"Reyna, where are we going?" A soft voice said behind me. Renin, always gentle in his attitude to me, was nipping at my heels. I had dragged him out of the party quickly, where he had been enjoying some of the sweet pastries. I had made some excuse, even though I didn't really need to. Who would stop me?
"If you stopped flapping your little muzzle you'd find out quicker. Keep up, boy!" I said back, sighing. I couldn't believe I was going into the woods. Young people should be doing that, not me. I already missed the soft chair in my office.
Renin was quiet as we walked down the steps to the base of the temple and down the left road. It is the Scout's Alley, as everyone calls it. To the right of the steps are the Striders, but this side is scouts. Everyone likes to live in familiar groups after all. The tents are more solid, the leather is older and thicker and they look more sturdy, as if they're not going to move so easily. Strider tents are always so gentle and elegant, the kind that can be taken down at a moment's notice and vanish into the woods - a testament to their lifestyle and mentality.
I had no idea what was in the woods.
You see, for an old crone like me, I like feeling safe. Yes, the young, handsome men with their muscles and stamina and thick heads are great shields. The other three sects of our people have kept our home safe for a long time, but I like to be extra careful. When I was younger, but no less pretty, I had set up a string of spells along the edges of the scout outposts deep in the woods. Why would I do such a thing? I can already hear that little whelp Arch brought back asking. Well, I could hear him if he was actually here and knew what the hell I was thinking. The brat would protest that the woods are protected by magic and blessings and the cats on the edges of the woods, there's absolutely no need for something like what I did. He'd be right, but I like being in control of my life and my safety. If you only knew what kind of spells were protecting our enclave you'd never want to step foot inside it again. I can't wait for that nosy brat to try. I have spells designed just for him.
I had felt something snap my little magic web in the woods.
The sensation had always been there. The best example you young people need is that it's always like a faint, humming white noise. It has been there for a long time and I almost forgot it. However, in the middle of the party I felt the vibration end and the silence startle me.
I had to go check.
Now, before you call this old lady crazy, a number of things could have happened. One of the stone markers could have shattered or fallen apart, something could have wiped the seal away, or the magic simply ended. magic is not a permanent source of energy, it is like starting a fire. Without wood the fire goes out. The same with magic; without fuel the power fades. It's complicated, just accept this.
I was just about to take another turn at a wooden structure when I saw the leather flaps billow. It made me stop and dig in my staff right there into the soil. My arm extending to stop Renin. I'm sure he noticed but didn't respond nearly as quick as I did. The Gods knew my beta has a world of training to go through.
I saw Ezia step out of the flaps, holding something against her chest. I blinked at our new Scout-Alpha. This one was picked by Arch himself, not usually done. Typically, the caste picks their new leader, but with Jeran's mistakes and the scouts so willing to challenge his authority, Ezia had been picked by the Council. She was young and beautiful, an off white wolf with brown hands and a mark down along her hips. Her ears were tipped brown and her waist narrow. She wore her typical outfit; the loincloth and tabard with cloth over her feet and shins and over her arms and hands. She wore her typical dark green scarf around her neck to match her eyes.
Ezia looked up at me and gasped.
"Reyna!" She said quietly. I cleared my throat, tapping the bottom of my staff in the soil.
"My apologies, Alpha-Mage, I did not expect to see you here," she admitted. "I was just getting something to show Slayn."
"Oh?" I heard Renin say behind me. The boy moved around my arm and stood next to me, looking at the item in her arms. "What is it? Didn't you give Slayn and Avalon that rug for their room?"
"I did," She stated quietly, and then shifted the weight in her arm. "This is more...well, it's Slayn's cub."
My eyes widened. The whelp had been born? How come no one had told me! I always liked to be present when children were born. I was there when Renin and Slayn had been born and I missed this one? I stepped closer, lifting my hand to the bundle to see the baby wrapped up in the soft cloth. Brushing the fabric aside, I found a small face and a short muzzle, and knew instantly this was the fruit of our young Strider's loins. The fur was nearly identical; the mark down the top of his muzzle and along his ears was very much Slayn. The brown was a softer shade but still so similar it may as well have been Slayn years ago. Even the pup's scent reminded me of his father. I brushed my old, gnarled fingers along the muzzle, making the newborn's head shift and grunt at me for disturbing it. I could see its teeth when the lips pulled back. Did it just try to nip at me?!
Renin chuckled and reached his own paw out, brushing his fingers along the top of the child's head, flicking them gently through the fur and scratching behind his ears. I watched as the cub shifted and rolled, pushing more into Ezia.
"Where's the mother?" I asked firmly, moving my hand away.
"Well," Ezia said as she looked down. "You know she's Jeran's daughter, right?" She paused for the rhetorical question to sink in. "She was an internal component of the whole...mess. She didn't like what Jeran was doing to Slayn, but she made a blood oath..."
"Blood oath?" Renin asked, a little surprised as he leaned his staff against his shoulder, still petting the sleeping child in Ezia's arms.
"Yes," Ezia said. She looked completely uncomfortable. Good. This was new information about the whole mess Jeran and Slayn plunged the caern into. I was a little angry but I kept my mouth shut. Scolding her really wasn't going to change the past. "She swore she would never talk to Slayn again."
"But she's the mother of his child!” I said with a loud groan. "You young people are idiots. Never thinking two steps in front of you, and you scouts do that every day! Let's make the baby feel the strain of that event."
"Reyna," Ezia said quietly, sighing. "I know this. I couldn't do anything about it at the time and she's Jeran's kin. She had no choice with how Jeran became more and more agitated. She was worried Jeran would hurt her and risk the baby."
"Jeran would be furious, too. It's a boy that looks like Slayn." I said with a huffed half smirk. "I will tell Arch about this oath. He can annul it if he wants to."
"Arch can do anything he wants," Ezia responded almost mechanically. She knows the rules. The Scouts are always being watched these days. They'll behave, and Ezia is a strong person, but her loyalties are to our hotheaded Alpha Male.
"What's his name?" Renin asked, snapping me out of my thought process. "Mothers always pick the names, right?"
"They do," Ezia said, shifting the baby so we can see it's face. The baby was sleeping, curled up with its small hand against it's muzzle. He was beautiful, I won't lie. Slayn was cute but this boy would grow up into a heart-throb around the caern. His mother was beautiful and his father sleek.
"What did the mother pick?" Renin asked again, insisting on an answer.
"Well," Ezia continued with a shift of her hips as she held up the boy. "It's an odd name. I don't really get it, but she said she heard it from an outsider once and she loved it."
"What is it!" Renin needs to control himself sometimes. I sighed and shook my head.
"Tiberius," Ezia finally replied. "She named him Tiberius."
"Tiberius?" A voice asked behind me. I groaned inwardly and lowered my eyelids. It had to be THAT boy.
"Yes Jack," I said, turning to see the boy standing there behind Renin. He was dressed as he was always; his orange loincloth and sandalled feet digging into the soil. His gaze was bright but always full of mischief. I had trouble reading him sometimes. The brat could really ruffle my fur, but he was also wounded in a way... "What does his name have to do with you, anyway?"
"Just a weird name for a bunch of people who live in the woods," Jack said bluntly, stepping around Renin to look down at the child curled up in the arms of Ezia. He stared curiously at the snoozing cub. Had Jack never been allowed this close to a baby before?
"It's honorary for the mother of the child to name them. The father plays his part in shaping the child to fill the power of that name," Renin explained next to me.
"Sounds kinda unfair," Jack said, reaching a hand out to pet along the cub's brand new fur. "What does the father get out of it?"
"A lot less work," Ezia told Jack with a smirk, crouching down and looking right into the curious whelp's eyes. "Would you like to change, feed, burp, and miss your sleep all for the right of naming the child?"
"W..What?" Jack said. The stutter made me grin. "I'm never having children!"
"Shame," Ezia said and licked the boy's muzzle. I saw Jack's eyes widen and that made me cackle. The boy, for all his blustering and taunting, was still a young teenage boy. I saw him quickly stand behind Renin, probably to hide what his loincloth couldn't.
"Ezia," I said with a grin and a thump of my staff. "Don't tease the child. His body may be primed for fatherhood but he's no smarter then the whelp in your arms."
"Smarter than you, old bat." Jack claimed with an indignant grunt.
"If you were smart you wouldn't tease Reyna," Renin said with a sigh. The lad was right! Jack was the only one stupid enough to try and start an argument with me. He always paid the price with a lump on his head or a smack to his ass.
"Yeah, Yeah. So, where are we going?" Jack said, clearly not in the mood to stay on this topic.
"We?" I asked. I nodded to Ezia who would go to the Temple and probably show off the latest addition to the pack. I wondered if Arch would have enough tact to give Slayn and Avalon some time to themselves. Children always changed things.
"Yeah. We. As in us. The group." Jack said with a grunt. "Why are you going into the woods?"
"One," I started with another tap of my staff and began walking again, nearing the tree line. "You aren't coming. Two, you aren't part of this group. Mage business, and the last I checked you can't even sneeze hard enough to make a breeze."
"I'm coming," Jack said plainly as he followed along. "You can't stop me. You know you can't do magic on me; Arch would get mad at you. Besides, you're both kinda fragile. I'll be a good asset."
"You're too loud, you don't even bathe properly, and you don't know how to walk right. You sandal your feet, even." I said with a growl, still walking. I knew if I sent Jack back he would just circle around and try to find us and potentially get lost in the woods. The trick was to either make him think the gain wasn't worth the task or make him surely regret all the effort he was putting forth in getting his way. "You'll give our position away to the entire woods. Stay."
Jack was walking well out of reach of my staff. Smart. Jack was not as dumb as people thought him to be. When he had been brought in, I had been ordered by Arch to give him a once over with my knowledge of medicine. He had several broken bones that had healed, bruises, and lumps to his head. In essence, Jack knew pain and knew how to avoid it. He knew I could smack him if I wanted to, and made sure I would have to work at it just to give him a lump. "I'm going. No one needs me back at the temple and Arch is busy. I'm not going to be a problem if you stop complaining about me coming."
"Fine," I said after pausing for a few moments. "But if I say leave, you leave."
"Oh," Jack replied with a smirk. "I know when to cash in my chips if it gets hairy. Don't worry about that."
"Are you wearing the jewel?" Asked Renin, who was taking up the rear.
Jack sighed and held up his hand. Set into a simple band was a blue jewel. It was a tracking stone Arch had made Jack wear. It was in case he got lost in the woods. We could find him. He wasn't Half-Moon, we could not sense him – even with magic – and no one should wander the Elim woods until death.
"Good," I said. "You can follow orders. Now, from this point on don't talk unless absolutely necessary."
"...And that's how I managed to talk my way off the ship for free. Can you believe it?" Jack said.
Two hours. TWO HOURS of walking and the pup would not shut up. He was either the most lonely creature on the planet or he just had a mouth that didn't quit. I was gritting my teeth, stumbling my way along the path, digging my staff deeper into the soil after each pass, trying to just work out the anger I felt. Everyone could hear us, and if I could get away with it, I would have muzzled the pup long ago.
"Pirates?" Renin asked, blinking his eyes as he sipped some water.
"Yeah!" Jack said and whirled around. I heard him pull out the small dagger he wore on his belt and slash the air. "I managed to cut down a few of them first before they were interested in talking to me, but once we talked I was golden!"
"But how did you manage to get around the trick the Captain pulled on you?" Renin asked, referring to part of the story Jack had told about thirty minutes back. It made me roll my eyes.
"Oh, that was easy for someone like me. I mean, he was just some silly coyote. I Just told him that if he wanted to get his daughter back he needed to drink the water of the moon and the sun and that I knew exactly where to get it! But the water--"
"Does not exist!" I cut him off, then whirled around and grabbed Jack's wrist, squeezing it enough to stop him from playing with his dagger. "And you need to put that away! You'll hurt Renin or myself."
Jack blinked and yanked his arm away, sheathing his dagger. "Doesn't that warning include the user of said weapon?"
"If you got hurt it would only be an improvement upon the situation," I said with a quiet grunt. "And MUST you lie?!" I couldn't stand it. Two hours of lies and tales and just annoyances that were driving me crazy with anger. I wanted to just get as far away from this boy as possible!
"It's not a--"
"It is!" I said with another huff and turned, slamming my staff into the ground. "Every time you tell a story you always make it out to be some wonderful adventure where you're the hero! But boys who are beaten and abused aren't anything other than the targets for whips! You want us to take you seriously, stop hiding your life and start telling the truth!"
I saw Jack look stunned. He gritted his teeth for a moment and didn't say anything. I could see anger and sadness brewing behind those eyes, unlike any I had seen him show before. I could see him calculating his response. What I got was just a shove past me. I also saw him unsheathe that dagger and throw it into the ground, the metal embedding itself into the soil not a foot from me. Maybe I had pushed a bit too hard.
"Jack," I said, beginning to walk forward. "Boys don't walk away from pain. Come here!" I barked. I didn't want to coddle him but I had snapped needlessly.
I saw him turn to speak, but his hand in front of him said something. He had his fist to his chest and his index finger pointed left, obviously pointing at something. He held it there for a second and then responded. "I'm not running away!"
I hesitated just long enough to look left but I saw nothing. Extending my arm, I let the end of my staff land into the soil in front of Renin so he wouldn't move past me. After studying Jack's face, I noticed him continually looking down at the dagger. Why? Why did he throw it into the soil? It didn't make sense. Unless...
I closed my eyes and just pushed magic forward out of my body. Harnessing water and air with a bit of heat, I created vapor. I opened my eyes to see a line of smoke following the path where the dagger was buried into the ground. The smokey haze, like mist rising off a lake, was purple and webbed with threads of some kind of magic. It existed outside of the four elements. Jack had passed through it, and he had somehow seen it without any need of magic. What was this energy? What would happen if we crossed it?
In a flash, I sliced forward with my staff through the smoke and dispelled the purple haze, sending the rippling energy cascading away and clearing the ground completely of the energy. I could feel an entire barrier of the arcane energy collapse. It was nothing powerful, merely a long, magical trip wire. This was a trap, to sense people passing the line. But somehow, Jack hadn't tripped the magic. It was Outsider magic, for sure.
"Impressive," a voice spoke through the trees. In a shroud of blackness, a man appeared. A wolf. He was tall, his feet in boots and his legs clothed in a blue velvet-like material. His chest was covered by a long, thick, blue robe with black runes sewn into the material. The black material seemed to shimmer and glisten in the wavering light of the tree lines. His fur was deep black and his eyes silvery white. I could sense magic from him, but not the kind of magic anyone from our tribe would want to come near. My arm was up, keeping Renin from him.
"A corrupted magic user," I whispered out to Renin. "Quickly, set up a barrier. Don't let his powers seep into the woods more than they have. Put one around Jack."
"Yes, Reyna," I heard Renin speak gently. I watched him draw his staff close and begin to whisper to the Gods, while I made sure the outsider couldn't see. A Whisperer in their hands could be dangerous...if they could get Renin to talk to the Gods for them, that is.
"Corrupted?" The man asked rhetorically. "I wouldn't define my abilities as that. Magic in what you call the Outside just works on different levels." The man said calmly and moved forward. He put an arm across his waist and bowed. "My name is Magus Ruffelo, High Mage to his Highness, Zaene."
"Charmed," I said dryly, looking right into his eyes. "Now, how did you work through the Blessing of the Woods?"
"Oh, I did nothing of the sort," The man said as he righted his posture. "I simply worked within the confines of the blessing itself. It's an old spell for sure, and it took me a long time to realize that even with all my techniques and Lord Zaene's abilities, we could never completely undo the blessing. So, we found a way in without disrupting the woods or hurting anybody."
"You are not of the woods," Renin said, stepping forward and in front of me. Nice lad, though stupid. Like I would let a whelp defend me! "You should not be able to find your way through it."
"I'm sure you've come to the conclusion that most wolves from The Outside were once your peers, were they not? The All Moon, if I remember the old stories," The mage said as he rubbed his chin, looking up at the tree line in thought. "And while we cannot enter the woods anymore and be blessed by its energy, we are still wolves of it. When our kin is lost we can go in and find them. We have been doing that for years. The magic lets us find them and bring them out."
"Kin..." My eyes widened and whirled around to Jack. I saw the boy, looking absolutely terrified. He was a good ten feet behind me, his back against a tree. He did not look at me but at the mage who had been speaking. "Jack! What do you know of this!"
The boy didn't seem to respond. He just stared in awe and fear. After a few moments he finally managed to speak. "T...That's the High Mage. The Blood User. He uses... Reyna...we need to get out of here, now!"
"Answer my question!" I was angry. Was this all some act? Was this all a way for the severed tribe to regain footing in the woods?
"Reyna, is it?" The mage said again, sighing. "Don't bother with the mindless rabble. The boy was a pawn. A mere tool we found and exploited. We had heard your little band was traveling along the country side not too long ago and we ruined the whelp's life even more than it already was. That is how he's here. Someone in your little group had enough of a heart to take him in."
"You used me..." Jack said, and I could hear a hint of anger in his voice. I saw his hand move down to his hip. "Why me? What did I do to you? I've never even been to the capitol."
"Just luck of the draw, child." I heard the mage say. "Now, mind your mouth. When we get home, I'm sure lord Zae--" He was cut off. I saw Jack run past me, drawing the small weapon from his belt. He was running at his full speed. Nothing that of a strider but still pretty fast. My eyes followed not the boy but the mage, lifting my staff. I didn't even get a chance to stop what happened next.
Jack's left flank exploded in ripples of blood. It was as if the veins on his body had actually ruptured, spraying blood everywhere. The force of the explosion, obviously caused by magic, was enough to send Jack no longer forward but to the right; slamming right into a tree. I spared a quick look to see that he had lost no limbs, but his arm looked ruined. Blood was pouring out rapidly, pooling along the gnarled roots as if it were sustenance for the ancient tree.
"Mira's Dispel," Renin said behind me. I took a quick glance. What I saw was purple haze lifting off Renin's staff and floating forward rapidly, whirling about the air and forming in front and around Jack. The haze solidified into a perfect, transparent, hexagon. Instantly Jack gasped and the wounds on his body faded...though he had lost blood. The boy was not moving but I could hear him gasping for air.
"Interesting," Renin said as he joined my side. "Your magic doesn't seem to be direct, more like a channeled spell. The moment I break your connection the damage is canceled."
"Impressive!" The mage said, almost jumping from his spot on the floor of the woods. "A real Whisperer! I had no idea you would be along for this. You may be right about that particular spell, but you should never draw conclusions about magic. It is always tricky and always changing."
"Idiot," I said with a shake of my head. "If you had anything like that at your command you would have kept us thinking a channeled spell was all you could do. What kind of fool talks about their abilities before a fight?"
"Perhaps," The man said, looking right to me. "Or perhaps I merely do not care if you understand my abilities or not?"
"Is there anyway I can proceed without showing you that youth is still stupid and over confident?" I moved forward, pushing the end of my staff down into the dirt in front of me, leaning my weight onto it and looking forward, right into the eyes of the invader.
"Of course," The man said, waving his hand in front of him. Dark mist floated from the tips of his fingers and what formed was a long, black staff. The wood appeared to be made of stone or wood, or perhaps both. At the tip of the staff was a twisted head coiled around a blue jewel that looked dark and tainted. I could see bubbles inside the stone and realized it held liquid. "You can answer my questions, and perhaps provide me with an item."
"An item?" I asked, knowing I was leading myself into a verbal trap, but I had no time to beat around the bush. I preferred to simply learn his plans. Old people like me simply don't have the patience of youth.
"Yes," The man said, gently putting his weight onto his staff and leaning more onto it. He gave a smile that showed nothing but a fake face, a face he probably wore all his life to survive and get where he was in his society. Wolves like that in our society learn quickly that the shields people tend to wear to protect themselves simply are not needed. "Our books refer to the item, or items if you prefer, to be called the Blessings."
"The Blessings?" Renin asked, crouching down and holding his staff tightly in his little paws. I could see him watching this mage for any signs of weakness. He was a good kid, but he seemed far too eager to fight. I had to teach him how to keep a cool head before he would go and get himself killed. "Nothing like that exists in our home. I think your books are embellished."
"Ah," He shook his head and cleared his throat. "Forgive me, I forgot you must call them something else. I think you refer to them as The Gifts."
My eyes widened briefly, but I did my best not to let the man see my reaction. The Outsiders were aware of the Gifts? They were descendents of the All Moon, but that was generations ago, and The Full Moon had been in possession of the Gifts at the time...how did they know they were here? I shifted my body forward and shook my head, listening to the beads of my hair rattle together. "Again, you're mistaken. Nothing like that is in these woods, child. I suggest you go home and tell your King this, because he will find nothing but peaceful people here."
The man looked at me right in the eyes and sighed again, dramatically I may add, and reached into his robe. He pulled out a small leather bound book and opened it up, reading from its pages. "In all the cycles, the Gifts pass from pack to pack, tribe to tribe. The Grace, Wisdom, Strength and Sight, given to the four wolves who are the strongest of their castes and subordinates to the Alpha Male. Each one possesses powers from the Gods themselves but at cost to the users, and are keys to the strength of the Tribes..." He looked up at me, grinning. "And according to this book, with charts that outline the rotation of those gifts, the Half-Moon Tribe, your tribe I may add, would have the powers, the Gifts." He just closed the tome and put it away in his robe, staring at me. I held my ground but just let my anger stew deep down. So much of our precious secrets at the fingertips of random, unworthy and fallen wolves? "And, from my own powers, I can sense you hold one of them. Wisdom if I had to guess."
I just smirked and cackled a little bit, holding my staff in my old palms and then inhaled. This was not someone I wanted to go back to this Zaene and spread information, precious information, that could lead to more attacks. "You figured it out, child. But what now? You know you cannot extract the Gifts. They can only be passed on or transferred with the Alpha's power."
"Unless you die of course," he said casually, rubbing his forehead so his white bangs hung down over the back of his hand, smiling at me. "When the user dies the Gift becomes an object, I believe, and it can be taken by anyone around."
"Perhaps," I countered. "But killing a Gift Holder is near impossible, especially if they use the Gift itself. It gives us powers, as you said, directly from the Gods."
"Don't doubt my own magic," he said. His grin didn't make me feel any better. I knew one of his tricks, but I was betting now that he had far more up that long sleeve of his. He knew, or thought he knew, what he was going to get himself into. He was gambling on a lot. Either he was prepared or stupid. "I think you'll find me a formidable challenge, old woman."
"Ruffello, besides the boy you knocked out and nearly killed, you are the only one to call me that. I'm not old." I said with a grin myself. I just held my staff forward, narrowing my eyes. "Arch will be mad at me for this, but I would rather you not go back home and tell your King about this. The knowledge you have, as inaccurate as it may be, is not meant for your tribe anymore."
"Oh?" The mage said, his staff coming up and a grin forming on his own face. "I would love to see how our refined magic matches up against the barbaric, blunt forces I'm sure you have."
At the moment he ended speaking, I activated it.
Wolf's Wisdom, it's ancient powers typically dormant deep within my body, flared to life. I felt the seal open and a rush of magic flow through my body. I felt energy course down my skin and wash over my fur, caressing every inch of my figure, making my robes billow out. I felt the hum of magic vibrate between my ears and my feet briefly left the earth as I floated upwards. I could hear the rush of energy around me, condensing high quantities of magic in my being.
"Reyna!" I heard Renin say, more than likely a little effected by the activation of the Gift. His own powers, as most mages, would respond. Everyone who was of our tribe would give me a portion of their power pool, allowing me not only to cast spells that would take several of us but allow me to cast it several times. I let out a moan of surprise as the magic made me shiver. I hadn't used this ability in years, not since before Arch was a boy, and now here I was, using a forbidden ability, but for the sake of our tribe I had to.
When my feet touched the earth again, the transformation was complete.
"Reyna..." Renin said again, his eyes wide as he moved near me. "You're...young-looking." He sounded surprised. One side effect of Wisdom was it returned the magic user to the prime of their life where their powers were at their peak. For me, this was when I was still in my 20's, so long ago when Kaudi was a young fool and and eager to show off. I didn't need a mirror to know how I looked right now--my fur was sleek again, the gray and silvery tones no longer faded and off, more vibrant and beautiful. My body and flesh was tight and firm, holding against my bones and muscles. My grayed hair was long again, laying against my back and black as night. Across my figure would be the runes. Everyone who used a Gift would have runes painted along their bodies from head to toe, and I was no different. Faint violet lines would cross across arms and hands, following the lines of my fingers, forming circles on my palms. The lines would vanish into my robes, circling around and over my breasts, criss-crossing down my body in fine, geometric patterns all the way down to my feet and tail. On my forehead was a glowing violet rune of Wisdom, a circle with an eye in it, small runes around the circle. From that rune would be two lines shooting out diagonally and down across my eyes, flowing over my cheeks and neck, forming again at the collar bone into one line before vanishing under my robe and splitting in two again.
"Well..." Ruffello said, obviously stunned as he had taken quite a few steps back. "I had an idea that Wisdom would give you insane amounts of magical energy, but it even restored your youth." He said, his staff sweeping in front of him, sending a billowing rush of dirt at me. It ended of course, half way between us. It wasn't even an attack; merely the grandstanding I was growing very used to.
I had no time for games. My time was short now.
I gave Renin a look and smiled at him, winking, and then slicing my staff forward. A line of dark blue energy swirled at the tip. I pushed it forward mentally, sending small orbs of blue energy right at the trees next to Ruffello. Another twist and the end of my staff glowed a soft brown as I slammed the tip into the ground. All at once the water in the trees boiled and exploded, splintering the ancient trees into millions of tiny wooden shards. The explosion was enough to send the man whirling. Before he could even react, or at least I hoped, the top of my staff glowed a soft blue, wind pushing the shards forward at a blinding pace.
"Reyna!" Renin said again for the third time in a short amount of time. He saw it too--the blast of shards flying at us.
Before they even came close to being dangerous for us an explosion of energy flowed from the end of my staff in the dark hue of the earth. A wall of soil shot up from the ground, making a long barrier that protected myself, Renin, and the unconscious Jack. We could hear the sound of the million arrows slamming into the soil, making dirt explode from the exposed wall.
"That was incredible..." Renin said, his eyes wide. He was on his side, his left hand still gripping his staff. I saw him lift his head to speak again.
Then the wall exploded.
A shot of what looked like water flowed forward, smashing a huge hole through the wall, sending blocks of mud and soil flying everywhere. The rush was a combination of water and flesh.
That combination had slammed right into Renin.
I watched as Renin was shoved backwards, slamming against a tree. His staff was up, and locked against his own wooden weapon was Ruffello, bleeding from his face, his beautiful robes ruined. His body was dripping faint trickles of blood, not nearly as fatal as it should have been. His face was contorted in anger, nose near Renin's, his white teeth gleaming as he pushed forward. I could see a faint yellow shield between them, Renin somehow having quickly put up a barrier.
I was about to say something when Ruffello let his staff go in one hand, pointing it at me. To my surprise, tendrils of dark crimson blood rippled out of the wounds on his hand and arm, snaking around the air, coiling about together as it shot high into the air at sharp angles, then down and flowing along the ground, gaining dangerous speed.
"Blood user!" I shouted as I pointed my staff forward, rippling water forming at the tip of my staff and cascading outwards, forming a barrier in front of me. It would not withstand blood magic, but buy me a few seconds. I shot it forward, watching as the shield collided with the blood tendrils, the ropes of blood coiling along the side of the shield, then curl around it, and eventually pierce it, continuing on its path.
Thankfully, the slow down was all I needed. Three steps to the side and my staff was angled at the ground. Faint blue light formed at the end and an explosion of air formed, ripping up the ground as the orb of pure wind flew right at the invader. Renin knew it was coming, and I could feel energy wrap around his body and Jack's right before the impact. I heard a yell of surprise as a funnel of wind shot Ruffello right up into the tree line.
Ruffello, it appeared, did not seem to slow down. He had canceled his last attack on me and used a single tendril to coil around a thick branch, anchoring himself down and twisting himself until he came to stand on the thick branch. He let the branch go.
"From all sides!" Renin shouted as he was up and moving to Jack, who had been tossed onto some soil, still out cold. It took me a moment to sense what was happening, and if I hadn't had the lad's warning I may have been too late.
The ground below me rippled and exploded. I had just a fraction of a second to jump into the air, pointing the end of my staff downward and form a barrier of water, letting my feet touch it. The force of the blood tendrils that exploded from the ground was enough to push the rippling water shield as if it was a plank of wood on a river, and up I went. To my horror the attack was not what was below me.
Six points in a perfect circle around me exploded, tendrils flying at me. I quickly yanked energy from deep within me, and up rose six thick stone pillars from the ground. They were so close I could feel two of them brush against my fur, and four of them had shattered points of the water shield. They shot high above me, and thankfully each tendril not only slammed into the rock but were stopped by them. The shield kept pushing me upwards, and with a leap of faith I landed gently on the edge of one of the large stone pillars, my eyes fixed forward on the enemy mage.
"Commendable," Ruffello complimented as he looked at me, his stance changing, putting his feet nearer themselves. "But you're barely able to dodge. I think if you did not have Wisdom you would be dead about now."
I didn't answer. Why argue with him when he was probably right. I was too slow with my old body, and even in my youth I'm barely keeping up.
"I'm curious," He said, catching his breath apparently. "What is the drawback to using your Gift?"
"Drawback?" I asked.
"My book makes mention of the Gifts being incredibly awesome items, but with using such power comes a fee. What are you paying to use such a gift?"
I just smiled. Usually, a magic user would lose some ability to use his or her power for a short amount of time. If you used the Gift over and over, eventually your powers would begin to wane. There were also the horrible headaches one got after using the power, and the body sometimes was as thin as bones because the powers used up your own internal energy to sustain the large amount of magic being stored within the body like a holding tank.
I, however, had nothing like that to worry about.
"Fine," He said, growling and obviously growing impatient with me. I was not going to be like this idiot and give away valuable information. I may have a younger body, but my mind had never lost it's razor's edge. "I will simply kill you and not have to worry--"
I silenced him by setting the tree on fire.
The base of the tree not only burned - it became an inferno. Fire licked along the base, swirling upwards and burning, creating such heat the soil around the tree bubbled and boiled, melting into molten goo. The funnel of fire shot up into the sky, high into the clouds.
Ruffello had dodged.
I watched with aggravation as the man launched himself off the bottom of the branch he had been standing on just as the flames flew past his boots. I missed burning him by an inch. I saw him twist his body, blood flowing up and around him a beautiful spinning arc multiplied several times over around his body. What came from that were more blood tendrils, narrow and razor-like. They sliced through the stone I was standing on, the bricks falling away with their sharp cuts. I had brought my staff up, using my water shield again, but even with my mind condensing the magic and the element, I was knocked from my perch, sending me flying to the ground. Wind energy had erupted behind me, slowing my fall and cutting into the soil, tilling it and making it softer to land on.
I looked to my left as I moved my left arm, wincing as I saw the cut. A deep wound had been made, and blood trickled down my arm. I watched the crimson liquid trickle down along the runes and the length of my robe sleeve. Bleeding was going to speed up the effect. I had to end this.
With a roar of anger I raised my staff with one arm, and shooting out of the ground were four huge boulders. Trees fell as these house-sized rocks traveled across the air, the wind being cut at their speed. I lifted the staff and changed their trajectory, sending the stones flying into the air high above the trees. Spinning the large wooden stick in my palm, the stones began to rotate at increasing speed.
A loud cry flowed from my lungs, surprising even myself, as the spinning rings of rock exploded and large shrapnel began to fly downward. I didn't even worry about protecting Renin and Jack – there was no point. If I died, it would be over - if Ruffello did not at least go with me. No, instead of wasting energy to shield, I used it to propel. I used every bit of magic I had, yanking each rapidly falling stone faster downwards, wrenching them out of the sky as if I was pulling them down manually. I looked up just in time to see Ruffello lift his arm and create a barrier of black, dark energy with inklings of red.
The stones shot down like arrows, slamming into the barrier. I heard the foreigner cry out as he was shot down to a knee, holding up his staff. The large spikes shoved against the barrier, shattering and making him roar. The spikes that did hit the bubble exploded into the ground, sending rock and dirt flying into the sky. I watched as trees exploded into splinters, wood and leaves flying everywhere as the rain of stones continued to fall.
I could see Ruffello was still kneeling, gritting his teeth with the strain to maintain his barrier. I smirked and slammed the end of my staff into the soil, and with a slap to both ends of the glowing point, rocks shot out of the sky at diagonal angles. I had saved two of the huge boulders. In the ground, two more were shooting upwards, pushing earth aside. With a roar of pain, I slammed all four of the house sized stones together at one point.
I saw rock and dirt explode forward, but a blast of wind energy sent it all flying in other directions. What stood in Ruffello's place was a large pillar of rock. Four boulders were smashed together, their mis-matched earth pushed together at odd angles, jagged and spiky, dangerous-looking for sure - deadly for certain.
I smiled, but felt it happen.
My chest exploded in pain, and my hand slammed over my heart. I could feel the ancient organ returning, as it had to for me to use these spells. Wisdom had returned my body to its youth, but as I used magic, it seemed, parts of my real age returned. I knew this was the price I would pay the moment I used this kind of power. I knew that using Wisdom would save our home, but at the price of myself.
I fell to my knees, my hand still holding my chest. I looked around as the world swirled around me. The edges of life began to fade and blur, and I just coughed. I fell forward, my cheek slamming into the upturned soil I had created, my hand still on my chest. I groaned and stubbornly pushed myself until I rolled onto my back. I looked up above, the trees having been parted just enough to reveal more of the clear blue sky. I only coughed more, gripping my chest with my hurt arm. The pain was incredible, but for some reason I wasn't scared. With my good hand I brought it up to my muzzle and touched it, bringing it away and lifting it into the air. What I saw was blood on my fingers.
That was fine. I was about to die. Did I have regrets? Sure. Not having children was one of them. Not being able to help Arch during this problem another. All kinds of little things came to mind. Thoughts about decisions made and mistakes tolled. That was life, and I suppose laying there and thinking about death, well, that's what makes everyone mortal. No one lives a perfect life, and everyone wants to undo some portion of it. That is what makes us unique - individuals. So many people I had come to know and love over the years regretted those mistakes, but that was what helped shape them into who they were when we spoke. Mistakes, while uncomfortable, were not always the end of the world as so many young people thought.
I rolled my head to the side, breathing in heavily. I heard a wetness deep down, and I could feel blood trickling out of my nose. My powers were nearly gone. My body was taking the toll for me. Instead of giving me the pounding headaches, instead of cutting me off from my powers, it was kindly speeding up my death. That was fine, dying was fine for an old woman such as myself. I would rather die with a fraction of my strength, my magic. It would help me make the transition from this world to the next. The Gods, it seemed, wanted my passing to be easy. My time in this world, this life, was over.
I sighed, feeling my eyes get heavy. I looked up to the white clouds and the green leaves, my smile forming across my face as I exhaled. I felt my spirit letting go of the old, tired shell that was my body. The world that was being seen by my old eyes began to darken and fade.
The last thing I heard was the sound of running feet and my name.
Renin. I loved you like a son. I will watch over you, forever.
I give you all my blessings, and one last gift, child.
"--NA!!" NO! I couldn't believe she was dead. I cast my staff to the side and skidded along the soil on my knees and robe right up to her. I looked her over and frowned. My paws shook as I took her sight in, bleeding from her nose and mouth, her head lolled to the side – lifeless, gone. I had to work quick if I was going to save her.
I quickly shoved my sleeves up, pulling out the two hidden crystals tied to straps around my biceps, and slammed them on top of her. I shoved my palms over the stone and bowed my head forward, then quickly began the Transfer Spell. I would take her pain, give her part of my life. I felt my magic ripple down my arm and flow into my palms, cascading into the stones being shoved against her body. One end of the equation was complete, I just needed Reyna - some spark of her at least - to trigger the completion.
I looked down, my teeth gritting. I resisted the tears, but I could feel the trickling sensation of water flowing out of my eyes, down along my cheeks and falling. I shoved my hands harder down against her and the crystals, putting more of my magic - my life force - into them. I was pushing hard. "Reyna! Reyna! Listen to me! Give me some kind of power, something - anything! REYNA! You can't die! REYNA!"
I shook her, trying so hard to force the spell and my power past her without her help. It always required two sources of power, but it was impossible. I closed my eyes and decided to appeal to my truer powers.
"GODS!" I shouted mentally in the darkness of mind. I could hear them talk to me sometimes. Whispers usually, but I knew they could hear me as clear as day. "PLEASE! BRING REYNA BACK!!" I pleaded, slowly falling forward until my face touched her chest. Mentally I was strong, but externally I was sobbing against her chest. She had given up her life for her tribe - for me - but I couldn't imagine going back home without her.
I listened for a voice, a whisper, anything. Nothing came. No God was either willing to help, or could help. She must have passed on...gone past the ability of even magic to bring her back. I cried harder at that, gripping her robe as I just held onto her cooling body. I just shook my head, screaming loudly as I realized the only person I had in this world, someone I considered a mother and a close friend, was gone. REYNA WAS GONE!
What caught my attention was the sound of the boulders moving. I looked up just in time to see the rocks crack and shatter, small pieces of the stone falling off and landing around the huge monument. What walked out of the crack was Ruffello, the mage who had managed to fight Reyna until her powers had been her own undoing. He was horribly wounded. His left arm was shattered it looked like, if not completely ruined. I couldn't even see the hand. He was bleeding profusely from his left side, and his left eye seemed to have been replaced by a huge bleeding gash down along the side of his face. He stumbled forward, his right hand clutching the splintered portion of his staff.
"I had to..." he said, panting and looking up, glaring at me with his one remaining good eye. "...Use half the blood in my body to shield myself. That witch...that bitch, she almost killed me." He looked at her corpse I was kneeling next to, and I saw his ruined face turn into a grin. "But that's fine. She's dead, and the Gift should materialize in a few moments."
I growled. I was angry, furious, but also scared. Reyna has used her powers of the elements to fight this man and even one intense spell had not been able to bring him to destruction. He survived. What was I going to do that she could not? I got up onto my feet and picked up my staff. The wind whipped across the ground and hit my face, drawing attention to the wetness on my cheeks from my tears. I sniffled and ribbed my sleeve across my face. I stepped forward on shaky legs and stood in front of her, my eyes locked on the man who had killed someone very close to me.
"What?" Ruffello asked as he took a staggered step forward, blood trickling and falling around his feet as he walked. "The child thinks he can stand where his master fell? You should run. I won't chase you, child, but you best go now before my generosity ends."
"I'm not letting you touch her," I said, growling and holding my staff forward in front of me. "I'm the Beta-Mage of the Half-Moon Tribe, Whisperer of our pack, and Reyna's student. I will stop you." I tried to sound older, stronger, but it was hard. I wanted to cry and just let my grief out, but if I did nothing would happen. I would end up dead and that would be the end of it. I had to be the mage Reyna had been raising me to be - now more than ever.
"Your precious educator let this child stay in your home," he said, pointing over to the still unconscious Jack. "If she had been as wise as you make her sound she would have realized he was the perfect bait, the perfect tool, to get this far. She was careless and stupid and because of that she's dead. Now you stand before me and will also die."
I growled loudly, but I felt a rush of energy behind me. I jumped backwards and leaped over her corpse, then looked down at her body, which was now glowing a faint violet color. I saw sparkles and orbs slowly floating up from the form and condensing over her. I also saw her body, the shell that had housed her spirit, beginning to fade. This was what happened when the Wisdom user died; their spirit fueled the Gift. Their being became some of the base energy, the magic, that fueled the Gift.
"Finally!" Ruffello announced as he began to walk faster towards us. I saw him grin. "The Gift arrives!"
I looked down from Ruffello's face just in time to see Reyna's body vanish, and floating in its place was a small, violet crystal. It was diamond shaped, rotating and radiating faint light. The sides were smooth and beautifully cut, shimmering in the afternoon light. I could sense the magic floating from it. The sensation was enough to make me choke, as if I were under a sea of power so much greater than myself. I felt my head swim as my own being felt like it was going to be washed away, but something inside me reminded me that I should breathe. Slowly, I exhaled and quickly followed it by an inhale. My breathing was shaky, but I managed to do it. Crouching down, I slowly moved my palms forward to grasp the jewel.
A flash of pain snapped across my hand, and I cried out. I shot my head to the side to see one of those black tendril's recoiling, coiling back into the arm of the dark wizard in front of me. My hand, now bleeding, dropped blood onto the ground where Reyna had been laying. I winced and held it.
"Don't you DARE touch it, child." Ruffello said, moving forward faster now, almost on top of me. "That is not for you."
"Like hell it is," I said, glaring at him. I moved my hand forward to grasp it.
"Don't touch it!" He shouted at me. I didn't need to see what he did. I could feel the dark magic whirl around him, the tendrils being launched forward right at me. I knew if they touched my body I would be dead. The dark magic felt like an arrow nearing me more and more, closer and closer. I knew I was going to die if I didn't grasp the Gift that Reyna had left for me.
Just as I felt the darkness nearly wash over me, my hand touched the crystal.
All around me, the world whirled in color. I felt power rush down my arm, causing me to cry out. The crystal was hot, burning hot, but it did not hurt. I felt the magic soak into my fingers, my palms, and run along my flesh and fur, traveling down my hand and arm, down into my chest and forming a small sphere there. I cried out at the sensation, which felt as if my chest was going to explode. My breathing was erratic and loud, my body bucking and shaking, and I cried out. I felt power flow past me and up into the air as I felt the Gift fuse with my body.
My mind was also experiencing a kaleidoscope of sensations. I felt so many things that were hard to make out. I felt, above all - Arch. He was there like a fiery presence, talking to someone. For a moment I felt as if I was floating above him. I could see him discussing something with the Warboz, something important. Then, it was as if Arch could have sensed my presence because I saw him turn and look up at me. It was at that instant the scene changed. I was in a dark room now, floating above a bed. I could see two figures on the bed, curled about one another. I squinted my eyes closer to see that they were Slayn and Avalon, locked together in love. I could see Slayn's face, his shimmering blue eyes closed. But like Arch, they seemed to sense me. The moment they opened and looked right at me, the scene changed again. I saw Ezia sitting in a room holding the infant, Slayn's child, against her chest, and feeding it. The mother was asleep in the bed near her. Ezia, like the others, shot her head up and looked right at me. The scene shifted AGAIN! I felt dizzy, lost in a whirl of consciousness and energy. I saw Chance, dueling with a warrior in the enclave, swinging his heavy axe down, locking his weapon against another warrior's in training combat. I could hear the sound of metal impact against one another. I saw his face contort in anger as he pushed more strength forward and shove his axe forward, but then saw Chance turn his head, looking right at me.
All at once I heard one word.
It was Arch and and his subordinates. They had all heard me. Did the Gifts link us together? Could Reyna always sense the other Gift users? Could she always sense Arch? This was incredible! I felt a rush of pleasure rush up my body as I left the caern, and felt myself standing in a dark void. I looked around and listened.
I was a Whisperer. I could hear the faint voices of the Gods, but never clearly. That was, until now. I could hear the voices, so many of them, talking. The voices were all fixed on me. The sound was deafening, and I clasped my paws over my ears to block it out. Wisdom, it seemed, had given me the power to listen louder, hear the Gods in their perfect clarity.
I clenched my eyes closed as I tried to make some sense of the noises floating around in my skull. It was hard, but then I realized - after a painful amount of effort - that I didn't have to try. If I just let it happen, I would hear them perfectly. I slowly lowered my paws from my ears and focused, just relaxing. The voices, so many and so loud, slowly began to speak as one.
"Renin," The voices said. "Call us."
I didn't understand. Call them? What did they mean? I felt as if I always called them. When I used magic I always used an aspect of one God to do my trick. Now, with Wisdom deep within me, active and pulsing, that felt completely inaccurate - not enough. I kept my eyes closed and just...did as they asked. I trusted them, I trusted myself, and gave myself to the ancient power Reyna had left me. I had to defeat this man, I owed it to her.
"HELP ME!" I screamed loudly.
In a whirl of energy around me, I felt power unlike any before it. I opened my eyes and shot my arms to my sides, a whirl of power pushed the topsoil away from me, rippling up the grass and moving the small rocks. I watched the blood tendril become ripped to pieces and fly away, soaring into the sky. I screamed loudly and felt power fly from my fingers. I looked around and saw four circles of energy having formed on the ground around me. They were runic in origin, powerful circles, like the ones the warriors used to summon the strength they needed to fight serious enemies. The circles pulsed, and with another roar from deep within my chest, the energy flared into the heavens, four distinct colors, the shades of the elements, shot into the heavens.
With another scream, as if the voice had to get out before I exploded, the circles pulsed and ceased, and standing there at the four points were things I had never expected. Four feral looking wolves, as tall as Arch, stood. Their fur was brilliant in color, red, dark blue, light blue, and green. Their forepaws were spread and their heads low, their muzzles pulled back to expose their gleaming white teeth. From each of them crackled all kinds of power, the power of the elements. The red wolf spewed fire from his fur, droplets of the fire falling the soil and burning holes right into it. The earth wolf was standing proudly, the soil healing and becoming fresh, flowers blooming around his paws. The wind wolf had energy swirling about it, as if it was always held within a faint, gentle breeze. The water wolf dripped clear water, soaking into the ground, it's powers washing away the blood I had been dripping a few moments ago.
Somehow, with the help of Wisdom, I had summoned the Four Elemental Gods, the four wolves we believed maintained elemental harmony in the Ethers, the power source for so many of our people. Firos, Eiros, Wiros, and Watiros. They were the four pinnacle Gods, out of the hundreds I could hear, these four rarely spoke to me. They were said to once walk the planet and shape it, but they were fiercely loyal to the mages, always guiding them and helping new mages nurture their powers. I had heard Reyna often praying to them. Were they sad she had passed?
I didn't have time to mentally assimilate this information. I Just growled and pointed at the enemy. My voice loud and commanding. "I, Renin the new Alpha-Mage, ask the Gods to strike this man down!" The pain of losing Reyna cracked my voice, and I let my rage fill me, fuel me. I could feel these beings were only here because of me, as if I was some kind of metaphysical anchor for them. The moment I stopped concentrating they would vanish.
With roars of anger the four god-like feral wolves shot past me.
I saw Ruffello's eyes widen and his hand move, launching tendrils forward. Firos had been in the lead, his muzzle opening and spewing fire. He let the tendrils near his muzzle, burning them and turning them to ash before they ever came close to his figure. Eiros had landed heavily on the ground, right next to Ruffello. His power echoed and pulsed, and a huge rocky pillar had exploded from the ground, shooting Ruffello high into the air, a spike having lodged itself in his thigh to keep him soaring into the air.
Ruffello had extended his arm downward and I saw him form, in front of his palm, the beginnings of those tendrils. Wiros, the wind wolf, had appeared in the sky, running up the side of the soaring pillar rapidly, it's muzzle open. An orb of wind appeared at its muzzle, the rippling energy pulsing and swirling. With a howl of anger, I saw the ball launch forward and impact the mage's hand. I watched in awe as his fingers bent grossly backwards, followed by his whole arm before it was ripped out of its socket. I watched it soar into the air, only to be burned to ash by Firos when he bit into it. Watiros was last to act. It was actually above everyone, as if floating there in the air. It's muzzle open, a pulse of water so highly pressurized shot down, slamming into the figure, forcing the mortal body to slide down the stone pillar until Ruffello split in two, sending pieces of his body cascading down the rock. Firos had once more landed on the ground at the base of the pillar near Eiros, and with a howl, the pillar erupted into flames, turning the body and the stone into molten liquid and ash. Before the forest could be harmed by the molten liquid, Watiros, using his water based attack, cooled it until it formed along the ground, healing the cracks and the explosions from the soil that had happened from the fight.
Just like that, it was over. I watched as the four gods landed in front of me, all looking at me. It had been so easy for them, and I smiled. I moved forward, and knelt in front of them. I was shaky, and I looked down to my glowing palm, seeing the runes of power and purple pulse. I could tell I was nearing my limit - Wisdom was hard to control. I had no idea why Slayn had been wounded so much when he used his Gift, but now I did. It took so much from the person...
I could feel their joy, and their pride in defending Reyna. I looked up to their faces, so solid and strong, but then with a bow of their muzzles, they asked to return. I could not deny their request. Like relaxing a flexed muscle I let go of my Gift. Instantly I felt the magical world around me contract into an orb deep within me. I gasped as the voices in my head quieted. The four Gods vanished in front of me, and I just sighed. I rubbed the side of my head, wincing at the pain between my ears... a horrible headache was supposed to be the most common side-effect of using this power.
For a long while I just knelt there, thinking about what I had just experienced. I just thought about what had happened. Reyna was dead, Wisdom was now in my procession, and we were in grave danger. I looked over to Jack, who was just waking up. I saw him lift his head and wince, shaking himself a bit to free the bits of tree and dirt. He groaned and slowly looked around.
"What..." I heard him begin to speak, but I shot forward, slamming my crescent moon staff against his throat. I pushed the sharpened ends right into the wood, pinning him by his neck. I glared down at him.
"Don't speak!" I said, growling.
"What the...Let me go!" He said, kicking his feet as his hand grabbed the moon staff, looking at me with confused eyes. I could feel him kicking, but I planted my foot on the edge of his ankle. I pushed down hard enough to cause him pain because he cried out when I did.
I heard people approaching, and I felt fire. I looked over to see Arch and Chance running close, followed by a group of scouts. "Renin!" Arch shouted, moving quickly up to me and looking down at what I was doing. He glared at me. "What's happened? Let Jack go."
"Reyna's dead, Alpha." I said with a growl, looking down to Jack and twisting my staff so he would have to crane his head a bit more. It was enough to hurt, and a quick twist would easily snap his neck if I wanted it. I just held my hand on the staff.
"What?!" Arch said. He sounded surprised.
"She's dead because of this Outsider, and I'm about to send him after her."
To be continued...