The Stones of Arcory Chapter Thirty One
A Price To Be Paid, Or Not

I pressed the end of my staff into the furrow of the innermost circle, added my power to the overall glow. The tall witches’ retinue cried out and stepped back. Their leader, however, stood her ground.

“Did the Margrave of Bardelaisch meet his death here, or elsewhere?” I demanded, the sparks from the borders of my circles made the trio back up further. I needed to confirm her statement at the very least. Not that I was surprised he might be dead. Coming here was beyond any risk worth taking by a mere aristocrat.

“No men of power or substance walk these woods,” the tall woman replied, waved her hand either in dismissal or casting. “Nor will you, after this night. Do you think you can survive with such puny protections against the power of our moons? Even now our power is increasing and yours I failing.”

“We shall see,” I smiled, continued my vigilance, glanced at the other three who had moved to surround me. “I am not here for battle. I am here to find trace of the Margrave of Bardelaisch who I am told passed this way in search of assistance for his land. At least to send back to his wife. She at least deserves to know his true fate.”

The woman laughed. It was a deep loud throaty laugh. Its candor told me much.

“A fool,” she told me. “And doomed. He and his retinue passed through to the mountains in search of a Demon of the Hot Sun, or so I heard, to seek its favor. Only a fool would seek favor from a Celestial.”

Desperate men often become fools, I agreed silently.

“So he passed through this forest safely?” I asked her.

“Why expend the effort to slay a fool on a journey to his demise,” she told me with a smirk. “The demon will have dealt with him by now. I doubt its price for aid is anything a man would find acceptable.”

“Then you have no other concerns about me,” I told her. “I will follow his path and leave your forest.”

She shook her head.

“You have defiled this grove by your very presence wizard, only your blood boiled can erase the taint your shadow has touched,” she told me. “You can expect to pay a blood price.”

It turned out, however, the price was not much more than a night without sleep, as I was not intending on battle the four to the death, and they were clearly unwilling to draw on the costly measures it would take to break my circles, even though they could with time and effort. The young have little patience.

“Be warned, wizard,” the leader told me as she followed her others with the rising of the suns. “We will return in greater numbers.”

As such is was an only wearied wizard who rode down from the forest passed the surprised woodcutter. The man shrugged and turned back to his work, regardless. But if a Demon of the Hot Sun was dwelling in the Black Mountains, I could not face it alone. I would need help. And rest.

It seemed, however, I would get little of either.

Halfway back down the hills to the Blue Guardians’ monastery I found the forest road before me blocked. Not by men or beast – by the very forest itself. As I turned away, the path behind me had also turned to trees and undergrowth. It was, of course, unnatural by any means. And more than a bother, as magic was clearly behind the change and there was a fast approaching storm approaching from the east now racing me to my destination.

The witches, I wondered, out to exact unanticipated retribution? But the forest wall was no illusion, no practice of the petty power they would have wielded. As I watched, an arch opened in the wall. Tree limbs creaked and shuddered, while vines slithered away to open up a dark entrance in the greenery. Someone with power had created a forest door. There were few who had such power. And I suspected there was only one who would have the motivation to want to draw me though it.


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