“What?” Launi was shocked and she felt the walls were closing in around her. “D-death? Death is waiting?”
Screbra merely nodded solemnly, as if he knew nothing he said would make a difference in this moment.
“H-how long do they have?” Her voice felt shaky. Her mind was spinning and her hands had begun to tremble.
Screbra looked thoughtful. “This happened yesterday? Yes?” It was Launi’s turn to nod. “Yes, well as with many dark curses, they don’t work right away.”
“Why is that?”
“Dark curses take a lot of strength and power to cast, much more than light magic. Curses are fickle and it’s often better to let them grow in strength over time. It would take an enormous amount of power to cast a full one in a single go. It is likely that these dark mages are letting the magic grow so they can harness it later for something worse.”
“How does that work?” Launi wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer.
Screbra cleared his throat. “Well, it is likely that these mages cast a curse around your village and are using the life force of the villagers to power a much stronger one.” He gave Launi a long, sad look. “Using the power contained in a life is a dark, horrible thing. And with an entire village, it would be enough to cast something much, much darker.”
“So,” Launi wanted to make sure she understood even though the very thought pained her. “The curse was cast to keep my friends and family unconscious and stuck in one place until some dark mages can take their life force and cast a darker curse? They’re just lying there until the mages decide it’s time for them to die?” Launi was standing now. Screbra simply nodded, a horribly sad look in his eyes.
The walls felt too close and the ceiling too low. The books and papers felt like a crowd surrounding her, suffocating her. She was struggling to breathe, her hands shaking. She ran them jerkily through her hair, causing the tight ringlets to stand on end.
Breathe! She silently screamed to herself. Breathe! You can’t do anything to help if you’re panicking! Just breathe!
Slowly, after what seemed hours, Launi got her breath under control. She was breathing deeply and staring down at the floor of Screbra’s home. He had waited patiently, silently as Launi calmed herself.
“I am so sorry Launi. Truly I am.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Not we, I have to stay here and take care of some things.” His tone suggested everything was not well.
A sudden thought reared its head and Launi thought it was time to ask the man before her.
“Screbra, when I walked through the village, everyone was giving me odd looks. Surely I haven’t changed so much since my last visit?”
He didn’t meet her gaze, “no, no you haven’t. It has nothing to do with you.”
“Then what is it?”
“There have been shape shifters around, causing trouble.”
“Shape shifters? Here? What do they want with you?” Launi hadn’t heard of shifters being this far away from the cities. Shifters roamed in groups. They were often referred to as bandits, but everyone knew that they caused more trouble than bandits ever could.
“We have no idea, but they got away with many stores of food and took a few family heirlooms with them as well. Our best guess is that the cities are cracking down and they’ve decided the villages are easier targets.”
“I’m sorry Screbra.” The loss of food stores was never good and not with fall and winter approaching.
“We’ll manage.” His tone was light, but his eyes showed his true worry.
Launi nodded, choosing not to push the topic. He was already doing so much by meeting with her. “So, is there anything I can do to help my village?”
Screbra shook his head gently as if ridding it of thoughts. “Yes, just one moment.” He stood and started rummaging through papers and books again. Launi sat quietly. Her mind was clouded with thousands of thoughts. She tried not to dwell on the fact that her village was being used to power a worse curse. She tried to forget that her father was with them. She attempted to pass over the fact that she was the only one left, the only one who could do anything, the only one who-
“Screbra?” He looked over his shoulder, pausing his search of a pile of papers . He raised a single eyebrow in answer. “Why am I the only one awake?”
He stood and scratched his chin with a worn hand. “I’m not certain, but I’m guessing it would be because you weren’t there long enough for the curse to take hold.”
“But I was there for a while, checking my father and gathering things to come here.”
“Maybe you just missed the curse.”
“But I was inside the boundary the entire time I was there.”
Screbra shook his head. “Even with all of these books, there are things that I don’t know and don’t understand. And Launi, this is one of them. I don’t have an answer for you. I wouldn’t worry about it at this time. The important thing is that you are awake and able to help them. Focus on that. Focus on what will happen, not what already has.”
Launi wasn’t sure he was right but didn’t say anything. He obviously wasn’t worried about it. Launi would have to find the answer somewhere else. For now, she could focus on helping her village. She could do that. She would find a way.
A few minutes later Screbra returned to his chair. He handed Launi a folded rectangle of paper.
“A map. There is a witch of light magic that might be able to help you. She has been known to give aid before. It is worth seeing her. She might be your best chance.” Launi didn’t need him to say it to know that it was probably her only chance. She had no idea when the dark mages would cast the next curse.
“Where is she?”
“In the Valley of the Dragon.”
Launi looked at the map. She found the forest she lived in and searched for the Valley. She found it, and calculated the distance.
“That must be at least a two-week journey, one way.”
Screbra nodded in agreement. “Yes, on foot. But I would be willing to give you a horse. That would cut the journey almost in half.”
“Why would you do that?” A horse was not something one just gave away.
“Your father has helped us countless times over the years. This is the least I can do for him.”
“Thank you.” Launi was immensely grateful. With a horse, she might actually have a chance to save her village.
“Of course. Now, I’ll have Travi gather some supplies for you.”
“No, it’s alright! You’re already short on stores. I can’t take any more from you.”
“Launi, truly it’s nothing. We’ll give you enough food for a two-week journey. There and back. Just please return the horse to us if you can.”
“Of course, I will. I’ll return as soon as I can. Thank you for everything.”
“It’s the least I can do. I’ve known you long enough to know you are your father’s daughter through and through. Now, get some sleep. You looked as if you haven’t slept in a week. I’ll come wake you when the provisions are ready.”
Now that Screbra mentioned it her eyes were heavy. She thanked him again and curled up in the chair as he left the house, closing the door tightly behind him.
Launi wasn’t sure she would be able to sleep, despite how exhausted she was. So much had happened in such a short time. Her mind was full to bursting with questions and worries. There was so much to do, to think about, to worry about.
I hope I can get to the witch in time. I have no idea how long they have. I hope I can do this. I need to be able to do this…
I can do this…
And with that last thought drifting around her head, Launi fell into a dreamless sleep.