel before answering. “My name is Toya. I'm a cleric.”

    When Zel did not respond, Toya elbowed her. Zel rolled her eyes. “I'm Zel.”

    “Oh, my name is Rew,” said Rew. “And this is Rilly.”

    “Nice to meet you,” said Toya with a warm smile.

    “What about him?” asked Rilly as Dave continued to stare at her.

    “Yes,” said Dave. Rew and Rilly exchanged another glance.

    “Um, don't mind him,” said Toya with a nervous glance to Zel.

    “Hey, we should get going. You don't look so well,” said Dave as he pointed at Rilly.

    Rilly looked shocked as Rew nodded.

    “You do look kind of sick,” said Zel as she tilted her head to one side.

    Dave nodded and motioned for everyone to follow him. He started back towards Turtle Back, heading for the cairn. Toya glanced at Rew and Rilly before following. Zel sighed and followed. Rew and Rilly remained in the place and shared another glance.

    After Dave walked a dozen steps he stopped and turned to them. “Are you coming?” he asked.

    “Um, you still haven't told us who you are or what this is about,” said Rew as he took a protective step in front of Rilly.

    “I'm Dave,” said Dave.

    Rew glanced at Rilly. She furrowed her brow slightly. It appeared as if she recognised the name. She pursed her lips and looked Dave up and down. “Who are you?” asked Rilly.

    Dave looked around with a bemused expression. “Dave.” Rilly furrowed her brow again.

    “He's the sorcerer,” said Toya.

    Rilly hesitated but then started towards them. Rew shrugged slightly and followed close behind. Dave nodded and continued to lead the way. Toya and Zel walked beside him with Rilly and Rew following a few paces behind them. The walked in as much silence as was possible given the noise of the nearby town. Waves continued to crash and the breeze continued to blow. Occasionally, Rew would glance at Rilly. She seemed to be getting paler by the minute and she nearly stumbled on several occasions. It was not until Zel stumbled that anyone said anything.

    “Damn it,” said Zel as she tripped on a protruding rock and nearly fell. She managed to catch herself. Rew noticed her embarrassed glance at Dave. Toya smiled but Dave seemed oblivious. Rew risked another glance to Rilly. She walked slowly without paying attention to anything. Rew could tell something was wrong but he didn't know what it was. He suspected it had to do with more than just Tag's disappearance.


    The man had not said two words since he kidnapped Tag in Old Stump. One second, the man approached him and the next Tag found himself in Turtle Back. Even though it felt like an instant, Tag could tell some time had passed since the man grabbed him in Old Stump. After the initial disorientation wore off, Tag realised the man was a wizard. He had the floppy, pointy hat and a black staff. Instead of speaking, the man simply pointed to the top of the nearby cliff.

    Tag simply followed orders, not wanting to find out what kind of wizard the man was. The man also carried a large tome of some kind. Most wizards carried large tomes around. They were usually grimoires full of arcane things because wizards had to rely on reading or memorising spells. The tome underneath the man's arm was old and worn. Tag guessed it was ancient because he could not read the strange lettering along the spine of the tome. The man held it tightly, suggesting it was valuable. Of course, every tome of magic was valuable, even the one containing the spell to change one's shoes into custard. No one ever used it. Not even the wizard who wrote it. Only old wizards bothered to learn it because there were simply no other spells left. The only use it could have was if one was trapped in a desert with no food. Of course, using the spell would mean the caster would be barefoot and have to walk in the desert with no shoes. Nobody wanted that so they usually avoided getting lost in deserts.

    Tag walked a few paces in front of the strange wizard and considered his options. He could try to run but the wizard might know some spells to stop him. Or worse, injure him. Or worse, kill him. Or worse still, turn his shoes into custard. Tag glanced back at the man, wondering what Rew and Rilly were up to; he was mostly worried about Rilly. He continued to walk, unsure of where the man was taking him. Finally the man caught up and walked beside him, directing him towards the cairn on the cliff. The cairn itself was huge.

    Five large oblongs of stone stood straight up from the ground in a circle, placed there by some unknown force. The unknown force, of course, being the ancient people who built the cairn. A large, stone altar sat in the exact centre of the circle. Smaller stones were arranged around in a complex design. Tag took it all in with an awed expression. The five pillars stood at least ten metres tall and were at least five wide. They created a circle large enough to build a house in and the altar in the centre had four sets of stairs, aligned perfectly with each compass direction. The man nodded to himself. Tag noticed small black totems sticking out of the ground around the perimeter of the entire cairn, some ten metres away from the altar.

    "Okay, monk, you're exactly what I've needed," said the man with a grim expression.

    Tag nodded absently, still amazed by the impressive cairn. Strange, ancient runes covered the surfaces of the large pillars and altar. Their meanings were steeped in myth and lore and probably lost to time. One set of writing on the northernmost pillar was a recipe for delicious beef stew.

    "I need you to recite the Rite of Gul," said the wizard, pointing towards the nearest black totem.

    Tag blinked.

    The wizard was clearly unaware Tag was the only monk incapable of speaking the mysterious language used by monks for prayers, incantations, and other religious events like bake-sales. For this reason, Tag was considered a misfit amongst all other monks. His only duty at the Temple was to clean the statues until he learn the language. Despite his years trying, he never learned how to properly utter even one word. It amused and confounded his tutors and most of them gave up after a month or two of trying. Tag practised hard and knew all the prayers and rites but could not actually say them. He knew the Rite of Gul was used primarily in conjunction with dangerous and, usually, forbidden spells. It created a barrier so the caster would be undisturbed and would remain contained should something go wrong. Or go right, in some cases.

    “Um,” said Tag.

    The wizard waved his hand. “Come on now.”

    “Um,” said Tag again. “You don't understand.”

    “No, you don't understand. We haven't got all day. I don't think the binding will last much longer,” said the wizard with a furious expression.

    “What binding?” asked Tag.

    The wizard laughed. “I am the one who will destroy reality. There's nothing you can do about it so you may as well help.”

    Tag blinked.

    The wizard sighed. “I've bound one of the Elements in their mortal form. This spell I have under my arm will complete the imprisonment, rendering the Element dead.”

    Tag blinked again.

    “This will throw the world out of balance and reality will collapse,” said the wizard with the standard evil laugh.

    Tag stared at the man in shock. “You can't do that!”

    “Yes I can. It is my destiny! I already checked with a fortune-teller and everything,” said the man with a nod.

    Tag stood aghast as the wizard leered at him.

    “If you don't then I'll have to force you,” said the wizard as he raised his staff. The ailite tip flashed several colours.

    “Okay, wait,” said Tag as he held his hands up. “Look, I can't help you destroy the world.”

    “Why not?”

    Tag sighed. “I'm a monk after all.”

    “By the gods, I swear I can make you. I've prepared a spell just in case,” said wizard as the tip of his staff flashed again.

    Tag took a step back and held his hands up again. “There's no need for that.”

    The wizard smiled at him. “Good. Now, the Rite of Gul.”

    “Um, okay,” said Tag. His mind scrambled to come up with something to say that would sound convincing.

    “Hurry,” said the wizard with a concerned glance around them. He seemed uneasy for some reason. The previously unmentioned breeze was steadily increasing.

    “Um ... je ne sais pasce que je dis,” said Tag as the nonsense words formed in his mind.

    Nothing happened.

    The wizard looked around. “Is that it?” he asked.

    “Yes?” said Tag.

    The wizard looked around again and nodded. “Good.”

    Unbeknownst to Tag and the wizard, a small group was slowly making their way up the hill leading to the cairn. The man in the lead stopped some distance away from the cairn and stared with wide eyes. The other four stopped beside him and glanced from the scene to the man in the lead.

    “Who are they?” asked Zel as she craned her neck to look at the two mysterious figures near the altar.

    Toya looked around nervously. “I don't like this.”

    Dave nodded and shifted the pack slung from his shoulder. “Right.”

    Rew looked at Rilly. She stared hard at one of the figures.

    “Hey, what's that one doing?” asked Zel as she pointed. One of the figures ascended the altar and started waving his hands around in the air. He held a long staff in his hand.

    Toya narrowed her eyes at the scene. “That's a wizard,” she said.

    “What's he doing?” asked Zel again, squinting to try to see.

    Rew felt nervous. He was a simple druid and it was clear there was a lot of high magic in the area. It felt completely unnatural. He sighed and turned to Rilly. She looked on the verge of fainting.

    “Hey, are you okay?” asked Rew as Rilly swayed.

    She nodded and continued to stare at the figure not at the altar.

    “Hm, I see,” said Dave.

    The breeze around them was increasing to a steady wind. It whipped at their hair and threatened to pull Toya's hat off. She held it down with her free hand and looked around. She could sense a heavy magic field. Much heavier than the one created by the cairn alone. It felt totally different than when she visited the cairn before being translocated to the Tunnel.

    “Something is wrong,” said Toya.

    Zel nodded as strange colours began to flicker from the man standing at the altar.

    “Are you okay, Rilly?” asked Dave as he turned to look at her.

    Her eyes were glazed and her skin was a sickly pale colour, even her hair seemed dull. She nodded slowly as she swayed with the stiff breeze. Rew put a hand on her shoulder to steady her. He immediately looked at her in shock as he felt her temperature.

    Dave stared at Rilly for some time before looking back to the cairn. “I understand now,” he said after a moment.

    “What's going on?” asked Toya, still clutching her hat. The hat was, after all, an important part of being a magician.

    “Well, that man is about to destroy reality,” said Dave with a casual shrug. Toya and Zel exchanged a glance.

    Rew, on the other hand, stared at Dave in shock. “What?”

    “Yes,” said Dave with another casual shrug.

    “You're joking right?” asked Zel with a nervous glance to the cairn.

    Dave shook his head and pulled a leather-bound book from his bag. Rilly's eyes lit up when she saw it. Rew felt her lurch forward and looked at her in shock. The book in Dave's hand pulsed. He smiled as Toya and Zel exchanged a glance.

    “Come on, we have to do something!” said Zel.

    The wind whipped violent towards the cairn. The group of five turned their attention towards the two figures. They still remained unnoticed.

    A man's voice drifted to their ears. “You're too late! The spell is nearly complete!”

    Dave nodded to Rilly and they ran towards the cairn. Zel and Toya exchanged a glance and ran after them. Rew prepared to follow but stopped when he noticed a small girl calmly approaching him. Dave and Rilly and Toya and Zel reached the perimeter of the cairn just as the man threw his hands in the air. An angry swirl of colour spun around the pillars and shot into the sky. Dave reached his hand out in a desperate attempt to stop it but he was too late.

    The man completed his spell and reality collapsed in on itself and tore into thin shreds like so much old paper.

    The End

    Chapter 13: Fire

    Or it would have had Zel not tripped and fallen into one of the black totems.

    Just as the last word was uttered and the spell completed, Zel knocked over the totem, rendering the spell useless. Every powerful spell needs a certain amount of preparation. There were circles to draw, artefacts to gather, and lines of powders to sprinkle. No powerful spell would be complete without the intricate designs. If nothing else, wizards stuck to their lore. The black totems were used in most forbidden spells. How else was one supposed to know it was a forbidden spell?

    The colours roared away into the sky and disappeared in a flash of light. The wizard covered his head as the colours erupted in a sonic detonation. The others nearby also ducked. After the bright flash of light, the people around the cairn slowly stood and looked around. The breeze died away. The wizard on the altar looked around in shock and horror. He noticed the four people suddenly at the perimeter. One woman was on the ground as another wizard rushed to help her up. A young man and woman stood much closer and stared at the wizard.

    “I thought you said you performed the Rite of Gul!” said the wizard as he looked at Tag.

    Tag shifted uneasily. “Um.”

    “And who are these people?” asked the wizard as he jumped down from the altar. Tag blinked and turned. Surprise and relief flooded over him when he saw Rilly standing there. She noticed him just as he noticed her. They ran to each other and embraced one another in a fierce and loving hug. Or they did in Tag's mind. Rilly simply gave a broad smile and waved madly at Tag. He shuffled his feet awkwardly and waved back. He felt the wizard step next to him.

    “So you know them! This was all part of your plan,” said the wizard, a slight edge of panic in his voice. There was a soft red glow nearby. Tag turned to the two other women just as they stood up and approached Rilly and the man. Tag glanced at the wizard beside him and weighed his options. It was clear Rilly's new companions were friendly.

    The wizard stepped forward and held his staff up. Just as he prepared to say something, he froze. The colour drained from his face when he looked at Rilly. “I-impossible!” he said.

    Tag raised an eyebrow and looked at Rilly.

    “You shouldn't be that surprised,” said a young girl's voice. Everyone turned their attention to Rew and the young girl walking beside him. She stood up to Rew's waist and had long, white hair. Her skin was pale and her green eyes seemed to glow. She wore a white dress and no shoes. There was something strange about her. Rilly stared in disbelief as the girl and Rew approached the perimeter of the cairn.

    “No! This can't be!” said the wizard. “It was my destiny!”

    The wizard made a strange motion with his hands and muttered several arcane words. Tag ducked just in time as blue fire shot from the wizard's palms. Everyone stared as the fire spiralled towards the girl. She simply smiled and stood her ground. When it reached halfway to the girl, it sped away towards Rilly. Her eyes widened as the fire exploded against her chest. Dave jumped away to avoid the flame. There was a small explosion and smoke concealed the spot where Rilly stood. Tag took a few steps towards her with shock and horror etched on his face. Rew gave a cry of despair as Toya and Zel stared in disbelief.

    “That's not who I was aiming for,” said the wizard. He prepared to shoot another blast as the smoke cleared.

    Everyone froze.

    Rilly stood unharmed. She appeared just as the first time Tag saw her. She stared at the wizard as he took a step back, his eyes widening. Dave, Toya, and Zel retreated from the now imposing figure of Rilly. Tag and Rew stared in open-mouthed shock. The pale girl simply smiled. The temperature around the cairn slowly began to rise.

    “No! No!” said the wizard as he held his staff in front of his body like a shield. “You're her!”

    Rilly narrowed her eyes and wavered out of existence. She appeared on the altar, looking around at the cairn. It took everyone a second to see what happened. Everyone except the pale girl. Tag took a few unconscious steps away from the altar. Dave shook his head and stepped inside the cairn, pulling open the leather-bound book in his hand.

    “No! My destiny!” said the wizard as he prepared to fire a blast at Dave.

    Enough!” said the pale girl.

    It was the kind of voice that demanded and commanded one's attention. It was felt as much as it was heard. The breeze violently whipped along the cliff side and threatened to blow everyone over. Toya and Zel fell to the ground, struggling against the wind. Tag was knocked into the nearby pillar. Dave nearly lost his grip on the book. The wind knocked Rew to the ground. The wizard by the altar had his hat blown off and the staff thrown from his hand. He fell to his knees as the wind died down. Rilly and the pale girl stared at him with burning eyes.

    “Stop cowering,” said Rilly.

    The wizard whimpered. “I'm sorry.”

    The others slowly picked themselves up and looked at one another in confusion and shock. Dave shrugged and approached the altar. Rilly looked down at him and smiled. Tag took a few steps towards Rilly, a look of concern on his face.

    “What's going on?” asked Tag.

    Rilly smiled at him as Dave opened the book again. “It's okay, Tag.”

    Dave read a few words from the book and closed it.

    Nothing happened.

    Just as someone prepared to ask what was going on, Rilly exploded. A great column of fire swirled around and shot into the sky. It spiralled around and consumed the entire cairn, everything in its radius burnt to ash. Everything except the stones. And Rilly. And all the other people. And the grass in the cairn. In fact, the fire did not consume or burn anything. Everyone except the pale girl looked around in shock, surprised to find themselves not dead. Dave smiled and tucked his leather-bound book back into his bag.

    The wizard bowed his head and whimpered again. “This wasn't supposed to happen,” he said.

    You fool,” said Rilly.

    Everyone stared at her in shock. She looked different now. Her deep blue eyes glowed. Her fiery red hair flared out and danced even though there was no wind. It looked just like fire. Because it was fire. Without hesitation, Rilly pointed a finger at the man and he disappeared in flash of fire.

    It's good to have you back,” said the pale girl, suddenly appearing beside Rilly. “You are back, aren't you?”

    Yes, I am,” said Rilly with a nod.

    Toya, Zel, and Rew slowly made their way towards the altar. Dave and Tag already stood at the base, staring up in awe. The pale girl looked down at them and smiled. Rilly sighed and looked at Tag with a twinkle in her eyes.

    Who would have thought?” asked Rilly as she titled her head to one side.

    Everyone simply stared in shock and awe.

    Something wrong?” asked the pale girl.

    Dave looked at the others. “Um, perhaps some explaining would help.”

    The pale girl sat on the edge of the altar. “Ah, of course.”

    “And maybe talk normally?” asked Dave with a hopeful expression.

    The pale girl and Rilly exchange an amused glance.

    “I suppose that would be better,” said Rilly with a giggle as she looked at Tag again. He stared open-mouthed with an unreadable expression.

    “Where to begin?” asked the pale girl.

    Toya shifted uneasily and glanced at Dave. “Um. Who are you? What just happened?”

    “Isn't it obvious?” asked the pale girl with a smile.

    “Wait! Are you …” Rew trailed off. He immediately fell to his knees and bowed.

    “The hell?” said Zel as she scrunched her face up at Rew's actions.

    The pale girl looked at Rilly with a raised eyebrow. “He is a druid, after all,” said Rilly with a shrug as she sat down beside the pale girl.

    “Oh, of course.”

    “So what's going on?” asked Zel. “Who are you?”

    “I have many names,” said the pale girl.

    “That's stupid,” said Zel as she shook her head and looked at the nearest pillar.

    Dave elbowed her. “Hey, be nice.” Zel blushed in Dave's direction.

    The pale girl smiled. “It's okay.”

    “These are our physical forms,” said Rilly.

    “What's the supposed to mean?” asked Tag, finally able to find his voice. Rilly looked at him and smiled again. Tag felt his knees go weak.

    Rew jumped up off the ground and waved his arms at the others. “Show some respect! These two are goddesses!”

    The others looked from Rew to Rilly and the pale girl in wide-eyed shock. Everyone except Dave. He was too busy reading a recipe for beef stew.

    “No quite,” said Rilly with a chuckle. “But close.”

    “I am Air,” said the pale girl as a stiff breeze blew across the cliff again. As soon as it whipped through, it died away.

    “What, you mean the Element?” asked Toya as she gawked.

    “It should be obvious who she is,” said Air as she nodded towards Rilly.

    Zel blinked and pointed. “She's Fire?”

    “That's right,” said Rilly with a nod and smile. Toya and Zel stared in shock and awe. Rew quickly bowed again. Dave turned his attention back to the two Elements. Tag took a step back from Fire and tried to hide his surprise.

    “I don't understand,” said Tag after a few moments of silence. He sounded crushed.

    Fire smiled at him. “That wizard, that man who kidnapped you, was behind all of this.”

    “He got his hands on an ancient and forbidden spell,” said Air.

    Dave nodded. “That explains the black totems.”

    “He imprisoned me in my physical form,” said Fire. “I'm not sure how.”

    Air looked at her and frowned. “Yes you are.” Fire looked guilty as she glanced at Tag. “Anyway, that's why she didn't remember anything,” said Air after a moment. “That wizard was trying complete the second half of the spell. It would bind her in her mortal form.”

    “That's what Mindi meant!” said Rew as he stared at Fire.

    Fire nodded. “That's right.”

    “But you've all played your part and stopped him,” said Air with a smile as she looked across everyone present.

    “Who would have thought such a group of misfits would save reality?” asked Fire with an amused expression.

    “A druid who can't control his shape-shifting. A clumsy, accident-prone thief. A monk who cannot speak the religious language,” said Air as she shook her head. The three people mentioned shared embarrassed glances.

    “But we didn't do anything,” said Zel.

    Fire smiled at them. “You did the most important thing. You were yourself.” MORAL OF THE STORY

    “Well, what happens now?” asked Toya.

    “Things will return to normal,” said Air with a small shrug. “The threat is over.”

    Fire nodded as a tome appeared in her hand. It was the one the wizard had.

    “I think you'd better take that, Dave,” said Air. “Keep it in the Library.”

    Toya raised an eyebrow. “What Library?”

    “She means the Sorcerer's Library. It's part of my home,” said Dave as Fire handed him the tome. He stashed it in his bag.

    “That about wraps everything up then, I guess,” said Air as she leaned away from the altar and stood. Everyone stared because she stood half a metre in the air, nothing between her feet and the ground.

    “It makes sense now!” said Rew.

    Fire nodded. “That's right. When Tag disappeared, I started to change back.”

    “But why did you sleep? And why did you look so sick?” asked Rew.

    “Because the spell was being cast,” said Fire with a glance around the cairn.

    Rew frowned in thought. “Oh.”

    It is time for us to go,” said Air. “We have been in the mortal realm for too long.”

    Fire nodded and also stood up from the altar. She also stood some distance off the ground. The two Elements looked down at the five people staring at them in awe.

    Thank you all,” said Fire.

    “Ah, you're welcome,” said Rew with another bow.

    Toya, Zel, Dave, and Rew turned one-by-one and started back down the slope away from the cairn. Tag lingered behind and stared at Fire as she stood in her full glory. Her hair blazed and her eyes glowed as she looked down at him.

    “What about me?” asked Tag, feeling very small compared to the two Elements before him.

    Air and Fire exchanged a glance.

    The wizard only succeeded because I became too interested in the mortal realm,” said Fire as she smiled at Tag.

    “I don't understand,” said Tag as Fire extended her hand towards him.

    I mean I fell in love.”


    Some distance away from the cairn, the group of four walked in silence, their minds reeling from the events they just witnessed. They walked for some time in silence.

    “Where is Tag?” asked Rew when he noticed the monk was not with them.

    Dave shrugged and smiled. “I suspect he'll go with them.”

    “What do you mean?” asked Toya.

    “To their Crystal Palace at the centre of the world, of course,” said Dave.

    “You mean he's going with them?” asked Rew in awe.

    “Probably,” said Dave with a shrug.

    Several more moments of silence passed. The group stopped at the base of the cliff, just before the road leading to Turtle Back.

    “Well now what?” asked Zel as she stood akimbo.

    “The wedding,” said Dave in an off-hand manner.

    Zel and Toya exchanged a glance. Rew raised an eyebrow.


    “Of course,” said Dave as he looked at Zel. Zel felt a flush of red sweep across her cheeks. “Shall we?” asked Dave as he held his hand out to Zel.


    “The end.” The man finished his tale just as he finished his large mug of beer. The patrons of the tavern shared glances, unsure of what to say. Finally one near the back cleared his throat.

    The man sitting at the centre of attention bulged with muscles. He carried a large sword on his back and had enough scars to suggest he was not afraid to use it. His clothes were well worn and it was obvious the man was well-travelled. There was no doubt he was some kind of warrior or hero. No one interrupted his story and only a fool would question him.

    “That's ... quite a story,” the throat-clearer finally said.

    “It's true,” said the man as he stood up from his chair.

    “But it sounds impossible,” said the throat-clearer. “Why should we believe that?”

    He suddenly found himself sitting alone. The other people sitting around him shuffled away as one being. He looked around at them before turning his attention back to the man with bulging muscles. The story-teller now stood over him and looked down. The throat-clearer gulped, afraid he had made a mistake.

    “Ah …”

    “Trust me,” said the man with the sword. He spun around and strode out of the tavern, his cape billowing out behind him. It made him seem very important.

    “What a load of bunk,” said the throat-clearer after a few moments of silence.

    The bartender shook his head. “You don't know what that was, do you?”

    “Just some muscle-head with no brains like all the others.”

    “Actually he wasn't just another hero,” said the bartender as he wiped a glass. “He's the hero.”

    Everyone in the tavern shared amazed glances before turning to the bartender.

    “You mean … ?”

    The bartender nodded. “Son of Dave and Zel. That was Delon.”
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2017
    Ponamis likes this.
  2. Pangaea

    Pangaea Forum Moderator

    I'm a little late for reasons but I've posted chapter 2 for anyone interested.
  3. Pangaea

    Pangaea Forum Moderator

    For anyone reading, we're up to chapter 5 now.
  4. Pangaea

    Pangaea Forum Moderator

    So chapter 9 has been posted. For anyone reading, I update around Sunday every week. So expect new chapters then. Obviously I don't post every time a new chapter has been added so you'll have to be on the look out for them.
  5. Pangaea

    Pangaea Forum Moderator

    That's a wrap, folks. The last chapter has been added and the story is finished. I hope anyone who reads it enjoys it!
  6. Ponamis

    Ponamis Title Not Found

    Nice work, I'm glad to see you've managed to finish it. It was pretty interesting to read through.
    I apologize for not having any feedback to give you though, it was a good story and I enjoyed it, but that's all I've got to say.
  7. Pangaea

    Pangaea Forum Moderator

    I'm glad you liked it!

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