My Ranking Points
Individual (and somehow STILL unnamed…) Story:
The questers moved quickly in the direction Cali and Bree had traveled, covering ground more efficiently than felt possible. Tasman, now unable to walk, was passed back and forth, and the group split into pairs and carried him between them as if he were a rather large bin or crate. Their pace was close to running as they bounded over the hard-packed dirt, but it wasn’t as if Tasman could feel it.
His limbs were entirely wooden now, joints made of bent pieces that looked like tree branches. The boy gave out little gasp and moans every few minutes as the wood crept up his stomach. No matter how hard he tried just to wiggle a toe, Tasman knew that once something became wood, it was lost to him.
“You have to know something!” Cali, just relieved of her carrying-duties, had run up to Merlin immediately. “You’re Camelot’s most powerful wizard!”
Merlin stumbled along, gasping for breath. It was so difficult for him to keep up with the nimble teens that he barely managed the breath for a reply. “This is a special type of magic. I haven’t seen much of it before. I know only that it is a type of Evil no longer taught at the schools. This is very dark magic, Cali. Either the witch who cursed his father was very old, or she was gifted beyond anything this world has seen.
She glanced at Tasman, but his eyes were shut tightly, as if that could stop the pain. “So there’s no way to stop it?”
Merlin stumbled as his bare feet slid over a rock. Righting him, Cali’s gaze drifted over to Bree, as if she already knew the answer and couldn’t bare to hear it.
“I didn’t say there was no way, Cali. Just that I didn’t know the way. I would need to know more about the spell that was cast. Especially since it has the ability to stay ineffective for so long and then just come back. That’s very dark magic.”
“I’ve told you everything I can!” Back in the prison, Tasman had recounted the contents of the letter his mother had sent him. His father’s second bite from the Mouse Clan that tried to take over their kingdom, the wizard who froze the effects. The death of the wizard, and the spread of the curse. It still made no sense to any of them, though. How could a mouse poison someone? How could a curse just freeze? Could Sleeping Beauty have just pressed pause and put off the hundred year nap until she was married and the prince could break the curse right away? And if so, why had the curse come back now?
Tasman screamed, and Cali raced back to his side. There was nothing more Merlin could do for her. “Anything I can do?” She did her best not to look as worried as she felt.
“No, Cali of Everywhere.” His words were slow and spread apart, as if it were difficult to speak. “I’m doing just fine.”
Cali nodded and smiled, secretly wishing he could just cry, or scream, or curse who ever did this to him. That would have been much easier to deal with than this stupid noble-acceptance game he was playing.
But Tasman could be as noble as he wanted. He was about to-
Not die, she reminded herself. He was about to freeze. It wasn’t permanent. It was just like Sleeping Beauty, except the cure was probably some magical herb rather than true love’s kiss or whatever.
What if the cure was true love’s kiss. Would Cali actually let the idea that they could be in love cross her mind enough to try? Or would sh3 just let it go and leave him for dead. They weren’t even dating. Then again, neither were Snow White and her prince…
No. No, Tasman was in severe pain and she might never see him again. This wasn’t the time to figure out what was going on between them.
Cali never would have thought about these things back in the woods. There if was just her, her mom, and the random cops and monsters hunting them down. Almost no one would miss the luxurious life of being on the run, but Cali did. Every day. She’d changed so much in a few months of school and questing. Back in the woods, she never would have been close to crying over an unrealistically good-looking boy who was turning into wood for who knows what reason.
Zathreen, uncharacteristically eager to help, had raced to the front of the group to scout out the town Bree and Cali had found. This might have been to avoid carrying Tasman, but any kind of helpfulness out of Sophie’s adopted daughter was an improvement.
She was waving her arms now, looking back at the team she realized she had left behind. But they heard her cries and looked ahead, catching a glimpse of smoke streaming from a cluster of wooden chimneys. The village was just up ahead.
“Are we even going there?” Andros, unlike Brantler, was hardly halted by the weight of Tasman in his arms. “I thought we were going to Tasman’s kingdom to be with his parents.”
Bree looked up from the rooted ground. “Maybe there’s a wizard here or something. We should give it a chance!”
She looked around at the others, waiting for protest, but no one had the energy to disagree.
So they sped onwards, towards the towering houses and the inviting aroma of food.
Cali’s stomach growled, and she immediately recoiled with guilt. Tasman was-
There was the word again. Dying.
He would still be here. Just frozen, forever, in a wooden shell stopping him from moving or talking.
Then a dark thought crossed her mind. When Tasman’s father was the nutcracker, he was still alive in every sense of the word except that he wasn’t flesh and bone. He could speak, feel, and think.
Would Tasman still be alive, thinking and feeling, but trapped. Would it be like being frozen in ice, observing without the ability to do anything? Cali could hardly bare to imagine watching Tasman without being able to talk to him, without him really seeing her. Living life like that forever…
So she focused on her steps, matching her stride to Piper’s. Anything to stop herself from thinking. The village got closer and closer, and soon Cali could hear the normal sounds of a thriving community. Adults were clustered together, gossiping as they looked at their children playing on the ground or in the woods. People shouted out at passersby from within their stores, naming prices and describing the fine quality of whatever they were selling.
Tasman groaned again, and the pace of the group doubled. If anyone had been able to stand looking at him, they would have seen the weaving lines that envelop trees creeping up his neck. Tasman knew he didn’t have long, and he almost just wanted Andros and Brantler to let go. He didn’t want to spend his time being carried like a child from place to place looking for a miracle cure that wouldn’t come. He wanted to talk things out, say thank you and good bye to everyone who had gone on the quest with him. This whole trip was supposed to be a way to prove to his father that he could lead. That he would be a good heir, and do anything for the people he was supposed to protect. Now, instead, he was practically dying far away from his family, and all before he’d had the chance to tell Cali that he really, really liked her.
The sights and sounds of the village were no longer ahead of them but among them. The Evers and Nevers broke through crowds, drawing strange glances as they frantically pushed ahead.
“Is there an apothecary?” Piper’s neck practically tore of her head as she spun around, searching for anything to help her friend.
“Does anyone here practice magic?” Jared screamed just as loud.
“Wait!” Bree spun around, letting he group continue sprinting ahead of her. She glanced down, and saw a little girl with straw-yellow hair sprinting after her.
“Eloise!” An older woman, probably the child’s mother, started down the cobblestone street after the girl.
Bree knelt down to meet the child’s eyes. “What?”
“Old man Karler. He lives up there.”
She pointed towards an eroding hillside, on top of which was resting a small stone building that could only be described as a hut.
Bree barely had time to take it in before the woman snatched the girl up in her arms. “Come along, Eloise. We don’t need any more of your nonsense.”
The pair were gone in an instant, down and alley and out of sight.
Unsure of why the girl had pointed out the odd, lonely house, Bree decided that the group had no better options. “Guys!” She sprinted after her friends, who were still searching for some sort of magic. “Let’s try up on that hill.”
“Are you insane?” Zathreen looked up the hill skeptically. “It looks haunted.”
“No it looks just like where someone magic would live. On wards and upwards!” Brantler stumbled over a pothole, still struggling as he carried Tasman, facing backwards.
So they marched up the hill. Bree, finally able to look at the hovel, glanced over the rickety roof and dying grass. A rusty fence surrounded the building, but there was no lock and it was easy to creak it open.
Piper rapped on the door.
No one answered.
She pounded louder, but still there was no sound from inside.
Supporting both of Tasman’s legs with one arm, Andros turned the **** and shoved the unlocked door open.
The inside of the stone house was entirely wood. Blankets and ***** dishes were piled up across the single room, and there was no visible furniture. It took the group a moment to notice the man sitting in the corner. His raven hair was streaked with white and sandy brown. Stubble shadowed his face and the beginning of wrinkles pulled at his skin.
“Glad to see you could stop by. So kind of you all to knock.” He stood slowly, not seeming threatened by the crowd of teens in his home.
“Help.” Cali was already picking up brackets and spreading them on the floor, gesturing for the boys to set Tasman down. “Our friend is turning into wood and we need your magic to fix it. Please. He doesn’t have much time.”
The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean by any of that.”
Zathreen stepped forward, eyes drilling holes through the man. “Cram it, wizard or whatever else you are. Our friend is about to die, and some kid told us you can help us, so unless a child is stupid or trying to prank us, you had better get down there and fix him before he turns into another toy for Goodwill!”
He protested again, visibly shaken. “I don’t know what you mean!”
“Come on Zathreen.” Jared tugged at the Evergirl’s arm. “We should go while he’s still not whacking at as with a broom.”
“No.” She took another step towards the man. “We came from school to another flipping dimension, and I am not letting a single one of us die. If Tasman doesn’t make it back, I am taking Professor Dovey to a volcano, throwing her in, and tying some very heavy bricks to her ankles. Even if I have to enter a third dimension to do it.”
The questers stood, staring.
The man, however, stepped forward. “Clarissa Dovey? Are you all students at the School for Good?”
“Well-“ Jared started to explain his evil-ness, but Brantler elbowed him in the stomach.
“Yes. We were questing, and some curse set on his father decades ago kicked in. Now he’ll be a puppet in a few hours unless you help us.
“I’d do anything for fellow Evers. Unfortunately, I only know what I was taught in school. I found my princess soon after graduation, but there were no dragons or witches in the way. We settled down, and I haven’t used magic since, outside of mundane tasks. The little girl probably saw some firewood chopping itself. I wish I could help, truly, I do. But I’m no wizard.”
Cali sat down in a heap beside Tasman, helpless.
“Onwards?” Brantler bent down to pick up Tasman.
“No.” Tasman could barely even speak in a croak now. “Home is far. We won’t make it. Just…let me go.”
The old man approached, sympathy in his eyes. “Not that it’s much use, but…you can stay here for as long as you need. I have food and blankets.”
Bree smiled politely, but no one made a sound. They all sank to their knees, leaning on walls or just curled up on the floor. There, in the house on the hill, they waited for the end.
Sorry about the hiatus! I’m back now and you can catch up on my story by clicking @impossiblegirl