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   Chapter 9

The Woodlands By EJBowman Characters: 31165

Updated: 2017-12-22 12:02

Dacen the Apprentice caught himself behaving childishly as he sat in the large tub made of stone. He quite enjoyed making a miniature whirlpool by spinning his finger around above the water. Yes, he would come to learn far greater magic if he was fully accepted by Daefortis and the Masters as an apprentice, yet the little things magic could do also greatly pleased him.

The scar where the arrow had pierced him was barely visible now—and he was greatly proud of that. It had taken over nine hours, but he had eventually found a healing spell to seal the wound. Daefortis was not as pleased as the younger man had hoped. However, he did express admiration for Dacen’s determination.

The wound the arrow had left was almost as faded as the cuts running up his left forearm. The young hybrid chose to cover as much of his body as possible for multiple reasons, and the self-inflicted scars were one of them. He certainly did not want Daefortis to see them. They could be seen as a sign of mental instability or insecurity—which was the case in nox elf society.

I must research how to fully remove the scars, he thought while continuing to toy with his magical abilities.

A knock at the door made the horned man stop forming a small whirlpool in the tub. Daefortis had informed him that he was only to use magic when it felt necessary and did not want to be caught fooling around with his powers.

“Yes?” he called through the door.

“Stop taking your sweet time and get moving!” a booming voice called back. “The first Master and Apprentice have already arrived.”

“Oh, sorry!” Dacen exclaimed. “I’ll be right out.”

With that, he stood up and reached for the towel. He felt a little embarrassed about taking so long. He had gone through the pre-bath shaving and cleansing with a strigil almost an hour ago and then had just relaxed in the bath for the remaining minutes. The smell of the oils had soothed him to the point where he was almost asleep and saw no reason to leave the tub.

Tonight, the Thirteen Masters would be gathering to discuss Dacen’s place among the fauns. The young man had requested to bathe in order to make himself presentable. Daefortis’ bemused reaction further reinforced the idea that fauns were not the über cleanly type, when it came to their appearance, but it was very important to him and that was why he bathed. It was obviously a trait he had appropriated from the nox elves, given their own obsession with tidiness.

The fauns may laugh all they want, he thought stubbornly while dressing himself. At least I don’t smell like the rotting corpse of a goat.

Dacen entered the great hall. There he found Daefortis sitting next to another old faun and a third, younger one, the Apprentice, stood behind. All three fauns looked in his direction when he answered. The Master’s brow furrowed in disdain while his apprentice let out a smirk.

“It’s hideous,” the Apprentice remarked.

“That would be Dacen the Apprentice,” Daefortis explained, ignoring the other faun’s comment.

“He isn’t an Apprentice yet,” the other Master emphasised.

“It’s a pleasure to be in your presence,” Dacen recited calmly, as he had practiced, while bowing.

The Master rolled his eyes disapprovingly.

“I am Aen Ut the Master,” he finally said. He then gestured to the younger faun standing behind him. “And this is Igna the Apprentice.”

Much to Dacen’s surprise, both the Master and the Apprentice had accents similar to his. In fact, they had the same dark, olive skin as well. The first thought that went through his mind was the possibility of the older faun being his father, but he quickly snuffed that idea out. Just because one faun came from the same region as him did not necessarily mean they had to be related.

“It looks like a baby head stuck on a human body,” Igna mused while stroking his goatee.

“I like a smooth face,” Dacen replied simply. He felt no shame for his lack of facial hair.

“It’s no surprise thar nox elves raised him,” Daefortis said with a chuckle. He then gestured for Dacen to stand behind his chair—as it was master and apprentice custom.

The attention of all four was drawn to the yellow crystal ball in the centre of the oval table. It began to swell with red colour. Dacen jumped when an exploding sound came from across the table and dust shot everywhere. Once the dust had dissipated, the crystal ball returned to its yellow colour and beyond it stood two more fauns.

Dacen was quite intrigued by the incredibly dark skin of both newcomers. He had visited desert lands where people had such dark skin, but those places were quite far away.

“I see you still practice old methods of teleportation,” Aen Ut remarked.

The older of the new fauns said nothing as his dark eyes ran up and down the mongrel before him. Dacen was beginning to feel uncomfortable with all the negative attention he was getting. It made him fear that the Thirteen Masters would choose to reject him… and then he would have to leave.

“This is Ukuna the Master and his apprentice, Shujaku,” Daefortis explained before looking back to the new arrivals. “A pleasure to see you again, Ukuna. This would be Dacen: my potential apprentice.”

“Indeed,” was all the Master said in a low, unamused voice as he took his seat.

“Do we have any word of when the others are arriving?” Aen Ut asked in order to break the long silence that followed.

“They are all aware that the Meeting of the Thirteen Master begins at sundown,” Daefortis replied simply.

“Yes, but sundown isn’t at the same time for all of us, now, is it?” Ukuna protested.

Then the crystal ball swelled red again.

Fauns continued to arrive over the next hour before twelve of the chairs were filled. Dacen was surprised and enthralled by the diversity among the fauns. Some looked like they were from far off lands he had visited, while others were completely foreign to him. Becoming an apprentice would mean he would learn how to quickly transport to all the lands that fauns resided in.

He found himself blushing as he continued to make eye contact with fauns no matter where he looked. If they were not having a conversation, then they were staring at him in a judgemental manner. All he could do was put on a kindly smile when he accidently looked at them, but none of the fauns were amused by his attempt at being friendly. He came to realise that smiling and expressions that resembled happiness were improper in their culture. Eventually he stopped trying to be friendly and kept his eyes fixated on the ground.

“He looks like he’s about to trudge through a snowstorm in all that clothing,” one mocked.

“I’ll bet he’s hiding his deformities,” suggested another.

The other fauns in the same conversation let out a laugh, making Dacen’s face drain of colour.

They’re talking about me as if I weren’t even in the same room, he thought. If this is how fauns were all the time then it would take quite some time to get used to their culture.

They seem to have quite a cruel sense of humour, he pondered while blocking out all the conversations going on about him. I suppose I could be sensitive because I’m not used to such comedy. The nox elves had zero tolerance for joking.

Looking up briefly, he realised that one chair remained empty around the oval table. Although all twelve chairs on each side of the longer parts of the oval table were full, the last remaining chair was also the grandest. Friezes of fauns lined the arms and backrest while two horns were carved into each top corner. Not the downward curled horns of fauns, however, but rather twisting upwards. Whoever they were waiting for had to be quite a significant figure among the Masters.

Daefortis also glanced at the empty chair with a glowering manner.

“Always late,” he grumbled.

“Who is?” Dacen asked quietly. He wanted his curiosity to be put to rest about the mysterious thirteenth member of the Master Council.

There was no time to answer as the crystal ball swelled red one last time. A draft suddenly picked up in the great hall, causing all the candles to blow out and leaving the room in complete darkness. With the snap of his fingers Daefortis resurrected all the flames. The empty chair was now revealed to be filled. In it sat a pale feminine creature with horns spiraling upwards to match the ones carved into the chair. A younger female of the same nature stood behind her.

I didn’t even know there was such thing as female fauns, Dacen thought with great confusion. Then again, I suppose there can’t exactly be male fauns without female ones.

Both females were quite different from the males in the room. Both were dressed in long, tight-fitting tunics and flowing, white pants underneath. The Master’s tunic was a dark red, while the Apprentice’s was a soft blue. The fact none of the other fauns were wearing any lower-body clothing suggested it was more of a female thing—and that would explain why they were mocking Dacen.

Also, unlike their male counterparts, the females’ horns were dressed in ribbons. Both of their faces were paled due to the powder they had applied while their lips were painted bright red. By comparison, all the males in the room appeared quite slovenly.

All the male Masters suddenly stood out of respect. Dacen glanced to the s

ption that it could, given the pain that was slowly overcoming the whole of his body. Normal viper venom could not spread so quickly through a larger body. No, this was definitely venom influenced by dark magic.

“What kind of warlock is so easily defeated by a golem viper?” Igna asked mockingly as he walked around the table to find Dacen lying on the ground, writhing in pain.

With the snap of the faun’s fingers, the viper’s fangs penetrated the hybrid for a second time, this time in his arm. Surely the amount of dark magic venom spreading through Dacen was deadly.

“Mongrels as the new disciples?” the faun questioned rhetorically. “I think not.”

Dacen could now feel himself losing control of his body. Not because death was consuming him, but because his body understood the danger it was in and his survival instinct was triggered. He was not conscious when red veins began to pulsate around his darkened eyes. Another force now inhabited his body—his dark half.

The other fauns were shocked when the hybrid suddenly stood up with ease, yet only Igna could see the soulless eyes Dacen now bore. It was not something he had ever seen before.

Afraid, he snapped his fingers again, ordering the viper to attack for the third time. Dacen did not glance down as he stomped his boot on the golem snake’s head, causing the beast to turn into non-kinetic dust before forming into the little wooden piece again.

Perhaps I should’ve used a stronger spell, Igna realised, yet he maintained his moderately amused expression to ensure he still looked confident in front of the other fauns. Looking frightened by a mongrel would be utterly disgraceful.

“It was unwise of you to test my patience,” the hybrid said a voice that was not his own. “You want me to demonstrate my power? I shall.”

A few gasps came from the other fauns standing idly by as they watched Dacen put his hand to the side with two fingers pointing at the floor. At first they thought he was going to jab Igna with his fingers. Instead, black liquid oozed from the wounds he had sustained and flew to his waiting hand—the venom.

“An impressive display,” Igna stated, although he did not sound convinced. “But let’s see how you can handle true dark magic!”

With that, he attempted to conjure a new spell to defeat the hybrid. Instead, however, his spell quickly dissipated when venom shot into his eyes, blinding him immediately. Igna cried out weakly and covered his face with his hands. It would take quite an intricate spell to heal his eyes.

“That mutt!” Shujaku growled while summoning a simple flame.

Without any thinking, he threw the ball of fire in the hybrid’s direction. Much to every faun’s dismay, Dacen caught the ball of fire in his other hand and snuffed it in his fist. He did not even have to look back to catch it.

“Weaklings,” the foreigner muttered in dual voices before grabbing Igna’s shoulders.

“Please!” the faun whimpered as he felt the hands on his shoulders. “I was just kidding around!”

Dacen did not reply. He simply opened his mouth, which was now a glimpse into eternal darkness. All the others stood by—utterly shocked—as darkness seeped from Igna’s mouth and was inhaled by the hybrid. Nobody had ever seen dark magic like this in practice.

The lifeless corpse of Igna collapsed on the floor just as the doors to the mess hall swung open. In the archway stood five Masters headed up by Daefortis and Taonhi Chay. They had sensed dark magic being practiced that was far more powerful than anything the Apprentices had been taught and knew something was wrong.

The red veins around Dacen’s eyes gradually faded away, and his eyes returned to their normal brown colouring. He had no recollection of what had just happened. All he knew was that he felt more lively and powerful than ever before. It was only when he looked down at the faun corpse that he realised what had happened. Like a vampire, he had ingested the soul and power of another creature.

What have I become?

When he glanced to the Masters, he expected to see looks of sheer horror. Although three of them looked quite surprised, Taonhi Chay bore a grave expression. She had seen this coming. Daefortis, on the other hand, looked completely delighted.

“Now that is my apprentice,” he announced before looking back to Aen Ut. “And which is your apprentice? The pathetic corpse on the ground.”

“That mongrel is a threat to our kind!” Aen Ut growled. He seemed rather emotionally unfazed by his apprentice’s death. “We must destroy him!”

“He is no threat to us providing he is on our side,” Daefortis stated simply.

Dacen did not hear their conversation. He was in shock due to the fact that he had just killed someone. It was not in his nature. Killing another creature just because they were acting arrogant and petty was ludicrous.

“I-I didn’t mean to!” he stammered. “I wasn’t myself!”

“No,” Daefortis agreed. “You were better than yourself. You were a being worthy of being called a faun and certainly worthy of being called my apprentice.”

Taonhi Chay put her hand on the ecstatic Master’s shoulder.

“He could become a threat too large to contain,” she warned him. “Daemonis has given him the ability to absorb the power of other fauns. Such a creature may not desire to be trained by our kind if we are his meal.”

“This being may be strong in the ways of dark magic, but his mind is weak,” Daefortis murmured to the female faun. “It shall be easy to emotionally control him. Who knows? Perhaps Daemonis has placed him on Efenta to be our weapon.”

Taonhi Chay remained unconvinced, but said nothing. She sensed a power beyond a faun’s control deep within the hybrid, but trying to kill him could prove just as dangerous as trying to contain him.

“A mongrel has just killed a pure faun,” Daefortis began in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. “Tell me that he is not powerful enough to be one of us.”

No objections came, but that was mostly because all the Apprentices were too afraid to oppose Dacen.

This is what Neem feared would happen, Dacen realised. And now I can never face him again. A killer has no right to look into the eyes of such an innocent creature.

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