“Hide somewhere nearby,” Ari said. The spider fangs clattered livelily and it vanished between the trees.
He focused his attention on the figure lying on the ground.
The man was smaller than him and also a lot thicker, looking more like one of the pie loving merchants he met during his travels. His dark hair was partially hidden behind a red cap with a curved part sticking out at one of the sides, which looked even more impractical than the top hats Ari saw in the port.
But the thing that stood out the most was his light brown skin. Ari knew the vast continent was inhabited by many different people, but for the first time, he saw someone with much darker skin than his.
He spread his senses and frowned when he couldn't feel anything from the man’s body.
Every living organism was able to absorb the essence from the surrounding world — it was as simple as breathing and it happened naturally. The amount of essence gained from it was too small to affect the body or mind in any significant way, but it stockpiled over time.
The man looked like he was about Ari’s age, but he barely released any essence. To his senses, he felt more like a newborn baby than a twenty-something old. Maybe he’s injured.
He knelt near the unmoving body, searching for any visible wounds. Finding none, he placed his hand over the man’s forehead. Willing the essence to move to his limb, he cast Mend, but the spell dispersed without doing anything. While summoning his spider required an incantation to use this spell, he just needed to focus on its name.
The man started mumbling something, but Ari couldn’t understand what he was saying. After a moment, he sat up again and slowly rubbed his temples. His green eyes widened suddenly and he spun around frantically as if searching for something, but they soon rested on Ari looking him up and down.
“What is it this time?” the man said in a defeated voice and tilted his head upwards, letting droplets run down his face. “Viking convention or some kind of LARP?”
“I don’t know what those words mean,” Ari responded, his brows furrowing.
“Of course, you don’t. You’re in character or whatever it’s called.” The man let out a deep breath. “Can you at least show me where that asshole is hiding? I would prefer to get home sooner rather than later.”
“In what? Who?” Ari asked, dumbfounded. He wasn’t sure what was going on anymore.
The man rolled his eyes. “Oh, cmon. I will give you fifty bucks if you drop the act.” He reached out for a hand. “Help me stand up. The ground is freaking wet.”
Ari helped him, and he caught a glimpse of something on his wrist. He pulled the man’s sleeve up — a rune was visible under it, burned into the skin. Ari’s face went pale immediately. It can’t be.
“This hurts,” the man said. He tried to pull his hand away, but Ari held it tight. “Let go of me.”
“Source,” Ari whispered.
“This means Source. When did it appear?”
“I… I don’t know. I just noticed it now. What is it?” The man scratched at the rune and frowned when it didn’t do anything. “Those fuckers tattooed me!”
That’s not possible. Every region had its own brands and runes could only appear on people with Islander’s blood flowing in their veins.
“It’s one of the brands.” Ari gazed straight into the other man’s eyes. “It means you’re one of the Seidr, like me.”
Ari removed the bracelet from his right wrist and showed it to the man. The rune looked different, but it was also burned into his skin.
“A Seidr?” The man raised his eyebrows.
“It means a person who can channel the essence.”
The man stared at him for a few long seconds, only to burst out laughing a moment later.
“Man, you’re taking this way too seriously. How much did they pay you to act like freaking medieval Hagrid?” He spread his hands and turned around. In a raised voice, he continued, “A Viking wannabe and a fucking tattoo? Even for you, Tom, that’s a new low—”
A distant howling startled both men and a chill ran down Ari’s spine. Soon, more wolves responded, their guttural song echoing through the forest.
“Wolves? B...But—” the man stammered.
“We need to get as far away from here as we can,” Ari interrupted him. He started walking back to the camp to get his bag. Damn it; the wolves must have caught the scent of the essence.
The rain ceased and the massive storm clouds were dispersing. Stars slowly filled the sky and one of the moons shone bright, allowing Ari to see his surroundings again. The damage made by that man was more extensive than he thought; at least fifty trees lay broken around the clearing. Who or what is he?
“Hey, wait for me,” the man yelled and caught up to Ari. He looked at the broken trees and said, “What the hell happened here? A tornado?”
“You did,” Ari said without even glancing at him.
A wolf howled again, this time it was much closer. Shit, they’re faster than I thought.
“T… There are no wild wolves in Florida. You have to try better than that to scare—”
Ari dashed to the man and covered his mouth. “They will find us in a few minutes and your shouting makes it easier for them," he said through clenched teeth. "If we do not work together then we're both dead. Nod if you understand.”
Tears appeared in the man’s eyes, but he nodded slowly.
“You have a brand, which means you should be able to cast at least one spell. Do you know what it is?” Ari removed his hand.
The man tried to say something, but he closed his mouth as soon as it opened and shook his head.
Not good. I can handle one wolf, two at most, but it sounds like there are more of them. Ari knew he couldn’t outrun the beasts. The last farm he passed was too far and only if he used the man as bait, he would make it. Maybe. He discarded the idea right away. I came here to help people, not sacrifice the first person I met so that I could live. He glanced at the man. Also, he needs to give me some answers first.
Meditation was the key to learning the brand’s abilities, and there wasn’t enough time to teach him how to do it. His Mother journal mentioned a shortcut to force someone into this state, but there were consequences of doing it. I don’t have a choice.
“What’s your name?” Ari asked.
“Listen carefully, Elijah. I can show you your spells, but you will have to trust me,” Ari said. “Close your eyes, and whenever you hear your name, try to guide your thoughts toward it. You need to find your name, do you understand?”
Elijah creased his brows and replied, “What? I know my name already, why would I need to find it?”
Ari stared at him without saying anything.
“You know, whatever. Knock yourself out and do your hocus pocus.”
Ari placed his hand on Elijah’s forehead and channeled his essence. The idea behind the shortcut was to force the other person’s essence to circulate through the body in a specific pattern. The name was the anchor, which should help with guiding it. At least that was the theory.
Sweat trickled down Ari’s cheeks and his pulse slowed down. It was a lot harder to do than he thought, but he poured more essence into the man.
A mocking smile crept across Elijah’s face. “Is that all? Stop—” All of a sudden, his eyes rolled back, showing only whites. His whole body started trembling violently as he collapsed to the ground.
Ari fell to his knees beside the chubby man, panting hard. He felt drained; at least half of his essence reserve was used during the process.
Everything around him suddenly went quiet. Wind, animals, even his breath, he couldn’t hear anything. He stood up and stomped on a twig, snapping it, but no sound reached his ears. You got to be kidding me.
Tightening his grip on the stave, he moved away from Elijah’s unconscious form.
From behind one of the fallen trees, a massive white wolf appeared, blood dripped slowly from its bared fangs. A horrible shiver ran through Ari’s back as he gazed into its ice-blue eyes. His insides started freezing and his legs felt like they could buckle under him any second now. He rotated the essence around his body, pushing back on the numbing sensation, but it wasn’t enough. Move, stupid legs, move.
The wolf prowled towards him, its eyes locked into Ari’s. The beast pupils were continually shifting and Ari noticed the pattern wasn’t random. It’s a spell!
Ari pushed most of his remaining essence to his head, blinding himself as it burst out of his eye sockets. The gnawing cold abruptly left his body, and he swung his stave in front of him. His hands went numb from the blow; the wolf must have pounced at him the moment the spell broke.
Everything was blurry after he opened his eyes again. The wolf lay sprawled on the ground, but its chest was still moving. Not giving it a chance to recover, Ari plunged his weapon down hard. Half the creature’s head caved in, splattering blood and brain matter across the leaf-covered grass.
A warm wave spread through his body, and he felt his essence growing stronger. Focus, not time for this right now.
The hair on Ari’s neck pricked, and something rammed into his back a moment later. The blow sent him tumbling into the ground, shredding through a thorny bush as he landed on a patch of wet grass. His vision swam again as warm fluid trickled down his face. He could only recognize general shapes, but it looked like another wolf fighting against his spider.
The wolf circled his summon, but it was the spider who jumped first and bit into its opponent's neck. Blood sprayed from the wound, and the watery spider turned crimson. The wolf started flailing wildly, and it managed to free himself. Right after, the beast lept on the knocked down summon and ravaged the exposed abdomen, till its legs stopped quivering. After a second, the spider body dissolved back into the water.
Ari managed to stand up, leaning on his stave. I don’t have enough essence to summon another one.
The wolf raised its head and started slowly walking towards him. After taking a few steps, the creature lost its balance and slumped to the ground. Its chest was convulsing, but with the amount of blood visible on the fur, Ari knew it was over.
Ari’s whole body was shaking. He let out a deep breath and muttered, “That was close.”
No, no, no.
He couldn’t hear his voice.
Ari spun around, barely raising his stave in time to block a black wolf lunging at his throat. This one was much bigger, its eyes red as if coals burned inside of them.
In an instant, the wolf was on top of him, biting on the wooden weapon and Ari desperately tried to keep it inside the beast’s mouth. The stench of rotten meat overwhelmed him. He was slowly losing strength in his arms. The stave was on the verge of breaking as the first fracture appeared on it.
Suddenly, the wolf’s head exploded in a river of blood and gore, splashing the steaming fluid all over Ari’s face. He blinked several times and wiped his face to clear his vision.
Ari turned his head to the side and between the trees, he noticed Elijah, who was looking with awe at his hands, both engulfed in bright red flames.
Ari smiled, and the darkness took him.