Fracture, Chapter Two
An impossible wizard imparts the twins with a magical gift and an ominous warning.
If you’re just jumping in, welcome! You catch up at the beginning of the story here.
“Oren, it’s a person! We have to get him out.” Afton shouted, rushing down into the sweltering heat and smoke.
Oren only hesitated a moment before pocketing his sling and following. Afton was already pulling at the arms of the limp man. She may have been stronger than Oren, but she was still only fifteen years old. He grabbed the man’s other arm and together the twins pulled him up, wrapping a dangling arm around each of their shoulders. The sound of embers crackling was joined by a pair of boots being dragged across rough ground. Getting up out of the hollow was significantly more tedious while hauling an unconscious body with them. It took several minutes to top the edge of the crater without dropping the poor fellow on his face, but finally, they were on flat, uncharred earth again.
As gently as the sweating and panting pair could manage, they laid their mysterious guest down on his back. Oren looked around suspiciously for a moment. He wondered if somehow this was some elaborate trick. If so, he supposed, to what end? The thought that he and Afton were children of noble birth crossed his mind as cause to set a trap, but he dismissed it. No one could have known the two of them would be exploring this part of the forest around the town.
Afton was kneeling next to the figure, no doubt trying to check for signs of life. Oren made himself break from his paranoid thoughts and went to one knee beside his sister.
“He’s in bad shape,” Afton sighed, “but he is breathing. Barely. How did he end up in that pit? You don’t suppose he was the thing in that fireball, do you?”
Oren shook his head, “It’s impossible. But… how else do you explain him being the only thing inside that huge hole in the ground?”
The two looked over the man again, fully taking stock of him for the first time. His tawny robes were tattered and frayed, his pale limbs visible in places where the cloth had been burned away. Looking at his hands and bare feet told much the same story: fresh wounds and signs of a struggle. Likewise, his face was covered in deep cuts and bruises. He certainly looked like someone who had recently been on fire and fallen from a great height.
But what drew their attention was his hair. Despite a clean-shaven face that could have seen no more than twenty winters, his short, shaggy hair was stark white. Oren was pondering over how this man could look so young and so old at the same time when the man’s eyes shot open. The twins both fell back in shock, taking in the wild and crazed eyes. Gasping for breath and struggling to push himself up to a sitting position, the man’s irises were a deep purple that seemed to glow.
Oren pushed through his shock to help Afton with the strange man. Even as he panted and panicked, they saw the glow of his eyes subside, settling on a mundane hazel instead of shining purple. The man’s face seemed to age in front of their eyes as well. Where before he had looked barely older than the both of them, now he was rapidly growing older every minute. Clarity abruptly washed over the panicked face, and the man took in their faces in turn. His breathing was still heavy and labored, but he managed to find his voice, a meek and quiet sound that did not seem at home with the figure before them.
“They are coming,” he said between grimaces of pain that made him clutch his side, “You must not let them have this.”
From beneath the charred robes, the impossible fellow pulled a small ball. The size of an apple, it fit in his palm easily. It was made of some kind of glass, and chaos seemed to whirl inside the ball. Oren had the overwhelming urge to touch it and run from it at the same time. He felt like the world could fit inside the little glass orb, yet he also had the thought that the trinket could burn the world down.
“Hide it, use it if you must, but hide it at all costs,” the continuously aging figure gasped. He grabbed Oren’s hand with unexpected strength and placed the sphere in his palm. With the now-free hand, he also grabbed Afton’s wrist and guided her hand over the orb so that the twins were both fully concealing it.
The little glass globe was ice cold despite having been tucked away in the stranger’s robes, not to mention it and he had just fallen out of the sky in a ball of fire. Oren’s first instinct was to pull his hand away, and he saw Afton tense up at the same time. But the longer they held the orb, the more Oren found himself wanting to hold it. In fact, it felt quite warm now—calming, even.
Afton shot Oren a wary glance which Oren, tearing his eyes from the curious object, returned with a nervous shrug. She was on guard now, he knew. Finding a man in a smoking crater was strange enough. For that man to have glowing eyes and to offer them a magical orb put her hackles up, though. Plainly the man was some kind of wizard. Oren remembered his history lessons of the last war in which wizards had rained fire and ice and terror on the land. Oren thought they could have found some fantastical but innocent explanation if this figure had turned out to be an ordinary person. But one who practiced magic? They both knew from endless lectures by their father that wielders of magic were dangerous and untrustworthy.
And yet, the tiny ball felt safe. There was no better word for it. Holding it felt right. Oren knew with his mind that the magical orb was dangerous. But his heart seemed to trust it implicitly. With a start, Oren looked down and realized the wizard had collapsed back to the ground, sprawled out limply.
“Afton,” Oren whispered hoarsely, “I think he’s—”
The words trailed off as Afton slowly took her own gaze from their new possession. “Dead,” she finished for him, her voice more a croak.
Although the two of them were young, they had seen death before. When Oren and Afton were five, a plague had swept through Greater Brigda, a nasty affliction that brought on boils and blackened skin. A great many people of the town of Greensborough had died then and quite horribly. But to sit in the presence of someone as they passed from life was unsettling. One moment the man had been sitting up and talking, albeit with difficulty. The next, he was lifeless, eyes still open and jaw hanging slack. The shock was enough to cause the twins to drop the wizard’s glass ball as they stood up and backed away from the corpse.
Neither of them moved for several moments, and finally, Afton moved to check for breath and a heartbeat. Finding neither, she stood, wiped her hands on her shirt, and shook her head grimly. A hush filled the space between them as their gaze shifted slowly from the dead magician to the orb.
“Well we’re not using it,” Afton barked, planting her feet as she crossed her arms.
Oren rolled his eyes at her implication that he might be considering that possibility, “Of course not. We shouldn’t even keep it. What we should do is just leave it here, with… him.”
He hesitated when he came to speaking of the wizard, gesturing awkwardly to the lifeless body. Were they going to just leave him there? What should they do? Neither of them was meant to be out that far from town, let alone dragging a dead wizard back with them. And then there was the cliff. Even if they had wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to bring him down that. Oren knew they couldn’t bring the man’s body back to Greensborough. But he put his hand to his hand as he questioned whether to even tell anyone about the encounter.
Afton spoke up, breaking the silence, “We’ve got to take that thing with us. Whatever it is, it feels dangerous. If there really are people coming after it, we’ve got to keep it from them. And we can’t tell anyone. We can’t, Oren, don’t give me that look. Father will have never let us leave the manor again, let alone leave town.”
Oren was frowning at his sister. He hated how well she knew him sometimes. Of course he wanted to tell someone. A man had died in front of them. A man speaking of some ominous group coming and looking for the very item he’d placed in their hands. He spoke up before Afton could run him over with her take-charge attitude, “Well if we’re keeping it, we shouldn’t touch it anymore. I felt something strange when we were holding it. We should put it in my pouch where I keep my sling and then bury it when we get home.”
Afton had already reached down and was holding it when he voiced his demand, and her face soured when he mentioned his pouch, “Why should you get to take it back? He gave it to both of us.”
But she must have realized that she hadn’t brought anything that the ball could fit it, because she reluctantly handed it over. Oren felt that icy cold turn to comforting warmth as he held the ball. It took more effort than he expected to simply place the ball into his pouch and close the drawstrings. Regret tinged his mind for a few moments after.
Afton’s voice, farther away than it should have been, snapped him out of his reverie, “Well are you coming or not? We need to get moving to get back by sunset.”
Looking up, Oren saw that his sister was already a dozen or so paces ahead, looking back at him accusingly. How long have we been out now? He wondered. The sun was much further down than it had been when they found the magician in the crater.
“Yeah, sorry, I’m coming,” he answered half-heartedly. He set off after his twin, with the orb in his pouch still faintly tugging at the back of his mind.
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