House of Enchanted, Soul Stone Mage, Book 1
By Sarah Noffke & Martha Carr
On the edge of the Dark Forest, a man stood in a place where humans were rarely seen, the collar of his trench coat partially obscuring his face. He lowered his pointy chin when he heard the ancient wizard hobble through the trees, cursing as he progressed. A noxious vine slipped across the leaf-strewn grounds, seeking to wrap itself around the wizard’s knobby ankles.
“Don’t even think about it,” the wizard threatened, pointing a wand just as knobby as his ankles at the vine and talking to it as if it were a person.
The vine froze a few inches off the ground and dropped back as it slid away.
“Why on fucking Oriceran did we have to meet out here? You couldn’t come into Virgo?” the wizard grumbled to the human standing in the dark of a cluster of trees.
“I think you know the answer to those questions,” the man replied. He was much taller than the wizard. Leaner, too. His chiseled jaw constantly worked back and forth as he plotted. Phillip was more plainly dressed than the wizard, wearing a coat over his suit.
“I make most of my patrons come to my shop, so you’d better keep your word about paying double for this potion,” Charmsgood muttered, feeling around in his shimmering blue robe for something. “I wouldn’t have even gone to the trouble to meet you here if I didn’t think something needed to be done about the forest on your end.” He nodded into the dark vegetation, pointing in the direction of the far side of the Dark Forest that bordered the Land of Terran.
Impatient and worried someone would spot the exchange, Phillip, Duke of Terran, snapped at the wizard, who was still fumbling around in his robes. “The emperor agrees; that’s why we’ve sunk this low.”
Pausing in his search, the old wizard brought his lavender eyes up and stared at the human before him. The color of his eyes matched the ring on his finger, which held a round lavender amethyst. “Sunk so low that you’re relying on help from a wizard? Is that what you mean? I have half a mind to turn around right now and not give you this.” He pulled a cloudy bottle filled with crimson liquid from an inside pocket of his robe.
Phillip sighed, not at all worried. “You only have half a mind,” he told him, tugging the bottle out of the wizard’s hand. “You’re sure this will restore the plants and trees, right?”
Narrowing his eyes at the human, Charmsgood bit down on the urge to cast a spell on him—only because it would create quite the quarrel between the wizarding community and humans if he did. And this was the emperor’s brother, which would make it worse. “Give me the money,” he demanded, extending his hand to the man, palm up.
“Yes, you do need it badly, don’t you? Poor wizards. You can create spells and potions, but you can’t create money. Such a sad species.” Phillip shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Now, answer my question. How does the potion work?”
Charmsgood squeezed his wand in his hand, fighting the urge that was seeking to overpower his usually calm nature. It would be for the best if I deposited the wand into the safety of my pocket. “Yes, fine,” he sputtered out, slipping his wand into his robes. “It will restore dying plants and trees. A single drop is all it takes.”
Something swooped through the trees above them. Charmsgood looked up, but saw nothing in the dark canopy overhead. They were standing in a more fertile part of the forest, where the trees grew tall despite the nearby Light Elves’ Castle hanging high in the sky, which sometimes obscured the light. The health of this part of the forest came from energy that emanated from the nearby kingdom of Virgo, where the resident witches and wizards regularly spilled bits of their magic.
“This had better work,” Phillip said, slipping the bottle into the pocket of his brown trench coat.
Humans wore a lot of brown, which was the color of dirt. Why would anyone want to wear dirt? Charmsgood wondered.
“Why don’t you and your lot stop sucking so much of the elemental magic from the plants and rocks in the Dark Forest? That would relieve the problem of killing off the forest, which is your source of magic,” Charmsgood said.
Phillip, like most humans, was resistant to constructive feedback, so he answered with a sneer. “We don’t use dirty demonic magic like you wizards and witches. Your jealousy shows, as it should.”
Another swish overhead made Charmsgood look up again. The Dark Forest was never safe, but at night it was especially dangerous because of its hungry magical creatures. “Tell yourself what you like” he said, returning his nervous eyes to Phillip. “Just pay up.” He snapped his withered fingers at the other man, extending his palm again.
A twisted smile was visible on Phillip’s thin lips in the ambient light. “I have no intention of paying you. Actually, I can’t afford for you to return to Virgo and tell someone I relied on you for help.” He turned his gaze upward, listening to the sudden beating of wings overhead. Stepping back several feet, Phillip watched calmly as Charmsgood’s gaze frantically searched the canopy of trees.
He fumbled for the wand in his robe, his large ring catching on the garment. Clawed feet were the first thing he saw and he froze, heart beating rapidly. This had all been a set-up. The harpy dove feet-first, its hungry eyes targeted on the wizard, wide wings beating wind at his face. The monster’s face was pointed and ugly, and it had the body of a woman covered partially in feathers.
He grasped the wand just as the beast screeched—a sound so piercing it rang in his ears and vibrated his teeth. He pulled the wand from his robe when the harpy swooped down. Its talons pierced Charmsgood’s shoulders, lifting him off the ground, and the wand tumbled to the forest floor far beneath him. Charmsgood tried to cry out, but the searing pain in his shoulders from the sharp claws robbed him of breath. His last vision was of Phillip staring casually up at him as the harpy carried him away, no doubt to devour his body.