Chapter 1: What’s the worst that could happen?
“So where did you find this spell again?” Mike asked as he sat on the edge of a crash barrier at the side of an old forest road.
“I found it on IRC after checking out a few message boards. But dude, a lot of them really weird and shit, but this one seemed pretty cool” Ainsley said dropping her bike onto the grass.
“This one board I found was called Esoterica. It had all sorts of quasi-magic garbage but I had a chat with someone and they let me download it.” She explained as she leaned against the steel barrier.
Ainsley brushed back her flat black hair over her shoulders and looked over at Mike through the curtain of her bangs. “Dad kicked me off last night after he caught me trying to leave the computer on so I could sneak back later. Unplugged it and everything.”
Ainsley was a pretty average kid that had just reached the tail end of a summer growth spurt. and was all elbows and knees. Although not quite a teenager yet but desperately wishing she was she was trying a new style of punky cut off jean shirts and a band t-shirt she found at goodwill.
“I’m surprised your parents even let you use the internet by yourself. My parents think I’m just going to look at porn.” Mike sighed looking dejected. Mike could only be described as a late bloomer. A perpetual victim of being offered the kids menu at restaurants despite being the oldest of his friends. His warm brown skin, boyish buzz cut and startlingly blue eyes did nothing to make him seem older in anyone’s eyes.
Ainsley snorted in laughter. “Nah, they think that I’m mostly looking up school stuff. They don’t really pay that much attention. I’m pretty sure they don’t get computers.”
Three other kids on mountain bikes came hurtling down the road hurling insults at each other. They skidded their bikes to a halt near the two at the crash barrier and dropped them into the pile that Ainsley started.
Richard, a pale curly haired kid called out “’Sup nerds!” as he shoved a hand into one pocket and flipped the two off with the other. “I see you’re still failing at being cool as shit.” He said with a grin.
“At least I don’t have a name that everyone shortens to a synonym for peen.” Ainsley retorted and punched him in the shoulder.
Morne and Chelsey followed closely behind Richard. They were truly an odd pair. Morne was blue skinned and lanky, with a broad chop of hair that fell over his left eye. Ainsley frequently described him to others as the artsy type with a flair for being a sulk. He came from a long line of elven light magicians who have since settled down into corporate upper management positions. He said he hated that manipulating light came so easy to him because it clashed with his “avant garde” persona. In reality, Ainsley thought he was angsty, mopey and trying, but not succeeding at being dark and mysterious.
Chelsey on the other hand was Morne’s opposite. She seemed eternally happy in the present. Stocky and fit with a long snout, her reptilian ancestry was apparent. She tried to fit in by sporting a short bob cut and fashionable clothes but being a kobold didn’t make Chelsey’s life easy at school. Oddly enough despite their seemingly opposing personalities Morne and Chelsey spent a lot of time together.
The group gathered at the edge of the crash barrier that Mike and Ainsley were sitting on. “Snacks!?” Chelsey asked as she held out her backpack in front of her. Everyone shook their heads in near unison as they remembered the last time when she had brought raw, fermented fish. Richard gagged audibly.
Ainsley turned around surveying the dense forest line behind crash barrier. Large pine, spruce and birch trees stood tall covering the underbrush in deep shade. Morne pushed back his fashionably long lock of hair and turned to Ainsley “You said we’re going to bring back your dog?”
“Yeah, that’s what the guy who wrote this told me.” said Ainsley. She dug into her inner coat pocket and pulled out a sheaf of dot matrix printer paper. As she unfolded it, she explained “It seems pretty simple, it says here you draw this symbol on the caster and this one of the channeler…” She tuned the paper around and pointed to an ascii representations of magic symbols on the paper. “and these ones on the grave of your loved one you want to return.” Ainsley pointed out a particular circular symbol on her sheet for emphasis. “Any of you rejects want to be the channeler?”
The other kids looked at each other uncomfortably, each hoping someone else would volunteer. They remembered how exhausting it was when they learned it in class.
“Come on, you’ve done channeler work before, you probably won’t even get tired!”
Mike sighed and spoke up. “I guess I will, do I have to do anything hard?” He asked hesitantly.
“Nope! All I have to do is draw this on you.” Ainsley burst into a smile as she lifted the paper and pointed at an elaborate symbol. “This is going to be sweet!”.
Stuffing the sheaf of paper back in her jacket Ainsley hopped the barrier and led the others into the woods.
The summer air cooled as they ventured deeper into the forest. They followed an overgrown path towards a secluded grove that they used to play at when they were younger.
“Why did you bury your dog here anyway?” Mike asked. “My mom didn’t want it in the yard. Said it might spook me cause, y’know my ‘affinities….’” Ainsley recalled her mother’s justification while making air quotes. “Oh. Yeah, right.” Mike shrugged and kept moving.
They descended along the side of an escarpment that lead down to a clearing in the trees. Sunlight poured through the leaves illuminating a moss-covered, wood cross standing crooked in the grass. Ainsley approached the plank running her fingers across crudely painted letters spelling out the name “Annie”.
Tears glistened at the edge of Ainsley’s eyes as she read the letters she had painted there several years ago. “Hey there” she mumbled to the grave. “I hope this works. I miss you”
She pulled out the printer paper from her jacket. “It says here, Mike, you stand in the middle, and I draw these crazy lines around you.” You guys stand over there” she directed the rest of the group to the edge of the clearing.
“Then I stand at the bottom and speak these… verses.” She scrunched her nose as she read over the spell again. She knew she had no real idea how to speak the written language, but she was pretty sure magic was about intent. At least she thought it was mostly about intent, that’s what the guy on IRC had said. At least he translated it into approximation of how it would sound in her language. She should be able to make it work as long as she was mostly right with the pronunciation.
Shrugging inwardly, Ainsley quickly found a branch and dug out the symbols into the soft earth. The other kids goofed off and reminisced about the faded memories they had made in the grove. When Ainsley completed the magic circles, she called out “Okay, it’s done. Mike, get into the circle. You guys, shut up and stay quiet.”
Mike took up his place as Ainsley pulled out her wand. It was relatively simple length of aluminium rod that she had imbued with her magic. She recently adorned it with a small helmet with a plastic visor that would light up in a multitude of colours when she clicked a button. She felt it made it much cooler.
“Okay. I’m going to try this now” she said to the group. Ainsley began to recite the verses and immediately knew she was saying the words incorrectly. The tug of magic was tenuous, but she still didn’t think it mattered much. Pushing away her hesitation she concentrated on the cadence and rhythm of her recitation. The power of the magic began to bloom around her and she knew her intent would be enough.
“Mike snapped out of his trance at the sound of Chelsey’s voice. He began to panic as he tried to move out of the circle but discovered his feet had been rooted to the ground. Small white fingers had pushed through the soil holding his feet in place. “Ainsley! Stop! I can’t move! Stop! Something’s wrong!” Mike screamed.
Ainsley continued to chant the spell, lost in the rhythm coursing through her. A dense deep purple fog rose from long tears in the earth caused by the shift. The air began to vibrate with an awful hum that resonated deep in their gut, churning their stomachs with its vibrations.
An iridescent sphere rapidly expanded outward engulfing Mike. Coloured motes separated from the sphere, flying outward drawing itself into every living thing in the grove. The spell eclipsed with a terrible crescendo before falling silent, the sphere stilling mid-air.
The sphere pulsed once as a chime rang out through the grove, then reversed its rotation, shrinking to the size of a small marble. The motes exited, returning to the sphere trailing small white lights from all it had touched.
The tiny sphere hovered for several seconds, small fissures appearing across its surface. Then exploded into a brilliant shower of tiny yellow sparks that fell into the earth, gradually disappearing until none were left.