They were a week out of the village and had reached the outer borders of Gramnul District. “Now we turn west,” she said as she pointed out the border. Zeke looked in that direction where he could see a large riparian forest, dark and foreboding, and hills marching off to the horizon. He shivered and thought he heard a noise in the wind; like the sound of flapping sails. He looked up to see dark shapes circling in the growing dusk.
“To the wood!” Bru cried as she crouched over Aphrodite and made a run for cover. A large black shape torpedoed out of the sky. Zeke screamed like a child, frightened his animal and found himself on his back in the dirt. He looked up to see three pearl-grey, green-eyed creatures, suspended between huge bat-like wings separated by long skull tipped with a fatal-looking beak. All he could think was that he was going to be the first man to be eaten by pterodactyls.
As he watched, one folded its wings, lowered its head and dove like an unfeathered pelican and he was the fish. He rolled and shimmied as fast as his legs would carry him. It was not fast enough. One landed on his shoulder, sending him spinning back to the ground, an evil primordial scream in his ear, the smell of death hot on his cheek. Another landed on his legs, and he was sure they would kill him. He could feel the flesh being torn from his shoulder, the weight of both of these beasts preventing from using his staff, all the energy in his staff vibrating ineffectually. He struggled not to panic, all he could think about was how this was not how he planned to die, and then suddenly he was free. He got to his feet, standing tall, and raised his staff in the air and cried out words he didn’t know he knew. There was a crash like distant thunder and then silence and he fainted.
As soon as the beasts flew off, Bru pulled Zeke into the shelter of the woods and soon had a fire going. She rummaged in one of the packs for her supplies. She cleaned and dressed the cuts as best she could in the firelight. She brewed a tea for herself and another for Zeke to ease the pain and help him sleep. “We should have been safe in the forest well before nightfall,” Bru chastised herself. Everything took longer than expected in town”. She wondered if Xanthipi had a hand in the attack, though she had never heard of an instance of such control of an animal that you could send it after a single target. Theoretically, it was possible, and it seemed clear that Zeke was the intended target. None of the raptors had even noticed her. Could his power be so great a threat? She cursed herself for not being more careful and dropped another branch on the fire causing sparks to fly. The trees seemed to shiver, sending a cascade of tinkling leaves that would have been pretty under other circumstances.
They left the forest the next morning. First thing they had to do was to find their pack animals that had disappeared during the raptor attack. They found one lume, and most of their provisions that had been scattered in the fracas. Then returned and made their way deeper into the wood, following a wide trail. Zeke nodded in the saddle. Bru kept him dosed with her foul teas, which eased the pain, but made him see double. And he was as tired as he could ever remember being.
Each night they made a small camp and Bruhana continued to teach him magic. Zeke had packed the singing book, and the History of Magick in The Wold, which he studied by firelight. He read about shape shifting, and came away his head swimming with confusion. A very difficult magic. “You know, Bru,” he said as he sat up. “I know you’re on an important, quest and all, but this isn’t me. I’m no magician. I don’t want to be eaten by monsters. I’m not special. Just some lonely peace-loving Hippie from the Haight and I’d surely love to see it again.”
“You? Not magic? Not special? The magic you did the night of the raptor attack is something tyros cannot do. Something you have not been trained to do. Yet somehow you were able to reach inside and find your magic when pressed. I am certain that you will have an important part in this battle. You are very special, Zeke.”
Zeke ran his hands through his thinning long grey-blonde hair, “I don’t even know how I did what I did.”
“That is no matter. You do feel the growing threat. You know even the birds and beasts sense something is brewing and I need your help. I am more certain than ever that you are needed here.” She looked at him sadly. “I cannot send you back.”
“Yet,” he added. “I’ve already been attacked by prehistoric animals and angry birdmen. I’m tired, dirty, and sore. I’m sure I’ll be cold, wet and sick soon enough. This is not my life. I miss my little apartment and my weird customers. I’m no wizard.”
“But you are a wizard,” she insisted. “That’s something very special.” She laid her hand on his arm. “Here you are very special. Back home you were just a lonely man living a lonely life.”
Until that moment he was sure he had been happy in SF. He had lead a rather solitary life after Mickie died; still, he had been content and comfortable. Well, except for the $9,000 in back taxes that he’d never be able to pay off. He definitely did not miss that. But what kind of a mess will he come home to? “What about when I do get back. I mean, what should I tell my friends?”
“That you went on a quest.” She said.
Zeke sighed, lay down and tried to sleep.
Tristam reached the mainland, happy to be on solid ground after 16 days on the ship. In those days, he worked harder than he had in his entire life, and never felt so proud. For the first time, he felt a man, and was somewhat sad to be leaving the ship. Idly he packed his things, and said good-bye to the sailors who stood on the deck, and watched him down the gangplank, calling out coarse jibes and good-byes. They never asked where he came from, only about the places he had sailed. They always seemed happy to listen to his imagined exploits, especially if he really let his imagination sail! Oh the things he might have done, had he stayed aboard.
Though uncouth and unkempt, he already missed the sailors. Footsore and downtrodden, he wondered if he would reach the Council in time. Despite his newfound confidence, doubts constantly threatened his resolve to travel alone through unknown lands. Maybe I should just find somewhere to stay, Tristam thought to himself, again. Forget about the Island. Forget about magic. He longed to do just that. He shook his head. No, it must be the Council.
At dusk, he stopped and set up a meager camp just inside a small wood hoping it would provide protection against prying eyes. He’d seen raptors high in the sky at night, and shadows that seemed to move on their own. They seemed to keep their distance though, as if they were looking for something or someone, but it wasn’t him. He ate a light meal at a smoldering little fire, watching for any creatures the light might attract. Leaning against the trunk of a tree, he stared off into the dense leafy canopy at the colors of the setting suns, wishing he were anywhere but here. His thoughts swirled around in his head. He squeezed his eyes shut and decided he didn’t want to think about it any...