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Cloud Seeding

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Metamor Keep: Cloud Seeding

Author: Jetfire
Metamor Keep story universe

With a reluctant sigh, I pulled my head out of the clouds and looked around. I could not tell how long the thrall had lasted this time, but my body hinted that it was not as long as it usually lasted. I spread my wings and shook myself a bit, feeling the pleasant tingle of the ancient power sticking to me and double checked my work. The enchantment and its anchors were holding well.

Satisfied with my work, I walked over to the edge of the mountain plateau and leaped off. I pulled some of the winds to lift me and was momentarily caught off guard by their strength. Twisting around in the air and hastily calming the windstorm I raised, I regained control of my flight and berated myself. {Stupid, stupid, stupid... you forgot the residual charge again.}

The charge was something many magicians experienced when they dealt with ancient forces. In my case, my affinity with the weather combined with my draconic nature made the affect stronger than normal. It wasn't a dangerous charge, but it was disruptive to other magics in the vicinity, including my own magics. When we traveled by horses, the time it took to travel to and from the Keep was more than enough to dissipate the charge. Now that I could fly the distance much quicker, it raised my risk at the Keep. To avoid problems, and extra patrols, I tended to linger at the plateau instead of heading directly home.

Keeping a lazy eye on the currents and cloud groups around me, I climbed higher over the mountain and took my bearings. I noted the Southbourne cutting its way across the plateau on its way towards the falls, and set off to a familiar location.

A few hours of relaxed gliding eventually brought me over the scorched foundation of an old farmhouse. I noted with satisfaction that the fields around the old farm were still being used and well cared for. Even one of the old barns showed signs of being rebuilt to my surprise, though none of the farmers were around when I arrived. Near the blackened foundation stones was a small fenced in cemetery with a half dozen head stones. I landed a short distance from the cemetery and shifted back to my humanoid form. The graves were not tended to as well as the fields were, but my neighbours were keeping the worst of the wild growth from engulfing the ruins.

I walked up to the graves and paused at each stone, carefully clearing the tall grass and saplings from the names and remembered the faces and voices of my brothers and sisters who went with each one. Finally I reached the two larger stones at the back. I started clearing but emotion and memories overwhelmed me. Twenty years had not dulled my memory of the events the slightest. I had long since come to terms with the understanding that there was nothing I could have done, but it did not make the wound any less raw.

I rested my claw on mom's headstone and heard the faint echo of her shouting for me to fetch dad and the rest of the guys from the fields for dinner....

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"OK Mom!" Saroth shouted back and started running out of the woods and down the trail as fast as his young legs could carry him.

As he ran, he heard horses coming up the trail from the main road, and wondered if the lady Keeper had come back. She and her guards had stopped for the evening at the farm, on her way to the mountains they said. After dinner, she had thrilled Saroth and his family with stories about where she was from, a place called Metamor Keep in the north, and how the people who lived there guarded the southern lands from the monsters in the north.

Curious about why she and her guards were so far from the keep, Saroth had bluntly asked why she was so far from the Keep.

"I often try to get out, visit the southern towns to remind me just why we work so hard on defending that pass," she replied, ruffling his hair and smiling at his parents to indicate no insult was taken with his outburst.

She had left early the following morning with her guards, but ever since, Saroth, still too young to work in the fields with his older brothers, took every chance he could to prowl the small woods near his house, alert for any Lutins that might have slipped through.

He ran around a fence and into the barn, hearing the grunting as his brothers were moving heavy equipment around. "Guys! Dinner's ready!" he shouted.

His father groaned, his back cracking as he straightened up from the blade he was sharpening. Wiping the sweat off his head with a dirty rag, he smiled at Saroth. "It is, is it? Well, we'd best go get it while it's still hot." He put his tools back on a workbench and, with a grunt, lifted a giggling Saroth onto his shoulders. "Come on boys, dinner awaits!" he called to the three young men working deeper in the barn. Still carrying Saroth, he started up the trail back over the hill to the house.

"Daddy, what's that smoke from?" Saroth asked, pointing to the dark smoke rising above the hill. It was much thicker than smoke from a chimney would normally be.

His father took on a grim expression and quickened his pace. "I don't know son, but I don't like-"

A piercing woman's scream echoed down to them, interrupting his father's concerns. His father quickly broke into a run, his brothers running after them. They crested the hill and stopped dead in their tracks to scan the chaos around their home.

Flames were eating through the roof already, sending billows of dark smoke up in the sky. Outside, six men, dressed in black were chasing down Saroth's mother and sisters. In the moment they paused to watch, Saroth saw one grab his youngest sister and slash at her clothes with a blade. His father quickly put Saroth down and turned the boy away before he could witness more. He couldn't stop Saroth from hearing the terrified scream from his sister though.

His father exchanged quick glances at the other young men and they nodded, some sprinting back to the barn for weapons, the other already making his way towards the house. His father focused on the boy, holding Saroth's arms and gaze until he was sure he had the boy's full attention. "I want you to run as fast as you can to the forest and hide there until one of us comes to get you. Not a moment before, you got that?"

Saroth nodded his head mutely shocked at what was going on.

"Good. Now run. We'll come for you as soon as we can." his father said, shoving him gently towards the woods. Saroth broke into a run, going as fast as his short legs could carry him, terrified and trying to block out the noises. He refused to look back, even as more shouts and screams pierced the air.

Saroth reached the forest and ran to his hiding spot. It was a hollowed area beneath some thorny bushes, only reachable by crawling through the branches. There, he huddled, holding his legs tight to his chest, rocking himself. The noises from his house were muffled into silence by the forest, and the winds only brought the barest hint of smoke when they came from the house's direction. He stayed there as night fell, rocking himself to sleep as darkness descended.

A ray of sunlight and hunger finally woke him the next morning. Saroth stretched in his small hiding place and remembered what his father had told him to do. Pulling his knees against his chest, he sat still and waited as long as he could, trying to ignore his growling stomach and filling bladder. Eventually, biology overcame his mental will, forcing him to crawl out of the bushes.

He carefully made his way to the edge of the forest, alert for any movement. Pausing at the edge of the woods, he could still see smudges of smoke coming from the direction of the barns, the house and the fields. He listened carefully, but could only hear the sounds of birds chirping and the wind blowing. There was no sign of life from the farm or in the fields.

He stayed still, not wanting to disobey his farther, but also wondering what was taking him so long. His stomach once again convinced him to break his father's orders. Sneaking across the furrows in the fields, Saroth made his way towards the farmhouse. He peaked over the hill and froze in his tracks, staring down at the carnage below him. His young mind ran in circles, trying to make sense of the still smoldering shell of his home, and the bodies of his family spread on the lawn before him. His eyes finally landed on the bodies of his parents, his mother's head held in his father's arms. A dagger blade stuck out of his father's back.

Sobbing, his hunger forgotten, Saroth ran to his parents' side and laid his head on his mother's bloody lap. Unnoticed to him, clouds were quickly gathering over his head. Soon, a warm rain was falling, mixing with his tears and extinguishing the last few hotspots in the ruins.

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Electra let out a whoop of joy, pleased at the way the casting had gone. It was only the second time she had done the anchoring spell solo, and the first time she had managed to relax enough to enjoy the feelings of power at her control. Her guards simply rolled their eyes, having heard her letting out random shouts of joy all the way from Mount Weagle.

The guard in the lead looked ahead and stood up higher in his stirrups to see better. "Quiet down for a second, Elec," he ordered, reigning his horse to a stop and staring ahead. He had caught the scent of smoke in the air and could see a smudge of smoke merging with a small grouping of storm clouds on the horizon. "I don't like this.. Looks like something has happened at the farm we stopped at."

Electra quieted down and followed his gaze. "You're right, something not right; I can feel it in the air. And look at those clouds; there's no way they could stay like this in these winds." she said, her voice becoming concerned. "Come on! We need to get there fast; they might need some help!" she added, spurring her horse into a gallop. Her guards faltered for a moment, then took off after her.

They stopped at the end of the trail leading to the farm, just on the edge of the rain. One of the guards got off and examined it. "It's hard to tell, this rain has washed away some of the tracks, but it looks like five or six horses came this way, maybe more. The tracks go both ways though; I think they left, whoever they are."

Electra nodded her head and continued up the driveway without a word. The smell of smoke was strong in the air despite the rain's attempt to wash it clean. They followed the trail around a small copse of trees and could see the source of the smoke. Electra froze in her saddle and stared at the ruins.

"My god, what happened here? Who could have done this?" she muttered, her gaze taking in the remains of the living farm she had just visited the week before. She brushed her rain soaked hair out of her eyes and tried to get a better sense of what had happened. "Look around, see if anyone survived, and if you can find any sign of who did this," she ordered grimly, pulling out her sword. "Be alert though; they may have left someone behind."

The guards quickly drew their own swords and spread out. The group from the Keep cautiously made their way down to the remains of the farmhouse. Two guards split off to examine the barns just over the hill, while Electra and the remaining guard trotted towards the house. They froze briefly as they saw the bodies, recognizing the family that had hosted them.

At first, Electra thought that all of the bodies were dead until the smaller one looked up, hearing their horses. "Mommy's hurt.. Help her please," he begged, an anguished look on his face.

She climbed off her horse and crouched to examine the bodies closer. She recognized the boys parents, both long dead. She knelt down next to the boy and put a hand on his arm, pulling him away gently. She wracked her mind and finally pulled out his name from the earlier visit, "I'm sorry, .. Saroth," she said softly, "There's nothing I can do for her."

Saroth wrapped his arms around her legs and sobbed. Electra reached down and gently stroked the top of his head, trying to comfort him as best she could. Noises behind her drew her attention to the guards returning from the barn just as the skies seemed to open up and release torrents of rain.

"Two more killed, just over the hill, outside the remains of the barn. Looks like these raiders got them when they were coming to help the others here. All the animals had their throats slit and were left to bleed to death, and the barns and fields were torched. No signs of the bastards that did this, except a couple of dagger's like these." they reported softly, holding out a black dagger. "The markings are that of the Thief's Guild. Knowing them, this was probably just a random torch and run raid and not something this family was singled out for."

Electra's expression hardened. "I suspected as much. Only the Thief's Guild would do things like this. Those bastards would've salted the fields too if there was enough to go around."

"He the only survivor?" the head guard asked, noticing the boy at her side.

Electra sighed and nodded. "He seems to be." She looked down at Saroth then back to the guards. "We'll camp here tonight and tomorrow we will bury these bodies," She said grimly.

"What about the kid?"

"He'll be coming with us, at least as far as the next farm. When we get there, we'll figure out what to do."

It took two days to bury the bodies. Saroth watched the guards work in the drizzling rain that never seemed to let up. He never strayed far from Electra's side, staying silent as the guards prepared his family for burial in an area he helped pick out. The only reaction he showed was when the guards had reached his father to wrap him for burial. Before any of the guards could touch him, Saroth ran up to his father and pulled the dagger out. After wiping it clean on the ground, he held it up, staring at the markings on the hilt. Lightning took that moment to flash, showing clearly the grim expression on his young face and the anger in his eyes.

"Come on, dear. Let the guards finish so we can get going again," Electra said softly, putting an arm around Saroth. He tensed for a moment, then relaxed, letting her lead him away, tucking the dagger into his belt.

When the bodies were laid in the ground, Saroth stood silently as Electra performed a short funeral ceremony. He finally lost it again when the guards started shoveling the dirt down onto the wrapped bodies. The clouds opened up again while he hugged Electra tight, shoulders shaking.

Electra, the guards and Saroth were on the road again soon after the last body was buried. Saroth rode in front of Electra, his few belongings spread among the group. She noted how he always stared straight ahead, never once looking back. She was also puzzled by the rain clouds seemed to follow them. The drizzling rain stopped soon after the farm disappeared behind them, but they rode on in the perpetual shade of the clouds.

At the next farm, they refreshed their supplies and let the farmer and his wife there know what had happened to Saroth's family. Their faces fell at the news.

"I'm sorry to hear that. They were good people; always willing to help out in tough times," the farmer said sadly. He sighed. "But I guess raiders like that don't take goodness of heart into account when they do their raids."

"What about young Saroth? If you want, we would gladly take him and raise him as our own. It's been so long since we had a young lad in our house," his wife, said setting a plate down in front of the boy sitting close to Electra.

"Would you? We still have a long way to go, and-" Electra started, but was interrupted by Saroth.

"NO!" he shouted out, grabbing Electra's arm. He looked up at her, eyes begging. "You saved me. I don't want to leave you! Not... Not like I left ma and pa...."

Electra looked him in the eyes. She shivered slightly, getting a sense of something in him that she couldn't quite place. "Are you sure dear? There are some areas we need to go through that aren't very safe, and there are going to be a lot of strangers at the Keep. Why don't you stay here, with people you know?"

"Don't care. You will be there, not here," Saroth said softly, not loosening his grip.

The farmer's wife laughed, "He's his mother's son all right. Got her stubborn streak and then some. Forget it deary, there's no way you're going to get him to stay here." She smiled at Electra. "It might be for the best for him to get away from here anyway; give him a chance to start fresh without all the bad memories around here."

Electra sighed and nodded her head in agreement. "OK Saroth, you can come back to the Keep with me," she explained to the boy. He stared at her a long moment, as if he didn't believe her, and then loosened his grip. He smiled up at her, his eyes still tinged with sadness, but a sense of hope beginning to fill them. Outside, the clouds began to dissipate, letting the moon break through.

The next morning, they hit the road again with fresh supplies, including some new clothes for Saroth. They quickly reached the edge of the plateau and making their way down to the plains below it. Electra noted that with each passing mile, Saroth's mood seemed to lighten and he became more like the kid she remembered from her first visit to his farm. By the time they reached the Keep, she could barely hold him in the saddle as he twisted and turned, trying to see everything at once.

Electra bade goodbye to the guards inside the Keep entrance, and led Saroth to her chambers. "We'll find a room for you to stay in after you get used to the Ke-" she stopped in mid sentence as she looked in and saw the Keep was one step ahead of her as it always seemed to be. Her sitting room had always had two doors leading off of it, one to her labs and the other to her bedroom. There was now a third door in the room, well worn with use and looking like it had always been there. Through it, Electra could see a small bedroom, the perfect size for a young boy.

Shaking her head in amazement, she picked up Saroth's pack, mainly filled with old clothes from the first farm they'd stopped at, and set it on the bed. "Here, let me put this someplace safe for you. Don't worry, nothing will hurt you within the Keep," she said, reaching for the dagger Saroth had carried with him all the way back.

He quickly backed away from her. "NO! Mine!" he shouted, holding it close to his chest. Electra raised her hands in surrender.

"Fine, just be careful with it. I don't want you hurting yourself, or anyone else with it." She glanced out of the window at the sun. "I need to go and arrange a meeting with the King. You're free to look around here, just don't wander outside of the Keep's walls and don't get in anyone's way." Saroth nodded his head in compliance, but didn't take his eyes off of her. Electra stood still for a moment, watching Saroth in silence for a moment, then left the room.

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I shook my head from the daydreams and looked around a bit. Memories of my early days at the Keep still flickered through my mind. I remembered staying in the room for hours, until the sounds of other children finally drew me out. I hid the dagger beneath my bed and soon slipped into the Keep's lifestyle, but the reasons I was there were never far from my mind.

As I grew, I threw myself into my lessons, especially the combat lessons. I never voiced my plans to anyone, but I was laying my plans to fulfill the mental promise I had made at that funeral; to hunt down every member of the Thief's Guild and kill them all.

My weather aptitude became more apparent in the Keep's environment, to Electra's excitement. She did her best to teach me, but even then I was too stubborn to learn, and to focused in my vengeance plans to put much effort in her teachings. Not having any children of her own, she figured I was just being a normal growing boy. It wasn't until I had finished my combat training and she found me packing that she realized I had more plans, beyond the Keep.

To this day, I'm still not sure how she convinced me to stay. It was one of the few times she overcame my stubbornness. In hindsight, I now recognize that though my heart still ached for revenge, time had cooled that vengeance. At the time, it was the hardest decision I had ever made, and I could have gone either way on it. Part of the reasoning that convinced me to stay was Electra's promise not to interfere when I did have opportunities to get my revenge; opportunities that were rare in the years since then, but not non-existent.

I sighed, shook my head to clear the last ghosts of memories, and focused on the graves before me. {Hi mom, dad,} I sent softly. {Sorry I didn't stop last time, but they really needed me back at the Keep early to help with the winter patrols. I don't know if you can hear me, but if you can, I just wanted to say... Say that I miss you. I'm doing and seeing things that I never thought could happen in my wildest dreams, learning more then I ever thought possible... Why, just look at me! I doubt you'd even be able to recognize me now. But still, always, in the back of my mind, I can't help wondering, is this what you wanted me to do? Are you proud of me? Or are you disappointed in me for abandoning the farm.} I sighed and knealed in front of the stones. {I just wish I knew....}

I let that spoken thought trail off into silence for a moment, before I leaned forward and moved aside a flat stone set between the two headstones. From the recess under it, I pulled out a black dagger. It had eight scratches on it, two of them made by another blade, the other six made by my own claw. I held it in my hands, staring at it's dark metal against my bronze hide. {I'm still hunting down those monsters every chance I get, every lead I hear, but I think they are on to me; I haven't found any of them in over a year. But don't worry, I will not rest until every last one of them has been wiped off the face of this planet.} I said softly. Slowly, I replaced the blade back in its niche and replaced the cover stone. {Only then will we find peace,} I added, more to myself then to the great beyond.

With my head bowed, I slowly backed out of the graveyard. Once I was out and had the space, I shifted back to my full form and took off, slowly circling the site once before turning eastward, pulling in some winds to lift me higher over the mountains that edged the plateau. The Keep was actually due north of my birthplace, but when I had time to kill, I often took the scenic route home along the coast.

By nightfall, I had reached the rocky cliffs on the coast just north of Magdalain Island. I briefly considered turning south and visiting the boys and Electra's brother, but nixed the idea. The Keepers knew what I was like when I returned, and knew what to expect, but for most normal people it would be extremely uncomfortable to them, and could lead to things I didn't want to happen. With the sun settling into the ocean, I found a ledge large enough for me to settle on, and thought about Metamor Keep's allies just over the horizon as I dozed off.

Since Electra and I had visited the island the previous year, the Keep had received two caravans from the island and the Keep had sent three of its own to the Island. Three Keepers had also taken advantage of the amnesty the island offered, a dolphin morph and a turtle morph, both of whom had ran afoul of some fishermen off the coast, and one of the age regressors who had his cover blown when he was scouting out some rumors of rebellion in one of the southern kingdoms. The two animal morphs moved to the island permanently, finding the seas around the island more habitable for them than the mountainous valleys of the Keep.

The next morning, I awoke at sunrise and started lazily flying up the coast, skirting out to sea to avoid some of the larger communities that weren't familiar with me. It took a few days to reach the point where the coast turned away from where I was going. Turning landward, I relaxed and watched the ground pass by beneath my wings. The forests lining the rocky coastline quickly turned into fields and roads as I approached more settled areas. In the evenings, with no cliffs I could use for shelter, I bedded down in forest clearings as far from villages as I could. Most people wouldn't dare approach a dragon, even a sleeping dragon, but there were rumors from the east about humans attacking dragons, and I wasn't willing to risk it out here.

Even with my circuitous flight path, I was way ahead of my schedule due to a friendly tailwind that I didn't want to divert, and the thought of long days patrolling the northern borders was not appealing to me. With the sun setting, I rumbled softly and peered downward at the landmarks, seeking a clearing I knew well. It was one I regularly visited on my return, a tad close to the roads than I normally preferred, but with good shelter, and lots of space to take off from. I traced the road through the forest, and finally found the clearing.

To my dismay, I also found it was already occupied. A trade caravan was settling down for the night, hands tending to the animals while others prepared a meal. I growled in frustration, and circled around the clearing while trying to remember any other decent camp sites I could use. Mostly out of habit, I sent a quick breeze down to lift the flags on the carts to identify the group. One of the flags I recognized as a crew that regularly supplied the Keep and my heart gave a hopeful leap. The flag didn't mean that they were going to the Keep now, but it did mean they would know of the Keep and would very likely be friendly to a traveling Keeper in need of a good nights rest among friends.

I broke out of my circle and landed in a smaller nearby clearing, just large enough to land in, but too rocky to use as a campsite. I shrunk down to my humanoid size and walked through the woods towards the caravan. I stopped still deep enough in the forest to be hidden and watched the group's preparations. It was too early for them to have a watch up so I figured I was safe enough. I studied their covered loads and tried to listen in as best as I could to figure out where they were going. I figured that if they were en route to the Keep itself, my chances of having a friendly bed increased.

Most of the traders were gathered around the cook fire, their conversations mostly drowned out by the crackle of the fire. I did pick up some plans for a night watch, but not much else of use. Moving carefully, I circled the clearing further to get a better view of the carts. One marking in particular gave me a start of recognition.

{They MUST be going to the Keep, None of the Midland towns trade with the Island! } I thought excitedly to myself, careful not to broadcast.

The tone of the conversation at the fire shifted a little, and I saw one young figure light a torch and making his way towards the island's cart. Something about his gait tugged at my memory, but I couldn't place what exactly it was. The figure shifted the torch to his other hand to tug on the bindings on the crates, giving me a clearer view of his face. I broke into a grin and took a few steps closer so I wouldn't have to shout.

{So, has your mother made you marry Mari-Mac yet?} I sent with a smirk.

He jumped in surprise, nearly dropping the torch into the cart. At the fire, some of the figures gave a surprised shout, having picked up a hint of my mental voice.

"Saroth? Is that you?" the young man asked, recovering and looking around to try and find me. Some of the other traders were also looking around, some picking up blades.

Not wanting to cause an incident, I stepped out from the shadows of the woods into plain view, holding up my claws. {Hi Sean. Good to see you again.} I sent, louder so others could hear me. The closest trader finally zeroed in on me and shouted an alarm while breaking into a run towards us. Sean quickly raised an arm to stop him. "Easy Jack. I know him. He's a telepathic dragon I met last year, back on the island. He's from the Keep."

Jack stopped but looked warily at me, the other traders slowing and mumbling amongst themselves. "Are you sure you know him?. You can't be too careful out here."

Sean laughed and started walking towards me. "And just how many telepathic bronze dragon morphs do YOU know of? Believe me, he's harmless, as long as you stay on his good side."

I smiled at Sean's comments, then nodded towards Jack and the rest of the Traders. {Good evening gentlemen, please be at ease, I mean you no harm. My name is Saroth, from Metamor Keep. I just noticed your caravan and recognized my friend Sean and wished to talk to him, and to hopefully find a place to rest my wings for the night,} I said in greeting.

"But what is a Keeper doing this far from the Keep? And why doesn't he speak out loud like everyone else?!?" Jack seemed at a bit of a loss. Behind him the rest of the caravan members were muttering among themselves. I had the faint sense that one or two may have recognized me.

I sighed and tried to hold my impatience in check despite this further delay after a long day in the air. {For your information, I was on official Keep business in the south lands. I was on my way back to the Keep looking for a place to rest my wings, and, as I said before, I recognized this caravan and my friend. I decided to drop in and talk to him. As for speaking out loud, well, it's a long story that I don't feel like getting into right now,} I sent rather curtly. {Now. would you mind giving us a little privacy so that we may chat?}

Jack frowned. "I don't know, your parents entrusted me to keep an eye on you while on this trip." he said slowly.

"Come on, Jack; I'm old enough to take care of myself, and I'm sure Saroth won't let anything happen to us. He's a DRAGON for crying out loud! I'm probably safer with him then I am with you!" Sean begged.

{If it helps, we will stay on the trail, in sight of you. Sean will never leave your sight,} I added.

“I think I can vouch for him too, Jack. Seen him at the Keep a few times too, but never met him,” another Keeper spoke up, confirming my identity.

Jack relented and took a few steps back. "All right, Stay in sight. And I want you back here at the first sign of trouble. You Keepers keep most of the Lutins out of this region, but that doesn't mean there aren't other dangers, especially this far from any towns." With that, he turned around and returned to the main caravan.

I moved further down the trail, noting how the horses calmed down as the distance increased. I briefly wondered if it was because of my dragon scent or my charge or a bit of both which was setting them on edge. Sean ran up behind me. {You'd better stay back a few paces. I'm still a tad overcharged with magical energies,} I warned him. {It won't hurt you, but it does tend to make others uncomfortable.}

Sean nodded and silently 'Ah-ha'ed. "So THAT'S why you're glowing so much. You're brighter than the campfire." Sean said. "I don't know if Electra's told you or not, but seeing magic was the first, and so far only, thing Gordon has managed to teach me. He says my sight is so good that if I can start learning to cast spells, I could become a full fledged Wizard! Too bad neither of us could figure out how to use this talent I have.” He grinned and sat down on a fallen log on the edge of the road, waving to Jack who was trying to hide that he was watching us. “Eventually, Gordon got so frustrated with my lack of progress, he decided to see if someone else could help. He figured that it might be better to have someone with more experience might be able to drill some spells into my thick head. So, after a long talk with Electra, we decided that the Keep, with all its mages might be the best place for me to continue with my studies."

I smiled at them and sat on the other end of the trunk. {Don't worry, Electra's a fantastic teacher, just don't tell her I told you that. I'm sure she'll have you casting spells in no time.}

I frowned as the light around us faded slightly. Glancing up at the sky, I saw the nearly full moon was rising, bathing the trail and campsite in its pale white light. A small group of clouds were drifting over the moon, darkening the area. I quickly reached up mentally and commanded the wind to move the clouds out of the way.

"Saroth, what did you just do?" Sean asked suddenly.

{Hm? What do you mean?} I asked, returning my gaze to the men.

"You just did some magic, didn't you? I saw a stream of magic leave you, and go into the sky." Sean explained staring up at the moon.

{I just cleared some clouds away from in front of the moon. I guess it is magic, but I've done things like that so often, it's second nature for me.} I said thoughtfully. {Do you always watch everything with magic sight?}

Sean shrugged. "I have ever since I learned how to do it. Everything just looks so much more interesting; more lively when I can see the magical tendrils connecting everything to everything else. To be honest, I'm not all that sure I can figure out how to turn it off... Do you use the Sight often Saroth?"

I shook my head. {I'm nearly magic blind, a rarity for a dragon from what Cerulean, he's the natural dragon at the Keep, tells me. But, all things considered, I think it's for the better. Since I changed, I see too many things in the air, like wind currents and thermals and such, without having to look at magic streams too. I prefer it this way anyway; being able to see the winds is much more helpful to me for when I fly and use my weather skills then seeing magic would be. Electra often jokes that I need magical glasses to improve my magical sight.} I said with a laugh.

{Thankfully, you don't need to have a clear magic sight to be a decent mage. Most people and animals can sense magic of some form or another, which is why they get uneasy around Ancient magic like I've been dealing with, but they can rarely see it. To become a good mage though, you often need to be able to see spells and powers a bit more clearly then most. Most of the time, the better your magic sense, the stronger the magician. If you're magic sight is half as good as you claim, you could potentially become a very powerful magician.} My voice got quieter, musing more to myself then talking to Sean. {Then again, on the other hand, if that was the case, Gordon should've been able to teach you SOMETHING... }

"I know, that was one of the things Gordon wondered about, and why he decided to send me to the Keep. And for your information, my sight really is that good. " Sean stood up from the ground and approached me, seemingly unaffected by my ancient magic charge. "On you, for example, I can see at least 5 distinct magic signatures." He started pointing on me. I watched him, fascinated.

"As I mentioned before, all around you, you've got some sort of glow, reddish bronze colored, like the setting sun. It's not a spell per say, just the potential for a spell, just pure energy. It feels ancient, older then the hills themselves, yet it's also got some sort of youthfulness to it that I can't quite explain.. It's very strong on you right now, making it harder for me to see the rest," he explained. He paused, concentrating and staring hard at me for a moment, before continuing.

"The rest are actual spells. I can clearly see the ordered threads of them. Here," he points to my chest, "is a simple green-colored spell. It looks like it was largely chemically induced, like the magic medical syrups and salves Gordon would show me, but it's the wrong color. The medical stuff used to be white or yellow, this is green. Like the other mess of spells you seem to have on you, its threads cover you completely, but that seems to be the main concentration of it."

"Up here," he points at my neck," is a blue spell. Seems to have a few chemical traces in it, but I can't tell for sure until I get more experience reading spells. It is certainly more complex then the first one, and seems to be mainly concentrated around your neck and in your head. Looks very professional. "

{That's probably the remains of the original Telepathic spell I told you about last year. Magus, the strongest wizard at the Keep, cast it on me himself. He did make me drink a potion before he cast it too, as I recall. The other one is probably the spell I did that messed up my change.} I said, smiling slightly in embarrassment.

"Then there seems to be some dark spell all around you, surrounding you tightly like a net. It's hard to tell behind the white spell on top of it, but I can see it faintly," he shudders. "Those are probably Nasoj's spell, and the counter spell that lets you morph." He paused again and stared intently at me for a moment before shaking his head.

"Amazing, I don't think I've ever seen a spell like that. I know it's evil, I can even feel the evil coming off of it, but it's beautiful in its own way. Tightly woven, no loose threads anywhere that I can see. Now, I don't know much about magic, yet, but I can tell that that thing couldn't have been easy to make."

He sighed and stepped back. "If only you could see what I could see Saroth. You're covered in a tightly woven dark net, but the counterspell still managed to squeeze in between it and pry it apart in places, and then you've got those other spells tangled up between both." He pointed to my head, my neck and my chest, around my heart area. "Here, here and here, the spells are so tangled, I can't even tell them apart."

I shook my head in amazement. {Your sight is incredible if you can see all that. Most people I know who cast magic, including Electra, can only sense it a little better then me, nowhere near the detail you can. Still, you might want to just use your regular sight before you get to the Keep. The spells there are knee deep or deeper in some places, and I don't mean just Nasoj's spells. They could blind you if you're not prepared... Which reminds me, you do remember what I told you about what will happens if you stay there too long, right?}

Sean nodded. "You, Gordon, my parents, the Mayor, even Electra, have made it completely clear. My plan is spend a few days there, talk to your mages, figure out what I might be able to do, and then head back to the island with a lesson plan or something. If your friends can't figure out what to do with me fast enough, then I'll probably leave the Keep for a few weeks before the curse sets in, then come back later. I think Electra is curious to see what I can see about the curses too. I might be able to see the curse trying to take hold and be able to tell people when to get out if they're pushing it." I nodded my head in agreement. {Sounds like a good plan, just don't hold off too long or you might be too late.} I said quietly, then decided to change the subject. {So, what's been going on back on the island? How are Alan and the others doing?}

We talked long into the night, exchanging stories about what was going on back on the island and in the Keep. I described the Keep as best as I could, telling him what to expect and who to be wary of. Finally, as the moon was setting, we called it a night and bedded down. I simply expanded to my full form and settled across the trail. It wasn't as comfortable as the clearing would have been, but it would do. Sean returned to the camp long enough to get his bedroll before spreading it out beside me. He dozed off laying against my chest.

Curious about what he had said he 'saw' on me, I switched to my own magic sight, weak though it was, and looked at myself. All I could see was the bronze glow of the ancient magic, with faint touches of the other spells. Nowhere near the detail Sean had said he'd seen. Shaking my head in amazement, I looked around and saw the faint greenish glow of natural power around the trees. Glancing down at Sean, I was surprised to see the Ancient glow surrounding him slightly, covering him almost like a blanket. It looked like Sean had somehow pulled some of my 'glow' off of me and wrapped it around himself. Shaking my head in wonderment, I lowered it to the ground and dozed off.

In the morning, I awoke at sunrise, as usual, and gently nudged Sean awake. He yawned and stretched, slowly moving away from me. I watched the glow stretch between us for a moment then 'snap back' to me, leaving him untouched and unaffected. I blinked disbelieving, switching back to normal sight. I turned down a cup of coffee from Jack and bade good-bye to Sean, then jumped to the air. I circled a few times, watching them pack up and get ready to return to the roads. The caravan was heading away from the direction I was going in, heading for some of the midlands towns. They wouldn't actually reach the Keep for another week or two. I had asked Sean if he was worried some of the Island's goods bound for the Keep might spoil, but he assured me the perishables were well covered in sealing spells that would last for years if needed.

With a final dipping of my wings to them, I started flying directly towards the Keep, eager to let Electra know the news. I barely noticed as the miles rushed by below me on my way home. I flew over the gate, waving to the guards, and landed on my tower. Ducking inside, almost too big to fit in, I tossed the pouch I used for the few supplies I needed when I went south on a table. I grabbed a robe from the wardrobe and leaped off my balcony, shifting just large enough to turn my fall into a controlled glide. I pulled the robe on around me and sprinted to Electra's labs.

I paused outside her closed doors, hearing her talking to Cerulean. My mutated telepathy spell meant I could no longer read minds, but I did still have a bit of telempathy; I could sense a bit of frustration and concern from Electra, and a complicated set of emotions ranging from concern to bemusement from Cerulean.

I raised my hand to knock on the door, and paused when I faintly heard them talking through the door.

"-eed to remember that he isn't exactly human anymore. He may be getting older in human years, but as a dragon, he's still very young. It's not surprising that he seems to be a little irresponsible and childish at times." Cerulean was explaining to Electra.

Electra sighed. "I know, I realize that. I just wish he would concentrate more on his magic studies instead of flying among the clouds. It can be so frustrating at times to try and drill a new spell into him and his mind is off in those clouds he so enjoys."

I caught a slight sense of amusement from Cerulean as he comforted Electra. "Flight is exhilarating, especially when your young. Probably even more so considering his abilities. I wouldn't be too concerned though, he'll grow out of it eventually. Besides, it's not as if he is shirking his responsibilities to take his flights. From what I've heard, he takes all of his duties seriously."

Electra laughed. "All of them, except his studying it seems. I just hope I live long enough to see him grow out of this phase."

I chose that moment to rap on the door, a little embarrassed about eavesdropping in on so much of their conversation. {I'm back, Electra, with some great news,} I sent into the room.

I caught a sense of surprise and a touch of embarrassment on her end as Electra called out. "The door's unlocked, Saroth.. What are you doing back so soon?"

I opened the door and stepped inside. She winced and stepped back, Cerulean simply smiled and nodded his head in greeting to me. I wasn't sure if I saw him wink at me or not, but I had a funny feeling he had known I was outside the door. "Back WAY too soon," Electra quickly added.

{Hi Cerulean. Sorry to interrupt you, coming back so soon, I was too excited to wait long enough before telling you.. You'll never guess who I met on the way back!}

Electra smiled. "Sean right?" Her smile widened as my jaw dropped in surprise. "You broadcasted his image along with your question. You'd think you'd be used to that after all this time. So, how long before he gets here?"

I quickly recovered {1 or 2 weeks. He's with a caravan that's making some stops in some of the Midland towns.}

She nodded her head thoughtfully. "I'll go and arrange his room and tell Magus that Sean's nearly here. Hopefully he'll keep his labs in one piece long enough for us to borrow some of his equipment when Sean gets here."

She started walking towards me, her face showing her discomfort. "As for you, you're on Lutin watch for the next week or so, until they get here. You're still reeking of ancient magic, and probably throwing off every magician's spell in the building. Get your sword and supply kit and git out of here!... I'll let Jack know you're on patrol."

{Yes, Ma'am,} I sent, lowering my head, chastised, but still smiling. I waved bye to Cerulean and quickly left her lab.

"See what I have to p-" I faintly heard as I walked away, sensing her good humor with just a touch of relief.


Preceded by:
Sea Breeze
Metamor Keep Succeeded by: