This is a birthday story for Alk who requested a D&D LB story. Many thanks to Chris for the beta job. Also my thanks to a coworker who happens to be a Dungeon Master, he told me of the spell to use at the end. Being a Dungeon Master he could do that. LOL Also a big thanks to Nancy. She started this AU with Small Treasures. The medallion bond is from my story Spell Bound.
The characters known as the Magnificent Seven aren't my they belong to some show biz person or persons. I'm just paying with them for a while.
Malediction - The calling down of a curse.
"Come with me Vin. I wish to show you something I'm betting you've never seen before." Ezra coaxed. The teenaged mage was sure that the sight he planned if not the magic would mesmerize the half-elf.
The little elf looked up at his friend. "Won't take long, will it? The others should be back from the village soon."
"No, we can be back within the hour. Long before the others return."
Vin chewed his lower lip. The others had gone into the large village to get supplies. But Vin, because he was half-elf had been barred at the village gate. Not all men were as accepting as the ones he and Jaydee lived with. In an unusual move Ezra had offered to stay behind with him. "Okay, I'll come with you. But you must promise you'll be careful. You aren't a full mage yet an' evil can track untrained magic." The ever cautious half-elf said.
"Yes. Yes. I shall be careful. Follow me." Ezra commanded impatiently leading the boy to a small clearing.
Ezra pulled from his cloak a large crystal. Holding it up with one hand, he reached out with the other and held Vin's hand. Standish began speaking so quietly that the little elf couldn't understand him.
Suddenly the world spun and blurred. Vin blinked and they were no longer in the forest glen but somewhere else entirely. Tanner looked around in confusion. "Ezra? Where are we? What is that?"
The teen laughed, "We're on the sea coast. That's the great Salt Sea."
"Are you sure? Can we touch it?"
"Yes, I'm sure. This is called a beach and all that water is the great Salt Sea. Yes you can touch it, but don't drink it. We can't stay too long either."
Little Tanner slowly walked forward until his toes were on the edge of the waves. He slowly bent down until the next wave washed over his fingers. He lifted his wet hand sniffing first and then sticking his tongue out tasting the moisture. His eyebrows lifted in surprise. "It's salty."
Ezra laughed again "Yes it is. I told you it's the Salt Sea."
Standing again Vin looked around him. "The sea, does it go on forever? Does it have an end with more land?"
"I don't know. But it must. Come on we need to go back."
Vin didn't want to leave this place. He loved the wide openness of it and he loved the crunchy sinking feeling of walking on the strange beach sand. He looked again at the rolling waves of the sea. But he could tell that the magic was tiring Ezra. "Alright." Reaching down in the sand he gathered up a small shell as a keepsake.
Taking the elf's hand Ezra raised the crystal again. "VALUP!"
The world tilted again and they were back in the glen. But something was wrong. It didn't feel right. There was no "home" feeling to it. Ezra's hand was jerked away from his.
Vin opened his eyes and saw Ezra struggling against an invisible bond. He tried to reach for the apprentice mage but found he couldn't move at all.
His panicked eyes searched for a reason. Standing in front of Ezra was a tall figure wrapped in a red cloak so dark it was almost black. He couldn't see the face but the claw like hand raised toward his friend made him shudder in fear.
The hand was curled as if it held a ball. It turned and one finger pointed at Ezra. Young Standish screamed in pain.
Somehow Vin found his voice. "Stop hurting him," he screamed.
The hooded head turned toward Vin. The claw reached out and without touching him ran from the top of his head down his body. "So, the half-elf speaks." the voice whispered.
The sound of the voice made Vin want to run but at the same time curl into himself.
"Tell me little halfling, what does this boy mean to you?"
"He's m' friend. Who are you? Where are we?" Vin asked with a defiance that he didn't feel.
A sinister chuckle floated the cloak. "You are...let's just say far from where you want to be. As for your friend, I'd heard the Wizard Josiah had taken an apprentice, when his time as a hermit had ended. Do you know him? The wizard Josiah?"
"Vin, don't say anything else," Ezra called with a strangled voice.
"Ah, the student speaks."
Ezra glared at best he could at the cloaked figure. "I do not know you, sir. Why have you detained us? I demand you release us." The young teen was trying to bring in to use all his mother had taught him.
"Demand! You are in no position to demand anything. But yes I shall release you, once I'm finished. First I have a message you must give Josiah. Listen carefully Ezra Standish..."
Vin tried to hear what the cloaked mage was saying but he couldn't understand what he did hear. The voice took on a hypnotic quality. He felt himself drifting, lost in the hum of sound.
A sharp cutting voice called him back. "You my little halfling, on you I place this curse. I take away your gifts and leave you in fear. You will know no friend, no place of safety. You will watch as those close wilt from heart break but you will feel nothing. No man will be your friend no elf will claim you. The coldness will gather leaving you empty.
Vin felt the bonds that held him loosen and he fell to the ground. He shivered as the laughing suddenly disappeared. Looking around there was only Ezra in the glen. He dug his fingers through the forest floor until he felt the bedrock beneath. Quickly, before he forgot everything he threw back his head and emitted a shrill sound.
"Hear me Forest Spirits! I am Vindarin Tannrea of the Black Forest Elves. I call upon you to honor the ancient vows made to all forest elves. Lift this curse made by the evil one from me. Lift the curse from my brother in arms. Hear me Spirits of this Forest. Heed my plea." Vin rubbed the tips of his fingers against the bedrock and waited. He could hear the pounding of his heart as he waited.
A soft whisper of many voices came to him. "We hear you, Vindarin Tannrea. We will honor our vows made to your father's fathers. But hear us carefully; we can not lift the curse entirely. Especially we can not from the human or from your human half. We can change it. He will know you, hear you, see you. Others will be as spirits to him. The creeping sickness we can only slow. Only another wizard may lift the curse altogether. The curse the evil one placed on you is reduced. You must fight against it. So long as you remain grounded to the elves' mother, the earth. Listen carefully little elf. The forest will tell you the way to go. It is many days journey to your home. Go carefully."
"I thank you Spirits of the Forest." Vin raised his head and looked around. The glade was empty except for the seemingly unconscious teen. The young elf frowned whispering what the Spirit voices had told him. "The forest will tell you the way to go, but which way?"
He crawled over to where Ezra lay and placed a hand on the boys shoulder. "Ezra? Can you hear me? We need to get to Josiah. Please Ezra wake up."
The young mage groaned and rolled over. His once sparkling green eyes were now cloudy with what looked like ice crystals. "Vin?"
"Yes, I'm here."
Panic crept into Ezra's voice. "What happened?"
"Don't you remember the wizard? The blood red cloak?"
"I...no, we were by the sea and then I was taking us back home... Vin what's wrong with my eyes?"
"I'm not sure. A dark wizard stopped us. He hates Josiah for some reason. He cursed us. We have to get home to find Josiah."
"Cursed us? What do you mean find our way home?"
The younger boy helped the older one to stand. Ezra groaned and his grip tightened painfully on the elf's shoulder. "Ez? What's wrong?"
"Dizzy. It's as if the ground were rocking." Ezra said through clenched teeth. "I feel sick..."
"Take slow deep breaths. It's part of the curse. You just hold on to me. I won't let you fall an' I won't let ya bump into anything. Just one step at a time."
Ezra blinked slowly. The world had become a world of gray shadows. What he thought were trees were waving shades of black and gray. Even Vin was distorted and unrecognizable appearing to be some demon from the underworld rather then his friend. Swallowing several times the apprentice mage gripped the thin shoulder tighter. Resolutely he closed his watering eyes. "Lead on, Vin. I shall endeavor to follow."
+ + + + + + +
Christopher of Larabee, soldier of fortune and black knight walked down the path with purpose. He was followed as he expected by the rest of his small group. It had been a long time since he had hurried anywhere. His heart had seemed of stone wanting nothing more then to sink into the ground and join his beloved family. He'd felt that way until a small half-starved half-elf and his Everborn cousin had almost literally fallen into his arms.
Now he hurried back to the humble place they all called home. Vin would be waiting. He and Ezra had stayed behind while young Jaydee had beamed at the idea of going to the village with his Buck. While the boy was staying behind to visit with his young friend Casey at the Widow Wells hut the rest were with him.
Larabee stopped mid-stride. He felt as if all his life's blood were instantly drained from his body.
"Chris?" Buck stopped, barely avoiding bumping into his leader. The rogue reached out with his free hand, half expecting the man to fall at his feet. "Chris? What's wrong?"
The blond didn't answer for several breaths and then turned haunted eyes toward Wilmington. "Buck? Something's happened to Vin."
"What do you mean? How can you know?"
"The bond, it's been...it's not...no... it's still there but I can barely feel it. Something's wrong with him." Larabee could hardly get the words out and once finished he took off running.
"Chris! Wait!" Buck called as Josiah and the healer Nathan caught up with him.
"What's wrong, Buck?" Nathan asked.
"Chris said something's wrong with his bond to Vin."
Josiah frowned. "Ezra is with Vin." The tall wizard looked at the retreating figure. He strode ahead making even the long legged Wilmington stretch his legs to keep up.
They rushed in silence until they came to the glen where their small cabin stood. Each man searched all around and finding nothing they stood by the well. Although worried Buck was glad he'd left Jaydee behind. Mistress Nettie had made it seem his stay was for Casey but in fact she was watching him after a bad cold he'd caught when he and the girl had tried swimming in the snow fed stream.
The mage looked at each of the men, but hurried to Chris' side. The man in black was sitting slumped over his clenched hand pressing and rubbing the place the protective medallion had been absorbed.
Chris looked up when he saw Josiah's robes in front of him. "I can barely feel him, Josiah. He's in distress and... he feels so far away. How could he feel so far away?"
Josiah sighed. "I'm not sure. Ezra was practicing teleportation. He is fascinated by all the different places he's seen. I'm afraid he may have decided to take Vin on a sight seeing trip. Against my express orders, I might add."
"How can we find them?"
Josiah looked away. "I will try to find a ... what you would call a trail. Magic leaves a signature, if you know what it look for."
"There's a chance then, you can find them?"
"A chance, yes."
Chris watched as the mage walked away heading toward the Oak grove where he centered his magic. "Josiah?" Chris called.
The mage stopped but didn't turn. "Leave me be, Larabee. I must search for Ezra and Vin in my own way. There is black magic involved in this. I can feel it." He then continued on to his sacred grove.
Chris slumped down in defeat his hands covered his face. "Vin, bond-son, I will find you." The distraught man sent out the thought hoping that somehow through the bond Vin would hear and know.
+ + + + + + +
The two young friends stumbled on, Ezra having to completely rely on Vin on where they were going. He blinked hard and often trying to clear the nauseating vision before him. He frowned as he felt Vin trip and correct himself again. Vin was usually so surefooted that he could hardly be heard or seen as he slipped through the forest. That he was stumbling worried young Standish but he kept silent.
Ezra then noticed how heavily the little elf was leaning on him. "Vin? Should we stop? Do you need to rest?"
"What? No, I..." Vin sighed. "Maybe we should stop. There is a likely place a few more yards. Water I think."
The boys made the few yards and collapsed beside a tiny brook. Vin placed Standish's hand in the water. "Drink Ezra even if you don't want to. You need the water."
Tanner sat back and watched his friend sip water from a cupped hand. He swallowed a small groan. His joints ached, knees, hips and especially his back. It hadn't hurt this bad in a long time. Even sitting still didn't ease the bone deep throbbing.
Ezra stopped drinking, "You need to drink also my friend."
"I will, I...I just need to rest some first."
"Does anything look familiar?"
"No, I have never seen this part of the forest before. It's almost dark. We need to stay here for the night. I don't think we should build a fire but you have your cloak." Vin had managed to hide from Ezra the fact that he couldn't truly see the forest.
"But you have no cloak."
"I will be fine. I am a warrior elf, one night will do me no harm."
"I'm sure you would be fine, but we will share my cloak."
'All right, we must find shelter; there is a hollowed out place up ahead in the rocks that birth the spring. We can stay there. You need to drink more."
Ezra's watering eyes wandered as if searching for something familiar. "I'm not sure I can."
"You must try Ezra. We can survive a long time without food. But not long at all without water." Vin said as he tried to drink some water himself. He was truly afraid the water would be fire sliding down his throat burning him inside out, until the flames consumed him.
But he tried. He'd forced Ezra to drink he must also. Taking a sip he was surprised as the icy liquid slid over his tongue and down his parched throat. It didn't burn. It was the most wonderful wet feeling. Taking another drink and then another as the water soaked into his dehydrated body.
He laid his hand on the rock. "Thank you Water for your gift of life."
Vin took Ezra's arm once more, "Come on Ez, let's bed up in that hollow. The heat from the rocks will warm us throughout the night." The floor of the spot he'd picked was covered with warm fine sand.
"Lay down here Ezra. It'll make for fine sleeping." He helped the young wizard get comfortable and lay down beside him.
"Do you think? I mean... will we find our way back to the others?" Ezra winched at how young and scared his voice sounded.
Putting his arm protectively over the older boy Vin said, "We'll find them. I promise Ezra."
+ + + + + + +
Chris hated waiting. He hated not being able to do anything to help. He hated that Josiah had not come back from where he'd disappeared. What was taking so long? Why hadn't Josiah come back? But most importantly where were the boys?
His hand pressed where the magical medallion had laid on his chest. The mystical tie between himself and Vin centered in the shared medallion and had always let him know where the boy was. For the first time he had to really concentrate hard to even 'feel' Vin. He knew something was wrong with the boy but he couldn't tell what or how bad and it was driving him crazy.
A rustling sound caused him to open his eyes looking at the grove of oak trees. A bright light shone between the trees burning the pre-dawn dark to high noon brightness. Larabee stood and waited his hand on his sword hilt. "Josiah?"
A robed shape appeared in the light. The light dimmed slightly and Chris could see the man standing before him. "Josiah?" Larabee asked again.
The mage focused on the mercenary now standing before him. He knew in the calling of his name were dozens of questions. "The boys are alive. They were teleporting home when intercepted by an old friend who is now an enemy. I'm afraid this is because of me."
Chris felt his anger bubbling up. "Someone wanting to get to you?"
"Yes." The wizard looked Larabee in the eye. "I have removed the threat."
"I have not located the boys." Raising his hand to stop Chris from interrupting. "I have their general location. I can take you and me there. But I...I don't have the strength to take anyone else." Josiah swayed and swallowed.
"Are you alright?"
"I am...merely tired. There are a few supplies I need to gather before we leave. Please tell the others. Nathan especially will not like being left behind, but it is necessary. Meet me here in a candle mark."
+ + + + + + +
The small elf slept badly. He ached so. No matter how he turned or twisted he ached. Ezra wasn't much better although the young mage seemed to be caught in an unending nightmare. Vin had tried to wake him but was successful in only calming Ezra with his touch and his voice.
Even before he opened his eyes he could tell it was day again. Tanner didn't want to open his eyes. He didn't want to see what he'd seen yesterday. But his thirst and some inner urge to find Chris forced him to open them just a crack.
The world looked the same. All black and white shadows and too bright light. Sighing, the boy opened his eyes and sat up. "Ezra? You need to wake up now. We need to go." Vin reached over and shook the teen.
"What? Vin? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, we just need to go. We need to find the others, to find Josiah to help us."
Standish was still for a second or two and then he tried to sit up. Finally he stood and walked beside and a little behind Vin, his hand resting on the half-elf's shoulder. His eyes watered continuously as they tried to make some sort of order to what he was seeing. The boy suspected that his friend was hiding his own condition. The usually surefooted elf stumbled and almost fell several times.
They walked for what seemed like days to the young mage. "Vin, please we must stop. I at least need to rest." Ezra finally pleaded.
Vin squinted as he looked for a good place to rest. Leading the teen he helped Ezra sit down and then sank to the ground with a sigh beside him.
"Are you alright, Vin?"
"Pardon me for saying so, but you don't sound 'fine'."
"Just tired Ezra."
"Please Vin, tell me what is wrong. You obviously aren't doing well. I have never know you to be clumsy yet you have stumbled and almost fallen several times this day."
"You're right Ezra, I really ain't feeling good." Vin closed his eyes and rubbed them. "I asked the Forest Spirits to lift the curse the Red Wizard placed on us. But they said they could only do so much. M' human half, they couldn't help at all. Feels like I caught winter grippe. M' bones ach, m' knees, m' back and I can't seem to make m' legs work right. M' head is pounding so I ain't seeing to good. I'm sorry Ezra, if I were a full blood I could take care of you better."
Shocked that the younger boy had revealed so much Ezra reached out and wrapped his arm around the sagging shoulders. "Nonsense. You have taken excellent care of me. I don't know what I would do without your help. I very likely would still be back wherever we were, even sicker then I am now. I want you to lay down and rest. Perhaps the headache will go away if you sleep."
"I need to keep watch."
"I can certainly do that,Vin. I may not be able to see very much but I can hear, I promise I will awaken you should the need arise."
"Alright," the small elf said as he scooted down and leaned against the teen.
Ezra flipped the end of his cloak over the small body and placing his hand lightly on Vin he leaned back and closed his eyes. Standish felt he'd hidden his fear well. But he was scared because of not only his own helplessness but because of Vin's uncharacteristic willingness to let Ezra watch over him. Ezra knew deep down Vin was very sick and that the elf was hiding it to take care of him. Rubbing his closed eyes, Standish leaned back against the rock. He was so tired and his eyes hurt. He'd just rest for a short time. Surely he'd be stronger then. He'd wake Vin and they would continue on. But right now it was just too hard to even think about moving.
Quickly Ezra fell into a sleep full of vague dreams but he was unable to wake from them. They trapped him a world of swirling colors that seemed to go on forever and never stop moving.
Vin dreamed. He was aware he should be up and moving but it was so much easier just to lay still. The aching was less and there didn't seem to be any reason pressing enough to make himself wake up.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah stood by the well waiting. He went over the few supplies he'd packed in his pouch hoping he'd remembered all that he might need. He watched as Chris walked toward him, anxiety and anger showing in every stride the man took.
"You ready?" the mercenary growled when he stopped facing Josiah.
"Yes. Place your hands on my shoulders and whatever happens don't let go." Josiah ordered.
Larabee did as he was told. He had no idea what to expect. Chris was a bit surprised when the world tilted and the straightened in the length of a breath. Then he was consumed by the intense burning in his chest. The pain flashing like a shooting star was quickly gone leaving behind a heartbeat throb slightly faster than his own.
"It's alright Chris. It's always a little startling the first time you teleport."
Nodding Larabee swallowed and looked around. "Are they here?"
Josiah looked around. "Near by. What does the medallion say?"
"That he's weak. So very weak," Larabee said as he rubbed his chest.
"Yes, Ezra also. This way."
Chris had no choice by to follow the robed man, wondering again how he'd let the little half-elf inside his carefully constructed shell. But he had, and now Chris worried that he'd lose everything again. He had to find the boy and Josiah had to break or reverse the curse. Whatever that entailed.
They walked at a quick pace for over a candle mark. Josiah showed no sign of slowing down. Then suddenly as he came to a rock cliff he stopped. Larabee stopped just behind the mage. He gasped at the sight before him.
Ezra sat leaning against the warmed cliff rock while Vin leaned against him, knees drawn up and his head on Ezra's thigh. The young mage's cloak partially covered them both and Ezra's arm rested protectively over the halfling.
The snap of a twig woke Ezra. He passed a hand over his eyes hoping to clear his sight. Two dark beings were coming toward them. One carried a staff and spoke, but Ezra couldn't understand the words.
"Dzfz? Ix tgat jslj?"
The teen pushed Vin behind him and stood holding his staff in front of him like a weapon. "Begone demon!"
"Ctrta eagt;s wrig wutg tiy?"
Vin groaned and sat up in time to see Ezra swing his staff at Josiah. "Ezra, what are you doing?"
"Trying to take care of you."
"But that's Josiah," the little boy said in confusion.
"Vin?" Chris called. "What's wrong with Ezra? Why isn't he talking clearly?"
"He is," Vin said puzzled.
"What's the demon saying Vin? I can't understand him. It must be your Elvin blood that lets you understand."
Vin looked from Ezra to Josiah and back. "Ezra put down your staff. It's Josiah and Chris. It must be the curse. They can't understand you anymore than you understand them."
"What? Are you sure?" Standish asked.
"Yes, I'm sure," the boy said as he almost fell down.
Chris rushed forward and scooped the half elf up in his arms. "Vin?"
"'M sorry, Chris. Don't feel so good."
Wrapping his cloak around the small body the mercenary felt such relief that they had found the boys he could hardly speak. "It's okay now Vin. We're here and we'll take care of you and Ezra now."
The little elf smiled and rubbed his cheek against the broad chest.
Larabee looked up at the mage. He watched as Josiah examined the boys and then seemed to gaze into the crystal on his staff. After some time he dug into his pouch and brought out a small vial. "Vin, I need you to tell Ezra something. Can you do that?"
"Yeah," came back a sleepy voice.
"Tell Ezra that I'm going to blow some powder into his ears and mouth. It will not hurt but he must be very still."
"Okay." Vin repeated what Josiah had said.
"Does he think this will lift the curse? Never mind. Tell him I'm ready." Ezra stood straight and tall trying not to flinch when the looming shape came closer. He managed not to jump as the tingling spread down his throat and made the insides if his ears itch.
Egos, coamesthskco ust."
"Ezra skdfh ghsdf mfdofiue me?"
"Ezra, can you understand me?"
"I do. I understand you, Josiah." The boy couldn't keep the joy from his voice.
"Good. Ezra, I need your help to get us all home."
"What ever you need, I'll do."
"I know. I don't have the power to move all of us home. I need you to help. If you will stand beside me, holding my staff with me, then we will each touch Chris. With him holding Vin, the circle will be complete. With your power I can get us all home."
"Alright." Ezra moved slowly and stiffly to stand next to Josiah. He reached out and wrapped his fist around the thick wood of the staff, the edge of his hand touching Josiah's hand.
Larabee looked down at the half-elf boy in his lap. "Vin? I'm going to stand now and we're going to go. Are you ready?"
The small head moved up and down accompanied by a soft, "Yeah."
Chris stood, trying not to jostle the aching little boy. He walked over to stand beside Josiah.
The wizard firmly took Chris' arm and Ezra reached out and took the other one. Josiah gathered his power about him as a cloak on a cold day. The stone in his staff began to glow and shed a bright light over the four travelers. Once the stone was at it's brightest, Josiah's voice echoed loudly as he spoke the Word.
There was a rush of air and time seemed to stand still yet move very fast. Between one breath and another the four were standing in the familiar yard in front of their cottage.
Ezra staggered and Josiah swept the teen up and carried him inside. The large mage gently laid Standish down on the cot. He called back to Larabee, "Lay Vin here beside Ezra. Then build a fire. They need to be warmed. I must gather the ingredients of the infusion that will break the curse."
The leader of their small group did exactly as the wizard ordered. First he built a fire and then he covered the boys with blankets. But once that was done he could do nothing but watch as Josiah sat several vials and packages on the table by the window.
The Mage took a small pestle and from a pouch put a pinch of seeds in the pestle and began grinding. From another pouch he poured in his hands some dried seaweed. The last pouch was bindweed. He ground all three ingredients together mixing them thoroughly.
From one of the small jars he poured a gelatinous blob of clear liquid. He stirred again until all the ingredients were combined. Josiah then divided the mixture into two cups. He set the ale pokers in the fire to heat and then walked over to where the boys lay. Reaching down he carefully cut a hair from each small head. Glancing at Chris he said, "Once the mixture is heated you must help me. They must drink immediately. It will be only a few swallows. Then they will sleep for a time as the spell works. I will fix Vin's first and then Ezra's."
Chris nodded and followed Josiah over to the table.
The mage took one of the cups and added a small amount of mead and the hair he took from Vin. He then took one of the pokers and placed it carefully in the liquid letting it steam from the hot metal. "Quickly now, make Vin drink."
Larabee took the cup and sitting beside Vin lifted the boy to a sitting position. "Vin you need to drink this," He said holding the cup to Vin's lips.
Vin closed his lips tightly.
In a harsh voice he never used on the boy Chris said, "Vindarin Tannrea, drink this now!"
In shock Vin's mouth opened and Chris tipped the cup until all the liquid was swallowed. Then softly he soothed, "That's a good boy, Vin. Now just go back to sleep." Covering the little elf again the soldier looked up at the wizard.
Josiah nodded and proceeded to heat the second cup and bring it to Ezra's side. He nodded again as Chris lifted the teen to a sitting position. "Ezra, I need you to drink this."
Without opening his eyes Ezra said, "No thank you."
"Ezra you will drink and now, in order to lift the curse." Josiah commanded.
Reluctantly Ezra opened his mouth and swallowed, again without opening his eyes.
"Good, Ezra. Now sleep some more."
Once the boys were settled Chris and Josiah went outside. Looking at the mage Larabee saw how worn and tired Josiah looked. But he had to ask, "What now?"
"Now, we wait and let them sleep. It will take several candle marks for the husk to grow. When the time is right we wake the boys and complete the spell."
Nodding Larabee looked around the small meadow. "I'll put together a stew. You are exhausted and need to rest and eat. I think there is some bread and cheese in the cool box. It will hold you for a time."
Josiah ran his hand over his face, "You are right. I am hungry, starved as a matter of fact. I hadn't even thought of food since... yesterday?"
As Josiah stood Chris asked. "What if this mage comes after you again?"
Looking at the oaks nearby, Josiah said, "He won't. I told you I took care of him. He won't be bothering anyone ever again. He wasn't as powerful as he thought. Now, get to that stew, once this is over the boys will be starved and will want to eat.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah held the candle high and examined the sleeping forms before him. The transformation seemed complete. There was a faint energy field surrounding each form. Inside it the body held a slightly waxen appearance. Using his magical Voice Josiah said, "Ezra, Vin it's time to awaken and arise." He watched closely as each boy emerged from the field leaving behind a husk image of themselves. Neither boy seemed aware of their surroundings or what was happening. When they were completely free and standing beside the mage he again ordered in the Voice, "Go outside and join Chris."
The wizard waited until the boys were through the door and turned back to the husks still lying on the cot. Raising his arms over the forms he muttered the magic word and watched as the husks collapsed into themselves and then simply disappeared leaving nothing behind. Smiling in satisfaction Josiah joined the others outside.
The two boys stood passively in front of Larabee their eyes blank. "Awaken!" Josiah commanded.
Vin blinked and looked around. He shyly smiled at Larabee. "We're home? You came for us?"
"I tried to get us home. I called on the Forest Spirits in Elfin but they couldn't help much."
"Josiah found you."
Vin turned to the mage who was looking at his apprentice. Ezra was staring back somewhat defiantly.
"Have I not told you, you do not have the experience to teleport yourself much less another."
"Yes, but I did and it was fine until an old enemy of yours interfered. I do hope this means that you have dealt with that undesirable cretin."
"Yes, he has been dealt with. We shall discuss your disobedience later. You put Vin in danger as well as yourself. But for now how do you feel?"
Ezra seemed to perform an internal check. "No aches, my sight is sharp and restored. My only complaint is I'm famished."
Vin looked up at Chris. "I'm hungry too." The boy put his hands in his jerkin pouch. He smiled as he pulled out a small seashell. "See, Ezra took me to the great salt sea. I brought this back for Jaydee."
Chris looked down at the small shell. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow if you two are stronger we'll go to Four Corners and get Nathan, Buck and Jaydee. I'm sure he'll love your seashell and the stories of your adventures."