At the master’s signal, the small caravan slowed down and came to a stop in the middle of the woods. Kamira pulled the cloak tighter trying to keep the mists away from her body, and leaned forward to see what caused the unexpected delay. The grey ribbon slithering into the sky in the distance meant fire. Probably some travelers then. She relaxed, and waited.
Volean, the guard standing nearby flashed a smile to her, and she reciprocated, enjoying his young handsome face. For the few last days, he always found a reason to be around her, ensuring Kamira with subtle words that he didn’t share the common opinion of arcanists. The guard’s eyes slipped along her body, never stopping long enough for her to complain of staring, and then he looked at her face again, the smile lingering on his lips. Why he found her black messy hair and gray skin of the Tivarashan people attractive, she didn’t know, but her curiosity lay elsewhere.
I wonder how he kisses.
The foreman’s call broke the spell, and Volean turned, grabbing his sword. Kamira watched as he ran toward the front of the caravan, and a shriek tore the air, bringing a shiver to her body. Before the inhuman sound died, she took off after the guard, convinced her help might be needed.
Approaching the first wagon she slowed down to catch her breath, and took in the bloodbath at the roadside. Caravan guards walked among the twisted creatures, plunging their swords into the bodies. Shrieks told Kamira not all were dead.
The caravan master looked at Kamira. “Know anything ‘bout these monsters?”
“These are demonlings, the lowest kind of creatures summoned from the demon realm. It means a demonologist is near.”
The man’s eyebrow went up. But before she clarified she meant another demonologist, he laughed sincerely. “He was. We found two bodies.”
“I’ll take a look,” she offered. “It might have been some unfortunate travelers.”
The man shrugged, and she made her way through the clearing, placing her steps between the demonlings’ bodies. The odor of blood and entrails filled her nostrils and made her stomach dance, but she forced herself to kneel down by the corpse of a shabby man. His body bore multiple wounds, but none of them of claws nor teeth. She sighed, noticing an arcanist pendant around his neck. No wonder we have such a bad name if the likes of him go about robbing and murdering travelers.
The other body belonged to a warrior—the broad back and wires of muscles told her that much. A bodyguard? An accomplice? She looked at the dark copper skin and unusual garment, and then the body moved.
Kamira froze, staring at him wide-eyed which drew guards’ attention and their jokes died out when she pointed at the man at her feet.
“He’s alive,” she said.
They exchanged quick looks, and she noticed the eldest correcting the grip on his sword as he approached. His stone-like face expressed both determination and displeasure. By the pact, he’s going to kill him!
Kamira stood over the body. “Hold on!”
The guard looked at her. “We don’t help bandits and robbers.”
The caravan master approached, and she turned to reason with him. “He might not be a robber… He could have saved us. The demonologist has been cut and stabbed, weapon wounds.” She pointed to a strange spear by the warrior. “I think he was fighting them, and fell to the wounds.”
The man’s gaze followed her hand, and he stared at the weapon longer than she expected, but in the end he gave a nod. “May be right.” He gestured to the guards. “If you’re done, get back to the wagons, we’re settin’ out,” he said.
The guards gave a last glance before sheathing their weapons, and Kamira watched them as confusion settled in.
“Are we going to leave him like this?” she asked.
The caravan master shrugged. “He’s a mage killer, and we don’t help his lot non either.” He spat. “If it true what folks say, he’ll make it, so no point wasting time and salves.”
Kamira’s hands trembled as she watched them walk away. Her mind kept conjuring all the images of what would have happened if the warrior hadn’t slain the rogue demonologist. None of the pictures offered any less carnage. He saved us all.
The caravan master stopped and looked at her. With no contract binding her, he couldn’t argue, but Kamira hoped he wanted her service badly enough to reconsider helping the warrior.
“You sure? He’s gonna gut you soon as his eyes snap open,” he said. “T’is what them mage killers do.”
Kamira nodded without hesitation. Even if they were turning their backs on him, she refused to leave.
“We’ll leave you some food, two days’ worth. There’s a village down the road.” He looked at her for the last time. “Maybe we’ll meet there if your wits come to you or the mage killer dies as he should.”
She didn’t watch the caravan depart, but she caught a glimpse of sadness in Volean’s eyes when he set meager supplies at the edge of the road.
The warrior needed her help, and she hoped to patch him up before he regained consciousness. I could make sure he survives and catch up with the others. She pushed on the massive body, and managed to roll the man onto his back after a short of struggle.
Kamira gasped at the wounds in the warrior’s chest and blood-soaked shirt, but the creatures’ claws and teeth missed the vital organs, and she stared at the muscle mass appreciating what most likely saved the man’s life… that is, if she made sure he stayed alive.
When she reached toward his chest, the man’s eyes snapped open. He grabbed her wrists and in his grasp she sensed the strength capable of snapping her bones.
“I’m just trying to help,” she said, trying to break from his grip.
The man’s gaze fixed on her pendant, and recognition flashed in his eyes. “Magic!” His voice rasped, but otherwise had a pleasant sound to it. “Use magic.” He pulled on Kamira’s arms, pressing her hands to the wounds.
“I’m not a healer!” Kamira panicked, and her instincts urged her to tear away.
The man sighed, and his eyes rolled before focusing. “Just use… any… magic.” Heavy breaths wheezed between his words. “Pour… energy… onto me.”
The warrior’s consciousness slipped away, but his hands held Kamira’s wrists firm.
Pour energy? She ran a list through her head deciding which one would cause the least harm. Fire would cauterize the wounds, while ice would slow the blood flow, but each had side effects. In the end she called upon her demon without any resolution, and did exactly what the man asked her to: she channeled raw energy into him.
The pattern of scars she didn’t notice before lit up, and the magic traveled through his body, mending it bit by bit. His grasp relaxed, and Kamira pulled her hands free while the biggest wound started to close. Never ceasing the magic flow she pushed on the wounds’ edges. The flesh regrew, and blood clotted over the open gashes.
The voice of reason urged her to stop while she still had the strength and some demon’s magic at her disposal, but she knew it wouldn’t be enough to defend herself, and before she finished the thought, exhaustion took her, and Kamira collapsed face down in the blood and mud.
Kamira woke up to the scraping of wet cloth on her face, and the sound of fire crackling nearby. Her eyes were stuck closed with a thick substance, and she felt a flush of water washing it away.
“I’m still trying to decide whether you’re unusually cunning or endlessly stupid for what you did,” said a male’s voice, and she recognized the warrior from the clearing. “Using magic until you passed out in the middle of a battlefield would be the stupid part. But on the other hand, you wouldn’t be able to carry me, so it makes sense to ensure I’m the one carrying.”
She heard amused tones in his voice, and relaxed as his finger rubbed against her eyelids.
“There. Try to open your eyes now,” he said.
His face hung just above hers, and a smile softened the crude features. He helped Kamira to sit up and offered water.
“My name is Veelk.”
“Kamira,” she replied between sips.
The night forest around them breathed with tranquility, and she didn’t see any trace of the recent battle. Trees surrounded them, and she didn’t see a road.
“I’m curious what made an arcanist help a man who had just slain her brethren.” He walked over to the fire, and turned the meat roasting in the flames.
The rich aroma filled Kamira’s nostrils and woke up her stomach. He called me an arcanist, not a demonologist. She took a moment to appreciate the courtesy.
“It seemed to me that your heartless murder saved at least one caravan.” She shrugged. “And seeing as the man summoned a decent amount of demonlings, I wouldn’t call him anyone’s brethren.” She hesitated before speaking again. “The caravan master said you’re a mage killer.”
“No need to be afraid. I don’t go about slaughtering any mage I meet.” He grinned. “Though sometimes I wish I would. The world could do without several annoying high mages.”
She chuckled. “I’ll keep in mind not to irk you if I can help it.”
He brought the food over, a piece of game served on a wide leaf and some bread. “So, what were you up to before saving my life? Traveling with a caravan or working for the caravan master?”
“A bit of both. I never joined as a guard, but offered my services if needed,” she said between bites. “Not many would trust an arcanist with anything.”
“Some bad apples spoil the name, huh?” Veelk bit into his piece of meat.
“That too. And high mages don’t help spreading the demon hate.” She sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised some of us turn to evil.” The words triggered memories of the past, and she stared at the fire trying to rid herself of the unpleasant images. “And what about you? You don’t come from around here, do you?”
“My tribe lives in the mountains by the southern desert, but we have no mages around to kill, so I travel.” Another grin widened his face, forcing a smile onto her own.
“Can I ask you about your scars? When you told me to use magic on you, something happened,” she weighed her words.
His eyes narrowed. “I’d rather you didn’t ask… or mention it at all for that matter.”
The tone of his voice told Kamira more than words, and she considered the topic dangerous. “As you wish.”
Silence fell between them, undermining the connection they had built, and Kamira focused on her piece of meat.
“I believe that the arcanist I killed had an accomplice,” Veelk said in the end. “I’ve tracked two men to these woods, so their den has to be nearby, and if that man doesn’t come back, the other one might come looking for him. Or take his anger out on travelers.”
“The road’s not going to be safe.” Her mind conjured pictures of caravans at the mercy of thieves and cutthroats, or worse still, some ill-natured arcanist.
“Unless we make it safe.” Veelk fixed his eyes on hers. “Can you fight? How powerful is your magic?”
Kamira looked down, and her cheeks burnt. “I don’t think I’ll be able to help. I’m not a warrior, and my demon pact is quite limited.”
Veelk considered her words, and nodded in acknowledgement. “I’ll escort you to the village then. And I’d appreciate you wait for me there.”
Her eyebrows went up. “Wait?”
“I have a debt to pay.” Veelk’s face turned serious. “And this is something my tribe doesn’t take lightly. I’ll accompany you until my debt is paid.”
Kamira opened her mouth, but the stare Veelk gave her choked the laughter that rose in her throat. By the pact, he really means it! She couldn’t conjure any way out for the overwhelming images of traveling with a tribal warrior, and all the consequences it posed. As if I didn’t have enough trouble getting people to trust me.
“If we go to the village, the man might discover the bodies and flee,” she said in the end. This is a bad idea, very bad idea. But it was the best she had. “Maybe I should accompany you after all.” And maybe you’ll do something that would suffice for life-saving along the way.
Veelk gave her an inquisitive look, and for a moment Kamira froze, certain he saw through her intentions, but in the end he nodded.
“I’ll make sure to keep you out of harm’s way.”
They stared at the ruins of a small keep partially buried under moss and undergrowth. Veelk reached for his weapon, a keshal as he called it, and Kamira gave him a dubious look.
“Are you going to barge in and hope he doesn’t get you with a nasty spell?”
“I don’t care about it.” Veelk shrugged. “And I need to take him down before he gets you with a nasty spell.”
“I can put a barrier up.”
The look the mage killer gave her reeked with sarcasm. “And can you move with it?”
“Within it,” she gave the reluctant answer.
Veelk snorted, but said nothing, and scanned the area.
“I still think we need a plan,” she said.
“Come up with one then.”
Kamira opened her mouth only to see Veelk dashing through the greenery, and into the ruins. She expected battle sounds to disturb the silence, but the whisper of the brushed leaves was the only melody she heard.
Following the mage killer’s footsteps, Kamira entered a small clearing, staring at the crumbled stones in the middle. The forest partially took over the ruin, but she still recognized the layout, and while her eyes were fixed on the scattered rocks, her mind rebuilt the tower.
“So that’s why they set up here,” she whispered and noticed Veelk’s questioning look. “It’s an old arkiil, maybe even from before the cataclysm. There still might be some arcanist knowledge buried here, some artifacts… Something to help them summon so many demonlings.”
Veelk looked around. “There has to be an entrance then.”
Humming and footsteps drew their attention, and a man in ragged robes emerged from the ruins and froze, staring back at them. The mage killer’s arm twitched, and his weapon spun, until the spear head stopped, pointing at its target. The man threw aside the food he was carrying, and launched flames through the clearing.
Veelk cursed and threw the spear, while Kamira desperately called upon her demon’s power, and a wall of water erupted between them and the flames. The elements met, and milky fog soon veiled the ruins while the hiss of steam muffled other sounds.
The mage killer darted through the white cloud. “He got away, but I found the entrance.”
Kamira sighed and called up the magic again. The wind played with her hair and dispersed the white cloud, allowing her to see the mage killer staring at the dark hole by the keep’s crumbled wall.
“Narrow, but it seems to be open up.” He pointed at the black.
Kamira moved her fingers, and strands of light gathered forming a sphere. It floated down the hole, revealing the jagged walls of an underground tunnel. A bolt of lightning zapped passed the lumisphere, and grounded just by their feet. Veelk took a step to the side, gesturing to Kamira. She moved out of the way, and dispersed the light, once again drowning the tunnel in darkness.
“I could just try to collapse the entrance,” she offered.
“My people confirm their kills before burying the bodies.” Veelk slid his keshal into the hole, and then dove in himself. “But you do that if I don’t come back.”
Kamira’s eyes opened wide when a bolt of lightning hit him straight in the face. Veelk still crawled as the electricity arced over his body, and the scars lit up again with the next assault, but this time the mage killer stopped moving.
Kamira froze, and her blood rushed. “You little flerra.” She knelt by the hole, taking care not to reveal herself, and moved her hand over the opening, channeling the energy. Fiery storm raged through the corridor by her will, and the echo of distant screams told her the spell reached its mark.
Veelk’s body moved, and she twitched, while the mage killer crawled out of sight. His scars pulsated with energy in a way she’d never seen.
By the pact, he survived the lightning hits! Mage killer or not, if he made it out of the hole alive, she had questions.
The silence from below tempted her to poke her head in, but Kamira was certain she wouldn’t survive a lightning strike, so she waited. Another scream echoed within, and she breathed out with relief, since the voice didn’t belong to Veelk.
“You can come down now, he’s dead,” he called out from the tunnel.
She leaned over the hole. “Shouldn’t you be coming out instead?”
“Don’t tell me you’re not even a bit curious what they’ve found,” the mage killer commented with amusement, and Kamira cursed under her breath.
Of course she was curious. Any piece of the lost knowledge could prove useful. Or profitable. With a sigh Kamira summoned the lumisphere, and the scent of wet soil filled her nostrils when she crawled through the narrow entrance.
The air in the tunnel smelled of blood and smoke, and she rushed toward the opening ahead where Veelk pulled the man’s corpse to the side.
The half-collapsed room looked like a bandits’ den with looted goods stacked against the walls, but it was the table to the left that drew Kamira’s attention.
She leafed through several old books, and threw one into the fire in the basin, while two other she put to the side. The flames ate through the old pages, leaving nothing but ash.
“No need to spread the knowledge on how to summon a small army,” she said, catching Veelk’s curious look.
“And the others?”
“Some arcane theories. Nothing we don’t know nowadays, but collectors would pay good coin for the old books.”
Veelk left the body in the corner, and walked over. “How good?” he asked. “There’re other things we could take.”
“Books don’t point to their dead owners… Or rather, their owners most likely have no living relatives.” Kamira looked at the small pile of gold and jewelry on another table. “Coins are good, or small gems. Any artisan pieces could be risky.”
Veelk’s face brightened. “I half-expected a lecture on robbing the dead.”
“The dead don’t need their wealth anymore. And you’ve risked your life, so you deserve to get paid. It’s not like you’re going to receive any gratitude from the common folk.”
“I’ll make sure to take enough to pay the arcanist who healed me.” Veelk’s deft hands swooped the gold into a pouch, and he fished through the jewelry, taking his pick. “I don’t think she receives much gratitude either.”
They browsed through the items a little longer before crawling back to the surface.
“Maybe we should burn it.”
“The earth will do the work. Ready?” Kamira took several steps back and knelt down, sending energy through the ground. The ruins trembled, and the trees cracked when the ground and stone beneath them caved in, burying the demonologists’ den.
“Nice work.” Veelk cleaned his keshal and strapped it to his back. “Looks like we’re done here.”
“Keep the gold and gems,” she said. “And I’ll consider the books my payment.” She offered a bow. “Nice meeting you, Veelk.”
He gave her a thoughtful look. “If you’re going to sell those books, you’re headed to Kaighal,” he said. “Which means we’d travel in the same direction. I can keep my distance or we can walk together.”
Kamira hesitated only a moment. Of the two, travelling with a mage killer seemed a better idea than having one creeping about. And sleeping alone on the road could be begging for trouble.
“Let’s go then.”
Kamira sat in the Jagged Swordsman Inn, sipping wine and enjoying the thought of her pouch filled with coins. It was much more than the caravan offered, so her little adventure with Veelk brought unexpected profit. The mage killer parted ways when they entered Kaighal, saying something about a fence who would offer gold for the gems without asking too many questions.
Reflecting on their week-long journey to Kaighal, Kamira thought she’d miss the tall warrior and his light-hearted comments, but focused on the future. She had enough money to live well for a time, but gold always ran short in the end, and Kamira was already considering another venture.
If she joined a caravan traveling north, she could cross the border and stop by the family home, or take the western, more populated route, and make a living doing escort jobs back and forth. The thought of settling down in a small town, trying to gain people’s trust and devoting time to magic research, didn’t appeal to her. Her teacher was right; she needed experience first.
A shadow cast on the table, and Veelk sat down, putting another jug of wine in front of her. Kamira looked at him surprised when she remembered she didn’t tell him where she’d stay.
“Done with the books?” he asked.
“The merchant took both. Paid quite well too.”
“Looks like we’ll be comfortable for a while then.” He indicated the pouch he wore openly on his belt. Kamira preferred hers buried deep in a bag, but only fools would try to mug Veelk. “So what are you going to do next?”
“Haven’t thought much about it. You?”
Veelk poured himself wine. “I have a debt to pay, so my future is sorted.”
“About that…” She looked in the mage killer’s eyes and knew in an instant no words would change his mind. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we’re even. If you hadn’t killed that arcanist, I’d most likely be dead.”
Veelk’s eyebrow arched slightly. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“So what’s your plan? Follow me around until a robber jumps out?” She rubbed her temples. “It’s not like I get in trouble often. It could take years.”
No reply came. The mage killer looked at her and sent her an inviting smile. For a moment Kamira considered taking up the challenge, but Veelk’s stare made it clear any argument would fail. So instead, she returned the gaze with eyebrow raised. If he had a better idea, she could at least listen before refusing.
“There’s got to be more places like the one we saw.” Excitement glimmered in his eye. “In the forests, in the desert… in the mountains, just waiting for someone to find them.”
“Unless somebody already has.” Her tone remained dry.
“Aren’t you even a bit curious?” Veelk’s voice teased. “Do you really want to spend your life traveling back and forth with caravans carrying the same goods along the same roads?”
“Are you suggesting we go exploring?” Amusement rang in her voice, but the idea seemed more interesting than dragging her feet alongside a caravan she didn’t care about.
“We make a good team. You have the magic and knowledge, I have the muscle and resistance to spells.”
“You know, we might find nothing but dust,” she made a last attempt to discourage him.
Veelk ignored the comment, poured wine into two mugs, and raised his. “To the exploration then?”
She shook her head in disbelief. Veelk sure didn’t lack confidence.
She thought for a moment. An arcanist and a mage killer… And a lot of forgotten places to explore. Kamira raised her mug.
“To the exploration.”Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in