“If there’s nothing else can we get on the road…well, the path...,” commented Devon as he headed down off the rock. Matsugo paused as he tried to remember the spell he needed, then realized that was the very thing that could never happen in battle. With subtle movements, he cast his first Wizard’s Wall over the opening at the top of the cave. Climbing down and standing before the rock that shielded the path, he repeated the spell with a little more flare. Waving his arms in wide sweeping circles, a red glow started to form between his hands. When he was satisfied with its intensity, he pulled both hands back while holding the spell active, then pushed it forward causing it to move into place. Happy with the position, he muttered the closing words. The spell briefly grew brighter before becoming invisible. Devon walked up with a stick and traced an arching line in the dirt in front of the rock and uttered a few words quietly under his breath. When he finished, he noticed Mat watching him, “it’ll cause people to ignore this spot; I’ve used it before.”
Nodding approval Mat reached into his bag and pulled out a tunic. After pulling it over his head and lacing it up, he took his daggers and placed one in each of the individual sheaths at his side. He added another set in his sleeves with just the hilts visible, and a final one down the center back of his tunic in another concealed leather sheath. “There, I’m dressed, lead the way.” Devon just shook his head, “really? We’re going camping not to an assassination.”
They followed the cliff wall for over an hour. The day was perfect for their first outing, the sky was bright with a few wispy clouds, and it wasn’t too warm. When Devon eventually stopped, Mat ran into the back of his friend as he looked up to see where he was pointing. Snaking up the cliff wall was a narrow gravel path which grew more treacherous the higher you went. Swallowing hard, Mat said, “Seriously? I guess you think that scares me?”
“Nope, just curious why you’re growing paler... I mean paler than normal?” smiled Devon.
It took them another hour to climb the steep path often stopping to catch their breath or, in many cases, to hug the wall after losing their footing on the loose gravel. When they reached the top, they found themselves on a grassy plain. Both stood in awe at how different the environments were. Down below it had been thick bushy weeds and tall twisted trees. Here on top it was a much richer, lush environment of bright green grasses and flowers with a variety of wildlife both flying and roaming the fertile plains. They traveled east until eventually reaching a shallow stream which meandered through the landscape. Here they turned south and followed the water's edge making frequent stops to drink and relax.
“The difference is striking,” commented Devon.
“No shit, they should have put our cave up here, this is nice,” answered Mat.
“Really, the dark, scary Necromancer has a love of flowers and sunlight. Won't you lose your goth card talking like that?” asked Devon as they both broke out in laughter.
As the sun rose towards midday, they both started to sweat. “I can’t believe how much faster it gets hot up here, back at the cave it's more gradual,” commented Devon.
“One of the reasons I work at night, more consistent,” added Matsugo as he put on a belt from his pack, unlaced the top of the tunic and let it fall over his waist exposing his chest. He then bent down and wet a strip of cloth and placed it on the back of his neck. “There, better.”
“Still you were right, as much as I hate to admit it, we needed to get out of that cave.”
“I know and never fault yourself for admitting I’m right, it’s an experience everyone appreciates at some point,” commented Matsugo with no hint of jest.
Devon let out a bark of laughter as Mat fired off another pea-sized rock, he called them missiles. He enjoyed playing with the low-level spell, sending the low-velocity projectiles at creatures encouraging them to move out of the way.
As they traveled deeper into the plains, the number of animals continued to grow. Some common, variations of horses, wolves, and rabbits. Others were completely new and alien, with tentacles, feathers and body parts colored in rainbows of blues, reds, and greens. Overhead birds flew, roosting in the trees and diving for small bugs that danced up from the grasses in small clouds.
A couple of hours after noon Devon whooped and pointed to a clump of trees off in the distance as he picked up his pace. As they entered the grove Mat stood in stunned surprise at the beauty of the clearing. It was a large space ringed by trees with a pond in the center. Many areas were shaded, but due to the types of trees sunlight streaked through the branches in long golden streams, “You saw all this from overhead?”
“Pretty much,” answered Devon as he walked into the clearing and pointed up into the canopy. Mat looked up and found, high in the branches, a nest with two gets birds. “He’s my guide. They roost here every year to birth their young,” explained Devon.
Mat smiled, “Nice work, but how do you know they come here every year?”
“They told me...,” before Mat could ask, “…I can sense some of their memories, for lack of a better word, when I bond with them.
The camp wasn’t fancy, just a fire and a couple of bedrolls. This trip quickly became less about camping and more about taking the next step into their new world. They needed to find that one thing they were missing, a sense of belonging. They spent the afternoon sunning, swimming and playing with new spells. Though they’d been on this new world for several of weeks, this was the first time they’d started to feel like their old selves again. The friends they’d always been. As they discovered new topics in their books, they’d debate the different ways a spell could be cast, how certain skills might be used and when. They’d often studied together, but this was different, it wasn’t so much about getting through the information as it was about really digging in and finding the mechanics behind the different abilities. Not just knowing how something worked but understanding how it did what it did.
As evening approached, they wandered off, each needing time to digest what they’d learned. Mat headed out to practice his stealth while Devon stayed behind working on his animal skills. Mat lay on his back just outside the clearing staring up at the night's sky with its nebulas, cloud formations, and young stars. Back at the cave one side had always been obscured by the blackness of the cliffs. Here, above them was spread out the entire majesty of the heavens. Devon for the first time understood the allure Matsugo saw in the night. He’d concentrated so much on the plants and animals he’d never really looked up and seen what lay in the skies above them. They both needed to get out of their comfort zones more. Mat had been so right; they needed this trip. Where he was thoughts and planning, Mat was spontaneity and action, always thinking outside the box and acting on his instincts. Devon needed to learn to trust his friends’ feelings more.
As the sky faded from blue to black and the night grew deeper Devon’s mind wandered off as he raced across the plains through the eyes of a deer. He didn’t hear the rustle in the bushes across the pond. Suddenly he was ripped back into the moment and found himself staring into the eyes of an ugly green creature with a warty, wrinkled face, holding a dagger. Devon watched in terror as the single drop of snot hanging from a ring in the creature nose fell, landing on his cheek.
Devon’s breath caught as his color drained away in fear. “Oh, look! What do we have here Balip, we’ve found a bit of dinner,” said the creature with the dagger? As if to emphasize his point, he drug the edge of the blade along Devon’s neck leaving a thin line of red.
“And a tasty one at that, large this one. What is it, do you think Tapic?”
Devon’s mind raced. First, where was Mat? What was he supposed to do? What could he do? With a shock, he realized, again, he wasn’t on earth, he was here and here had magic. What did he know he could use? Again, where was Mat? His mind was jerked back as the second of the two creatures came up. He was the same, but taller. These were goblins. They're elongated, overly large pointed ears, littered with jewelry, flapped as they moved — their pockmarked faces and short stout green bodies. Devon breath burst from his lungs as the second creature jumped upon his chest, the smell of sweat and shit filling his nostrils. Devon’s mind was blank. He couldn’t pull a single thought together. All he could hear was the sound of Mat’s voice in his head reminding him always to be ready and how he’d failed. Was he going die this soon after their great adventure had begun?
In a split second his mind snapped back into focus as he swung an arm knocking the first attackers’ dagger away from his neck. Next, he brought up his hands and grabbed the second goblins face as he uttered a power word. A scream rang through the glade as acid formed on his palms and began to eat into the goblin’s flesh, the skin melting away, falling in clumps down onto his tunic. He kicked up, knocking the hideous creature from on top of him, its hands now clawing at its ruined face. Devon rolled over and shot off to the side pulling that damn dagger Mat insisted he carry as he turned back to his first attacker. He needn't have worried. Standing behind the goblin with a small evil smile was Mat. Devon's gaze traveled down his friend's arms, and he found only hilts. The rest of the two daggers were hidden in the ears of the still spasming creature. “Seems you've met the wildlife, well deadlife, um…who knows, the ugly fucks,” commented Mat as he looked past Devon to the other attacker. Devon turned to find most of the creature’s head eaten away and his torso lying limp on the bright green grass. Devon threw his hand over his mouth, only to move away as he began retching the remains of his dinner onto the ground below him.