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Chapter 10: Power Strangers I Didn't Know It Would Break


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Three:

On People and Their Influence

The shadow moved, rippling along the stone wall. All too soon, the horrible creature that had made the shadow slithered into view.

“’Allo. So, y’ found yore friend, did ya?” The gor-worm halted as it cleared the bend in the tunnel.

Erwyn stared from the worm to its shadow and back again. The bristly fur was nothing more than the shadow of the worm’s blue fuzz. The claws came from the tiny pink scarf it had wound around its neck. Still, that shadow implied more than was actually there to make it. The light was in the wrong place, for one thing.

“What’s with the shadow?” Erwyn was proud to note that there was only the slightest hint of a squeak in his voice.

“Wha—?” The worm looked around. “Oh, that. That’s just my shadow. Now you know my secret. It ain’t what gor-worms can do as frightens men. It’s what men think they can do. All based on seeing a mere shadow.”

Mere shadow? That thing’s almost eight feet tall, while you’re only six inches long. And there isn’t a light in here that could make a shadow like that. How do you do it?”

“I dunno. Some sort of protective cam-o-flage, I ’spect. Keeps us from endin’ up as little purple blotches on the bottom of someone’s boot.”

“I see what you mean.” Erwyn stared thoughtfully at the worm. “So, um ... I don’t suppose you know how to get out of here?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

“Of course not. That would be too easy.”

Erwyn leaned against the tunnel wall and closed his eyes. The worm was no help at all. And without her powers, neither was Aralia. Either of them. He took a deep breath and tried to relax, to give himself a chance to think. That was when he felt it. Magic. Pure, raw magic pulsing through the walls of the tunnel!

He turned abruptly to face the wall, placing his fingertips against its rough surface, wondering if it was just his imagination. Sure enough, the rock vibrated with energy.

“You giving yourself a timeout, sugar?” Aralia Two tried to keep her tone light.

“Not exactly,” Erwyn replied. “You know something?” He bit his lip as he used a scry spell to send out a short mental probe. It followed the vein of magic power through the wall to its source. Satisfied, he nodded. “I think this cave was created by magic. In fact,” he double-checked his information, “I’m certain of it.”

“What’s your point, love?” One of the Aralia’s had the courage to ask.

“Well, only that if it was made by magic, it can be unmade, too. I think.”

“Great idea,” the second Aralia added, “but who’s going to unmake it? It’s either a real cave, in which case it took a hell of a lot of power to conjure. Or it’s an incredibly good illusion, in which case it took a hell of a lot of power to conjure. Either way, it would probably take more energy than a journeyman can handle, even an incredibly talented one such as yourself.” Erwyn blushed. “And, as we’ve already demonstrated, I’m Tap City myself.”

The boy shrugged. “I’ve got to try, don’t I? We can’t just sit around here until whoever created it comes by to check on us.”

“He’s right about that. I dunno what Melloran has planned for any of you, but whatever it is, I’ll be willin’ to bet it’s nasty.” The worm shuddered.

“Melloran?” Erwyn didn’t recognize the name. Which didn’t surprise him.

“The guy what put you ‘ere. Don’t you know anything?”

“I got here by accident. While trying to follow her.” Erwyn nodded in the general direction of the Aralias. “How come you know who made this cave, but you don’t know the way out?” Erwyn couldn’t help but sound frustrated.

“I just ’appened to ’ear the old geezer talking to hisself, right before I got stuck in this ’ole.”

“Which puts us right back where we were. We can either sit here until this Melloran person comes to collect us. Or I can try to undo whatever it is he’s done. Me, I favor option two. It beats doing nothing.”

“You don’t mind if I wait over here, do you sweetie?” Both Aralias retreated to the far side of the cave.

“Suit yourself. You know,” he paused for effect, “getting melted by the backlash of a wayward spell while trying to find an escape route might be preferable whatever Melloran has planned for you.”

“Actually,” one of the Aralias retorted, “staying alive long enough to pay him back for all the trouble he’s caused would be my choice.”

Erwyn smiled grimly and turned back toward the cave wall. He hesitated only a moment before forcing himself to touch the rock face once more. The surface looked rough, but felt smooth. And stone should be slightly cool to the touch, but this was warm and slightly spongy. Funny he hadn’t noticed when he touched the wall before.

Closing his eyes, he sent his thoughts winging down the magical path again, this time trying to find a piece of the puzzle that would allow him to unravel whatever spell Melloran had cast. After a few minutes, he sighed. This was going to be harder than he thought.

“Problem?” The Aralias still looked nervous, but that nervousness had become tinged with curiosity.

Erwyn paused his spell long enough to answer. “I can’t find anything to undo. There doesn’t seem to be an ‘edge’ I can grab, no peripheral spells I can take off to get to the main one.”

“I’m not sure that’s possible, sweetcakes. One spell to create this whole cave?”

“I realize I’m not the greatest sorcerer who ever lived,” Erwyn sounded a little testy, even to himself, “but I have had some experience with taking spells apart.” The most recent, and most complicated, experience had been the damselfly spell on Virgil, the vegetarian dragon, a few months before. “I’d be willing to bet even a fourth-level Master would have trouble with this. The deeper I go, the smoother it gets.”

“Have you found a signature?”

“A signa—? Right. The imprint of the person who cast it. No, the damn thing’s completely sterile, almost like a human being didn’t cast it at all.”

The pause had given him time to rest. He took a deep breath and began to back out of the spell, checking for anything he might have missed, anything that would allow him to break the spell and release them.

“Anything yet?”

“Nope, and I’m almost finish—wait a second.” Erwyn took another look, pushing his abilities to the limit. “I think I’ve found one tiny spell I can undo. I can’t see how it could help, though. It’s a lot like an invisibility spell.”

He used the last of his energy to strip off the unknown enchantment. Then he slumped to the floor of the cave, exhausted. He didn’t even mind the musty-smelling puddle of water he landed in.

“Well, I gave it my best shot. I guess you were right. One journeyman sorcerer isn’t enough to handle whatever trapped us—”

“Look.” The Aralias pointed to a spot just above Erwyn’s head.

The young sorcerer closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steady himself. Then he looked at the point the Aralias had indicated. He squeezed his eyes shut, then stared at the wall, hardly daring to believe he had succeeded.

The wall of the cave shimmered, blue, red, pink, green, white, yellow, black, purple. And disappeared.

Erwyn looked around. The flickering colors spread, like a spider’s web, away from the spot where Erwyn’s hand had been. Piece by piece, the rest of the cave shimmered out of existence, leaving the three of them alone in a clearing. Four, if one counted the gor-worm. Five, if one counted the sorcerer in front of them. The tall, angry one with a glowing cube in one hand and the forefinger of the other pointed straight at Erwyn. As the man started to intone his spell, the boy wondered if it might not have been safer staying in the cave.

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