Updated: Jun 11, 2020
By Glenn Anderson
Damp moss and slick rock clung to the walls of the ravine, obscured in increasing darkness near the stony floor. A pulsing river of light flowed across the deepest point, visible from the edge of the plateau. Thick, arcane tendrils flowed and twisted, as if infinitely tying a maiden’s braid.
“I suppose I needn’t ask if we have arrived,” said Dame Merida.
“This just… appeared?” Sir Emerich questioned. “That’s the biggest Leyline I’ve ever seen!”
A strained, aged groan escaped Harrold long before his response: “Nyehhh… well young Emerich…” he cleared his throat violently, “…the Leylines are not immobile, like rock, instead they ebb and change, like water… actually they also…”
Emerich cast another quick look over the side of the cliff.
“Well I don’t know as much as you, but I’m fairly certain it’s still blue. I think we beat the lunatics here.”
“This is not a joke,” Merida warned, rolling her eyes, “they will be here soon. We should prepare.”
Merida knelt, extended her arms, and bowed her head. A magnificent sword materialized, resting reverently on her outstretched palms.
Emerich drew his sword and unceremoniously tossed aside his scabbard. “Show off,” he mumbled.
Neither of them had noticed that Harrold was still talking.
“…and so when we become aware of a potent Leyline… nyehhh… it is important to procure the area, for studying, mapping, and for protecting it.”
Emerich bolted on his helm. “But why did they send all three of us? Scouting is a squire’s job.”
“Two apostates are active in this area. It is predicted they will make a move for this Leyline.” Merida whispered a prayer and finally rose from her knees.
“Bah,” Emerich replied, “a couple of flunked wizards are no match for any one of us.”
“We are not talking about a pair of ordinary brigands. This is the territory of Wildfire and the Crimson Woman.”
Sir Emerich perked up, and though he wore a helm, everyone knew he was grinning.
“A true challenge,” he said excitedly, “well then, I say let them come!”
With theatrical timing, a ball of flame careened into the nearby earth, erupting sideways into a blazing wall of flame. The blast missed all three companions, instead drawing a line between their group and the newcomers.
Two figures walked casually through the flames: a slender, well-kept woman with waist-length red hair, and an unshaven, furry man covered in burn marks and black curls. Both looked equally sinister and merciless.
“Seems they sent us a welcoming party,” the Crimson Woman mocked.
Wildfire said nothing. Instead his clenched fists alighted with ashy smoke, billowing high into the sky.
Merida and Emerich fell into their preferred martial stances, and a tense silence fell over the plateau.
“This is foolish,” Merida warned, “foolish to fight two against three, and even more foolish to fight a saint and an archmage.”
“I’m here too,” Emerich retorted, “and I could take them both with one arm.”
Wildfire snarled, his hands turning a molten orange. He took a step forward but stopped, with great reluctance, when the woman held out a halting hand.
“Come now friends, I see no need for this to end in violence.” She flicked her hair and snapped.
Harrold stepped in front of the two knights, staring aggressively at the woman.
“I would consider your magics impressive… nyehhh… could I not outperform them in my sleep. Take your tricks elsewhere, witch. Might I suggest… the grave?”
Merida and Emerich exchanged a surprised glance. Emerich cheered and clapped the mage on the back.
The Crimson Woman’s eye twitched in annoyance. “Very well old man, have it your way.”
She strode back beside her companion, and a quiet once again fell over the group. Harrold encased his side in a protective barrier, and the apostates pulled red, taut strings from the earth, molding them clumsily into jagged shapes.
Emerich and Wildfire locked eyes, both twitching in anticipation. Everyone knew it would be one of them to make the first move.
“C’mon,” Emerich taunted.
Wildfire seethed. More and more red Ley crept from the earth to fuel the inferno around him.
“C’mon!” Emerich bellowed, so impatiently that Harrold and Merida worried he would leave the barrier.
Wildfire roared, the earth around him disintegrating, melting, and cracking.
“I WILL BURN EVERYTHING!” he screamed.
The intensity of the moment collapsed in an instant. Emerich, Harrold, and Merida burst into laughter. Their laughs were not their own, but instead identical and perfectly in unison across the group.
“Is that what you think invokers sound like?” they continued in unison.
“They’re insane!” Wildfire and the Crimson Woman replied in similarly perfect unison. “Your guise was no more convincing.”
“What?” Emerich, Harrold, and Merida placed their hands on their hips. “My characters are more believable than yours! At least mine have names.”
“Twas a nice touch, I’ll admit, and each one so different, but never underestimate the power of titles! You’re the first I haven’t been able to make flee simply by infamous reputation.”
“None of this lot would ever flee, they are compelled by honor, and glory, and… I don’t know, blobs of magic? Calbrians don’t understand when not to fight.”
“They are strange, these Calbrians."
“Any news from Alta?”
“I have not been back in some time. You?”
Emerich, Harrold, and Merida shrugged. “Neither have I.” They pointed together at the ravine. “There’s still so much to learn.”
“Ah yes, I don’t suppose you’d be interested in sharing?”
The trio shook their heads.
“I thought not. Well then, shall we continue our ‘duel’?”
“Very well,” the fiery duo said together, “let us see who is the better artist.”
Two jets of flame rocketed into Harrold’s form. His robes ignited, but his body remained unharmed. He shook his fist at the heavens.
“If only I had read more books! Perhaps I could have survived this day!”
His form burst, scattering shards of glass across the plateau. Sir Emerich charged Wildfire, drawing a second blade from nowhere. The fake enchantress lifted her hands, softening the earth beneath him. The errant sank to his knees, and switched to a defensive stance, parrying bolts of flame from Wildfire. Dame Merida took a more calculated approach, hurling her weightless sword at a startling speed. The sword landed next to the C