Although life felt slower in Milinia than it did in the capital, days still passed just as quickly and before Cobal knew it the festival was only a day away. With only two days left to prepare the village for the event, Dionil sent all four of them to the town itself to help prepare the villagers. This was one of a few times a year where everyone came together and just worked on whatever needed to be done. The council generally assigned a group of volunteers to be in charge of operations and they would tell everyone what to do. It was with that in mind that Cobal arrived at the town square with the other three in tow. A small gathering of elves was already there and most of them were intrigued by their arrival. Kimi seemed to recognize someone and almost immediately left the three of them.
The volunteers were led by an elderly woman named Sahar. Graying hair tied in a bun covered a wrinkly face that still looked distinctly elven. It seemed like even in old age, elves stayed graceful. Mana said it was probably thanks to their healthier lifestyle alongside their genetics. Any body can be ruined by fast food and bad habits. When he asked her what fast food was she just laughed at him and told him “you don’t want to know, it’s better this way,” before walking off. Sahar had taken him aside. “Listen, I know you’re a foreign diplomat, but here at the harvest festival we don’t look at someone’s past, we just find the right person for the right job, is that clear?”
Cobal nodded. It wasn’t even said in a hostile way, it just felt fair and he had no reason to say no.
“You’ve changed so much since you came here.” Dionil appeared from a nearby stack of crates, where he was helping.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Cobal replied.
Dionil laughed. “Imagine me telling you on day one that I didn’t care if you were a prince.”
“You literally did!”
“And how did that go over with you?” Dionil replied.
“Fair enough,” Cobal laughed as well. “How’s it going on your end?”
“Good, good, we’re setting up the stage over there for performances. It’s where Mana will hold her speech as well. A lot of the stalls and stage were in storage. Since we do a couple festivals a year we just store it instead of building it again.”
“Makes sense.” Cobal thought for a moment. “I think we’re much more wasteful normally. Lavish parties at the palace and noble mansions every week. I know several nobles who ruined their family fortune that way.”
“Well, it sounds silly to me.” Dionil paused. “Mana’s rubbing off on us, isn’t she?”
Cobal smiled. “Yeah, she definitely is. You say I’ve changed since I got here, but it’s more that I’ve changed since I met her. She’s changed as well in the short time I’ve known her, although she probably doesn’t realize it.”
Dionil nodded. He was about to speak again when they heard a loud yell.
“What’s going on here?” Dionil asked, making his way to the front of the group of onlookers. There in front of him were two of the guards, one covered in burn marks and the second one barely holding on, missing one of her arms. They had spears ready and a third person was shooting arrows from a bridge above. In front of them was a fiery hound. It looked similar to the kind of creature Cobal and Mana had encountered on their way here. Before either Cobal or Dionil could even take a step forward, a gust of wind pushed people to the side as Mana made her way through the crowd, immediately pushing the creature back. She held her book in her hand and Cobal watched as it started floating before flipping through pages without Mana touching it. A page tore loose and moved to Mana’s hand where it shredded into a million pieces on the wind. Mana’s hand seemed to glow for a moment before she unleashed a massive gust of wind towards the creature from above, pushing it down on the ground. “Quickly, subdue the beast now, or kill it. This magic is powerful but doesn’t last long.” She yelled out to the people around her. The guards seemed to hesitate but Cobal was quick on his feet. He took out his sword and immediately dove towards the creature, pushing through the heat and quickly stabbing it in the throat. With one last fiery burst of flames it turned to ash.
A moment of silence filled the area before everyone let out a sigh of relief. “I need a perimeter check immediately. Check every corner of the town and make sure there’s no more of these creatures.” Karnisal walked through the crowd with an air of leadership they hadn’t seen from them yet. They started barking orders to the different members of the guard and they quickly fell into line. A doctor came over to help with the two guards who were wounded by the creature. After a moment, Karnisal finally turned to Mana and Cobal. “My thanks for your quick reactions there, you might have saved some lives today.”
Cobal nodded. “We saw something we’ve dealt with once before and knew how to handle it, that luckily helped us out.” He looked at Mana. “And it seems like Dionil’s helped Mana out enough for her to get much stronger than the last time we dealt with one of these.”
Dionil smiled. “I’d love to take the credit for all of it, but most of it is her own strength.”
Mana nodded. “I think I’m slowly starting to figure things out.”
Dionil added. “On that note, after we’re done here I need you to tell me what you just did because that was not something I taught you.”
Karnisal gave him a look. “Later friend, we need to make sure everything is safe.” And with that the two of them wandered off, giving Cobal and Mana a moment alone. Not really know what more to say, Cobal just suggested; “we should go and check the vicinity too, maybe we’ll find something of interest.”
Mana seemed lost in thought.
“Are you listening?”
“What? Oh yes, I am. I was just thinking if we could maybe find another one of those circles we found before. I feel like that’s likely.”
“I hadn’t considered that, that’s a very good idea. Let’s tell people to look for them.”
It was indeed a very solid suggestion from Mana since not long after this several elves came up to them having spotted one. They quickly called for Dionil to have a look at one of them. Karnisal sent guards to each of the ones they’d found, making sure no one would disturb them, nor would anyone be harmed by what could possibly come out of them. In total they found five of these circles, all in the north-west corner of town. The creature that had attacked the guards strayed quite a bit if it came from one of those circles. With Dionil in tow, they made their way to the closest circle, which was behind one of the houses near the edge of town, hidden near some shrubbery. It was drawn with a similar chalk to the one they saw earlier on their journey, not long before they met Kimi, and had a similar sort of design to it although didn’t look exactly the same as the copy they’d made. Cobal also now realized they hadn’t really discussed the circle much with Dionil. They’d brought it up once but didn’t really delve into it after that.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” Mana asked Dionil, who was crouched over the circle.
Dionil nodded. “Magic circles are fairly common. I’ve mainly been teaching you my way of magic, as you know, with some of my books having information on other ways of magic. Circles are far removed from my forte and not something I tend to learn much about. They’re mainly used for summoning and in extremely rare cases teleportation. When I say extremely rare cases I mean that there’s been stories of mages doing so and the theory seems to add up, but it’s such a difficult form of magic that it’s not really taught. If anyone ever gets to a level like that, it’s up to them to seek out this knowledge.”
Cobal nodded. “That makes sense.” Mana agreed.
“But putting that aside, I do have a little bit of knowledge on this. From what I know, the larger and more complicated the magic circle is, the more it can do. It’s kind of like writing a spell down and the more you write down the more specific and powerful you can make it. This circle is fairly small in comparison to a lot of what is possible. I think this is just someone summoning creatures, that’s an impressive feat already.”
“Do you think there’s a way to disable these things?”
Dionil nodded. “If you wipe away the outer circle first, and then the rest of it, it should dissolve the magic without anything happening. I’ve heard that if you start elsewhere in the magical circle it can do strange things. When there’s multiple layers to a magic circle you need to remove them one layer at a time without touching the next layer or it will put you at risk.”
“For someone who doesn’t know a lot about magic circles, you know a lot about magic circles.” Cobal said.
Dionil gave him a look. “This much is still considered to be the basics. If you want me to tell you how to make these things, that’s a whole different story, I am no help when it comes to that.” He looked at Mana. “I have a feeling your hero is going to be a more useful source of information for these things very soon.”
Mana laughed. “So you noticed?”
“I’m not quite that old yet. You can’t just cast magic like that and expect to slip it by me.”
Mana scratched the back of her head. “I’ve been thinking for a while about what would work for me. A lot of what you’ve been teaching me directly makes sense to me, and it’s been super helpful in my growth, but since magic is so unnatural to me still, I needed a proper way to guide it. Then I realized that it probably wasn’t a coincidence you gave us those books. Books are often used to cast magic as well, even in the stories back in my old world. So I put two and two together and figured out this would probably work well for me. I’m glad I was right because that really was my first test.” She looked at Cobal. “We should start looking at the other circles as well before something bad happens. I have a bad feeling that this first creature was just the beginning.”
She then looked at Dionil. “Did anyone see something strange? Someone must have put these circles here, right?”
Dionil nodded. “Yes, an important part about this kind of magic is that someone needs to physically put down circles for it to work. So someone must have made their way close to the village and drawn these circles. They were capable enough to slip past the guard.”
Cobal noted. “Wasn’t the guard light, because everyone was helping with the festival?”
Dionil thought for a moment. “Perhaps whoever did this was someone who knew about the harvest festival?”
“You think it could be someone from inside the village?” Cobal asked.
Dionil shook his head. “There’s simply no way that would ever happen. It would be a first in the history of Milinia if a villager caused an uproar like this. Every time we’ve had problems in the past it was from someone outside the village. Besides that, it’s not uncommon for outsiders to know about our festivals, we’re not secretive about these kinds of things.” He was about to add more before they heard another yell. “That can’t be good, let’s go look.”