"Fools Rush In"
It had been several days since the ill-fated contest. Tryn had led Evu away into the shadow geyser just as the final rounds of the contest were to be fought. As expected, Barak and the Calders had gone ballistic, accusing Naroom of rigging the entire affair to distract the other regions while they gained all the glory for themselves. Orwin had protested, of course, but his words fell of deaf ears, and the delegation from Cald charged the geyser. With their combined magic, Barak had managed to force his way into the geyser before the mysterious portal had closed up.
Typical. Only fools rush in to the unknown. That's why many of the Moonlanders thought the Arderians were so wise. They actually looked before they leaped.
Since that day, tensions had remained high. Without their leader, the Magi from Cald had retired back to their volcanoes, setting several fires and picking several fights on the way. The Naroomese remained moody and distressed, with Orwin sick and Evu and Tryn unaccounted for. Of the Orothe delegation, nothing was known. No one had seen them since Tryn's trickery had been revealed. Everyone assumed they had simply retired to their deeps. Motash and her followers had lingered at Vash Naroom and done what they could to comfort folks, but then they, too, had gone home.
That left the Arderians to keep watch. Typical.
Ora swept around the shadow geyser in a search pattern, scanning the forest below for any changes. She and the other Arderians had been at this since the contest, keeping tabs on the forest and the geyser, and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Normally it was rather difficult to scout the great forest of Naroom, but the shadow geyser had killed off all the leaves, leaving the sickened trees naked and allowing the Arderians to see the forest floor.
Ora saw all sorts of things, things that had been spat out of the geyser.
Vile creatures crawled or oozed or lumbered across the thorn-infested ground, inflicting random destruction and causing fear. Whenever Ora or another scout spotted one, they used a mirrored lens to signal the nearest Arderian cloud city. Nimbulo then either alerted Yaki on the surface of the Moonlands, or else organized an Arderian strike force to drop from the clouds and deal with the invaders from the Core.
But they could do nothing about the geyser.
Ora stared at the geyser with disgust. It sat there in a clearing created by the force of its eruption. Thick, choking brambles grew all about, with thorns as long as her arm. It constantly shot into the air, high over the treetops, gushing forth an endless stream of thick, oily, shadow that slowly fell back to the ground. The very air around the geyser seemed darker, as if light failed to pass through it. Thick, viscous drops of shadowy grease pattered on the forest, withering everything they touched. No one could go close to the geyser without feeling great dread, and since Orwin had been struck down, no one had dared to think of touching the geyser.
How, then, to defeat it?
That was the puzzle that the wisest of the Arderians struggled with high above, while Ora and the other scouts tried to keep the influence of the shadow geyser contained. But even after these few days of patrols, Ora could tell the geyser was growing in power, and that more and more of the forest was being tainted.
As she continued her search pattern, she saw someone approach the geyser, someone she hadn't seen before. He dressed strangely, in long, baggy tan pants and a shapeless red hooded tunic. He was blond, like a Calder, and his skin was pale, like an Arderian. He approached the geyser fearlessly, and paused a scant few steps away.
Fearless? This was new. Ora swung off her pattern and flew behind him, staying out of sight but watching his actions.
She saw a doorway open in the geyser, reluctantly, as if the geyser were forced against its will to admit this strange person. He flexed his hand, and Ora saw that he wore several rings. He moved into the geyser, and the door slowly constricted itself shut behind him. Strange, Ora thought. When the others entered, it slammed shut like a trap. Who is this strange Magi? Maybe he's the one they say came from another world. I'll have to ask when I return to the clouds.
* * * * *
She had all but forgotten about the strange Magi when, a few hours later, the shadow geyser exploded.
She tumbled in the shockwave, and she saw the spewing shadow tear itself apart with the force. Great globs of darkness were flung through the air, along with squealing, terrified Core abominations.
Well, she thought, this will take some scouting! She pulled out her lens and signaled, then immediately began trying to account for the locations and strengths of the various bits of the geyser and its vile influence.
Near the center of the blast crater, she saw the strange, young Magi with the red tunic, standing unharmed and running his hand through his unruly hair.
If he's unharmed, thought Ora, then there's hope for Evu, Barak and Tryn.
She redoubled her efforts, moving quickly and scanning the devastated woodlands.
At last she saw a familiar glimmer, a glimmer she had seen many times when watching Naroom through the powerful Arderian telescopes. Nothing glimmered quite like that...
She flew closer, and saw the small, hunched form of Evu moving slowly through the blackened trees, the light reflecting off of his bald pate.
"Evu!" she called, as she dipped closer. He turned and looked around, a bewildered expression in his eyes.
"Where... where am I?" he asked.
Ora hovered beside him. She didn't want to risk touching the ground, no matter how lightly, for she feared the effects of the shadow. "You're in Naroom, near where the shadow geyser was," she said. "You're safe now. How do you feel?"
"I feel... um... I feel goooood..." he said distantly.
"Do you know where Tryn is? Or Barak?"
"Who? Um... no, I don't think so..." mumbled Evu.
"Here," said Ora, reaching into a pocket hidden in her sash. "Maybe these will give you a little brain boost. She pulled out a small stash of jellybeans, carried for just such a possibility, and dropped them into his outstretched hand. Then she picked up the small Magi and began to fly back to Naroom.
She didn't notice that as the jellybeans had touched his hands, they turned black.
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