Tachol went back to the field north of Neuasut and went just beyond the tree line. He sat down under a tree and propped up his tarp again over his head. He removed a stone from his pouch and rubbed it between his hands, and it started to glow. He held it close to his face, and then he heard an audible voice coming from the stone in the elven tongue.
“Speak,” the voice said.
“Komir, it is I, Tachol.”
“What have you found at the Migdalor,” Komir asked.
“It would take too long to explain, but in short, one of the Kadoshkayim is on to the Shikutzim. They seem to be plotting against the humans.”
“The Shikutzim? Are you sure?”
“The Kadoshkayim warrior had an artifact that was unmistakably from the Shikutzim. They have captured one of his companions, one of the Chozeh, and are holding her captive somewhere in the Uncharted Regions. Another Chozeh was able to contact her, and we used their bond to find the location.”
“After all these years, could it be so? What do you need of me?”
“Meet me at the Migdalor in the Realm of Men. There is one there who I believe can help us, so we do not have to insert ourselves into this affair of humankind directly.”
“I will meet you there in a day’s time!”
“Farewell. Until then, my friend.”
The stone faded, and Tachol put it away in this pouch and laid back against the tree and observed the town. Long before dawn of the next day, he summoned Ahavah. While he waited, he put his things away and put on his goggles, mask, and cowl. Ahavah arrived momentarily. She landed and touched down in the field and did not bother stopping. In one fluid motion, Tachol leaped to her back and remounted while she was still moving. Then as quickly as she had touched down, she beat her mighty wings, and they were airborne. She quickly gained altitude enough to clear the trees, then she circled back to the southeast and climbed higher and higher with haste. Tachol pushed her hard through the day, relying on her strength to drive them forward rather than soaring on thermals and favorable winds. The sun arched across the sky as the hours passed. By midafternoon, Tachol was crossing over Maenamsam and headed across the wilderness to the east of the city. The mountains came into view near sunset. When the sun finally went down, Tachol could see the Migdalor beacon pulsing in the night high above the other mountains around him. He reigned Ahavah with a tap, and she went into a glide, circling the mountain. She let out a scream that was echoed back to her by another like it. When they came closer, they saw a great white bird perched on the portico. Ahavah flared her wings, came in slowly, and then flared her wings again to almost drop onto the portico. She folded in her wings and then lay down on the portico. Tachol dismounted and patted her, then removed his cowl, goggles, and mask.
Another man dressed in all black emerged with Jorn from the shadows of the buildings. His skin was robin’s egg blue with the same white hair and ice-blue eyes of Tachol. His build was larger but was about the same height as Tachol.
“Tachol, I assume you’ve already met Jorn?” the man spoke in the human tongue.
“I have, not quite three days ago.”
“Jorn told me many of the details about the events we discussed last night.”
“Komir tells me that the Inquisitors have Camon,” Jorn said.
“Yes, this is true. He gave himself up willingly to them,” Tachol said.
“He would not have done that if he wasn’t protecting someone or something,” Jorn said.
“He was protecting Ratana of the Chozeh. He purposed her with the task of sharing something with Achara that he believed would help her.”
“Did he say what?”
“No, but I suspect that it has something to do with the Shikutzim.”
“The Gray Elves. I apologize,” Tachol said. “Camon also told me to help you, and he told me that they were taking him south to Rahtneua.”
“He wants me to rescue him,” Jorn exclaimed.
“As elves, we cannot intervene in this affair,” Komir commented.
“That’s why he said help me. Camon knows that,” Jorn said. “Can you take me to him?”
Komir looked at Tachol and Tachol at Komir for a moment. “I don’t see any reason why we could not do that,” Komir said.
“But even so, I don’t see how Camon expects me to rescue him. They will surely have him under heavy guard. The Inquisitors won’t take any chances with a Paladin.”
“That is why I brought Komir here,” Tachol said. “Komir is a priest of the Rakahim. I brought him here to see if he can unlock your power.”
“You mean you can do that?”
“That’s what I believe the Paladin meant when he told me to help you. Komir has insight into this sort of thing.”
“What did the Shikutzim do to you?” Komir asked.
“I’m not sure,” Jorn said. “They had initially hired me to capture Achara alive, but Achara and Camon captured me instead as fate would have it. But whatever the Gray Elves did, they imbued me with some kind of magic that is activated by Camon’s magic, more specifically the magic he uses for attack because his healing magic doesn’t seem to trigger it. When it is triggered, I am not in control of myself. Rather it feels as if someone else is controlling me. The last time Camon activated it, we were facing three demons, and he did it in desperation. But we managed to defeat them. I was wearing a belt at the time that we got off of a mage we believe to be in the service of the Gray Elves.”
“Do you have it still?”
“Yes,” Jorn said as he removed it from under his tunic and handed it to Komir. Komir inspected the belt looking over it, examining each of the stone inlays and the leather itself.
“This is definitely of Shikutzim origin, but its purpose is what makes it interesting. Elves use stones like humans do for some things, but our magic is much more dynamic. We see it more like harmonics in music than through a void as humans do. Magic streams through us, and it’s like notes that we attempt to bring together to create a desirable sound while filtering out others. This belt works like an adapter of sort that allows the user to call on magic as an elf, but it applies filters to it like your stones do to focus it. It strips the magic of many more fine qualities, but it still produces the desired outcome. Perhaps it’s the difference between a child playing a flute and an orchestra playing a masterpiece. As for what happened to you, that’s a different story. They wanted the Paladin out of the way because they know he would be formidable for sure. Let me examine you.”
“Okay, what do you need me to do?” Jorn asked.
“Let’s go back to your camp and try something there,” Komir said.
They went back to the buildings where Jorn had been camping. Komir removed a stone from a pouch at his side and breathed on it, and it began to glow, letting off a warm yellow light. The three sat down on the furniture.
“Let me see your hand,” Komir said. Jorn reached out and gave his hand to Komir, who grabbed it with both hands. “This might hurt, but it is necessary to understand the nature of what is going on.”
“I’m ready,” Jorn said.
Komir gripped Jorn’s hands tighter, and Jorn flinched, then his teeth gritted. Komir worked his hands, applying different pressures to Jorn’s hand, and with each change, Jorn’s face twitched and moved about. Komir continued this probing for another two or three minutes before he relaxed his grip and released Jorn’s hand. Jorn retracted it and rubbed his hand, which was now inflamed and red.
“It will wear off in a moment,” Komir said. “I must say, the Shikutzim were quite inventive here. They have essentially imbued your body the same way that they imbue a talisman of stone. You act as a filter in the same way they do. But moreover, they gave it an activation that was tied to specific magic – Camon’s magic – but enabled a control only for themselves. It was one of them who was controlling you in much the same way that the seers or we elves can communicate across great distances. You, Jorn, are a purpose-built weapon.”
“Okay,” Jorn said, still rubbing his hand. “Is there any way to change it?”
“Well, we have to fix two things – the magic of activation and then remove the control magic from you. If the rest is left intact, then I think we might enable you to use it. The Shikutzim are formidable artificers, that is for sure. But I think it is something I can manage. But I must warn you – it will be painful, and there’s no telling what side effects it may have. It may have none, or it could kill you. There’s simply no way of knowing. Are you willing to accept that?”
“Yes, I am,” Jorn affirmed. “I owe it to Camon to at least try.”
“So be it,” Komir said. “Lay down on the ground. I need some time to work.”
Jorn got down on the ground and laid flat, looking at the ceiling. Komir got down on his knees next to Jorn and placed Jorn’s cloak under his head. Komir laid his hand across Jorn’s head, and then Jorn fell asleep a few moments later. Komir went to work on Jorn immediately after that. The elf placed his hands on Jorn’s chest and another on his shoulder. Komir’s entire body began to emit light, and it pulsed down his arms to his hands on Jorn’s body. Jorn’s veins around his neck became visible as they too glowed with light, then eventually, Jorn’s entire face was lit up. Komir did not sweat, but Jorn did with the beads rolling down his forehead. Through all this, Jorn did not awake. The procedure went on for over an hour before Komir relaxed his hands and removed them. The glowing faded from him and Jorn.
Komir waited for several minutes then again placed his hand on Jorn’s head, who then opened his eyes. He looked at Komir, then moaned in pain and dry heaved as he rolled onto his side. He curled into a fetal position and groaned for a while longer then stretched out. Komir and Tachol helped him lean against a wall in the building as Jorn recovered. Eventually, he came to his senses.
“You weren’t joking when you said that would hurt,” Jorn said.
“Besides the pain, is everything else okay?” Komir asked.
“Hard to say. Every time I move, something hurts.”
“The pain will subside in a few hours, but the good news is that it didn’t kill you.”
“Not yet, anyway. This pain might just do the trick,” Jorn commented.
“It gets better, I promise. Try and stand up if you can.”
Jorn got his feet under him then stood up, leaning against the wall for support. He groaned the entire time he lifted himself up.
“Your legs seem to be working,” Komir observed.
“Yeah, but there’s a spot in my left leg behind my knee where I took a bolt that is throbbing right now,” Jorn moaned. “And I can’t seem to move my left arm at all, no matter how I try.”
“That may be a byproduct of the magic,” Komir said. “I don’t know if it is a temporary effect or a permanent one. Time will tell.”
Jorn sat back down on the wall, grunting all the way down. He used his right arm to push back his hair, and he shook his head.
“How will I know if the procedure worked?” Jorn asked.
“We can test it,” Komir said. He got the mage’s belts and helped Jorn put it on. “Now, this sort of magic is triggered reflectively, meaning you have to see yourself in the void, and then see and feel yourself casting the spell.”
“I can try that,” Jorn said. “But we’d probably best try it outside…”
“That would be wise,” Komir said. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait until morning and had time to rest?”
“I’d rather find out sooner than later,” Jorn insisted.
“Very well,” Komir said. “On your feet.”
Jorn stood up again, and this time attempted to walk. He took his time at first with the first few steps, testing his weight on his throbbing knee. The weight didn’t seem to bother the pain, so he picked up the pace, and Komir led him out to the back of the city up on to the terraces.
“I see where you two buried that undead,” Komir observed.
“That was Camon’s idea. He’s always looking for a way out of a fight,” Jorn said.
“Smart man. Better to avoid a fight and live another day than die trying,” Komir commented.
“Yeah, well, that works for some folks,” Jorn observed. “Let’s get on with this.”
Jorn stood in the middle of the first terrace with Komir and Tachol standing a way back. Jorn went into himself, closing his eyes and trying not to see anything, hear anything, or feel anything. He managed to block out the pain and chill of the night air blowing against him. He felt nothing and almost felt weightless. He then imagined himself in his mind, seeing his form and face in every detail. He focused on bringing the image to life, and as the image moved, so did he as reflectively as he could. After performing this exercise for a few minutes, he then imagined the lightning arcing across his body. Seconds later, he felt the surge of magic growing in the pit of his stomach, which then buzzed through him, gripping his chest and seizing his arms and legs with stiffness. Jorn breathed in deep, then held his breath as he opened his eyes. They were lit with fury and sparkling as he observed the electricity arcing across his body and casting flashes of light on the stones below and the wall leading up to the second terrace.
Jorn then turned and looked at Komir and Tachol, who were observing. Jorn spotted a boulder off to their left about fifty feet. He pulled back his right arm and thrust it towards the stone. He then felt the magic explode in his gut and channel through his arm. A bolt of lightning erupted from his fingertips and forked striking the ground and walls around him, but with the main trunk striking the boulder. The boulder exploded into shards as the bolt struck. Jorn howled with frenzy, then turned about-face and looked into the sky. He thrust his hand upward, and again the magic erupted from him. Thunder clapped as the lightning arced into the sky. Jorn let the lightning continue for seconds longer when he felt the magic leave him as quickly as it had come. As it did, he felt weakness in his knees, and he then fell to the ground, panting. The arcing soon faded, and Jorn was on his hands and knees dripping with sweat.
Komir and Tachol rushed to his side. “It appears that the procedure was successful,” Komir said.
“Yes,” Jorn acknowledged. “I didn’t expect though for the magic to be so…exhausting.”
“Magic always is,” Komir said. “You have to learn to control not just the form, but also the strength of it. It directly correlates to the input you put into the effect you are summoning. You let everything loose there, and just like in a fight, it would have worn you out. Think of it like pulling your punches. Be choosy and calculated with your swings, and you won’t tire out so quickly.”
“I’ll try again in the morning, but I know it works. Thank you for everything. I just hope I can use it aptly to save Camon.”
“You must,” Tachol said.
“Why is that?”
“Because there is no other plan. Camon put his faith in you.”
“He’s never fully trusted me with magic. He sure picked a hell of a time to do it now.”
“He placed a lot of faith in Ratana too. Whatever she’s to tell Achara, Camon must believe it will help him defeat the Shikutzim.”
“Then I pray I don’t fail him. But for now, I need my rest.”