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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Six - Strong Foundations)

Colin Frayn
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The four friends awoke somewhat reluctantly that morning, knowing that the construction of the fort could be delayed no further. Though it was exciting at last to be building a more permanent home amidst the trees, it was still a most daunting task. The whole project would take them at least a month of hard work and they all knew it. Preparations would have to begin immediately. The sooner they made a start the sooner they would be safe from the forest's deadly grasp.

After a hearty breakfast, they assigned tasks for the day, and split up to go about their work. Athena and Carek went off to chop down some pine trees, while Doragon and Tarok stayed behind to plot the site on the ground. Tarok pegged out the corners using wooden stakes, and Doragon wound twine between them to mark the location of the walls. This gave Tarok a perfect opportunity to talk to his new companion and find out a little more about him. Doragon was only too happy to tell all about his life right up to the point where he had met the wizard in Tarnadon.

Doragon was born to a comfortably wealthy couple, the eldest of three sons. Halfling villages were rarely overstated, and Doragon's home was no exception. Their house was one of the most impressive in the entire village, though of course this meant entirely different things to a halfling. The house was small, certainly by human standards, and everything was placed exactly where it should be. The garden was immaculately kept, free from even the tiniest of weeds. Doragon was not one for this kind of life. Many halfling children thought the same when they went through their more rebellious phases, but Doragon was different. Though his parents kept saying that he would "grow out of it," he never did. Doragon wanted to explore the world outside his immediate surroundings. Nothing exciting ever happened in halfling societies, and sadly that was just the way they liked it.

Exploring was something that halflings rarely did. Most were more than happy staying exactly where they were, minding their own business and generally staying out of harm's way. Doragon wanted to see the world. He wanted to go and mix with humans and experience their culture. When he grew old enough, that was exactly what he did. His parents tried to accept his wild sense of adventure, though they were of course sorry to see him go. Doragon, however, was more than happy to leave his claustrophobic village and explore the lands, which he did for several years. He walked many miles, wrote a good many letters home, and of course, a meticulously detailed map and guide to the region.

After a few years, Doragon began to mix more with humans, beginning to understand and sympathise with their most unusual ways. The book of his travels had been rather well received amongst the halfling communities, with them regarding it as more of an action novel than a factual account of a relatively uneventful series of journeys. Doragon's fame was temporarily assured amongst those of his own kind, so he returned for a few months to enjoy his popularity. Doragon was heartily disappointed when his fame began to dwindle, though he knew it would happen one day. Before long things were back to normal, and Doragon's travels had been long forgotten. By everyone but him, that was. He decided to buy himself a house with the remaining proceeds from his writings, and chose a comfortable bungalow in Tarnadon. It was slightly back from the main roads, but still right in the heart of the town. He wanted to remain near the action.

That was the story of Doragon's life. It was only a couple of years ago when he bought that house, and in the intervening years he had accomplished very little, working for the town authorities. He yearned to go adventuring once more, which is probably why he was so eager to accept the offer he saw on that notice board just a few days ago. Tarok, for one, was glad that he had. Doragon's attention to detail meant that the plan for the fort was laid out absolutely correctly, with each side measured three times for accuracy.

The fort was a complicated design, and the whole process of marking out the edges took several hours. By the time Tarok and Doragon were finished, Athena and Carek appeared with a long tree trunk slung painfully over their shoulders. They were laughing amongst themselves, but both appeared to be struggling under the heavy load. Carek called out to the other two, "Come and help us! We've chopped down three more and we can't carry them back on our own."

Relishing a break from their meticulous measuring work, Doragon and Tarok walked off with Carek to where the felled trees lay. Athena stayed behind and tidied up the tree that they had already carried to he clearing, removing the side branches. It took an hour to carry the trees back to the clearing and the four tired workers spent the rest of the morning removing the branches with a rusty old saw and a selection of improvised axes.

Tarok carefully measured out the lengths needed on the trunks and then helped Carek cut them up with his saw. Carek had made several crude implements over the years to help him tend the surrounding forest. Though many had been broken in the recent ogre raid, there were still a few left, and they became invaluable during these early stages.

For lunch, they ate some roasted wild boar and a selection of fruit that Tarok had picked from the local forest. It was indeed a delicious meal, all the more so after their exhausting morning's work. They were going to have to plan their meals more carefully now as the local supplies were only limited. Carek had been taught by his parents to look after the forest and maintain it, which was becoming even more important now that the food was all disappearing thanks to the more malevolent denizens who dwelt nearby. Tarok wanted to learn a spell in one of his new books called "Create Food" which would no doubt help them immensely. He spent the whole afternoon writing it down in his book, while the others began to dig the foundation for the fort. This was a most important job, so they made sure that the foundations were dug deep enough to ensure that the walls of the fort would be as strong as possible.

Carek suggested that Athena rested for a while because her shoulder was still very sore, and she would mend a lot quicker if she didn't do anything active. She reluctantly agreed, and rested her arm for the remainder of the day. Carek prepared a herbal drink for his injured friend, and also made a proper bandage, dipped in yet more specially prepared woodland remedies. His job well done, he left Athena alone to rest, and went to help Doragon dig the holes for the corner posts. Tarok had finished copying up his spell, so decided to help too. His extra assistance allowed them to get a good start on the foundations before nightfall.

After the first day's work, the whole project was now beginning to look much less daunting. They planned to finish the foundations for the corner posts over the following day, and hoist up the posts themselves the day after. Now that they had made a start, it all seemed so much more manageable. They could see the fort slowly beginning to take shape in their minds. After they completed the supports then they could start on the walls, and finally the tower. It would all be finished soon enough, and then they would finally have a good defence against the ogres.

They slept well that night, some better than others. Simply making a start on the building work was enough to give them all an enormous boost in confidence. Once the corner posts were in place, the rest of the fort would begin to take shape. It was a great feeling. Carek was imagining the completed fort in his mind, a great bastion against the darkness of the forest around it. He imagined the tower poking up past the treetops. He imagined the view over the forest and along the valley. He slept best of all that night, his mind filled with heartening thoughts of the future.

The fort began to grow over the next few days. First, the strong corner posts, made from tall, resilient redwood were put in place. Next followed the intermediate cross beams holding the whole structure together. Finally, Tarok planned a place for the door and the tower and placed vertical posts to mark the edges. Carek was getting increasingly excited at the prospect of having a stronghold to defend against the ogres. The extra layer of protection afforded by the thick walls might have been all that was needed to deter the creatures from destroying his precious home.

Carek was already planning another outing to Tarnadon. He wanted to buy a spear to fight with as his dagger was of little use against ogres. He also wanted to buy some more tools, and felt sure that Tarok would not pass up on the opportunity to buy a selection of wizardry books. Carek had so many exciting ideas spinning around in his mind and often the others were hard pressed to keep up with the young half-elf's inventiveness. If they were to visit Tarnadon once more then this visit was going to be their last for quite some time. They knew that they would have to make the most of it.

Tarok did indeed want to buy a few new books. There simply was not enough space in his backpack to carry all the ones he wanted the previous time, and he saw one or two that would really improve his arsenal. Athena wanted to buy a crossbow to add to their long-range firepower: One single short bow was simply not enough against nine-foot tall ogres! She had used a crossbow before, but it was a long time ago. However, now she had a great incentive to learn. The advantage seemed obvious to her. If she saw five orcs charging at her and she could kill a couple before they even reached her, then she would have a much easier task of dealing with the rest. She probably wouldn't hit a hill giant five feet away at first, but would improve quickly if she practised. Perhaps Carek could help her to learn.

Doragon wanted to go back to catch up on the gossip at the town. He considered it a valuable skill to know exactly what was going on in the world around him. In his line of work, it had saved his life several times. Besides, much as he was enjoying the life in the forest, he really missed the food back home. He was feeling a little left out now as the group was really in need of tall, strong workmen to do the building rather than someone such as himself. However, he was making himself useful by advising his colleagues on one or two design problems that they had encountered. Tarok, despite his magical schooling, was not particularly well versed in structural engineering!

Four days after work had begun on the fort, the tired workers sat around the camp fire, discussing their upcoming shopping trip. They decided between them what they were going to buy when they arrived at Tarnadon, and Tarok worked out an approximate total cost. Money was going to be a problem. Doragon and Athena had both brought a small number of coins with them, but it was not enough.

Tarok counted the pile of coins on the table before him, and sighed as the numbers began to add up, or rather did not. They were quite a large sum short. Carek really did not own anything worth selling, and they knew that they would need to work hard for at least a week between them to obtain enough money to make up the difference. Doragon offered to sell off a lot of old junk from his home in Tarnadon, but it probably still was not going to be enough. This was a problem that they would have to solve later, but they felt sure that they would be able to gather together enough money between them somehow. They were reluctant to leave the fort for longer than they absolutely had to in case the ogres attacked.

After dinner, they began to talk about the fort, and about ogres and goblins. Carek had been telling tales about his various hunting expeditions and the creatures that he had faced. He was not used to having an audience, but still managed to describe in great detail the various experiences that he had faced throughout his solitary life.

"Once," Carek began, his friends sipping on cups of soup that Tarok had prepared. "When I was quite a bit younger, perhaps four years ago, I came across a most incredible creature in the forests on the other side of the river. Some sort of goblin I believe, though it was dressed in the strangest clothing. I could not describe it if I tried, but it was covered from head to toe in a flowing robe and bright, embroidered garments. It even wore a fine hat on its head, which was so large that it kept falling down over its tiny eyes. I found that I was able to follow it surprisingly easily."

"A goblin noble, perhaps?" asked Doragon.

Tarok laughed out loud. "A goblin noble? Bah! What a thought!"

Carek grinned, "Indeed, I don't think those creatures have ever had a noble thought between them."

"So what do you suppose it was?" asked Athena in an intrigued voice.

"I had no idea," replied Carek, "but I followed it none the less on the chance that it was indeed some sort of rich scavenger with a horde of treasure. Perhaps it was just a lucky goblin that had killed some rich human merchant and stolen his belongings. I suppose the clothes too small. Maybe they belonged to a rich child. A Prince, perhaps. The creature was probably no more than three feet tall, perhaps three and a half at the very most. It was a most amusing sight!"

Tarok was intrigued, "So where did it go? Did it spot you following?"

"No, not at all," replied Carek, "it just kept on through the undergrowth for at least two hundred yards, maybe three. I kept my distance and tracked it cautiously."

"It could have been dangerous!" added Athena.

"Oh I don't think so," Carek shook his head, "It was a goblin, and they're all pretty much the same. Some are tougher than others, but they are all quite stupid individually. They only begin to cause problems when they outnumber you. Nonetheless I kept my bow ready with an arrow on the string, just in case."

"And did it lead you back to its treasure stash?" Doragon was intrigued to discover the ending to this ridiculous tale.

Carek shook his head. "There was no treasure, or at least not as far as I could tell. The goblin just reached this one particular tree in a small clearing and sat down, adjusting his hat. Then he proceeded to take a sandwich out of his pocket and began to eat." Athena laughed out loud, and only just managed to avoid spilling her soup. "What? This creature was on some sort of picnic?" She laughed again.

Carek nodded, "That's how it seemed. I scanned round the undergrowth, then watched as the goblin finished its food and lay back to go to sleep. I slung my bow over my shoulder, drew my dagger and stepped cautiously forward. I'm not sure what I was hoping to accomplish, but I tried nonetheless. I was only two yards away from the snoring goblin when I felt something tighten around my foot and I was swept upwards into the treetops on the end of a length of vine. I dropped my dagger in shock, and it fell to the forest floor below."

Tarok grinned, "So it was all a trap? Some kind of clever bait to lure unsuspecting adventurers? What did the goblin do then?"

"Now that's the strange part," continued Carek, "the goblin just vanished and there was this sort of cackling sound that echoed through the trees, and then all was silent again."

Athena frowned, "Vanished?"

"Exactly. Didn't leave a trace. It had me quite puzzled at the beginning, but I had a few moments hanging there, not knowing exactly what I was supposed to do. Eventually I managed to work out where I was, grabbed my spare knife from my belt and cut the rope from my ankles. I managed to haul myself up, and climb back down the tree to which it was attached, dropping safely to the ground."

Doragon raised his eyebrows, "and then what happened?"

"I immediately got hoisted straight back up into the treetops again."

Tarok tried to laugh whilst taking a mouthful of soup, and began coughing violently. Carek collapsed in a fit of hysterics.

Eventually Tarok managed to breathe again, and blushed a deep red colour, turning to Carek and offering an embarrassed smile.

"Quick! Tell some more," pleaded Athena. "He's almost recovered!"

Carek grinned. "Well I was hanging upside down in the trees once more, but this time I hadn't got another knife with which to free myself. I looked downwards to the forest floor, and then around me in the cover of the overhanging branches, and sure enough, there was a good two dozen ropes there. The whole forest floor must have been littered with those traps. I'll tell you one more thing; whoever built them certainly was not a goblin. The traps were well made, and must have required a lot of skill and expertise, plus a fair amount of strength, to set up."

"So what do you think it was all for?" Tarok enquired.

"I was just coming to that bit," continued Carek. "Well, I managed to cut myself loose with one of my arrows from my quiver. It took quite some time, but eventually I managed it. I climbed back down once more, and then used a stick to probe for more traps in front of me. I searched around where the goblin had been sitting, and sure enough there was yet another noose trap, and nothing at all in the way of treasure. I cursed my luck, and then wandered back to the other side of the clearing from where I had come. I began to walk back towards the fort, still shaking my head in disbelief. Then what do you think I saw next?"

"An ogre?" suggested Doragon. Carek shuddered.

"Thankfully not. I don't think I was anywhere near strong enough to fight those creatures then."

"Some kind of rogue or thief perhaps?" proposed Athena.

Carek shook his head. "It was exactly the same goblin, wearing exactly the same clothes and walking in exactly the same direction as before towards exactly the same clearing. It walked straight past me, not even pretending to look in my direction. I swear it must have passed within three feet of me and never so much glanced in my direction. It walked straight to the clearing, and straight across the traps towards the tree, where it pulled out the same sandwich from the same pocket, and took a bite out of it, just as before."

Tarok finally understood. "So it was an illusion?"

"Indeed," replied his half-elf friend, "and it had well and truly fooled me. For a while I was quite ashamed of myself, and then I began to see the funny side."

Athena laughed, "Outsmarted by a goblin! Now that's quite a claim!"

Tarok grinned. "It was probably set up by a particularly malevolent wizard many years ago and for some reason he never got round to stopping it."

"Perhaps he was killed," suggested Doragon.

"More than likely, "continued Carek. "Especially in this place. One thing is for sure, I returned there just a few months ago and there was no trace of either the goblin of the traps. However, the trees all around all looked scorched, as if by some kind of fire which somehow hadn't spread to the rest of the forest."

"So the creator did come back to remove his work?" said Doragon, intrigued.

"Perhaps," Carek nodded in agreement. "Or perhaps someone else removed it for him. And under force too, it seems." Carek shrugged his shoulders.

"I was just glad that I played no further part in that story. It was all too much for me I'm afraid. Yes, I was disappointed that I didn't find the goblin's treasure, but then again I didn't really have anything to spend it on so it wasn't much use to me. Now, however, it might have come in rather useful."

Athena spoke, "I'm sure we'll be fine. I have a few things that I can sell, and the main expense will be my crossbow. I'm sure that we could all stay at my house, or with Doragon while we're there. After all, it is only one night. We don't need to go paying for rooms at the Inn."

Tarok nodded his head. "That's right, and I can probably earn a few gold pieces by entertaining the crowds in the square. I wish I'd thought of doing that before. It's quite a lucrative business now that I've mastered some more entertaining spells."

Doragon added his own thoughts. "I suggest that we spend as little time there as possible. The sooner we can get back to here the better." The more time they spent away from the loud, bustling streets of the town, the more he was beginning to loathe the idea of ever returning. Though Doragon had since shunned his halfling roots, a childhood spent in such a serene culture tended to leave indelible marks on one's mind.

Carek spoke once more. "In that case I suggest that we set off as soon as possible." In the absence of any objections, he then added "but we cannot really leave the fort alone while it is uncompleted. I will stay here to guard it."

Doragon shook his head, "No, we can't leave you here alone while there are ogres about! The fort is no more than a few posts - it's hardly adequate protection. Besides, I'm sure you would want to choose a spear for yourself."

Carek smiled, and then reluctantly agreed, "I suppose you're right, after all they've only attacked twice in my lifetime - why should they attack again now?" It was a good point, and the decision was made to set off the following morning as early as possible in order to leave the fort alone for as little time as they possibly could. The ogres were the only ones liable to do any damage to the fort, but there were other creatures in the forest who could quite easily have stumbled across it and made it their home.

They spent one more day working on the fort. Between them, they managed to get a great deal of work done, including the placing of seven vertical wall pieces at the front. Work had also started on the door, which was to be made from oak wood with metal spikes in it. At sunset, Tarok called them over to the centre of the camp, where they all sat around a fire eating a vegetable soup that Tarok had prepared from one of his recipe books. It was not delicious, but was surprisingly nourishing. Tarok seemed reasonably pleased with himself as his cooking normally went disastrously wrong.

As night approached, the four tired workers lay down by the fire under the stars instead of in their huts, as it was such a clear night. They fell asleep quickly as all four were thoroughly exhausted after several days of solid working. The thought of the long trek back to Tarnadon after such a short absence did not really appeal to them either, but they had little choice. This would be their last journey away from the fort for quite some time.

Carek woke up first at dawn, and prepared breakfast from the remains of the previous night's soup. It appeared that Tarok, in his enthusiasm, had made rather too much. Everyone woke up within half an hour and ate their fill ready for the day ahead. They would be in Tarnadon by mid-afternoon the following day, and back at the fort just two days later. They collected all their money, packed up their valuables and set off into the trees. At first they couldn't really forget about the fort, and were all secretly worrying about the ogres attacking the huts during their absence. Soon their minds were on other things, such as what to buy, and where. This was the one great benefit of Tarnadon, and indeed of town life in general. That feeling of excitement had not yet entirely left Tarok, although Carek admitted he could never see the attraction of living in such a busy place. "Too many people, all of them looking only after themselves," he complained. Carek had always found it hard to accept the world outside the forest.

He was, however, excited about the prospect of buying a spear, as it would certainly be a much more formidable weapon against ogres than his old dagger. He remembered his father teaching him how to use a spear many years ago. Sadly, Carek had never learned how to make them himself so as soon as his own spear broke, he had to make do with a dagger. He remembered those nights when his father would show him how to hold a spear, and how to throw it. His father could hit a deer at sixty yards. He was very good; maybe Carek would be one day. After all, he was still only young. He was in his early twenties he thought, but could not really remember. The years all began to blend into one another after such a long time on his own.

Tarok's magical studies had advanced a long way by now. He had read all his new books and now knew quite a few exciting spells, which he was just urging to try out. He remembered his teacher telling him that there were only fifty spells of real use to a true wizard. Tarok already knew a few dozen, but doubted the value of the vast majority. He had asked for enough money from the group to buy five books in order to further his studies. He could remember some that he wanted from last time, and some that were not in stock before that he wanted as well. Hopefully, these would keep him busy for the winter months, and would give the group some extra surprises to deal out to the ogres when they came.

After a long morning's walk, they rested for lunch at the same stream as before. Tarok insisted that he tried to catch a fish, so he opened his spell book chanting a few words, much to the amusement of his three friends. Carek watched, his arrows ready as spears for when his wizard friend gave up. Tarok, however, was not easily defeated.

All of a sudden, the water started bubbling as if underwater volcano had suddenly sprung into life. Athena gasped, and Carek edged closer to the water so that he could see what was going on under the frothing waters. Suddenly three small fish flew out of the water, flapping wildly. They shot through the air, and struck the poor wizard in the middle of his forehead, throwing him over backwards. Tarok let out a startled yell, and his friends fell about in hysterics. Trying to keep back the laughter, Carek set a fire on which to cook the catch.

"That's unfair," Tarok started, "It worked fine on holly berries in a tub of water back at the huts." A red blush covered his face. That particular spell still needed some fine tuning, it seemed.

"Cheer up Tarok, " laughed Doragon, "You could probably use that against the hobgoblins next time you see them. I'm sure they would be just as shocked as you were!" Tarok growled and then wandered over to where his bag was, sitting down by himself for a while as he tried to work out where he had gone wrong.

The fish were indeed very tasty. After eating, the group set off again thoroughly nourished. They reached a small clearing in the forest at nightfall, ate the remainder of the fish and lit a fire to ward off insects. Despite the moths, they all managed to get to sleep eventually and slept very comfortably that night. Tarok stayed up quite late, still desperately scanning through his spell book, and keeping watch over their makeshift camp.

In the morning they woke to find the fire still blazing away and Tarok uttering strange incantations at it. Every so often, the fire flared up and Tarok would smile, seemingly oblivious to his audience. Eventually he looked up at them, and spoke.

"Perhaps this will impress you a little more than my pitiful effort yesterday," he proudly declared. The other three watched as Tarok collected together a bundle of sticks, piled them up on the ground, and then stepped back about twenty yards. He muttered some words, waved his arms around and opened up his hand. A small, red flame appeared. Tarok concentrated, lifted up his arm and hurled the flame like a stone at the bundle of sticks. They burst immediately into fire, and a very smug grin covered Tarok's face amidst a round of applause from the onlookers.

"Wonderful!" called Athena, "Now he's hurling flames about! Remind me to stand well back next time we fight anything even remotely flammable!"

Setting off soon afterwards, the group made their way back into the forest. Tarok was feeling a lot better now after having successfully cast one of his spells. Somehow, he felt that he had really improved, even in the few days since the two new members joined the group. The momentum for him to continue his studies was now greater than ever. He dreamed of one day becoming a great magician, as did all students of magic as they began the long hard road to competence. He imagined himself, several years later, returning to Tarnadon from some far off land where he had been battling with dragons and giants. He imagined a hero's welcome, the streets lined with onlookers. He imagined returning to the college in Starksvil, and showing his doubting examiners just how wrong they had been. That would be a truly great day.

It was more than a dream for Tarok; he could not imagine any other future. Perhaps he would one day see it come true. However, he had been prone to similar predictions which had not turned out exactly has he had envisaged. There was a rather attractive young girl who lived near his first magical teacher, and whom Tarok had always rather liked. Tarok felt sure he would end up marrying her one day and living happily ever after. Then this fine, sunny summer's day she approached him and invited him to her wedding. She was running off with a soldier from the King's army with significantly more brawn than brains. Tarok's predictions were not always correct.

The group walked on for several hours, often in quiet as Tarok's mind was on other things. Thoughts of mystical powers and powerful magi danced through his mind. Thoughts of swirling maelstroms of magical fire and bolts of crackling lightning illuminating the night sky. He had always been one to let his mind wander.

Carek was preoccupied with finding the correct route through the forest, which had seemingly covered up all traces of their previous passage just a few days earlier. Athena and Doragon were both excited at the prospect of seeing their home once again, even after such a short break.

They had been walking for the entire morning and were almost reaching the edge parts of the forest when a violent rustling of bushes up ahead halted the four friends in their tracks. They stood still, not daring to move. Carek's magical bow began to shake, and Doragon's ears pricked up sharply. The undergrowth around them shook, and Tarok stood rooted to the spot. The disturbance darted left at first, and then right. They desperately tried to catch a glimpse of the creature, but could not. Whatever it was, it was large enough to pose a potential threat. Tarok stepped back, away from the danger, preparing his mind for a spell.

Everybody stood perfectly still, holding their breath. Carek was not sure what the creature was, but as with everything in the eastern forests, it was best to be cautious. He motioned for everyone to close together, except Tarok who stood well back. Carek readied his bow, and Athena drew her sword from its scabbard. Doragon stood back and closely examined the bushes. He drew his short sword, just in case.

Carek sensed a slight twitching in his bow, so he knew that there was something dangerous hiding nearby. The bow began to shake, as before, alerting him more strongly to the creature's presence. Suddenly the shaking began to die down until Carek's bow was still once more. Had the creature gone away? Carek felt a strange feeling that the creature, whatever it was, was still there. He pulled back his bow string and aimed at a bush ten yards away. He thought that he had seen movement there, and he shot one of his arrows into the undergrowth. A high pitched squeal came from the bushes and a large, dog-sized creature pounced out. It was almost rodent-like in shape, but at least three feet long and covered in dirty yellow fur. It had long, sharp incisors at the front of its mouth, and a short prehensile tail. Even Carek had never seen anything quite like it before. Carek's arrow was lodged in its thick hide and the creature looked in some discomfort. It also looked angry. It squealed loudly, almost barking, while snapping its teeth towards the four startled friends.

The creature ran towards its attackers and Carek shot another arrow, which missed the speeding rodent and embedded in the ground beside it. Tarok started chanting a spell, while Athena took a swipe at the strange creature. She missed, as the nimble adversary was just too fast for her clumsy swordplay. Tarok finished chanting, and a light yellow glow began to surround him. He closed his eyes, and concentrated. Out of thin air, two small glowing darts appeared hovering just above his hand.

The creature jumped at Doragon, he being the smallest. The halfling stepped back in surprise, hacking wildly with his short-sword. Doragon managed to fend off the sharp teeth, but didn't quite manage to avoid the creature's sharp claws. The beast caught him on the chest, tearing his armour but fortunately not penetrating far enough to cause serious injury. Athena swiped at the attacker, but missed once again. She was being cautious, as she didn't want to hit her halfling friend. Tarok pointed his hand towards the creature, and like lightning the shimmering white darts flew from his palm. They struck the creature's side with a loud thud and a magical fizzle. The creature shrieked, the shock sending it reeling backwards a few feet, where it fell to the ground dead. Within a few seconds, the faint glow surrounding Tarok had disappeared, and the magic darts faded into thin air.

Tarok stepped forward smugly and examined the lifeless beast. "Now that," he began, through an unfeasibly wide smile, "was magic."


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 6 - Strong Foundations © Colin Frayn

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