Gavin stared at the ground in the center of the cluster of boulders. It looked like Alchemy and Buck slept there the previous night. He spotted two places where it appeared like the men had laid down, the sparse grass was mashed, and in one place he found a lump of Buck’s golden fur. Taking a quick sniff of the hair, Gavin’s heart beat a little faster at the thought of the big ursa’s powerful arms wrapped around him. He wanted this job done, so he could spend more time with Buck. The two hadn’t talked much about what the future held for them, but he knew he wanted the man in his life.
Both sets of footprints led Gavin out of the security of the boulders and up the hill. Alchemy’s prints went further. There, near some more rocks, the warrior found another set of prints, smaller, more delicate than his friend’s. At one point the two had stood very close together. By the position of the footprints Gavin had to assume the second set belonged to a woman. Alchemy wasn’t prone to get that close to strange men, but his attraction to women was often a problem for the young mage.
Sounds of heavy footfalls came down the hill, accented by the occasional dislodged small rock. As they came closer, the thick voices of two trolls carried easily on the evening breeze. Gavin squatted down behind the boulder where Alchemy had encountered the woman.
“Why does the boss think there’s another elf out here?” one of the trolls asked.
“I don’t question him,” the other one replied. “If he says there’s another elf out here, I come out here and look. I thought we got both of the elves and that ursa too.”
“All I know is that Slip, you know that goblin that runs errands between the boss and the garrison, said the boss was furious about the number of manticores we lost this morning to the wizard. And they never did recover his wand.”
The two trolls wandered into view. From what Gavin knew of troll age, they looked young. Something in the way they ambled amongst the rocks told him they really weren’t trying too hard to do their jobs. But even at eight feet tall, he wasn’t sure he wanted to take on both of them at the same time. Large nasty looking axes hung at their sides, never far from their mottled brown hands. The elf stayed low, hoping neither of them would think to come his direction.
“Man, did you see that sword the ursa carried?” the first one asked. “If old Grisselhand hadn’t already claimed it, I’d be happy to have that thing.”
The second one snorted. “Like either one of us is high enough in rank to claim any kind of trophy.”
Gavin’s heart stopped for a second. They had Buck’s sword. He didn’t like to think about what it had taken for the trolls to relieve the ursa of his sword. Buck was so proud of that sword. It was a family heirloom. His great grandfather had actually had it forged by dwarves over two hundred years ago.
“Hey I can dream can’t I?” the first one continued.
“Just don’t let either Grisselhand or the boss hear you dreaming,” the other warned as they walked past the rocks where Buck and Alchemy spent the night without noticing the many foot prints around the area. “You know how they feel about personal thought.”
Gavin missed the rest of the conversation as the two passed beyond earshot. So Doctor Gnome had captured two elves and an ursa. There was no doubt that it was Alchemy and Buck, but who was the woman? He looked at the tracks in the dirt. Her tracks came from the direction he trolls now headed. The bad guys had Buck’s sword, but not Alchemy’s wand. Following the tracks from the outcropping, Gavin came to the sight of the battle.
From the marks on the ground, and the amount of blood spilled, it was fairly obvious that it had been a really big fight. There were a series of scorch marks too, telling him that Alchemy had managed to get off a series of fireballs. Moving away from the trolls, the warrior looked for more evidence of what happened. Bits of fur lay scattered on the ground in one spot. Buck had been injured. He needed to get into the hill and find both his friend and his lover. Moving outside the trampled area, just downhill from one of the bigger pools of dried blood, his sharp eyes saw a carefully worked piece of wood.
Picking up the wand, Gavin inspected it. It looked fine. From the distance it lay from the closest foot prints, he had to assume it had either been knocked from Alchemy’s had, or lost from above. True his friend was often loosing or breaking wands, in this case it caused a heavy lump to form in the warrior’s throat. He gently placed the wand in his pack, and went back to looking at the ground.
A series of large reptilian prints caught his attention. They weren’t large enough to be a dragon, unless it was a really small one. He wondered what they meant.
“See, I told ya there weren’t no other elves on the hill,” the first troll’s voice carried back over the rise before they walked into sight. Gavin slipped behind a tree and watched the two return.
“We had to check,” the second one replied. The red light of the setting sun glistened off the large metal helmet sitting lopsided on his head.
“Well, I don’t want to be late for dinner,” the first one complained. “They’re probably about to eat, and I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” his companion replied. “Now let’s hope they don’t make us come back out in the dark. You know how the boss can be when he has his mind set on something.”
The two continued to chat as they disappeared down the trail they originally traveled. Gavin didn’t pause, but silently slipped in behind them to see where they went. He just hoped he’d be able to get into the villain’s lair and rescue Alchemy and Buck.
Alchemy studied the stark metal room the trolls unceremoniously tossed him into. They’d taken Dolce somewhere else. Her screams carried to him for several minutes after they slammed the door, but grew more distant. He hoped she’d be alright. She was a very attractive woman and he’d hate for something unseemly to happen to her at the hands of Doctor Gnome or any of his henchmen.
Alchemy’s fingers worked along the riveted seam in the metal wall. He couldn’t tell what kind of metal it was. It looked like the same metal that the halls were made from, but he didn’t know of any process that would make metal in large sheets like this. Somewhere, air flowed in, it blew in just strong enough that it he stood in a particular spot it ruffled his long blond hair. Moving around the room, he tried to figure out where it came from, and would that be enough for him to escape without his wand.
Everything in the room was metal, so there was nothing he could use as even a makeshift wand. He needed something to act as a focus for his magic, something that could conduct it from his person out so it could interact with the world. Sitting down on the cold, hard, metal bed, he tried to think of anything that might help him out of the situation.
Years ago, when old Shamus gave him his first wand, the elder wizard told him a cautionary tale about a wizard that tried to work magic without the focus of a wand. It had been dangerous just pointing a finger and whispering a magic word, but it had worked for the wizard until one day his concentration slipped and he blew off his hand when casting a fireball spell. Since then, all wizards used wands of one form or another to project their power out into the world. But it had been done in the past. Alchemy tried to decide if he were desperate enough to try using magic without a wand. If he could manage to get out of the cell, rescue Dolce and stop Doctor Gnome, it might be worth it, even if it cost him his hand in the process.
The door was almost as cold to his touch as the metal bed had been. Laying his hand against it, Alchemy focused his magic through his hand and onto the door. He tried not to think about his hand blowing apart by the magical forces running through it. Taking a deep breath, he focused on the outcome of the spell he wanted to cast. He saw the door opening. He’d done this spell numerous times in practice and while out with his friends on some of their less than legal escapades. It worked every time he’d cast it in the last ten years. It was one of the easiest spells he knew. His brow furrowed in concentration.
“Open,” he whispered. The magic shot out of his hand and into the door. A soft click from the lock reverberated through the metal room. The wizard hoped it hadn’t gone out into the hallway as well. The door swung open soundlessly.
Pushing the door nearly closed again and bolstered by his success with opening it. Alchemy turned his attention to himself. If he just wandered out into the hallway, he’d be stopped before he got too far. He wasn’t sure he wanted to risk doing a fireball spell without his wand. Blending in would be his best option. Invisibility wasn’t one of his best spells, but he had other options. There was a spell that took a lot less energy than invisibility and it might work, unless there were folks around that paid more attention to details than what he’d observed so far.
Running his hands over the tunic that Doctor Gnome left in his room earlier, Alchemy called up the power for the spell. He had to be careful, not only was he casting without a wand, this spell was destined for his body.
“Blend,” he whispered.
The magic tingled around him. It felt raw and strange. Something changed. He held up his hand. It still looked the same as it had most of his life. He reached for the wall, and his fingers turned the same color as the wall. As he stepped closer, his hand and arm became a metallic shade. He’d have to stick close to walls, but he’d blend in.
Still wishing for a wand as a safe focus, Alchemy opened the door and slipped out into the metal hallway. He had no way of knowing where they took Dolce, but he remembered the way they’d come after leaving Doctor Gnome’s dining room. Slowly, keeping close to the wall, he headed the opposite direction, ever watchful for something he might use as a weapon, or maybe even a wand.