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Curse Breaker: Enchanted
(The More Epic Version)
Unnatural, shrieked his magic seconds before an invisible fist punched Sarn. Struck from behind, he tripped on the uneven ground. Sarn bounced off one of those damned statues—they were everywhere—and its marble arm slammed into his chest.
What’s unnatural? Pressing a hand to his aching brow, Sarn wobbled when his head map pushed outward, exploding from a two-dimensional, icon-rich line drawing into a three-dimensional wire frame. What just happened—some sort of backlash?
A sea of non-magical humanity shuffled past jostling him. Had they felt it too?
Sarn stuck out a hand to orient himself. His fingers dug into a high relief setting of some historical event. Information slammed into him, providing the tonnage, context, type of stone, etc. None of those details were useful. Wizards, blizzards, and bloody damned gizzards—where were his gloves? Not here, damn he’d lost another pair. Sarn cursed and stuffed his hands into his pockets, shutting off the flow.
Let us out! Fiery green hands pushed on his closed lids, opening his eyes. A slice of white marble slashed across the emerald glow wreathing his sight.
No! Sarn squeezed his eyes closed, penning the magic. Was he fast enough? Had any light leaked out? Tension pulled on him, turning him into a bowstring. If anyone had seen, he was a dead mage walking.
Voices merged, rising into an echoing din, leaving him out of the conversation. Had they seen? Did they know?
More magic welled up, hot and ready for the shot. Bowing his head, Sarn pulled his cloak about him and elbowed past a knot of dawdlers before he lost control again.
His shoulder struck something hard, a sculpture perhaps, judging by the shape of the wire-framed heap. The former occupants of this place had a peculiar sense of design and no regard for anyone hurrying through the miles of dressed stone.
Edged around a tentacular bust, Sarn slipped into a side passage hooking off the North-South transept. The sudden shift in perspective screwed with his balance, and he wavered until the visuals projected onto the backs of his eyelids stabilized. Magic rooted in his memory, tiling a replica of the ornate arcade.
The Litherians had folded rock imitating paper’s crisp folds and silk’s graceful drape while sculpting a city inside a mountain. Then they’d wrapped five continuous balconies around the mountain adding extra space for their statuary obsession.
What had he sensed? He bypassed thick columns supporting the veranda above and stepped over raised vegetable patches with care. Their young shoots might become part of his breakfast one day.
Footsteps, out of sync with his quiet tread accompanied a new icon flaring on his map. Someone was coming and quickly too. Down was his best option for escape. Stepping up onto the coping, Sarn slammed his palms down on the intricate carvings and threw his legs over the balustrade. Magic raced around his body, sheathing him in cold purpose as he plummeted several stories.
He landed in a crouch on a stone bench on the balcony below. His magic forced the seat under his boots to flex, absorbing the energy from his fall. Where was the wrongness his magic had sensed?
An arrow flashed on his map, pointing forward. The day’s final rays called to him. Sensing no one around, he opened his eyes, and a torrent of emerald light washed over everything. Sarn blinked at the flagstones under his worn boots until the three-dimensional rendering shattered and the ground lost its polygonal afterimage.
A red orb bled onto the serrated horizon. The putrid odor of decomposition wrenched his guts. Darkness rippled through the enchanted forest, where a silent army of trees crouched. Had something happened in there?
He extended his sixth sense sending it diving into that black tangle, seeking an answer. A warning sounded in his head a second before an arm collided with his throat, bending as it met his vocal chords. A second arm secured itself around his waist. The two limbs yanked him backward knocking Sarn off balance. He stumbled as he tried to regain his footing. Where had his attacker come from?
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Gregori growled in his ear resolving the whole identity question.
Since his captor should have deduced the answer for himself, Sarn let his struggle speak for him. He had several inches on his attacker, but the man-mountain had a bear’s strength and knew how to use it. Pressure to his throat cut off his air supply. Gregori could snap him in half if the ursine fool wished and nothing he did could stop the man.
“What were you thinking?” The muscular nuisance enunciated each word as if he spoke to an idiot.
Sarn’s knees jellied, and his sight dimmed. Before everything went black, his attacker let go. He staggered until a ham-sized fist pushed him down onto a nearby bench.
“Stop it. I didn’t squeeze you that hard, and besides, you aren’t fragile.” Gregori punctuated his understatement by attempting to ruffle Sarn’s hair. But the barrel-chested Ranger knocked his hood back exposing his bruised face instead.
“Who did this to you?”
Rising, Sarn eased out of Gregori’s grip and righted his hood. He bit down hard on the truth and swallowed it, tasting acid as it burned its way down to his already churning stomach. Complications made it better for all if he kept his mouth shut. He was Indentured after all and had no rights. Lest he forget, his clothes bore the name of his master, the Lord of the Mountain. It was stitched under a capital letter “I” slashing through a howling wolf in a gold circle on his right shoulder.
“Who did this to you?” Gregori demanded with more menace.
What could he say? Sarn glared at his fists, which bore no scratches because the first blow had hit hard and fast, knocking him out. Those jerks had stolen all the food he’d filched leaving him with a headache but no other wounds. In the bowels of the mountain, no one offered any mercy. They had seen his luminous eyes, yet chosen to let him live—why?
Gregori snapped his sausage fingers in front of Sarn’s face. “Pay attention boy. I asked a question, and you’re supposed to answer it.”
Sarn studied the carvings under his boots. Incised mid-writhe, insects, patterned the ground, offering neither answers nor solace. When he tried to put some space between them, the man-mountain stayed with him.
“You can tell me, or you can tell Jerlo, but you’re telling someone. Do you hear me, boy?”
The fortyish bruiser looked ready to plant himself in front of something in need of guarding. Nothing on the balcony required such protection.
“I turned twenty last November. I’m not a child.”
“Then don’t act like one.”
Sarn rolled his eyes. A unicorn statue with a broken horn gave him the stink eye. Even the statuary had an opinion tonight.
A ham-sized hand fished a black strip of cloth out of a pocket and handed it to Sarn. “Bind your eyes, so you don’t cause a panic and let’s go.”
The mobile mountain of muscle grunted and tied the cloth tighter, then Gregori seized his upper arm and towed Sarn away from the balcony. His head map sprang to the fore, but he constrained it to two dimensions this time.
A bell tolled twenty times, and Sarn cursed. Lateness was a whipping offense. The scars on his back itched. Did being in Gregori’s custody count as ‘on time’? A sullen green star poked at the blindfold. Would the muscle-bound Ranger vouch for him?
The tromping of Gregori’s boots underscored the quiet, giving it an ominous edge.
To be continued…
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