I assumed my position on a flat stone overlooking the river and the large wooden bridge that spanned it. As daylight faded, the setting sun turned the water golden. While I disliked being lookout as much as the next guy, it gave me time to think, which I needed desperately. Having met a girl who preferred to do a man’s job, a member of an elusive people who no one has seen in AT LEAST fifty years, and lost my best friend in a matter of a few days, this was understandable.
A movement at the corner of my eye caught my attention. It appeared to be the carriage of a noble, pulled by two fine roan horses. I got the sudden feeling that something important was about to occur, a prickling at the back of my neck, and watched the carriage closely as it began to pass over the bridge.
Right as the royal carriage got a few feet onto the bridge, the bridge erupted in flames, which of course scared the parsnips out of the horses, who then started rearing and trying to bolt in their fear. It also startled me so much that I fell off of the rock I was sitting on. I tumbled into the hollow where Kersa and Ottrim had been preparing dinner. Both of them were standing, and Kersa’s hand was on the hammer at her side. Ottrim studied my face carefully, then tilted his head to the side, listening. His eyes grew wide, and he beckoned for us to follow him. He walked a few yards into the forest, and then scrambled up a tree. Moments later, he popped his head back down, motioning for us to follow him.
Ottrim pulled me up into the tree, and we both helped Kersa climb up. It was much easier to see the bridge than it had been from the flat stone next to the river. Unfortunately, it made the whole scene all the more terrifying. There was a faint figure in the flames. I was afraid that it might be a villager that had escaped my notice as it passed over the bridge. But, looking deeper into the fire, it seemed that the figure was no ordinary peasant. It danced around in the blaze, rejoicing in the heat and chaos surrounding it.
The noble’s horses had long since lost any trace of the dignity they’d had when they first crossed the bridge. They danced and reared, refusing to listen to the poor boy who had been steering the carriage. He struggled with the reins, trying to get the horses back under his command.
The figure in the flames stepped forward, showing itself to be a human-like thing wearing a cloak dark from scorch marks. It raised a hand towards the horses, which seemed to immediately calm them. Yet, a moment later, the thing in the cloak jerked its arm down violently, sending the horses into an even wilder frenzy than before. Now the noble himself extracted himself from his carriage, looking extremely annoyed.
“Now see here,” he started. The dark figure didn’t even turn its head towards the man, merely lifted its other arm swiftly, seeming to silence the man with some form of sorcery.
The horses, now foaming at the mouth, began to shrink, much to the bewilderment of all present. They changed shape and color, and finally, when they had finished shrinking, were no longer horses. Small green lizards stood in their place. Everyone present (excluding the dark thing with mysterious powers) was appalled by the sight before us. Yes, we’d seen magic, small tricks, the magicians in royal courts, but never this! This was transmogrification, part of a group of spells outlawed in all of the kingdoms. This was black magic!
And though it seemed that things could get no worse, they in fact did. The figure began to laugh. This was not the hiccupping giggle of a farm lass, nor the deep belly laugh of the king himself. No, this was the laugh of a madman. Someone so utterly out of their mind that life no longer mattered, whether it was their life or the lives of others.