Graphic credit: Hayley Boothe
“This is it, Ephraim. You take the lead,” the teacher, Roald, says, his voice echoing into the empty cavern. “The Moonstone is tucked away up ahead. Remember to be vigilant, though. We’ve already gone over what creatures you should expect.”
Extinguishing the light in his hand, Roald reaches back and grabs Ephraim’s arm. Taking the apprentice’s hand, the teacher closes it around the smooth, hard surface. The darkness lending to Ephraim’s heightened senses makes it easy to distinguish the item as a well-cut gemstone. His heart begins to beat against the inside of his chest as the reality of the impending task begins to set in.
As a recent graduate of the studies of magic in the Gemkith College of the Telikos Nation, Ephraim has learned all that he can from books and scrolls about using Gem Magic. While technically a graduate, he is still a student as he finishes his apprenticeship under Roald. The elusive stone in this cave will be a great first test for the new graduate.
I’ve known this time was coming, but now that it is here, I don’t know if I’m ready, he thinks. The thoughts have to be pushed aside as his teacher continues.
“Extracting the essence of Opal will make it a source of light. Remember your lessons, focus on its essence, and draw it out.”
Ephraim clutches the gem tightly and silences his nerves as he closes his eyes to concentrate. He pauses, allowing his mind to go deep into the center of the gem as he searches for the source of its energy. Seconds seem like minutes and the only thing holding him in reality is the intermittent splash of water dripping from the ceiling into a pool of water nearby.
“Found it,” he whispers, excitedly.
“Good, now draw it out. Remember not to force it out. Rather, tempt it into leaving the stone.”
As Ephraim persuades the stone’s essence to leave its locality, a light slowly begins to glimmer through the cracks in his fingers.
“There it is. Now give it a little push,” the mentor says.
Ephraim concentrates a little harder and the light begins to shine bright. He opens his hand and his delighted expression becomes illuminated.
“Now give it some direction and push it a little more,” the teacher explains. The euphoric feeling of accomplishment beginning to overwhelm him, extinguishes quickly as his mentor brings his focus back to reality.
Ephraim holds the gem above his head, magically causing the light to split behind them and draws the sides of the light in front of them into a cone-shaped directional beam.
“Your progress is exceptional, Ephraim. Let’s continue.”
The student hides a grin as he steps forward to take the lead. While continuing toward their destination, Ephraim grows more concerned about the task ahead. “Teacher, tell me again about these imps I will be fighting.”
“You are a graduate, Ephraim. You don’t have to address me as your teacher any longer. Call me by my name please.”
The younger mage acknowledges his request with a nod.
“As to your query, the imps are cave-dwelling creatures that command different forces of nature. The creatures that inhabit this cave will likely be lightning imps. They are nimble creatures, and their ability to fly makes them a hard target. Wide-arc, ranged spells will work best against them.”
Ephraim’s brow furls while he makes mental notes of his teacher’s answer as the two duck into a narrow passage in the cave.
“While battling these creatures, you must remember to keep focused on your task,” Roald continues. “If you feel you are losing the fight, look for an escape first, and look for a route that allows you to grab your objective on your way out second. Don’t take long though, because you will most certainly have the surviving creatures in tow.”
A drop of water falls onto Ephraim’s cheek as they are walking through the tunnel. He wipes the cool water from his face and notices another light ahead through an opening at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re close now. Put your Opal away. We want to have the element of surprise on our side,” Roald explains. “We should have ample light from here forward.”
They squat near the end of the tunnel and Ephraim pulls up his silky blue robes to keep them from sitting on the dirty cavern floor before placing his gem back into his pouch.
“Tea…” Ephraim stops himself from using his mentor’s title. “Roald, I don’t understand why we wear our best garments on a quest into a filthy cavern. It’s going to take me forever to get the dirt out.”
Roald turns a stern gaze on his pupil. Has he learned nothing at the College? He answers matter-of-factly, “Your attire speaks directly of you, Ephraim. If you were to dress in rags and ran across enemies, they would think you were an easy target. We wear our best apparel to give the impression that we can afford the best gems, which detours most lowly bandits.”
Ephraim nods, doing the best he can to hide his nervousness. He looks around the corner of the tunnel wall into a large, open space with a healthy amount of sunlight shining in through an opening in the elevated ceiling. Across the room, a slanted wall has formed a natural shelf for a shiny, white gem that couldn’t have been better placed if it were intentional. The light filtering in reflects an array of dazzling colors through it.
“It looks like I found the Moonstone, but I don’t see any imps.”
Roald pauses and runs his index finger and thumb down both sides of his jawline as he thinks. The black, and occasionally grey, hairs in his finely-trimmed beard bristle against his fingers. Technically he’s supposed to stay within the four elemental gems, but if I don’t break that rule, I’ll have to assist him in this test. He has shown some talent though…
“Do you have a Spinel?” The teacher asks. Ephraim turns away to hide a look of confusion as he digs through his satchel and finds the small, peach-colored stone.
“Yes. Buuuut, what does it do again?”
“Use it and find out.”
“But I thought I was only supposed to…”
“I know. Just use it,” Roald interrupts.
Ephraim closes his eyes and begins searching for the gem’s essence remembering his method on the Opal. He understands immediately why these stones are reserved for more advanced students as he almost feels lost in the stone, his thoughts wandering. After a few moments he feels a tingle on his face and opens his eyes to a whole new sight. The walls seem to blur and his sight is the only one of his senses that doesn’t fade. The young mage is startled when he looks at Roald and notices a glowing aura around his teacher.
“The life-detecting gem,” Roald says with a voice that sounds distant and muffled. “It is a true treasure for Gemkith that like to hunt in dense forests for wildlife. Take a second to look around the room and see if you notice anything new.”
The dreamy haze is almost dizzying as it causes the walls to wave slightly while he looks around. Suddenly he notices two similar auras floating on the other side of a cavern wall off to the side that lies between him and the Moonstone. The loud thump in his ears is almost deafening as his heart begins to race once more. “Roald, I have only studied battle magic. I don’t know if I…”
“The highest importance of spell casting is confidence.” Roald interrupts again. “In the heat of battle you don’t have time to doubt or think about your next action. You have to react to the situation as it arises.”
The guide pulls a light purple stone from his pouch as he steps into the room. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you,” he says as he begins to fade away. “I won’t let you die. Now get out there and retrieve that stone.” He vanishes leaving only the sound of his footsteps.
He won’t let me die. Well that’s a relief, Ephraim thinks sarcastically. “I wish I could just use Alexandrite too. It would make this a lot easier.”
“In time, my young apprentice. You need to be able to use the Magestones before moving into Wizardstones. They are much harder to understand and communicate with. Now, which spell class are you going to attack with?”
Ephraim puts his Spinel away and crosses his arms thoughtfully for a moment before issuing an answer.
“Wind has a high arc attack spell.”
“But we are in a cavern where wind is relatively scarce. What is the most abundant resource in here?” Roald asks.
Ephraim thinks, and thinks… and thinks, the task ahead of him harming his focus. His guide taps his foot on the stone, but the hint goes unnoticed by the apprentice.
“Look under your feet, dear boy,” Roald says in as much of a shout as he dares.
Ephraim’s eyes widen as he looks down, finally coming to the correct answer.
“Earth…” He smiles gleefully as he quickly reaches into his pouch to find a Peridot. He clinches it with his eyes closed for a moment to gather all of his courage, then begins walking into the room as he reopens them.
“Hold one moment.” Roald’s command causes Ephraim to slide to a halt, the shuffle echoing in the quiet room. “You have your offensive stone, but what will you block their attacks with?”
The invisible tutor continues as the apprentice’s glazed look betrays his understanding. “You need to be able to put up a barrier as well, so grab an Amethyst in your other hand.”
Ephraim grabs the gem from his pouch. He hesitates for a moment as he thinks about how he can use the new stone in this battle. With a glance back to where he’s heard his tutor, he starts making his way toward the winged creatures. After stopping behind the wall the imps are behind, he takes a deep breath and looks down at the Peridot in his hand.
“Confidence,” he whispers.
His body tingles as the excitement and fear (but mostly fear) of battle sets in. The nervous heat of his cheeks begins radiating as a rogue bead of cold sweat runs down his brow. At this proximity, the apprentice can begin to hear the vermins’ movements.
One of the imps begins sniffing as if it knows that someone else is there before letting out a low, gurgled growl. Ephraim realizes that he is about to lose the edge of surprise so he looks around the room quickly for a projectile for his first attack. His eyes come to a stop as he notices stalagmite with a thin base sitting a few feet away from him. He clinches the Peridot and as he begins to use its essence, a green light begins shining through his fist and out of his eyes, the magnitude of the emanation matching that of the determination set in the fleshy orbs.
The large rock snaps as it lifts off of the ground and he spins around the wall toward the imps. Green light trails like a mist with the swing of his arm as the rock follows the movement and smashes one of the imps into the wall. The other foul creature whips its wings downward, launching it into the air.
“Screeeeee!” It shouts as it throws a ball of lightning at Ephraim. The sphere of electricity gets within inches of his face, and he lifts his other arm to block the attack with a force field. While the block stops the spark from hitting him, the force from the blast launches him across the room into the opposing wall in the cavern.
“Ugh!” His grunt echoes loudly in the chamber as a bolt of pain shoots up his spine. He shakes his head letting the spare strands of brown hair that escaped his low ponytail whip around his face and slide over his angered expression as he looks up to see the monster approaching quickly. With a quick dive he is out of the line of the Kamikaze dive of the imp.
The Mage uses the manifestation essence of the Amethyst to project a ghostly image of himself where he once stood. The trick is successful and the imp runs straight through the ghost and into the wall behind it. While still aloft, Ephraim swings the arm holding the Peridot to break off a stalactite above the imp and brings it crashing down as he lands simultaneously. Dust from the smashing rocks billows out and soon after the imp comes flying through the cloud at him.
He doesn’t have time to react, allowing the imp the opportunity to sink its sharp teeth into the top of his shoulder. He lets out a deafening wail as the piercing pain shoots through him. Throwing his hand with the Peridot up, he brings a large chunk of rock from the floor smashing into the creature and forcing it to release its hold on him. Just as the rock is about to crash into the ceiling, though, the imp flies out from behind it and its path is quickly redirected back into an attack.
“You are swinging blindly, Ephraim.” Roald’s voice surprises his apprentice, causing him to glance around. “Remember to stay on defense and wait for the right moment to attack.”
Ephraim steps out of the way as the beast swoops past him. Quickly, the imp circles around for another attack.
Defense. Wait for the opportunity. Ephraim looks through the strands of his hair with angered determination as he lights up his Amethyst to create a dozen ghostly copies of himself. He and his images scatter in different directions, causing the imp to pause. It takes a moment to look around, lets out a furious scream, and curls up into a ball. Bolts of electricity swirl around the creature like fingers reaching into the cavern before concentrating into a ball around the beast. Suddenly, the imp throws its body open and a large surge of electrical energy bursts into the room. All of the ghostly images evaporate and Ephraim is thrown to the ground. The creature has to land to gather its energy for the next attack, which leaves time for Ephraim to stand and gather his wits.
“I’ve had enough of this!” Ephraim shouts.
A fierce green light emanates from his eyes and the jewel in his hand again. Suddenly, smashed rock from different places in his vicinity gathers around him before forming on him like armor. The imp sees its impending danger and is back in the air again with a flap of its wings. Its energy hasn’t recovered enough for a lightning attack so it begins flying toward the young mage for a physical assault, its basic intellect not grasping the physics of the protection the armor affords. Ephraim waits for the creature to get close before throwing all of his strength into a jumping uppercut. Using magic to magnify the momentum of his swing, the shot lands on the imp and sends it flying into a stalactite on the cavern ceiling, impaling it on impact.
The victorious mage lands and lets the essence of the Peridot fade, causing the stone armor to fall off of him. He bats his eyes when the exhaustion of the fight begins to set in as the adrenaline dissipates in his system.
“Well done, Ephraim,” his instructor states plainly as he becomes visible again.
The look of solemn pride in his eyes softens the pain Ephraim is masking. Roald isn’t smiling, but there is a definite gleam in his eye. Not wanting his student’s head to grow too large, the teacher goes on, “Let’s take this Moonstone to be cut into a usable gem.”
As Roald steps past him, Ephraim puts the Amethyst into his pouch, but stops before putting in the Peridot as he feels something odd about it. He opens his hand in time to see the green gem turn into sparkling dust and fall through his fingers.
“It appears that you got all of the essence from that gem. You were fortunate that it ran out after the fight.” Roald clasps his pupil’s shoulder causing him to wince in pain.
The teacher grins unapologetically as he holds a Peridot in an open hand toward the Moonstone. The white gem breaks out of the rock wall and flies into his hand. They turn and make their way back out of the cave, and Ephraim can’t help but smile as he thinks of how his mission was a success.
Ephraim holds his hand at his brow as they walk back out into the open field, the light from the sun stinging his darkness-adapted eyes. When the two get back onto the road, the ache of the student’s weary body begins to heighten, causing him to lightly limp as Roald begins explaining their course.
“We will travel to Limone. There is a Lapidarist there that will give us the best cut to get the most out of the essence out of this Moonstone.”
Ephraim looks at Roald in confusion. “Wouldn’t we get more out of the stone if we didn’t cut it? Doesn’t cutting the stone make it lose some of its essence?”
Roald lightly shakes his head before responding, his gaze on the road ahead. “Think of the gem’s essence as its soul, for lack of a better word. If you cut off your finger, do you lose a part of your soul? The essence is the gem’s being. That’s why when you used up the essence from the Peridot, it crumbled into dust. The cut just helps us focus on that essence,” he explains before turning a wry eye on him. “You must have forgotten this from class.”
“I learn better from experience,” Ephraim responds quickly to mask his embarrassment. “I can be taught something from a book, but until I see it in the outside world, it doesn’t become… real to me.”
“Well then, we need to keep you in these training quests as much as we can.” Roald looks back down the road as he finishes his sentence, noticing a horse-drawn carriage coming in their direction. Ephraim begins to feel worried as he sees his mentor straining his eyes to investigate the oncoming group… but his heart sinks when Roald’s eyes go wide.
“Just as I feared. Ephraim, step off of the road quickly.” The teacher pushes his student to the side of the road, just a few yards away.
“What’s wrong, Roald?”
“That is a caravan from the Viento Empire.” Roald notices Ephraim’s vacant stare, but can’t tell if it is from nerves rendering him incapable of comprehension or lack of attentiveness in class; he suspects the latter. “Another detail you missed in class, I suppose. They are the gypsy tribe from the south. Since they are wanderers, constantly blowing from one location to the next, they favor wind stones, which can be a hard magic to combat. They are crafty charmers, Ephraim, so they like to use stones that control your emotions as well. If they can gain control of your emotions, they can get you to trust them, or even blindly serve them. Even with only trust on their side, they can rob you blind and be gone before the enchantment wears off.”
Ephraim blinks for a moment, stunned and unable to find the words to accurately convey his inquiry. Whether from exhaustion or fear, he is unsure. “How do you fight control over your emotions?” He finally asks.
“There is no Stone Magic that can block those abilities; it is all in the power of your will. The best way to keep from falling under their spell is to not look into their eyes. It’s a lot harder for their magic to work on someone who isn’t giving them their full attention. As they get closer, you will need to keep your hand on your pouch, so they can’t snatch it away, and your eyes straight ahead of you. Now keep quiet, they are almost upon us.”
As the cart gets closer, the squeak of the wagon wheel taunts Ephraim and the allure of the legendary beauty of the gypsies makes it hard to continue to look away. As if an undeniable magnetic force is drawing him to the cart, a wave of seductive power washes over him, pressing down on his will to the breaking point. His curiosity gets the better of him and he glances up to see a beautiful young woman riding on the cart. Her fine garments set her apart from her raggedly dressed, albeit colorful, companions. Her loose fitting apparel and thin sashes drift behind her majestically, tantalizingly in the wind.
Ephraim can’t make himself look away as her magnetism grows increasingly stronger. She looks over to him and their eyes meet. His peripheral vision begins to blur, his skin goes cold, his heart races, and he soon finds that he can only focus on her gaze. Time seems to slow as the caravan rolls by, but the eye contact is eventually broken as Roald’s lowered head passes between them. The bewildered student shakes his head, which causes the teacher to look up at him. The guide considers him curiously for a moments before realizing the head shake’s connotation. He quickly looks down to his pupil’s hip and Ephraim’s eyes follow.
“You didn’t keep your hand on your pouch, you fool!”
They quickly look back to see a gypsy hopping back into the traveling cart carrying Ephraim’s stone pouch. The student’s face flushes in embarrassment.
“She used a concentration spell to keep you in a trance while her lackey grabbed your gems.” Roald breaks off into a sprint with Ephraim close behind. “You have some field experience with Peridot, so use this,” he says as he tosses a stone to his apprentice in stride.
“They’re coming. Yah!” The wagon driver shouts as he whips the reins of the horse after noticing the two magisters advancing toward them.
Ephraim stops and throws up his arm with the Peridot, a look of renewed determination replacing that of exhaustion on his face. The sudden rush of adrenaline purges the pain of the last fight from his body as it courses through his veins once more. Suddenly, a large mass of earth rises in front of the nomads causing their horses to stop abruptly, pawing at the air and whinnying.
“Gah, they blocked the way. We’ll have to kill them!” the gypsy that charmed Ephraim yells. The nomads jump out of the cart and begin rushing toward the two mages.
“Here they come, Ephraim! They keep their gems in anklets, so watch their feet!” Roald calls back as his student begins to give chase once more.
As the young female rushes toward Ephraim, a light trails mystically behind the gems in her anklet. The yellow glow twirls behind her, looking almost like a mist as she leaps into the air. With a twist of her body she spins a kick around and a blade of wind blasts into Ephraim. His hair whips in front of him as he is thrown back into some bushes in the nearby wilderness.
The gypsy turns her attention on Roald and notices him preparing an attack. “Get the wizard,” she shouts as she begins rushing toward him. Roald swings his arm in a semi-circle over his head releasing stones in an arc above him. One of the gems, a White Moonstone, begins radiating and the world comes to an abrupt stop around him. His time-slowing spell causes the gypsies to run so slowly that it appears as if they aren’t moving, and the stones seem to float over his head. He looks at the approaching nomad as a look of grim satisfaction sneaks onto his face. A rainbow of colors begins to shine from his eyes as the gems over his head begin to glow in unison. He closes his hand and a flame engulfs it as he breaks into a dash.
He moves swiftly as the Quartz nullifies the wear age has left on his body and gives him super-human physical qualities. A fiery punch causes the first male nomad to go flying into his wagon at regular speed to Roald while soaring at super-speed to the time-slowed gypsies. The carriage explodes in a ball of flame, causing pieces to go flying in all directions. Roald catches one of the wagon’s wheels as it floats by, and with a quick spin, launches it toward the drifter that snatched Ephraim’s gems. He uses the wind power of his Citrine to give the wheel a boost to maximize its speed. As the wheel crashes into the thief, he flies backward and releases Ephraim’s pouch. After a shallow attempt to fight back his laughter, Roald holds his hand out and uses his Apatite to telekinetically carry the bag back to him.
The wizard glances back to the female gypsy as he walks back to where his gems are floating in place, her face wearing the same determination that he left her with. Standing beneath the gems, he makes a quick overhead swing of his arm and retrieves all of his stones. He places all of them but a Peridot back in his pouch as he looks back to the gypsy once more. With a flick of his wrist and an extended finger, he raises a pillar of earth inches in front of her face. He raises his arm in the air and snaps, causing time to return to normal.
Her speed returning, the gypsy plows into the pillar and falls onto her back with a grunt. She sits up quickly, her eyes widening as she stares at the mage. She opens her mouth to speak but is quickly silenced as Roald makes the earth beneath her encase her hands and feet with the Peridot that remains in his hand.
With time’s movement returning to normal, Ephraim pops out of the bushes with stones in hand and ready for action. As he begins to look around dazed, the green light emitting from his eyes dissipates. Roald smiles a bit pretentiously back at his pupil as he drops his stones into his pouch. The student shakes his head in disbelief, his mouth agape.
“How… All I heard was an explosion!”
“That is why we have three semesters of lessons on Moonstone. Time Magic can be a powerful weapon,” the teacher explains smiling.
“So I can do that with that Moonstone we just got from the imps?”
“First of all, it’s only White Moonstone that has time essence. Secondly, it’s expensive, and you’re not ready to use it properly, so you’ll get a stone when you have more time to train with it.” Roald begins walking down the road. “Come, before we are met with more trouble.”
Ephraim looks around the battlefield once more, not completely able to comprehend what took place there before rushing to catch up with his mentor. As the pair begins traveling back down the road toward the city, smoke from the smoldering cart pours into the colorful, dusk sky. The trapped gypsy tugs defiantly with her hands and feet, stubbornly trying to free them before she spits on the ground. She knows she’ll need to be patient as she waits for the trapping spell to wear off.
“Don’t think this is over, Mage,” she hisses through her gritted teeth. “You’ll see me again.”
If you liked this story, you can find more like it and follow Shawn’s progress by liking his Facebook page:
Please let us know what you thought about the story. What was your favorite part? Would you like to see more fiction like this on the site?
You might also like
Some of my favorite characters have often been those who struggle with who they are meant to be and are either unwilling or reluctant to embrace the destiny that is thrust upon them. These characters are known as reluctant heroes, whom I believe [...]
With Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, your GUG book reviewers have compiled a list of great reads to finish off 2018. Each contributor has narrowed the extremely lengthy list down to the three books or series they most enjoyed reading [...]
Andrew Borck When I was a kid, my parents let me get some Spider-Man comics. One of the first ones was an issue where a fat, nerdy kid with glasses re-fashions his Doc Ock mechanical arms so he can be Spider-Kid. Talk about seeing yourself on the page! [...]