Saturday Story Time
Tarrelar barreled through the undergrowth, stealth bindings shimmering the air around him. A tiny sprite, conjured for the moment’s purpose followed in his wake, repairing the broken twigs and erasing footprints. He controlled his breathing, remaining quiet, taking the path of least resistance but greatest speed, avoiding his pursuer with every bit of his woods-lore. He detoured around an expanse of mud – the sprite would get caught up filling in footprints that deep. A patch of dry leaves would have made noise so he skirted the edges. His physical quietness made his silenced bindings easy to maintain, without the sudden and obvious draw on the Power that would have revealed his location as clearly as the clear, bright snap of a branch on the quiet night.
Sirdan cursed the night. He cursed the clouds diffusing the reflected planetlight from the gas giant the world circled, to the point of uselessness. His prey was good. His eyes drank in the little available light, and his ears remained attuned to the rhythm of the forest. His arcane senses reached out, finding no disturbances. The Power flowed cleanly in this area. He wreathed himself in shadows and moved to higher ground.
The hunted Tarrelar jumped from rock to rock, trusting to his Art to muffle the sound of his landing. He climbed, reasoning that it was the last thing the hunter would expect. He should by all rights have headed for low ground, for the stream he could hear not far away, to escape in the splash and tumult of water, its turbulent effect on the Power as effective as any dozen sprites he could conjure at obliterating a trail. The trees thinned as he ascended. A break in the clouds allowed planetlight to cast an glow on the landscape – an eerie blue-green. Storms on the bloated planet overhead must have churned some new gases into prominence and the changeable aspect was an ill omen. He darted onwards, his sprite scrambling after him, erasing the wet three-toed footprints he left.
There! Sirdan could have sworn he had seen a footprint on the rock ahead of him for a fraction of a moment before it vanished. He paused, searching with all his senses, physical and arcane. There was no intelligence ahead, according to every sense he had. But that footprint can’t have been his imagination, could it? In a flash of inspiration he refocused his Sight, looking for the tiny, almost invisible presences of the arcane world. Sprites, those little enigmatic knots of Power, were everywhere, as was to be expected in an area filled with life and far from the disruptive influence of civilisation. But there – a single sprite, moving with purpose, so unlike the others. It danced from rock to rock. Sirdan leaped after it, drawing his shadows tighter about himself.
The sprite was falling behind, but Tarrelar couldn’t slow down or take the time to conjure another. He felt the presence behind him, fast, purposeful, and he knew he couldn’t hide any longer. He lengthened his stride, trying to escape, but the pursuer matched his acceleration. He came to a halt at the edge of a small clearing and released his bindings, drawing protection instead of stealth and silence. His blade thrummed and glowed softly as he woke it with an infusion of Power.
Sirdan realised something was wrong. His prey had turned. This was the most dangerous time. When the prey is cornered and knows it cannot escape, when it turns to fight with desperate strength. His shadows dissipated and he stepped in to the clearing to regard his prey. Tarrelar’s blade was raised in challenge, and he raised his own, waking it.
The two combatants regarded each other warily, neither eager to be the first to move. Simultaneously they unleashed destruction. Sirdan’s crackling arc of power flared across the clearing as Tarrelar’s misaimed bolt of force snapped a tree in two. Sirdan’s arc closed the distance and hissed and spat on Tarrelar’s protections. Tarrelar stepped back under the assault, his protections becoming visible to mundane sight as they shed the fearsome energy Sirdan was dumping into them. Tarrelar had no chance of winning if he allowed this to continue. He pushed forward against the onslaught, calling on the resonance of the fallen wood around him and mentally pinching together an elemental essence. It was crude, but it would hold up for a few hands of seconds, and that should be enough. The elemental rushed forwards, thorns and ragged branch-ends raking towards Sirdan, and Sirdan was forced to divert his offense against the new threat. Tarrelar’s elemental construct vanished in a storm of splinters but Sirdan had released him long enough for him to release another bolt of raw force across the clearing, and this one struck home. Sirdan was blasted from his feet and he barely had the presence of mind to roll and focus to cushion what could have been a spine-snapping landing. Tarrelar followed him, letting the Power infuse his muscles as he launched himself through the air, his blade descending but the illusion he attacked had no substance, and Sirdan struck from behind his wreath of shadows, knocking Tarrelar to the ground. Tarrelar released a burst of force to knock Sirdan back again but it skittered harmlessly off Sirdan’s protections. He raised his blade defiantly, but Sirdan batted it aside. Sirdan’s blade lowered, charged with enough Power to cut through any arcane barrier, and it touched Tarrelar lightly on the shoulder.
“Tag, you’re ‘it’.”