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Tala felt utterly amped, despite her soreness and slowly growing headache. She was sure that a portion of that was lingering adrenaline from the attack, but a large part was also likely from her still glowing spell-lines stirring up the power within her system.

Her stretching done, she pulled on her shirt. Thankfully, it hung down nearly to her knees, so she was reasonably covered when she re-entered the wagon circle, grabbing a new pair of pants, her magic detector, and an iron salve bar.

She went back around the wagon and used the magic detector to quickly scan herself, applying salve to any areas that caused the inscribed device to show even a trace of a glow. No reason to get complacent.

That done, she pulled on her pants, up under her shirt, before fastening the ties. There, dressed for the day. She returned to the other side of the wagon and placed the magic detector and iron salve back in her box. She paused, glancing at her gloves, laying where she’d set them in the box. No need for those, and not worth risking them. She picked them up and tucked them into her bag.

Someone had gathered up her bedroll, folding it and placing it to one side. She looked about but couldn’t find who to thank.

She opened it up, and found it was blessedly free of ichor, somehow. Miracles never cease. That fear averted, she folded and rolled up the bedding, placing it back in the box. Now, to my job.

With quick efficiency, she empowered the cargo-slots in her wagon.

Soon, thirty symbols glowed happily, and she was done. Not too bad. She, herself, was also still glowing. The circle of activated script on her breast had glowed until after she fell asleep the night before, so she would likely stay alight for at least a couple of hours this morning. Joy.

She still felt the need to run around the wagons a couple of hundred times, but she schooled herself into calm, deciding there were other tasks she should attend to. Tala turned towards the chuckwagon and breakfast.

Several passengers were up and eating, but dawn was just beginning to break, so she suspected most had yet to arise. All that fit in between first light and the first sliver of the sun becoming visible. She shook her head.

The nightshift of guards was eating, many casting furtive looks her way.

She easily heard several snatches of conversation about her, mainly composed of ignorant queries as to whether she was glowing because of the dawn’s light. Even so, a few of the guards had seen at least a portion of her scuffle, and they were quietly entertaining their tablemates with the tale.

“I swear, I’ve never seen a Mage so covered in blood.”

“She was a terror! I’d not want to wake her in the morning.”

“She didn’t even use Magic to kill it! It was like she had a personal grudge against the thing.”

There was a lot more in that vein, but after understanding the gist of things, Tala chose to ignore the retellings.

As she walked up to the chuckwagon, she saw Brand staring at her. She smiled at the man, and took the bowl of thick, creamed oats. He swallowed unconsciously. “Are…are you glowing?”

She waited a moment to demonstrate her irritation at having to answer such an obvious question. When he didn’t say anything further, she sighed. “Yes.”

“But…last night when I-” He glanced around quickly. He’d clearly been about to say ‘when I stabbed you’ but thought better of it. “Last night, only a tiny ring lit up.”

“That’s right.”

His eyes widened further. “What happened?”

“Carnivorous plant with lots of vines and thorns…Can I eat my breakfast, now?”

Brand nodded, eyes still wide and grabbed something from under the counter.

Tala almost flinched, but when she looked down, she saw he was pulling out a book and a small medallion.

“Here.” He passed the two items to her.

She took them, glancing down. The book was a notebook, and a quick glance inside told her it was a hand-copied text. “Don’t you need this?”

Brand shook his head. “We each have a copy. That is the one with the most legible handwriting.” He glanced away.

She grinned. “Yours?”

He cleared his throat, then seemed to ignore the question. “The medallion will identify you as one who knows.”

The iron coin bore the deeply inset relief of a scythe. “Oh?”

“We call ourselves the Order of the Harvest.” He blushed slightly at that, and her grin widened. “I’m sure it sounds silly to you.”

“It sounds fitting.” She picked up her bowl as well. “Iron, because Mages avoid the metal, right?”

He stiffened. “I’m sorry, Mistress, I didn’t think. I-”

She waved his concern away. “I’m fine with iron, Brand. Thank you.” He turned to regard her, frowning slightly. He looked skeptical, so she added, “I mean it. Thank you.”

He nodded uncertainly, but she saw an easing of tension. “Glad to have your help.”

She took her bowl, and the two items, to the table she’d eaten at the night before. Several guards were already sitting there, but she greeted them and sat, nonetheless.

They gave her hesitant greetings, but that was the extent of their interactions.

Tala was already poring through the new book, devouring it and her food with equal abandon.

All it would take to recover the morning was coffee…but sadly, the likelihood of that being available was minimal. Maybe I should ask? No. Her head was pounding, and she didn’t want to go back to the chuckwagon.

Tomorrow. I’ll ask, tomorrow.

 

* * *

 

The caravan departed less than an hour after dawn. Tala’s wagon, driven by Den, led the way once more.

The morning began in a blessedly boring fashion. Tala read the books she’d been given, both the one on Immaterial Guide spell-forms, and the cook’s guide to arcanous harvests.

Each was fascinating in its own way, but neither were particularly useful in the moment. Though, when we get attacked again…

The principles for the harvesting and consumption seemed to align with those of powering created items. Don’t feed people parts of the animal empowered with magic of types they can’t handle.

No arcanous bone broth from a blade wing… She shuddered, thinking about the havoc such energy would cause, if a person tried to absorb it.

Less than two hours into the day’s travels, Tala’s mage-sight flared a warning at her, alerting her to nearby power. Her head whipped up from the book she’d been reading just as her wagon crested a hill.

In the valley below, she saw a small herd of deer with lightning dancing between their antlers. They were smaller than horses with fur of a thundercloud-gray color with white streaks woven through in beautiful, seemingly random highlights. The antlers, themselves, had a silvery, golden sheen, and as the myriad flicks of lightning danced among the deer, the bolts almost seemed to have a playful quality. The energy would break apart into smaller sparks, flitting from beast to beast, then portions would come back together for grander jumps, across open spaces among the herd. No deer remained untouched for longer than a heartbeat, but the strikes didn’t seem to be following any sort of pattern that Tala could quickly recognize.

Blessedly, there was no accompanying thunder.

The lightning never stopped moving, and it never struck anywhere but from antler to antler. What purpose does that serve? Does each animal add their own power to the storm, so that it can be harnessed for collective defense? She wasn’t close enough for her mage-sight to pick up the details, let alone the internal form of the magics, and without that, the only real way to test the theory would be to attack, or to see the herd attacked. Yeah…that doesn’t seem wise.

The lightning fractured outward, and the deer, almost as one, turned to regard the oxen and one wagon currently visible to them, all seeming to freeze.

Den didn’t stop the wagon’s progress, and soon it was meandering down the slope, toward the herd, the other wagons close behind.

After the momentary pause, the lightning flashed towards one side of the herd and the entire group turned, unified in purpose, and dashed away at surprising speed, seeming to follow the direction that the lightning had indicated. As they ran, sparks flickered around their flashing hooves, and the lead animal let out a trumpeting bellow that sounded like an odd cross between a cow’s moo and a squeaky hinge. In less than a minute, every one of the creatures was lost to sight in the varied landscape of hill, valleys, and dells.

Huh…They moved as one, seeming to follow the lightning… Could they be one consciousness in multiple bodies, and the lightning is just the firing of the various portions of its mind? That was impossible for her to test. While at the Academy, Tala had come across a theory that you could treat all of humanity as if it were one giant organism, and that better explained human behavior than the idea that every human was an individual. She shook her head. Too much. Too theoretical. Isn’t actionable.

She returned to her books and notes.

She wasn’t reading long, before she sensed an approaching, building power from the direction opposite of that, which the deer had run.

Her interest piqued, Tala looked around, scanning the hills to that side, and thought she could catch flickers of fire magic and the flash of fur covered bodies, low to the ground.

A few minutes later, she was certain enough to call out that a wolf pack was trailing them off to that side. They might have been stalking the deer, but we appeared to be easier prey?

Atrexia rode up beside her. “Where do you see them?”

Tala pointed the beasts out, and described what she saw, and the other woman nodded. “Burn wolves. They’ve been known to stalk both caravans and the cloud hind we passed back there. They have even been occasionally observed to take down small thunder bull families.”

The other Mage rode over to the sergeant on duty, and they had a quick discussion but did nothing else that Tala could see.

Another quarter hour passed before the wolves came into easy sight.

They were no bigger than large dogs but were leaner in appearance. Their eyes glowed an ember red, and the tips of their fur were each a soft, luminescent yellow. Each hair was black, despite the tip, and had an almost charcoal quality to their appearance, though they still moved as fur would on a dog. The last thing that jumped out to Tala, upon quick inspection, was the trails of smoke rising from each lolling, fang-filled maw.

Ahh, burn wolves…I can see why they got the name. After a moment’s consideration she found herself smiling. If we kill any, they would make perfect fuel for my fire-starter. In addition, such obvious uses meant that the parts would be eminently salable.

It was a large pack, not that Tala knew much about the average size of such things, but nearly thirty arcanous canines certainly seemed like a large number.

They padded along silently through the grass, some hundred yards from the caravan.

To the credit of both the drivers and the oxen, the wagons’ pace never changed, and there were not sounds of panic or fear.

As the wolves began closing the final distance, Atrexia rode out towards them and gestured across herself, pointing at the ground.

Tala saw power flash from the woman’s keystone, down her left leg, activating a spell-form on that calf, ankle, and foot. The working then flowed out, through Atrexia’s bare sole, and into the ground.

Immediately a trench, ten feet deep and twice as wide, opened between the wolves and the caravan.

As the ground shifted, compacting outward to create the defensive bulwark, five guards loosed into the pack. Each arrow struck true, and five wolves yelped in pain.

There was no accompanying bloom of power. Mundane arrows? Do they not have any of the fire variety, or was the use of mundane ammunition purposeful?

The pack stopped then, the largest wolf ambling up to the deep trench.

The matriarchal wolf looked down into the pit, then up to Atrexia. After a long moment, in which the two locked gazes, the wolf dipped her head then turned, leading her pack away.

Tala had a moment’s hope that there would be five bodies to harvest, but as the wolves left, she saw five bolts, coated in smoldering blood, laying in the grass behind the departing canines.

Atrexia motioned again, and the ground seemed to flow like water, rushing to return to its original shape.

Unlike with the thunder cattle the day before, the effort did not seem to strain her.

I suppose creating the spikes so quickly yesterday was much more straining than making a trench and refilling it? She really didn’t understand Material magic well enough to fully comprehend why that might be the case, but the evidence was obvious.

No burn wolf parts for me. She then felt a moment’s guilt that she wished the animals harm. They’d been about to attack us. If some died as a result of our defense, it makes sense to make their death’s worth something. Even so, she felt conflicted; they were in the wilds, and this was the wolves’ home, not hers.

An hour after the departure of the wolves, Tala began to notice small animals hiding or scurrying about in the grass as the wagons passed.

None were easily visible to the eye, those further away seeming to go to great effort to hide. While the myriad rabbits and other small creatures fled from the approaching wagons, they didn’t usually go far, seeming to simply wish to wait for the humans to pass. A few were of note, because instead of bounding or scampering away, they simply vanished. Some, she assumed, simply became invisible, even to her mage-sight, which was a fascinating possibility as it seemed to closely mirror her own iron skin. Others, however, instantly appeared elsewhere, further away. Dimensional variants. Creatures with teleportation magic, and possibly other dimensional powers, woven into their being.

She contemplated capturing one of the invisible type, then had to laugh at herself. How could I find one to capture? True, if she had hours to hunt, lay traps, or analyze the terrain she could likely begin finding them easily, but by then the caravan would be miles away, and they would not be pleased if she tried to stay behind just to hunt. I do wonder how they do it, though. Do they somehow wrap power back in on themselves to hide any leakage which would give them away? Do they do the same with light? It was worth studying, but she didn’t have the time, at least not at the moment.

The dimensional variants were much more tempting. The right parts from them could power a dimensional storage bag with a great deal of efficiency. That, of course, meant that they’d be valuable to sell as power-sources for constructed items. She almost hopped down to try to capture some, but then imagined herself running all around the meadows, trying to catch a creature that could instantly teleport away.

I could kill it? Or ask a guard to shoot one with their crossbow… That wouldn’t work. Even if the guard could see the animal, and she was sure at least some of the creatures were visible to the guards, there was no way one would stay in place long enough for a bolt to strike home. Trent or Renix could strike one down with lightning? But if that were feasible and profitable, she had no doubt they’d already be doing it…

She sighed. No dimensional parts for me… Though, with regard to item power sources she, herself, had no real use for them. I can empower such myself… Huh. That sent her flipping through the spell-form book, and in the end, she came to the realization that the power source didn’t matter for the form of spells or magic. Any power source of a given type could power any spell of that type. The most the variation would effect was efficiency.

I could buy dimensional storage and power it myself? It was an interesting idea. The only thing she saw pertaining to power sources, or items for that matter, was a brief comment: ‘Spell-forms powered directly by human Mages tend to consume more precious metals during enactment than those empowered by arcanous harvests, or points of natural power in the world. Whether this is due to flawed mental constructs on the part of the Mage, or some other factor, is unknown, but no item has successfully been powered by any portion of a Mage’s remains. For more details see…’ And there, the author referenced another book, which she had written on the construction and conception of magical items.

All in all, the book was frustratingly vague. Directly powered? How do I indirectly power something?

True, it gave many detailed diagrams and had fascinating discussions on inscription theory, but most of the spell-forms were depicted and described in two dimensions. As the book said, ‘Any discussion of Inscribing is too complicated to fit within this tome, as no part of any human is perfectly flat, and every variance away from perfectly flat alters how the spell-form will function.’

In short: humans are irregular in shape, and that must be accounted for. The End.

It didn’t mention how to do this.

This really is the most basic book on the subject. She sighed.

Tala had just recently stopped glowing, -That lasted much longer than I’d expected- and she was beginning to feel hungry. I wonder exactly how long it is until lunch? She glanced at the sky. Not soon enough.

She climbed down, grabbed some of her trail food, and ate it while walking beside the wagons. As she walked, she noted the huge variety in plants that surrounded them. They each had subtly different magical flavors, and she began to realize that an herbalist could spend a dozen lifetimes experimenting with the properties of all these plants. At first glance, none seemed particularly useful to humans, as most magics she could see were variations of growth, fibrous strength, or photosynthesis enhancing effects.

Even so, as the morning wore on, the wide array of arcanous creatures and plants that they passed began blending together.

If everything is unique…nothing is. She sighed. It was nearly noon before that thought was put to lie.

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