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 Crimson Woman, and exploded with light. The light shone through her, casting no shadow. Nonetheless she lifted her hands to shield her eyes, ending her spell and freeing Emerich.
Emerich lunged forward, plunging his shorter sword into Wildfire’s stomach. Blood oozed from the wound.
“Nice touch,” Emerich said.
“I can light myself on fire,” Wildfire grumbled, “but I can’t survive a bloody dagger in the gut.”
Emerich decapitated the visage with his larger sword. The false invoker’s body let out a trill shriek as it exploded into glass.
The enchantress split into three identical copies. Each one waved their hands, summoning three giant shards above Emerich.
Merida gasped, sprinting and sliding in front of the glass.
“No!” she yelled mockingly. “Honor compels me to interpose myself between others and harm!”
The enchantresses shook their heads, “why anyone would impose rules on battle is beyond me. You should have chosen characters free to do as they please.” The shards impaled Merida’s body, pinning her on the soil.
“Lo, I am slain!” she cried.
“Honor blinded you, dear friend,” Emerich said with dramatic flair, “if only you were motivated by glory, you would not have thrown your life away!”
The Crimson Women rolled their eyes.
“Too much?” Emerich asked.
“Bah, they all sound equally foolish. Pretend I responded with something maniacal and power hungry.”
The three women each threw a stream of shards at Sir Emerich, too many to parry. He gasped, dropped his swords, and stretched out his hands. Just before the shards struck, they were transmuted into dozens of harmless, colorful butterflies.
The spell was impossible for the knight, and Sir Emerich faded away, revealing the true form of the wizard: a handsome, black-haired man in colorful finery. He snapped his wrist, sending back three blindingly fast glass darts. Each one struck a different woman, exploding the illusions into a brilliant cloud of mist, glass, and light. The hot Calbrian sun reflected brilliantly off of the spectacle, sending light in a thousand directions. Enough of the shards reformed into another man, equally debonair, but slightly sweatier.
The two panted across from each other, exposed, waiting for the other to make a move.
“Shall we call it a draw?”
“I’m just getting started,” the no-longer-knight said.
The other man laughed. “We both know that’s not true.”
“Very well, a draw then.”
A chuckle escaped one of them, slowly infecting the other. Soon the two both laughed haughtily. They approached gently and shook hands.
“Well fought friend!”
“To you as well.”
The two looked across the plateau at the piles of glass, butterflies, and lingering illusions of flame and light, admiring their work. They strode over to the cliff edge and stared down at the immense Leyline.
“What do you think it is?” one asked, switching to their native Altese.
“The Calbrians would say the veins of a goddess,” replied the other.
“These Calbrians truly are strange.”
“Indeed they are.”
“Well I’ve still got two dates, a council meeting, and ball to attend. I should be off. Good luck with your studies.”
“You aren’t going to stay? We’ve enough time for some more practice.”
“You gather information your way, I’ll do it my way.”
“Your way sounds more fun.”
“Well there’s room for you at the castle, should you truly think that. I could always vote you into the council. After all,” he chuckled, “I hold the majority vote.”
“How do you know I’m not already on the council?”
A flash of doubt crossed the other illusionist’s face, but the awkward silence was eventually broken by another laugh.
“What will you do while I’m away?”
“Continue to study the magic of this land, and to respect it, I suppose. But if one thing about my future is certain,” he paused, his somatic motions summoning a stream of beautiful shapes and sounds. The stream spiraled, burst, reformed, danced, alighted, sang, and gleamed. It formed and unformed a dozen figures and lands. He drew in a full breath of crisp, Calbrian air.
“I shall not be returning home anytime soon.”
Illusionists have come from distant Alta to study the Ley and infiltrate the courts of lords and barons. Their ways are foreign and false, but where is the line between reality and illusion?
Remake the real as the Illusionist in Ivion, the Herocrafting Card Game, coming to Kickstarter September 1st, 2020!