On Christmas Eve, the magic stirs
The second starts, where ends the first
Sword and wand, fiends and friends
High-Wizard rise, the Hunt begins
What a wonderful gift to see that so many fans like our Facebook page! As promised, we want to give you all a gift as well.
But first, we want to thank each and every one of you for helping us reach so many milestones.
Because you’re talking so much about “The Wand-Maker’s Debate”, we have achieved the rank of a #1 best seller on Amazon.com. You all worked hard to help our facebook page get over one hundred fans, and Jack has over 4,500 followers on Twitter! If it wasn’t for the support of our loyal readers, none of this could have happened. Thank you so very much.
As promised, to thank everyone who has helped Osric’s tale reach so many readers, we want to share the first chapter of “The High-Wizards Hunt”. We are only a couple months away from publishing, but it has yet to see an editor, so please understand that you may find a few mistakes. Regardless, we think you deserve a sneak peek!
Buckle up and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. Here it is, the first chapter of “Osric’s Wand: The High-Wizard’s Hunt”...
The High-Wizard’s Hunt
Book Two of the Osric’s Wand Series
Jack D. Albrecht Jr
Copyright 2012 Jack D. Albrecht Jr. and Ashley Delay
Thom gingerly rubbed his sore, swollen jaw as he paced back and forth in the cell. He glared angrily at the other men who occupied the space. It had been a while since they had heard any activity from the other side of the door, and he was growing anxious. Aron grumbled at him sternly to sit down, but his desire to mangle Osric for punching him and locking them in the cell was too great for him to sit idle. Thom mumbled under his breath.
“I’d love to tear that dragon lover limb from limb.” He spun quickly and charged the door with his shoulder. He hit hard, and to his surprise the door gave way, sprawling him unceremoniously on the floor of the volcano. He looked back at his companions and grinned at their slack-jawed expressions, surprised that Osric’s men had unbarred the door rather than leave them to starve in the cage. Thom scrambled to his feet as Aron began issuing orders.
“Search the area, quickly and silently, and find me a weapon! Those traitors may still be close.” The men rushed to get up and out of the cell. Although it may have been built to contain a dragon, the chamber had felt very small to the men locked within.
Thom was fairly certain that Osric had found the cache of dwarven swords, but since there was a chance they sat undiscovered at the end of a hidden tunnel, he headed straight for the kitchen. As he passed through the open archway, he slowed and listened carefully, wary of encountering any guard Osric may have left behind while he was still unarmed. Thom could hear movement behind him, but he was only interested in finding a weapon, so he moved deeper into the kitchen. There was a dead lamb on the butcher block in the center of the room, the butchering abandoned when Osric and his friends had attacked. A faint scent of decay was beginning to permeate the air. Thom crept along the wall, staying close to the stone and keeping his eyes open. He reached the far corner without seeing any movement and began to relax. It seemed that Osric had not left anyone to guard the volcano after all.
Thom stopped, ripping a dingy tapestry off of the wall to reveal a wide passageway. He ran swiftly down the stone corridor and slid to a stop in an open, empty chamber. Thom spun around and growled in rage, stalking back to the kitchen. He intended to scour every inch of the volcano for a weapon, and if he couldn’t find one, he would go outside and find a sharp stick. One way or another, he was determined to hunt down Osric personally and see his head on a spike.
Thom left the kitchen, all thought of stealth and suspicion gone from his head, and ran to the stairs leading up to the sleeping chambers. As he raced along the ledge that clung to the side of the volcano, he kicked a loose stone as hard as he could. It narrowly missed the head of an irua guard coming out of one of the rooms, ricocheted off of the wall, and then clattered to the floor near the guard tower in the center of the open room. The guard quickly ducked back inside the room to avoid being pushed off of the ledge as Thom careened past him. Thom ran into one of the last chambers in the row and stopped suddenly.
There was a slight odor of lavender lingering in his quarters, and it brought to mind the beautiful woman traveling with Osric. She must have been in his room while he was locked in the cage with the other guards, probably sitting on his sleeping pallet, and the thought of the intrusion sent rage coursing through Thom’s body. After Thom had crushed the key to the dragon cages, Osric had punched him, resulting in what felt like a broken jaw. He had regained consciousness to the sound of that woman’s voice echoing above him, and her words still rang in his ears, “You are the most powerful wizard who ever lived.” Thom had no idea what made her think that Osric was so powerful, but he intended to prove her wrong. He glared around the chamber and kicked the small table near the bed. Wood cracked and splintered, and the noise calmed Thom down a bit. He would have preferred that the sound had been made by the skulls of the men who had locked them in that cell, but the wood would have to suffice until he could track them down.
Thom flipped his sleeping pallet up and the rage returned. Osric’s men had taken his dragonbone wand, and they had even found the spare sword he kept under his pallet. The knife that had been secured to the bottom of the table was nowhere to be seen, either. Thom left the room and ran down the stairs to find Aron.
He found the gruff looking man who had been his supervisor and mentor for nearly six years sitting on a chair in the kitchen. One of the guards was cleaning the angry wound from an eagle claw on his arm. The injury had festered overnight, and sweat broke out on Aron’s brow as he watched with a grimace while the guard wiped pus and blood from the gash. Even if they could find a weapon, Thom was not sure if Aron could wield one.
“Wipe that worried, girlish look off your face. I can swing steel just as well with my other arm. Did you find me a weapon?” Thom glared at Aron but bit back a retort out of respect.
“No, Osric and his cursed, misfit friends cleaned this place out. All of my gear is gone, and they found the dwarven swords, too.” Thom tore a strip of cloth from the hem of his tunic and handed it to the guard to wrap up Aron’s arm. “I will go out and gather some wood for a fire, and then at least we can make some spears.”
“Blast!” Aron punched the irua guard in the throat and loosened the bandage, cradling his arm to his chest. “That’s too tight, you idiot.” He pointed with his good arm at the other guards standing around. “You four, go with him. I want a hot meal and some sharp sticks by mid’day!”
Thom walked out of the volcano fuming with anger at Osric. Not only had he freed the dragons, isolating everyone on Archana from rapid travel, but he had taken all of Thom’s gear and weapons. Just as the thought about the dragons being free crossed his mind, a great sweeping shadow passed over him and Thom dove to the side behind the massive tree near the entrance. The other four guards who had been just behind him scurried back into the volcano. Thom crouched behind the tree, expecting a blast of fire to envelop him at any moment, and scanned the sky. He watched the massive, golden-brown beast soar up and away from him, and he recognized the dragon that had stood guard at the entrance for as long as he had been stationed at the volcano.
“Stargon. Blast that wicked creature! He will toy with me like a cat with a mouse.” Thom cursed the dragon under his breath and began breaking the lowest limbs from the tree and hurling them toward the volcano’s entrance. He kept his eyes on the open sky as much as he could while he worked, and when he had a sufficient pile of wood between himself and the opening to the volcano, he called out to the other guards. “Gather it quickly and get back inside. The beast is gone for the moment, and I have no intention of being eaten today.” He grabbed several more long, straight limbs and rushed for the entrance, leaping the pile of firewood and nearly colliding with another guard as he emerged tentatively, gazing up at the sky. Thom kicked the careless man for blocking his escape as he dodged past him and dashed back inside the volcano.
The men were able to gather the wood without incident, but the close encounter had them all considering the possibility that they were trapped at the volcano with few supplies and an unknown number of vicious dragons nearby waiting to make meals out of them. The air was thick with tension and unspoken fear as they built a fire in the pit just inside the entrance and began hardening and sharpening long limbs into makeshift spears in the flames. Thom addressed Aron with venom in his tone.
“That nasty beast you kept at the door hasn’t left, and I am sure he has many friends nearby. How do you intend to get us out of here?” Aron stared at Thom with contempt but his voice was steady with authority.
“We will stick together and travel light. We have no supplies to weigh us down. Once we make it to the trees we will have sufficient cover, food and firewood. I am sure they will find easier prey than a group of well trained guards to fill their bellies with,” Aron replied. “We will have to move quickly, and I expect you all to keep up. A man alone will be easy to pick off, but together we can outsmart the stupid creatures. We should leave quickly so we can find water and shelter before nightfall.”
“Where exactly do you plan to go? We are in the middle of nowhere with no means of transportation or supplies. It will take us days to walk to the nearest hint of civilization!”
“First, we will make our way to the ruins. There is a man near there that may help us, assuming we can find him.” Aron replied, glaring at Thom’s insubordination.
Thom grumbled quietly as he went back to work on a spear, “That sounds promising.”
Aron stood and looked up the shaft of the volcano at the small patch of blue sky visible from where he stood as the men completed the last of the crude weapons. “We will need a distraction to make it to the forest,” he stated, glancing around at the guards. His gaze rested on the irua he had assaulted for hurting him while tending to his wounded arm. “Landin, you are the fastest and most nimble man here. You will scale the shaft and pull the dragons’ attention to you from the top of the volcano. I suggest you make a lot of noise, and then run for your life and try to make it to the trees before they get to you.”
The small, pale-skinned guard’s face blanched, but he merely nodded his head and started up the steps to the ledge that would provide him with the most likely route up the volcano shaft. His steps were heavy and methodical, as though he were accepting that he climbed to his death. Aron watched him find his first hand holds in the volcanic rock and then looked away calmly, ordering the other guards toward the entrance to prepare for a sprint to the tree line. The men stood anxiously inside the entrance, each feeling thankful that Aron had not ordered them to be the decoy, but also mourning the inevitable loss of their comrade. The chance that Landin could make it to safety was slim. It was much more likely that he would not even be able to buy them enough time to make it to the cover of the trees before he was snatched up by a dragon. Soon they heard Landin’s voice echo down the shaft and ring through the volcano.
“Aron, I loathe you! You worthless piece of dragon dung! How dare you send me up here to be eaten by these fire breathing behemoths! If I make it through this, I swear I will hunt you down and...Aaaghhh!” His voice faded as he took off running down the side of the volcano.
Aron grinned widely, “Good man, Landin. All right, gentlemen, let’s not allow his tirade to be in vain. Move!” Aron ran outside, gripping his spear and scanning the sky, while the other guards followed nervously. They ran swiftly while watching for a dragon attack, and they heard a short, distant cry from a dragon followed by a clipped scream just as they reached the trees. Thom glanced back and saw Stargon soar upward from behind the volcano with Landin’s limp body grasped in his claws. He cringed at the sight but rushed deeper into the trees before he could be spotted by another dragon.
The men walked as quickly and silently as they could, frequently glancing up at the sky through the small gaps in the trees as they traveled. Aron signalled a halt near a rock outcropping deep in the forest. The trees were thick and the canopy overhead was dense enough that no blue sky could be seen. He looked around at the fearful faces of the other six men with him. The gash on his arm throbbed terribly but he allowed no hint of pain into his expression. If any of them were going to get off the mountain, he would have to maintain his firm authority over the guards. “Thom, take three men with you and find some food and water. We will camp here and strike out as soon as the sun rises.” Aron planted the butt of his spear into the dirt at his feet and ordered the others to gather firewood. A fire could signal their location, but they would need the flames to ward off any other creatures that might be stalking about in the woods.
Thom and three others walked away from the designated camp while the other two guards began collecting wood from nearby. Thom told two of the men to find some berry bushes and the third to collect water.
“How am I supposed to collect water with nothing to carry it in?” Thom sneered at the man’s objection.
“You will just have to figure something out.”
As he walked deeper into the forest, Thom fashioned a snare from a sturdy vine and went in search of rabbit tracks. Normally he could catch a rabbit in a matter of minutes by casting a spell on the snare to lure the rabbit into its circle without triggering the animal’s instincts. However, Osric had taken his wand, so he would have to rely on his skills alone. Thom followed a trail until he came across tracks and some recent rabbit droppings. He found a low hanging branch that crossed a narrow part of the trail and tied the free end of the snare securely to it, leaving a noose dangling above the path. Stepping over to a nearby berry bush, he pulled off a few leaves, crushing them in his fist to make them more aromatic and then sprinkled them on either side of the snare. He hoped it wouldn’t be long before a rabbit wandered into his trap, but he pulled another length of vine from a nearby tree and continued up the path to set more snares while he waited.
Thom busied his hands with twisting vines into nooses, but his mind was distracted and occupied by thoughts of the attack at the volcano. So many things were bothering him about what Osric and his men had done that he could not focus on one of them long enough to figure it out. He knew that short devil, Machai, had much to do with their success in assaulting Aron’s crew. Somehow, they had obviously managed to woo the dragon guarding the door to their cause before they had even entered the volcano. Also, somehow they had made it to the volcano without being seen by any of the patrolling guards. The next part was what disturbed him so much. Thom had awoken with a pounding headache to find himself lying on the ground with his hands tied behind his back. He could not recall hearing the alarm signal from the guard tower, nor hearing any sounds of fighting. He couldn’t even remember being dragged from his sleeping quarters, but he had woken up on the main floor of the volcano. Based on how he had felt upon waking, he assumed he had either been drugged or spelled.
Thom thought back to the conversations he had taken part in with Aron and the other guards while they had been locked up in the Dragon cell. “Ridiculous!” Thom rambled to himself as he walked. “I have a hard time imagining what they described, never mind believing it. So, Aron was sitting at the table playing a game of bones with Shrad, and Asram was manning the guard tower. Eric had been standing guard just inside the entrance of the volcano, and four men had been out on patrol. Nothing unusual there. Had I not been sleeping, surely I would have seen it all coming and we wouldn’t be in this position. But, even with five of us asleep, no one should have been able to sneak into the volcano undetected,” Thom stopped to set another snare as he mulled over the events.
According to the unanimous recount by Aron, Shrad, and Asram, Osric and the others had just appeared out of thin air. “That idiot wouldn’t notice if the volcano erupted on his watch! Of course Asram said everything had been perfectly normal, and then all of a sudden, Osric was standing next to him in the guard tower. Why would he admit that he hadn’t been paying attention while standing guard? Sure he would say he only had enough time to sound the alarm and reach for his knife before Osric knocked him on the head. He wouldn’t want to admit his own incompetence. So why didn’t the alarm wake us all up?”
Thom glared at the ground as he thought about how his comrades claimed the attack happened. Asram had claimed that after Osric hit him on the head, he blacked out, and the next thing he knew, he was lying on the volcano floor with his hands and feet bound. Aron insisted that he was just about to claim victory over Shrad in their game of bones when suddenly, that vicious little dwarf that had delivered the swords was standing behind him with an axe, and Osric’s big friend had appeared next to the entrance, knocked Eric unconscious, and came up behind Shrad with his sword drawn. Shrad swore that he saw Osric grab Asram on top of the guard tower, disappear, and then reappear on the volcano floor. Asram was unconscious, and Osric pulled his sword from the dying body of one of the guards. Shrad wasn’t sure, but he thought that the sword had just appeared in the man’s chest the way the men had appeared among them. “Ridiculous!”
Thom shook his head in disbelief as he walked. The tales the men told were absurd, but Thom had fought the dwarf, Machai, and his speed was undeniable. No man had ever bested Thom as easily and quickly as Machai had, so he could see why someone would think he just appeared out of thin air. However, the idea that Osric had somehow transported himself and Asram from the guard tower to the floor was absurd. No magic could do that. No magic he had ever seen, anyway. Thom wondered if there was a simple explanation for it all. He suspected that russet haired maiden had spelled them all and they had hallucinated the whole thing. Landin said he and Palin had come running when they heard the alarm from within the volcano, and she was just standing a little ways from the entrance talking to a prairie dog pup. The dragon that guarded the entrance was nowhere to be seen, and when she reached for something in her belt, Landin pulled his wand and immobilized her. They had each taken a hostage and entered the volcano to negotiate, or to at least distract the assailants long enough to allow Aron and the other men to get the upper hand. It had worked, too, until those filthy eagles had flown in with the dragon and saved Machai’s head. Thom smiled to think of all of their heads lined up on pikes outside the volcano. Someday, he intended to see it.
As the dim light under the canopy of trees waned, Thom retraced his steps along the path to check his snares. He had placed six in total as he walked along the trail through the forest. The last snare he had placed was empty, and the berries on either side were undisturbed. He decided to leave it set and they could check it again in the morning. As he came upon the next snare, he grinned at his luck and quickened his step. A small rabbit was straining at the noose, eyes wide and muscles trembling, struggling to breathe. Thom picked up a heavy limb from the underbrush near the trail. He poked the rabbit and sent it skittering away from him as far as it was able while restrained by the vine. For a brief moment, Thom thought he heard a man call out, but the sound was faint and distant, and more than likely just the wind in the trees. With a quick jab, Thom cracked the skull of the rabbit with the end of the branch and gathered the small, limp body from the snare. He smiled and hummed quietly as he continued back up the trail.
Thom’s grin faded and he fell silent as he approached the next snare. Something wasn’t quite right about the scene. His vine was still tied to the low branch above the path, but the noose looked as though it had been untied. The loose end of the vine was lying on the path, and the leaves he had dropped were stacked in a neat pile next to it. Thom stopped, looking into the forest on both sides of the path and listening for any strange sounds. He heard and saw nothing, but the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end. The other guards wouldn’t have done something like that. Either there was someone else nearby, or that part of the forest was infested with tree sprites. Thom hated tree sprites. He scattered the leaves with his boot and hurried on to the next snare.
At first Thom thought the next one was dismantled as well, but on closer inspection he discovered the vine had been chewed through. He had caught something, but whatever it was had gotten away. He grew suspicious again as he approached the second snare he had set. The noose was hanging from the limb, but the leaves he had scattered were gone. There were no markings in the dirt to indicate what had eaten them, and as Thom leaned down to get a closer look, something tickled the back of his neck. He brushed it away and looked up, and he was greeted with a handful of leaves falling down on his head. Sitting on the branch above him was a small, delicate looking creature with long tufts of hair sticking up in every direction from its head and back. The creature chittered down at him, scampered a few branches higher into the tree, and chittered some more. He watched with dread as two more creatures joined the first, and they all tumbled and flipped through the branches above him. Thom knelt down and picked up a rock the size of his palm and threw it up into the branches as hard as he could. The creatures shrieked and scattered into the nearby trees, and Thom sneered as he headed up the path. Even finding a rabbit in the first snare he had set failed to improve his mood after the encounter. He grabbed it by the hind legs, snapping the vine rather than bothering to loosen the noose, and quickened his pace back to camp as the forest grew darker.
Thom stomped back into camp and growled when he realized that he had nothing to skin the rabbits with.
“What’s the matter with you?” Aron asked, reclining against a large boulder near the fire.
“Tree sprites.” Thom replied shortly, scanning the ground for a sharp edged stone. “I hate tree sprites.”
“Oh Thom, are you afraid of a little sprite? They can’t hurt you. They will just steal you blind and then laugh at you for it,” Aron teased, laughing with Shram across the fire. Thom looked up with a vicious snarl and was about to respond when Asram and Gad walked into the ring of firelight. Gad’s torso was bare and they held his tunic loaded with berries between them. A strip of cloth was tied around Gad’s right arm and blood trailed down to his elbow. Aron stood and walked over to inspect their haul as well as his injury. Grabbing a handful of berries, he popped a few into his mouth and spoke around them. “What happened?”
Gad untied the strip of cloth to reveal a red, swollen puncture wound. Aron grabbed his arm and a bit of dark pus oozed from the wound. Gad’s eyes were bloodshot and he grimaced in pain. “We were collecting berries, and I tried to get deeper into the brambles for more. I tripped and fell against a tree with a vine growing around it. I must have caught a thorn in my arm when I landed.”
Aron looked at him suspiciously. “Was the thorn from the berry bush, or from the vine? What did it look like?” he asked, squeezing more pus from Gad’s arm.
“It was big, and dark. I think it may have been from the vine.” Aron swore under his breath at Gad’s response.
“When you tried to pull it out, did it burrow further into your skin?” Derin, the small, dark skinned guard asked. Gad and Asram exchanged nervous glances.
“It seemed to, just a bit, but I got it out whole. What was it?” Asram answered while Gad looked at his arm in disgust.
“Probably a Rhy Vine. You are lucky you pulled it out or you would be dead by now. They are rare, but the thorns are like parasites once they get under your skin. I saw a man fall into a bunch of them once. He started convulsing and within moments he was dead. You need to clean that out and wrap it back up.” Derin stated.
Thom looked around the campsite and asked, “Where is Cowald? I sent him to collect water; isn’t he back yet?”
“I haven't seen him,” Derin’s face showed a flash of concern, “but I can find some moss and make a compress until we can wash it. If you are lucky it will draw out the toxins and you will live to see the sun rise. Perhaps one of us should go find Cowald and help him bring back water.”
“We can’t go looking for him in the dark. Let’s eat and then get some sleep. We have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow.” Aron shoved another handful of berries in his mouth and then grabbed one of the carcasses from Thom. He picked up a rock, slammed it down against the boulder to break off a sharp edge, and progressed to clean, skin, and spit the rabbit over the fire. Aron ordered Derin and Shrad to take the first watch before lying down near the fire. Thom fell into a fitful sleep, wondering if the sound he had heard had been a scream after all.
* * *
Cowald scowled at Thom as he watched him walk off into the woods. How was he supposed to collect water with no way to carry it? He wasn’t even sure where the closest water source was. He walked a little ways down the path behind Thom and scanned the greenery nearby. Perhaps he could find something to fashion into a container for water. He caught sight of a tree with leaves the size of his torso and thought he may be able to carry water in one of them, so he stepped off the path and picked his way through the underbrush. Cowald stood beneath the tree staring up at its branches. He couldn’t reach any of the big leaves, and the few he could see on the ground were torn or too shriveled to be of use. Just before he turned away in frustration, he thought he heard the sound of water trickling over rocks, and he followed the sound deeper into the forest.
He came upon a stream in a shallow bed. The water was only ankle deep, but it ran clear and swift over smooth stones. He began searching along the banks for something he could collect the water in and carry it back to camp. He found nothing along the water’s edge so he turned back into the woods and searched at the base of the trees as he walked. His lips felt dry and his throat parched, and he felt a strong desire to return to the stream for a drink, but first he needed to find a way to carry the water. He was not paying particular attention to where he was walking, but he was surprised when he found himself standing again at the edge of the small stream. Five small, blue stones formed a star-like pattern just beneath the water in front of him. He recalled seeing the same pattern of stones when he first came upon the stream.
Cowald frowned down at the water. It looked so refreshing and cool, he wanted so badly just to kneel down and quench his thirst, but he had orders. He could not put his own needs before the other men. He quickly turned and resumed his search; the sooner he found a way to carry the water, the sooner he could drink himself. He walked into the woods in a different direction, carefully walking from tree to tree in a straight line away from the stream so he could find his way back. He combed through the underbrush, diligently looking for the hollowed shell of a pike nut. The pike trees were common enough near the ruins at the base of the mountain, so Cowald hoped he could find one nearby. If not the tree, perhaps he could find the discarded shell that an animal had left behind. Pike nuts were nearly the size of his head, although they were more of a fruit than a nut. The hard outer shell was the only thing he could think of that would make an effective container. He really wished he had his wand. He could have made a pot out of clay from the stream bed and cast a spell to harden it. Cowald thought he should probably make a couple anyway before he left. They would take a day or two to harden, but at least they would be able to collect water easily later on their journey. His thoughts were interrupted when his foot splashed down into water, and he jumped back startled.
Confused, Cowald stared down at the five blue stones. He was certain that he had not turned around and headed back toward the stream. It seemed impossible that he had returned to the exact same place three times, but even more unlikely that the star pattern of stones was repeated. There was something strange about the small stones. Their color was so bright, almost pulsing with a luminescent blue light, and they were so perfectly round as to seem unnatural. Cowald bent down to get a closer look. He tried to lick his parched lips, but his tongue felt like gravel in his mouth. He was so thirsty. Perhaps just one drink would be all right, to slacken his thirst before he resumed his search. Cowald paused, troubled. He couldn’t seem to remember what he was looking for.
The blue lights grew brighter in his vision and his thirst was overwhelming. Kneeling down at the edge of the water, he leaned forward to see the stones more clearly. He placed his hands in front of him to steady himself, his palms flat on the sandy bed of the stream, the water lapping at his wrists. The blue stones appeared to be moving, slipping further out into the current away from him. Cowald suddenly felt very anxious that the stones would wash away and he may never understand their mysteries. He shifted his weight and leaned farther out over the water to keep them in sight.
The blue lights floated with the current, shifting and dancing, but never quite changing position. Cowald stretched his hand out to try and grasp one of the stones, but it was just out of his reach. He crawled out into the water but couldn’t seem to close the distance between himself and the blue stones. As he drew his hand from the water to reach for them again, he noticed that the water rose with his arm and encircled his wrist as though his hand was still submerged. It was a strange experience to watch the water cling to his skin like a child at its mother’s skirts. He turned his hand over and stared in awe as the water twirled with his movements.
A winged shadow passed over him, and he heard a distant roar. As adrenaline coursed through his veins, he glanced up at the sky in fear. He caught sight of a dragon through the foliage and froze, eyes closed and heart pounding. As he broke eye contact with the blue stones, clarity seemed to flood his mind and suspicion crept in in its place. Something was wrong; water doesn’t cling to skin. Cowald panicked. He tried to lunge backward and get away, but he could not tear his hands from the water. It felt as though there were chains around his wrists, but no metal cut into his skin. He felt himself being pulled toward the middle of the stream. He scrambled for purchase with his knees, but to no avail. His arms were jerked out from under him and his face plunged into the cold water. He was able to lift his head from the stream long enough to scream before tendrils of water coiled up his torso and wrapped around his neck, pulling him down toward the five blue stones.