“Stop it!” Eva clenched her fists as she faced Dyvolik. “He wasn’t attacking you!”
The dozen cricket creatures still leaned toward her and Copper, their papery wings rustling. Her companion’s struggle to breathe made him wheeze, and wisps of blue mist rippled around him, only to evaporate.
“Yes, he did.” Dyvolik smirked as he unfolded his arms and held them out. “He challenged my proposition. That is an attack on my authority.”
“Authority?” She glared at him. “Is that how you plan on benefiting – that we’ll be so grateful to you for giving us a potion of magical ability that we’ll submit to your will?”
Dyvolik’s smirk darkened. “Such a shame he corrupted you before I could complete my plans. Oh well, if you don’t cooperate, I’ll find someone who will.”
She turned back to Copper and grasped his elbow, and tried to pull him farther from the creatures. His hands were still pressed below his neck, and the light breeze she noticed when the assault began continued to ripple against her face. His gaze rolled toward her, but she seemed as unable to move him as he was to move himself.
“You’re killing him!”
“Yes, that’s the punishment for defying me.”
Eva’s heart thumped against her chest as Copper’s face began turning a shade of crimson that palely reflected the hue of his vest. She’d known this realigner for less than an hour, and still didn’t entirely trust him, but Dyvolik’s spell convinced her which of the two was more dangerous.
Copper had enlisted her aid, but what good was she in a duel of enchantments? The potion Dyvolik dispersed last night was supposed to give her a hexer’s ability. He’d claimed if she vividly imagined an outcome, it would happen.
But what could she do that would stop him? The blue mist around Copper that kept fading must be evidence he was trying to change into – something less vulnerable to – being choked? Should she try to help him breathe?
Except … it wasn’t choking. The soft breeze brushed across her again, and she looked back at the trembling, monstrous crickets. They were the ones affecting him. It was as though they were pulling his very breath from his lungs. But how? They were only Dyvolik’s pawns.
Pawns…. Was Dyvolik, like Copper, limited to performing magic within a certain range? Was it possible the greater variety of enchantments he performed didn’t include remoter influence?
Did he hex the crickets not only into gruesome creatures, but also as a relay to leapfrog the spell upon Copper?
She imagined the crickets turning back into miniscule insects.
Nothing changed. Of course, Copper had already said those creatures were protected by a shield spell. And even if they weren’t, was it possible the potion he convinced her to drink back in the shack had neutralized Dyvolik’s concoction of magical ability? Eva glanced back at her companion, whose face was taking on a purple tinge.
Her clothes rustled, turning back into the skirt and blouse she’d donned earlier that morning. The nearby piles of fruit resumed being sassafras trees, their branches more tattered than before.
If she correctly understood Dyvolik’s comment about punishment, it could well be her turn after he murdered Copper.
An eerie sensation seeped through Eva’s body. Her quest to earn money that would help pay for her brother’s medical treatment had ultimately brought her here. If Dyvolik’s plan succeeded, Jordan might lose all chance for recovery.
Even if she tried to flee, that wouldn’t help. Dyvolik would only catch up and finish the job. And if Copper died, she was as good as snuffed….
Her companion had promised he would see to Jordan’s care if anything happened to her. And if anybody stood a chance against Dyvolik, it was Copper.
Eva’s eyes burned. Would the potion she drank actually benefit her? Copper said only it would offer some protection – and bring out qualities in her, whatever that meant.
If she wanted Jordan to be healed, there was only one thing she could do.
Her throat tightened as Eva faced the crickets and stepped directly in front of Copper.
Her gasp was like the time years ago when she fell from a tree and got the wind knocked out of her. Like then, she was unable to draw in breath. The breeze no longer brushed her, but seemed to flutter from her very being.
Dyvolik’s laugh was as welcome as fingernails scraping a chalkboard. “Foolish girl! You can’t stop a spell that way!”
And then warmth swelled from beneath her ribcage. It burst from her like a lightning bolt, which would have made her gasp, but she was unable to utter anything. The white beam crashed into the crickets, and even as a protest roared from Dyvolik, the bolt ricocheted into his chest.
The beam vanished. In that instant, Eva audibly sucked in air as she sank to one knee. The creatures disintegrated into scores of regular crickets. And Dyvolik began screeching as he thrashed about, but his feet remained planted on the ground.
He pointed toward the scrambling crickets. “This isn’t over!”
The insects whirled into the air as though caught up in a dust devil – and changed into sharp spikes. Eva squeaked and twisted to one side, arms thrown up, as they hurled toward her.
Blue mist spun past her, swirling like a small cyclone. It collided with the spikes, and they were sucked into its vortex. Then it careened toward Dyvolik and hurled the spikes toward him.
Their assailant shouted and held out his hands. The spikes scattered around him as though they’d stuck an invisible dome, and the blue whirlwind plunged into the ground like a flock of pelicans diving into an ocean.
Dyvolik lowered his hands and glanced around, apparently missing Copper’s descent. “Contrary realigner!”
Eva, still gasping for breath, staggered to her feet.
The whirlwind exploded from the ground underneath Dyvolik, enveloping him. Through the streaking mist she could make out his silver robes whipping and twisting around him. Was it her imagination, or were they twirling into ropes?
Dyvolik cursed as he struggled, which became more like twitching as the ropey robes bound around him like a spider’s thread restraining an entangled bug. The whirlwind pulled to one side, and he tottered for a couple of seconds before dropping to the ground.
The swirling mist slowed and congealed, and Copper once again appeared as a young man. He also staggered, and his dark hair was more disheveled than ever. The blue coat hung askew from his shoulders and the matching trousers were twisted, like somebody had tried to pull them off. Dirt stained his clothes and face.
Eva stumbled over to him. Copper was breathing heavily, and she wasn’t sure if it was from lingering effects of his recent exertion, Dyvolik’s attack, or a combination of the two.
She managed to gasp, “Are you all right?”
He dipped his chin once. “Squirmy dirty grubs! Are you no worse for wear?”
“I … feel quite normal.” She drew a deeper breath while adjusting the cloak pinned around her neck, and looked down at Dyvolik. The robes were also coiled around his mouth, preventing speech. “Is it over?”
“Mostly.” Copper shuddered, a few wisps of mist appeared and vanished, and his clothing and hair got back into shape although there was still a smudge on his left cheek. “I need to finish incarcerating him, but your role is complete. And, may I say, you were absolutely brilliant.”
She stared at him. “I didn’t really do anything … I just stepped in front of you, and … was what happened because of the potion you gave me?”
That familiar smile touched his lips. “There’s a reason I needed somebody keen of mind and selfless of heart. Your willingness to accept harm in order to save another gave the potion its potency. Because your intention was directly opposite of Dyvolik’s, it neutralized his enchantments and rebounded some aspects upon him.”
“Even the shield spell?”
She frowned. “But why didn’t you just use a potion like that on yourself?”
Dyvolik gave a muffled grunt, and Copper flicked an index finger. The rope around his prisoner’s mouth tightened.
“Not while Mommy and Daddy are talking.” Then his attention returned to her. “The sacrifice had to be genuine, or it wouldn’t have had the power to break the enchantments, much less the shield spell. My prior knowledge was a hindrance.”
She squinted at him. “I had to not know how it would work in order for it to work?”
“That’s why I had to be vague about it extracting certain qualities from you.” He smirked as he held up one hand and flexed the digits. “There’s much more to magic than just wiggling fingers.”
“So … you counted on me to save you?” She studied him. “That seems like a big gamble.”
“Not me. We’d just met. But I could tell you’d do anything to help your brother.” His grin broadened. “And I had a backup plan in case I’d misjudged you.”
“So your promise to help Jordan if something happened to me was all part of your scheme?”
His smile softened. “A promise I intended to keep, but not only because it maintained the strength of my enchantments. Speaking of your brother….” He tucked his thumbs into the lower pockets of the vest. “Did you know that over a century ago, that shack we met in was the home of a miser?”
Eva frowned. “How does that matter?”
“When he built it, he hid a chest of gold coins beneath a floorboard of the back room.”
She stared at him for a couple of seconds. “You mean I can pry back a board to find it?”
“Unnecessary. When I changed the shack back to its actual appearance after my promise to you, I left that floorboard out of place. Consider it payment for your services.”
Her jaw dropped and heart fluttered. “I … I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t believe I can thank you enough.”
His smile broadened. “You more than earned it. I couldn’t have made this capture without you.”
“I’ll forever be grateful. And … Copper?”
“Yes, Miss Eva?”
“It … turned out to be a pleasure meeting you. Before today, I didn’t trust hexers. Any of them. At all.”
He nodded. “Both our peoples are guilty of judging each other on the misbehavior of certain bad eggs. Meeting you has been a delight for me as well.” He bowed to her. “And with your leave, I’ll take Dyvolik to his destination.”
He evaporated into a swirling blue mist that drifted down and around Dyvolik. Eva stepped back as it thickened, lifting the prisoner atop it while he rolled face down. The color shifted to bronze as the mist coalesced, and a palomino horse took form. Dyvolik was draped across the steed’s back … and a smudge remained on Copper’s left jaw.
“Take care of yourself, Miss Eva, and may your brother heal quickly.”
“Thank you again.”
He took off at a canter, and she raised one hand in farewell as he traveled across the pasture and slipped into the woods near the top of the next hill. Eva glanced down as she turned back toward the village, and spied a few crickets scrambling under leaves and into tufts of grass.
Of course … magic that defied truth was temporary. The effects were lasting, but nothing could remain changed into something it wasn’t. Her clothes and the sassafras trees had changed back when Copper was under duress, no longer manipulating their appearance. A moved floorboard, however, was still a board. It was merely in a different place.
The warmth from the sun above cut through the earlier chill, and Eva pushed back her cloak as she walked to the trail that would lead her back to the ramshackle cottage.
Here is my submission to this month’s #BlogBattle
The prompt word for this round is Extract. This concludes the longer short story, and if you just now discovered it, you can check out Part One and Part Two and Part Three. And be sure to catch all the other submissions!