Untitled (6.4) (2016)

No picture this time

An hour later, Gavin had completed his circuit and was sitting on a log by the campfire. Sunlight, filtered through the trees, glinted off a small collection of steel at his feet. Tobias had finished surveying the tiny camp a while back and joined him to talk over any safety concerns. the others were huddled together a few yards away, occasionally shifting stones and other items Tobias couldn’t see. For a wizard and witch by early training, he thought they were working together quite well.

All four were engrossed in their activities when two young women walked into the camp.

Gavin was on his feet before Tobias had even processed the arrivals. After a second taking in both women, he waves a finger and Gavin sat, taking an oil cloth to the long dagger he held.

Tobias took a moment before speaking, assessing both as he was sure they were assessing his people. Both were young, probably in their last year of low magic training. They’d be the youngest who were trustworthy, the most expendable from other duties. And they were almost in a uniform of worn hiking boots, loose jeans, and different colored flannel shirts against the mid-autumn chill. The one on the left had a wide bladed short sword on her belt and the other a long knife, both radiating low level magic.

He guessed both were witches, a fair assumption with the Coven.

After exchanging wary looks, he decided to break the silence.

“I’m guessing you’re the Coven people Samson said would be here,” he bowed very slightly, “I’m Master Jacobs of the Tower. My colleagues, Masters Riallo, Salovich, and Marker.” Each nodded in turn.

The right hand woman, who was also the darker of the two, Tobias guessed some Iberian lineage, nodded, “Cierra and Alyce. Senior witches of the Coven.” He noticed that both bowed lower to Oifa and Shannon, before he remembered that the Coven was effectively matriarchal.

Waite knew that. Should know it, and still put him in charge instead of one of the others.

“Master Salovich,” he said, “would you be our liaison with the Coven, if needed?”

At her nod, Tobias turned back to the young witches. Probably “senior” meant senior students, he thought.

Aloud, he asked, “What can you tell us about the anomaly? How long has it been here and how big is it?”

Cierra went to sit by the fire as Alyce spoke.

“Our people sensed it nine days ago,” she said, standing near the three magic instructors. “Then it was small, but it grew before the elders decided to get aid.”

“What do you mean ‘grew’?” Shannon asked, “What are we looking at?”

Alyce shrugged, “If we knew, we wouldn’t need help. But, it’s probably easier to show you.” She glanced to the sword bearing Cierra, who nodded. “I can take the three of you to see it. It’s only about fifty yards that way . . . today. Yesterday, it was a few yards further off.”

“Sounds good,” Tobias said. “So, it’s growing a few yards a day?”

“That’s our guess. If you’ll follow me . . . it’ll only take a few minutes to get to the edge. But, don’t cross.”

After a brief walk, Alyce raised a hand to bring the trio to a halt. She pointed ahead toward another part of the woods.

“What are we looking at?” Shannon asked.

“The anomaly.”

“More detail, please.”

“Look at the trees.”

A second later, Oifa broke the silence.

“Oh . . . yes. Look at the woods around us. Leaves are changing, it’s mid-autumn,” she said, then pointed, “Look at the ones over there . . . they’re budding. Early spring?”

Alyce nodded, “The are is the anomaly seems to be four or five months ahead of us, or six behind.”

“How big an area’s affected?” came from Tobias.

“About a two mile diameter circle. But, it has been growing slowly.”

“Has anything been done to contain it?”

“No, we haven’t had any ideas how to.”

Tobias turned to Oifa, “Temporal effect?”

The woman shrugged, “Possibly, but they’re exceedingly rare and take tremendous energy to affect a small area. This is comparatively huge, exponentially larger than any temporal effect I’ve heard of.”

All four stared at the trees for a few minutes. Tobias reflected that the contrast would be more obvious in a couple months, but the affected area would be at least another half mile in diameter by then. Assuming it grew at a constant rate.

“I think we’ve seen what we can for now,” Oifa said, her eyes locked on the incongruously new buds.

Tobias nodded, “Agreed. Let’s get some sleep and work on containing this thing tomorrow. Somehow, I think the Headmaster’s time estimate is going to prove wrong.”

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