The next day, Kason awoke much earlier than the previous morning, having made sure to go to bed early so that he didn’t end up in the same predicament he had before. He went to breakfast, ate and returned to his room rather dazedly, still not having fully woken up. He sat on his bed when he returned and felt a sudden feeling of inexplicable sadness. He cast his eyes around at his possessions scattered about on the shelves around his room and realised that he felt an acute sense of homesickness.
Although he had only been away from home for a couple of days, it was still the longest time that he had ever been more than a few doors away from his house and he felt himself becoming overwhelmed by a sense of discomfort. He missed his own comfortable bed and the homemade food his mother cooked, although it wasn’t anywhere near as fancy as the food he ate here, it was for some strange reason, tastier in his mind. He sat there reminiscing for a few minutes before mentally shaking himself and thinking about what he was here to do. He was here to learn magic, magic like his father’s.
His father had died when he was still quite young so he had few memories remaining of him, but those that did were wonderful treasures in his mind. They were happy memories, bathed in a kind of golden light, of a kind-faced, white-bearded old man beaming down at him as he sat in his lap. He remembered how his father would tell stories and, with a wave of his hands, they would come alive, images blossoming out of his fingertips to create fantastical landscapes and creatures. He would tell of how he had ventured across the land, fought monsters, seen wonderous sights, and after all that he would create little golden bubbles which would float around Kason like tiny worlds in their own right, revolving around Kason as if he was their star. The young Kason would laugh in delight whenever he did this and reach out to try and pop the little golden spheres but always found that they made sure to stay out of his reach.
These moments were some of the highlights of Kason’s childhood and it was his father’s wondrous magic that had inspired him to embark on the arcane path. He had mentioned this ambition to his father once, who had chuckled good-naturedly and proclaimed grandly that when Kason was old enough, he would make him into the greatest wizard in the world, at which Kason had cheered loudly and his mother had shaken her head smiling at their tomfoolery. It had been roughly a year after this that his father had died, leaving his promise unfulfilled.
Kason remained in his room for a while before looking at his ring and realising that it was almost ten o’clock. He decided that he would have a look at the map in the common room and see if they had missed any interesting places yesterday while they were exploring. He entered the common room, which was empty, and looked at the map for a while, scanning over the buildings shown in the area of the junior dorms. He saw that there was a place labelled the ‘meditation gardens’ which they hadn’t visited and there was also a library in the main building where they had met with Brent.
Kason walked back out of the common room a few minutes later, thinking about his plan for the day, he would go to the meditation gardens first, then return for lunch and lastly visit the library. He didn’t really know if he would stick to this schedule but thought that having a framework to base his destinations on was better than nothing.
He entered the nexus through the door from floor seventeen and walked through the exit, expecting to enter a bright, sunny courtyard like he had yesterday when he and Harper had exited the building.
What actually happened was something totally different.
He pushed open the doors, eyes half closed in anticipation of the sunlight but found that he couldn’t see anything at all. He opened his eyes fully and gazed around suspiciously, from what he could see of the ground under his feet, he should, indeed, have been standing just outside the junior dorms, being dazzled by the early morning sun, but when he looked around, all he saw in the strange green tinted half-light was masses of sprawling undergrowth crowding around the bases of huge brown columns. Tree trunks grew out of great cracks in the flagstones, making it seem like they had quite literally forced their way, with no small amount of force, through the flagstones.
Kason was still looking around, getting used to this unexpected environment, when he suddenly felt something wrap around his ankle. The feeling was highly unpleasant and he shivered with disgust as he felt the cool something coil around his ankle, looking down to find out what the thing was, he saw a green, tendril-like thing snaking around his leg. He almost screamed when saw it, remembering warnings that his mother had given him back at home about snakes that would coil around people they had chosen as their prey. He tried to move his leg to shake it off but to his horror, his leg wouldn’t move no matter how much he tried. Having no other choice, Kason slowly reached down with a trembling hand to try and prise the ‘snake’ from his leg.
Before he could do this, however, there was a strong tug from the ‘snake’ and it pulled him clean off his feet. It continued to pull him by his leg, dragging him a short way through the undergrowth before hoisting him off the ground and high into the air. It was then that he realised that the ‘snake’ was, in fact, a massive vine, snaking all the way down from the canopy above. He was lifted, feeling battered, bruised and rather like crying, up towards the treetops, passing branches as he went and collecting a rather fine collection of twigs in his hair. The vine finally stopped just below the canopy and he was left hanging there, breathing heavily in the silence.
“Hi Kason, have you come to join us? We’re just, well, hanging out here. Hahaha…”
A voice called out from behind him and Kason twisted his head to see who it was. To his surprise, he saw Harper hanging upside down, like he was, just a little way off. Next to him, there were two other people, one was one of the girls who they had encountered with the guide, Brian, and the other was a boy Kason hadn’t seen before, he had medium length purple hair which now fell straight down from his head making him look rather comical. All three were hung up by vines that looked like the one holding up Kason and all of them looked rather dishevelled, the purple haired boy had had the left arm of his robe ripped off.
The boy with purple hair laughed slightly at Harper’s joke and Harper smiled at him appreciatively. “How long have you been trapped here?” Kason asked in as steady a voice as he could muster.
“I got caught only a few minutes before you,” Harper said and shrugged upside down, making his vine swing back and forth a bit.
“I’ve been here for, maybe ten minutes?” the girl chimed in with a cheery voice, seeming quite unperturbed.
“I’ve been here for ages!” The boy with purple hair burst out angrily, his voice quiet high pitched, “It’s been literally been forever!”
They hung there discussing their predicament and getting to know each other a bit more, the girl’s name was Fayla and she came from a city called Vitrica on the western coast while the boy was called Fenston and came from the city in which the college monuments were placed, called Konstantin. Kason also found out for the first time where Harper came from, it was a city called Tarial which was slightly eastward of Konstantin, Kason scolded himself mentally for never properly getting to know Harper even though they had adventured together for a couple of days now.
They waited, suspended below the canopy, the others talking so normally that it surprised Kason, ‘perhaps they’ve all been through stuff like this before?’ He thought somewhat sceptically. After a couple of minutes, the boy Fenston called out in alarm, “Can you hear that?” A faint note of worry audible in his tone.
Kason and the other three stopped talking and listened intently, straining their ears for any sounds. Then Kason’s eyes widened in alarm. A faint roaring was audible over the forest noises in the background, getting louder every second.
“That’s a fire!” Fayla cried her expression one of panic.
“It sounds like it’s getting closer very quickly,” Harper added, also looking worried.
The forest around them was beginning to writhe. Strange hisses and rustlings issued from all around them, the canopies of the trees began to shake and many small movements could be seen in the undergrowth beneath them, although Kason could not see what was making them. The whole forest seemed to have come alive like it was one massive animal screaming in pain as something began to burn it away, tearing at its life.
The roaring of the fire was also getting closer, and as it did, the trees began to shake more intensely, leaves flying in all directions. Unfortunately, this also caused the vines that were holding Kason, Harper, Kayla and Fenston to being to swing wildly, as they too began to panic as the fire drew ever closer.
Kason sailed through the air, being dragged along by his vine, and felt bile rise in his throat. The intense movement had begun to make him feel very sick, and he was beginning to worry that he would throw up at any moment, projectile vomiting all over his own face, which aside from being highly unpleasant, would also be very embarrassing.
And then Kason felt a wave of heat blast over him from behind, he turned his head and, despite the berserk flailings of the vine he was held by, he managed to catch a glimpse of a wall of flame through the thick trunks of the trees. The sight was both awe-inspiring and terrifying, crimson flames leaping over tree trunks which crumbled into ash almost as soon as they were engulfed.
Kason now felt a very real feeling of panic and, by the strangled cries of the others, he could tell that they were feeling the same fear that he did, ‘If the trees can’t survive what chance do I have?’ Kason wailed in his mind, the tears which he had been struggling to hold back, now tumbling freely down his cheeks which were a rosy colour in the heat.
The fire grew closer and closer, the roaring it made now interspersed with high pitched whistles and spitting noises as moisture in the various plant matter it consumed burst into barely visible spires of steam. The vines which held the four children also began to swing even more violently and Kason found it a miracle that he had not collided with anything and received any serious injuries.
Just when Kason felt that the there was no hope left, a deep voice thundered through the forest, “Stop!” It bellowed and everything became still.
The fire was still there, but it was now motionless like time had stopped flowing in that particular area and the curling flames were frozen in place. The same occurred to the vines and the children attached to them, they hung in the air horizontally to the ground and Kason, who had long gone past tears and had just been staring blankly with dead eyes, blinked and looked around in disbelief.
Everything had stopped, the noises, the movement, everything. And then, suddenly and inexplicably, everything began to dissolve. The trees, the fire, everything began to gradually disperse into blue sparks which glinted with a mischievous light that gradually became dimmer until they disappeared completely, leaving Kason and the other three children hanging in mid-air.
The disintegration of the forest was a gradual process which meant that, although the treetops had gone, the trunks of the trees and the undergrowth around them still remained, blocking their saviour and the perpetrators from sight. Kason stared around him, the sun which was now visible with the removal of the canopy shone down upon him and warmed his dirty clothes. He looked at the quickly vanishing forest and felt relief, they were no longer in danger of being burned, whacked to death on a tree trunk or constricted by any more vines.
This relief, however, did not last long. Perhaps it was because his mind had been preoccupied with the danger they had been in before, but it had not quite registered that he was, in fact, floating a long way above the ground with no obvious supports holding him up. Kason felt panic begin to rise again in his chest, but then it stopped, he had been floating for a while now and had not fallen to his death so presumably there was someone keeping him up.
This thought gave him some comfort so he decided that he would just wait. What would happen would happen, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it at the moment so there wasn’t much point in struggling or complaining about it. Harper and the other two who had been strung up by vines with him were all floating beside him, they all looked a bit frazzled and their clothing looked in an even sorrier state than it had been before, presumably from the crazed actions of the vines in the face of the fire.
Harper caught Kasons gaze, and with a dazed look in his eyes, he gave a rather strained smile and a thumbs up. Eventually, the forest completely disappeared, revealing four or five young men and women standing in front of a middle-aged man with a long beard and flecks of grey in his black hair. The older man was standing in front of the five younger people and was waving his arms at them, gesticulating wildly. He turned around and, noticing that the forest had completely dispersed, he paused whatever he was doing and made a gesture with a staff held in his left hand.
Slowly, Kason felt himself begin to descend towards the cracked and shattered flagstones of the courtyard below, eventually touching down next to Harper and the others a few steps behind the middle-aged man.