God of Magic 2, page 1part #2 of God of Magic Series
I turned my head automatically toward the rustle of leaves on my left. As my senses caught up a second later, I reached for the thin blindfold on my forehead and prepared to pull it down over my eyes at the first sign of the basilisk.
The rustling was only my pet puca, Merlin, though. His long black tail twitched above the thick undergrowth like a submarine periscope as he carried out a hunt of his own. He was more interested in chasing after the iridescent green beetles that were common in this part of the forest than the basilisk the rest of us were after, and since he'd howled like a demon when we'd tried to give him a blindfold of his own, we left him to his own devices.
Aerin, our guild's elven healer, suspected that Merlin might have some sort of immunity to the basilisk's magic, being a magical creature himself, to which Lavinia attested that she'd like the puca better as a statue. For a ranger and a dragonkin woman, Lavinia didn't like animals much at all, and she and Merlin had developed something of a rivalry ever since the puca put her bow up a tree.
Unfortunately for Lavinia, even if Merlin caught the eye of the basilisk, he wouldn't be turned to stone for more than a few hours at most. The creature we hunted was a domesticated breed, the prize cockerel of a local farmer who had told us its name was Eustace. The stare of a domesticated basilisk couldn't permanently petrify anything, at least nothing much larger than a mouse, but it was causing plenty of trouble for the area's other farmers, nonetheless. It had been wandering through their pastures and petrifying dozens of sheep, leaving the animals with stiff joints and rough wool even after they recovered from the petrification.
It had become enough of a problem that the farmers had pooled together to put out a bounty for the basilisk's capture, and my guild, the Shadow Foxes, had responded. The reward wasn't enough to draw the attention of most of the guilds in Ovrista, but despite our guild's recent successes, we weren't going to turn up our noses at paying work. The money was only part of it, really. A mission like this gave me a good excuse to get out of the city to practice my magic, hidden from the ever-watchful mages of Ovrista's Mage Academy.
I was a magic manipulator.
The only manipulator to reach adulthood in the last few centuries, or so I was told. The Mage Academy had wiped the rest out and banned the practice after a devastating civil war, so I had to keep my power a secret. The only reason I was still alive is that I didn't grow up here. Until a few weeks ago, I’d been an ordinary guy, a computer programmer in California. I didn’t even find out about my powers until I was transported to this world by a goddess who promised to grant me my heart’s desires if I agreed to help this guild.
I flicked my hand out toward Merlin, and the prickle of magic ran through my fingertips as I cast forth an illusory butterfly that flitted in front of his nose. The puca snapped at it, but I moved my hand, and the butterfly fluttered out of his reach.
I couldn't help but grin as the puca bounded after my illusion and shifted into the form of a cat, then a falcon, and finally back into his usual self as he gave chase. I laughed at the astoundingly human expression of shock on his furry face when he thought he'd finally caught the butterfly and I made it vanish beneath his paws. It reminded me of when I used to do the same thing with my grandma's old orange cat, except when I'd played with him, I’d only had a little laser pointer.
Frankly, teasing a shapeshifting puca with a magic butterfly was about a thousand times cooler than that.
"Got some tracks over here," Lavinia called. "They're fresh. I think it's close."
I clicked my tongue to call Merlin as I tramped through the thick knee-high undergrowth back to where Lavinia waited. The ladona woman knelt down by a pair of prints in the mud. Her long white hair was pulled back in a braid, and there were beads of sweat on the back of her neck and on her brow, right below the dragon-like horns that spiraled up from her forehead. Her bow was on her back, and instead, she carried in her hand a weighted net on a line.
We each had one, but Lavinia easily had the best aim out of us, and as such, she was more or less officially in charge of capturing the basilisk. My job was to distract it with a magical illusion, and Aerin was standing by just in case any of us caught the basilisk's eye by accident.
Maruk, the final member of our guild, had complained that he didn’t need to come since his dual-shield defensive style wasn't much use on a mission like this. I suspected that his real reason was that the orc would have preferred to stay home to continue planning the interior design of our new guild hall than chase a basilisk through the forest in the summer heat. Aerin had convinced him to come along by promising that we could get velvet upholstery for the new furniture. When he joined Lavinia and me to examine the tracks, Maruk was already sweating rather heavily through his armor.
"Well, it's about time," he remarked in his careful enunciation. "I'm being absolutely eaten alive by midges."
One look was all it took to see that he wasn't exaggerating. Every bit of the orc's green skin that wasn't covered by his armor was dotted with the bumps of the insects' bites, and he frowned around his tusks as he scratched at them.
"I'll take care of those stings when we get back, Maruk," Aerin said as she joined us as well. Her red hair was pulled up in a ponytail in an effort to keep cool, but the elf's pointed ears were flushed, and there was a distinct note of weariness to her tone.
Lavinia stood and adjusted her grip on the net. "Quiet," she whispered, then she cast me a glance and reached up to pull her blindfold over her eyes as she nodded toward the undergrowth several yards in front of us.
"Right," I whispered back as I pulled my blindfold down as well.
The cloth was thin enough that I could still make out the vague shapes of the trees and distinguish lights and shadows, but it provided enough of a barrier to prevent accidental petrification. One advantage of being a manipulator was that I could see the mana that ran through all living things. It appeared as a spark of light in the chests of humans and animals, and it tended to be brighter in mages and magical creatures. Another part of my job was to pinpoint the basilisk's location for Lavinia by looking for its mana.
The ladona woman's aim and senses were so good that I wasn't sure she really needed me to tell her anything, but after sweating all throughout the morning in search of old Eustace, none of us wanted to take any chances that he might slip through our grasp.
I scanned the ferns and shrubs that grew along the forest floor in the direction Lavinia had indicated, and the light of the basilisk's mana stood out immediately. It bobbed in time with the rustle of the undergrowth as the basilisk scratched around in search of beetles and mice. I kept my eye on the light as I raised my hand toward it.
By now the flow of my own mana in my veins was a familiar sensation, and the magic prickled down my arm like blood returning to a limb that had fallen asleep. I focused on the light before me and willed the basilisk to believe it was surrounded by a fog. The creature's owner had mentioned offhand that Eustace would always clam up on misty mornings and refuse to go anywhere. I hoped that my illusion would be enough to keep him still so that Lavinia could strike.
Casting illusions had become easier since I'd first tried it. At least, I no longer experienced pounding headaches over simple ones like this, but I could still feel the draw on my mana and a slight tension at my temples the longer I maintained the illusion. I was gratified now, though, to see that my strategy had worked, and Eustace had frozen in place.
"Alright," I said quietly, "it's at your one o'clock."
"Got it," Lavinia replied.
I could see the ranger heft the net back over her shoulder out of my periphery, but just then Eustace let out a terrified squawk, jumped up, and tore off through the undergrowth again in a flurry of feathe
“Shit!” I hissed as I yanked back my blindfold.
Lavinia echoed the sentiment as she stopped just short of casting the net out and pulled her own blindfold down off of her face.
“Something must have spooked it,” Aerin said, her brow furrowed as she peered around the forest.
“It would seem so,” I replied. Whatever had startled the basilisk, however, it was too far away for any of us to hear or see it. “Come on, I don’t want to lose him.”
Thankfully, between Eustace’s panicked trailblazing and Merlin’s excited pursuit, it wasn’t difficult to follow the pair. The undergrowth was bent back along the route, and the ground was littered with the basilisk’s reddish-brown feathers, and up ahead I could see the brambles shivering as the animals ran between them.
I tried to cast another illusion to stop Eustace as I ran after him. This time, as I raised my hand out toward the rustling undergrowth, I envisioned the figure of the farmer, Eustace’s owner, and willed the basilisk to see him, too. I hoped that seeing his master might calm Eustace long enough for us to catch him, but instead, Eustace leapt over the illusion’s head with a crow and a flurry of wings. He’d hardly even slowed down.
Eustace was about thirty yards ahead now, and he showed no signs of slowing, though it was still unclear to me what had startled him in the first place. I was about to take off after him again when Lavinia stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.
“Hang on, I think I hear something,” the ranger warned. Her thin brows were pulled together in a frown of concentration as she surveyed the forest around us and slowly reached back to replace her net with her bow.
I shot her a curious look, but I trusted her not to have stopped me unless it was important, and I knew she had sharper senses than the rest of us.
“There,” Lavinia said with a nod to the undergrowth on our right. She pulled an arrow from the quiver on her back and fitted it to her bowstring. “Something is coming. A lot of somethings, a pack of wild dogs, maybe.”
A moment later, I could hear them myself as they raced through the undergrowth after Eustace, and I took off again. The rest of my guild followed close at my heels as we rushed to intercept these new foes.
As the dogs got closer, I realized they must have been sick or something, because their barks and howls were strangely garbled. They must have been small, too, because they were all concealed by the undergrowth.
I considered trying to stop them with an illusion, but I didn’t want to waste the time or the mana if it didn’t work, so I focused my energy instead on trying to catch up to Eustace. The basilisk was surprisingly fast, but I quickly realized that the dogs were faster.
The trees had begun to thin, and I saw a clearing up ahead. The rustling undergrowth of Eustace’s wake showed that the basilisk was headed right for it, as was the pack.
The ferns thrashed as the dogs pursued the basilisk into the clearing and my stomach lurched as I heard a startled squawk from the other side of the brambles.
I leapt over the brambles into the clearing with my dagger in hand, but I stopped short as I was confronted with a very different scene than what I’d expected to find.
Someone had cleared out the trees in a space that was more than forty feet across, though to what purpose, I couldn’t tell. A trail wide enough for a wagon led into the woods on the other side of the clearing, and on the right, the ground sloped up sharply to create a natural wall of earth about fifteen feet high. Eustace was backed up against the ridge, surrounded by… well, I had no idea what.
Though the creatures that surrounded the basilisk now weren’t much larger than Jack Russell Terriers, they definitely weren’t dogs. At first, I thought they might be gigantic toads with their squat, round bodies and the large, wart-like bumps that covered their mottled greenish skin, but a few of them stood on their hind legs and carried bits of sharpened stone or pieces of glass in their tiny hands. Plus, I was pretty sure that even in this realm, toads weren’t supposed to have dozens of sharp pointed teeth.
I cast a glance at the basilisk, careful to avoid his stare, and I noticed with a rush of relief that Eustace seemed unharmed. I supposed the squawk I’d heard had come from one of the creatures that had tried to attack him. Already, four had frozen in place, and those that had been unfortunate enough to get a full-on stare from the basilisk were set apart by the way their skin had turned from green to gray stone. There had to be over a dozen of them still running around though.
“Goblins!” Aerin gasped as she caught up to me. Her tone made it clear that she hadn’t expected these creatures any more than I had.
The goblins barked, howled, and croaked continuously as they leapt around and tried to jab at Eustace with their rocks and glass, but I couldn’t tell if the noises were any real kind of speech or simply cries of excitement and irritation.
Lavinia came up behind me as well and paused just long enough to let an arrow fly, and the goblin that she’d shot almost rolled at the impact of the arrow that pierced its gut.
“Wait!” I called as the ranger pulled another arrow from her quiver. “We can’t risk hitting Eustace.”
The basilisk was jumping around like mad and kicking out with his spurs at any goblin that got too close. I was careful not to look him in the eye, and the goblins seemed to have caught on to the idea as well, though with the way Eustace was moving, it was easier said than done. I knew Lavinia’s aim was unparalleled, but that wouldn’t prevent Eustace from jumping into the path of one of her arrows after she’d released it.
“What should we do?” Lavinia asked as she lowered her bow.
“Everyone get your blindfolds on,” I ordered. Aerin would have been able to cure any paralysis, but with the way Eustace was jumping around, it would be all too easy for any of us to get petrified accidentally. I didn’t want to risk Aerin being petrified herself, which would leave us without a healer, and I didn’t want to give Eustace a chance to escape if the rest of us were incapacitated. It was better if we didn’t all take that risk. I would be the group’s eyes and direct them in the fight against the goblins. Maruk and Aerin would need to head up crowd control with the goblins while Lavinia and I captured Eustace.
“Aerin, Maruk, I need you to keep those goblins busy. Lavinia, come with me, we need to keep Eustace from escaping.”
“Always wanted to try shooting blindfolded,” Lavinia replied with a grin, “just to make things interesting.”
“The basilisk and the horde of disgusting little goblins isn’t interesting enough for you?” Maruk asked as he frowned. Then he turned to me. “It’s not that I distrust your judgment, Gabriel, but I’ve never tried to fight blind before, and I can’t say I share dear Lavinia’s enthusiasm at the prospect.”
“I’ll give you directions,” I assured him. “All you have to do is bash your shields out when I say. Aerin, you do the same with your axe. I’ll guide you.”
“What about you?” the elf asked, her arms crossed.
“One of us has to look,” I said. In this chaos, even my mana sight wasn’t going to be enough for me to make sense of the scene through my blindfold. I’d have to take the risk of keeping it off while I directed everyone else. “You’ll be able to help if I get petrified. Come on, we don’t have time to lose.”
“Please make sure you don’t lead me into any mud, will you?” Maruk put in quickly as he reached for his blindfold. “I just had these boots polished.”
Though still mostly pinned to the ridge, the basilisk had managed to start edging toward the wide trail on the other side of the clearing. We needed to stop him before he could make another run for it. The goblins had proven their speed in the forest, and I was sure that they would have no trouble catching the basilisk over open ground.
“Let’s go,” I called. Lavinia followed at my heels as I crashed through the undergrowth toward the trailhead. I kept Eustace and the goblins in my periphery and my
The goblins had been too preoccupied with Eustace to pay us much attention before, but once we stepped foot into the clearing, we became a threat that could no longer be ignored. Five goblins armed with shards of glass and sharp rocks charged Lavinia and me as we ran for the trailhead, and they growled and croaked as they came.
“Maruk, on your right!” I shouted, and the orc threw out his shield arm against the empty air.
“Your other right!” I groaned. “Three o’clock!”
“It’s not my fault, I’m disoriented with this blindfold, and it itches!” Maruk insisted, but he moved just in time to swat at two of the goblins with his heavy shield as they lunged for Lavinia and me.
There was an odd squelch punctuated by a chorus of shrieks as Maruk’s shield made impact. The pair of goblins were sent flying, and they crashed through the branches and fell fifteen yards away.
“Aerin, one o’clock!” I called.
The elf moved swiftly and brought her axe down in a gleaming arc that severed the nearest goblin in half. There were two distinct thumps as the separate halves of the goblin’s squat body hit the dirt.
Still blindfolded, Aerin turned toward the sound of my voice with a broad grin.
“Did I do it?” she asked. “That was awesome!”
“You got it,” I told her.
“You’re awfully excited about maiming for a healer,” Maruk said, his short nose wrinkled.
“You’re awfully averse to it for a warrior,” the elf laughed. As she spoke, another goblin pounced at her, and Aerin swung her axe into its belly before I’d even gotten a chance to warn her.
“Oh! I got that one myself!” she exclaimed. “I heard it! Lavinia was right, this is kind of fun.”
At that moment, Merlin shifted into a jet-black falcon and darted forward with a single flap of his wings into the goblin pack. He closed his talons around the twiglike arm of one of the stone goblins before he swerved upward and carried it high into the air.
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