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Coriander Orders of Blood
by David LeBarron
Translator’s note: “No idea” is not a thing academics usually like to say. We ponder and muse, extrapolate and pontificate but, truth be told, and some will never admit it, many, most times, we have no idea. Absolutely no idea of what we are actually discoursing. Nowhere else has there been such plethora of “no idea” as in the understanding of The Coriander Scrolls. Translating these ancient scrolls has been a difficult task. Although deciphering stone seems accurate enough and our skills are thorough and excellent, there are outstanding difficulties in the scrolls. The problem in creating an accurate and reliable text is three-fold: time, poetry, and magick.
Time. These scrolls are truly remarkable for they were created in, as best we can figure, the Early Bronze Age. We have no other source that is so completely detailed and therefore little to cross-reference. If, for example, the stories had taken place nearer a few thousand years to Classical Greece, we would have a better understanding of the world, political and geographical. We know little of the Bronze world. The names of places have no global perspective. In fact, proper nouns in general, those words used to name things, elude us. We have tried to be clever, but honestly, at times we are lost, as in this sentence, and they aren’t actually sentences (see below): “He was so angered he went to Atranu.” What the hell is Atranu? A city? A temple? A person who calms people? Some sort of transcendental state? No idea.
Poetry. These scrolls pre-date Aristotle’s lovely Poetics. Perhaps ancient personkind was trying to figure out how to do this new writing thing, or perhaps they communicated differently, or perhaps they didn’t care. For syntax has, seemingly, no standards. Verbs seem to be thrown anywhere, as if the writers wrote for emphasis not clarity. At times, the wording seems so flowery the point of the section is lost. Other times it is merely a list of words for things we do not know. It is entirely possible that, as with later bards, these scrolls were meant to remind the teller of the tale. And he or she would add in details. Or perhaps not. No idea.
Magick. Please note: we have used magick with a “k” to use the modern approach of differentiating stage magic, like slight of hand, from “real” magick, the art of divination and influence. SO yes, magick. As scientists, we tend not to believe in magick, but what academia has taught us is how very important it is to know how a culture views magick. And these people did a lot of what they called magick. So we are left with spells containing phrases of words we cannot decipher. We have “powers unleashed” with “power words” that mean little to us. One literal translation—well to be honest we are not quite sure of the animal, although we are quite certain it is some sort of rodent…perhaps—would be: Rat’s Urine Slave Free. A handy little phrase that seems to set the desired person or object aflame. Possibly. No idea.
So what are we left with then? How do we propose to translate this “gibberish” and unknown words, with no real structure, from a strange world? We have decided, in addition to the academic literal translations lying uselessly about in libraries, to re-tell the stories as best we can. We chose to “make sense” and use dramatic and poetic license liberally. To do so? Enter the storyteller.
We have at times forsworn science and taken up the role of storyteller, in order to give current readers insight into this ancient world. Thusly, we have recreated, or sometimes fabricated, the dramas you are about to read. It has been most fun. And informative! We have occasionally added footnotes. We have been warned to do so as little as possible so as not to disrupt the narrative. We have tried to restrain ourselves. However, at times it was just too interesting to not add a few notes. You needn’t read them to enjoy or understand the story. Actually you needn’t have read this note! But if you, like us, enjoy a bit of backstory, academia, and information in general, we have strived to be inclusive. We do hope you enjoy these translations or rather, re-tellings. But please take them in the manner in which they are told: as stories merely based in pre-history. Did we do a good job? No idea.
The Bloody Family
“Who would do this?” asked Coriander, examining the blood covering his hands.
“A monster…” Vushi shook her head. Coriander knew she’d never cry in front of him, or anyone, but he knew she wanted to cry. He has been fighting back tears like any normal person would since their arrival. Cleaning up the remains of this once seemingly happy family was the worst thing any of them had ever done.
The Magi were outside looking for clues. Lucky warriors. Their orders were obviously to stand around, look important, and shrug their shoulders. The apprentices got the horrible work. And, by Hera’s womb , nothing was more horrible than gathering pieces of human beings and then cleaning up their blood. Vushi gasped. Her back was to Corey, and it was shaking.
She didn’t want to cry, not here, not ever, but it was all just too much. The small child’s toy covered in blood was just too much. The bodies were simply remains. Pieces of flesh that may have once smiled or laughed, but one could remove those histories of the flesh. They were now lifeless lumps, but this, this small woven doll, was real. That lump of flesh had had a doll. Had she been holding it when the monster came? Had she thought it would protect her? Or perhaps she had hidden the doll…yes…placing it under the chest of drawers had been intentional. She had kept her dolly alive.
Coriander saw Vushi holding something. He wondered what she found. Whatever it was had upset her. He knew her well enough to know the signs. He hated seeing Vushi upset. She was the one who always comforted him. They were so different. Yes, they were both Blessed by She, and both loved similar things like sunsets, hiking up rocky cliffs, and sparring, but in presence they were so contrary. Vushi had a proud chin, round lips, and angled eyes in her dark brown skin. Her hair was smooth as silk and her braids framed her muscular body perfectly. Coriander’s hair was always messy. His skin was more olive than tan, and he was skinny for his age. Coriander was gentle and even when joking around, which was always, somehow seemed on the verge of tears, whereas Vushi was always in control. Except something had shaken that resolve. Coriander saw her shudder again and knew he had to do something.
“Umm, Vushi?” Coriander knew better than to ask if Vushi needed help. She was too strong, too proud. Having been the child of an Indi slave, she was even more protective of her image at Magoge . Not that she should worry. In this too they differed, for Vushi was everything Coriander was not: popular and respected. But even the cool kids sometimes need a break. “Can you get me some more water? I’m afraid if I do, I’ll just track more….dirt through the house? Please?” Vushi nodded and went outside. Coriander didn’t know if she knew he was making up a reason for her to go outside. It didn’t matter. End-friends were like that. You just helped each other out and didn’t keep score.
The farmhouse they were cleaning was smallish for the area. It was built from wood and stone and had two sleeping chambers and a single common room. A table, barely large enough to seat the five family members that had gathered for meals, had been taken outside along with the chairs, so the apprentices could clean more thoroughly. It was sparsely decorated. Mended curtains hung neatly against the one window. Coriander also noticed a lack of toys and no extra bedding. What they did have was used and worn but again mended. Cared for. Yes, cared for. They had been poor, Coriander realized, but had made the best out of what little they had. Each item appreciated. Perhaps the neighboring field would yield a better crop this year and the children would get nicer clothes, or nicer anything. Coriander suddenly felt incredibly grateful for all he had. He, although from the provinces and looked down on by his city dwelling classmates, had so very much. Even his cloak, which he never kept clean, was nicer than anything in this entire house. These were good, honest, hardworking people…or they had been until something tore them to shreds. They would not be mended.
Vushi was grateful Coriander made up a reason for her to go outside. He was sweet and kind and seemed to be handling this disaster better than she. She knew Coriander’s heart ached, but he had a task to do and was doing it. Vushi breathed in the clean air. She wanted to vomit. It wasn’t the sight of blood; she had seen enough of that. Perhaps it was the injustice? Perhaps it was the cruelty? No, those too she was far too aware of. What was it? “Helplessness,” she whispered to no one. Being born into bondage, Vushi had been helpless at one time. At eight, she had come into her magick and was no longer a helpless slave. No one Blessed by She could be bound by a mortal, so Vushi became an apprentice Mage. She left the quarters in which she had slept during her short life and moved into the nicer rooms down the hall. The slaves at Coriander’s home now bowed to her, too. She hated it. She saw helplessness for what it was. This bloody family may not have been slaves, but they were alone and powerless, lost in a large world. Something had shattered everything that they had tried to be. She took another breath and vowed to honor this helpless family somehow.
Coriander cleaned in silence. He was thorough, more so than if he cleaned his own room. It was as if this horrible event had to be gone. Any speck or remains would make it all too real. It needed to be forgotten. It needed to have never been.
“Why do we get stuck with this?” complained a student whom Coriander didn’t know very well.
“Who else is gong to do it? The younger kids? Would you want them exposed to this?” Coriander tried to add lightly, “or the Magi? Yea, they’re going to clean up the floor…”
“No,” snapped the boy, “servants. Isn’t that why we have them?”
“I wish!” agreed a pale-skinned boy, tossing his brush down.
Ugh. Coriander hated people like this kid. These kids had probably never done a lick of work in their spoiled little life. Those rich people just sat around ordering everyone about as if lower-class lives, the very gift-breath in their bodies, was less important in the Divine Eyes of She . The ruling class were such goat turds. Coriander gently reminded himself he was technically one of the ruling class. Coriander shook his head, not wanting to start a fight with the hot-tempered boys.
“This is not the work for servants,” Vushi had returned. She placed a bucket near Coriander and nodded, a private exchange they both understood. She continued to lecture the boys, “this is the work for the strong. Those who will one day lead must know the damage they may cause. You’ll skewer your sword with an even measure if you keep this…disaster in your arm!”
No one argued. Who would dare? Vushi was fierce. And she was completely right. Coriander shamed himself for wishing he could forget the massacre. No. He would remember it always. Put it in his arm like Vushi would. He would learn from this horror and it would make him better. He cleaned with even more purpose.
Teacher Onion had apparently overheard Vushi. He waddled in announcing, “well spoke, Apprentice Vushi. How dare any of you complain about cleaning? People DIED here. It is an honor to respect their home! The three of you will clean the stables when we return, and after that you’ll clean the kitchens and then keep cleaning till you have bloody stumps for hands and then……”
“ALL RIGHT! Sorry!” snapped the boy Coriander didn’t know. He must be the son of someone really important to talk to a teacher that way. Coriander was so shocked he forgot to tell Teacher Onion he hadn’t complained! The boy’s jaw dropped as he realized he had just snapped at a teacher. Perhaps his family wasn’t that rich. “…Forgive us…” the boy mumbled. Coriander thought ‘US?’
Vushi took the attention of Teacher Onion, “Kyro-Magis please, if you would consent, what did this?”
“Honestly child, we do not know.” Teacher Onion seemed sad, which bothered Coriander because he was pretty sure Teacher Onion wasn’t human or capable of kindness or anything other than being cruel to Coriander. “The attacks are brutal, obviously, but seem without cause. Nothing was stolen, or so it seems…”
“You think it was a human!?!?!” Coriander yelled mostly from shock.
“We do not know. Do you ever listen?” Teacher Onion snapped, sounding more like himself. “There are no animal tracks or tracks out of the ordinary. But there’s also very little in magickal memory so if it was magick it was a foreign kind…..They were in bed, so we assume the attack happened at night. They lived out here like most farmers, isolated…and it seems, happy…what cause would anyone have to slaughter children……?”
Teacher Onion choked up. His face was a mask of tragedy. The boys looked at each other. Vushi went over and placed her hand on his shaking shoulder. “We’ll find him or them or it,” she said in a matter of fact manner, “and Gods of Justice will prevail.”
Coriander looked at the compassion on Vushi’s face. He was proud to be her end-friend. Even here and now in the face of tragedy, Vushi acted honorably. She always showed more concern for everyone else than herself. Vushi had come into her Blessing a few months before Coriander. Being the only boy, with six older sisters and a Mother, Coriander spent most of his young life being blamed for everything or doted upon till annoyance, which is to say he had a wonderful childhood. When he came into his magick, which was more an explosion that almost took the house down, his life changed. He didn’t want to be a Mage. He didn’t like all the responsibility and supposed “honor” that was thrown onto his young shoulders. He wanted to be shepherd or anything that involved being outdoors and running barefoot. But there is no ignoring magickal ability and, without so much as asking his wishes, Coriander and Vushi had been sent to the city to attend Magoge. ‘And here is case and point as to why no one in under the Sun would want to a Mage,’ Coriander thought as he pushed a severed hand into his bloody bucket of grossness.
Teacher Onion took a ragged breath and smiled at Vushi, “Yes, yes. But for now we need to send word to the nearest town. See if these people had a family and to warn them….”
“Send Coriander,” said Vushi.
“WHAT?!?!?’ said Teacher Onion and Coriander at the same time.
“He’s the fastest rider.” She continued, ignoring Coriander, “Madraceas is the next town for miles and is about a day’s ride. Only Coriander would make it by nightfall. He’s swifter than anyone here. That will leave us three apprentices, the four Magi, and you, Kyro-Magis. If we pair up, we can take turns watching both directions in shifts all night, in case whatever it was comes back.” Vushi quickly realized she had taken a slightly impertinent step and covered herself, “….I imagine that is what you would have us do.”
“I don’t wanna ride to Madraceas,” Coriander challenged Vushi.
She countered, “Stupid boy! They must be warned!”
“Yea, and that leaves me out in the night ALONE with whatever demon did this!”
“Not if you ride fast enough! Coriander, for shame!” Vushi had him now, “People are dead! Do you understand we, the people everyone looks to for defense, have no idea who or what did this. The only thing we can do is warn them. Teacher Onion can warn First Teacher through magick. We will have to stay here and fend off this fiend. You can and will make it to the village before nightfall. You must do this!”
Coriander knew he was being stupid, but he had just cleaned up a lot of blood and did not want to meet whatever did this, “You know, you can stop giving me orders! You are not the boss of me!”
“But I am.” Teacher Onion smiled. “You are familiar with conjuring speaking stones ?”
“Yes sir,” admitted Vushi.
“Very well. Do so. Then go tell the Magi of my plan. And you,” he eyed Coriander, “the faster you leave the faster you will be safe. Go.”
“Yes, sir.” Coriander mumbled some terribly unkind words as he left to saddle the horse.
He saddled his horse, trying not to take his anger out on the beast, but when the horse snapped at him, he realized he was being a bit rough, “Sorry, girl.” He ran a hand over her flank, “I’m just mad. We might be going on a suicide mission. But you and I are the fastest of the group. If anyone can make it we can. Tell you what? I’ll make sure you live if you make sure I do? Agreed?” The horse responded by nuzzling her nose in his face. It tickled and Coriander laughed.
“Be true to your word,” Vushi smiled, “I love that horse!”
Coriander did not laugh back, “ you are such a butt kisser !” He made a high pitched mockery of Vushi’s voice, “Oh yes, Kyro-Magis! Whatever you say, Kyro-Magis! What a wonderful plan to have my friend killed, Kyro-Magis!!!!!”
Vushi punched him. “You are the fastest, Coriander. If I thought you were in real danger I wouldn’t have suggested it! And besides, I need a favor only you can do…” Vushi got quiet.
“What is it?” Coriander whispered back, forgetting to be mad at her.
Vushi reached into her bag and handed him the small doll. She had cleaned off the blood but somehow it was even more disturbing. More real. Her eyes wetted slightly, “I can’t burn it with her….it seems her last wish was to protect her doll. I want you to give it to some little girl in Madraceas. I know it’s stupid….but I need this doll to be loved…..” Vushi gasped and took a step away.
Coriander never understood why people were ashamed to cry. He did it all the time, but it looked wrong on Vushi. Her eyes were supposed to be exotic and strong, not wet. He gave her a small hug, “It’s not stupid at all. I will find her a home.” He hid the doll in his belt to let Vushi know it was protected.
“Thanks for not making fun of me,” Vushi half-laughed.
“Oh I am TOTALLY going to make fun of you!” laughed Coriander, knowing he would never do it. Vushi laughed back in the same understanding.
Vushi brushed her tears away and strapped a bundle to the horse, “In the bag is some food and your stone. Use it if you need me, not for fun. It won’t last long. You have your orders. Find the magistrate and seek shelter at the temple. Do not fight. They have Magi enough.” Coriander was well aware of procedure but tried to be understanding. She wasn’t trying to be maternal, just thorough and concerned. He mounted the horse. “Please obey your orders, Coriander. You must return tomorrow. Safely. Don’t you dare die on me.”
“See you at nightfall tomorrow!” Coriander waved as he raced away chasing the sunset.
I call you Guardians of the six: each way and All.
Sunrise to Set, North to South, Above and Below
Guide his step and grant his safety wherever he goes
May the eyes of She be ever so gentle ever kind ever protect her loves
From this first step to its very end
Bless the walkings of Coriander my friend
Vushi made up a small prayer protecting her friend and blessing his path. She wasn’t terribly concerned. He would be all right. She was more worried about herself and the possible return of whatever did this horrible act. Was it a single act? Had it happened before? Why? There were too many questions and no answers. She had the feeling she would have more questions and more blood before she had any answers.
She was right.
Coriander rode hard. His horse, whose name he forgot to ask so instead chose Blue-burst for the deep blue in her black coat, was drenched in sweet sweat. The Sun was two fingers off . He had time. Did he dare stop? He could hear water to his right. A small stream. He could smell it too. He and Blue-burst needed to drink and rest, but the sight of the bloody family haunted him on. Did Blue-burst have the same sight? Is that why she ran so obligingly? Coriander called upon Air to aid his sight, an old farming trick. He slowed his breathing and saw farther than he would normally be able to. There! In the distance, he could now see a building or perhaps a wall.
Yes, it was Madraceas. It had to be. It seemed smaller than he would have thought. It was only small village. Coriander was relieved. A city or even large town would have meant lots of people asking lots of questions before he could get to the person in charge. Everyone in cities needed to feel important. He would have most likely spent the entire night trying to find out who to speak to, let alone warn anyone! In a small village, like where he was from, the town center would be obvious. He could probably walk right up to the magistrate with a friendly handshake and get to business. Then he could rest. Ahhh, rest.
With the realization his task would be much simpler than he previously thought, he decided to risk a short drink-break. He pulled Blue-burst right and slowed her down. She seemed concerned at this sudden change of events. Coriander calmed her, “It’s all right, girl. A quick drink and a stretch of legs and we’ll be back on course. Trust me.” Blue-burst snorted. Coriander laughed, “Everyone’s a critic !”
The stream was larger than he thought. That was a nice surprise. Coriander jumped off and stretched his aching legs and butt. The stream was cool and gentle, but the bank was steep. He didn’t want Blue-burst to work any harder on such a steep slope. “Wait here…” he took a bowl off his bundle and went to the stream. It was freezing. Coriander made four trips from the stream to Blue-burst before she was done. He knew she was done because after the fourth trip she bit the bowl and tossed it away. “You bossy mare!” laughed Coriander as he got out his food to share with her. She snubbed it at first. Did she want to get on with the mission? What kind of animal doesn’t want food after a ride like that? She finally gave in and ate greedily. Nervously.
Coriander didn’t notice. He set down the last of the food and, stripping off his clothes, jumped into the freezing water. Every ache and pain immediately went away. He jumped up and caught his breath, laughing. He loved to swim and especially in freezing mountain water. His mother told him he was part tuna . He swam and splashed imaginary enemies. Coriander was taken out of his frolicking by Blue-burst’s whinny. He laughed at her, “You old stick in the mud! We have plenty of time to get to…,” and that’s when he felt the sensation that he was not alone.
Vushi placed the last of the mended curtains over the remains. The Sun was one finger off. She would be glad to get this done. One of the Magi sprinkled oil on them. Vushi wished he had done so with a bit more attention and respect. Then the eight stood in a circle with Teacher Onion at due West, the lowering Sun behind him. He spoke the prayers with formality. Rituals, she had been told, help ease the strain of mourning by giving the mourner something concrete to do. She bowed her head and listened. The two boys’ heads were down and the four Magi seemed uncomfortable. Teacher Onion rushed the next section of the prayer and lifted the torch high to the Sun, “As the Sun ends the day…so we…”
“WAIT!” Vushi yelled. This was all wrong. This was a military send off. These were commoners. A family. They shouldn’t go off anonymously and without kindness or peace…
“Yes?” Teacher Onion asked.
Vushi left her place in the formal circle and approached the bodies. She knelt and placed her hands on the oily sheets. “I am sorry this is how you died. It’s horrible. But you are not alone. You are together. You are a family still. Remember that. Remember how you laughed and annoyed each other. Remember how you loved to watch sunsets. Do not remember this demise. I take that burden from you. This painful end will not erase the love you have together. I release you! You are not alone. Go now to the Breast of the Goddess. Like a drop of rain returning to the Ocean, but you shall travel together. You are never alone. Be at peace…..”
The air around them quivered as if the walls that separate the living from the dead were opening at her words. The Magi’s jaws dropped in awe. Teacher Onion smiled. One of two boys fell to his knees in supplication to the Gods of Death . The Magi followed with bent knee. Vushi nodded to Teacher Onion but he did not drop the torch; instead, he walked over and handed it to her, “It’s your spell now, you must finish it girl.”
Vushi understood. She stood and spoke a loud, “As I burn your remains, I burn the memory of your demise! I will take that burden. GO! Be at peace, I TELL YOU THRICE!” and she dropped the torch and the pyre lit up instantly. The pale boy, who still stood, started singing. It was a beautiful song about trees and winds and beautiful things that have no ending. He had a glorious voice. He wept as he sang. Vushi felt the spell upon her. Death came, true Death, not cruel murder or tricking demise, but Death as the glorious companion of Life. It came with Love. Vushi threw herself to the ground, obeying laws that could never be broken. She welcomed It. The pale-boy stood alone, voice on the newly risen wind. The Sun took the family to the other side. Death was kind tonight.
Coriander slowly, well, quickly but trying to look like he was nonchalantly moving slowly, came out of the stream. He crossed nervously to Blue-burst, “I think we’re not alone…”
Blue-burst all but said “duh.” Coriander ignored the smug mare and got dressed. He placed his hand on the sword bundled at Blue-burst’s side. She pulled away. She was telling him to run. Coriander was no coward but had he only listened to her before he would not now be surrounded. And surrounded he was. He could feel it. He heard sticks crack. Someone whispered. There were too many. He had to run. But how? He could magick Blue-burst to run faster…but would it be fast enough? Did he have time for such a complicated spell? Could he place a barrier between them against this foe? How long would it hold? What if this was the monster who shredded the family? Would he last against that cruelty?
He decided hiding was an excellent idea. He took a deep breath and tried to remember a spell he wasn’t very good at. A simple illusion spell that would make him disappear, well, seem to disappear. It would have to be good enough. He called upon Air to mask him and horse, Earth to silence his steps, and added in Water and Fire just for good measure. He let the spell go. Suddenly he couldn’t see Blue-burst. Oops. He now had to reach out and try to feel where she was. On the upside, it meant his spell worked. Next time he would wait till he mounted…..
Blue-burst nudged him, annoyed again. How was this horse so grumpy with him? He climbed upon her, which being invisible made harder than he thought it’d be. Considering he couldn’t see her, he was grateful he was facing the correct way. Blue-burst started out from the bank. As Coriander turned around, he could just see a man, a very large man, who looked like he hadn’t bathed in weeks. Coriander nudged the nag on, secretly smiling as he heard the man bellow, “Where’d he go?”
Coriander didn’t bother to wait around. He was grateful it wasn’t a monster.
A bandit or two he could handle. Maybe. He thought it would be best if he didn’t find out just now. He left the stream and returned to the main road. His invisibility would not last much longer. The Sun was touching the horizon. The horse slowly walked. He urged Blue-burst on, “I know. I know you told me so. You were right, I was wrong. OK? Now can we not die to prove your point?” The horse whinnied and ran like wind on a mission.
There was a hint of light still in the orange sky as they reached the thick walls that surrounded Madraceas. The town had thought themselves fortified. Coriander continued around to one of the gates. It was open. Oddly open and oddly quiet. Towns were never supposed to be this quiet. Not a single sound could be heard. Coriander’s heart and Blue-burst’s breathing seemed to be ridiculously loud in comparison. Blue-burst bucked and would go no further. She would not enter the open gates.
Coriander gave up trying to coax the mare forward. He gently tied her to a tree and continued alone. He gulped and fought off his need to vomit. The smell was intense and disgusting. Rotten meat filled his nose as he entered to village. As he crossed the protective walls, he saw the source. Bodies were everywhere. Decaying, dismembered, defiled, dead bodies littered every surface. Someone or something had slaughtered every living thing in Madraceas.
Night fell. The darkness enveloped Coriander. He stood terrified and clueless. He had no idea what to do. He aimlessly wandered into the macabre landscape. Looking for some sign or some…anything, other than blood and gore. Darkness brought less violence to his eyes but increased the horror. Coriander was alone in a nightmare.
Death in the Night
“Dead?” asked Vushi for the sixth time.
“YES DEAD!!!! They’re all DEAD!” Coriander screamed into the stupid stone for the seventh time, “and by the way your speaking stone eats goat turds!”
“I heard that!” snapped Vushi.
“That you can hear, not the fact that every single thing in Madraceas has been slaughtered?” Coriander hoped she could sense his eye roll. He was frustrated. The village smelled horrible. Luckily, the Moon had risen so it wasn’t completely dark anymore, but of course on the downside now he could see the carnage that much clearer.
“Where are you now?” Vushi asked, coming in more clearly.
“In Madraceas!!!!!!!” Coriander yelled again.
“I know, stupid boy, but didn’t you leave?” Vushi was trying to not hit him with a magickal punch in the arm.
“No.” Coriander stopped yelling. “Nothing is alive here. Whatever happened, happened a while ago. It’s over. The bodies are rotting. Thanks for the mission,” he added sarcastically. “And besides, I think I saw some bandits or scared villagers maybe, back a ways. I think it’s safer to stay in this disgusting place. Trust me, no one wants to come here.”
“Villagers? Or Bandits?” Vushi’s mind whirled, “Maybe they needed help?”
“If by help you mean steal my horse, then yes.” Coriander half-laughed. “What do you want me to do now?”
“WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO NOW?”
“Sleep?” Sometimes Vushi thought Coriander acted stupid just to try her patience.
“I meant in the morning!” Sometimes Coriander thought Vushi acted stupid just to try his patience.
“You should return. I think it might be dangerous to head further West alone,” she decided.
Coriander was grateful, “Excellent idea. Blue-burst and I will leave at first light and be back in the afternoon.”
“You made a blue burst? What happened?” Vushi wondered what new magick Coriander had tapped into.
“No I named the horse…never mind…” Coriander was done screaming at a rock. He just wanted to sleep.
“Again?” Vushi yelled.
“NEVER MIND. I AM GOING TO SLEEP!” Coriander said with finality.
“OK, BE SAFE!” Vushi closed the connection.
Vushi went back to the fire pit where the others were eating. No one wanted to eat in the kitchen, even after it had been cleaned. “Bad news.”
“What?” Teacher Onion arched an eyebrow.
“Coriander reports…” Vushi knew the news would be taken with military professionalism, “Madraceas has been hit. The monster killed every single villager. Women, children, everyone.” No one moved or said anything. They all looked at her, mouths frozen in time. “Coriander found no trace of any animals. He is going to sleep there…” She silenced one of the Magi with her hand, “He’s very sure whatever occurred was a while ago…the corpses are rotting. He will stay the night, check for clues at first light and come back.” She realized she had forgotten to tell Coriander to look for clues, but on second thought she knew he would anyway. Everyone wanted to know what did this.
Teacher Onion broke the silence, “if it is the same beast and Madraceas was…at least a few days ago, whatever it was headed East. It either took it a while to walk the distance or it went somewhere else in between….”
“If it is the same thing…” quietly added one of the boys.
“Let’s pray that there is only one horrible thing to worry about,” begged Vushi.
“She’s right,” added a Mage, “not a lot of things kill this….well, like this, for no purpose. Just death. We should assume it is the same monster.”
“Should we assume to that it is headed East? To the other farms? To Krokos?” Vushi tried to hide the fear in her eyes.
“We must assume the worst. Our city can defend itself. I have told First Teacher, who has spoken with the Magistrate.” Teacher Onion sounded confident. “We will warn the neighboring farms at first light. We do not know what we are up against. We will use caution.”
Vushi knew Teacher Onion was talking to her. She wanted to go right now and make sure people were safe. But again she also knew that although her spirit might be well placed, in actuality, leaving now would be a terrible idea. Where would they go? In which direction? In order to warn everyone, they’d have to split up and that would be insane with an unknown foe lurking somewhere in the darkness. She wandered away from the fire and paced.
No. They would have to wait till morning and then try and warn as many residents as possible. Vushi had never wanted to kill anything as much as she wanted to kill this thing. It almost bothered her. Almost.
“Are you okay, girl?” said a Mage behind her.
“You should get some sleep…”
“Can YOU Sleep?” she snapped.
“I can do a simple spell to let you catch a few hours. I did it on my little girl…”
“I AM NOT A LITTLE GIRL!” Vushi turned violently.
The Mage stepped back, hands out, placating her, “I meant no offense…”
Vushi realized with regret that this man was simply trying to be kind to her. He had followed a young, obviously upset apprentice, who might irrationally do something stupid, like go and take on a monster alone, and was trying to comfort her. He had a nice face. He was definitely someone’s Father. You could tell from the smile at his wrinkles. She lowered her head, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s good to be mad and scared and confused and every other emotion in your heart and head. It means this is hard for you and it should be. It’s hard for all of us. You’re the only apprentice who hasn’t fell to the ground weeping.” He laughed.
“You missed it then…” Vushi smiled.
“Good.” He placed a kind hand on her shoulder. “May you never forget to cry. I try every day. Now let’s return to the warmth and peace of the fire? We drew lots. You have second shift. Sorry .”
“I don’t think I’ll be sleeping and no I don’t need a spell. Thanks.” Vushi said warmly and returned to the fire. She wondered if Coriander had built a fire or not? A small one should be safe enough. But maybe he was scared. He probably was. She held her now useless speaking stone in front of her. She was going to throw it away but thought maybe it had some small connection left? Maybe she could send some strength to Coriander or maybe a bit of comfort and love. She lay down by the fire and held the rock in her arms under her head. She whispered a prayer and hoped Coriander was at least comfortable.
He sat back against a wall, freezing, gagging from the smell and unable to sleep. He was perfectly able to start a fire and get warm, but he couldn’t make a fire for fear of alerting bandits or whatever else would be out here. He thought maybe he should grab Blue-burst and head back, bandits or not. There was no way he was sleeping in “Rotting-meat Land!” He had tried to find a house, but even the empty ones were filled with memory. The pain was acutely physical to Coriander. And again, he hated how magick made you more susceptible to horrible things. Certainly controlling elements was awesome and spells were really fun, but the pay-off was sometimes too much. The horrors that had occurred in Madraceas would make anyone shudder, but a Mage could actually feel the emotional residue. He wondered if maybe he could block out the senses around him. Make himself deaf to it? Would that be a good idea? What if something bad did come? Would he know in time?
This was just about the most horrible place Coriander had ever been. So much death. Too much pain. It was agonizing. ‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘if I can feel so much horror with magick, maybe I can find a place less horrible with it?’ It made a certain amount of sense. Instead of seeking out a magick hot-spot, he would find the exact opposite. Neat.
He pushed himself away from the wall and sat on the ground. He drew a circle around himself and called up Power. Not a lot. Just enough to sense his surroundings. It tingled his toes. He took a breath and suddenly he could feel the entire town. All the decay and horror, and after-shock images of screaming deaths whirled around him. He tried to ignore the un-ignorable. He went deeper into the Earth. There below the surface was calmer. He reached out farther. He sensed Blue-burst by the tree. She was annoyed. Coriander smiled.
Then he felt something else. Another life. Someone was alive in this town. Amongst all this death was the clear aura of life. It wasn’t far away. It was small. Afraid. Hiding. That was it. It was hiding. Not in a sneak attack kind of hiding, more terrified of being found hiding. Coriander stood, grabbed his supply bag and slowly walked to the energy. It took him a while. He couldn’t walk through walls like his Power could. He tripped a few times. He had to backtrack twice. Coriander thought someone should perfect this spell so he could see with his eyes as well as with his mind’s eye.
Eventually he found the house. There in the back of it was a small trap door fitted to the bottom of a wall. He wouldn’t have noticed it if he couldn’t see a shining aura behind it. It was a small space in the wall, probably used to store extra water or salted food, maybe valuables. Coriander turned off his spell and whispered at the wall.
“I know you are in there,” he said as gently as he could. “My name is Coriander and I am here to help you.” Nothing happened. He knocked on the false door. “Hello?”
Coriander waited another minute. Maybe whoever was in there was dying? Maybe they couldn’t get out? He had had enough of death. If he could save a life this mission would not have been in vain. He took his small knife and wedged it at the seams. The piece of wood came free. Slowly, Coriander took the wood panel and set it aside, “Hello? I am here to help you. Can you hear me?” The opening was larger than he first thought. He couldn’t see into the space.
Coriander could now hear the scared breathing of the trapped person. “On Hera I swear I am not here to harm you…” He put away the knife and reached into the dark. He felt a human arm. He grabbed it.
Then he felt a bite in his arm. He fell back, “OW…” Before he could swear, a small figure rushed out, knife in the moonlight, and came down swinging for Coriander’s face.
Surrounded by Scavengers
Coriander instinctively rolled to his right. Tucking his right arm under, he blocked the knife with his left hand and continued to roll, coming up with his right elbow in the face of the assailant. “AHHH!” screamed a youthful voice as the attacker fell off, covering his temple. Coriander hadn’t meant to swing that hard, but he had been taught to never show restraint in combat. So he didn’t. Now he hoped he hadn’t killed or brain damaged the small child crying on the dirt.
“Sorry,” Coriander couldn’t believe he was apologizing, “it was just a reaction. You shouldn’t jump out at people!”
“Leave me alone!” screamed the boy as he scrambled away.
“HEY!” Coriander shouted back, “I said I wasn’t going to hurt you, stupid!”
“Get away from ME!” hissed the boy as he sprinted off. Coriander didn’t feel like running, so he did a spell he never normally would have. He used a tripping-spell the bullies at school used. He called upon Air and blocked it just below the child’s foot. As he tumbled, Coriander used more Air to cushion his fall. That second step seemed to be lost on Sa’, one of the Magoge’s bullies who loved to trip Coriander.
The boy landed wide-eyed. His jaw dropped and he stared in shock at Coriander, “You…you’re a Magi….” Coriander was used to the celebrity status of being a magick user. Back home he could scarcely get through town without someone wanting him to show off. He knew the boy would now trust and revere him. All would be well. To his dismay, the boy’s shock turned to terror as he frantically gasped, “Leave! Go! NOW! Get away from me!!!!!!!”
Not the reaction Coriander had been going for, Coriander decided to use scare tactics instead, “If you run one more step I shall portal you to the demons!” Which was a lie. Coriander could no more portal a spoon let alone know where demons lived or how to find them. But the lie worked. The boy stopped running and fell to the ground. He inched backward until he was against the wall of the small house. The area was filled with these tiny homes. It was probably a quaint area to live when not littered with dead bodies. The boy seemed to know this home. He leaned against it for security. His skin was dirty, but Coriander could see his white eyes scanning around, imagining a hundred escape routes. Why was he trying to escape?
“My name is Coriander. Can you tell me your name?” The child said nothing. “Want to see me do magick? I can make a fire for us…’
“NO!” the boy shrieked, “they’ll see it! If they see magick you’ll be gone too! Please leave me alone!”
“I can’t do that,” Coriander tried to not sound exasperated. Who was this boy so afraid of? Who would kill him for magick? He needed answers. He needed them now. He had to decide if he should be kind or cruel. He knew he could get the boy to respect him out of fear, but he was so afraid that Coriander couldn’t add more pain. “Okay, no fires. No magick. This is your town. You seem to know the rules. I’ll do what ever you say. Ok?”
The boy nodded.
“Can I sit down with you?”
The boy nodded.
“Can you tell me who you are hiding from?” Coriander spoke simply. “Who did this to your village? What in Hera’s name is going on?”
“Do not speak Her name,” the boy shook his head. “Hera has forsaken us!”
Now that was something children just didn’t say. Coriander wanted to say a lot of comforting things about the kindness and goodness of She, but thought better to get answers for the problems at hand and deal with this child’s crisis of faith later. “Ok new rule: no mention of She. I understand. Any other rules I should know?”
“Keep quiet. Stay inside. Hide.” The boy’s mind raced, “And if they come by, hold your breath…..”
“Who is ‘they’?” Coriander asked as non-confrontationally as he could.
The boy whispered, “The bad people from up there,” he pointed at a mountain far off. “My Father calls them Scavs.”
“SCAVENGERS!” Coriander yelled forgetting the rule to keep quiet. “Scavs are here!!!”
“Yes!” The boy’s eyes darted. “Please be quiet!”
Scavengers were a cruel people. They lived lawless lives, without codes, honor, nor order. They stayed to remote areas. Mountainsides, caves, or any other inhospitable place were their homes. As the name implies, they feasted upon the dead or dying. If a band of bandits killed a transport party, the bandits took the good stuff. The Scavengers took everything else. Everything else. They ate the flesh of the dead. Even the bones could be used as weapons or sold to necromancers. They also sold children into slavery and attacked lone pilgrims on holy days. But they only preyed on the weak or helpless. They were cowards who didn’t believe in a frontal assault.
Coriander lowered his volume, “Scavs did this? I’ve never heard of them doing something…..”
“No,” said the boy, “they came after.”
Coriander gulped, here it was, “….after what?”
The boy’s lips trembled. “After the soldier. He came and killed and killed. Every night for three nights he came. Everyone died. Even the Magi. They all died. Then he left. Some folks ran out of town but were captured by the Scavs. Some of us hid. A boy-mage was with us. He hid us good, but they found him and took him. They come back every night taking more away. They’ll be here soon. So you gotta go or they will take you too. I can hide you but you have to be quiet…”
Coriander was trying to act composed and professional, but there was just too much information to process. The only fact he seemed to focus on was that an apprentice was taken. It wasn’t gnawing at him because it’d be so difficult. Coriander was one of the best at Magoge and he couldn’t take on three or four Scavengers, let alone a pack of them. If this missing apprentice was younger or less experienced, he would easily be brought down. But what he couldn’t stomach was the realization that the boy had been taken. Not killed. No. Scavengers wouldn’t kill him. They’d bind his arms and close his mouth and sell him. Magick slaves were rare and expensive. Warlords, cruel kings, and The Wicked would want that kind of toy. Coriander shook the thought of his mouth being sewed shut out of his head. He had to focus.
“Tell me about this soldier?” Coriander asked the boy, trying to prioritize this horrible situation.
“We have to go!” The boy started to stand.
“You’re right again,” Coriander corrected, “we have to leave. Let’s go.”
“No, you go!” The boy ground his arms to his sides.
“How much longer do you think you can hide? I’m not leaving you here….” Being bossy wasn’t going to work. Coriander got a better idea. He took the doll out of his belt. The boy’s eyes grew wide.
“What’s that?” he whispered.
“It’s my mission.” Coriander wasn’t lying. “I am under strict orders to find this doll a home. Seriously. Commander Vushi will have my hide if I fail. I was supposed to give it to someone here to protect it. But you’re the only one here. I can’t let the Scavengers take it. Will you come and help me find her a home?”
“I’m not supped to play with dolls,” the boy said sheepishly, which looked really out of sorts with his matted hair and filthy skin.
Coriander tried hard not to laugh at the silly rules adults seemed to have. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Who are you going to tell? They’re all dead.” The boy shrugged his shoulders and reached out a hand. Coriander’s heart broke at the simple truth. Everyone this boy knew was dead.
He held the doll out, “What’s your name?”
“Well, Rho,” Coriander placed the doll in the boy’s hands, “here is your sacred trust: do you promise to help me, Apprentice Mage Coriander from the Magoge of Krokos, find a safe place outside this city for this doll?”
“On graves on stones” said the boy as he bit his thumb . Coriander smiled as Rho took the doll into his own belt.
“Excellent. Can you ride?”
“Of course,” said Rho.
“My horse is outside the East entrance. We’ll return to….,” Coriander suddenly realized if the Scavengers had swooped into this town, they may have followed the soldier or whatever it was to the farmhouse. Which means they’d be attacking Vushi and the others tonight. Would Scavengers dare to attack Magi? “We have to wait one more moment. I have to try something.”
Rho seemed annoyed at the stall but nodded patiently. Coriander took out his used speaking stone. He took a slow breath. He channeled as much energy as he could into the stone. He almost begged it to work. “VUSHI!” He barked. “VUSHI!”
Miles away, Vushi jumped up from the fire. She had just finally gone to sleep. She was dreaming of the shore and picking shells with Coriander. It was nice. She needed nice after the day she had. She looked around the area. No one else was awake. The two on guard would be out of the firelight…but what had woken her? “VUSHI!” said a voice a third time.
She looked down at her speaking stone. It should not still be working. “Coriander?” She yelled into the rock.
“Vushi! Finally! Listen…” Coriander spoke in pieces.
“How did you get the stone to work?” Vushi said, bleary eyed.
“QUIET!” snapped Coriander. “Vushi! Scavengers! Scavengers are here and I think they’re following the trail and will be at the farmhouse!”
“Who’s trail?” Vushi jumped up and grabbed a staff.
Coriander said, “I’m not sure yet. But you have to be prepared. I’m leaving now and will magick Blue-burst if I have to. We will be there by dawn!” But Vushi didn’t hear any of that because the stone finally gave out. It was just a rock again. Coriander shook it trying to get the magick to flow. He yelled, “We’re coming as fast as we can!”
Vushi hadn’t heard him but others did. “Where exactly do you think you’d be going boy!” Yelled a fat man with no teeth. “We got him!”
Coriander was surrounded.
Vushi threw the now useless stone on the ground. “TO ARMS TO ARMS!” she yelled. “Scavengers! TO ARMS!!!!” The sleeping figures jumped up from their beds and grabbed weapons as they had been trained and drilled to do.
Even Teacher Onion grabbed a sword and was kicking out the fire light all while saying a defensive spell. Vushi had never imagined Teacher Onion could be fierce; he was.
The pale boy and Mage came in from their posts, “What’s happening?”
Vushi scanned the horizon, “Coriander spoke to me in the stone. Whatever is doing this is being followed by a pack of Scavs.”
One of the Magi snorted, “Scavs never take on people who can hurt them. They are worse than animals.”
“She said following the monster, you fool!” snapped Teacher Onion. “Formation defensive. Let us be smart. Even a simple barrier should stop them. But should they dare to show, let us make us spectacle to scare off the cur. Then…”
“Ummm, Kyro-Magis?” Vushi whispered, “We’re surrounded.”
And they were.
How to Kill a Mage
“Leave us alone!” Coriander yelled in his bravest voice.
“US? Huh?” barked back the toothless man, “he’s got friends here! Find them!” Coriander cast a quick glance back. Rho was gone. Smart child. Coriander had a fleeting thought that he should listen to animals and children more often. Three of the nine ran off in different directions to look for his “friends.” Intentional or not, at least he had reduced the number of enemies. That inflated his courage, “What do you want?”
The toothless man smiled, which was disgusting. His black gums dripped with saliva, “You, mage-boy!”
“Me?” gulped Coriander, very un-bravely. “How dare you attack a Mage on sacred duty?!”
“Oh, we dare,” gummed the fat man. “We dare a lot!” He laughed and a chorus of gruff laughter urged him on. Coriander pulled Power from the Earth and Air and created barrier around him. Toothless approached and hit it. The barrier shook but held. “Nice pretty shield. It won’t last long!” He banged again.
Coriander caught the eye of another Scavenger with a scar down her face. He pleaded, “Why do you want me? I wont come easily!”
The scarred woman laughed, “Got no choice, boy-mage. We have to replace the one we lost.”
Lost. Phew. Coriander was relieved. The other apprentice had gotten away. Coriander would too. He just had to figure out how…..He had to scare them, “I know more magick than he did. I will escape you too!”
“Escape?” laughed to toothless man, “How could he escape? He couldn’t escape, you suckled on Tuchulcha teat?”
Coriander shuddered. His mind raced. Could he take on six Scavs? Could he do it without using magick to kill? What had happened to his brother apprentice? Would it befall him?
The woman laughed, “…We might get more than three boxes of gold for this one! He’ll more than replace the first…”
Coriander didn’t understand. His confusion caused his shield to falter. One of the Scavengers seemed to sense it. He rushed in banging on Coriander’s barrier. Coriander let it go. The man fell against nothing and onto the ground. Coriander immediately brought the barrier up again, this time closer.
A hundred Scavengers surrounded the eight warriors. Teacher Onion called out, “Wheel.” They all followed orders. They went back to back creating a small circle and each put up a barrier spell. This was an old tactic. A barrier this large couldn’t be held by one person for that long. But having each member make a small barrier that lined up with his teammates’ shield could be held for hours.
The horde came in closer. Teacher Onion spoke in an oddly loud voice, “Leave at once!” In response, bows and rough knives were thrown at the barrier. “Leave, I say!”
A voice rang out from the Scavengers, “Give is a boy-mage and we’ll let the rest of you live!” Both boy apprentices gulped audibly.
“Stand strong,” barked a Mage, sensing their fear.
“We will do nothing of the sort!” laughed Teacher Onion. “You have crossed the line in threatening a child and chosen one! We do not wish to hurt you, but if you continue we will have no other course but to slay the lot of you!”
Vushi caught the eye of the pale boy. They didn’t make faces but both were wondering if Teacher Onion was serious. Would they take lives? Before an answer could come, Vushi saw movement. Someone had climbed the farmhouse. She used an old farm trick and increased her sight, not easy to do while holding a shield but she had no choice. The man held a bow and was aiming at the fatherly Mage who had been so kind to her. The Scav was hoping the barrier was wall-shaped and not a dome. The Scav was right; he could, from that angle, shoot any one of them. He pulled the arrow back. Without a word or hesitation, Vushi flung herself at the Father-Mage and, catching him off balance, dropped him to the ground. The arrow missed his head by inches and bedded into the ground. The Mage, seeing the arrow, turned and shot some sort of Air Power at the bowman, who fell to the ground, motionless. Apparently, they were killing people.
Vushi and the Mage had dropped their shields, and a few Scavengers had taken advantage of the lapse in armor. One on a horse sped in towards the pale boy. The boy dropped his shield and ran. The horsed man easily caught the boy by the scruff. He started back toward the horde with the pale boy screaming. Was he stealing him? What was happening?
Vushi started to run after the horse. She could not catch him but she didn’t need to. She silently sent her Voice to the beast, “Obey the Earth mighty stallion, not that cruel man who dares to hold your reins!” The horse responded by bucking and throwing the man and the boy, who landed on his arm with a loud crack.
Vushi never stopped running. Weapon in hand, she leapt up and brought her staff crashing down on the man’s skull. A slight part of her wanted to stop and register that she may have just killed a man. Most of her, the survivor and warrior parts, grabbed the man’s sword and held it out as she and the pale boy retreated. She couldn’t actually use both weapons at once, but it gave her courage and seemed to scare off the Scavengers who were approaching. She was too much a threat now.
“To ME!” shouted Teacher Onion. They ran to join the small huddle of six men. In the center was the Father-Mage. He held up his fist. The Air around them tightened. Vushi wondered if this was some sort of portaling spell. The Scavs attacked. The wall around them held. Vushi felt suffocated. The Mage’s hand trembled. His nose bled. He let out what sounded like a curse in a foreign language and slammed his fist into the Earth. The wall around them flew out. It exploded in every direction, throwing Scavengers, horses, and even the farmhouse into every direction.
Silence filled the open farm. The Father-Mage collapsed, shaking. Teacher Onion ripped the sword out of Vushi’s hand and looked at another Mage who, without a word, brought forth his arm. Teacher Onion sliced into his flesh. Then held two dripping wet swords in the air. Vushi had never seen blood magick.
Neither had the Scavengers. Those left witnessed whip-like flames being spun over the head of Teacher Onion. It attacked with a sentient understanding of foe. It struck at their faces and running backs. They all fled. Finally, the eight were alone. Teacher Onion fell to one knee, barking orders: “Make a perimeter square. Use Sigils of the Alliance. Now. YOU! Heal him!”
He looked at Vushi. Her eyes widened. She was not very good at healing spells. It wasn’t her forte at all. In fact, she was pretty sure she’d do more damage than good. Luckily, the pale boy came forward. He held his should-be broken arm with ease. He approached the man with the bleeding arm. The man gruffly responded, “Not me, stupid boy. Him!” He pointed at the collapsed Mage.
Vushi thought he might have asked nicer but quickly silenced her thoughts. A lot of intense magick was being thrown round. Vushi could just keep track of it all. She was careful to monitor her breathing and not get swept away. The three Magi and the boy whose name she didn’t know went out in opposite directions. She went to Teacher Onion and helped him stand. The pale boy went to the fallen Mage and oddly grabbed the sides of his head. He almost used his ears as handles. Then he placed his mouth against the man’s forehead and sang. Peace entered his face.
“Will they be back?” Vushi asked her teacher.
“Let us hope not.” He stood and placed a hand on her shoulder, “are you all right girl?”
“Yes,” Vushi lied, “I have never seen magick like that…”
“Nor should you have,” he took a ponderous breath. “You are skilled in Voice sending, it seems?” She nodded. “Send word to First Teacher. It is worse than I thought.”
“They…they were collecting apprentices?” Vushi whispered.
“It seems,” he responded.
“What about Coriander?” she gulped.
Teacher Onion said nothing. She wished he had lied and said Coriander was fine. If they were searching for apprentices, they would find Coriander. As brave and talented as he was, there is no way he could fight off a group of Scavengers. She had sent him to his death.
Coriander was not sure how much longer he could hold the barrier. The Scavengers attacked with passion and an endless need to take Coriander. He murmured some offensive spells. He wasn’t sure what he could do, but he wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
The three returned without Rho. Coriander was relieved. They started to talk amongst themselves. Mostly about what was still around to be scavenged and how this boy-mage had managed to hold them off. He heard them estimating how much they could sell him for. One large man laughed, “That is if we can keep Growl off of him?”
Growl, was that a name? Coriander needed to find out what was happening. Maybe he could bargain with them? His Father had some money….“Who is Growl?”
They looked startled, as if they had forgotten he could speak. The large man laughed again, “He’s the one that killed your boy-mage!”
“WHY?” Coriander barked.
“Didn’t mean to…” shrugged the large man.
“…had his way, got a bit too rough!” laughed a voice.
“Growl lost his woman to the Magi of Madraceas!”
“He be avenged now!”
“Beat him to nothin’!”
Another cackled, “Thought you was made of tougher stuff!”
“You will see how tough I am!” Coriander shot a look of disgust at the lot of them.
“Sure, now you be,” said the scarred woman, “but we knows how to handle Magi!” A chorus of voices cheered in. “Bang out heir teeth!” “Witch teeth have magick in them!” “Cut out heir tongues!” “Burn them out, is better!” “Nah, they like the fire! Cut out the tongue!” “No stupid, burn the mouth! Sew it shut!” “SEW IT SHUT!”
They didn’t stop the cheering and laughing. It grew louder as if they too were working some spell on him. “Then we breaks the bones!” “All of them!” “Nah, just the arms!” “The hands! Break the pinky first they say!” “Each finger! Each toe!” “Let ‘em lie there boneless!” “Teach them to magick us!” “Break his bones!” “Cut out his tongue!”
No. Coriander couldn’t understand the words he heard. Who could do that to anyone? He started to cry.
“AWWWW, the tears!” laughed the scarred woman. “Witch tears make a good poison!” “Got some off the last one!” “Let’s get him!” They banged in unison on his falling barriers. Coriander sunk one knee into the Earth.
“No,” he said. He was no longer afraid. He was not concerned with his future or fate but with that of his brother. How could that have happened to anyone? “No.” It was wrong. In every way, under every law, it was wrong. “No.” A child graced by the Goddess with Magick? “No.” Any child? “No.” To be so horribly abused, tortured, and then battered while defenseless. What must have been in that poor boy’s head? “No.”
Coriander dropped his shield spell. The laughing Scavengers ran at him. “No.” Wind swept in from every direction. The attackers fell back. “No.” The ground shook. The Earth angered. “No.” Storm clouds rushed in trying to obscure the witnessing Moon. Hail beat down on the Scavengers. They ran for shelter. “No.” Doors would not open. The Earth would not permit escape. They screamed and retreated. “No.” Fire lashed out from the sky. They burned. The wind fueled the fire and the walls took to flame. “No.” They would all die. Somewhere in the back of Coriander’s mind, he knew this magick was beyond him. It was if Nature Herself was using him. He knew it was wrong to take a life. He had no control over the spell. He wanted to stop himself and the Power he had unleashed. Part of him begged for it to stop. All he heard before he collapsed was the screaming of dying Scavengers, “No.”
Later, in the smoldering ruins, Coriander had some sense of someone picking his head up. He was rolled against something leather. He heard a snort. A boy pushed him. He was lifted in the air on the back of some animal of some kind. Another moment passed and he felt tied or bound, but not cruelly. A voice said, “I’ll bring you back. Let’s go Blue-burst. Run with the Grace of the Goddess or he might not make it.”
Coriander half opened his eyes as he bobbed up and down on the back of the running horse. The Moon had returned to reveal…nothing. Nothing was left of Madraceas. Smoke, water, ash, and rock was all that remained where a city once stood. Coriander saw the destruction and thought…No.
Torture and the Truth
Vushi had never seen anyone tortured before. She made a silent prayer she never would again. Yet, as she thought it, a second, more horrible thought occurred to her: some day she’d be doing the torturing. If her life went as planned she’d have a military career. Her magick was strong. She was smart and admired. Her appraisals at Magoge all agreed she was leadership material. That idea had always sat well with her. But now in an actual battle, or aftermath of one, she was beginning to grasp what would be expected from a military life. Planning, camping, awards, and celebrations seemed so fun and exciting. But now she was listening to the screams of a fallen foe, and it was soul-shattering.
She had left the last-standing room of the farmhouse, where the torture was taking place, to “get some air.” She had tried very hard to not look squeamish. She didn’t need anyone to think a man being cut up with swords would make her uneasy. No weakness! Was she weak? Or just sane? The other apprentices had left the room before her. She had made sure to stay noticeably longer than they. Now she wished she hadn’t. The Scavenger, the one who “luckily” lived after a fall from the top of the farmhouse, was not talking.
None of the Magi present were terribly skilled at Truthing and no one, not even Teacher Onion, had the ingredients to make the Truth Speak Serum. They needed information and badly. So it had come down to forcing him to talk the old fashioned way. Pain. At least they weren’t using magick to torture him. That hadn’t even been suggested. ‘There is hope for personkind,’ she thought. But then more screaming dashed that thought.
As she stood in the bright Sun looking at the remnants of the farmhouse scattered and scorched all around her, she had a new definition for destruction. Amongst the wood and stone she could see blood. Her magickal eye saw the exact spots where people she knew died. Would some one rebuild? Would people live here ever again? Would they if they knew? Would she?
So many things were happening that she didn’t understand. She had seen blood-magick the previous night, a Power she thought was made up to scare children. She had seen a Mage surge his very will against an army and destroy most of a building. Magick to Vushi was beautiful and bewildering. It was giddy and serene. She knew of its military purposes and vile possibilities, but none of that had really registered to her before last—life-changing—night. Now it seemed tainted. Would it ever be pure again? Even the simplest light-creating spell now seemed to carry darker secrets and intent. Would the world ever be beautiful again? And what of Coriander? She had sent her Voice to him but nothing came back. He was probably too far way and the speaking stone useless. Or he was dead. “Please no,” she whispered out loud. She shuddered despite the Sun cresting in the sky making her sweat.
She turned away from the other men in the yard and looked at the horizon in the direction Coriander should be coming from. “Please Mother,” she prayed, “carry him to me! Make safe his path and swift his foot and protect his stupid back. Please. I gave him an order, let him fulfill it!”
There on the horizon a shape appeared. It was a horse…but she saw no rider. Her heart sank and her jaw dropped. Her hands shook and her brain stirred so fast she couldn’t call up the easy Air spell to see farther. So she ran. Despite common sense and training, she ran towards the figure. Voices cried out behind her. They commanded she stop, to wait, to get help, to do things other than run. She ignored them.
As she got closer she could see the horse carried a rider. But it wasn’t Coriander, it was a child. She could also see a package of sorts on the back of the beast. What was it? She could almost make out the shape? Was it a person? Was it Coriander? Was he dead? Her feet made work of the rocky road and flew towards that body. The horse whinnied and picked up a trot, seeming to try and meet her half way even though the mare was visibly exhausted.
The child in the saddle was a boy. He said some words she didn’t pause to hear. Instead, she ran to the body and untied him. With a little Air magick, she slid his body to the ground. “CORIANDER!” She shouted. She could feel his heartbeat. He was alive. She held him to her breast and whispered a thousand thanks to the Goddess.
Coriander could hardly remember anything after the destruction of Madraceas. He had the slight comprehension that he was moving. Once a glimmer of understanding passed over him that he was on a horse, but that faded as soon as it was thought. The pain had overridden any sense of self or place. Agony and fatigue were all he knew.
But now there was a humming sensation. It filled his head and body. A beautiful song. He wanted to dance! Was he dancing? He seemed to be jumping and spinning! His eyes fluttered and with it came light. Light. He was alive. His heart was beating happily…and someone was kissing his forehead. That was odd. He lifted an arm and put a hand on the person’s face. He wasn’t sure if he was stopping the head-kiss, or just curious if t was really happening. The head pulled back and he saw a pale-faced boy smiling down at him. Coriander placed a hand on the boy’s cheek and stared into his eyes. He was so beautiful. His eyes danced like faeries laughing. His lips shone red like rock kissed by the Earth. “You are so beautiful….” Coriander whispered.
The boy’s cheek flushed and he smiled as he said, “He’s awake.”
“What’s wrong with him?” some female voice responded.
“Sometimes…” the boy searched for words, “..sometimes they get a bit…drunk on the spell. It doesn’t last long.”
Was this what being drunk felt like? Coriander felt amazing! No wonder people drank! He had never been so happy! Coriander would happily be the next town drunk!
“Coriander, can you hear me?” said that female voice. Who was she? Why was she bothering him? Realization slowly dawned. It was a friend. What was her name? “Coriander! It’s me Vushi!” Ah right, Vushi was her name…she was his end-friend. They…went to Magoge….then the pretty happy world cracked. Coriander could sense the magick flowing through him. The spell had cured him. Right. Cured him from…that pain…that pain from…it all came back. Coriander’s eyes went from elated to horrified. He doubled over and began to cry.
Vushi tried to comfort him. She rubbed his back and said kind words. Coriander cried louder, “I killed them! I killed them with magick!”
If Vushi was surprised, she didn’t show it, “It’s all right. You are safe now…”
Coriander pushed her off of him and backed away, “Get off of me! I’m tainted! I’m horrible! I killed them with magick! They’ll come for me!”
“Who?” Vushi tried to not let her voice crack. Watching Coriander’s pain was harder than the torture. Maybe it was just more torture.
“They’ll come for me!” Coriander panicked, “I broke the law! They’ll chop off my hands and throw me down the rock hole ! Rip out my tongue. And they should, they should!” Coriander then realized they were at the farmhouse, which was only partially there, and he was with the pale boy and Vushi and no one else. His mind spun. “I disobeyed! I cursed all that is She! I spat into the gift…”
“Coriander,” Vushi knew comforting him was getting nowhere, “we have work to do. There are orders…”
“To kill me?”
“NO, stupid boy!” Vushi sighed, “Coriander, I know you. You would not kill for no reason. No one is after you or cutting off any of you. I know you are punishing yourself and that’s fine with me, but can you do it after we escape from being killed?”
The pale boy looked surprised at Vushi’s turn of character. A moment ago she had been crying and praying for Coriander’s safe return and now she was yelling at him. Coriander seemed less surprised, “Yes…yes give me an order then…”
Vushi understood. Coriander was lost in guilt. He needed something familiar to get him through it. So she ordered him, “Stand up, Mage. We need information immediately! Up I say! Do not make me say it thrice!”
Coriander’s head spun for one more moment then stopped. Orders. There were orders to be followed. That’s what every warrior needs. Orders. He grasped that now. He stood. He nodded. Everything else went away. Nothing else mattered. He stood.
Vushi continued to bark, “We must go into the house. Now!”
Coriander obeyed, “Let us go in then.” Vushi nodded.
The pale boy whispered, “You people are crazy!”
“Definitely,” Coriander tried to smile as he came back to himself, “and thank you for…the song or spell or…you know…and sorry about the beautiful remark…not that you’re ugly.. but…still..”
“You are welcome,” smiled the boy, “I will stay out here and…recover under the Sun if you don’t mind?” He had no desire to go back into the torture room and looked to Vushi for help.
Vushi wasn’t sure why he was asking her permission, but then again she was used to bossing people about, “That’s fine. Keep a look out.” He nodded.
“Where is Rho?” Coriander looked around, not able to remember how exactly he had gotten back.
“Safe,” Vushi said firmly, “and far out with the horses that remain.” She continued to the wreckage that used to be a farmhouse.
“What happened to the house?” Coriander asked, still trying to pull himself together.
“Magick.” Vushi explained, “Listen, we captured one of the Scavengers. We’ve been trying to get him to speak all morning. None of us are very good at Truthing so it’s been…well….” As if on cue, the man screamed again.
“That’s horrible.” Coriander wasn’t sure if he could stomach more violence.
“I know,” Vushi did not slow her pace, “but maybe you can shed some light on why they want what they want and then we can stop this cruelty.”
“What does he want?” Coriander had already guessed.
“They demanded one of you, as he calls you, mage-boys.” Vushi shook her head. Coriander put all the pieces together just as they entered what used to be a home.
Three Magi and Teacher Onion stood in front of a chair that held the bound and bleeding man. What ever had been happening had been going on for quite some time. The Magi looked as exhausted as the prisoner. Teacher Onion eyed Coriander, “All better?”
“No,” he answered matter-of-factly. “I know what they want.” All eyes turned to him. Coriander took a huge breath. He was still upset and wanted to run and hide and wash his filthy skin, but warriors were trained to think beyond themselves. So he did. “They did not do the massacre. In true Scavenger cowardliness, they took advantage after the slaughter. I do not know what killed the town or these farmers. But whatever did left little alive. A brother apprentice-mage somehow survived in Madraceas and was protecting a group of children. He was eventually caught by the Scavengers and sold for three boxes of gold. They…..they…”Coriander stumbled over the memory but had to go on, “they tortured him. They broke his bones and burnt his mouth. I believe they were to deliver the boy to a buyer but a Scavenger named Growl….beat him, took him, and accidentally killed him.”
The prisoner began to laugh, “Old Growl! Ha ha!”
Coriander’s spine clenched. He breathed. He could feel the hatred boiling again. He decided to use it. He would make himself hateful. He continued as if he hadn’t heard the Scavenger, “They broke the bargain and they need one of us to replace him.”
“That’s why they’d dare attack us,” gasped Teacher Onion, “they obviously fear this buyer more than they fear us.”
“And that’s why he won’t tell you anything,” Coriander pointed at the prisoner, “He only has to stall till nightfall then they’ll be back. They have to be back.”
“How do you know this?” asked a Mage. “How did you escape?” asked another.
“I killed them.” Coriander said without emotion or rather, boiling with emotion he now controlled.
“Coriander no!” whispered Vushi.
“I killed them with magick.” Coriander ignored the gasps around him and settled his eyes on the restrained Scavenger whose eyes had gone wide. “I burned them alive. One had black gums and smiled a lot. Another woman had a scar running down her face….she screamed very loudly, but not as loud as another one with a red beard….”
“I’LL KILL YOU, bastard teated scum! Magi Monsters!” screamed the man. A Mage moved forward but was stopped by Teacher Onion.
Coriander again behaved as if the man had said nothing, “And I’m going to kill you too. I will find your dwellings in the mountains and I’ll kill every last one of you to avenge my brother apprentice. You are no longer human in my eyes. I will kill you all. I will kill your leaders. I will kill your mothers. I will kill your children. I will make your people scream.”
Coriander created a ball of fire in his hands for dramatic effect, “Your only protection from magickal attack has been our unwillingness to not kill with it, except in extreme situations. I have decided this is extreme. You cannot stop me. The only chance you have is telling me what killed these people and the good people of Madraceas so I can fight it. If it killed the Magi there, it must be strong and perhaps it will kill me too. Then your people will not be exterminated.”
Silence filled the room.
The man was beat. You could see it on his face. Coriander didn’t smile.
The Scavenger spat, “He’ll kill all! He’ll slice you like the Goddess turds you are and you’ll do nothing to him. Can’t slice the air….can’t do yer stinking magick against him! Yes mage-scum, I will even tell you where he strikes next so you can die faster!”
“Who is it?” Vushi snapped.
“It doesn’t matter who he was before, mage-girl,” laughed the filthy man, “Now, he’s a ghost!”
Translator’s note about ghosts: We, the scientific community, tend to not believe in ghosts. We usually label them hysteria or imagination or flights of fancy. We have chosen to leave our common sense out of this story and let it play out like the characters in the story believe it would, should, and could. However, there seems to be a lot of discrepancy as to the nature and naming of souls. Even the people of this era seemed not to be able to label their dear departed with any efficacy. Perhaps that is because they believed different things happened to different people? Geographically, this is definitely true. Obviously religion and even class play a role in the confusion as well. There seem to be spirits, a word also used for demons and faerie or nature, which seems to be the person remaining on Earth; shades, which have only a vague memories of their former selves; haunts, which obviously haunt a specific place; wraiths, which seem to be spirits to whom something terrible has happened; and, well a thousand other names, much like in English, all of which seem to mean slightly different things to different people and, if that were not bad enough, are also frequently used interchangeably! However, do not fear. (Pun intended.) We have used the words ghost, spirit, and shade to mean all the same thing…whatever that “thing” is. We feel the specifics don’t take away from the story. Read on and decide if you believe in ghosts too. If you do, perhaps you could talk to some and get us a nice scientific way of delineating them? Who amongst us doesn’t like a nice, neat label? Enjoy.
Coriander’s simple illusion spell to make himself and Blue-burst disappear was difficult for him; he could not imagine how Teacher Onion was veiling nine Magi, a prisoner, and a team of horses. Granted, he could see sweat rolling off Onion’s chubby head but his lips continued to whisper and he never faltered in his saddle. Coriander had new respect for his most-hated teacher but was pretty sure once they returned to Magoge, their roles would return and they’d despise one another again. For now Coriander, on Blue-burst, led Teacher Onion’s horse out from the farmhouse and onto to the road going to the next farmhouse, which was the supposed target of this supposed ghost.
Earlier, Teacher Onion had laughed at the possibility of a ghost doing any such damage. He seemed relieved, “Well, a ghost trap is simple enough!”
Coriander didn’t appreciate his flippancy. “Well, it certainly wasn’t simple for the people of Madraceas,” he had said when they had been discussing plans.
“They were probably caught unaware,” sighed a Mage.
“Maybe they didn’t have time to summon a proper circle to bind it,” another added.
“We shall be there in plenty of time to draw a necessary circle and trap the spirit.” Teacher Onion’s face soured, “I am far more concerned with the Scavengers. I have never seen this kind of behavior. Attack Magi? Unheard of! Perhaps we should send the apprentices back to Magoge and handle this ourselves?”
A lot of back and forths went around the room. Everyone had an idea, well, everyone but Coriander. He just wanted someone to tell him what to do and do it. He was still worried about being punished for the disaster at Madraceas. It would be better than punishing himself. Vushi and he had some silent words about the tainting of magick. It was a hard day for both of them. Luckily, they found kindness and kinship in one another’s dilemma and that eased a bit of the pain. Sharing their fears seemed to make it easier.
It had been decided to stick together. All, including the Scav, would head to the farmhouse in question. The prisoner screamed and fought. He did not want to go to where the ghost was headed. Apparently, the Scavengers had been stalking this ghost for a few months. Those disgusting sub-humans would allow it to eviscerate a home or small town and then reap the rewards. It seems they had even figured out how to lead the ghost to the wealthiest homesteads. They really were the worst sort of creatures. Vushi spat repeatedly on the ground whenever they were mentioned. She spat a lot.
It was her idea to make themselves invisible. She argued that the Scavengers were already spread thin, some at Madraceas and some following the ghost. If the Scavengers thought the group was still at the farmhouse, some would stay there and attempt another raid at night. A more split up enemy would be easer to fight. Teacher Onion patted her on the back and took credit for the idea. It was Coriander’s turn to spit.
The mission was clear. Assuming the prisoner was telling the truth, and most believed he was, they had to get to the next farmhouse by nightfall. Set up a trap and wait for this ghost. Apparently, the ghost could only travel at night. Coriander knew of ghosts who could wander anywhere at anytime, but everyone else seemed to nod their heads at the idea that this ghost was bound to moonlight so Coriander went along with it, not wanting to look stupid.
He now led Teacher Onion’s horse behind two Magi. Rho was in back sharing a saddle with the pale-faced apprentice. He was not happy about it. Rho had clearly stated he wanted to be near Coriander. Always. Coriander was not at ease with the hero worship, but at least it got Rho to help out and come along. Rho had already cleaned Blue-burst’s saddle and had been cleaning Coriander’s robe as they exited the room of torture.
Coriander had asked, “Rho, what are you doing? You don’t have to clean my things.”
“I know,” he said shyly, “but they were very bloody and you should have clean things! I can sharpen a blade too!”
Coriander was now the shy one, “Umm, well, that’s nice, but we aren’t issued blades till we graduate. Umm….Don’t worry about the robe. I can wash it out or buy a new one…”
Vushi laughed, “Oh let him! The boy is smart and can pull his weight !”
“I will!” Rho beamed.
Coriander whispered, “Why are you encouraging him?”
“Because,” Vushi whispered back, “he thinks the Sun rises and sets with you. What harm can there be in a little adoration. You saved him after all…”
“And this has nothing to do with you liking to see me uncomfortable?” laughed Coriander.
“That is just an added bonus,” she laughed back. Their eyes turned to the small boy. Vushi lowered her voice, “He has no one, Coriander. No one in the world except you…”
“Except us,” Coriander squeezed her shoulder. “Hey Rho, wanna help me brush down Blue-burst?”
“About that!” Vushi turned, with her odd ability to switch moods, “her name is Penelope!”
“Not anymore,” laughed Rho.
“I KNOW!” snapped Vushi, “You changed the name of my horse! She only answers to Blue-burst now! What a stupid name! Stupid boys!”
“Not as stupid as Penelope,” laughed Coriander and Rho. Vushi stormed away, which made them laugh more.
After a while Teacher Onion decided it was safe to drop the veil and rest for a minute. He looked paler if that was possible. Coriander helped him off his horse and led him to the shade of a tree. The rest circled around the small cluster of trees and each gave water to their horses. Vushi un-gagged the prisoner and gave him water also. She seemed to do so with no fear. Coriander wondered if he should stand closer to her but then thought if Vushi saw him trying to protect her, she would shove those good intentions in an unpleasant place. So Coriander turned his attention back to Teacher Onion. After having a sip of water, Teacher Onion thanked Coriander, which seemed odd to both of them.
The prisoner drank the water and then mumbled something. Vushi’s spine straightened. He laughed and continued. The Magi looked at one another. It took them a moment to realize he wasn’t uttering some magickal language but rather speaking in Vushi’s native Indi tongue. From the look on his face, it was probably at least offensive and most likely lascivious.
“Quiet your tongue!” snapped the Father-Mage.
“Oh let him speak,” Vushi laughed and turned to the bound man, “I was born daughter to a slave. Little of what you say can shock me Scav. Please continue so as to remind me how disgusting you are and how I should never be so kind as to offer water to cur.”
This got a laugh from the other apprentices. Each returned to his business as water was shared and some food was unwrapped. Coriander wondered why everyone was being so nonchalant. Why were they dawdling? They should be riding like wind to the next farmhouse and preparing themselves. Why was no one taking this seriously?
‘Because they didn’t see Madraceas,’ Coriander thought, ‘They’d be much more worried if they had seen what I saw…what Rho lived through.’ He wondered if he should try again to explain the seriousness of the situation but every time he mentioned the savagery, they all just gave him a look that one gave a child. It was maddening.
A low laugh came from the prisoner, followed by more words in Vushi’s beautiful and foreign language. A CRACK was heard. All turned to see Vushi standing with her staff in her hand and the Scavenger slumped over on the horse. She smiled bitterly at the men. “It seems our prisoner is taking a nap and won’t be needing food or the use of his teeth.” One Mage snickered but the rest just looked at the young woman, terrified. Apparently there were still words that could shock Vushi. Coriander wondered what they might have been but didn’t dare ask.
Coriander looked around himself nervously. He scanned the horizons. He mumbled some protective spells to make sure they were on his lips. He checked his knife and staff a sixth time. Finally Teacher Onion reprimanded him, “Coriander be still! We have travelled all day and no one has ambushed us! You’re making the horses nervous with your fear!”
“I just think we’re moving a little slow. We shouldn’t stop.” Coriander did not want to look cowardly, “You didn’t see the power of this thing.”
“Enough of that,” Teacher Onion returned to the gruff, disbelieving foe Coriander knew so well, “We are prepared. We know the foe. You have your orders; follow them!”
“I shall,” Coriander bit his lip, “but shouldn’t we be there by now?”
Teacher Onion lifted a chubby finger and pointed at the horizon, “There, foolish boy. The house stands there and the sun still lingers.”
True enough; if he squinted, he could just make out a house past a small grove of trees. The Sun was a few fingers from the horizon but the Moon too was out. Coriander liked when the Moon came out during the day. It reminded him of old friends saying hello, but at this twilight, he couldn’t break the idea that maybe with the Moon came the ghost. He had been stiff-spined since She had risen.
With their goal in view, the team put their food away and returned to their horses. Finally, to Coriander’s relief, they were taking this seriously, or maybe they just wanted to stop for the night. As they cleared the trees, they came upon the tilled Earth of a field. The sight made Coriander happy and a tad homesick. These were people like where he was from. He knew them in a way city-folk never could. He was bound more than ever to protect them. As they approached the small home, the family gathered outside to welcome them. It was not often Magi ventured to farmlands, but when they did, they were greeted in a most serious manner.
The father bowed low and was followed by his wife and three daughters, “How may we of humble and meager means, greet such noble and mighty guests?”
Coriander wanted to roll his eyes but didn’t dare. Teacher Onion continued the spectacle, “No one is mightier than he who is so graced with the Goddess as you, noble farmer. May your fields ever be bountiful.”
Vushi noticed the fear on the faces of the girls. Nine warriors and a prisoner showing up on your land would make anyone wary. She smiled at the youngest girl, who was staring at her. The child didn’t smile back but rather looked more terrified. Vushi realized none of them had bathed in days. She could only imagine what they must look like to young eyes. Teacher Onion continued, “I fear we come not with celebration but rather with warning. If we may?”
The father was wide-eyed, but of course bowed to any and all requests of a Kyro-Magis. The family welcomed them into their humble home and offered them food, an actual meal, which was gladly taken. Then Teacher Onion started to explain what had brought them there.
If the house was poor on the outside, the inside was warmly decorated. A fire was bright in the corner. Tapestries hung everywhere. The windows were covered in curtains dyed red in the style of the Northern tribes. The house felt warm and sweet and well cared for. A large table was covered with fine brown cloth. On it they placed bread, cheese, fruits and wine. The Mother had taken pains to bring out her very best plates and goblets made out of some very heavy metal in a style Coriander recognized from across the Seas. Coriander couldn’t help but wonder why this woman cared what some dirty, messy, bad news-bearing Magi thought of her.
Coriander had expected the family to start running around frantically and beg for help, but they did not. All exchanged anxious looks, but apparently with the arrival of five Magi, they felt safe. Coriander did not. He quietly suggested to Teacher Onion that the family should flee and was laughed at, “Really, Coriander, we shall have to do something for that weak belly of yours. I suggest less chicken and more horse balls !” The apprentices snickered and Coriander knew he would be teased about that for the next thousand years. The family didn’t laugh, but Coriander could feel confusion in their stares. “A cowardly Mage?” they seemed to say. He ate and said nothing more.
The sun was setting. Coriander prayed he was over-thinking the problem. Perhaps a small trap would catch the ghost and then a quick banishing would solve all problems and they could be on their way. He didn’t really think that but rather tried to order his brain to think that way. After the meal everyone took to positions.
They waited, alert and ready. The family hid. The warriors stood. The very intense trap was set. Coriander had never seen so many wards and sigils in any single place or on any one spell. It reassured his confidence a bit. Night fell and nothing happened. Rho, who had been sent with the family, came out to Coriander’s side. Coriander shooed him away and back to the safety of the house. The third time he came out, Coriander let him stay.
The prisoner was bound in the house. He had woken since he taunted Vushi. When he realized where he was, he starting screaming, but a Mage had threatened him, probably with Vushi, and he became still. Eerily quiet. In fact, a silence thick with anticipation covered the entire home and fields.
Hours passed. Knees got weary. Eyes heavy. Teacher Onion was about to start rotating the shifts when the pale-faced apprentice cried out. “AHHHHHH!” he held his head and screamed. He fell and thrashed on the ground.
“What is it, boy?” Teacher Onion yelled as others grabbed his body.
“He comes!” the apprentice gritted behind clenched teeth. “He comes he…so angry so….so destruction! He comes to destroy! Help me!” The boy started shaking more violently.
“TO ARMS!” yelled Vushi! All turned and there at the edge of the field was standing a man. He moved forward, illuminated by the Moon as if he glowed. Even from so far away you could tell he was filthy. He was covered in dirt, blood, and Hera knows what else. On his feet were sandals the kind Coriander had only seen in arena events. He wore a red cloak. Coriander and Vushi, at the same time, wondered if it was red from blood or to hide the blood. On his head was a bruised helmet. He wore little else. He did not run but moved swift and firm of purpose. He had seen the house and the warriors around it. He was preparing to attack. He raised his sword. The Magi and apprentices formed a wall. Teacher Onion ordered Coriander and Rho to drag the still screaming boy into the house.
All they had to do was lead this warrior ghost into the trap. It seemed simple enough. The warrior moved faster with more purpose. Coriander saw him cross the field at an incredible speed as he closed the door to the house. Coriander heard a battle cry and them the sounds of people dying.
A Bloody Trap
Chaos exploded throughout the house. Coriander screamed at Rho to bolt the door as he carried and dragged the pale-faced boy into the kitchen. The prisoner started yelling, “Untie ME! Don’t leave me here to die! HELP ME! UNTIE ME!!!” Coriander ignored him and kicked over the kitchen table so he’d have space to lay out the screaming apprentice. Plates and bread and cups went flying everywhere. The crash was loud but was nothing compared to the screaming outside. “UNTIE ME!” continued the Scav.
Coriander had bigger problems: the boy was having a fit. His eyes rolled back and he screamed like knives were being scraped over his face. Outside, Coriander could hear screaming and yelling. He could make out swords clashing. Swords? Why were they using swords? Too much was happening to handle all at once, so Coriander broke it down to priorities.
He yelled over the chaos to, “Rho, go to the fire get me a still burning stick about wrist thick,” he looked at the prisoner, “and you shut up before I burn you alive like your friends!” Coriander hadn’t meant to say that. Why had he? Did it matter? What was he becoming under pressure? Rho returned and handed him the stick. Coriander jumped on top of the trashing boy, “Calm, be calm. Can you hear me?” He got no response. Coriander went into himself. Sacred circles were easy, but he’d never done one with such noise around him or so terrified. He took a breath, “Hera, help me…” he took the burnt stick and placed it at the ground just above the boy’s head. He poured his will into the circle and he drew on the ground, “Hera, bless this sacred circle…”
The prisoner interrupted, “To the darkness with your Hera and may maggots eat her…”
“SHUT HIM UP!” ordered Coriander as he turned his attention back to the circle that would, in theory, cut off the screaming boy from whatever psychic assault was torturing him.
Rho walked over to the Scav and kicked him in the head “Be still!”
The prisoner screamed at him, “I’ll kill you all! Untie me!”
Rho kicked him again, but this time the Scav was ready. He opened his mouth and chomped down on the young child’s ankle. Rho screamed.
Coriander turned to see blood trickling down the Scavenger’s chin. The boy under his legs bucked. Coriander was jostled but managed to keep the stick in contact with the floor. He couldn’t start the circle over. Rho screamed a series of obscenities Coriander had no idea how a child could know. He couldn’t really use magick when he was focusing on the circle and besides, if he threw Fire or Air he’d knock down Rho also. That might just give the Scav a new place to bite.
With one hand, Coriander held the stick down and with the other he reached for a metal goblet. Using all the force he had, some magickal, some anger, he threw the large goblet at the groin of the prisoner. He screamed from the impact and Rho’s leg was released. Coriander finished drawing the circle with a final flourish and, using his mind, willed it to barricade. The pale-faced boy fell silent. The prisoner was gasping for air. Rho was staring wide-eyed at his ankle. A simultaneous yell of a spell came from outside and then silence there too. Slowly, Coriander exited the circle without breaking it.
Chaos exploded over the field. Magickal barriers were put up to slow down the ghost. They didn’t do anything. The red-cloaked warrior screamed an ancient sounding cry and went through them. Vushi and the other apprentice were shocked. The Magi may have registered a bit of dismay but it didn’t show on their faces. They were trained for anything. Immediately one threw Fire at the still running ghost. The Fire would burn an elephant to nothing in seconds. Nothing happened. The Power went through the warrior and hit the ground, incinerating nothing more than a plant. That brought everyone to full attention. Fire and Air were thrown. Screams of curses and spells crackled with Power. Nothing happened to the ghost. He was upon them. He gave another battle cry and brought his sword down on a Mage whose name Vushi did not know, for it wasn’t the place of an apprentice to ask, the sword arced high and was met with the blade of the Mage. So weapons would work where magick failed. Why? Vushi wondered.
Metal hit metal as another Mage joined in the fight. The warrior yelled and, smacking the Father-Mage in the face with his hand, reversed his sword and skewered the belly of the first Mage. He screamed as he fell, but the warrior was already flipping his sword around to the Father-Mage. Vushi couldn’t understand what was happening. How could magick have no effect but swords would clash? At first she had thought the ghost was simply an illusion. That would explain why nothing had worked, but then with the death of her comrade she knew this was no illusion.
She had an idea. Coriander and she had played rocks-and-shield for years. She was very good at it. Coriander had scars to prove it. The warrior knocked the Father-Mage to the ground and held up his sword. Vushi looked at a rock on the ground and using her mind sent it sailing at the warrior’s helmeted head. It hit. The warrior was knocked back. The Father-Mage rolled away. The warrior sensed where the rock had been thrown from and advanced towards Vushi. Running backwards, she sent more rocks at him. He batted them with his sword.
The other Magi joined in. Rocks assaulted the ghost. The warrior could not stop them all. He almost fell but instead screamed and ran at the closest person: Teacher Onion. The Kyro-Magis was very skilled at magick, but he lacked the physical discipline of a warrior. He would fall quickly. The apprentice closest to the teacher ran out, staff in hand, and said some spell that had no effect and spun his staff. The warrior ghost cut off his head.
Blood fountained and went all over Teacher Onion. His body slowly sank. The warrior ghost swung his sword over his head ready to finish Teacher Onion. A Mage jumped up and, using the fallen torso of the young apprentice as a stepladder, leapt into the air to attack the warrior and save his superior. The warrior lost little momentum as he fell to the ground with the Mage and, in an almost dance-like move, wrapped his arm around the Mage and snapped his neck.
He stood and, against the Gods of Death and anything holy, he used the fallen limp body as a shield from the rocks and ran back towards Teacher Onion. Vushi had stopped throwing rocks for fear of hitting a Magi, but now was still from shock. She could not bring herself to pelt the corpse of a Mage with stones. With skill that defied his size, Teacher Onion side-stepped and the warrior passed by him and right into the magickal trap that had been set. With a quick word, Teacher Onion screamed words to seal the trap. He was obviously not sure if this would hold the ghost as he ran away from the trap as he willed it to be. The contradiction confused the already scrambled Vushi. How could one simultaneously create something out of will and at the same time fear it wouldn’t work?
It did. The Warrior ghost slammed against the invisible walls. Silence filled the expanse. Vushi snapped out of her muddled brain and came forward to help. Blood was everywhere. The ghost looked at her with angry eyes. She looked away and back at the blood. She could never have imagined so much blood. She looked somewhere else. A Mage was crying over his fallen friend. He silently cradled him and kissed his head, which had dropped in an unnatural way down his chest. She could not bear that sight for more than an instant. It was too painful. She knew not to look to where her brother apprentice had fallen. But then, where could she look? Could she simply close her eyes? What would she see then? Could her imagination be worse than what was around her? Finally her eyes met the back of the other Mage. The Father-Mage stood alert, guarding the prisoner.
‘Good.’ thought Vushi, ‘do not let our guard down.’ She stepped over the headless apprentice and stood next to the Mage with her staff out. She wasn’t sure if she did it to help him or herself but was relieved when he nodded to her. She wasn’t completely alone or useless. She had something to look at.
Teacher Onion wiped some blood off his face, which seemed vain or stupid since he couldn’t get clean without jumping into the ocean. He looked around, seeming to access the situation. His eyes were slits and he seemed to be shaking. Vushi wondered if he too was trying to do something ordered and useful in the face of so much chaos. She suddenly felt very bad for the Kyro-Magis. She imagined leading a group and having soldiers take swords meant for her. How would that feel? If asked a day ago, she might have thought it very honorable or even bright. Tonight her mind had changed.
Coriander came out of the house and into the silence. His eyes were wide and horrified. He saw the body of the apprentice and tears came down his eyes. Vushi wanted to run over and hug him but didn’t dare. Coriander tried to catch his breath. ‘So much blood…’ he thought, ‘where into have I wandered ?’ His eyes met the grieving Mage holding his lover. Vushi knew Coriander would collapse under that sight. He was too softhearted and kind for such things. She had to protect him. But then Coriander stopped crying. He seemed almost calm.
Coriander could not process the night he had walked into. It was too much. He may never be able to make sense of such terrible things. He thought maybe that was a good thing. Upon seeing the weeping Mage, Coriander knew someone had to be strong. Someone had to break the silence. He knew it would fall onto him. These might be warriors, but right now they seemed like children. Coriander put a gentle hand onto the weeping Mage, “Not yet, my brother. Hera has him and we have work yet to do. Stand strong. Weep later.”
The Mage nodded and let Coriander set the dead man down on the Earth, and he whispered a small prayer as he did. The he stood and said, “Kyro-Magis, the family is safe. The prisoner is still bound. Rho is watching him and my brother apprentice is in a sacred circle structured to cut him off from energies which…umm, made him scream a lot.”
The list seemed to galvanize the soldiers. Orders. People think they want a lawless world but as any kindergarten teacher can tell you, kids love orders. Soldiers need orders. It defines them to their very core. Even Teacher Onion seemed grateful, “Thank you for your report, apprentice. We must remove…the bodies to a safe distance. Apprentices, please. I will see to the trap and banish this demon!”
Coriander and Vushi exchanged a glance. They knew the awful task of removing the three bodies would fall to them. They didn’t flinch at the task; instead, they resigned themselves to it and, in that silent glance, knew they could/would cry later.
“NO.” Scolded the Father-Mage, “I’ll do it. They’re children for Hera’s keeping !”
“We are not so young anymore,” Vushi said quietly. “You must tend to the banishing. It is magick we do not yet posses.”
“Yes,” Coriander needed to do something, anything. “Kyro-Magis has given an order; it will be followed.” The Mage looked at his fallen lover and shuddered, not wanting the body touched by anyone else. Coriander sensed his concern and came forward, “I will be gentle and keep him safe until it is time for goodbyes. I promise.”
The Mage cleared his throat, “Thank you, boy, but please let her do it.” He pointed at Vushi, “I have seen her call Death…” his voice failed for a moment, “…will you?..pp..please…”
“Yes,” Vushi immediately came forward, “by all that is sacred.” Coriander wasn’t sure what anyone was talking about but figured now was not the time to ask.
“Very well, we all have our jobs to do,” said Teacher Onion in a stiff yet not unkind way. Coriander and Vushi traded another glance and moved over to the first fallen Mage. Air magick seemed the logical choice, but Vushi actually bent down to move him with her hands. Coriander made a face that conveyed, “What are you doing?” Vushi’s face replied, “Just obey me!” Coriander rolled his eyes and placed his arms under the still warm corpse. It was a sensation that Coriander would remember for a vey long time. They took a deep breath and prepared to lift….
“CORIANDER!” came a voice from the house. Before they could stand, Rho stumbled out. His ankle was still covered in blood but now he had a new wound. His belly was seeping blood. The boy held his stomach as though literally keeping himself together. Coriander had a second to register the question: how had he not screamed….? He ran to Rho and half caught him as he fell. Rho pointed behind the house and gasped, “The Scav! He got a knife… He took the Mage-boy from the circle…” blood oozed, “I couldn’t stop him!”
Vushi was already running for Blue-burst. Teacher Onion called out for her to stop. She dared to counter, “We can take one Scav with a knife. There might be more. Stay here. Keep the family safe! Coriander to me!”
The Magi didn’t argue or rather, were so taken aback by being ordered by a child they simply nodded. Coriander barked at Rho as he poured his life-force into the child, “Stay alive. Keep breathing. We’ll return with the healer!” Rho nodded and Coriander took off. Grabbing Vushi’s extended hand, he leapt on to the back of Blue-burst. They ran off in the direction Rho had pointed. Coriander muttered spells to help him see at night. Vushi whispered an incantation for Death.
Using Magick to Kill
Blue-burst felt the anguish of the moment and flew around the farm and down the path between the fields. Coriander was an expert rider and had no trouble staying on. He clung loosely to Vushi and yelled in her ear, “If he gets to those woods we’ll lose him!” Vushi didn’t respond, but her back tensed and Blue-burst rode faster. Coriander knew Vushi had spoken in her Voice to the mare and held on tightly.
Vushi let one hand go of Blue-burst and grabbed Coriander’s hand. Vushi was glad she wasn’t alone, and the one person whom she trusted more than any other literally had her back. Coriander squeezed her hand back. Some tiny part of his brain remembered that Vushi felt differently about him than he felt about her. But that message was lost in the heated need to make sense out of these senseless two days. “THERE!” Coriander spotted the Scav.
Coriander had been summoning a night-vision spell he was just learning. His spell was weak but strong enough to enhance his vision, enabling him to see the prisoner. The Scav was running silently to the left of the path. He was carrying the pale-faced boy over his shoulder. It obviously slowed him down considerably. Coriander couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t just run away? Maybe he needed gold more than he needed his life? That made little sense to the son of magistrate, even if one from the country; what good is three boxes of gold if you’re dead? Then Coriander wondered if being caught would have dishonored him and perhaps, bringing in a trophy like a Mage-boy would erase that shame. But then what honor did Scavengers have? They were the absolute worst of the scum of the world and would sooner skin and eat you than say hello. They had no laws or codes or orders … ‘no, there must be orders,’ thought Coriander, ‘even amongst these horrible beasts there would be rules and orders to be carried out. Someone or someones were in charge. They would rule with fear and even a cruel piece of griffin skin like this Scav would need to prove himself…’ Coriander knew he needed to re-think his enemies and not rely on superstition or prejudices.
Coriander snapped his mind back into the present. Vushi was gaining on the man. In a few moments they’d catch him. But then what? Were they going to take back the apprentice and leave the Scav OR should he be taken back? Or was it understood he would now die? Coriander again shook off his rambling thoughts and focused on the prey. Coriander could now tell the Scav had bound the apprentice. His arms were painfully tied behind his back and his mouth gagged to stop him from saying spells, and his feet were tied. Before he could stop himself he said, “Why do they always tie our feet? Is there some toe magick I don’t know about?”
He didn’t mean to make the joke but was glad Vushi laughed. Laughter is a better magick motivator than anger. Now they had both. Vushi quickly ordered, “Jump left on 3! 1, 2 3!” Coriander jumped up and to the left, placing him directly behind the Scav. Vushi performed some mid-air circle flip, which seemed to be using some sort of Air energy and landed to the right. Blue-burst, smarter than any horse had the right to be, quickly circled behind and the Scav was surrounded. As if to explain that point, Blue-burst whinnied and threw her mountainous hooves in the air. The Scav dropped the boy and held his small kitchen knife to the apprentice’s throat.
Even in the dark Vushi could see the terrified eyes of her brother in magick. She tried to calm him with her own understanding eyes. Coriander thought, ‘What a horrible night this guy is having!’
“Give him up and I give you your life!” yelled Vushi.
“Back away or I’ll kill him!” spat the Scav.
“And if you do, I’ll run you through!” Vushi held out a sword she must have taken from the saddle. Apprentices weren’t given blades until completion of Magoge, but that didn’t mean they didn’t know how to use them. Vushi was top of her class and a favorite of the Weapons Teacher. She flipped the blade in her hand confidently. Coriander wasn’t sure if students were allowed to wield metal outside of Magoge, but in a life or death situation all those types of rules fall to the side. The rule that always remains is follow orders. Theirs was simple: return with the apprentice at any cost.
Coriander laughed, “You aren’t going to kill him! He’s worth a lot of gold and if for some reason your stupid, infected, disgusting, jackal-teated mind does use that knife, I will burn you before your next breath.” Coriander again held a small ball of glowing Fire in his hand. Vushi smiled; the Scav did not. He snarled and spat and looked for a way out. Coriander could either press his bravado or give the man the out he desperately needed. He decided to offer the man a bit of dignity.
Vushi, it seemed, chose humiliation, “I am done with speaking. You are about to be taught a lesson by two children.” She flipped the blade again and walked towards the now-frightened Scav.
“Wait!” called Coriander. He knew that terrified people sometimes did terrifying things. Coriander thought back on his being surrounded in Madraceas. Was this that different? Surrounded and outnumbered, what was this man capable of? In answer, a trickle of blood came down the pale boy’s throat. “Please! Wait. I swear I will give you a night’s start. Let the boy go and I will not search for you until dawn.”
“Coriander!” spat Vushi. She knew better than to disagree with her partner in front of foes, but this was too much, “He doesn’t deserve a night or a moment longer!”
“Swear it!” screamed the Scav. “Swear it and I will leave the boy unharmed and not return or seek vengeance for this…humiliation for the night as well.”
“He seeks revenge?” Vushi said, appalled! “I will show you…”
“YES!” yelled Coriander. “Vushi, so much death, I cannot endure any more death. By the Grace of the Goddess, let life be sacred once more?” He almost wept the words. “This is not weakness. Have you not always said compassion is our greatest gift?”
Vushi was stunned at Coriander’s words. She became angry and then sad. Saddened at how quickly she chose slaughter over dignity. What had she become over the last two days? Would she still save a little doll? Was she becoming cruel at this first taste of cruelty? Ashamed, she lowered her sword, “So be it.”
Coriander looked at the man and bowed his head, “I give you leave and peace this night. I….” before he could finish, the pale-faced apprentice started screaming again. He fell limp then began shaking and choking on the gag. The Scav threw the body away and towards Vushi. She dropped her sword and caught the boy as he fell, diving to the ground to protect his head. She ended up pinned beneath the boy, unable to stop his trashing or to escape the weight of his body.
Far away at the farmhouse, a pillar of Fire roared into the moonlit sky. Screams were heard so far away they sounded unreal. Fire exploded again. It was brighter than the Moon. It was so great it illuminated the fields and woods. Coriander could clearly see Vushi wrestling with the choking and screaming apprentice. He could also easily see her fallen sword.
The Scav looked at the sword at the same time Coriander did. They looked at each other. Coriander shook his head in warning. The man was bigger than him, but Coriander was fast and had magick. He had fought and won against bigger opponents. This trial would not end well for the Scav. The Scav seemed to understand that silent warning and backed away slowly, arms in the air. Coriander was relieved. He turned to help Vushi. She cried out over the thrashing boy, “Coriander, NO!”
The lawless scum was diving for the sword! Coriander’s first instinct was to dive for the weapon as well, but the Scav had the opportunity and hand-to-hand that close might not go well for Coriander. So instead of beating him to the sword, Coriander had a second thought, ‘If you want the sword, then take it!’ and with a look, he was playing rocks-and-shield with Vushi again. But this Scavenger had no shield. Coriander didn’t use his mind to throw a rock; he threw the sword. Blade first, it flew off the ground and speared the airborne man, cracking his sternum. The prisoner had a scarce moment to realize what had happened and then fell dead. Coriander had used magick to kill again.
Vushi screamed, “Coriander, help me!” He shook his head and saw her holding down the pale boy who was choking on the gag. He jumped over and pushed his head into the dirt as he tried to pull out the gag, “Vushi…I…I…”
“I know. Get the gag out of his mouth, he’s choking..”
“Coriander, I KNOW.” Vushi was as stunned as Coriander at what she had peripherally witnessed, but lives had to be saved. Coriander pushed the skull of the shaking, pale boy into the ground and ripped off his gag with more force than necessary. Un-gagged, the boy screamed loudly. Coriander held his head down, pushing now on his forehead. He barked to Vushi, “Use your Voice!”
“What?” she gasped, “how?”
“Tell him to shut up!” he spat. Coriander had thought of this earlier but there hadn’t been time. The circle he made cut the boy off from unwanted “frequencies.” These same types of walls or barriers could be made to protect the mind; in fact, Magi did it all the time. If one was feeling particularly in tune with the elements, he could sometimes get overloaded with stimuli. It wasn’t an uncommon experience for those gifted. He had learned early to put up walls and keep out unwanted images and sounds and psychic debris. The apprentice should know, too, how to do this but was obviously overwhelmed by something. The ghost, Coriander quickly realized, must no longer be in his trap if the boy was screaming again. “Hurry!”
Vushi thought the idea was absurd, but Coriander’s stupid ideas had worked before. She had to actually pry his eyes open so he’d look at her. He immediately slowed his bucking. Vushi spoke aloud even though she was actually “speaking” with her mind and didn’t need her actual voice, but it made it easier. “What’s his name again?” she asked Coriander.
“No idea.” Coriander thought perhaps in the future he should introduce himself to the other members of the team .
Vushi sighed and went on, “Listen! Hear me! Find your inner self. The warrior in your mind. See him. See your Goddess Blessed-self.” Her voice became more gentle, “See clouds around him. Clouds cover him and surround him and become thick…thicker into walls.” She could feel her words working. The boy was almost completely still. “That shield protects him. Now spread those walls out. Use his shield. Farther and farther….make walls, dear boy. Protect yourself. Breath and be still, he gifted by She.”
Something clicked and the boy snapped into focus. His eyes cleared and his breathing stabilized. “Are you all right?” Vushi whispered. The boy nodded. He was a bit uneasy as he got to his feet.
“Thank you…” he mumbled, taking in his surroundings.
“Something has happened at the house. I have to go!’ Coriander whistled for Blue-burst.
“Why are you going?” Vushi asked in disbelief, “You stay with him. I’ll go!”
“I have an idea,” Coriander begged. “Trust me!”
“Of course,” Vushi yielded to, if not the wisdom, the luck of her end-friend. “Send the mare back.”
“Of course,” Coriander said as he jumped up on her back. “Rho needs him,” he pointed at the pale-faced boy, “as soon as you can get him there.”
“What happened to Rho?” asked the boy.
“Just get there…” Coriander wanted to say, before it’s too late. But he didn’t want to worry the apprentice and he wasn’t quite sure if it was already too late and they were all dead. He kicked at Blue-burst’s flank and the beast ran towards the farmhouse and the Death-cursed ghost warrior with little more than a silly idea and a whole lot of hope.
Power Over The Moon
Teacher Onion had no idea. How had the Scav escaped? Who wanted to buy Mage-boys? What could these Scavengers possibly fear more than a Kyro-Magis? Why had the apprentice protected him? Why had the mighty She allowed him to die? Could Vushi stop the escaped prisoner? Why had she taken that Coriander boy? Why was this warrior-ghost killing innocents? Was it a deathly madness? Or was it the way of his tribe? Was he from the North like his wrap indicated? Did they revere life so little there? And how in Hera’s beautiful name had he broken from the trap?!
Teacher Onion had no time for his doubts, concerns or questions, the ghost and his spectral weapon were out. One second, the ghost was trapped in a complex and powerful square-in-circle prison, and then he simply was not. It was impossible and yet it was happening. The ghost was attacking.
The two Magi threw Fire at the ghost. Pillars of heat and light erupted, consuming the red cloak and the slaughter-bent apparition. He walked right through it. He didn’t even shield his eyes from the brightness like the other three men. “Magick isn’t working!” screamed Teacher Onion, “to arms!”
The Father-Mage ran forward. He was the best swordsman of the three. He was also smart. He quickly shifted his footing and instead of trying to kill the ghost, a feat that seemed impossible, he decided to try and learn something. So he circled the warrior. He half-heartedly thrust a few times and was easily parried. The ghost seemed confused. That was new information. The spirit had thought. Perhaps it wasn’t just a killing machine? The warrior came forward and was beat back by the Mage. He saw an easy opening but chose to not take it. Instead he held back. This, too, confused the ghost.
Teacher Onion caught on first. He took the opportunity to look at the trap. Could he make it stronger? How had it been broken? He needed to figure out what was fueling this murderer. It defied all laws and rules. It simply was not affected by magick. As if it chose to not believe it was possible. Perhaps once faced with magick, like the trap, it eventually decided that barriers or Fire or what have you did not exist. Teacher Onion realized in a moment he was useless. His mysticism and Power would not affect the ghost, only weapons and actual physical things like the rocks did. He wondered, too, in that same brief moment, if the Magi of Madraceas had ever realized this?
The other Mage did not understand what the Father-Mage was doing. He was upset, grieving, and confused. Moments passed and nothing was happening. He shook his head and tried to get the attention of the others but was ignored. Frustrated, he gathered his waning strength and threw more Fire at the back of the red cloak. The ghost was again untouched by the Fire but turned and threw his sword at the Mage. He saw it coming and tried to dodge but was not quite fast enough and the sword skewered his shoulder. He screamed and fell.
The ghost ran to the wounded Mage to finish the deed and retrieve his sword. The Father-Mage had a real opening now. He held out the sword in his right hand and pulled a small dagger out of his belt and placed it between his teeth. He ran to the back of the ghost.
The ghost-warrior tackled the skewered Mage. They fell into a heap with the ghost on top. With a small but lethal motion, the ghost twisted the hilt and the blade spun inside the man’s chest, ripping apart muscle and opening arteries. He screamed again but only for a moment.
The Father-Mage didn’t know his comrade was dead so didn’t take an opening at the back of the ghost, fearing he’d also hit the Mage. So he jumped on the back of the ghost. He dropped his sword and grappled him. He kicked away his dead comrade and pulled the ghost away from both of their swords. The ghost was strong but could not break free of the hold that bound him. Unknown to the ghost, this strong Mage taught wrestling at Magoge and had many honors and prizes to his credits. Now, instead of fighting an un-fightable killing machine, he was simply a Wrestling Teacher teaching a lesson to a hotheaded ego-driven student like he had done so many times before. The ghost fought and pulled and shook, but to no avail. The Mage held firm but for how long?
Coriander arrived with Blue-burst in the same instant. He saw the dead body and the two swords on the ground. He looked to the Mage holding the ghost and gestured at the swords. The Mage shook his head no. Coriander needed to stay two steps ahead so he pointed and spoke to his mare, “Back to Vushi, Blue-burst!” The horse ran off.
Teacher Onion seemed even more confused and he barked, “This is no time for honor; grab that sword and run the demon through!”
“It’s too dangerous” Coriander explained while trying not to scold, “They’re too close and if we do it wrong and the Mage dies, what do we do next?”
“Then don’t do it wrong!” gasped Teacher Onion.
“I have an idea…” Coriander gulped.
Teacher Onion was afraid and barking anger instead of logic, “I told you to kill it not share your feelings on it!” As if in protest, Teacher Onion walked over and grabbed the Mage’s fallen sword, “Hold him!” he ordered. The Father-Mage told him to stop. Teacher Onion did not. Coriander wondered if he should tackle the teacher but instead decided to plan his backup. He took a deep breath and called the magick inside of him. The elements responded, almost as if grateful to be of use. Coriander breathed the intoxicating Power.
Teacher Onion looked terrifying over the trapped ghost. He was filled with anger and confusion and vengeance. He screamed, “WHY?!” to the ghost.
Surprisingly, it answered, “No prisoners. No Mercy. Do not rest. Kill them all!” And he kicked at Teacher Onion and broke his kneecap. The fat man crumbled, screaming, and dropped the sword. Coriander saw him fall but did not stop his spell.
The ghost used his foot to pull the blade closer. The Father-Mage struggled to stop him. He presented an opening and the ghost snapped his head back and broke the nose of the Mage. Blood splattered back into the Mage’s eyes as the ghost leaned his full weight back into the hold. He got half an arm free and elbowed the Mage in the rib cage. Another bone broke. The ghost freed himself and grabbed the sword.
Coriander shook with Power. Air circled around him and in the sky. Water pulled out of every source and collected. A mist appeared. It became fog. It lifted. Clouds formed or rushed in from nowhere. They began to cover the Moon.
The red-cloaked warrior held the sword high and seemed to shake his head. He paused for a moment. A sadness touched his eyes, almost as if he was sorry for killing a worthy opponent. The ghost saw the fog rolling in. He kept his eye on the fallen Mage but frantically tried to use his peripheral vision to see what was happening. He seemed confused. Should he slay the Mage or was there a fiercer opponent behind him?
Coriander began to weaken. Summoning this amount of clouds was no easy thing. The young man simply did not have the strength to complete his task. The Moon was still visible.
Taking advantage of the confusion, the Father-Mage scrambled back out of reach of the sword and cried, “Help him!”
Teacher Onion’s eyes grew wide at the Mage’s command. He stopped clutching his knee and finally realized what Coriander was doing. The boy was moving a lot of Power but not quite enough. Teacher Onion could not stand so instead rolled over to the boy.
Coriander wanted to laugh at the sight of his plump professor rolling on the ground to him, but he was too exhausted. The magick was draining and the warrior ghost was still standing. His plan would never work. How foolish was he to think an apprentice could move the sky. Full Magi would never even think about attempting this and here he was trying the impossible and failing. They were all gong to die. But then Teacher Onion grabbed his foot.
Coriander didn’t like Teacher Onion and had never imagined being touched by him. There were certainly teachers Coriander fantasized about being touched by, but Onion was not one of them. It wasn’t his size, rather his constant scowl and cruelty. Nothing was good enough or done well enough for Teacher Onion. He represented everything Coriander hated about Magoge and city-life in general. Pampered and pious people preening and pretending. He hated the lot of them and Teacher Onion specifically. He almost pulled his foot away. Luckily he did not. What he felt was no privileged soft-skinned never worked a day in my life limp fish hand. He felt a sensation entirely new. Teacher Onion’s hand was hot. But it was freezing. It was magick. Power rushed out of the Kyro-Magis and into the apprentice. It was amazing. Coriander felt what Power, REAL POWER, felt like. He smiled. It coursed through his every vein. He thought he might explode. The spell in his mind became a blur and completely focused at the same time. In the sky, clouds swirled and rushed. All four men, ghost included, were awestruck at the sight. Like a dance, the clouds thickened and covered the moon.
And then it was just the three men.
The ghost was gone. Coriander’s mind swirled with the Power. He could see everything and was blind. He couldn’t quite seem to focus his thoughts and yet his brain exploded with ideas. How long could the spell be maintained? Could it last till dawn? Would it give them time to run? Should they run? Call upon an army? How fast was the army of Madraceas destroyed? Were there more powerful Magi or more powerful spells that might work? Were there fighters more ferocious than this fiend? Would it ever stop? Was the world at an end? Would Gods themselves come and take him down? Or was this Their doing? Were they being punished for some crime against the divine? Was this a demon sent to vanquish? Was this Wrath itself? Death come for all? Vengeance materialized? Should they drop the spell and accept their fate? Or perhaps this was just a man, or had been a man, or a soldier, who was now an unstoppable force? How do you tell a soldier to stop?
And Coriander had his answer.
Face Off with a Fiend
Vushi arrived shortly after the ghost departed. The pale-faced, no-longer-screaming boy leapt off the horse after Vushi and took in destruction. Both their eyes fell to the dead Mage with the sword still sticking out of his chest. Teacher Onion was staring at the cloud-ridden sky and the Father-Mage was catching his breath. Coriander was standing in the center of it all, smiling. Vushi found that odd and slightly offensive, “Coriander?” she called.
“Vushi!” he cheered and slurred.
If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought him drunk, “What’s wrong with you…?”
“Magick,” answered the pale boy. “He’s just touched a lot of magick. I can help him…” The boy dropped off Blue-burst, but Coriander stopped him.
“No,” he ordered, “go to Rho first. He must be in the house?” The Mage nodded. “Help him first then the rest. I can wait.” He tried very hard not to giggle.
The boy ran into the house as Vushi tried to assess the outside. He found a very bloody Rho with a kitchen knife in his hand sitting on a small carpet. He knew the carpet covered the trap door hiding the family. “So very brave,” he smiled. “I am here to help you.”
“What about the others?” asked a very pale Rho.
“I do not know,” his voice was gentle. “I have been ordered to help you first.”
“NO!” he snapped, “Heal the Magi first!”
“I will get to them after you, which will be faster if you stop refusing me…” he said, not unkindly. Rho nodded. The stab to the gut was not bad. It would easily be infected had a healer not been on hand. The pale boy took a short breath and started singing. Rho relaxed his forehead. In an instant he knew he would live.
“Teacher?” Vushi whispered.
Teacher Onion’s eyes were focused and his features soft, “I am fine, girl. You disposed of the Scav?”
“Yes, sir.” She answered, leaving out the part where Coriander had used magick to kill.
“How long can you keep that up?” asked the Father Mage.
“If I stay focused, perhaps till dawn if I am very lucky. If not, an hour maybe if the weather holds.” Teacher Onion made a face like he had eaten something bad. “I feel we are out of our depths. Take the family and the horses and flee. You are to go to Krokos and warn them. Tell them everything. I will hold him off for as long as I can.”
“…No,” said Vushi out loud, before her mind could stop her tongue.
“What alternatives do we have?” snapped the Teacher.
The Father-Mage spoke kindly, “Perhaps we can all escape together if we ride hard enough? OR teach me this spell and I will sacrifice. Not you Kyro-Magis.”
“Your sentiments are sweet,” replied Teacher Onion, “but more is at stake than one Kyro-Magis. I am afraid First Teacher and Master at Arms together might not be able to stop this fiend.”
Glances were shared. Silence steered eyes to downcast. They all knew sacrifices must be made. They had lost many already. What would happen if they were defeated? Vushi wondered how many farmhouses there were between here and Krokos. Would he slaughter them all? She nodded to the teacher with new respect, “Of course. You will be obeyed. Would you like me stand by you in this?”
Teacher Onion almost laughed but didn’t want to hurt her feelings, “Thank you, but let no more die than need be. I am at peace or shall be shortly. Now leave me to the spell…”
“You’re all so stupid!” laughed Coriander still drunk on Power. “You’re going to sacrifice yourself? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time!”
“Calm yourself boy!” snapped the Father-Mage.
“He’s had a bit too much Power; ignore the child,” smiled Teacher Onion, “And we both are alive thanks to his cunning spell.”
Vushi looked at the clouds and realized Coriander must have had the idea of covering the Moon. She smiled at him, piecing it all together. “I will handle him.. We will get the family and…”
“I SAID NO! Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?” Coriander staggered to the huddle, “It’s simple really. I mean, I really think someone should have come up with this plan earlier….”
Vushi hated drunk people, even those drunk accidentally, so she slapped Coriander in the face.
“OW!” he reeled back a few steps, “Why did you do that?”
“Because you’re not making any sense! You covered the Moon. Good job, but it won’t keep him away forever!”
“No Vushi Vushi Vushi, my end-friend…” He put an arm around her, “Good ole Vushi! My new plan is even better better-er best-est… ”
Vushi rolled her eyes. Rho came out with the healer, looking worn but alive.
“Coriander! “ Rho cried, “tell me you killed that stinking Scav!”
“Yes, I did,” laughed Coriander, “with…..”
“A SWORD.” Vushi cut him off, “He killed him with a sword. Yes. Good work! Can you heal him now please?” She begged the pale faced boy.
He laughed and simply extended an arm, “He doesn’t need healing. Any of you could drain him.” And with that slight touch, the Earth seemed to open up and pull all the dizziness and energy out of Coriander and into Her.
The Father-Mage shook his head, “I should have known, thank you boy. Now we must put as much distance between us and this place as we can. I think we should form three teams. Vushi, you will escort the family to Krokos and warn First Teacher. The other two will warn as many villagers and farmers as we can….”
“Ow…again…ow.” Coriander had gone from spinning in ecstasy to having a splitting headache. “I don’t think I can handle any more extreme emotions today. It’s like I’m happy. I’m terrified. I’m ecstatic. I’m miserable. Back and forth and all the while no one listens to me! I have a plan! And do not hit me again, Vushi! I’m not drunk.” All turned to Coriander. He took a breath, massaged his head for a bit, and then told them his idea.
At first he was scoffed. Then as he continued his reasoning, one by one the laughs turned pensive. Then slowly everyone agreed it was an idea worth trying. It was debated on who was the most likely do to the task. Coriander let them all weigh in, knowing full and well he would have to do it. Vushi seemed most angry she couldn’t risk her life. Coriander wondered if the events of the day were tearing her apart and making life seem a little less worth living. That saddened him.
Originally, Coriander had thought he would buy the rest time to escape but quickly it was decided that, although they would go through with his plan, the self-sacrificing Kyro-Magis’s plan would be the backup. He could always call back the clouds to save the family if Coriander was killed.
Vushi reminded him how unhappy she was about this plan as they worked in the kitchen. The family had quickly packed many of their belongings onto the horses and was ready to return to their hiding hole. Vushi pulled down the curtains on the windows and continued to argue, “I didn’t say it wasn’t a good plan. I think it’s very bright, but I don’t see why you can’t let the others do it?”
“I told you I am the best suited. I am the correct age and he hasn’t seen me.” Coriander rolled his eyes. “I know you are concerned..”
“Concerned?” Vushi threw the red fabric at him as violently as one can throw curtains, “Concerned? By the love of Hera! I am more than concerned! If this doesn’t work, you’ll be dead! What about your family? Your sisters? What about me?” She almost cried but did not. She sat down and took a labored breath.
Coriander didn’t know what to say so he sat down on the ground next to her and placed an arm around her back, “I am sorry. I am no hero. I am not trying to be brave. If you could stop this, wouldn’t you?”
He paused. Vushi’s back tensed and then caved in. She knew he was right. She had demanded to be the one to risk her life but was reminded that this warrior ghost was from the North. Those tribes had a different idea where women stood in their culture. It seemed to make her more eager to do it. Coriander was the only real choice. But the problem was that she loved him.
“It’s almost time!” shouted Rho as he ran in.
“Excellent, let’s get this over.” He stood and offered Vushi his hand. She took it. “It will work,” he said kindly. “Rho, I want you hiding with the family!”
“I thought you said it would work?” he demanded! They both laughed. It was a nice laugh that said much more than isn’t Rho funny.
The family came in and went to their hiding spot. Rho reluctantly followed. Vushi placed the carpet back over the trap door. Coriander took off his tunic and jewelry until he was standing in silence in nothing but his loincloth. He was about to strip down completely as young men in the military did, but suddenly felt more naked than he had ever before. He couldn’t understand why. He and Vushi had wrestled naked; why did he feel so vulnerable now? He made a motion to cover himself and then felt stupid. “It’s cold…,” he lied.
Vushi didn’t seem to notice his fears. “Here.” She walked over and slid the red fabric over his shoulder and fastened it with a pin. “Do not die, stupid boy…” She hugged him.
Coriander hugged her back, “Yes, ma’am!” They laughed again and Coriander walked out of the farmhouse.
Coriander hid a bit up the road towards the North of the house. The Father-Mage and two other apprentices stood back, weapons drawn. Teacher Onion, visibly exhausted, released the spell. Clouds fell apart and wafted away, and the Moon again peered down on the farmhouse. In a shutter of an instant, the ghost manifested. He flipped his weapon and realized he was surrounded. He circled, looking for the first to take down. He seized up the Father-Mage but then looked at Teacher Onion who had called the clouds. He seemed as if he was just about to make up his mind when Coriander called.
“HOLD!” He cried as he ran. “Hold, I say!”
All turned to face him. Coriander ran in from the North towards the ghost with his red cloak flapping behind him. The ghost seemed confused again. Coriander knew he had to act brave. He could not flinch or look like he wasn’t completely sure of himself and his supposed purpose.
He knelt before the ghost in a sign of respect. The warrior ghost screamed at him “No prisoners. No Mercy. Do not rest. Kill them all!” and he raised his sword.
“Yield!” Coriander barked, “How dare you! I may not be threatened, soldier! I am a messenger! Lower your blade or face our masters!”
The ghost stopped. He looked at Coriander and back at his own red cloak. Something like a realization dawned on him. “A..a..a messenger?”
Coriander breathed an inner sigh of relief, “Yes fool! Do I look like a general? Do I not wear your color?” He shook his red cloak in emphasis. Vushi almost laughed at her over-acting friend. “I bring orders and you must obey!”
“New…orders?” stammered the ghost. His eyes were sad. He looked at the people around him.
“Yes!” Coriander continued, “Do you remember your old orders?”
“Of course!” barked the soldier, “No prisoners. No Mercy. Do not rest. Kill them all!”
“Well, you have new orders.” Coriander tried to look as pious as he could. “The war is over. We are victorious..”
“No!” I must..I must…” the ghost seemed to debate in his head.
“From the King himself!” Coriander quickly hoped this North Tribe had kings.
“The King calls me?” The ghost bowed.
“Yes, he does…” Coriander hadn’t thought so far ahead, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere! What have you been doing?”
“Killing,” said the warrior simply, “They killed me, I think, but I was sworn to never fail. So I got up and kept killing. I never stopped. I never gave mercy. By the Moon Goddess to whom I am sworn, I never gave mercy! I cleaved and stabbed and followed orders. I slew warriors on orders. I obeyed as old people fell at my feet. I skewered mothers on command. I followed them to the faces of bloody children. They had so many faces. I obeyed! I followed orders!” The ghost was crying and his hands shaking. “I didn’t want…but I did…”
“You wanted to stop?” Coriander suddenly felt bad for the killing machine. This creature bound by duty to offend his own soul.
“Every day,” gasped the warrior. “I prayed to be killed in battle but every Moon I came back….” The huge soldier fell to his knees weeping.
“You have new orders,” Coriander put a hand on the large soldier’s shoulder.
“Yes,” the soldier shook his head, afraid of what he might have to do next.
“These come straight from the King and have been reaffirmed by all the generals. Your orders are…” Coriander paused and, lifting the soldier’s chin, looked into his sad eyes and said, “…find peace.”
“OW!” Coriander yelled as the rock grazed his calf. Vushi laughed. Coriander faked a growl, “You think that’s funny! Ha ha, you are going to regret that!”
“I am overwhelmed with terror!” Vushi laughed sarcastically.
He looked at small rock lying in the barren field. “ROCK!” Coriander yelled. At his command, it lifted and soared at Vushi.
“SHIELD!” she countered and the rock hit an invisible wall in front of her and harmlessly returned to the Earth.
“ROCK!” Coriander threw another.
“SHIELD!” Vushi brought it up at the last second, “And it’s my turn! ROCK!”
“SHIELD” Coriander winced as the very large rock pelted his invisible shield right in front of his eyes. “Nice aim!”
“Want to try it in silence?” Vushi knew she was better at rocks-and-shield than Coriander and would definitely win if they played in silence. Vushi’s command of Voice made her almost lethal.
“How about blind-folded?” Coriander knew he was better at Air than Vushi and would sense the stones coming more easily.
“I guess Teacher at Arms would say we should play blindfolded and in silence so we could both get better.” They exchanged a look and at the same time said, “Nah.”
They laughed. Who wanted to make life more difficult on a beautiful day? They stood on a small empty field a stones throw, literally, for they were throwing stones already, from the beach. The waves banged on the shore triumphantly. It was a glorious day to be at the beach. They deserved this day off.
So much horror had been seen in so little time. It was a wonder they could laugh or play games at all. It had taken a few days to find any semblance of normality. They would have nightmares for months. A lot of questions had to be answered. First Teacher had looked scandalized that someone as low born as Coriander had come up with a plan. Teacher Onion spoke highly of his bravery and initiative, which made everyone uncomfortable.
Magoge and Krokos were abuzz with gossip and conjecture, rumor and speculation at the devastation of Madraceas. Coriander waited and waited to be brought up on charges for an apprentice using magick to kill, but nothing ever happened. No one mentioned Madraceas or the flying sword. Once he had whispered it as a question to Vushi. She had punched him in the arm and told him not to even think of such things. She acted like it hadn’t happened, “You kicked the sword and it hit him. It was a lucky shot. That is all.”
Coriander didn’t mind the lies and covering things up, but he wondered if someone somewhere should know the truth. It felt like an injustice to the people of Madraceas. Someone should know how they died and how their city fell afterwards. Coriander was also uncomfortable with the new fame as one who fought the ghost. If he didn’t have to take responsibility for his mistakes, it seemed very unfair to take the glory.
Rumors had circled that First Teacher was going to negotiate with the Scavengers. It was said he would bring them three boxes of gold and end their campaign against the mage-boys. The idea made Vushi sick. She yelled, “He’ll make it profitable for those Scavs to harass us all! Who deals with the likes of them?!!” Her tirade lasted a full day and night. Coriander did not disagree, but he stayed silent. He was afraid of who he became when Scavengers were involved.
After he gave him the orders to find peace, the warrior ghost fell into Coriander’s small arms, weeping. He buckled under the relief and freedom. He thanked him over and over again. Tears streamed down his face. Coriander would see that look in his dreams as well. The warrior stared at the Moon and prayed. He glowed with Her whiteness. The pale faced boy began to sing again. Vushi came forward and whispered a prayer as well. Everyone, it seemed, could imagine how horrible it was for a lost soldier to have to obey horrible orders. With Vushi’s prayer, a Power fell over the farmhouse. The Moon seemed to glow brighter. Teacher Onion bowed his head. The ghost smiled and slowly melted away into his Goddess.
Everyone stood in silence for a moment, drinking in this new peace.
And then work had to be done. The bodies were set on wood and burned in a very solemn and soldier-like way. Words were spoken that neither Coriander nor Vushi remembered very well. They were exhausted and the formalities were lost on them. The family helped run the services and fed the famished heroes. They were very grateful but obviously relieved when the party of remaining Magi left the next morning. They asked if Rho should stay with them. Rho was having none of that. He would go with Coriander. No one had the heart to tell him he would not be allowed to stay at Magoge . Coriander hoped he could send him to live with his family. It would not replace the family he lost, but Coriander’s people were sweet and loving. He would always be an outsider. He’d have to work hard to find a place in society. But perhaps being surrounded by kind people would ease that burden.
When they were about to leave the farmhouse, Rho approached the youngest of the three daughters. “I am Rho of what used to be Madraceas. I have a sacred mission for you. Do you accept?”
The young girl nodded, wide-eyed, wondering what amazing task she’d have to do. Rho held out the small doll, “This comes from a little girl who was not so fortunate as you. Her last request was for someone to love this doll. Can you be that person?” The little girl quickly grabbed the doll and kissed her. Then she threw her arms around Rho and he blushed.
“Well done,” said Vushi, smiling at Coriander.
They returned to Krokos quickly. No one was quite sure why they were all running their horses so fast. Perhaps they wanted the last few days to be as far behind them as possible. The horses didn’t seem to mind. Even Blue-burst wanted to be back in the city. She had had enough excitement and looked forward to rest and a good brushing.
A bird soared over the beach. Coriander and Vushi watched it make lazy circles. Coriander cleared his throat and dared to ask, “Are we going to be all right?”
“What do you mean?” Vushi didn’t like the tone in his voice.
“We won’t ever be the same, will we?” Coriander tried to not be maudlin but he needed to say it out loud, “We watched and did some very bad things. And before you hit me, we both know what I did. Will we be the same?”
Vushi paused for a very long time. Then she said quietly but firmly, “No. We will never be the same. It will live in us. In our actions and thoughts. Even the smallest order will remind us that a soldier was driven mad by orders…or by acts of war, and then followed those orders to impossible lengths. Magick did not affect him because he simply believed it would not. What does that even mean? Every spell I cast I know can be, could be, ignored. We are ordered every day to fight. Soon our lives will lead to combat where we will kill…again. And will we question it? Will we dare to wonder who we are killing, and why? Not if we are good soldiers. And what does that make us?”
“I don’t know,” Coriander didn’t like deep thoughts, “maybe it makes us human? Tell you what. If you start following orders that are stupid and go crazy, I’ll stop you.”
Vushi laughed, “I’d like to see you try!” She paused a moment and added, “and I’ll do it for you. Friends to the end, yes?”
“HEEEEEYYY!” A cry came from not too far away. They both spun around, shields out. Over a small hill came two figures waving, “There they are!” The voice was Rho.
They looked at each other’s attack stance and laughed. Vushi snorted, “I guess we’re still on edge?”
“I think so.” Coriander laughed, “I guess Rho is coming to say goodbye. I will miss him.”
“Me too,” Vushi had grown very close to the boy over the last week. The figure with Rho was the pale faced boy. “Oh it’s….what is his name again?”
“No idea,” confessed Coriander.
“We almost died with him. He brought you back twice and we’ve spent the last week retelling our tales to every Magistrate and Teacher, and we don’t know his name!” Vushi was stunned.
Coriander shrugged his shoulders, “We could ask him..”
“Are you eating berries out of season ?” Vushi half laughed, “We can not ask him his name now!”
They hushed themselves as the other two drew near. Hugs were exchanged. Coriander was sure he heard Vushi greet the boy and mumble some name that sounded like a whole bunch of names into his shoulder. The pale boy didn’t notice.
“You come to say goodbye?” Coriander smiled at Rho.
“I refuse to leave!” smiled Rho, who was obviously up to something.
“Rho, we told you,” Vushi explained for the thousandth time, “only those blessed with magick may stay here. I know it sounds unfair but…”
The pale boy held up a hand, “Rho sort of fixed that problem…” Vushi and Coriander were confused. The apprentice continued, “…go ahead, show them.”
Rho stepped back and got a very determined look on his young face. He squinted his eyes and tightened his lips. They all tried to not laugh. And then Rho said, “Rock.” And a small pebble flew up and hit Coriander in the chest.
Rho had done magick.
“HOW?!?!” exclaimed Vushi and Coriander together.
“Well,” said Rho triumphantly, “after listening to all of you talk about orders and the ghost taking orders and believing in orders and that making crazy things happen, I just sort of ordered myself to do it. I guess I obeyed?”
Coriander lifted Rho off the ground in a huge hug and swung him in circles. Rho could now stay at Magoge. He’d be safe. He’d have a family. A place in the world. Security. He threw one of Rho’s arms at Vushi and they began to swing him in the air. Rho would become a Mage and perhaps one day return to Madraceas. Maybe it would be a pilgrimage. Or maybe they’d say goodbye. Yes, they’d return to the burnt city and offer Grace. There were so many thoughts in Coriander’s head. He had so much to tell Rho: things about magick, about the Magoge, about a Mage’s life. He was busting to share. But looking at the giggling face of the boy, he did not. That was conversation for another day. Today was a day to play and have fun. Coriander raced them all to the ocean. Splashing seemed to be needed just now. Orders would come soon enough.
About the author
Magic and storytelling have been passions of David LeBarron since his epic portrayal of The Birth of Athena (lead) in 3rd grade using his mother’s table and sheets as the set. Since that commanding spectacle, he has delved into storytelling professionally as a writer of books, plays, screenplays and oddly successful internet pieces. David continues to produce, perform, teach and tell stories wherever he can to anyone who might listen. For specifics, samples and musings please visit the necessarily eponymous: davidlebarron.com Mr. LeBarron proudly lives in Los Angeles but will always be from New York where his Mom’s sheets are safe.
Works by David LeBarron:
The Coriander Scrolls weekly-updated serialized short stories about a young boy learning magic in the Bronze Age.
When Carrots Ruled the World a children’s picture book about a whimsical time when carrots ran the garden.
Stories from a Magickal World an audio book of 5 children’s stories
Any Given Day a book David facilitated between his students in Echo Park, Los Angeles and children in Rwanda, Africa.
Equinox a graphic novel about Hades, Persephone and a demon named Scorn