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After a supper shared with the firedrake and a night of restless sleep, I was given some bread and escorted to the northern edge of the elvish lands. I learned that Nyrrin's band was back to patrolling the borders again. The elves couldn't spare a map for me, but they did give me some directions to follow.
Soon after I left their territory, traveling along a path beside a creek, the firedrake began talking. "You really do need to change your hair color before we get to the goblin crossing. Can you do any magic at all?"
"No," I answered. "I grew up in a world of technology. We have machines for everything. For instance, we build food out of essential nutrients. The stuff you have here is a lot more varied. Anyway, most everyone regards magic as a crackpot theory designed to add spice to video games. So there's really no formal study or teaching of magic at all."
The drake sighed. "I guess I'll have to teach you, then."
Lessons began. "First," said the drake, "remember the spirit place we visited? You clearly need to control your perception of time there. Sit down." I sat on a nearby boulder. "Now focus on the flow of time. Imagine your feet dug into the ground, trying to stop you, and shift. Be sure to stay grounded as you shift."
I followed its directions and found myself in space again, next to the same majestic dragon as my previous visit. It looked like the drake, only with blue teasing the edges of its scales as light played on it. As before, it immediately told me to return.
"Very good. Now, the key to illusion is to change your image there, and focus on bringing the image into reality with you as you return. Let's practice with something that won't be a problem if it gets conjured instead of forming an illusion. Try making a tree branch."
I practiced all that morning as we continued along the path. Once I was able to form an illusion, I learned how to maintain it with minimal concentration. By the time we arrived at Goblin Crossing, my hair was dark brown. This didn't stop the goblins from bothering us, though.
The goblin crossing was a muddy path cut through the brush to cross our path and the stream. We came upon three of them wrestling with a large barrel, trying to drag it up the bank. "Oh dear," the firedrake said to me, "seeing them with treasure is certain to be trouble."
"Can we duck out of sight and wait?"
"No, they've surely spotted us."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"You're not from around here, are you?" The firedrake giggled in my mind. "We stand here and wait, and hope whatever they're moving is minor."
With great effort, they finally got the barrel across the path and out of sight down their trail. Then they began chattering to each other in soft, almost musical tones.
"What an inconvenience! There shouldn't be any humans on this path during Kuun!" "And to see this!" "We must kill them on the spot." "But he came out of Elvish territory during Kuun! Maybe he's important." "Is that a familiar?" "Amazing! Maybe he's more powerful than Elves?" "No, they'd flee and warn us." "So what do we do with him?" "Traditionally—" "He saw us moving the gems! Tradition is nothing before practicality!"
"What gems do you suppose they're talking about?" I asked the firedrake.
There was a hesitation, then clear astonishment in the words. "You understand them? And they have the gems? Trouble indeed! Don't let them know you understand! What a talent! Mommy picked well!"
"Okay. Just... guide me, whatever they decide." Their furious arguing was slowing. They couldn't call for help from the Elves during Kuun; they couldn't take me with them because it was too risky to have me in such proximity with the gems. All three were needed to move the barrel, and they had no way to trap a wizard. They decided to fight.
"It's a fight," I told the firedrake.
"Horrors! Each one of them is supreme in some element, and capable of turning anything back on us. Even a shield can become a trap."
A plan leapt into mind. With the goblins rushing at me, there was no time to talk it over with the drake. I drew on what I knew of magic, made fists, and prepared to take their assault. The drake must've sensed I had something up my sleeve, for it remained silent.
Timing needed to be perfect. As they approached, running abreast with fists at the ready, I brought my arms to the sides, gripping an imaginary sword which was about to become real. Triumph flickered over their faces; two started to backpedal, and one kept coming.
I focused as hard as I could, trying to speed myself up and pull the sword real at the same time. It worked; despite the two trying to evade, I swung and cut through all three of them in one arc.
"How could you possibly have taken out an Earth goblin with a sword!?" the drake exclaimed.
"Oh, it takes a small bit of creativity. That's all."
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