Of Thorn and Thread – Chanda Hahn

What’s that smell?” Harken asked, wrinkling his nose. “Relax. It’s just mold, mildew, and”—Velora closed her eyes and inhaled, breathing out the last word, savoring it—“magic.” “Magic has a smell?” Harken scratched his scruffy chin as he followed the others down the stone steps. The green mage light barely illuminated the eerie passageway. “Old magic does,” Velora said. Crammed together like fish in a barrel, they navigated the narrow tunnel, ducking under roots that protruded from the ceiling. Velora picked up her skirts and kept close to Aspen, Allemar’s apprentice. Harken missed a step, the heavy pack he carried causing him to pitch forward into Allemar. “This is the best you could do for acolytes?” Allemar ridiculed, rubbing his shoulder. Aspen looked upon his master who had only a few months ago regained a human form, his soul having been trapped within a spelled dagger and then transferred into the current body in front of him. The green-gold eyes that looked at him with disdain once belonged to a guard of the Undersea. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to his master’s new appearance. Aspen cleared his throat. “Harken and Dormir are the best bounty hunters.

They served me well.” “I suppose one mustn’t complain of a donkey if they don’t want to carry the burden themselves,” Allemar replied. As the five travelers carried on, the steps leveled out, and the passageway opened up to where they could stand shoulder to shoulder. “The smell of magic is growing stronger,” Velora said, her voice barely above a whisper. “What are we looking for again, and is it going to make me money?” Dormir asked. His hand brushed the knife clipped to his belt. “I’m tired of traveling all over this forsaken kingdom searching for some vault that’s probably already been looted. There better be gold inside.” Allemar turned to confront him. “What’s inside is far more valuable than gold.

It’s the key to bringing down the kingdom of Rya.” “No gold? Yeah, count me out,” Harken said, turning on his heel and heading back up the stairs. “I’ve got better things to do.” “Then by all means, don’t let me stop you,” Allemar sneered and flicked his wrist. Harken’s head turned with a crack and he slid to the floor. Without feeling or remorse, Allemar stepped over his still warm body. “Sweet dreams.” Velora, Aspen, and Dormir stilled, watching the sorcerer with wide, fear-filled eyes. “Anyone else care to share their unwanted opinions?” Allemar asked. Three heads shook simultaneously.

“I thought not,” Allemar said. Forging ahead through the cave, a ball of magic lit the way . until it stopped and circled in the air, flickering repeatedly. “It’s acting strange. Is it broken?” Velora asked. “No,” Allemar said, and his wicked smile grew wider. Velora cringed in response. “I found it.” He rubbed his hands together greedily. “Found what?” Dormir asked, not learning his lesson of his fellow hunter.

“A door. And behind it a curse that’s been bound for nigh twenty years, growing in power and potency.” Allemar clapped his hands, and the light flickered once . twice . before growing in size and illuminating the whole underground cave, revealing the long, twisted roots of the never trees. From above, the heart of the fae court stretched from the dirt roof and intertwined with each other, reaching down to the ground creating a crooked archway. Between the arch was an iron door covered in symbols and a language long forgotten. Allemar muttered under his breath and ran his hands along the door, brushing off dirt to reveal more symbols and sigils. With a spelled word, he trailed his finger over the door and sigils glowed faintly before disappearing again. “What does it say?” Velora whispered to Aspen.

“It’s a warning.” Aspen pointed to the symbol nearest Allemar. “To anyone who opens the door. It promises death and destruction.” Velora rubbed her hands up and down her arms and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Allemar mumbled to himself. “Finally, I will break free that which you have bound.” His hands glowed, light bursting from his fingertips as he placed them over each one of the magic locks. Rays of green light shot from the symbols, washing over the underground cavern, creating a sickly underwater illusion. Allemar continued to chant, his face a mask of pain.

His arms trembled under the strain, his voice rising to a crescendo. First, the tremor was barely perceivable. A mere shake, but then the earth rolled over, and the quake grew. Dust fell from the ceiling, the sketchy path beneath their feet rose as the rocks pushed forth from the ground and sinkholes opened. It was as if the earth belched out its displeasure at the dark magic being poured into it. Aspen pulled Velora away to safety as the door continued to glow green. The pleasant aroma of magic was dispelled by the sulfurous amount of dark magic being used. “It’s not enough,” Aspen whispered. Allemar shot an ugly glare over his shoulder. “It will be.

” With renewed determination, Allemar returned his focus on breaking down the magical barriers. With each lock he broke, there was a repercussion in nature. “Look!” Velora pointed as water poured down in rivulets from an underground cistern above their head. “Should we run?” she asked, as it soaked their feet. “If you do, he’ll kill you.” Aspen’s grip tightened on Velora in a silent warning. “Stay.” Allemar screamed. A surge of power erupted, blasting through the final magical lock, and knocking everyone from their feet and into the muddy cavern. The door hung, broken on its hinge, and it swung outward with an ominous creak.

Within the darkness, something moved and slithered about. The creaking and churning followed by an almost human groan. Allemar got to his feet, wiping his muddy hands on his cloak. He peered into the darkness and whispered. “You’re free. Go. Do what you were born to do before you were so unjustly bound.” The creaking stilled, the curse listening to the words of the sorcerer. Dormir groaned as he sat up. Using his palms, he wiped at the mud coating his eyes, and he heard the slithering noise.

“What the—?” Dormir looked up at the broken door. Vines shot out of the doorway, wrapped around Dormir’s leg, and dragged him screaming into the darkness. “Can we run now?” Velora asked, her body tense. A thick fog poured out of the doorway, spilling into the cavern. Behind it, crackling thorn branches sprouted from within, growing and reaching for them. Aspen nodded. “Run.” He released her arm, and they began running back up the way they came. Slipping and sliding in the mud, the steps almost washed away. Allemar laughed deliriously.

“Yes, go! You’re free.” A slippery thorn branch inched closer to Allemar’s leg, and the sorcerer blasted it, turning it to ash. The rest of the prickly vines retreated and instead found a path around him, growing, and sprouting over his head. They followed the rooted archways that grew and spread— an infectious disease killing everything in its way. Allemar spoke aloud. “Now, I will have my revenge.”

.

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