Julia’s cry of terror struck Kindle like a wave. Instantly she burst toward the direction of the sound, oblivious now to such things as trees or rocks. Her eyes began to glow.
*This is bad!* Cirrus cried in Kindle’s thoughts.
Kindle burst into a small clearing in the woods to find something out of her greatest nightmares. Julia was backing away from some sort of demon-like person surrounded by - no!
“Knife Respers.” Kindle whispered.
She stopped short. Fear gripped her like a vice.
*Snap out of it, Kindle! You aren’t the same person as you were in your last encounter. It’s time to fight!* roared Deltia in Kindle’s head.
“You’re right. And Julia’s in danger.” Kindle bared her teeth in anger and arced toward the white-hared man. Her body began to glow with internal heat.
Varun looked up and grinned. His impossibly wide mouth revealed sharp jagged teeth. He then made a dismissive gesture toward Kindle. She froze in mid-air.
*Magic!* said Cirrus. *He’s a Mage!*
Kindle was held in mid-air by Varun’s magic, helpless.
“Why hello Kindle. Fancy meeting you here.” he made an exaggerated wink, which looked all the more terrifying with his black pits for eyes.
“You don’t know me, but I know you. My Master Rath has been talking about you non-stop. My name is Varun. I’m here to kill our dear friend Julia, and it looks like I get to bring you back to the Master as well. My lucky day.” He clenched his fist and the force holding Kindle tightened.
Kindle gasped in pain.
*What is this?* she screamed in her mind to both Cirrus and Deltia.
*He is a Mage that has been Turned by Rath. He’s using his magic, enhanced by Rath’s own. He’s an abomination.* spat Deltia.
It was Kindle’s turn to scream.
Julia stood aghast at what had just happened. Kindle had arrived the moment Julia had cried for help, but now it was Kindle that was in trouble. And it was all Julia’s falt. If she had just not ran off, she probably would have never encountered this creature, since Findar’s cabin was spelled to be invisible. Once again someone she called friend was in danger.
Because of her.
Despair wrapped its tendrils around her mind. She felt helpless, and sick. The poisonous presence of this Varun and the Knife Respers was overwhelming to her senses. Without thinking, she clutched the amber gem of her necklace.
It was like walking inside to a large, safe house during a storm. Instantly the sickness vanished. The sense of wrongness was gone. Julia’s vision flashed bright and she found herself in another place. It was peaceful, sunny, and full of trees. A summer wind blew across her face. She felt a presence like she had once before when the Remnant was talking to her. She turned around and realized that she stood before an immense tree. It was impossibly tall. It was so large and so wide it seemed to be like a living mountain. High up in the distance she could see green leaves. Was this the tree that Findar had mentioned?
** Hello Julia. **
It was a woman’s voice. Kind, gentle, but with immense confidence. Julia felt as if she were in the presence of royalty. She fell to her knees.
“Are - are you Cariniana? How - how did I get here?”
** Yes, I am Cariniana. You are here only in spirit. My daughter sent you here when you held her. **
A wind gusted up suddenly. Leaves and branches blew about. They began to condense and formed into a human-like shape. In a moment later an old woman stood before Julia, holding a gnarled wooden walking stick. Julia just stood there, awestruck by the magics she was seeing.
“You know, if you keep your mouth open much longer, a robin might think it’d make a nice home to nest in.” the old woman said.
Julia closed her mouth and stood up. “Who- what- what are you?”
“That’s not important right now dearie. What is important is that you must save your friend. I’m going to show you something that will help you, but without more training, it will eventually destroy you. Do you want to save your friend, more than keeping your own life safe?”
Without a moment’s thought, Julia nodded.
“Intuitive Mages tap into emotion to find their power. When they feel great emotion they can see beyond what others see and observe the connections between all things. Imagine a giant web, connecting us all together. Close your eyes.”
Julia hesitated, then closed her eyes.
Like looking through fog, she could see the scene of the forest clearing - frozen in time. Only everything was black and white - in stark relief. Some things were dark, and surrounded by a bright sickly purple aura - like Varun, and the Knife Respers. Others glowed orange and red, like Julia herself, and Kindle.
“Now look deeper. SEE the connections between the lives that you see.” the old woman said.
Julia took a deep breath. Yes! A faint web of light threaded through everything. The trees, the small animals huddled in fear, her friend Kindle. Even Varun had a dark thread that shot back into the forest - leading back to Rath, no doubt.
Julia’s eyes snapped open. “I see it! But - how does that help me? What can I do?”
“You can tap into that energy you see. Do you remember when you stopped those Mages before? You severed their connection to the magic that was giving them power. You need to do that again to stop Varun. But I must warn you. Once you can see these connections and tap into their power, you will have to resist doing it all the time. This power is what holds this world together, and you can become drunk on it. It will seek to turn you to it’s ends - but you must have a strong will. Are you ready?”
“Wait - wait! Your daughter? Is that a seed I have? I don’t know what to do! I can’t fight Rath!” Julia quailed.
The old woman walked up and hugged Julia. “You are stronger than you know. Granny Lin knows all.” she smiled and tapped her forehead while she winked at Julia.
“YOU! You’re Granny Lin?” Julia gaped.
“There goes that mouth again. I am many things, dearie. Now go. Help your friend. We’ll talk again soon.” Granny Lin / Cariniana reached up with her walking stick and gently tapped Julia on the forehead.
Julia fell backwards with the force of the blow and the world came flooding back to her senses. Again the Wrongness overwhelmed her, and Kindle’s screams pierced the air.
Desperate, Julia closed her eyes and tried again to see. The scene changed to black and white. Julia could see the tendrils of energy found in the trees around her. She reached for one.
She opened her eyes, looked to Varun, and said quietly,
“Leave. My. Friend. Alone.”
The ground beneath the clearing began to shake and broke Varun’s concentration. Kindle fell to the ground, gasping for breath.
Julia was enraged. This creature was NOT going to touch her friend. Ever. Again.
Huge tree roots erupted from the ground, sending Knife Respers flying. The amber gem on Julia’s chest grew brighter and brighter, and the wind began to whip fiercely around the clearing. The roots grew impossibly fast and began to wrap around the startled Varun. Kindle leaped into the air - her own body began to glow.
The tendrils tightened around Varun’s body and he began to feel his own bones crack from the increasing pressure. Julia let out a throaty yell that echoed across the forest.
Then suddenly, the vines stopped moving. The wind faded.
Varun turned his head completely around to face Julia - impossibly - like a twisted doll.