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The Stones of Arcory Chapter Thirty
Not the Way of Men

I rose to my feet, shook off the drowsiness and started out into the darkness. The witches were out there, but nowhere to be seen. Around me there was the sound of scuttling in the forest. Not as many as they were pretending. My ears were still good enough to tell that.

“Come out wizard!” I heard one of the women call, before their collective cackles filled the air around me. “Come out and face us. Or are you so cowardly as to hide behind your pathetic etchings in our earth?”

Not so pathetic, even if they were simple mechanisms protective power, and were more than enough to handle their gifts. Something I was sure I could not lose control over Magical circles were by their nature, organized and passive power, second pattern at the most substantial. If I lost control of these simple defensive creations, then I deserved hermitage.

As they reached the borders of my circles I smiled. I could see the women weren’t willing to be so bold as to try and break them, at least not yet. There was clear anger on their painted faces, to be sure as they crouched at the edge of the outermost circle. Wizards and witches have never co-existed easily. And not a few members of Council have openly suggested removing them for good.

There aren’t, however, nearly enough power to vanquish them, although talk of such has fueled numerous debates in Council. Their powers were far older than ours, and bond to the lands they had retreated to. As with our many other adversaries, as long as they keep to their territories, Council wasn’t compelled to act against them. There was always much to deal with in the territories Council does hold dominion over.

The four, thin and long of limb, their bodies covered in rough fabric, leaves and enchanted mosses began to separate, began to spread out, surround me. They were likely too young to know me even by reputation, or perhaps too chaotic to admit the strength of my power. Certainly they would have called out my name if they were brave or powerful enough. Still, they were brave enough to come out from their forest cover. They were exposed to my power far more than I would be of theirs.

I might have even joined them when I was young, had I not been born a man, and not been found by a master as powerful as Arcory. I respected their independence a great deal. However, Aethros carved another path for me, regardless of how often I disregarded it.

“You are quite brave, wizard, to come into our territory,” their leader, a tall young woman, with white skin under her paint, and long beaded dark hair, told me. “Is there now a madness afflicting those of Council they send their most aged ones to despoil our sacred places?”

“You’ll find out if you try to cross my power,” I advised her. The others moved and reached out their hands to probe the strength of my castings. They cursed and pulled their hands back when they reached too far. Their leader and I shared glares.

“What are you seeking here spell-caster?” she wanted to know, ignoring her fellows’ angry chatter, held out an empty hand. She was not looking at peaceful negotiation, despite the gesture. I knew there would be something deadly in it before long.

“I am tracking a man,” I told her. “He and his retinue came this way a few cycles past. Certainly you must remember them.”

“No men come this way,” she spat. “Not willingly.”

“Perhaps not,” I told her. “But I was sent by his wife to find him. Surely you cannot begrudge another woman’s wishes?”

“We care not for women who have given themselves over to the rule of man,” the leader told me. Her fellows were inching closer to my circles, propping with their gestures for a weak point. It was likely they would find one before long, although given how long they waited to confront to me, dawn may come before they succeed.

“All you need to do is tell me where I may find the Margrave of Bardelaisch and I will be gone,” I told her.

“You know you’ll only find death here,” she added with a knowing smile. “As he did.”

 

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