I head into the underground garden to find Miuna panicking. Its gelatinous form trembles like a human would in terror. The great hollow should be safe for the time being, so I don’t see any reason for it to be scared.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Shallowglade is under attack! Big tiger-like flying things are sieging the town.”
My worst fears manifest. I can only be in so many places at once. Mira and I can split up, but doing so deprives us of our united strength. There’s no telling what we’ll encounter, meaning one wrong move and it’s over.
“Miuna, how are the orcs holding up?” I swallow the lump in my throat expecting the worst.
“They’ve mostly barricaded themselves in. Those tiger things occasionally jump over the wall, but the orcs have been able to beat some back. I can’t imagine what will happen if the barricade breaks…”
Orcs are resilient. A large enough group can even give an adult dragon trouble, but it’s not like they’re invincible. Eventually they’ll be too injured to fight, and manticores are the type to play with prey.
As much as I want to make sure Luugen and Miuna’s other half are safe, I have no choice but to let Shallowglade fend for themselves. Kati’s tribe comes first, and I need to repay Flora for her gift.
I reach into the tub. Miuna’s body withdraws to let me pick up three matured magic crystals. The glistening stones are dull in color. They have yet to fill to capacity in mana but should suffice in a pinch.
Magic crystals have a number of uses. Their main purpose is to provide a source of mana if a witch ever exhausts their own well. I can also brew mana draughts to increase potency, but we’re running short on time. For now, I’ll just have to make do with what I have on hand.
Miuna’s body continues to shake. I wish there was something I can do to ease its mind. Bringing it with us isn’t an option; it would just slow us down.
“Don’t worry. I’m going to take a quick detour, and you’ll see me in Shallowglade in no time. For now, you’ll be safe in my great hollow.”
“B-Best of luck, Ellori!”
Hmmm. That reminds me. I still haven’t drank Miuna’s secretion to protect myself from the forest’s miasma. With all that’s going on recently hasn’t left me an open window to do so. It’ll have to wait until we save the kobold tribe and Shallowglade.
Come to think of it…
The other two in my company will have to drink it too…
I can’t imagine how that’s going to turn out. Mira definitely won’t be happy about it with Gurk around.
The two of them are outside ready to depart. Gurk has a short sword sheathed to his waist that I didn’t see before.
“Gurk find this on ground. Want to use to help Mistresses!”
“A few enhancements and even a goblin can slay a minotaur.” Mira suggests.
One of the soldiers must have forgotten to take it back.
“That’s perfect. I was thinking about equipping him with a weapon anyway. Do you know how to use it, Gurk?”
He unsheathes the weapon and swings it around a few times. He has to wield it with two hands to keep balance. Even for a short sword, it’s unwieldy in his grip.
Mira opens her robes to reveal dozens of vials fixed to the belt on her waist. “I had to flash brew some elixirs. They should serve us well, but…”
Flash brewing is the alchemical process of concocting potions without using mandragoras to stabilize the final compound. Potions and elixirs brewed this way can have adverse side effects, and imbibing too many can fatally poison the imbiber.
The covenant doesn’t explicitly forbid flash brewing, but those who actively pursue alchemy this way aren’t looked upon kindly. As witches striving to perfect our trade in both witchcraft and alchemy, bastardizing one’s own skill is the pinnacle of shame.
“Well, desperate measures…”
I hand Mira two of the magic crystals, but she pushes them back into my hands.
“I much rather you hang on to them, darling. I could never forgive myself if harm came your way.”
With the preparations complete, we take off in the direction of the kobold tribe. Mira and I drink a stamina draught and an elixir of speed. The combination of both potions allows us to make haste without tiring, cutting the travel time in half.
Gurk is hanging on to my back. Thanks to my endless stamina, he isn’t too much of a burden.
Our familiars went ahead to act as vanguard. Thanks to our bond, we can see through their eyes to anticipate any potential dangers.
Mira’s eyes are glazed over and glowing. She’s seeing through Talos’ eyes right now. That should normally rob her own sight, but she’s still deftly maneuvering over uneven terrain.
Thanks to her, we’re able to keep an eye on what’s above while Rio keeps an eye on the ground ahead.
“We’re getting close.” Mira says, her eyes flicking in every direction as she’s hijacking Talos’ vision. “There’s something strange with the tower. Roots are encroaching up the stone walls.”
“That must be Flora’s doing!”
Their camp comes quickly into view, but it looks deserted. I slow down my approach and hijack Rio’s vision who’s already inside the camp. Some of the kobolds are huddled up inside their tents. There should be more of them somewhere.
My vision is no longer in the kobold tribe but in the forest instead. Mira has stopped some paces behind me. I let Gurk down and we fall back to her.
“What is it?” I ask, the exhaustion is catching up to me as both potions are wearing off.
“There is fighting at the base of the tower. A number of kobolds lie in a bloody heap, and there is a forest nymph— no, dryad? Wyverns are bearing down on them.”
“That’s Flora and Kati! We have to hurry!”
As we make it to the foot of the tower, I’m relieved to see Flora and Kati holding their own against ten wyverns. Most of the kobolds look severely injured and on the brink of death.
The two-legged beasts screech and claw at roots emerging from the ground. What wyverns lack in strength compared to their dragon cousins, they make up for in large packs. Their ferocity and numbers is what makes them dangerous. Who knows if there are more lurking elsewhere.
“Aqua vas o’rea!”
Mira conjures water above the immobilized wyverns. Talos joins in to mimic the spell. Their combined incantations summon a small ocean just above the beasts head.
“Sap the heat from the water!”
I catch on to what she’s thinking and follow up on her command.
The incantation takes effect, draining the heat from the water until it becomes a massive block of ice suspended in air. Mira snaps her finger, dropping the frozen bed and flattening the wyverns.
A shadow begins to shrink at our feet with increasing speed. A shrieking wyvern dives at me with its claws out. Rio hops onto my shoulder and launches into the air, knocking it to the ground. Gurk rushes over to plunge his sword into its head, silencing it for good.
“Hahaha— aahh… how refreshing!” Mira slaps my butt then goes to fill her pipe for a smoke.
“S-Savior has come and brought help!” Kati comes running to us out of breath.
Flora bows in her approach. “Your timing is fortuitous, Savior Ellori.”
I help them administer restoration potions to the injured kobolds. Since I only have a limited supply, I have to withhold some and provide first aid instead. Flora is none the happier to see her devotees lively again.
Rio lays down next to me. His mouth is stained red from the blood of the wyvern he’d just devoured. There isn’t so much as a trace of bones left.
“I see the size of your company has grown, Savior.” Flora says, referring to Mira and Talos.
“Hmmm.” Mira leans into Flora to inspect her like she would an alchemical reagent. “Are all forest nymphs as voluptuous as yourself? You may not be as endowed as Ellori, but— “
I push Mira away.
“Ignore her. Are the roots around the tower yours?” I ask, trying to draw the group back to the situation at hand.
The stone tower is enormous. It looks like there could be a whole city inside with how immense the circumference is. Being in front of one, we can’t even see the peak with all the clouds and trees in the way.
“Yes. I sealed it to prevent additional creatures from flooding out.”
Mira stops dragging from her pipe and asks, “What sort of creatures?”
“Many kinds. Beasts with obsidian skin, hounds on six legs… some I do not even understand. They have escaped into the forest, and I dared not pursue.” Flora says, shaking her head.
I put a hand on her shoulders to ease her fright. “We’re here to put a stop to this. I need you to unseal the entrance so we can investigate the interior. Close it shut once we’re inside.”
“Very well. Please be careful.”
As we stand by the retracting roots that obstructs the barrier, I can’t help but feel hesitant. Mira doesn’t look too good either, likely not thrilled about fighting again. For how strong she is, only I know how weak she can be.
I reach out to take her hand, and she returns the gesture smiling and tightening her grip.
It feels good to be reunited with Mira. I couldn’t think of anyone else to watch my back despite her quirks.
When the thick roots part, all we see is an alcove embedded into the side of the tower. On the cobblestone ground is something very familiar to us— especially to witches.
“A magic circle?” Mira echoes my suspicions.
Hundreds of intricate runes rotate, humming with magical energies. Their colors cycle from red to blue, and occasionally lose color completely.
“No doubt a transportation circle.” I say.
I take Gurk’s hand on my other side, and he’s relieved that I didn’t forget him. How could I?
We step onto the platform together. A beam of light shoots up beneath us, chilling and scorching at the same time.
Just as the light becomes too blinding, an impact takes my breath away. I open my eyes to see not cobblestone or marble walls, but…
Above me, there is no longer the green canopy of trees and detritus. I can see the moon and stars above. And before me, not an expanse of overgrown roots and shrubbery, but sand. Mounds upon mounds of dunes.
Then my breath. My throat and tongue are instantly parched. The air is so hot it burns my nose.
There is one thing I see. It’s not too far. I can make out a triangular building made of large rectangular stones. That must be a pyramid.
Only several places in the world come to mind when I think of sand. Jahreed, High Saquin, Mordalus… did the teleportation circle take us to one of these places…?
Or perhaps this is a forged world?
“For now, we should—”
That’s when I notice my hands are empty. My companions are no longer by my side. Only sand every which way I turn.
“You’ve got to be joking!”