Part 3 – “The Reward of Kindness”
You can find part 2 here.
The next ingredient was a tricky one. He needed to pick burning elderberries from a bush that was set afire by a fire-sprite. The fire of a fire-sprite does not go out even when in direct contact with water. The only way to stop it is to wait for it to run out of fuel i.e. magic. The difficulty with collecting such an ingredient is that wood-sprites do not usually set elderberry bushes on fire; as elderberries were their favourite food. As soon as he reached the Darat forest, Ali started searching for wood sprites.
Wood sprites are small, malicious creatures that were usually quite harmless, but could set fire to huge swathes of the area when they stole magic from wizards. For this reason; Ali was wearing standard protection gear and a magic dampening seal.
Ali concentrated his search in the northern woods, as this was where elderberry bushes were in abundance and where wood sprites usually congregated. He searched high and low, yet he did not find a single sprite all day. As it was approaching dusk, Ali, finally sighed and stopped his search. Lighting his staff with a gentle light Ali proceeded to turn back. Just as he was about to do so, he spotted a sprite out of the corner of his eye and he ran after it.
He lost sight of it, however when he reached a cliff. Maybe I should just go back and look again tomorrow, he thought. But then he thought about how little time he had left, and he decided to climb down. Tying his staff to his satchel, he started climbing down the cliff face. It was more perilous than he had anticipated and Ali nearly slipped quite a few times due to the buffeting winds. It took him three hours to reach the bottom of the cliff face, and it was fully dark by now. Ali was exhausted and he dropped to the ground to drink some water and recuperate. After he was done he looked around the clearing he had dropped into.
It was a beautiful place surrounded by hanging vines and as he explored Ali came upon a cave entrance. Curious, he cast his mage light forward and stepped into the cave. All of a sudden the cave wall closed up behind him and Ali let a yelp of alarm. He angled his staff to the direction he came from and tried a blasting spell, only to sigh in disappointment when nothing happened. “Well, it’s not like I expected that to work anyway.” he muttered to himself.
Turning around his satchel he extracted his potions kit. It was stocked with all kinds of potions, one of which may be able to get him out of here. As he looked through his inventory there was an ominous low rumbling sound behind him. Ali turned around slowly in fear, coming face to face with a monstrously huge bear. Ali squeaked in fear and stumble back, his back pressing against the cave. He started fumbling with his potions kit, hoping against hope that his hand would close upon a sleeping powder. Just as he was sure that he had found what he was looking for and was about to throw it in the looming bear’s face; the bear opened its maw… and spoke.
“What are you doing, barging into my home like this?” asked the bear with evident displeasure. Ali gaped at the blatantly female voice that came out of bear’s mouth and his mouth moved without any sound coming out.
“I asked you a question, or you deaf as well as dumb?” the bear said, raising a paw to poke Ali with. When Ali saw the giant paw moving towards him he squeaked and said, “Wait, I am sorry, I stumbled in by accident and then the door closed behind me.”
“Oh, it must be Kiran’s fault, she always forgets to close the door behind her. Come on, I’ll let you out. What are you doing in the forest this late at night anyway kid?” She asked as she ran one of her claws on the cave wall in a strange pattern. The cave wall glowed briefly and disappeared. “Are those runic wards?” asked Ali in awe, “You are a wizard!” he said excitedly.
“Heh, you got it all wrong kid, I am a no human. I am the guardian of this forest.” said the bear with an amused smirk. “Oh!” said Ali in shock, “I thought forest guardians were a myth!”
“Well, that is just what the council wants you humans to think; they do not want any human interference in our laws.” replied the bear. “Why are telling me this? Aren’t you afraid I’ll tell the other humans?” asked Ali in a puzzled tone.
“The law is that any human you eats and drinks in the forest and stays the night becomes a citizen of the forest for however long he stays, and thus bound to our laws, he becomes unable speak of the guardians to another human forevermore. Therefore I do not see the harm in indulging you.” answered the bear.
“What is your name? If you don’t mind me asking.” said Ali. The bear let out a sharp bark of laughter and said, “You are a strange human, you know that? I am called Qainat. What about you?” she said. “I am Ali, and I am here on a quest to find the ingredients for a potion for the King.” Ali replied.
“Oho, a quest you say? What are you looking for now, then?” asked the bear good-humoredly. “I am looking for elderberries set on fire by a wood-sprite.” Ali explained, and he paled rapidly when he looked up and saw a furious expression on the previously kindly guardians face.
“Oh, and how were you going to collect your ingredient huh? Were you just going to go half-cocked and get a bunch of sprites angry and set fire to my forest? With no thought to the lives of the animals living there?” she asked stone-faced. “Um I didn’t think-” said Ali aghast at the idea.
“That’s right! You humans never think of anything but yourselves! Get out of my forest and so help me if you dare to set fire to it I will hunt you down!” roared the bear furiously. Ali hurriedly stumbled back and turned and ran from the bear. He ran and ran, finally stopping when he was too tired. As he collapsed to the ground and panted he lay there reflecting on what Qainat had said. She is right, he thought, I can’t just destroy the lives and homes of the forest animals for my own gain.
He lay there for a while, tired and sore, just frantically trying to think of a way for him to get the ingredient without setting fire to the rest of the forest. For a few hours, nothing came to him, and he despaired of ever being able to fulfill his quest. He couldn’t just put a compulsion on the sprite because the fire had to be set willingly to have the proper effect and no foreign magic could interfere. Plus he wasn’t good at spells anyway. Ali sighed and heaved himself up, setting up his tent and getting ready to sleep. I’ll think of a solution in the morning, he thought.
Just as he was about to sleep he heard the unmistakable chattering of wood-sprites. His eyes flew open and Ali gingerly grabbed the pouch of sleeping powder he had kept by his head in case of an emergency. This powder was strong enough that it could down an elephant within a few seconds. Too bad it didn’t work underwater, or he could have used it against Prince Hanul’s guards.
Ali stood up and sneaked out of his tent only to find himself surrounded by angry, chattering wood sprites. They dive bombed him as soon as he came out and in a blind panic Ali used one of the only spells he could competently cast. He levitated the sprites rushing him. As soon as he realized that the sprites were immobilized, he took a handful of the powder and threw it at the sprites, holding his breath as he did. As soon as the powder touched them, the sprites fell asleep. After all of them were down, Ali breathed a sigh of relief and lowered them slowly to the ground.
Ali was relieved that he had caught the sprites before they managed to set anything afire but he was puzzled by the fact that he had managed to levitate them all at once. After all, even though he was able to levitate he had never done it on multiple objects before. Shrugging away his puzzlement, ali set about packing up his tent, intent on getting away from the sprites. As he was packing, an idea occurred to him. Quickly he gathered up his things and he gingerly went and picked up one of the sprites placing it in a specimen jar.
He had thought of an idea to get the ingredient without anyone getting hurt. So Ali wandered the forest and set up his equipment in an empty cave. He set up the runic ward stones his master had provided and went off to find and elderberry bush. It was fairly easy to find and Ali took a deep breath, concentrating on the bush and a meters around it, he levitated the bush out of the ground with its roots attached. Carefully transferring the large bush to a sack he picked it up and went back to the cave. Once there he grabbed his largest cauldron (it was larger than him). He activated the transparency function and lowered the elderberry bush into it. He then watered the bush and moved the ward stones to surround the cauldron.
Then, taking a deep breathe he took out his grimoire and tried to cast an illusion spell on the bush. Normally he would not even consider casting such a spell, but magic had been coming much easier to him and he was emboldened by his levitation success. He had to practice the spell for an hour before he finally got it; but that was still much better than ever before. He had cast an illusion on the bush to look like him so that the sprite would be angry and set the bush on fire.
Now he took out jar holding the sprite and keeping the cauldron’s lid ready, he tipped the sprite into the cauldron, quickly placing the lid. He watched as the sprite grew angry and then he deliberately fed the sprite his magic, channeling it just like he did for making potions. Son the sprite had absorbed enough and it spewed fire on the bush disguised as him. The fire broke the illusion, but the damage was already done.
Quickly, Ali levitated the sprite back into the jar. Then, putting on his flame retardant gloves, he set about collecting five burning elderberries and plopping them into his cheerfully bubbling potion one at a time. As each berry hit the surface of the potion, a bubble formed around it, and it was burning still as it sunk to the bottom. The potion’s color also changed to a deep blood-red.
At this stage the potion required all his attention, so Ali spent the next two days adding ingredients, stirring, imbuing magic and chanting over the potion. He slept standing up and in short bursts, and he ate little. Upon the third day the potion finally settled into a static sort of grey colour and he was finally able to rest.
When Ali woke up he was startled to see Qainat standing over him with a pensive look on her face. As he looked around he saw many animals just as large as Qainat, milling about his cave. Then he caught sight of a fox that was just about to sniff the brewing potion. “You, Fox, stop, don’t do that!” Ali yelled.
The fox turned toward him and said haughtily, “I am Naufil, not Fox you impudent brat.” Ali stammered and blushed, saying, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude-”. “Leave the child alone, Naufil.” said a deep rumbling voice. Ali looked in that direction and his breath caught in his throat. Standing outside his cave was the largest elephant Ali had ever seen. “Yes, Elder Haarisah.” said the fox. “Qainat, do you not have something to say to this young man, complete your words so that we may leave.” said Haarissh, the Elephant.
“I Qainat, as the guardian of this forest, repent my wrongdoing and as reparation for my actions the Council offers to grant a boon to the human child Ali.” said Qainat in a wooden and rehearsed manner.
“What?” said Ali, “What does that mean, what wrongdoing?”
“The sprites which attacked you on your first night in the forest were called upon you by Qainat’s doing.” replied Haarisah.
Ali was shocked as he looked around at the animals, each of whom was staring at him. “Why did you do that?” Ali asked Qainat.
“She wanted to teach you a lesson brat, not to mess around with the forest.” cackled Naufil, the fox. “But you, strange child that you are, humbled me by taking my words to heart and proving my prejudice against humans wrong. For this; and because I attacked you without cause while you were a citizen of this forest and thus under my protection, we have to pay reparations. I broke my oath. ” explained Qainat.
“But, I do not want anything from you.” said Ali. “Do not throw away this gift so cavalierly young human, for if you do not accept the debt must be paid with the oath-breaker’s life.” cautioned Haarisah.
“What?! So if I don’t accept, you die?” asked Ali aghast. “Yes”, Qainat replied simply.
Ali was stumped, as he truly did not need anything for himself. He looked around the cave, searching for inspiration, and then his gaze fell upon the cheerily bubbling cauldron. He lit up and turning around he asked, “I need a golden bleeding heart flower from the Pathar mountains. Could take me there? It grows really high up so I think an eagle should be able to reach it.” he said.
“Yes, we will be able to take you within two days, where will you be?” said the elephant. “I will be leaving the forest and I shall stay in the inn on the edge I think, I will wait for you there, I need to restock my food supplies.” Ali said after thinking it over.
So Ali travelled out of the forest and waited. His transport arrived in the form of a great big falcon, who carried him to his next destination. Ali soon collected the final ingredient and added it to the potion, waiting for it to turn clear. As soon as it did Ali crowed in delight and hiked down the mountain and trekked through the rest of the journey back to the castle. To his delight Ali discovered that he could now successfully perform many spells he could not before, as he now had much more confidence in his abilities, so his journey back was made much easier. He soon reached the castle and gave the potion to the genie. The genie drank it and was freed, flying off as soon as he was free.
Afterwards, the castle was set to rights and the King punished Rafique for his mistake by ordering him to fix the castle magically. To his surprise, the King chose Ali as his final court sorcerer and they all lived happily ever after.