Having spent several days climbing Mount Verity non-stop, Henrik is in bad shape. He prays that this is really where the root of all magic resides. If it is not then he won’t live to seek it out, of that he is sure.
The winds viciously bite at him. His arms are wrapped around his body, keeping his robe tight against his frail and spindly frame. He doesn’t dare to look at his fingers. He already knows that they’re black from frostbite. Much like his exposed toes and blackened nose. But he refuses to accept defeat when he is so close. He just has to get within striking distance of the peak of the mountain. At least that is what he believes according to the clues which he uncovered and deciphered. Clues that have seen him travel far and wide across the continent over the last handful of years.
Before the deciphering of the last clue, he had started to believe that the trail would never end as all he found was clue after clue after clue. More than once it had struck him that it could all be part of some wild goose chase designed to keep any who might mean harm to the root from ever finding where it resides. But when he’d come across the last clue the only answer he could comprehend was the mystical Mount Verity, which has never been conquered by any man or woman.
For the people of the continent it has gone down in history as the unobtainable achievement which few now dare to take on for fear of never returning to the lowlands which they call their homes. Henrik can’t say that he blames them, but those people would have to have gone somewhere. And seeing as it has never been defeated it would make sense that it could reasonably be where the root of magic resides.
Still, none of that matters if Henrik cannot reach it and with the exhaustion he can feel in every cell of his body he fears that is a real danger. But he shuffles forward nonetheless, following the overly narrow winding path that he now finds himself on. It’s a vast improvement from the rocks he was scrambling up using his frostbitten fingers to cling haphazardly to. He’d been desperate not to tumble the several thousand feet to a bone shattering death.
But as he climbs higher the clouds surrounding him are growing ever thicker and darker. He doesn’t believe they hold rain. Not when the air here is so thin and cold.
Suddenly a bone chilling blast of icy wind hits him and then snow begins to fall. Henrik can barely believe his bad luck as he attempts to tighten his robe around himself. But it’s already as tight as he can manage, and he instead risks losing grip on the material which he cannot feel even though he knows that it is wound between his slender bony fingers. Fingers which are dead, like his toes and nose. His nose is the most distracting as he can see the blackened point of it no matter how hard he tries not to and it sickens him.
Then he double backs on himself as the path winds higher and the snow quickly develops into a storm. The wind roars past him sending the flurry of white snow swirling angrily around him. It reminds Henrik of a swarm of bees, except the snow clings to him chilling his already frail skin that has taken on a deep blue colour instead of its usual pale complexion. He can’t call his pale complexion healthy but it’s a damn sight better than the hue it has now.
Suddenly a blast of wind slams into Henrik’s back. The whoosh knocks him off balance and sends him crashing, with a dull wet thud, to the snow covered ground. The cushion of snow breaking the fall that now sees him on all fours. His fingers and toes feel nothing while his hands and lower legs begin to rapidly cool. Henrik thinks his legs will survive seeing as they are wrapped in his robe, but his hands will not. That’s why he reasons that he will have to hurry if he has any hopes of reaching what he thinks and hopes is his goal.
Henrik begins his crawl. To say that the position is punishing on his rickety frame would be an understatement.
The snow continues to whirl in frantic flurries which bury his icy hands below their perfect white. His back soon drenched as the snow melts from the warmth of his body. Though, it is not warmth that Henrik himself can feel as to him his body is suffering from an unrelenting chill that is tearing up and down his body.
His knees creak under the strain of his own body weight causing him to wince as he continues to drags them over the sharp angular rocks just beneath the snow. He doesn’t dare to lift his legs and press them into the fluffy powder. He assumes doing such a thing will only increase the deterioration of his condition and he cannot allow that when he is so close. Though, it strikes him then that he has no clue how close he actually is. For all he knows he could be days away from the summit of Mount Verity. If that is the case then he will not reach his destination. Then he hears voices. At once he freezes in place only to discover that doing so hastens the chilling feeling that was already spreading through his weary joints. Joints which scream at him angrily as they demand that he pulls his body out of its current on all fours stance and back into an upright position.
However, Henrik dismisses the screams and moans of his body as he tries to listen past the sound of the whistling wind and his laboured breathing for the voices. He knows they weren’t in his head. They were too distant and muffled for that and then he hears them again. Definitely not in his head and by the accent he thinks it is safe to say they are Prejudges. Henrik curses the discovery and then tries to listen for the actual words they Prejudges are exchanging. There are undoubtedly several of them, though how many he hopes he will never learn. But after a period of intent listening he admits that he has caught nothing expect for their accent and their presence. That makes Henrik feel betrayed by his ears, one of the still useful senses that are available to him, and that is only because of his hood being wrapped tightly around his head. It had been distractingly uncomfortable at first but he’d grown to live with the discomfort seeing as it meant stopping his ears from suffering the same fate as his nose, fingers and toes. His hands will join that list before long, but at least his face will not, now that he is forced to crawl instead of walk. He realises that he should count that as a small victory, a very small one, but he can’t.
Still, he can’t waste anymore time listening. If he does he risks being caught by the Prejudges. So he begins his awkward leg dragging crawl through the snow that now reaches as high as mid way up his forearm. The skin of his forearm, which Henrik has exposed so not to saturate the cloth of his robe, is turning purple. They too, he knows, will not fare well as he continues to press forward.
Henrik keeps his head low, except for occasional instances where he lifts it just to make sure he isn’t about to crawl right off an edge that will send him plummeting down a vertical drop to his doom.
The path narrows again as it takes a sharp turn around an outcropping. Had Henrik been walking he would have almost certainly brained himself on the low rocks shrouded by the now severe blizzard that has engulfed the mountain.
Henrik wonders if this is a natural blizzard or one produced by magic. His assumption would be the latter but for no other reason than because it helps to reinforce his belief that the root of magic is up here in the heavens that have never been claimed by mankind.
At least the snow on this section of the path is thinner and easier for the elderly Majika to crawl slowly through. But in many ways Henrik wishes that it wasn’t as it gives him full view of his now vibrantly coloured forearms.
He still can’t see his hands and fingers which are sunk into the snow that is present here and is thankful for that. The sight would likely make him too sick to bare and he is weak enough as it is without bringing up what little still might reside in his stomach.
As he rounds the next jutting turn of the mountain trail however, Henrik lifts his head and spies what he is sure is a cave opening. But almost immediately he has to dip his head and brace against a rush of bitterly cold air that slams into him from the front. Henrik braces himself and survives the blast, but only just. The severity of the gust almost wrenches him off his hands and knees and into the air. Had that happened it would have spelled certain doom for the old man. But somehow he has survived. He isn’t sure how. Though, he settles on not questioning it as he instead begins to drag himself forward now. His legs almost lifeless as his elbows dig into the sharp stones beneath the snow that is beginning to deepen once more. Henrik knows there is no other option but fears what state his entire forearms will be in once he reaches the cave, if it is real that is. There is a good chance that it is simply an illusion of his unravelling mind. If that is true then Henrik will be sunk. He’ll die on this mountain in a matter of hours, but not before he’ll feel each and every part of his body shut down to prolong the functions of his vital organs. Henrik knows this as fact, and if he still had strength would use spells to remedy his dire situation. However, his magical capabilities are all but gone and using what little strength he has left would be a waste. So instead, he continues to push forward. He still catches glimpses of the voices; they are closer now, but also slower and less frequent. Henrik hopes that the Prejudges are having as torrid time as he is but something tells him that with their thick armour, which is likely filled with padding, that such a thing will not be the case. Plus their entire bodies are covered, whereas Henrik has too many extremities exposed.
Had he not been fleeing for his life he might have had time to gather supplies and mount a sensible ascent of Mount Verity. That had been his plan. As he was going to requisition the necessary supplies and then pay for a local guide to take him as far as they were willing. But his imprisonment and mental torture at the hands of the former Prejudge interrogator had put pay to that.
Henrik dares to raise his head again; sure he will be greeted with disappointment. But to his relief the open dark maw of the cave is within reach. He can scarcely believe it and permits himself a brief albeit forced smile. He can’t hold it for long as the biting wind forces him to abandon the expression and drop his head once more to instead focus on dragging his almost broken body the rest of the short distance into the cave.
It takes several more minutes before Henrik pulls himself through the opening of the cave and into the dark empty space beyond.
Now that he is out of the blizzard, Henrik rolls onto his back. He makes sure not to catch sight of his arms as he does so. He can’t feel much from them but what he can makes him worry gravely. Somehow he manages to avoid dropping into unconsciousness but his rest is short-lived as a voice in his head demands that he makes a fire. Henrik knows the voice, his subconscious, is right, but if he had the energy would tell it to give him a break. It won’t and he understands why and so without the will to fight he rolls onto his side, casting his tired eyes around until a finds a small circle of stone right next to him. He doesn’t remember seeing it before but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, he knows. His skills of observation are lacking at this time. So he simply raises his right hand, which is purple in colour with shiny and wet black fingers, and to his surprise succeeds in casting a fire spell.
The flames lance a short distance into the empty cool air within the small stone circle before moments later growing into a roaring fire of oranges, yellows and reds. A smile flitters across Henrik’s face as he rolls back onto his back to continue his rest. As he lays there on his back warmth begins to envelope him. It can’t be from the fire, he knows that much, and then the view of the jagged grey stone dotted with uneven shadows begin to move. At first Henrik is sure it must be his eyes playing tricks on him and then the grey rock becomes dotted with colours and soon after fronds of green and brown. It is at this point that Henrik concludes that he is no longer conscious. A belief which is only compounded when he shifts his gaze from the now thick with vegetation roof of the cave, which now seems to have become a tunnel, to find that he is above the ground being carried on a rainbow carpet. Henrik chuckles but for what reason he cannot say, though he feels the insistent need to look at the mess that are his hands. As he does so the colour of his skin fades from the deep angry purple that had been when he’d last viewed them to a soft blue and then the pale consistency that he has known them to possess throughout most of his life. Henrik shakes his head in disbelief and reasons that this must be part of his dream. However, he still can’t feel his fingers which are as black as coal, or at least they are to begin with.
The longer he looks at the thin spindles of his fingers the more the black lifeless flesh starts to recede. It astounds him and he dares to raise his head and take a gander at his toes only to find they too are shedding the death of frostbite to return to life.
By the time the rainbow carpet upon which he is laying stops, his body is back to its frail yet uninjured norm. Even the wound in his shoulder, which had started to become septic, that had become a cause of great pain when he dared to move his shoulder is gone. More over Henrik also feels much more alive. And not just the kind that would come from being well rested either. Energy is actually coursing through his veins as the carpet pitches upward until he slides down its short length and back onto his feet. Somehow the action seems obvious but still Henrik is about to turn and check why it occurred. However, instead he is distracted by the space which he now finds himself in.
The space is dome shaped, perhaps thirty metres across. There is no daylight but many of the plants that cling to the smooth walls of the dome emit a bioluminescence which provides ample light. Normally the sight would be enough to astound Henrik, but its spectacle is nothing compared to the towering tree that sits at the centre of the space. The tree is massive and its reaching canopy is an unbroken mass of pink blossoms, while its roots seem to be made from a wood-like stone. If Henrik didn’t know better he would swear that this can’t be real, but it has to be. This has to be the root of magic. He has no other explanation for it and it is more wondrous than he ever would have imagined as soft short green grass lies beneath the soles of his sandals and the stone from which they have grown through.
“I found it.” Is all Henrik can manage at first. He is still busy drinking in the sights and now sweet smells of the pollen that drifts effortlessly on the breezeless cool air of this place.
Finally Henrik remembers himself and clearing his voice then asks, “Oh great root I thank you for saving my life, but I must ask for the greatest of favours.” Henrik pauses expecting a response but he gets none so quickly continues. “The Majika, my people, those that wield your gifts, need your help.”
Henrik waits for a time sure that an answer, or at least a query, will be forthcoming. After a long period of silence it is clear that no response will be uttered however. He doesn’t know if one can be spoken aloud in the manner in which he converses but he would have expected something. It strikes him that perhaps this is not the root. Though, he quickly dispels that notion telling himself that if this is not where all magic comes from then where can be. Before Henrik can say anything else he hears the clatter of metal and turns toward the passage through which he entered. He isn’t sure how he knows exactly where it lies, but his heart sinks to see the seven Prejudges shuffle in with their weapons in hand.
By the looks of them it is clear that they are weak from a mixture of exhaustion and the bitter blizzard through which they have just trudged. Still they snarl and sneer at the sight of Henrik and the pink blossom tree with its wood-stone roots. However, unlike them Henrik is ready for a fight and can feel the magical energies that had been diminishing all these years surge him with the strength of a tidal rivers current.
Immediately the Prejudges attack him en masse, which doesn’t surprise Henrik. However, he feels no fear from their presence now that he has the warmth of magic coursing strongly through his veins once more.
He casts a series of spells which almost immediately incapacitate each and every one of them. Many Majika would likely have ended their lives but Henrik has instead used immobilisation spells to lock the joints of their armour, encase their lower legs in rapidly drying mud or entangle them in previously non-existent vines. Several had tried to break free and one had even got closer to Henrik than the elder Majika would prefer. But in the end his spells have prevailed. He was never in doubt of his gifts, while the Prejudges shout and proclaim their hatred for Henrik. In addition, they blather on about how he is a coward for not fighting them on their own equally unfair terms. But he soon silences them with a casual wave of his left hand which casts a silence spell over them.
Henrik smiles as he turns his attention back to the beautiful pink blossom tree, petals from which drift effortlessly toward the ground. Yet somehow the petals never seem to actually reach it. The sight makes the Majika wonder if he must present his case to the root. He quickly concludes that such a thing is the only reasonable expectation. So Henrik clears his throat and then begins.
“Oh great root. These are but a few of the legions who threaten you and us, your humble Ma-gee-ka.” Henrik makes sure to properly annunciate the name of his people seeing as the one he had heard mispronounce the word when he’d been in the tunnel under Wren is here among the Prejudges who are now trapped by his spells. It’s a petty thing but Henrik cannot resist, before continuing, “They wish to see us all cast from this world. And their crusade against magic has seen the loss of thousands of innocent lives.” Henrik pauses for a second time. This time he does it to allow his words to sink in. He has no idea if it’s necessary, but he sees no harm and hopes it will only aid his case. Though, what he will do if the root still refuses aid he does not know. He had never considered such a possibility until moments before the Prejudges had made their entrance. It is at this point that Henrik remembers that the men are still armed and quickly snaps his fingers at the end of a short incantation which he utters. In response, all seven of the Prejudges release their tight grips on their respective weapons. They clatter to the stone of the cave space with a series of almighty clanging rings which Henrik shrugs in response to before he returns his focus to where it is most needed.
“If these men and those they bow to are left unchallenged many more will die. So please, root of magic, I urge you to aid us, aid me, in our greatest time of need.”
Henrik hopes his words will be enough. If they are not then this has all been for nothing and that will crush him.
“Is this true?” A deep rumble boom of a voice asks in the moments before a bioluminescent tendril weaves its way around the body of the closest Prejudge. He’s the one that had managed to fight against the stiffening of his armour joints before the rapidly drying mud that cakes his lower legs had burbled up and hardened to immobilise him finally.
The tendril is more threatening than Henrik would have anticipated it to be now that he is watching it coil around the armoured Prejudge. Though, the elderly Majika has no fear for his own safety. Only the Prejudges have something to fear in this place.
The man, whose helmet is plucked from his head to reveal a long thin scar down the right side of his forehead that terminates just above his hazel eyes, at first thrashes back and forth. Henrik concludes the man is trying to fight against his bonds even as his body is forced to its knees, but his actions are futile. He cannot break the bonds which have bound him and are exerting a crushing force across every inch of his body.
Suddenly his thrashing stops and his eyes open wide. They haven’t gone wide in shock or terror. This is something else and Henrik took note of the pollen sparkling gold which the tendril seemed to release just as the Prejudge sucked air up into his nose with aggressive snorts.
“Speak.” The deep voice rumbles again with demanding authority.
The tree sees no need to explain that the pollen that the restrained human has inhaled will make him compliant to answering whatever question is directed toward him.
“What this Majika says is true.” The Prejudge says with a glazed over look in his wide open eyes. His voice is monotone but honest.
Henrik has to admit that he’s impressed. Though, he expected nothing less from the root magic of the world. However, until he saw it he never imagined that the name would be literal. At any other time he’d likely giggle but now is not the time. His giggling will come later, probably.
“Magic is a blight on this world and we, the Prejudges, will expunge it from existence. As well as all those that dare to wield its heretical powers, claimed to be gifts.” The Prejudge then offers still with a monotone voice. The other Prejudges gasping in silence as they wonder what has come over their fellow Prejudge and wish to voice this, but can’t.
“And your name?” The deep booming voice of the tree then asks.
“Elijah.” Is the succinct monotone reply that is delivered a second later.
“Thank you for your honesty Elijah. My decision is made.” The tree advises before ending the lives or each and every one of the seven Prejudges with a swift slash of a bioluminescent tendril.
The tendril slices a gash single clean cut across their throats. All of them gasp and gurgle in silence, except for Elijah. His the blood gushes from his wound in the seconds before he makes a sound that Henrik can only describe as that of a man drowning in his own blood. The blood pours down the front of his predominantly black armour like a waterfall, before ultimately beginning to form a growing pool that is located between his parted knees.
“I will aid you.” The tree then rumbles. Though it quickly adds, “But if you or any other of the Majika stray from the path and become akin to the very evil you so wish to remove from this world then you will be consumed by the very power which I will grant each and every one of you.”
Henrik nods to acknowledge his understanding of what the tree, the root of magic, has told him and with that nod the tree utters, “Then lay your hands upon my roots and accept the birthright of your kind.”
Henrik, as if on autopilot, begins to move forward, slow at first and then at what would be considered a more normal pace.
It doesn’t take him long to reach the thick bulging roots of the tree and then squat low to the ground. His aches and pains are gone. It’s the first time he’s realised their absence and there can be only one source of the cure of his ailments and that is the tree. He smiles and then gently, almost hesitantly, places his hands on the nearest of the roots. It seems to be the largest to Henrik now that he has placed his hands on it, but that is not why he picked it. He doubts it mattered which root he chose.
Suddenly immense energy flows from the tree into his hand and then throughout his body. As he accepts his gift from the root his eyes begin to glow a vibrant pink. He knows that the Prejudges tyranny will soon be nothing but a short page lost to the annals of time.