Untitled and Unfinished, Ch. 9
I rise a bit further, and then the white light flings us all into the air. For a few seconds, it feels like we’re flying fast—ridiculously so—but it’s all painless. Wind shoots past us the whole way but then fades out slowly. When I no longer feel the wind against my face and seem to touch upon solid ground, I open my eyes. My first thought is that I’m glad we all traveled together, but then I scan the place we’re in now.
Before us is a simple room with small windows no bigger than little air duct grates near the top of the left wall. It’s the only source of light in the box-shaped room, which is made of wood and plain white walls. I see a treetop outside, but it’s hard to tell looking out that tiny window. A short set of steps up ahead lead to a single wooden door, our only way out of here.
Jason’s the first to speak up, and he does so in a whisper. “Don’t move and stay quiet. I want to hear what’s out there.”
So we wait and listen for a good two minutes. In that time, I hear a light breeze outside, but nothing more than that. Nothing like footsteps marching by or even an animal scurrying around. I think I see a bird pass by the window, but otherwise, it’s quiet outside. Just not too quiet to hint at anything suspicious.
After those two minutes, Erika speaks up. “I think we’re good.”
Jason gives a nod and makes for the door first before motioning to us to follow. Franco stands without any sign of a tired limp, so I guess he’s all right. Anyway, now we need to ascertain where we are. Once we’re all together, our red-clad leader opens the door. It swings inwards, so he peeks outside first before opening it wider to let us join him.
What greets us is a wet meadow area. It turns out the house is embedded partially in a hill surrounded by trees, but through them and the tall grass, I see a wide river. Beyond that, the edge of a cliff. We make our way for it, only to find that it’s not one of those ninety-degree cliff edges; it just leads to a steep slope. One could be forgiven for thinking we were on a mountain.
Some ways down from where we are is a town whose buildings look nothing like the medieval European-style homes of Taura. Here, I see roofs both triangular and bulbous, with a few of the former possessing corners made of crisscrossed beams. The predominant color around here seems to be gold and light brown. In fact, the greenery of the mountain seems to fade into flat dunes the closer it gets to the town. All of this is enough to inform me that we’re not in Taura anymore.
After we spend a good minute or so scanning our surroundings, a nervous Franco finally reveals where we are. “Guys…? I think we’re in Scorpus.”
Erika shoots him a look, her tone of voice bewildered and a little horrified. “How far into Scorpus?”
“I don’t know. The warp circles don’t have that ten-mile limit to the distances they can travel; I just haven’t seen one that goes so far.”
Franco proceeds to study the surroundings, both where we’ve come from and what’s ahead of us. His slow scan seems to put him at some amount of ease because his green eyes don’t betray much fear. At length, he gives his two cents. “The books I’ve read say that Scorpus’s lands are flat plains with only patches of grass. The illustrations of the buildings also match what we’re seeing in the town in front of us. Since we’re close to an environment more like Taura’s, I’d say we’re not that far from the border.”
“That’s good.” No sooner does Jason say this, though, does he kick part of the ground in front of him. “Now if only we knew where to start looking for the traitors.”
Erika’s calmed down, it seems, because now she has that analytical glint in her eye. “It would be a cinch to hide themselves in the town. Just slip in and become part of the crowd. You’d lose your pursuers fast that way.”
“That’s assuming they haven’t purposefully directed us to Scorpus, right?”
“Right… except they might’ve done just that to throw us off.” With that, our lady in blue crouches down, blowing the bangs off her face. “We need to think twice before we start heading into that town.”
Jason nods to that. “Seems like they don’t need that shack we just left. The only thing in there is that magic circle.”
“Oh, they need it, all right; it’s just not their main base. And I would think if they’re going to be using a lot of magic that they’d want a place that could store the necessary supplies.”
Franco raises his hand. “I can vouch for that. Remember my house and all the shelves of books and bottles?”
Both Jason and Erika laugh at that and nod, but the latter’s the one who answers their friend in green. “I was thinking about that as I was saying it.”
I divert my thoughts away from other interpretations of what “books and bottles” could mean by thinking over what Mister Red and Miss Blue were talking about before. When my thoughts coalesce into something coherent, I say what’s on my mind. “All things considered, I don’t think they’re hiding out in the town. They have an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere, so I’m guessing they’ll have a similarly isolated base somewhere. Heck, their main base is probably close to the Aura Gate. They probably have a network of warp circles set up in various places where they’d conduct parts of their plan for easy travel.”
Jason kind of stiffens at that, but then his face brightens. “So we can track down their warp circles instead of them, right?”
“Pretty much. I mean, they have to go to the Aura Gate eventually, right? But that’s the thing—we don’t know which of their warp circles lead where. The one we used just now only led us to this random spot in Scorpus.”
“Now that I think about it,” says Franco, “the circle in that cave looked like it was made within the previous night. It’s possible that their actual base of operations in Taura was located somewhere else in the kingdom, which would be marked with the circle they had meant to use.”
“Well, there’s one way to test that theory.” I scratch my chin, studying the mage for a second before going right to my question. “How are you feeling? You said warp magic can be taxing.”
“Without a pre-made circle, yes.” Franco nods in response.
“So casting the spell just now didn’t tire you that much?”
“No. Once the magic is flowing in the lines, the circles themselves take care of the rest. Otherwise, it would be all up to the mage to maintain the spell for its entire duration. That’s what I heard at the academy, anyway.”
“All right, then.” I point back the way we came earlier. “We can also find out if they wanted us to come here, right? So let’s go back to the shack and use that circle again and see where it takes us.”
“Hmm… I don’t know about that. There’s a good chance it’ll take us right back to the cave in Taura.”
“Why? Because it was the circle that was used last?”
“Exactly. It might think that’s the new target destination.”
“Huh. Well. That makes things more difficult. I don’t suppose we could just ask to be brought to the original connecting point, could we?”
Franco’s taken aback by that, almost like I hit him with an idea—literally. “That might help, but it’s not a guarantee.”
“As long as we can come back here, I don’t think we’ll be in much trouble,” says Erika.
And the mage replies, “We will. That’s about the only thing I’m certain of.”
This causes Jason to clap his hands and rub them together. “All right, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll see where that circle in the shack takes us. If we go to the cave, we come back here. If we wind up somewhere different, we explore around and see what we can find. Sound good?”
Three nods give him the okay, so we return to the shack. As we go, it suddenly occurs to me that I can try using more of my reality warping power to guarantee which location we land in on the other side. I mean, I averted some magic traps from going off on us before. I also made the situation include two traitors instead of one earlier than that, but that just means I’m kind of one for one right now. And hey—didn’t I make a plank of wood appear out of nowhere to save my hide once?
Well, if I’m going to find out, I’ll have to try it again. Once we’re back in the shack and standing before the magic circle, I steel myself for what’s to come real soon. Franco threads the magical energy again, lighting up all the lines like before, and then we step up onto the circle. We make the same formation, too—Jason, Erika, and me stand around Franco, who stays in the middle of us. Once we turn to face away from the mage in green, I lower my head and breathe deep.
This is the moment. Franco said himself that it was no guarantee, but I’m going to try and make sure it is. So, magic circle of warping, take us to your original connecting point. Take us to where your original caster came from. Follow that caster’s trail. We have to find a lead.
I repeat that to myself while I’m lifted off the ground, just like the first time. Part of me is aware that we’re flying again, but my main concentration is on what our destination will be. I repeat my own thoughts to myself like I’m going crazy until I feel myself touch down on something again. Only then do I stop the words running through my brain and look up—
—and I see that we’re in a cavern. A wide cavern. A cavern that isn’t even lit up all too well, but it’s spacious. I also think it has shelves mounted on the stony walls. A sliver of light is coming through from somewhere far ahead of us, showing me the outline of a few torches mounted in the walls. Franco must’ve noticed them, too, because he lights them up with a couple of tiny fireballs. The new light sources help me confirm the details I saw before, like additional torches and the shelves packed with stuff.
The bottom line is, we’re not in the little cave in Taura.
Goodness gracious, I think it worked. The others may have helped, too, but they don’t have the power to change the narrative like I do. The question is, where are we now?
Jason must’ve been thinking along the same lines because he turns to his two friends and me. “We need to figure out where we are. Claire, you stay here and see what you can find around here. Franco, Erika, come with me outside. We’ll scout around the area and be back here in five, okay?”
To that, Erika gives him a quick, informal salute. “Roger that.”
Jason then focuses on me and asks, “Will you be all right here?”
I take a quick scan around and spot that the warp circle is tucked away in a corner. The stone walls near it are enough to tell me we won’t have to worry about being ambushed from behind, so I turn to Mister Red. “Yeah, I should be fine.”
He nods to me, then motions for his friends to follow. Once they’re gone, I take a better look around the cavern. The closest thing to the warp circle opposite the corner walls is a desk whose surface is empty, but a cabinet sits underneath. The shelves that line the walls hold both bottles of who-knows-what and books. If I’m looking at the spines and covers of these books correctly, they’re probably spell tomes. I’m surprised to see that the books are written in a language I understand, but I don’t have time to read any of them. On the shelf, they stay.
So, what does the desk have to offer? Someone cleared it off before leaving this place, but what’s in the cabinet? The doors are sealed with a simple latch that fits real snugly, but it gives with enough push-ups from my thumb. With some patience and persistence, though, I manage to pop the latch and open the doors. More books lie on their backs on the shelf and bottom of the inner cabinet, but papers are sticking out of the sides as if someone had stuffed some oversized bookmarks in them.
I don’t even think about my next course of action; I just reach in and grab the first book I see. I bring it over to the nearby torch and open up to a place in the middle that’s marked by loose paper. The pages seem to be talking about some mythology regarding the Spirit of Life, the Aura Gate, and the Phoenix Stones. None of it really differs from what I’ve heard before: Spirit of Life is good; it made the Aura Gate to protect people; the Phoenix Stones are used to summon the Spirit. The book just says all of that in about a million more words than necessary. However, I also see some crib notes scribbled in the margin pointing to particular details and saying remember this and IMPORTANT.
I cast a glance over at the loose leaf paper that marked the page, and I notice more notes written in the same handwriting. A big red alert goes off in my head when I see what’s written on there:
Wendell: Treasure secured. Done with Scorpus. One down, three to go. Meet me at wetlands, Taura. Phase two soon. Bring this note with you; make sure you’re not followed. –D
I’m going to take a wild guess and assume D stands for Dorian. I’m also going to guess that the treasure he’s talking about is one of the Phoenix Stones—of which there are three. Taura and Scorpus each had one, right? So there’s one more. Given everything else I’ve guessed right and learned about so far, I think I just found some really incriminating evidence.
This has me wondering, though, about when the note was written. Was this before their attack on Taura’s capital? If so, then the Scorpus Phoenix Stone is already in the hands of the traitors. As for whether or not we’re in some wetlands right now, I’ll have to wait for Jason and the others to return. While I’m waiting, I should see what else is on these loose sheets of paper.
As it turns out, they reveal a metric ton of info. I just don’t know what order the notes were written in. That’s not quite as important as to what they tell me, though:
Dorian: Border shack completed, plus circle. All done to your instructions. Network needs testing. –W
Wendell: First one, Scorpus temple gold. Second one, north Taura falls. Third one, southern crags. Act casual; let S and T at each other. Meet me at main base. –D
If I had to guess, the network in question has something to do with connecting warp circles together. Why else would there be mention of a circle? For that matter, I think I know what border shack Wendell’s talking about because the trio and I were just there. Most importantly, now I know where all the Phoenix Stones are. Convenient.
The next note I find from Dorian is actually a map with various arrows scribbled over it. This is my first real glimpse of the world I’m in, so let me give the gist of what I’m seeing. Three big landmasses cover the world’s seas, and the largest one is split in two almost right down the middle. The country to my left is labeled Taura; to my right, Scorpus. Little flags indicate where their capitals are. The bottom-most continent is riddled with tiny arrowheads indicating mountains, and a single isthmus connects it to the center landmass. The last continent sits beyond a sea north of the kingdoms and has a drawing of a gateway in the middle of it. That must be the Aura Gate..
Here’s the interesting part: Just to the bottom right of the Aura Gate is a little circle with a badly drawn star in it. This same pattern appears in three spots each in Taura and Scorpus, as much as someone can draw the same thing by hand. Arrows branch off from the star-circle pattern near the Aura Gate to each of the ones in the two kingdoms, but one arrow in particular connects two points near the border. The two southernmost patterns connect to the mountainous continent, one to the east and one to the west.
Oh. I get it now. This is a map of Dorian’s warp circle network.
Which means I have pretty much all the information we need to unravel their plot. There’s just one last bit of info, this one from Dorian to Wendell:
Phase 2—Taura Capital.
1) Slip enchant to Queen. 2) Activate enchant. 3) Use Queen to secure treasure.
In case of emergency, run to Scorpus base.
I know what you’re thinking—they might as well have written Big Evil Plan at the top of that note. The thing is, I don’t think the main characters were supposed to find all this information now. All this sounds like a revelation that was meant for later, like a third-act plot twist. In fact, discovering this later might’ve guaranteed that we would find more info. But just like with the appearance of the plank ex machina and Dorian, the narrative’s adjusted yet again to another change I’ve influenced.
Regardless of how much info I’ve found now, we still have quite a bit to get the drop on Wendell and Dorian in the near-future. They probably ran to Scorpus, according to their contingency plan. As for which hideout they’ve run to, I’d guess they’ve gone to the one closest to the border shack, as Wendell called it. Jason and his friends are going to be happy to hear about this!
Just as I think that, the trio in question comes trotting back in.
“We’re back, Claire,” says Jason the Obvious. “What do you have there?”
“Everything we need,” I tell him. “I don’t have time to explain right now, but I think I know where the traitors have gone. Let’s head back to Scorpus.”
Erika nudges Franco. “Are you okay enough to warp us again?”
The mage in green nods. “I’ll be fine. I’m kind of hoping I don’t have to do it again after that, though.”
“You won’t have to,” I say. “It might be a while before we find the next warp circle anyhow. Oh, but before we go, what did you all find out? Where are we?”
“We’re in Taura’s wetlands,” replies Erika. “We figured that out the second we left the cave, but we searched around some more just in case. It seems like a couple hikers had seen a two guys wandering the area who sounded like Wendell and Dorian, based on their descriptions. Just not recently.”
“Their descriptions were kind of vague, too, so we’re at a dead end here.” Jason kicks at the ground upon saying that, but then he smoothes out the dirt.
I’m not deterred hearing this, so I shrug. “Not really. Our leads just wound up being in a different spot than expected, is all. I’ve procured some incriminating papers that should come in handy later. You should take a look at them once we’re back on track.”
Each of the three gives me a nod, and then I stuff the papers in my satchel. I go so far as to slip the book back into the cabinet and flick down the latch. After that, I join the trio on the warp circle. We waste no time in returning to Scorpus.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, we do wind up in that shack again. I make sure of that.