A Meeting on the Road

Rolf trudged along the path, trying to get to Arthfern by nightfall. It was about 20 miles from Durgart and he knew that he could make at least 15 at a leisurely pace. So far the weather had been good, the sun bright. He hadn’t even seen anyone else on the road. As he passed a meadow, he let his gaze stay fixed on its flowers while he kept walking forward. Rolf picked up his pace, blessed by the day.

The weather was still shining and the road had stayed empty. It was a good while before Rolf noticed the first dot of another traveller on the horizon. Rather than disappointing him, it was exciting to see who it might be. He might even be able to have a good chat about what all Arthfern had to offer. He kept his quick pace, but planned to slow it when he got closer to the traveller. A slight tingle prickled his neck for a second and vanished before he really took note of it. He didn’t feel anything else so he wasn’t worried about it. The traveller might be slightly magicent, though. Just in case, he sent a detection spell in that direction. There was definitely something there, but it was probably only a magic item, nothing more. That wasn’t unusual and hopefully that meant he could get some good enchantments and talismans in Arthfern.

Rolf felt a soft wave wash over him. The other traveller had just detected him back. So he was at least a minor mage, maybe a jumpy trainee that was extra cautious about strangers on the road. Rolf quickly cast a spell giving off a false aura of enchantment, hoping the residue of the detect would pick it up. It would look like he was loaded with magical devices.

The mage on the road stopped. His dust trail faded, but he still didn’t move. A blue flame popped up on his right side. Rolf stopped. They stood there for a second and then the blue flame went away. The silence was broken by a cow mooing in the distance.

Rolf put up a magic barrier, tailed with a disappearing spell to keep it hidden. He thought about disappearing himself, but thought better of it. This time he sent out a heavy detect, but tried to make it passable to the mage’s magic sense. He got nothing, so he kept the detect there, probing for any reason to be worried about this mage. Suddenly, he felt his magic rush back at him and a splitting headache threatened to drop him to the ground. He grit his teeth and kept his eyes on the mage. He could at least push back after that. This guy was hiding everything, so he had to be careful about his next move. Rolf decided to simply start walking forward. The other mage didn’t move. Rolf bolted, stretching out his mind, waiting to reach the mage. It didn’t take long; he was a good runner. He bound the mage tight, gripping him hard with the spell. He dropped without seeming to resist. Rolf had him now, so he didn’t stop running. As he approached the body, he took half a second to get a look at the man’s face and that was when the mage freed himself from the bind and his hands burst into blue fire. Rolf had just enough seconds to freak out, ignite his own hands, and leap over the body. Red fire came down on blue. He rolled in the dirt on impact and whirled around with a shot of flame for the mage, who easily tossed it away with his own fire. Rolf sent blast after blast, all met. He held up a ball of flame in front of him, raised his other hand, and started zipping fireballs at the man from all angles. They hissed and fizzled through the air. The mage blocked or sidestepped every one of them. He was distracted just enough though for Rolf to charge, leading with a burst of flames. A splash of water turned the flame wall to steam and splattered on Rolf’s barrier. Two elements. Rolf skidded to a stop, but the mage pulled a dagger and dove for him. Rolf threw up a material barrier, but the mage was already inside and he felt the dagger bust into his abdomen. He let the failed barrier just dissipate and slumped to the ground. The hard dirt of the road thudding him made him remember to let his life force leak into the grass so the mage would have no need for a finishing blow. He didn’t pick up on it, just turned around and walked on down the road. Rolf had no idea how far his range was so he waited as long as he dared. When his spirit was nodding off into twilight, his life force crawled sleepily out of the grass and climbed back into his body. The first thing he felt was pain. He clutched his wound, trying not to move too much—it still had to have been too sudden of a movement. He dropped all of his energy into the wound, like taking off a pack after a full day’s walk. It closed up and the pain began to improve. He was still panting and his head felt heavy. A finger to his forehead cleared the fog and only then did he dare to slowly ease up.

He half expected to be met with the mage running at him and then kneeing him in the head, but instead, the countryside was completely empty to the horizon.

—Michael Billips

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