“Alright, we’re out here trudging in swamp water. What’s our plan?” I ask, scanning our whereabouts. We’ve walked in a relatively straight line from the tower to avoid getting lost. Which is for the best, considering the lack of any particularly good landmark. It’s just trees, dirty water and mosquitoes as far as the eye can see. At least the mosquitoes seem to be avoiding us.
“I am out here trudging in swamp water. You, in comparison, are safely in my arms.” The warlock snarks in response. “What we need to take care of first is the people that did not survive. I had buried your captain back when… Well. You know. Probably will have to dig them back out. Nonetheless, my point is, we should take care of those whose lifestream is the most in danger of dissipating away. Find their remains, whatever they are, bring them home and put them in stasis until we figure out the spell required to send them to the past.”
“Urgh, I can smell the stench already. What it takes to be a hero…” In the middle of my complaint, I spot a little red wisp being carried away by the wind. “What are we looking for exactly?”
“I’m trying to find dead animals the old fashioned way, which could be causing problems as I could accidentally get one that actually is an animal rather than a human. But you, hmm…” The warlock brings his hand to his chin thinking. “Since you can see magic… Look for that.”
“In that case, I’m seeing something red right now. Red like the thing I almost pulled out of you the other day,” I explain pretty quickly. “It’s floating away to our right.”
“...A lifestream fragment perhaps?” He lifts me up above his head and spins me slowly. “Tell me when you spot more of them.”
I stay vigilant, doing my best to look past the thick trunks and branches surrounding us… “There! On top of that tree!” I exclaim as I spot a bigger flame from which little ones are breaking off of.
“Oh, gods above,” he mutters under his breath with a scowl, putting me back in his arms and wading through in the general direction I was pointed towards. “I can float myself down, but climbing upwards is another issue… Which one is it?”
I take another look. “The third behind the one in front of you.”
He approaches it slowly before setting a mud-caked boot on it and kicking. It barely shakes. “Great, just great. How did it make its way up there?”
I don’t know the answer to that, but I prefer to focus on what we can do to get it down. “Can’t you use your magic to lift it to us?”
“I’d need my hands free for that, and I’m kind of busy holding you.” He circles around the tree looking for a way to approach the climb, but not really finding any.
Well, on to the next logical idea. “...I can try using mine? But I’m kind of scared it’s gonna change you again.”
“Right… I’m always the butt of the risk, aren’t I. I cannot deny it is deserved, at the very least.” He thinks some more about this. “Stick to as minute an alteration as you can.”
“I’ll try...” I focus my gaze on the tree, and reach out to touch it with my magic. Something minor… Something minor… Ah ha! My magic grabs a few branches, and circles them down the trunk, making them into stairs. I feel proud of myself for managing to keep it small without side effects for once.
The warlock is silent for a moment, bringing one of his hands to his head. “I think you’ve very slightly lengthened my hair again, but that does seem like it will work. Thank you, Cherry.”
Well, that was a short lived satisfaction. “Gods damn me, I thought I had it this time! I’m so sorry.”
“Nothing a pair of scissors can’t correct. Of what you’ve changed, this is the least of my problems.” He steps on the first branch and tests it to make sure it won’t break under his weight. “This should suffice as long as we don’t linger on them.” He walks up and reaches where the red wisp is… We both gasp.
An owl pellet.
I want to gag at what’s become of the soldier turned into a mouse.
“You’re not gonna touch that, are you?” I say with no care to hide my disgust.
The warlock just lets out a long, dreary sigh. “This is just my punishment for the horrors I commited. Quickly now.”
“Okay, no no no. I’m not letting this happen. Give me a second.” I let out another magic tendril and make it reach for the… remains. I shiver. I decide to just focus on what I remember of the features of the conscript this used to be. It reshapes quickly and turns to wood, becoming a wooden statuette in the approximated effigy of the person. Much… Much better.
“That is certainly a good solution, yes.” He goes to pick it up. The red flame floating above it follows. I feel incredibly relieved.
“I hope the next ones won’t be as difficult…” I mutter to myself. “Let’s get down before the branch breaks --” I hear the crack barely before I feel myself falling.
The warlock’s scream is higher pitched than mine.
And, you know. I kind of expected it. Walking into the swamps, I estimated my odds of staying clean to be very low. What surprises me is when I fall into the water, I just panic. Following a survival instinct that hasn’t been properly shut down yet, my mind tries desperately to tell my paralyzed body to claw back up to reach air, even though I don’t need to breathe anymore. I feel like I’m suffocating. I can feel my cotton filling soak up the dirty water like a sponge and I lose consciousness.