Chapter Twenty-Seven – Going Around in Circles

Cobal and Mana hurriedly found their way to the source of the cry but where they expected someone cowering in distress, they instead found several of the townsfolk with weapons, fighting back what looked like another one of these fiery creatures. It seemed like the elves weren’t keeping their village safe by sheer luck, they were definitely capable enough to deal with an outside threat. Cobal helped out a little bit with Mana using her magic to subdue the creatures so they were easier to fight. After they were dealing with the final two creatures, there were a few wounded, but most people seemed to be fine. That’s when Cobal noticed something off in the distance. Mana seemed to notice it as well. They exchanged a quick look and both ran out towards it.
“Did you see that too?” Mana asked.
He nodded. “Someone was there for sure.” They both dashed in the direction and saw some more rustling off in the distance. “Do you think it’s whoever is behind this?” He asked Mana.
“No idea, but it’s not unlikely it’s related.” They kept running for what felt like several minutes, but was in reality probably only one or two. Eventually they came to a small clearing in the forest, with the figure standing on the opposite end. It looked like a tall, lanky human or elf. They were wearing a hooded cloak so their figure was hard to see.
“Who are you?” Cobal asked, taking out his sword. Mana seemed to take a guarded stance next to him, ready for whatever would come. Neither of them failed to notice the large circle drawn at the center of this clearing and the fact that the figure was standing on the edge of it with something in their hand, as if ready to activate it.
“Let’s not be hasty today, shall we?” A melodic voice came from underneath the hood. It almost sounded inhuman, perhaps because it was. “Let’s have a little talk, shall we?”
“I’m listening,” Cobal said.
The voice laughed. “Oh no, I don’t mean to talk with you. I mean to talk with her.” The figure nodded in Mana’s direction.
“I don’t know if I have anything to discuss with you, I don’t know you.”
“You don’t know me, but I know of you and that’s really that’s important right now.” The figure took a step to the side, Cobal kept his hand on his weapon and carefully looked at the figure’s every move. He couldn’t figure out much about them so far, but he was ready for whatever was going to come.
“Let’s talk then, what do you want? You’ve been attacking my friends so I doubt we’ll get along, but let’s hear it,” Mana said.
Cobal felt a moment of pride at how forward she’d become.
“My employer wishes to have people like you on his side. I’m here to figure out what that would take.”
“And your way of figuring this out is by attacking us?”
The figure laughed, a melodic sound. “See it as a greeting of sorts. No one was seriously hurt, were they? These kinds of things are necessary to show we mean business, I hope you understand.”
Mana shook her head. “No, I don’t understand. How do you expect me to now go and accept your offer?”

The figure took a few steps in the other direction, around the edge of the circle but never taking their eyes off of Mana. “You seem like a clever woman and you’re from a world much more developed than ours. I’ve heard stories, you’re not the only one who’s come here from your world. I’m sure you can figure out that bad things might start happening if you refuse to work with us.”
Cobal started to get worried. What if Mana bought into this talk? It wasn’t his place to speak up though. Not yet at least.
“I do think I’m reasonably clever. I can be dishonest and pretend I don’t, but I know what I’m capable of. I’m not the smartest person to ever live and it’s not even close, but I think I’m reasonably good at critical thinking. And putting it that way, you have to admit that accepting your offer is not an option.”
“How come?”
“Let’s assume I join you and go to your employer. What would you have me do? Work for someone willing to threaten people? Work for someone who thinks attacking an innocent village is a great way to greet someone? There is absolutely no way this would ever work out. I’d much rather take the risk and stay where I’m comfortable.”
The figure smiled. “That’s the kind of thinking my employer is looking for.” The figure dropped the strange thing they were holding and it touched the edge of the magical circle that started to light up. “Well then, I’m afraid I’ll have to return empty handed. You’ll hear from us again, after we’re done dealing with some other things.” They looked at Cobal. “Have you told her yet that your family murdered her predecessor?”
“A bit of a low blow, but unfortunately not a successful one. Yes, Mana is aware of what happened to Might, arguably more aware than I am. Are you done?” Cobal was starting to get nervous as the magical circle seemed to light up more and more.
“I am done. But we’ll see each other again. Goodbye.” And in a flash of light the figure vanished.

“What do we do now, that thing is lighting up fast,” Cobal said.
“I’ve got an idea,” Mana replied. She took her book from a satchel and quickly had it float next to her. She seemed to be going through pages quickly, as if looking for something in particular.
“Is there something in there that can work?”
“There might be, just give me a moment.”
Cobal looked at the center of the circle, where shadows seemed to be coalescing and turning into something. He got his weapon ready for whatever was coming next. It would be bad if the size of the circle was an indicator of how big this creature would be.
“There it is,” Mana proclaimed, opening a page and ripping it out. She chanted something that Cobal couldn’t quite hear, and then the paper touched the edge of the circle.
“Cover your ears,” Mana yelled at him, but the message didn’t come through quickly enough.
An earth shattering sound intruded deep into his head as the magical circle seemed to lift off of the ground and then shatter into a million pieces. As the chalk disappeared on the wind, all Cobal could think about was the noise in his head. Everything went dark in front of his eyes and he quickly lost consciousness.

Cobal woke up again on the forest floor. He saw the last remains of the magical circle float away. He must have only been out for a second. His hearing was still in shambles as all he could hear was what sounded like faraway shouting drowned out by intense ringing.
For a moment he was worried that Mana would be gone but when his eyesight focused again he saw that she was standing right next to him, worried about him.
“I’ll be fine, I just can’t hear you right now due to the ringing.” The ringing slowly subsided until he could once again hear what Mana was saying.
“I’m sorry I didn’t have enough time to pull off this magic and warn you.”
“It’s okay, the fact that you managed to prevent whatever disaster that was going to cause is already more than enough.” He massaged his temples for a moment and finally recovered from the shock. “Let’s head back to town, I’m sure we can still help out there.”
“That’s not necessary,” Dionil sounded from behind them. He had Mirgia walking with him and approached the two. “We saw you head off and figured something was going on, I’m glad to see you both safe.”
“How about the town, is everything safe? Is everyone okay?” Mana has a worried tone in her voice but Dionil’s smile seemed to quickly put her at ease. “Everyone is fine and the remaining circles are dealt with. We’re still having some people patrol the area just to be safe, but any danger seems to have passed.” He looked from Mana to Cobal. “And what happened here? We heard a loud sound as we were approaching and feared the worst.”
Cobal explained to Dionil and Mirgia that they saw a figure flee and then chased after them. He explained the following discussion as well.
Dionil thought to himself for a moment. “That’s a worrying thought. Someone is actively after you folks then.”
“I hope me saying no to them isn’t going to cause Milinia any trouble.”
Mirgia spoke up. “We’ve kept our village safe for a very long time, don’t you worry about us.”
Dionil laughed. “Big words for someone who hasn’t even been a part of the guard for a full century. I do agree with the boy, Milinia will be fine. I’ll inform Karnisal about all of this and we’ll set up a plan. We’ve faced dangerous threats before and many of our people are excellent at what they do. Unless we face the ire of an entire kingdom, we’ll probably do okay.” He took a step forward and grabbed Cobal’s arm. “You’re still looking a bit unstable, let me help you back to town.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it.”

After collecting themselves they all found their way back to the city council, where Karnisal and the rest of the council had gathered. As opposed to the serious talk a while ago where Mana was made an honorary member, there was a much more casual atmosphere. Marsilar and Qritor were in armor while Haleya was wielding a strange looking staff. Karnisal himself had what looked to be a gnarled staff as well, and they all looked as if they’d been busy.
“Ah, Mana, Cobal, come in,” Karnisal greeted them.
They went inside and sat down on some pillows on the ground. “It seems like we owe you our thanks,” Marsilar said.
Cobal shook his head. “We helped out just like how everyone else sprung into action. It’s the very least we could have done to repay the hospitality you’ve shown us.”
“Either way,” Marsilar continued, “I’ve heard you dealt with a big threat that could have become a real problem if the two of you hadn’t been as observant.”
“I don’t know if it was really observant,” Mana interjected, “it almost felt as if the person wanted us to spot them.”
Cobal nodded. “They couldn’t invite you to join them if you never followed them.”
“We’re glad you’ve decided to stick with us instead,” Haleya said, putting her staff away.
“I’m just worried they’ll retaliate.”Qritor laughed. “I’d love to see them try.”
“What about the festival?” Mana asked. “Will you still hold it as normal?”
“We will,” Karnisal spoke. “Some of the guards might have to sit out the festivities or at least a bigger part of it, but we’re not going to be scared by some outside threat. Our celebration will go on just as we planned.”
Everyone in the room had a proud smile on their face. These elves were tough folk.
“Let’s call off preparations for the next hour and have everyone make extra sure there’s no more lingering threats and after we’ve confirmed all of that we’ll finish up preparations so that on the day of the festival everything is going to go smoothly,” Qritor said. They all agreed and after leaving the building split up to go and inform the people of the state of things.

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