Without the crystal held between our heads (and the fact that the root we ate was only meant to be a temporary solution), there was no real way for Dorf or I to communicate with Natalya. Walking along, I kept trying to figure out ways to do just that. I didn’t want something bad to happen, and us stuck trying to figure out how to talk to her about it. We had only been walking a few minutes when I pulled the crystal back out and stopped Natalya. Holding it up, I pantomimed pressing it into my head and then hers. She got the gist real quick, and then I did just that, hoping that there was just enough energy left in the spell to allow me to talk to her.
“Natalya,” I sent her. “Do you talk to other people with your hands?” I then showed her a mental picture of what I had read about, how certain hand gestures could be used in place of verbal communication.
She nodded and sent back, “Yes, my MOMMY taught it to me, and the other Ronan all KNOW how to use it. It is called the silent language. WHY?”
“Because, if it’s a language, then I might know a spell that will allow me to learn it. Then, we can talk to each other without having to use this crystal or eating that awful tasting root. Wouldn’t that be better?”
Natalya made a face before sending to me, “Yes, I WOULD like that. That root was YUCKY, and if I don’t have to eat any more of it that would be NICE.” If she sent anything else, I didn’t catch it, which meant that the spell was wearing off. Good timing on my part.
Not wanting to let on how nervous I was, I gave her a smile before removing the crystal’s contact with both of our foreheads and putting it back into my pocket. Humming to myself, I then began rummaging through my pockets one more time. Dorf was tapping his foot impatiently. “Hey, what’s going on Jonas? I thought you wanted her to lead us to where she saw her folks taken, not to cast yet another spell.”
“What can I say Dorf, I’m just a spell casting addict. Watch out, I might just be useful in the midst of my problem.”
“Yeah yeah,” he said, showing me that he thought I was number one with a gesture from his hand. Chuckling, I didn’t show him the same back, since I was too busy trying to be clever. Magic has its own set of rules, just like science does, and one of the big things in magic is there things that are alike, or symmetry, and things that are diametrically opposed. Using just those two principles, a lot of magic is possible and practical. So, the key to a lot of spells is either using things that are similar or things that are opposite. Yeah, it may seem simple, but it’s anything but to be honest.
Finally, I found what I was looking for. My trusty tuning fork had gotten buried beneath some other ingredients, but thankfully I located it. I was going to cast the spell that normally allowed me to learn another language (either temporarily or permanently), but I was going to try and modify it so I could learn the language that Natalya spoke with her hands. Was it guaranteed to work? Not at all. Was I fairly confident I could make it work? A little more likely, yes.
To cast the normal version of the spell, first I would tap the tuning fork against the native speaker’s lips, and while it was still vibrating at that frequency, tap it against my ears before finally taping it against my own lips. Then, I would tap it once more against their lips and gesture for them to speak while I held the still ringing fork in between us. As they spoke the language, the fork would attune it to my ears and help translate it; then, after I had heard a few words and sentences, I would speak what I wanted to say, and the fork would help translate my words into the speaker’s language. After this happened once or twice, the spell would stay “on”, as it were, and I wouldn’t need the fork to be out and vibrating for me to understand and speak the language. This only lasted about an hour or so, but that was usually more than enough time.
This time, however, I wanted to make it permanent, and that meant using my blood to lock the spell onto my pattern. Using blood magic isn’t something that was done lightly, but as long as you did it to and for yourself, there was (usually) no negative consequences. But if you used it on others it was, and I’m quoting my poet of a partner on this, “Some really fucked up shit.” That was obviously what our killer had done to the young woman, and what we hoped to stop from happening to anyone else. More proof that magic wasn’t good or evil, it just was.
Now that I was prepared, I crouched down before Natalya, who was eyeing the tuning fork with unabashed curiosity. Looking around for something ‘easy’ to use, I pantomimed that I wanted her to make with her hands the signal for tree. She did, and then I gestured for her to repeat it while I struck the tuning fork against her free hand and then tapped it against the hand she had used to create the sign. Then, I tapped it against my eyes while it was still vibrating. And finally, I tapped it against my own hands just before it stopped its ringing.
While Dorf watched us both, I pantomimed that I wanted Natalya to make another sign for the ground. Grinning, she did so while I rang the tuning fork once more and held it between us. Lastly, I asked her to make the sign for something that wasn’t around us, to test the spell to see if it worked. She made a sign, and it took me a second but then the knowledge of what it meant flooded my mind, and I couldn’t help but spread a smile from ear to ear. I had recognized the sign she had made, which was guardian, and she had made it about me. The spell worked.
I signed back to her that I agreed, and that I was going to do my best to protect her. Surprising both of us, she impulsively gave me a tight hug, and I gave her one back. All of this was scary, I’m sure, but having someone who could communicate with you would help Natalya feel a whole lot better. Letting her go, I smiled down at her before standing up and putting away the fork. The next part she didn’t need to witness though, and so I turned my body around so she wouldn’t see me draw my athame and prick my left forefinger, letting seven drops of blood fall down to the ground.
Why seven, you may ask? Well, magic loves its prime numbers, and not just the arcane traditions. Most clerics believe that there are 11 major Deities and 13 minor ones; the main Goddess for the humans is a trinity; there are supposedly 5 Hells; and the list goes on and on. Seven is one of those numbers that just is used a lot in magic. And, the larger the number the more importance was placed on it, which was why I used seven. If I had only wanted to be able to talk to Natalya and no one else, I would have probably used only one or three drops of blood; using seven meant I wanted to be able to use it whenever I wanted, with whomever I wanted.
Making sure that I put pressure on the small nick so that no more blood was spilled, I turned back to my partner. “The spell worked, and now I can talk to her whenever we want. You gotta admit, your partner is pretty damn brilliant.”
He rolled his eyes. “I don’t think there’s a courtesan in Aerendor that would call you pretty, no matter how much you paid her. But, yeah that was pretty good, Jonas.”
“Thanks Dorf…I think.” We shared a laugh before I reached down with my non-cut hand and took Natalya’s, gesturing for her to continue to lead us on. Gracing me with a shy smile, she took the lead. I noticed that Dorf had his steam-pistol drawn and powered up, and appreciated his forethought. If something bad happened, I would pull the young girl back behind me and shield her with my body while my partner dealt with whatever the threat turned out to be. Since he was a crack shot with that thing, I felt very confident that he wouldn’t fail in his duties.
We finally got to where Natalya signed that she had fallen down and lost track of where the rest of the people had been taken. Being half-Elven, I knew that she could see very well in the dark of night, since the moon was out and lots of stars were shining down on us; being half-Orc, I could see almost as well, as far as heat signatures went, but couldn’t see the tracks that lead off out of the forest. Thankfully, there was a simple spell that even most partial casters could use, and I took a pinch of lichen between my fingers and flung it into the air while saying the word “light” and making a gesture like I was cupping a ball.
A globe of softly glowing white light appeared in the air before me, and Natalya couldn’t help but clap her hands gleefully. At least there was one person here who isn’t scared of my magic, I thought ruefully. Dorf had still taken an involuntary step back when I cast the spell, even though he had seen me use this spell dozens of times. It was nice to be appreciated and not feared, I thought. Since I had had this conversation plenty of times with my partner, I chose not to bring it up again and to focus on using the light globe to help us.
Under its soft luminescent glow, we now all could see the multitude of footprints leading away from where we were standing. Since I had to control the light spell, at this point I took the lead, leaving Dorf to bring up the rear and Natalya nestled safely between us. We made sure to walk carefully, not only in case the footprints veered off, but in case of traps. While I didn’t think it likely that this ‘bad man’ had left any behind, seeing as how he thought he was alone and in control, assuming he hadn’t could potentially get us killed.
The next twenty minutes were excruciatingly slow and tense, but finally we had reached where the footprints stopped and lead off over a nearby hill. Turning towards Natalya, I signed for her to stay put, since I didn’t know what lay beyond the hill; I told Dorf to keep an eye on her, and to not let her follow me. All of the hairs on my arm and neck were standing on end, and it was still too quiet - one could say it was as silent as death. He gave me a terse nod, having come to the same conclusion that I had. Something was not right here.
Taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling it, I summoned up my courage and cautiously crawled up the side of the hill. Getting to the top, I pressed my body against the grassy knoll and slowly raised my head up to see what was on the other side. When I saw what it was, I could only shake and stare in horror. At least I now knew where all of the inhabitants of Aerdale and the Ronan had went, and why there were no animal sounds in the forest.
Every beast, every person, was located down at the bottom of the hill; they all were kneeling down, head forwards, laid out in a circle around an indentation that had been crudely formed at the base of the hill. The indentation appeared humanoid in shape, but that wasn’t what made me draw back and try not to vomit. All of the once living creatures down there, from the smallest squirrel to the largest Ronan, had had their throats slit, and from the position of their bodies, had submitted willingly. The blood had all pooled into the humanoid shaped indentation and completely filled it up. That type of control over a person left me terrified.
While I watched, I could only hope that my eyes were playing tricks on me, or that my mind had snapped under the pressure of all that death. The pool of blood began to bubble, and after seconds a shape had risen from the pool, still dripping crimson tears. It rose to stand roughly 18 Hands tall, appearing still wet but somehow holding its shape. For some reason, I knew that it was looking around, as it turned its formless head from side to side. Suddenly, it snapped its body around to stare up at me, and I felt my bowels turn to ice. Stepping out of the pool, leaving bloody prints behind it, it began to slowly climb up the hill, and I knew beyond a doubt that it was coming for us.
Scrambling back down the hill, I reached the two of them. Grabbing Natalya’s hand, I just barked out, “Run!” to Dorf and began to do so as if a Troll was behind us. Dorf didn’t question what I said, though I caught the half-Elven girl trying to frantically sign to me her questions about her mother and her people. He simply began to run right after me. “I know where all the people went to!” I shouted to my partner. Deciding that her little legs were too short to keep up, I stopped to throw Natalya over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry before continuing to try and put as much distance between us and that abomination as I could.
“I kinda figured that!” Dorf shouted back. “On a scale of 1 to Oh Shit, how boned are we?”
“We are going to have to expand that scale,” I said, and I could hear him cursing to try and compensate for the fear he was feeling.
“Where are we headed?” he asked, slightly out of breath.
“Back to the village. I’m out of ideas, and we don’t want this thing to catch us here in the forest,” was all I said back, since neither of us had the breath to continue the conversation. Instead, we simply ran as if our lives depended on it, because they truly did. I was getting the feeling that this was more than a simple murder mystery, but my conjectures would have to wait until we had somehow defeated the blood beast that was trying to prevent us from doing just that.