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  • Rebekah Olson

Spell Caster Chapter 9

Updated: Apr 8

Jerryck went up to his tower to get some cleaning done. He found his wife and sister already there. They had somehow brought a little organization to the room, and had started getting rid of some of the broken bits and shards. “Don’t go crazy on us,” Kendra said the moment he entered the room. “I know you don’t like people in here without you, and we know what you don’t want touched. We left them alone.” “We also know what’s most valuable to you.” Leanne pointed to all his books carefully stacked in a clear corner. She spread her hands to cover the rest of the room. “Most of this, we’re unsure of. You’ll have to help us go through it.” Jerryck knelt by Kendra to dig into the debris. “I thought you were standing over a scullery maid.” “She finished,” Kendra said. “Did you think it would take her all night?” Jerryck sorted through what they had left for him. Then he repaired the damage he’d done to the charms that let him know when certain things were happening, like someone entering his tower. The women continued sweeping out the bulk of the mess. Altogether, it took far less time than he had expected. Then Kendra left, swearing that if her kids hadn’t stayed in bed where she’d put them, she was going to tan their butts. “When are you going to Kershet?” Leanne asked. He stared at her. How had she known? He hadn’t mentioned anything about it. She laughed and said, “Don’t look at me like that. You always go when your supplies are low. And right now, they’re definitely low.” “Tomorrow morning,” he said. “That soon?” Her face drooped momentarily. Then she straightened up and headed to their bedroom one floor below. “I’d better pack you some things.” “I can pack,” he said, following her. “The last time you packed for yourself—” she took at his travel bag and opened their bureau— “you only took one change of clothes for a three-day stay.” “So?” She wrinkled her nose at him. “So that’s disgusting.” “I had them laundered. And I bought another change there.” “That’s my point. You have plenty. You shouldn’t have to buy a change. Besides, I like doing this for you.” It was pointless to argue. Just as it would’ve been pointless to ask her to come with him. Every time he did ask, it only upset her. She didn’t like leaving the comforts of the palace. She didn’t like meeting new people. And she certainly didn’t want attention from some of the people his position would require him to interact with. He half listened while she chatted idly. Soon, his eyelids drooped and he started yawning, despite the sleep he’d gotten that afternoon. He lay down, thinking just to rest a bit. He was vaguely aware of Leanne blowing out the lamp and climbing into bed at some point. He woke to someone tapping his shoulder and whispering his name. He opened sleep gritty eyes. Someone with a shaded lamp stood in the doorway, giving light to the elite guard standing over Jerryck. It was the one with the cleft in his chin, one of the three who was often seen with Tajor. “What?” He tried to whisper to keep from waking Leanne. In his grogginess, it didn’t come out as quietly as intended. “There’s a quepota outside.” The guard whispered much quieter than Jerryck. “Sergeant of the watch wants your advice.” Leanne stirred. She mumbled something unintelligible and snuggled in closer to him. Jerryck rolled his head, popping his neck. He gritted his teeth against the temptation to just hand out some flippant advice and go back to sleep next to her. “I’ll come take a look,” he said. He shoved his feet into his boots and went out onto the landing. The man holding the lamp was another elite guard, the one with a crooked nose. Once the door to the bedroom was closed, the guard took the shade off the lamp. All the way down, they kept quiet. That gave Jerryck time to mentally review what he knew of quepotas. If the sun was up, they could see the creature and just shoot it, since it had no natural camouflage. Some people theorized this was why quepotas were nocturnal. They covered themselves with the dark of night. Jerryck had never paid much attention to such debates. He studied more on the methods of dealing with the things. Known to burrow into holes near rivers or creeks, Jerryck was fairly certain there was one on Unification Isle. Eventually, he’d have to go and take care of it, if a magician from Kershet City didn’t do it first. It wasn’t urgent until an event was planned in the location. Quepotas were more of a problem further south. This far north, they were much sleepier and lethargic than in the warmer, southern climates. Ships traversing the waterways, or caravans traveling roads near them, tended to keep lamps blazing. Quepotas instinctively avoided well it places, unless especially determined. In Jerryck’s magical fauna compendium, there was an example of a village wasting away because they couldn’t get rid of one. A female had dug into a hole under one of the houses. She never came out, or caused any problems, so they didn’t even know she was there until it was too late. A male sniffed her out and wanted to mate. Every night, he would come to the edge of the village, latch on to whoever was nearest and drain their aura. Sometimes it was just one victim. Other times, it would partially drain several people. Every morning, the villagers rose to see which family had lost one of its members in the night. Everyone took ill. They grew too weak to light fires and lamps at the village perimeter. The male found its way to the female, and they nested. They both latched onto the entire village with that, draining every person to expend the energy in mating. The next person who wandered through found all the bodies, and a diary describing the entire ordeal. The Gathering of Seats claimed that if they’d just gotten a magician in there, the village could have been saved. They had schools in their city of Kemetulla, where dealing with magical fauna was formally taught. Jerryck had attended some classes with the few conventions he’d gone to. His mentor had taught him a few things here and there. But most of what he knew to do, he’d only read in books. The guards escorted him outside one of the gates in the wall surrounding the palace and its complex of outbuildings. Bonfires were lit at the perimeter all around. Between each fire stood men waving around torches and lamps. Jerryck’s escorts went directly to the sergeant of the watch. He was holding a bucket of water and standing with a knot of guards, some elite, some regular. Tajor was among them. He must have been acting up again, because the sergeant was busy yelling at him. “You’re not going out there like that! You try it again, and I’ll have you thrown into a dungeon cell!” “I’ll agree to that,” Tajor said with a smirk. He reached for the bucket. “You have a deal.” The sergeant jerked the bucket out of his reach, slopping some of the water on the ground. Jerryck asked, “What’s going on?” “Looks like Tajor’s going on,” the cleft chin guard said with a snicker. “A quepota isn’t enough trouble?” Jerryck glared at Tajor. Then he turned to the sergeant. “Where is it?” The sergeant pointed out into the darkness. “Over that way. We think it skirted around the city, heading upriver. At first, I hoped it would head for Unification Isle, or Aconi Grove. Instead, I think it’s looking for a drink. Every time we’ve taken a water bucket out to the men, the thing attacks. We’re trying to figure out how to leave one out there to draw it into the light where we can shoot it, without endangering whoever’s carrying the bucket.” “It might have been skirting Kershet to get to the pond,” Jerryck said. “That water is awfully clogged and stale, though. If it smelled fresher, clean water here, it absolutely would try to get some, if it was dehydrated enough.” “I guessed as much,” the sergeant said. “That doesn’t solve our dilemma. I’ve tried three times to put the bucket inside the perimeter and then withdraw from around it. The cursed thing comes on too fast. It starts killing anyone between it and the water before we can get out of the way.” “I offered to take the bucket,” Tajor said. “You offered to run right toward it with no defense.” The sergeant snarled, his volume rising again. “No man in his right mind would be that suicidal.” “We all know Tajor is not in his right mind,” the cleft chin guard said with a laugh. The sergeant snapped at him. “You’re not helping!” Magic flared in the dark, directly out from where they stood. One of the men holding a lamp between them and the flare let out a strangled cry of agony. The lamp fell, and cry tapered off, gurgling into silence. “That makes eight,” the sergeant said. “Give me the bucket,” Jerryck said, reaching for it, keeping his eyes peeled for any movement out where the magic flared. “You’re not going out there by yourself.” The sergeant held the bucket out of Jerryck’s reach. Tajor grasped the bucket handle. “I’ll go with them.” The sergeant refuse to relinquish, pulling on the bucket, slopping more water. “You’re too reckless. You’re staying here.” Jerryck looked at the sergeant, aghast. “We don’t have time to argue this.” “We have enough time for me to pick who to escort you,” the sergeant said, still wrestling over the bucket. “Just give it to Tajor,” Jerryck said. “I’ll decide to give it to!” The sergeant leaned close to Jerryck, his face just a couple of inches away. Tajor twisted the bucket in the sergeant’s grasp. The man grabbed it with his other hand, keeping his grip. He turned to snarl at Tajor. “Back down!” Tajor squatted down. The cleft chin guard laughed. The sergeant threw a kick at him. “Don’t think I won’t report you to General Heston when I report Tajor!” “Why isn’t he out here?” Jerryck looked around. He should have noticed the absence of the general before this. “He went upriver earlier this evening,” Tajor said. “Something about deflating noble egos north of the tainted tributary so they stop inhibiting the transfer of clean water downstream.” “He’s investigating the taint.” The sergeant leaned back in to Jerryck’s face. “I’ll pick someone else to escort you.” “I’ll take Tajor,” Jerryck said, staring out into the darkness. The magic was pulsing out there, going back and forth, like the creature was pacing just beyond the light. “You can’t override my decision on this,” the sergeant said. “Yes he can,” the crooked nosed guard said. “And you may as well stop posturing. It doesn’t work on him. He doesn’t pick up on it.” The sergeant glared at the guard, and let go of the bucket. Tajor headed off with it, out into the dark. Jerryck hurried after him. “Wait,” he called to Tajor. He hadn’t put up any shields, or defensive magic, or anything. Tajor stopped. He looked back at Jerryck, and cocked his head. “With the way you use your aura, you light yourself up like a beacon for anything sensitive to it. Won’t that make you especially susceptible to this creature?” “I’m also the best able to counterattack it.” Jerryck caught up. An unfamiliar aura brushed up against his, licking at it the way a flame would lick at someone’s hair or clothing. A tongue of that flame aura licked at the water bucket. Then at Tajor. He tensed up, his shoulders going rigid in the little light that spilled their way from the torches now behind them. The curse weaved into his aura swirled and eddied around the unfamiliar touch. Whatever it was jerked away in recoil, as fast as a hand burned on a hot stove. If Jerryck gathered up energy to put up a shield, the creature would latch on and suck it all away before he could get the words out of his mouth. He mentally followed the tendril of aura until it withdrew all the way back to the quepota. The creature turned its head in Jerryck’s direction and sniffed. It took a step forward. Jerryck stepped back. No one had been able to determine if the quepota was more like a hairless dog, or cat. Some even argued that it was a hairless, miniature bear. Either way, it had teeth and claws. Its magical abilities weren’t the only threat, as if that wasn’t enough. Jerryck took another step back. A tendril of the creature’s aura snaked out again. It carefully went around Tajor, avoiding contact, inching ever close to the bucket. Tajor set it on the ground and backed away. The tendril hovered over it. Then snaked its way over to Jerryck. Magic flared at the end of the tendril. Hooks shot out of it, piercing into Jerryck’s aura. Weakness buckled his knees and nausea punched him in the stomach. He bled energy out of the piercings. The creature’s aural tendril sucked it up like a leech. Jerryck pulled his aura in so hard his arms curled around his chest, the one reflex his mentor had cautioned him to avoid. It pulled the quepota’s hooks in. They dug deeper, widening the piercings. He was supposed to do the opposite. A sudden influx of energy without resistance would throw the quepota off balance, make it flinch. That was supposed to give Jerryck enough time to get off an attacking spell, if he was quick enough. Jerryck pushed his aura away from himself, directly at the quepota. He arms flung wide and his back arched with the effort. His energy surged out in front of him, tipping over the bucket and ripping up the ground. The quepota tumbled away, clawing at the ground and snarling as it was flung end over end. Blackness encroached on the edges of Jerryck’s vision. Either that or the lamps and torches behind him all went out at once. The rabid snarls of an angry animal rushed at him. Finding himself on his hands and knees, Jerryck raised his head. The lamps and torches still burned behind him. They cast just enough light to see the hairless monstrosity bearing down, leaping at him. He gasped. Behind it, the energy Jerryck had flung out surged and rebounded, looping back around and heading for him in a flood. A blur of motion came from behind. Tajor tackled the animal in the middle of its launch, driving it to the ground. The creature’s magic flared. Tajor grit his teeth, hissing in pain. Despite that, he took quepota’s head in both his hands and twisted it backward, the bones snapping with an audible crack. All the energy from Jerryck’s aura washed over both of them. It reattached itself to Jerryck, and nearly washed past him, pulling him backward. It rebounded again, pulling him forward in the tide, then back again to finally settle. Men ran toward them, with bobbing lights and indistinct shouts. Tajor lay on the ground, curled in on himself and shuddering. His two friends passed Jerryck and knelt by his side. The sergeant stopped at Jerryck and shouted, “Get them both to the infirmary.” “No!” Jerryck and Tajor’s friends all said at once. “You don’t want to go, that’s your choice,” the sergeant said to Jerryck. He pointed at Tajor, telling the two guards, “Take him.” “No,” the crooked nosed guard said with a sneer. The sergeant glared at him. “Are you defying me again?” “I’m all right,” Tajor wheezed. “I’ll take care of him,” Jerryck said. “You’re the one who got him into the situation!” The sergeant’s snarl was almost as ugly as the quepota’s. “I’m the one who treats him when he gets like this,” Jerryck said, crawling over to pat Tajor on the shoulder. “You don’t treat any of Heston’s men,” the sergeant said. “He treats Tajor,” the crooked nose guard said. “I’ve never believed that rumor.” The guard raised his fist. “You calling me a liar again?” “Deek!” The cleft chin guard pushed the fist down. “Stop. Don’t get yourself in trouble again.” “Heston’s not here,” Deek said, and raised his other fist. “Fine!” The sergeant started walking away. All the others followed him except Tajor’s two elite friends. “Do what you want. You will no matter what I tell you. Just keep in mind what he did the last time you interfered with my job.” Deek lowered both his fists. Jerryck tried to shoo both the men away from Tajor, before they learned too much about the man’s affliction. “Go back with the others. I’ll take care of him.” “We know about his curse,” Deek said, pointing to himself and the other guard. “Garret and I. You don’t have to make us go way to try and hide it. Besides, Cade will want every detail we can give him when he gets back from upriver with Heston.” “Cade?” Jerryck mentally searched through faces, trying to attach the name to one of them. Garret smirked for some reason. “Nevermind.” “Who else knows?” Jerryck asked. Garret ticked names off on his fingers. “Tajor, of course. You, Heston, Terrance… I’m not sure if Nita knows or not. I haven’t been told about anyone else.” “Cade knows,” Deek said. Garret smirked again. “That won’t do Jerryck any good if he can’t member which of us is Cade.” Tajor shuddered and let out a long, measured breath. The very fact that he hadn’t laughed at the ribbing, or added to it, was evidence of just how much he was hurting. Deek asked, “You want us to carry you in?” Tajor clenched his teeth. “Could you please not ask stupid questions right now?” “You ask stupid questions all the time.” Garret poked him in the shoulder. “Just answer for once.” “No, I don’t want to be carried,” Tajor said. “Just give me a few minutes. Then I’ll walk.”

 

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