Wolves at the Door (part 108)

The crowd was starting to get to Gil, and he couldn’t see anyone else with time to stop and chat.  Stepping away from the busy path, he felt he could breathe a little easier.  The unintelligible babble of the crowd washed over him from behind.  After he had retreated a bit further, he started hearing the odd familiar word interspersed amongst the noise.  The farther he went, the more words he could catch, but the fainter they got.

“Go out further, and it would work even better,” the trader had said of his translator.  Gil decided to try it.  He circled around to the outside of the stone doorway at the end of the road.  It felt peculiar, looking through it and seeing none of the people he knew were thronging on the other side.  Not for the first time, he wondered what would happen if you walked through one of these doorways in the opposite direction.  He certainly wasn’t going to try it any time soon.

Slowly he walked farther out, until he could understand most of a conversation behind him.  Faint as it was, he could still hear well enough, but the subject matter was disappointing.  They were over the price of some purchase that he couldn’t even see.  Gil should have known that these rushing, business-focussed visitors would be just as single-minded in what they talked about.  The conversation behind him was no more meaningful than the vast expanse of misty emptiness that lay in front of him. He sighed.  Was there anything else he could learn here, or was it time to move on?

Just as he was about to turn back, he caught a glimpse of movement ahead, out in what he had thought of as an empty wasteland.  Of course, it wasn’t really empty.  The glowing clouds of magic were thicker out there than behind him, and they obscured anything more than a stone’s throw in that direction.  But people didn’t go out there.

Or rather, most people didn’t.  There was one group of people who spent most of their lives out in the uncharted land beyond those clouds.  The magic-hunters, who by some means managed to harvest and distil the magic out where it was thickest.  Without them there would be no concentrated magic such as Gil carried in his rune-marked stone, no large-scale production of items such as the translator pendant around his neck.  They were as essential as they were mysterious.  Alfvin had mentioned that it was a dangerous profession, but had been quite vague on how it all worked.

Indistinct as it was, Gil was sure now that what he saw was a figure far off on his right, walking away from him.  He took of after it at a run.  Gil had no idea how often one of these solitary individuals came so close to civilisation, but he gathered it was not often.  Who knew when an opportunity like this might arise again?  If he could convince them to talk, Gil might learn far more about the nature of magic than Alfvin had been able to tell him.  As always, the best way to learn was to go to the source.


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