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When Hump finally dismounted, little of the day’s light remained but for a vein of molten gold that slowly lowered beneath the horizon. Not one day into his journey, and he had already broken one of the old man’s rules: never leave it till dark to break for the night.

But a wizard had his ways. He whispered a spell to his staff, a shiver running through him as the gemstone glowed brighter, its white light illuminating the surrounding woodland just enough for him to find firewood. Light was a simple cantrip, something any wizard learnt as a child, and one of the first the old man had taught him. The memory left him in a lull of solemnity.

He hadn’t known his exact age when he’d started his apprenticeship, so the old man had told him he was six. Why he’d decided to pick some runt off the street to be his student, Hump never understood. Best not to ask when you have a good thing going. Whatever the reason, it was the old man’s loss.

Hump sighed. It was too quiet on his own.

He set the fire the old-fashioned way. There was no use wasting what little warmth he had left on a spell; the night was too cold for that. And he still had many more spells to cast before he could settle in for the night. The Brookwood was a dangerous place for a lone traveller, even more so if they were stupid enough to light a fire at night. He’d need to hide it well if he were to keep curious eyes away while he slept.

He sat on part of a fallen tree beside the fire and unbuckled the old man’s spellbook from his belt. “Don’t flip out on me, okay?” It didn’t do anything, which was exactly what he liked out of his books. He flipped through it until he found the spell he needed.

Spellbook
Hidden Fire

Description: Create a veil that conceals the light, sound, and smoke of a fire.
Classification: Ritual
School: Illusion
Spell Tier: 1

Ability Rank:
1 - Basic understanding of runes and veils.

Notes by Ivish:
A handy little spell I picked up from a mercenary in the Sweeping Meadows. Traded it for a night of drinks, would you believe it. Poor fool was too drunk to even remember.

 

Not used to being the one that got to ride Prancer, Hump ached more than usual as he lumbered about the campsite. He murmured the chant for Hidden Fire as he used the butt of his staff to inscribe six runes into the ground surrounding his firepit. They were basic storage type runes that would hold onto his essence for a good half day, maintaining the spell while he was asleep. If it rained, they’d be washed away, but by that point he’d be up anyway.

He followed the spellbook carefully as he went. He’d done it enough to have it practically memorised, but one could never be too careful with things like this. A single slurred word and at best he’d need to start all over. At worst, he’d miss it and have a hole in his veil. When he muttered the final word of the chant, cold once more lanced through him, spreading out from his core. The runes pulsed once with blue light, and then went dark.

He took a deep breath, clenching his teeth to help stop them from chattering. “It’s way too cold for this,” he muttered, rubbing his chest to try and bring back some of the warmth.

He checked the spell from every angle, taking every care that neither light nor smoke escaped its confinement. Only once he was satisfied that he wouldn’t be knifed while he slept did he take his old cloak and sit down. Freezing and hungry, he huddled close to the fire, trying to soak in as much of the heat as he could to replace what was lost.

To think that not even a week ago he and the old man had been at one campfire amongst many, feasting on venison with ale all around. Funny how quick things change. His stomach grumbled and he took a strip of salt beef from his pouch. He stared at it in the firelight and scrunched his nose. Even soaked, the blackened meat looked dry as a boot. Shame some things never do.

But food was food, even if it did taste like wood pulp.

If he were lucky, he’d reach an inn on the morrow and stuff himself silly. And a scalding hot bath, he thought happily. He deserved it after all he’d been through. Wizards were ill-suited to the cold.

***

“Ho there, stranger!”

Hump jolted, heart pounding in his ears. He’d fallen asleep by the fire with his head rested on his pack and staff hugged to his chest. Across the dying flames, two black figures stood stark against the night sky; a man as tall as any Hump had seen, and his horse.

“Might I share your fire?” the stranger continued.

My fire? Hump thought through the fog of drowsiness. How the hell did he find the damn thing?

For a moment, Hump lay there frozen, holding his breath as if that would somehow make him disappear, all too aware of the sword at the man’s hip. Stop acting like some farmer’s daughter.

Slowly, he forced himself to nod. “P-please,” he said shakily, his voice barely a whisper, his throat tight from tension. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Please. Be my guest.”

“Thank you kindly. I was caught out by the dark and rode through the night in search of a place to stay. You know how it is.”

“Of course.”

He began to tie his horse to one of the nearby trees. Hump pushed himself up and lay his staff across his lap, gripping it tightly, and pointing the crystal toward the man as discreetly as he could. If it was just the one man, he could send him flying with a blast spell, but bandits worked in groups. He glanced nervously at the shadows beyond the fire, expecting more figures to appear at any moment and assail him. The night was still. Not ten paces away, Prancer was agitated, either by the new horse or something else. Hump wondered if he could reach the stallion before an arrow found him, though he abandoned the idea nearly as quickly as it came. On a good day he’d be too slow, and right now his legs were stiff as logs.

He watched the big man with rabbit eyes, who petted his horse innocently. Nobody wakes a man before they jump him, Hump thought, trying to reassure himself.

The man stepped closer to the fire and Hump had to crane his neck to look at him. Fair hair and handsome, he could have mistaken him for a knight if not for the rust that spotted his chainmail, and gaps where the rings had broken loose. As he was, he looked every bit a bandit. Hump didn’t blink as the man removed his sword belt, placing it on the ground beside him as carefully as if it were a baby, then he slumped down beside it with the chink of his armour.

Silence loomed between them, but for the crackle of the dying fire.

“That a wizard staff?” the man asked.

Hump nodded. He gulped, waiting for an arrow to find his back.

“That explains the glow.”

Hump’s eyes flickered to the crystal; he hadn’t meant to channel essence into it.

“You’re a wizard then?” the man continued. “What’s your name?”

He hesitated. “Hump.”

Hump startled as the man bellowed a deep, chesty laugh.

“That name doesn’t suit a wizard!” he said. “Wizard Humphrey, perhaps?”

“It can be whatever you want it to be.”

“Come, man. You’re staring at me as if I were a bandit.”

Hump paused, carefully turning over all the questions in his head before deciding there was no good way to ask. “Are you not?”

The man stared at him, taken aback. “A bandit?” he spat. “I am Bud of Blackthorne, sworn Knight of Kelisia. I am no bandit! Here, look." He pulled out a medallion from around his neck, a silver flame hung from the chain. The mark of Kelisia.

Hump frowned at him. A Chosen of the Frostfire Witch was a rare thing. It could have been stolen, but a Chosen wouldn’t go down easily. “So there’s nobody out there ready to put an arrow through me?”

“Not that I know of,” Bud grumbled, putting the medallion away. “You really took me for a bandit?”

“Most knights I know don’t sneak up on people in the middle of the night.”

“A man in need is a man without heed, as they say. You’ll have to forgive me.” Suddenly, he rose to his feet and Hump flinched. But Bud walked back over to his horse and untied a something from the saddle. “Here, I caught a pheasant a few hours back. I’ll split it if you like.” He held it up by its feet. “She’s a plump one. I’ll even give you the bigger half.”

Hump blinked at the knight, then stared at the bird. His stomach groaned. Well, if I am to die tonight, at least it will be with a full stomach.

Hump forced himself to smile. “How could I say no to that?”

Bud grinned back and returned to his place beside the fire, where he began plucking the bird.

“So you asked about my name, but what type of name is Bud anyway?” Hump said. “It’s not the knightliest of names.”

“A name doesn’t make a knight,” Bud said seriously, wagging a feather at him like a finger. “I’m as much a knight as any man you’ll meet.”

“You’re the rustiest knight I’ve ever seen. Sir Rusty, I should call you. Or the Rusted Bandit.”

“Just Bud will suffice,” he said. “Neither name nor armour make a knight.”

“Then what does? Your sword?” Hump tilted his head, trying to get a look at it on the ground. The hilt looked much like every other sword he’d seen.

“My valour.”

Hump thought for a moment, then forced himself to relax, withdrawing his essence from his staff. “I can see some truth in that. You must have valour in bucket loads to be a Knight of Kelisia.”

“That’s going a bit far.” Bud laughed. “I simply do the best I can.”

“Is this your first time travelling alone?”

Bud looked at him sharply. “How did you know?”

“Only the arrogant or ignorant would approach strange fires in the Brookwood. Bandits own these parts, and goblins stalk the parts they don't. That’s why I took such care to hide my fire. Speaking of which…” Hump stared at his veil, perplexed. He could still sense his spell at work. “How did you find me? I have twice as many spells as I need to make sure no one can.”

Bud scratched the back of his head and chuckled.

“What?” Hump asked.

“You see, I kind of fell asleep. It was Asoltef that found you.” He thumbed toward his horse. “He’s always been good about taking me to the right place.”

Hump’s jaw dropped. He stared at the shadow of the horse, munching idly on a mouthful of grass. “And where’s he taking you now?”

“To the dungeon of Bledsbury.” Bud paused. “At least I hope we’re heading there. Hard to tell which way I’m going with the sun behind the clouds.”

“Huh. As it so happens, I’m heading there too.”

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A note from Alex M

Hi Peeps, the engagement on chapter 1 was amazing! Thanks so much for all your comments and follows. I hope you enjoy the chapter. The next release will be on Thursday.


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About the author

Alex M

  • England
  • Wizard Supreme

Bio: I'm not really a wizard.

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