I found eating cold porridge with my bare hands unpleasant. I might be an orphan but even I was wealthy enough to afford a spoon. I felt like a dog eating a picky child’s dinner they tried to pawn off to me. At least dogs got scratches. I was still stuck in my dark cramped cell with Crom, the stranger who had convinced me to give him my spoon.I felt like a real idiot when I watched Crom do nothing with my spoon. It sat on top his crappy chair right next to his own spoon while he slept. I smeared my porridge covered hands on the wall since I didn’t have any water to clean them. It had been nearly five hours since Crom had fallen asleep so he would most likely wake up soon. I was starting to get impatient. We had discussed his plan. I was itching to get out of here.
I watched intently as swarms of spiders gradually covered the metal spoons. It was too dark to see them clearly but I assumed that these were no ordinary spiders. I had seen the one Crom held in his palm yesterday.The guard came at the exact moment Crom promised he would. I needed to grab his attention for this to work.
“Hey, one of the morning guards dropped some silver from their pockets yesterday. I don’t want any bad faith between me and you folk.”
“No, yeh don’t. You’re not the first to try to pull one under me.”
“I swear.” I opened my fist slightly and angled a metal spider at the light so that it sparkled but not enough where he could see into my hand.
“That better be what you say it is.” said the guard who moved towards my cell. His ugly face was up against the bars. He stuck his hand through the bars expecting me to give him the silver.
Crom had quietly made his way to the pile of now inactive spiders. I could see him bury his hand under their motionless corpses to pull out a small dagger. He gave me the signal and I shoved the guard with all my might. The guard flew across the room and his back landed conveniently into the dagger.
I could see thick blood dribble out of the guard's mouth and run down his chin. Crom pulled the slumped over man closer to him. The keys jingled as he pulled them off the dead corpse. In minutes Crom was free and he began working on my cell door. Eventually, the door clicked, and Crom pushed it open.
“Follow me. The Lord has informants throughout the city. Stick with me no matter what or you’ll be back here at the very best.” Crom cautioned.
For now, I would stick with Crom. He had delivered everything he promised so far and I hadn’t gotten my end of the bargain. At the very least I could learn a little magic before we parted ways.
Crom and I crawled up the spiral stairs that led up into the Lord’s manor. Crom calmly paved his way through the deserted house constantly changing directions for seemingly no reason. I wouldn’t question the wizard’s tactics, but I felt like the constant backtracking and turning to be pointless. It made me nervous.
Eventually we exited the Lord’s manor and found ourselves in the busy streets of SunkenCrest. We delved deeper into the dark alleys that turned the slums into a labyrinth. I watched most people we passed, most of whom ignored our trek to who knows where. Occasionally I spotted a curious person take a quick glance at us before turning their backs on us. Nosy people didn’t live long in the slums, so I wasn’t too surprised we were left alone.
I could tell Crom was getting more frantic and nervous the further we got from the Lord’s manor. I couldn’t tell why but it did make me more nervous. I wondered what could be so powerful to worry a mage.
“Oh no no no. This isn’t good. This wasn’t the plan.” I barely heard Crom mutter under his breath.
“We’re in a bit of a pickle. I think we’ll manage but get ready for a fight. If they end up catching us, I’m certain we won’t get to go back to the dungeon for a second go at it.”
This advice would have been more useful if I had anything to fight with. I let out a long drawn out sigh. This wasn’t how I’d imagined our getaway would be like. We should’ve taken a straight shot out of the city.
Only minutes later did I see guards come out of every path available to us. Most of them had stoic expressions, but some of the younger ones showed brief expressions of fear. I could tell they knew who the wizard was, probably better than me.
“STOP WHERE YOU’RE AT OR YOU’LL ALL BE INCINERATED,” Crom said while holding up what looked like a shiny ball.
The cautious guards backed away from Crom and me. I’m not sure what Crom was holding but it caused all the guards to hesitate. I was certain this was one of his powerful wizard artifacts.
It was as if a forcefield was around us causing the guards to part in whichever direction we walked. I could tell they were looking for any sort of weakness in the barrier, where either of us let our guard down.
It didn’t take long for the outside gate to become visible. Now, thirty city guards hovered around us. From what I could tell they weren’t being physically forced away from us. One of the guards who wasn’t paying close attention had gotten much closer to us than the others. Once he realized we were close to him, he panicked and scrambled away from us as fast as he could.
“YOU FOOLS,” cried the strange man I witnessed before I was thrown into the dungeon. He stood just behind the pile of hesitant guards. Clearly angry from his goons’ incompetence.
Crom didn’t wait for the strange man to talk. He latched onto my arm and pulled me with him as he sprinted for the gates that were now extremely close to us.
HE’S ONLY HOLDING A BALL BEARING,” screamed the lanky man.
The guards sprung into action chasing us as we passed the town gate. Purple fiery vortexes erupted from the Earth around me. I desperately tried to avoid these since I didn’t want to find out what they did. I’m sure those things hurt like hell. I looked over to see Crom doing the same.
I grabbed Crom’s arm and yanked him towards the forest. I knew if we were going to survive we had to get lost in unmanned territory. Dodging trees was my sole focus. Branches cut into my arms and legs as I pushed passed them. Eventually the shouts of the guards became distant and had disappeared from sight. I figured we had escaped for now.
I sat underneath a tree. A small creek trickled nearby; ferns surrounded this small source of water. Crom rested on the floor taking in the precious daylight that I’m sure he was deprived of for who knows how long. The last couple of days had been wild and I craved some peace where I could gather ingredients and cook a nice meal. I loved cooking and had always wanted a job as a chef. It was a realistic yet lofty goal for an orphan.
I had learned how to forage from taking odd tasks from people who needed certain vegetables, seeds, or even fungus. I enjoyed the hunt and the rush of finding these plant-based treasures. I scoured the forest while Crom slept. I hadn’t met him that long ago but from what I could tell he slept quite a lot. I thought it was fortunate he woke up when he did, never missing any vital moment.
By the time I had finished foraging, Crom was awake and was sitting on the floor. I had managed to gather some wild yams and porcini mushrooms. I attempted to make a fire with some tinder I had scrounged off the ground.
“When am I going to learn magic?” I asked nonchalantly.
This caused Crom to laugh.
Magic, as your people call it, isn’t some mystical overarching force. It manifests differently for everyone”
“Well, then how do I do it?”
Crom opened his mouth only to fall over and spasm. I reached out to help him but he recovered almost instantly.
“I’m limited in what I’m allowed to say. There are rules.”
“What are the rules?” I asked.
I watched as Crom fell into another fit of spasms.
“I don’t think I can tell you that either,” Crom replied. “I’ve never guided anyone before so I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say.”
“Well what can you tell me?” I said with a frown on my face. It looked like a pretty pointless endeavor. I didn’t understand how I was supposed to learn when he couldn’t tell me anything.
Crom stood in front of me, clearly contemplating what he was going to say.
“I’ll show you some forms of meditation and breathing exercises. Also, I’d recommend you do some introspection.”
I wasn’t terribly happy with his answer but if it helped me unlock some sort of power I’d follow his advice. This might not be much but it was more help than most people got.
Crom had me sit with my legs crossed and taught me a breathing exercise. My mind gradually grew clearer. I spent time feeling present and paying attention to my body. As time passed the fatigue from such a long day took over and I was greeted by darkness.
I woke up the next morning to see Crom awake, chewing on some sort of leaf he must’ve found.
“Do you think they’re are still after us?” I asked Crom.
“Yes. It won’t end anytime soon either. I’m a threat to the mages that work for your government so they will constantly be looking for us, at least among civilization. The only way we’re going to find any peace is if I contact some of my people.”
“Who do we need to contact,” I asked. I was tired of receiving limited information.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.”
“Well, where do we need to go?”
“We’ll need to head to one of the three major cities. The king and his men will probably be watching closely for us when entering Tamrin. Hedvor isn’t too far away and there will probably be fewer people looking for us there so that’s where we should head. You need to focus on your meditation so I can tell you more. Hopefully, you’ll make a breakthrough before we reach Hedvor.”
Travel through the forest was slow. It left Crom and I blistered and bruised at the end of each day. After quite some time I finally started to make progress with my meditation, at the very least I thought I did. Crom couldn’t tell me what to look for. He tried but it would cause him to unpleasantly spasm on the ground. I guessed the Gods wanted people to discover this mystery on their own.
If I concentrated hard enough I could feel something stir inside me. I mentally tried to tug on this small whisps, to move them, or shape them. I had little success. I could stretch them slightly before they rebounded to the center of my body. I was certain mage’s powers had something to do with this. I, however, didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it.
Crom was in charge of navigation. I learned from numerous days of being with Crom that his living metal bugs worked as a sort of reconnaissance network, mapping out the optimal route. I suspected they were very taxing, causing him to spend most of his time sleeping.
We had finally reached the edge of the forest, coming across a traveler’s outpost. I was excited. This would be the first time in months that I slept in a proper bed. There were numerous inn’s to choose from. Many of these were catered towards the wealthy merchants with ornate exteriors and bright color patterns to entice the incoming travelers. This wasn’t the type of place we stayed at.
Old rotting wood and a putrid stench were enough to make me uneasy. With my mood dampened, I slinked behind Crom into the hotel thinking of the extravagant hotels we had passed. It was still better than what I was used to, but I figured a wizard could afford a nice place to stay. It was still better than sleeping on the forest floor and hunting for food.
My room was mostly empty. A clean bed sat in the center of the room with plain white sheets on top of it. Next to it, stood a small desk and an uncomfortable looking wooden chair. I was glad they provided warm water and took a long shower, scraping away the built-up sludge from months of trekking through mud. I sat on the bed to meditate in the quiet confines of a room. It was the first time I had any semblance of peace for months.
I mentally applied pressure to the wisps trying to shape them, but really only getting them to condense. Seeing that this was doing something, I struggled and pushed to compress the wisps into a sphere. They became heavier and heavier. I felt like my stomach was turning to heavy stone.
My vision blurred and warped. Dizziness overtook as I spun and spun faster and faster. Frozen. Time itself had stopped. Previously within a dreary room, I now stood in the center of a grove. A breeze blew by rustling the leaves on the old gnarled oaks. Their various bumps and edges drawn into mocking faces.
A figure in dark purple robes stood before me. I could see the contours of his skull through his thin translucent skin. His eyes sparkled an emerald color suggesting vitality which contradicted the state of his frail body. With his grim expression, I knew this was no time to mess around.