The Conjurers Trap

Submitted into Contest #196 in response to: Write a story involving a portal into a parallel universe.... view prompt

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Fantasy

Naz woke with a head feeling like he’d been on StormBringer the night before. Some fiendish brew Yish suggested he might enjoy back in the days of yore. A time before travelling with the Keep not yet fallen. As he recalled, it was shortly after he arrived after a mining disagreement. “Keep the seam tight and dig deeper,” they had said. His look back said “I have no good reason to continue digging my own grave.”

From there it had gone to brief encounters on myths young dwarves are scared of, to geopolitics. A subject he’d rapidly come to realise didn’t just mean the realm his mountains existed in. Another contentious issue as most of his comrades that were, had barely surfaced to see a sunrise in generations.

All along time ago now, and it wasn’t drinking that caused his head to harbour an ache. “Portals are for magicians, not dwarves.” This he said out loud. Closely followed by, “Yish.”

“If that is the elf’s name, then she is recovering in the monastery.”

Naz gripped his axe and stood up. Beneath the bows of an oak stood a man in a black robe, gathered together in the midriff by what looked like a length of rope.

Natural caution followed him like an albatross. His subconscious searched for more unseen adversaries. All seemed well, birds cooed and wood noise continued without any signs of alien movement. That sent his mind back to why they’d hit the portal in the first place.

“Where am I?” His eyes fell on the pastor.

“Safe.”

Curiosity drifted across the dwarfs face. “That can be a relative term.”

The man laughed. “She said you’d be hard to convince.” He moved forwards bearing a witch-wood staff atop of which sat a carved owl.

It seemed, to Naz, to be watching him. “That I am. Trust is earned not given freely.”

“Words of a warrior.”

Naz shrugged, it was a good answer. “Lead on cleric, one wrong move and I’ll cleave you in half.”

“As you wish,” the man turned and all but disappeared into the woods.

Naz followed, his earlier head storm had cleared. Overrun by wariness. He had given him her name. Prior to that he’d referred to her as an elf. That meant she hadn’t supplied it. Likely he’d been referred to as a dwarf who wielded his axe rather than parley. Wise until the lay of the land were known at least.

The man was waiting with his back to him by a winding path that drifted through a gentle slope culminating on a well used dirt road pitched up from the land around it. Naz noted the owl had swivelled to watch his approach. It left him in no doubt this was more likely a conjuror in disguise.

“Pastoral isn’t it,” he paused to point his staff over the green fields that acted as a flood plain to a river that meandered through them in the distance.

Naz noted the owl still followed him despite the staffs position. Almost grinning as it did so. Strange concept given he knew of no bird that could do so. He also took stock of the near perfect vista. Green fields was an understatement. They were vibrant, lush and lacked any regions where poor soil or harsh weather might cause disturbances in growth. The same could be said of trees, both ahead and behind. The sky also looked intense blue with the ghost of a moon reflecting just above the horizon.

His hackles shifted. Something was wrong. “The elf?”

“Down there,” the cleric pointed toward a stone building in the centre of a large plot of land. Around it another stone structure ran ending only in a solitary arch where a door stood.

Naz took it in. His first thoughts were defensive. Did monasteries require such fortification? Was it to keep outsiders out or those within from leaving at will?

“You’re overthinking,” the man didn’t turn. “It’s not much different to any township. Walls or stockades keep animals out. They give privacy and delineate the land border.”

Naz frowned. Dwarves were supposed to be immune to mind probing. He needed to concentrate better.

“Naz,” the man turned, “I know your name dwarf.” He paused watching the response.

The owl, Naz concluded, was no longer an owl. It had uncurled and looked more like a carving of… “Is that a dragon?”

The man drew his staff up to look. “It is. Magnificent are they not?”

“I have only seen them in rock reliefs. Nothing crafted like that.” He felt his hackles lower. Was he being beguiled? Supposed to be immune to that too.

“There are some master carvers here. Not like it used to be, but those that survived have continued their trades.” He paused looking at the dragon. “You approve?”

Naz nodded, his throat felt dry. He reached into his gunna and drew out a water-skin. “It has insatiable curiosity,” he ventured.

The man chuckled, “A minor enchantment. You know the turn of phrase about eyes in the back of your head yes?”

“Aye,” was all the dwarf could return.

“Come, let us ease your suspicions and reconnect you with the elf known as Yish.”

###

Yish sat examining a parchment in disbelief. It described a blue stone that commanded a wyvern. Admittedly it was old and the pieces remaining were faded, but the association between stone and dragon were clear. Why it existed was annoyingly absent. As absent as the existence of dragons that weren’t mythical.

It drew questions. If these were remnants of a physical document describing real events then did such beasts once exist? That Elders were supposedly linked to them in numerous references in her Guilds library was clear. But how seriously were such matters taken? Did they just disappear along with the elder Mage civilisation? It elevated their status way beyond anything currently in existence. Her conclusion was civilisation, as she knew it, was growing back from a dark age.

It struck her this thought had not occurred before. The Vault itself was crying this out. None knew who built it or even how it functioned. Unless this secret was guarded so tightly by the three.

He would know. Could she reach out as he did and touch minds? It caused her a brief moment of mirth. Not a sorcerer indeed, how else did he think he could commune from inside a conjurors bubble ripped into another time. “You are such a fool,” she whispered to herself.

Sitting back she stretched. Pouring over faded words and glyphs had left her with a sore back. In front of her was a window, through which the same landscape her dwarven friend had just passed through was visible. Except, she blinked, had it just faded in and out? Tired eyes can take time to focus again, but there was a growing feeling something wasn’t quite right.

How had she got from the portal to examining these particular parchments. Frowning in thought the memory seemed blurred. She’d emerged from the elder portal, called out for Naz and now she was here.

She opened the door, feeling fresh air might clear her mind. The breeze was light. Stepping through the threshold she found herself seated examining a parchment. “No!” Her fist struck the desk in despair.

###

“What’s wrong with her?” Naz looked at the body of his friend. It looked healthy enough save some bruising around her face. Although with blankets drawn up to her chest that could be the tip of an iceberg. He moved to test her warmth with his hand.

“Don’t,” the man spoke, his voice a command.

Naz turned to face him, “Why?” he demanded.

“She is fighting a battle.”

Naz returned his gaze to Yish. A bead of perspiration had formed on her brow. Why couldn’t mages ever talk straight.

“Who did this?” His grip on the axe tightened again.

“We did.”

We… the plurality of statement had not escaped the dwarf. He spun round.

Two others now stood in the room. Each wore robes similar to the cleric. The main difference was their staffs. Where the man’s dragon sat theirs were blackened and charred.

Naz looked at each in turn, who to strike down first? His eyes settled on a blue stone resting in the palm of the man. Moonstone sapphire, this was his lore. Except it was the purest he’d ever seen. It radiated brilliance, almost alive.

The man closed his fist, “Powerful is it not?”

Naz swallowed saliva that had formed in his throat. “I’ve never seen such a stone.” His grip on the axe had weakened.

“Few have. This is what your world’s scholars calls Dragon Stones.”

“You’re speaking to the wrong person.” He nodded toward Yish, “I mine rock, she knows conjurors law.”

“And that is why she is here.”

Naz felt his muscles slacken. “Who are you?”

“Let us settle on friends. The elf will survive. She suffered thaumatic shock trying to pull you through the portal. Untreated it would turn her feral.”

“I see,” said Naz, although he didn’t really. He looked again at her frame. Save the loss of life lustre she could have been asleep. “What now?”

“We wait to see if she finds the path back with the knowledge we seek.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Then another must go in to retrieve her élan vital.”

“Or…” Naz trailed off.

“She remains indefinitely inside the conjurors lock until the body decays and what she was moves on.”

“As with all sorcerers, you speak in riddles. What are you really after?”

The man smiled opening his palm to reveal the moonstone. “I need to know where the Sapphire is.”

Naz stared once more at the Dragon Stone. It’s luminescence drew his gaze, almost hypnotic. “She’s alive you know.”

The man snapped his hand closed again, “Where dwarf?”

Naz also saw the dragon perched on his staff turn to face him. If he were not mistaken the tiny head shook left to right. He could feel something trying to probe his mind. We are one, do not reveal where my sister lies. Never before had he heard another voice save his own there. Another resilience dwarves held was an immunity to sending. Yet if he were not mistaken this carving had just done so.

“How would I know?” Hatred spawned. Revealing the moonstone had allowed a connection to form. He needed Yish.

###

Her despair fled. As fist rose from the desk, dust splayed and another edge of parchment offered itself. This was even more yellowed in time, desiccated and ready to crumble. Except something wanted it to be seen. She blinked again. Trick of the eye? No, this was powerful, it wanted to be read. Fears of a trap fled. In one she may be, but traps can be double edged.

These were very old. Glyphs she had no knowledge of, or way to enact a translation. Yet light radiated from sections, highlighted them. Drew her to the text.

Seer masters have isolated a cult. A conspiracy that draws and infuses hatred. They want the Stones. The power to control that which cannot be.

It skipped.

One is left. It’s Rider fell. The portal was closed. It haunts the wyvern graveyard now. Waiting on a blacksmith lost in a tomb. The Emerald will find a way, Sapphire fled. The rest are unaccounted for.

Her thoughts were intercepted. It was the strongest send she had ever known. The dwarf is in great danger.

Yish felt her stomach churn. The more her eyes tracked the parchment the more her established pretexts on her Guilds historical law decayed. She was isolated in a conjurors bubble.

Not bubble, mind trap. The voice again.

If true she was in even greater danger. If her body was destroyed then everything she was would die. She needed Naz. To contain a mind lock required close proximity. This was easier than a bubble but required external assistance. But how to tell the dwarf?

###

Naz also had problems. His head felt numb. Not ever knowing what a send felt like had created a mind fog. He felt dislocated from reality. Worse still he knew his axe was raised and had no idea why.

Fool, kill him. The dragon glared at him.

“Come dwarf, where is the Sapphire?” The man moved toward him, seeming oblivious to the axe. He gestured to another who drew a dagger. This one started toward the elf.

“I thought you needed her,” Naz snarled.

“That was before we knew you could read the Stone.” The man raised his staff.

Naz moved to block the cleric with the blade. Without thinking his axe skew upwards and the one before him folded. Lifeblood soon soaked the floor.

One left the room. Not fled, his subconscious noted, but perhaps to summon aid. The man he’d first met smiled. Naz knew he was a sorcerer. What caught his attention was the dragon. It’s maw opened as it twisted backwards to rake the hand holding its stave.

The cleric screamed as fingers failed to respond. His staff fell. Naz took no time to think and a head soon joined it on the floor.

The moonstone fell loose. Take it Dwarf

He glanced at Yish. Her body was soaked in perspiration.

In his free hand rested the stone. Vibrant, alive and, if he were not mistaken, pulsating.

Ozone filled his nostrils. The edge of reality blinked out and he found himself lying on a forest floor next to a monolith. Beside him Yish lay groaning.

“What just happened?” He spoke to an empty wood. The words barely a whisper.

“Elder portal Naz,” Yish was groggy. We passed through a reality field.

“Naturally.”

She tried not to smirk. “It’s an interrogation wall created to stop the enemy just dropping through unannounced. None of it was real.”

“It felt real.”

“I know.”

The dwarf rested against a tree stump. In his hand lay the purest blue gem he’d ever seen. To one side a witchwood staff lay with a carving of a sleeping beast.

“Naz.”

“Yes.”

”Where did you get that?”

“From an imaginary dragon that was a carving of an owl on that staff wielded by a madman. He said it was a Dragon Stone.”

“The Sapphire,” Yish knelt to look at it. That means….”

April 28, 2023 16:40

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