18. (Un)conceivable alliance
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Erin was focused. She felt in her element, quickly moving through the school grounds while trying to remain unseen from a deadly monster. While the scenery wasn’t exactly similar to that of the forest she was accustomed to, the scenario was still eerily familiar to her.

She couldn’t see the creature from where she currently was standing, but she had a good idea of its position thanks to her sight spell. With a bit of luck, it wouldn’t decide to suddenly come towards her. She only needed to cross the courtyard and reach the other building, the one where younger children were usually being taught. She knew Becker should be in here, she only prayed he hadn’t left to try and deal with the creature on his own.

Erin also noted that thankfully no one else was outside. As she was progressing towards her destination, many questions were jostling around in her head. For one, why was the creature here, so far away from the forest in the first place? She had a few hypotheses, but she couldn’t spare the time to try and find an answer. She didn’t know how much time she had to act, but she was willing to be it wasn’t much.

As she arrived in front of the entrance, Erin noted that, just like the other one, this building’s main hallway was completely desert. Erin didn’t bother checking the classroom Becker should be teaching in right now, as she was fairly certain he wouldn’t be there. Instead, she approached an ajar door further away and confidently barged in.

Becker’s office was the same as ever, a small room, filled to the brim with documents and books strewn haphazardly everywhere, as well as copies from students littering the small desk that occupied the corner of the room. In the middle of all this mess stood the Professor himself, flinching at Erin’s sudden entrance.

“Oh, Ryan,” he said, once he’d regained his composure. “How nice of you to finally join me, now that it’s nearly too late.”

Erin frowned a bit at Becker’s sarcasm and her other name, but didn’t comment. She knew they didn’t have time to bicker, and she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of a reaction.

“We need to do something before this turns ugly, Becker. Do you have a plan?” she asked, peering at his desk, where he’d gathered some basic magical tools as well as a bunch of books she couldn’t make out the titles of.

“No, I don’t. You’ve felt the tremor, haven’t you? Whatever this monster is, it’s big. I need to know what species it is if we even want to stand a chance at salvaging the situation,” Becker replied absentmindedly. “I suppose you haven’t seen it either, have you?”

“No,” Erin replied with a sigh. “It wasn’t there when I crossed the courtyard. I think it’s somewhere behind the main building.”

“That is good news, it’s at least partially hidden from sight, then. Not many windows point in that direction, but I doubt it will remain unseen for long if it hasn’t been spotted yet,” Becker said, grabbing a frayed leather jacket and donning it.

“I’ll go and see if I recognize it. I can also take a picture of it if you can lend me a camera or a phone,” Erin said, a plan already forming in her head. Using her bracelet, she should be able to make herself a bit faster, if not by much, and her vision would allow her to estimate where the creature currently was. If she stayed careful, she could glimpse it, even maybe get a picture, and leave as quickly as she’d come in the first place. It wasn’t risk-free by any definition of the term, but they didn’t have the time to construct a better plan.

“It’s a wolf,” a voice announced from the office’s doorway.

Turning around, Erin was surprised to find Sarah standing there, panting slightly.

“A really big one,” she continued. “I’d say twice as tall as you, professor, with a silver and black coat and a sort of mane running down its back. It’s extremely fast for its size. It’s also really disoriented right now, and I’m pretty sure it’s hurt, took a hit to the head.

“Sarah,” Erin started, conflicting emotions running through her.

“I saw it, Erin,” she replied, putting emphasis on her words in hopes that her friend would catch her meaning. “I couldn’t just let you go alone.”

Erin didn’t answer, opting to gaze at Becker to gauge his reaction. She could see the gears turning in his head. He might have been a despicable person, but he wasn’t an idiot. Sarah’s sudden appearance and her knowledge was more than suspicious, and Erin didn’t doubt a second he’d eventually figure out she was a Seer.

“That sounds like an Amarok,” Becker mused, putting his questions aside for the moment. “Definitely not the kind of creature you want to go unprepared against. Still, if it’s wounded, we may have a chance,”

Erin had heard of Amaroks, but she’d never seen one, on account of the fact they lived pretty deep in the forest. She and Becker had downed much more ferocious creatures in the past, but they’d done so with a lot of preparation and several backup plans in case things went wrong.

“What’s the plan, then?” Erin asked.

“We can’t kill it, we just don’t have the means to do so,” Becker replied, looking at the scarce equipment scattered on his desk with a sigh. It seemed, just like Erin, he didn’t keep most of his gear with him all the time. “I should be able to send it away, but I’ll need to create an array somewhere, and then we’ll have to draw the Amarok in.”

“That’s a flimsy plan at best,” Sarah commented, frowning at the professor.

“Unless you have a better idea, we need to get to work,” Becker answered dismissively. “Now, if you do not mind, Ryan and I have to hurry.”

Sarah grit her teeth but said nothing. She approached Erin, giving her a hug. “I know I’ve said it before, but please be careful,” she pleaded worryingly.

“I promise,” Erin comforted her, giving her what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

With that said, they broke the hug, Becker having stuffed whatever materials he needed in his coat pockets, and they were off, determined to confront the creature.

- - -

The plan Becker and Erin agreed on was pretty simple. Becker would draw an array in a relatively isolated place, while Erin would check on the Amarok and make sure it didn’t wander off too far. They’d quickly picked a spot behind the maintenance building, as it was relatively close to the Amarok’s supposed position while still being out of sight, and Becker had swiftly begun tracing his array with a piece of chalk and a bunch of other items.

Arrays could be very powerful, as they allowed a mage to create very complex spells without having to weave magic through it at the same time. Once they were drawn, the only thing left to do was to pour magic into it and the spell would trigger. In a way, “regular” magic was a bit like solving an equation in your head, while an array was like solving the same equation by using a pen and a sheet of paper. It was slower, but much easier, and allowed to solve equations that were too complex for anyone to solve mentally. It was also great for research, as you could put some distance between you and the spell before triggering it, if you wanted to try something potentially dangerous.

Seeing as Becker was occupied with his array, Erin cast the spell that would hide him from view and set off in direction of the back of the main building, where she knew the creature to be. She actually knew its exact location, but she didn’t want to tell Becker about her sight spell. He wasn’t the only one who could keep secrets.

Now remained the question of how Erin was going to achieve her objective. She would rather avoid confronting the creature, as she didn’t want it to get enraged and charge at her. She also couldn’t just stand and watch if it started to wander in places she didn’t want it to go.

The only thing she could do was thus to hope it didn’t spot her, and maybe place a few magical barriers on his way if he moved, to deter him from leaving. Her bracelet allowed her to be in top physical shape and increase her reflexes, but it was nothing compared to the power and speed of a giant magical wolf, and thus physical confrontation was out of the question.

As she approached her destination, she could see signs of the creature around her. Immense claw marks could be seen in the ground and the building walls, testaments of the size and strength of such a creature. A few puddles of blood were also visible, however, here and there. Had Erin been looking for a human instead of a wolf, she would have considered them dead a few times over just by the amount of red she could see around her.

Her musings were suddenly interrupted by a faint growl. Snapping back to attention, Erin activated her magical sight while also pouring as much power as she could into a relatively basic stun spell. It would never be enough to render the creature unconscious, but she hoped it would at least daze it long enough for her to flee, if she needed to. Its matrix also had the advantage of being very simple, and it thus didn’t take much focus to keep the spell at the ready.

Slowing her pace, Erin quietly approached the edge of the main building, peering over to see in the darkened alleyway. The weather was fortunately cloudy, and the sun projected its light on the other side of the building, leaving its back in the shadows. A few dumpsters were visible in the distance, but what really got her attention was the absolutely massive amount of magical energy she could see between them, now that she was so close and that walls didn’t obstruct her view so much. Erin thanked her lucky stars she had decided to trigger her vision spell, as she wasn’t sure she would have even known the Amarok was there without it.

She wasn’t exactly certain of what the creature was doing – Even though her vision was improved, the consequent amount of energy made Erin feel as if she were staring at a projector. She could see it moving a bit, she believed it was probably standing up, and she could hear its low grunts, but that was about everything she was able to discern.

She stayed a few minutes like that, unmoving and doing her best not to breathe too loudly. The Amarok seemed content to stay in the same spot, and she was starting to believe it was badly wounded, when Becker appeared in her peripheral vision. It took everything in her not to gasp in surprise, so focused had she been on her task. Returning her vision to normal, she looked at him, waiting for his signal.

Becker didn’t say anything, but his face held grim determination. His posture was tense, ready to bolt at any sign of danger. Erin could see a moderate amount of energy gathering at his fingertips, in a pattern she couldn’t discern clearly. He nodded at her, and she nodded back.

Turning to the creature, Becker held his arm forward and released the spell in the creature’s direction. Instantly, white energy arced through the air, illuminating the alleyway almost like fireworks, only to crash in the creature’s hind legs with a resonating thud. Erin recognized the spell as a minor attack, not meant to hurt the creature, as it would have taken much more than that, but to draw its ire.

The effect was immediate. The creature flinched lightly and turned around, its glowing eyes shining through the darkness and setting themselves on the duo.

Its head then moved, and a blood-curdling howl pierced the silence, a mix of high and low frequencies that sent terror coursing through Erin’s veins. Had she been unprepared, she was certain she would have been paralyzed by the seemingly unnatural and terrifying sound she’d just heard. Even then, she was shaking badly, and could feel the urge to run away.

That urge was quickly satisfied, as she and Becker turned around and fled in unison, sprinting back the way they came from. Even with her improved physiology, Becker more than easily kept up with her, which surprised her a little bit.

Not a second after, Erin could discern the sound of claws hitting the ground over her panting, getting progressively closer. She’d known the Amarok would be fast, but knowing it and having one running after you were entirely different things.

Looking over her shoulder, she could see it gaining terrain at a terrifying speed. Now that it was out of the darkness of the alleyway, she could see dried blood on the side of its head, but also appreciate the sheer size of the creature. There was no doubt in her mind that, if it were to catch up, she wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

Without hesitating, Erin released the spell she’d been keeping ready in direction of the creature and turned her head back, focusing once more on running as fast as she could.

She didn’t look long enough to see the effects of her spell, but she knew it well enough to know what had just happened. A ball of light had been propelled out of her hand, only to explode when it impacted the Amarok, releasing a glaring light and a strong shockwave of energy. Behind her, the creature growled, a terrifying sound in itself, though not nearly as ghastly as its howl, and she could hear it stumble a bit.

The spell hadn’t been as effective as she’d hoped it would be, but it had bought them time. As she kept running with all her might, she could finally see the spot where Becker had created his array. Chalk covered the ground in a circle, with inscriptions and symbols on its sides adding to the complexity of the drawing. A part of her mind noted she’d never seen an array like this one before, and she wondered how much knowledge Becker actually possessed.

She couldn’t focus on these thoughts, however, as she could once again hear the monster behind her. She didn’t want to look, afraid of how close it would be. Her heart almost bursting out of her ribcage, Erin poured everything she had in a last sprint, and threw herself over the array as she reached it, panic and terror overtaking her mind. A growl only meters behind her tore a scream out of her throat, and she painfully landed on the hard ground and quickly braced herself for what she hoped would be a swift death.

Not an instant later, Erin heard a sudden thrum of power, and she could almost feel the energy emanating from the array. Looking back, she could see that the creature had jumped after her, only for the array to light up and capture the creature. She could see that, unlike her, Becker had jumped aside, and was now pouring power through the runes from where he’d landed on the ground.

The Amarok thrashed and howled, suspended mid-air over the glowing chalk, as the thrum of power became more and more intense. There was so much energy in the air Erin could almost taste it. Regaining some of her senses, Erin called forth her own magic, throwing as much as she could into the magical construct, hoping it would be enough.

After a few seconds, the array glowed even brighter, the ambient energy reaching a climax, and suddenly, the space above the array collapsed on itself, so fast Erin almost missed it, and silence reigned once more. The monster was gone.

Becker sighed deeply, seemingly exhausted, and Erin looked around. They’d done it.

As I believe you've all realized, this is a strong turning point in the story. Things are going to change and accelerate from this point. I'm really excited we've reached this part of the story, as the plot is going to unfold. Don't expect the fluffy stuff to go away though, I've still got plenty of that left in reserve, and I'm not afraid to use it! Same thing for trans feels, Erin is far from completely comfortable with everything going on in her life as of now.

Also, if you're interested, please go and check out The Enchanted Pond, my short story about a closeted trans teen meeting a dryad into another world!

Also go check out ChadB's Journey to Amoraketh, it's a great trans story set in a fantasy world!