“Aether Flare!” the name of the spell signalled the ignition of a blazing, whirling andala of carefully controlled and directed ether. It careened on a path across the room and Kal abandoned his possession of the lovely Mrs Trimagent and transposed his form across the room.
Whilst he was condensing the air and his blazing, unbound elemental self, back into his favourite fur and flesh imp body his assailants were somewhat busy.
“Cancel the spell, the imp released her, you'll kill her!” the idiot mouse in the white robes wielding a cleric’s sceptre screamed.
“Stop it, stop it!” someone else shouted but the three foot tall, brown furred slatepaw just shifted her stance and with a herculean effort redirected her spell.
“No need,” Zenti shouted, “I was expecting the little bastard to try something like this!”
Opening his eyes Kal found himself staring into the whirling mandala of aetheric force, “Fuck me,” Kal shouted, swinging his wings around and hastily threw up one of his defenses. He condensed the water vapour in the air into a solid sheet of ice but the resulting explosion still tossed him back through the air.
Plasterboard shattered as he was punched clean through the wall into the kitchen. He rolled then bounced across the tiles before cracking his ice white horns against a cabinet. The bony ridges were sunk into the wood veneer and the imp had to wrench his head back and forth to break free.
Whilst he was recovering Zenti moved up into the hole, her hands glowing with a violet sheen as she charged a new spell. She was accompanied by the mouse cleric and a hulking black bear in full armour wielding a very large club.
“How the hell did you block that,” Zenti growled, “Aether Flare should have discoporeated you!”
Smiling at Zenti the imp grinned and let himself drift up into the air, she was a formidable opponent but he knew her quite well. She was acting impulsively, angry, allowing her emotions to rule her actions and that meant she was easy to push off balance, “That’s no way to greet your old friend, I thought we were old chums by now.”
“We are not chums you demon,” Zenti growled, “How long have you been possessing poor Mrs Trimagent and how the hell did you hide yourself from my senses.”
Shaking his head Kal held up one hand, “Ok one I'm an imp not a demon but as you know I'm a very good imp, two we are best chums and three I think I've been a good influence on little Argon when I pick him up from school on Thursdays.”
Mentioning her apprentice had the desired effect, Zenti shouted “get him,” and her adventurers sprung to attack. The bear ran in roaring and swung their sword, Kal lunged straight at him, the direct assault throwing the bear off balance. The imp twisted in mid air, curling his elongating body around the ursine's sword and let his wings dissolve.
Ice crystals exploded around the bear, magically excited water vapour that had moments before been his wings. As they clung to his body they froze, sealing him in interlocking strands of ice. His assault faltered, sword arm freezing, body grinding to a halt but Kal had already moved on.
Leaping through the air, the bear's defence removed the cleric was wide open. Kal shrunk, form condensing and landed both feet on the mouse's shoulder. His clawed hand closed around the gem atop the priests sceptre and as Kal had anticipated they were casting a spell. Shunting his ether through the sceptre, the cleric’s focus and twisted the direction of the spell out of their control.
The divine energy burnt and Kal had to throw his etheric flow into protecting himself. But it was worth it, as the cleric's divinely granted power flowed into the sceptre to be amplified by the crystal it was no longer power direct from the divine. Guided by the will of the mortal cleric Kal gripped a big mouse ear and twisted their body and hurled his power behind the holding spell.
It hit the angry Zenti square in the face, her current spell fizzled as the divine spell locked her in place. It wouldn’t last for long but Kal was already moving. Kicking off from the cleric’s head he sprang through the air, landing on Zenti's chest. Clawed hands gripped her horns, his feet sunk into the clothing of her chest and buried her muzzle in his stomach fur.
He only had seconds, the ice holding the bear was cracking, the mouse was recovering and Zenti would be free soon. But with his hands holding her horns he had direct access to her and a second was all he needed. He fired the spell he'd prepared directly through her horns and called out the activation words.
“Polymorph Recall!” the language he used was the fell tongue of the lower planes, infused with the elemental kanji of the eastern school of magic. Zenti's eyes widened, seems someone had been naughty and studied his language, “Check mate,” he whispered then a huge hand grabbed him by the neck and ripped him off.
“You sick beast,” the bear roared, “Verily hath I never seen such depravity in all the days I hath adventured against thy fel kind.”
Kal stared at the bear in bafflement then looked back at Zenti who was spitting out a mouthful of fluff, “Oh… right…” Kal said lamely, he'd not really considered what it must look like, him clinging to Zenti's head and forcing her face into his naval like that must have looked pretty lewd to an outsider.
“You hero types, always thinking with your cocks,” Kal muttered, “You realise I don't have one right? At least not unless I feel like making one, would you like me to craft a new one for you? I can see your equipment is lacking.”
The bear roared and raised his either hand ready to skewer Kal but Zenti’s shout pulled him up short. The holding spell had worn off and she turned toward the mouse cleric.
“Quick you need to dispel ahahhhh…” she fell over with a thump, her arms were being forced down against her side as her torso swelled. Her tunic split, cotton tearing as she started to roll back and forth, wriggling and thrashing, her legs moving up and down in tandem.
Kal smiled as he noted they had joined together at the knee and ankle and were fusing into one single mass of wriggling flesh. Flesh that was elongating, shifting, stretching as Zenti’s weasel like form was lost its shape and definition.
Feathers started sprouting across her body and the skeletal flesh and bone of a pair of wings began to arch from her back. The bear dropped Kal and rushed to her side with the mouse but both of them were knocked over by the flailing coils of her new quetzalcoatl body. Kal landed on the floor and grinned at her as she turned her snaked like, earless, feather coated head toward him and hissed with her new tongue.
“You… bastard…… coatl…. coatl… aaaah my name, you I am going to bite you!”
“Bye Zenti, we’ll catch up soon my pet,” Kal smirked and then used the last of his energy to teleport himself. He didn’t move far, through the floor and down into the warded and shielded basement room he’d constructed as a safe retreat.
It was cosy, with a fridge freezer full of food, a cooker and a massive beanbag. It was also magically warded, only he could open the door or move through the wards. It was the perfect place to retreat, rest and recover his stamina and energy reserves. Zenti had thrown everything she had at him and he was practically drained of energy.
He’d rest up for a few days and once he was strong enough pop out to see if she’d broken his baleful polymorph spell. It helped that Zenti had once spent Halloween as his beautiful quetzalcoatl pet so her morphic field remember the shape. This had made it nice and easy to force her back into it but she was a smart girl she’d probably break free before he had the power to go dominate her.
Flopping backwards into the beanbag Kal sighed and let his body relax. He could hear the thrashing, crashing, smashing of Zenti’s transformation upstairs. The shouts of her adventurers trying to get out of the way or stop it. It was quite a pleasant sound, he could drift off to sleep to it and probably would have but it was just as he was closing his eyes that someone slapped their hand down on his forehead.
Kal’s eyes popped open and he gasped as his body went limp. The red and cream pawed hand pulled back and left behind a sticky strip of paper. Whatever runes or symbols were written on it burnt into his being and froze him in place. Rolling his eyes Kal watched as Shale, Zenti’s red furred roguelike mate stepped into view and stared down at the imp.
“Gotcha,” he dooked happily, “Usually I’d never agree to let Zenti go into battle on her own,” he crouched down next to the imp, “But looks like her wild, out of control, swearing at you all the time act worked and she forced you to use nearly all your energy.”
“How…” Kal mumbled, it was so hard to do anything right now, let alone talk, “How did you…”
“Get in here?” Shale crouched down and slapped another sticky strip of paper onto one of Kal’s horns, “That’s my secret.”
“Damn… it Shale… let me go…” Kal tried to push a simple suggestion spell out but he just screamed as the enchanted ward papers burnt through the ether he was trying to use. None of his safe rooms defences where reacting! He had spent months warding this room and though he could see they were intact they were ignoring Shale.
“Oh no Kal, this is the end of your fun,” crouching down Shale removed a bottle from his belt and tugged the cork out with one claw, “Zenti says we can’t just banish you, you’ll find some way to come back.”
The slatepaw gripped Kal’s jaw and tugged his mouth open and poured the potion into his mouth, “I always thought your games were quite fun but when you messed with our little Argon you crossed a line imp.”
Shale dispassionately held Kal’s jaw shut and stroked his throat forcing the imp to swallow. The potion seared as it went down and Kal found his body breaking apart. Ice crystals and water vapour boiled into the air, soaking his beanbag as the potion dissolved his form. This left him exposed, a shimmering, coalescing mass of ice-blue energy sunk into the impression of the beanbag.
Shale drew back, his eyes widening as he got his first look at Kal’s unsheathed form. He looked like concentric rings of spell mandalas, floating, ethereal circles filled with complicated runes. Each shell span slowly around an intense core of flickering energy. As Shale leaned in Kal stared back, the concentric circles, the collected knowledge that made up Kal spinning gently around his core of magical energy.
“Wow this is complex,” Shale rubbed his chin, “Zenti showed me a picture of what to expect, I was thinking maybe one or two spell rings not… well I can’t count how many. Just how old are you?”
Kal tried to flex, to bring his power to bare but the enchanted wards were restricting his ability to act. Not to mention he was so low on energy, he’d spent nearly all his power to turn Zenti into a quetzalcoatl. She’d tricked him, she’d deliberately fought badly, her inept adventurers, the uncoordinated anger from messing with Argon. It had all been a sham to make him use up all his energy so Shale could ambush him!
“Damn… she’s clever,” Kal muttered, watching as Shale removed a small ebony dagger from a sheath, as he drew it there was a strange flicker and for a moment the room’s enchantments stirred. Kal frowned then his eyes widened in shock as he realised that Shale’s aura, the palpable manifestation of his magic was in tune with Kal’s own. The room was ignoring him because as far as his room was concerned Shale was him.
“Damn that’s sneaky, I had no idea you could do that.”
Shale paused and frowned, “Zenti is right, you are too dangerous to leave loose if you can work that out just by looking at me,”
He hefted the dagger and then patted the tiny foot tall imps head, “But don’t worry I’m not here to kill you,” he hefted the blade, “This… well this will just be your new home, I promise we’ll treat you good but we can’t leave you free to run around causing trouble.”
“Wait…” Kal said, fear rising inside of him, “You can’t contain me in an enchanted blade! Have you any idea how dense I am? There is no way I’ll fit in that.”
Shale hesitated then shook his head and lifted the blade, “Zenti says this is more then big enough to contain an imp, Ebony is expensive.”
“No you idiot, you just said yourself you didn’t think I’d have this many rings!” Kal’s voice rose in alarm, “Zenti didn’t know either, you can’t use that.”
Shale shook his head, “Sorry Kal, you can’t talk yourself out of this one, Zenti was quite firm that I wasn’t to discuss this.”
“No Shale don’t!”
Shale ignored him and plunged the blade into Kal’s core. It was ebony, finely crafted and enchanted, designed to suck up the magical energy that was Kal’s being and trap it inside the lattice of metal and magic. It would have worked too, if they’d used a sword or a spear or something bigger than a dagger!
His matrix surged into the dagger, filled it and most of him was still outside but with part of his being trapped he flexed. The enchantments strained and then unravelled and the whole mess exploded! The dagger shattered, Shale was thrown through the air and Kal’s magical essence tore a hole in the fabric of reality. He was sucked through, spell rings spinning, core flickering, his vision dimming. Kal seized on the residue of the explosion, stealing enough ether to hurl one final spell at Shale as he was pulled out of reality.
His spell grounded through the slatepaw’s horns and Kal was satisfied to see him starting to change. His arms and legs melding into one long tubular snake like body. Wings growing, feathers sprouting, he’d be like his wife a beautiful quetzalcoatl, sadly he’d not be there to enjoy them. Then the hole snapped shut as the universe responded to the damage, healing itself and Kal tumbled into a void. His senses were shutting down, he wasn’t on one of the elemental planes, he hadn’t been banished back to the snow and ice or even one of the other ones.
This place was nothing, still, quiet darkness, he was falling, or drifting, his spell rings contracted, slowing down, his knowledge and thoughts, memories and abilities contracting to try and protect his core. With the last flicker of his sentience he felt something, a warmth, magic… it was a long way off though. Kal thrust himself toward it and fell into hibernation, he’d wake back up once he reached that magic, when he could live again, until then he would slumber and have to hope he really did find a source of magic.
Magic, warmth, power, life, Kal felt it with a lowering flicker his essence stirred. It was nearby but also so distant, a memory of ether echoing across the divide between dimensions. Unfolding the outer layer of his spell rings the imp reached for the life giving power. His faltering existence skittered across the barrier like fingers slipping across ice, like ice it felt seamless but instincts knew that ice was not a single sheet.
Acting in instincts, cognizant thought beyond him in this state the imp pulled his being in closer and span his outer spell ring. The runes and words that defined that aspect of his being drained into other rings as he sacrificed the ether to attack the barrier. For a moment the dark void flared with blue light and Kal awoke and in that instance he hit the barrier with the spinning ring. Contracting it into a point he burnt some of his essence into cracking that barrier.
For seconds Kal’s ethereal drill burrowed or was it an eon? Time had no meaning in this dark spade just his perception and the idea he was drilling through a metaphysical barrier. He was rapidly running out of ether and fed a secondary ring into the drill when it cracked. It was a minute hole, so small a mortal eye could not have perceived it but it was enough. With no form Kal's whole existence was thought and magic so he shot through his gap before it snapped shut.
He dropped like a rock as suddenly there was gravity, he didn't have the energy or wherewithal to organise his spell rings. He'd contracted his being into one flickering lump and as he hit the grass he rolled fitfully flaring into a bed of flowers. There was magic, in a way there was too much magic Kal struggled to comprehend it, to absorb it, the air was saturated with ambient magic.
It was insane, the air was thick with magical energy. It was both a chaotic mix but at the same time organised. Kal couldn’t discern the purpose of the pattern and frankly he didn't care that much. He was trying to feed, to recharge his essence but the magic was weird, his essence drained and his thoughts too groggy. It shouldn't be this hard to recharge his aura but he was struggling to process anything.
“What have we here…” the melodic voice caught Kal by surprise, he'd not sensed them approach. He focussed his sight on the figure and was surprised to see an elf. The fey rarely ventured out of their homes in the Fey-Wylds but Kal certainly wasn't there he knew the wylds.
She knelt and as she drew closer Kal was able to determine that she was one of the seelie, a faerie creature of Queen Summer’s court. She cupped Kal’s flickering essence with their gloved hands. Magic thrummed around her and Kal's rings fitfully tried to deploy, to absorb her aura. But even the fey’s magic was weird, he couldn't work out how to alter it to match his matrix and join with his power.
“You poor thing,” the seelie murmured lifting him up and starting across the lawn, “Let’s get you settled in,” Kal tried to talk, to ask what was going on but he didn't have the strength! It was ridiculous he'd never been so weak before and starving in a garden flooded with magic because he couldn't work out how to absorb it was a stupid way to die.
She set him down on a small corinthian style plinth in the middle of a bed of hydrangeas and with a sudden pulse started to pour magic into Kal. She was tapping directly into the strange pattern that suffused the magic that filled the air. Somehow she was twisting it, commanding it when Kal couldn't and what was worse she was using it to twist him!
His essence was responding to the magic, it was forcing him to shift and change in a particular direction. He couldn't stop it or control it, the magic was infusing him, revitalising him but not letting him direct it. His core remained constricted, he couldn't focus on reigniting his matrix as he was forced to construct and inhabit a new body. He tried to understand how the fey creature was doing this, but he couldn't grasp what he was seeing, it was like he was missing something, as if the very nature of magic had changed.
Kal's unclothed imp features, the spell rings and his core had been folded away, hidden beneath a new body. He could feel it, and just about see his limbs, he was a cherub, a damn adorable little statue! Standing atop the pedestal with small feet, little angel wings, a classical toga. Beautiful curls, coiled around his new rounded ears and bright, cheerful cheeks settled into a wide smile. His hands gripped a bow, the heart shaped arrow perfectly held, the bow knocked and drawn ready to fire. One leg lifted, the knee bent back as he froze in soft black marble atop the pedestal.
Sealed, trapped as a statue Kal stared out at the seelie as they finished forcing, sculpting his essence into this petrified shape. She patted his head and smiled, “There we go, you rest there, recover we’ll talk soon.”
She walked off and Kal starred after the fey in disbelief at how she had just casually forced him into this shape. Sure he was weak but no one had ever just casually frozen his essence in a statue and the way she forced him to create a new body it was baffling, magic, his magic did not work that way!
Whatever she had done though had given him a glimpse at what he had to do to feast on the magic permeating this garden. Somehow being forced into this statue shape allowed him to tap into the ether filling the air. The pattern seemed to be related to well gardens, he could see now that those aspects that belonged in the garden could tap into the magic saturating the air. It was both sustaining the garden and the garden was sustaining it, forcing a semblance of order out of the magic saturating the air.
It was baffling, Kal could see it clearly now, there was so much magic in the air here. It was like radiation, every particle of air, every drop of water, leaf and blade of grass was contaminated.
Looking around with his senses he could see other statues standing incongruously amidst the shrubs, flowerbeds and atop plinths in the middle of the lawns. With energy trickling back into his being his senses reached out, refusing to be trapped in the statue and he studied the magic emanating from the statues.
It was weird, he could see two layers to the figures, a core of deep, unchanging magic. A solid bulwark protecting an enchanted centre but around that was a fluid, changing outer layer. He could see the garden’s energy, the “theme” that was also feeding Kal’s new statue body bleeding into the immobile outer shell each of the statues had. Like him that shell was tied into the idea of a garden statue. It permeated their shell, forcing them to hold shape yet at the same time both reinforcing the statue appearance whilst trying to shrug it off.
He really didn’t understand what he was seeing, if he spent more time analysing and examining it the missing facts would reveal themselves to him. But he was ravenous and now he had been shown how to access the magic of this place he gave up on his analysis and started to pull it in!
It felt good to feed, to feast, to pull in magic and the more he pulled in the more his thoughts cleared. He still couldn’t realign his matrix or his spell rings, not trapped in this statue but he could think at least! Magic zinged through his being and as the day passed he stood there, a happy cherub statue re-energising himself. As the sun sank toward the horizon Kal reached down within himself and pulsed his magic out into the statue, seizing on the pattern suffusing the air to change his appearance.
If there was one thing Kal was good at, it was adjusting his external appearance. Hiding out as a statue was a favourite past time of his when he had a long period of waiting to go through before he could spring some trick or trap. The marble of his body flowed and with a creak and crack of marble he hopped off the pedestal. As he walked the cute little elfin cherub faded as he tried to recapture his impish good looks. It was difficult to sculpt whilst he was tangled up inside of it but he didn’t want to risk dumping the body until he had got a good handle on the magic. By the time he reached the wall that surrounded the garden he’d gained half a foot and whilst still elf like in appearance had grown a muzzle and a decent set of horns.
Sinking his hands into the stone of the wall he clambered up, pulling his fluidly moving marble body up until he could straddle the top of the wall. On the other side was a forest, a tangled wild land of trees and underbrush. It looked way more inviting than waiting around in the garden for the weird seelie to come back, if she ever did. There was no guarantee she didn’t intend for him to just remain in the garden as an ornament.
Jumping down Kal strode into the forest, trying to work out if he could force the marble to grow and extend into wings. He’d just passed the tree line when the pattern he was feeding off faded away. It was replaced by chaos, there was no pattern, just the same insane hash of magic saturating the air like when he had first arrived! If there was a pattern he didn’t know how to discern it.
Flailing, one foot off the ground the imp windmilled his arms, brought his foot down, slide on a leaf and tripped over a tree root. He fell down the far bank, leaves and mud sliding up all around his body as he tumbled into the wood! This was not going well, without the “garden” pattern that the fey had shown him Kal’s senses were being overloaded once again!
Sliding through the mud Kal bounced over the lip of a grassy incline and plunged head first into the river below. As he hit the water his stone body spasmed, the marble erupting with fur as the current carried him along. Magic crackled and sparked through his matrix, his mind was awash with a different sort of power now, he couldn’t understand it but he was reacting to it.
Stone melted away as thick, oily, waterproof fur erupted from his body. His tail grew back in thick and rudder like and webbing gummed up between his fingers as he grew small black claws. Blinking his new inner membranes shut Kal flailed and tried to swim free, to get out of the current! Like with the seelie a thread, a theme, an ordered line of magic had welcomed him and he’d twisted his body to fit in. He was in the river, the river demanded he fit so here he was in a water suitable form!
Not that it helped, Kal couldn’t swim, his head was full of the idea of eating fish or possibly mating with other otters to make more! The shapes he assumed didn’t come with instincts! Not like this, he didn’t know how to deal with it as he tumbled and splashed around madly. He managed to grab a rock, scrabbling around its slick, wet surface and pulled himself out of the water with a gasp.
Stumbling on unfamiliar paws Kal flopped on it then yelled as something huge flew over head. Without thinking he leapt off the rock and into the underbrush. He found a hole, his mustelid brain was running on instinct he hadn’t even controlled it. His higher thoughts were getting scrambled by the desires and bouncing, chittering needs of a scared otter! It was intolerable but as he bounced and fell down the hole the scent of fox filled his nose. Feet changed, legs grew longer, his body shifted, the nature of his fur twisted and what shot out of the far side, scrambling along on all fours was a red furred, glossy coated vulpine.
Scampering onwards through the forest Kal was gripped in a panic, the animal instincts where so strong, his mind was being overwhelmed. He scrambled to detach from the magic, to find some way to let go, to stop feeding on it! But it was like it was feasting on his essence in a way, the saturated field of magic wanted him to conform but at the same time didn’t know how to make him stay put in one shape.
Tripping, stumbling over a ledge Kal fell into a small dell where a scatter of ancient, long discarded scales softened his fall. Scrambling, trying to disassociate himself from the fox form Kal found his magic suddenly hooked into the scales. A new thread, a new song, a new theme overwhelmed him and he started buck and wriggle and trash back and forth as his legs started to retract. They were merging into his body that was starting to elongate, growing round, tubular, muscular and extending in both directions.
His neck ceased to be, his body was practically one long neck and with a gasp he realised alongside the scaled underside that allowed him to slither and slide across the ground. Or at least it would once he could control it he was also sprouting feathers! Not to mention the wings, some remnant of the last spell he had cast, the curse on Shale had clicked with the idea, the image of the magic held in these discarded scales.
Rearing up, wings beating, snake like head hissing at the air Kal let out a screech, “Oh you have got to be kidding me!” he shouted, well more roared, his voice wouldn’t come, just the dumb hissing of a coatl. Thrashing about, trying to gather his coils beneath him and calm down Kal continued to change, his essence was unbound, and he knew it would only be a matter of moments before another thread, idea or image sent him transforming down another path! He couldn’t control it, he was at their whim, trapped, caught in the unending magical energy saturating the land. He couldn’t understand it and it was draining him at the same time it was overloading him, if this kept up he would shatter and all that had been him would splutter away as fragments of half remembered magic.
“We are approaching the limit of our supplies,” Nicole said pushing a branch out of her face, “Go any farther and we’ll be fasting on the way back to town.”
“Just a little further,” the brown raccoon said, turning to face his companion, “It is not as if this area is notorious for dragons lurking in the woods ready to steal people.”
Nicole sighed and hitched her cloak tighter, “Well ok, but not much further, if we don’t find anything in the next hour we should head back,” the skunk reached back to pull her thick skunk tail around her waist and chest for extra warmth, “Why is it so cold out here?”
Dylend paused and held up a hand, closing his eyes and let the breeze ruffle the fur on his arm, that was one benefit of now being coated head to toe in light brown fur, he could sense things through its effect on the hairs of his body. The muzzle still took some getting used to however he had a habit of forgetting it was so long.
“Something is affecting the weather, it is localised however and quite intense,” he turned to Nicole and smiled, “That’s what we are looking for, it feels somewhat like the power signature i’d expect from my people’s old technology.”
“This feels like such a bad idea,” Nicole sighed, “Please tell me if it is in Lady Elmyra’s garden we aren’t going inside?”
“Of course we will not,” Dylend said, turning to resume his trek through the woods, “At least not without presenting ourselves to the house first and asking for permissions… and protection.”
Nicole sighed but Dylend flashed her a smile, “Sometimes you just need to embrace an experience for what it is, a chance to learn or experience something new.”
“Like that time we spent two months as kobolds? What did we learn from that?”
“Mining,” Dylend muttered, rubbing his arms and shuddering at the memory of that particular transformation, “and Geology, plus the social dynamic of a kobold warren.”
“All useful, but it took you weeks to get used to being yourselves again,” Nicole reminded him, “That was your first intense change, we don’t want to stumble into a second so soon.”
The raccoon flicked his tail from side to side and frowned, “Maybe you are right, that sort of complete change, the mental imposition of the new shape and behaviour it… it is pretty intense.”
He pointed toward a copse of trees, “That looks like the centre of the disturbance, we’ll have a quick look and if it seems safe we’ll investigate.”
Nicole nodded, “Ok, but let me go first, I’m better at resisting changes then you are.”
Pushing past the boughs of a low hanging pine tree Dylend followed Nicole as she wove her way in amongst the trees. She paused at the edge of a clearing. Ice was condensing out of the air in a long spiral that was drawn down from the cloud sitting directly above. Forty yards beyond the clearing the air was clear but here in the centre it was snowing and an arctic wind was blowing, no howling mournfully through the trees. At the centre of it all was the source, some sort of collapsed object, fitfully pulsing with ice magic, though Dylend wasn't sure what at this distance.
Cautiously moving across the clearing the raccoon had to wade through a hip deep bank of snow. Nicole followed closely, her breath steaming in the air and a frown maring her features as they got a good look at the poor soul lying on the ground.
“It’s like one of the guardian beasts,” Nicole whispered, “But like three of them at once.”
Dylend nodded, crouching down he moved closer. The creatures head looked like the eyeless, smooth snow crafted snout of an ice guardian. It's front legs however were the shaped seaweed fronds of a sea guardian. The back legs had an appearance of sculpted sand whilst it's torso was an interlocking weave of flowering vines.
The creature was breathing shallowly, chest heaving up and down as if it was struggling to breathe. The source of the localized ice storm and the echo of technology and magic was coming from inside the creature. Moving up to its side, snow settling in his fur and clinging to his mantle Dylend reached out a paw and tried to interface. There was a spark of recognition and the confused guardians body split open, dissolving into its constituent parts.
What was exposed was impossible. Dylend froze as he stared down at the familiar, but badly damaged, warped and power starved rings of a Guardian. Shaking his head Dylend reached out and tried to call up an interface, what he got was a hash of flickering runes on a fitfully spinning ring.
“Look at you, you beautiful thing…” Dylend breathed quietly, “How are you still alive?”
“What is it?” Nicole asked in a whisper, eyes darting from side to side, “Is it dangerous?”
“Yes, but not like this, It’s a Guardian Matrix, a weapon… or defence of my people. Part technology, part magic we would summon them to perform specific tasks and after time they’d cease to be a dumb collection of magic and programming and develop a soul, a personality of their own.”
“Oh…” Nicole frowned, clearly trying to work out how it worked, eyes running over the runes, “What was this one for then?”
“I don’t know, it is very old and look it can’t process the magic here in the Mana Tear,” Dylend ran his fingers through the runes, sifting through the information, “It doesn’t know how to feed itself or maintain it’s cohesion, It’s dying.”
Dylend rubbed his chin, starting a bit at the feel of fur and long muzzle, even after all these months it still caught him off guard. Tapping his chin he read through the runes on display and tried to get at others. “It must have only recently arrived here, no way it could still be operating if it was from the time of the war.”
He pointed at a flickering, half lit circle of text, “Look here, I think it was originally stationed in the Antarctic plateau. It must have developed sentience and wandered off on its own when we stopped interacting with it.”
“Dylend,” Nicole hissed, “Focus, you can play scientist later, you said it’s dying right? How do we save it’s life?”
“Oh, right,” Dylend flushed, which was weird as it was mostly the inner lining of his ears heating up in a blush as opposed to his cheeks, “We need to teach it how to consume the magic here. It’ll become spellfluxed like you and I but it’ll be alive.”
“Right, good,” Nicole gestured, “How do we do that, some sort of magic?”
“Not quite,” Dylend frowned and shook his head, ears twitching, “They are missing a link… I think if I am reading these runes right it doesn’t have a owner, it’s spent the last millenia living out its life thinking it is an imp, a demon. So it has to make pacts with people to exist outside the elemental plane.”
“And that works?” Nicole asked curiously, “I mean, does it get banished to the elemental planes if it doesn’t have a pact?”
“I am not sure I can’t read it all, but we can interrogate him later, let’s save his life first” The raccoon sunk his fingers into one of the spell rings and nodded, “Ok this is it, see it is missing an owner, the guardians aren’t really designed to be independent. So if I insert my name here… then that forms a bridge and we are linked!”
“How is that going to solve the fact it can’t digest the magic of the Mana Tear?”
“It is linked to me, my soul knows how to exist in this magic, give it a moment to learn from me and then… voila!”
Dylend smiled as Nicole gasped, the condensed, flickering, mostly dead guardian was now glowing. Dylend could feel it tethered to him now, learning and as it learnt it was drawing in sustenance from the magical radiation that saturated the very air of the mana tear.
As it lifted up off the floor Dylend watched in fascination as the ring layers unbound and started to spin. Each layer, each ring was a list of experiences, spells, knowledge the creature knew. There where more than he was expecting, spinning quietly around one another, growing brighter and stronger as they recharged each other. It was like watching an atom or a small planet with a thousand rings at different inclinations and orbits. As the rings sped up Dylend marvelled at how despite their speed the runes still remained visible, readable to his eyes.
He had never had the chance to see one of the guardians out of its corporeal form before. He was learning so much about his peoples lost power just by reading the guardian imps runes. They were also singing now a harmonious hum, like wind fluting through pipes of ice, a song of power, of mischief, a jig almost it was fascinating to watch. After a few moment however the raccoons eyes were drawn to the centre of it. There was the glowing ball of ice blue crystalline magic, the core, the guardian’s name, Dylend could read it now.
“Hello Ka’Tano Znk’erta,” he said the name warmly, invitingly, “I am Dylend, I guess… we are partners now.”
The song changed pitched and with a whirl of ice and a blizzard of snow chips picked up off the floor the core and its rings faded from sight. When the snow cleared there was a small, four foot tall figure swaying gently on new legs before them. He had blue/white fur but brilliantly multicoloured crystal horns. Their sharp muzzle was twisted in a confused grimace as he stared up at Dylend with soft blue eyes. His irises where actually blue/white rings, endless spinning circles, it was a representation of Ka’s true self hidden in his eyes for all to see but not understand.
“Hello there,” the imp smiled, swayed and then fell sideways with a thump as he tried to take a step. His head hit the floor and he passed out, chest rising and falling as he slumbered.
“I guess that imp reading is how he sees himself?” Nicole guessed out loud, crouching down to brush her fingers through his fur, “Independent thought begets identity and all that?”
“Possibly, he didn’t freak out about his appearance,” Dylend said as he bent down to help lift the imp, “You know how disorientating becoming a spellfluxed was for us. Going from human to fuzzy animal person. I guess as someone made out of magic he was able to hold onto his original shape?”
Carrying the imp by the legs Nicole started back amongst the trees and Dylend followed, “We can ask, it wasn’t like he was awake for long, he might still freak out on us though if he became spellfluxed. I guess he’s stuck here like the rest of us?”
“Yes, I guess so,” Dylend looked down at the blue critter, “It’ll be interesting to see just what he is like, but for now let’s get out of this snow and make camp.”
The fire was warm, Kal hunched further beneath the blanket the skunk girl had given him and held his hands out toward the fire. Being cold was new, he was an ice imp he wasn’t supposed to suffer from temperature! He flicked a glance over at the golden brown raccoon and frowned at them then shuffled a bit closer to the flames.
“So… you rescued me from this place’s magic?”
“Yes,” Dylend said with a smile, “Your matrix or core, was pulling itself apart, when we found you, you were pretty far gone.”
“So you rescued me, by making a pact with me?” Kal rubbed his chin then lifted one foot and looked down at himself, “And now I am big and what did you call it? Spellfluxed?”
“Yes,” Nicole said putting more wood on the fire, “It takes some getting used to…”
“I’ll say,” Kal rubbed his pointed muzzle then felt over his teeth and blue tongue, “I can see, as part of the pact my matrix copied stuff off Dylend’s core, it replaced bits of my being so I’d fit in, essentially I’m a copy of Dylend’s spellfluxed nature but I’m also bound to him.”
“Sorry about that,” the raccoon said placing more wood on the fire, “But don’t worry I won’t treat you like a slave or anything, if you want to go your own way I won’t stop you.”
“Thanks…” Kal shivered and shuffled closer then pulled back as he felt his fur singing from the heat, “I don’t mind being bound, I’m an imp it feels good but yeah this is one heck of a binding, I don’t think I’ve been this closely linked to anyone, ever.”
“You keep calling yourself an imp, You realise you’re not an imp right?” Nicole said as she started to pull cooking implements out of her pack.
Kal hunched deeper under his blanket. The revelation that he wasn’t a true demon but some sort of living spell was a big one. He didn’t really want to think about it now but whatever Dylend had done to seal their “pact” had jostled lose some very old memories from his deepest past.
“I’ve been an imp for over a thousand years, I think I’ll keep the form and… well I am still going to live as me,” he shot Dylend a look, “I’m not going to suddenly start calling you master or anything.”
“Wouldn’t dream of even asking it,” Dylend replied and settled down on a log, “But I guess you’ll be joining Nicole and I as we travel around, we can help you adjust to this place.”
“A thousand years,” Nicole said softly, “I guess he isn’t one of your peoples living guardian spells? That overshoots your homeland by six centuries.”
“Yes, that is puzzling,” Dylend rubbed his chin and Kal found himself being scrutinised by those bright, inquisitive raccoon eyes, “It is possible Kal’s essence adapted somewhat when it broke into the mana tear? Assuming the appearance that would allow it to mimic the sort of magical technology the mana tear is used to?”
“Well something went weird when I pushed through from the void,” Kal replied, “I know I nearly unravelled entirely but managed to hold it off long enough for the seelie creature to find me.”
“Seelie?” Nicole’s head came up, “Jeeze, you were in Lady Elmyra’s garden?”
“Yeah,” Kal rubbed his chin, “But she must have thought I was just some stray magic, she turned me into a statue,” he touched his horns, the multi-faceted, gem like protrusions shimmered in the firelight, “But I am very good at being a living statue.”
Kal squinted at Nicole then turned his attention back to Dylend, “It is weird, I can see the makeup of your beings, your souls look like the enchanted cores I saw in the garden’s other statues.”
He reached out to touch Nicole’s chest, oblivious to the choking sound she made as he all but fondled her, “It’s like a solid core of immovable… identity? Surrounded by the energy infusing your body, like your skunk shape is mutable and easily changed but at the same time offering a defence against the magical radiation saturating this place, give and take.”
“That’s what a spellfluxed is,” Dylend explained, gently pulling Kal’s arm off Nicole’s chest, “We have a core, our soul, our identity whilst our outer aura allows us to interact with the theme, zones and identity imposed on us.”
He waved a hand around, “Some of us can resist changing longer than others, and it makes us susceptible to mental attacks and new thought layers but our core remains intact.”
“And that allows you to return to your normal selves eventually,” Kal sat up, his pointed ears perking, “Damn, the statues in that garden, they where other spellfluxed, sentient beings trapped by that Garden’s theme?”
“Correct,” Nicole said, “We avoid Lady Elmyra’s garden, she’s a proper seelie and the fey have weird powers here.”
Kal stared across the fire at the raccoon and sighed, “I hate fey… but thanks for rescuing me, both of you,” he held his arms out to either side and looked down at his body, “I have some questions?”
“Ask, if we can answer them we will.” Dylend said, “But I should warn you Nicole and I don’t know everything about this specific place.”
“Ok well for starters why am i so big now! I’ve never been bigger than one foot in my life!”
Dylend shrugged, “Who knows, that’s the size the Mana Tear made you, it’s a weird place. If I was to guess some foundational element of the tear likes things being short.”
“That isn’t what I asked.”
“I guess you mean being bigger than normal, the typical height is like four feet tall. So I guess it brought you to that.” Dylend elaborated.
“Okay then, how many spellfluxed are there?”
Nicole rubbed her chin for a moment, “A good deal, there are proper cities and towns, but not nearly as populus as outside the tear.”
Kal sat back, “Outside?”
“The whole world isn’t like this, though what does it matter we can’t really leave because this same spellflux adoption locks us in here.” Nicole gradually shifted into an informative lecture cadence, “but we do have trade to a limited degree. Which if you see humans outside of the trade posts in ports be careful. humans out here are either something in disguise or delvers after some of the havestable anomalies out here, the latter group is probably more dangerous.”
“So there are like seelie that disguise themselves as human to fool spellfluxed?”
“It is a very awkward situation, maybe no one has the guts to correct them.” Nicole smirked.
“Okay then, what’s next then?” the imp settled on.
“Well first is getting back to town, we’ll decide then,” Dylend replied, “I have no intention of holding you to anything. Rescuing other spellfluxed is a important thing we all have to do.”
“So what about those trapped as statues?”
“That’s something that we let professionals deal with, that or we keep checking until the seelie decides on a new hobby and loses interest.” Dylend grimly sighed.
“Is that an order then? I’m to consider myself ordered to help rescue spellfluxed in trouble?”
“Yes,” Dylend said with a frown, “That’s just basic decency, I guess as we are bound you’ll be helping me and Nicole and others with jobs from now on.”
“Yeah,” Kal rubbed a hand over one of his new horns, “It is certainly going to take some getting used to. Now… uhm can you explain this weird sensation in my stomach? It’s like a heavy, gnawing need as if… it’s trying to tell me it needs something”
Dylend and Nicole exchanged a look then Dylend reached out as if to touch Kal’s stomach but paused with his hand a few inches away, “That sounds like hunger Kal, don’t you know what being hungry is like?”
“No!” Kal’s eyes widened, “I don’t need to eat, I’m made of magic!”
“Well remember form defines function here, the mana tear expects spellfluxed in an organic body to need to eat… you copied parts of my spellfluxed nature so you may well need to eat when in an organic body.”
Kal screwed up his muzzle, “Ew… you mean putting food in my mouth and chewing and swallowing and what about the other bit!”
“What other bit?” Dylend asked the raccoon looking over at Nicole.
“You know,” Kal lowered his voice, “Getting rid of waste material… am I going to have to start doing that!”
“I… don’t know, it might be your magic will skip that requirement? And quite possibly you don’t need to eat every day you’re still mostly magic.”
Nicole sighed and reached down to start pulling food out of the packs, she glowered at Dylend “If we have to feed Kal too you realise that means,” she shuddered and glanced toward the trees, “foraging… in the wilds!”
“Oh,” Dylend folded his ears back and looked worriedly at the trees, “We… really shouldn’t go foraging.”
“Oh well this is going to be just awesome,” Kal grumbled hunching down further beneath his blanket, “Blown up, mutated, needing to eat and now my new master is afraid of foraging for berries.”
Dylend patted Kal between the horns, “Well foraging is dangerous, there are so many vectors on the loose that could see us as their next transformation project.”
Nicole thumped a pan onto the fire and flicked her tail from side to side, “It’s dangerous is what it is, especially with a new spellfluxed with untested abilities to look after.”
Kal looked up, a sly smile sliding over his muzzle, “Oh don’t worry, this place may be new but my abilities are not untested…” he flapped his wings and sat up straight, “I’ll show you just how useful I can be but first… let’s see about teaching me about this eating thing.”
Kal watched as Nicole cooked, following her instructions to help prepare the food in the packs for cooking. His life had certainly taken a strange and interesting new route, but it beat doing the same old routine of tormenting mortals and tricking them into badly worded pacts. This was a new opportunity, a new direction in his existence, it sounded like it was going to be good fun either way. Once he learnt the rules of course and how this weird world worked!
A story set in Adalore's Mana Tear world showing how my imp Kal'Tano ends up there reborn as something new
Mana Tear, Dylend and Nicole, Shale and Zenti belong to Adalore
Kal is mine