Chapter 19: The Invisible Man

When Kason heard where it was that they were going, he felt the anxiety bubbling around in his stomach. He remembered what Ma Luxford has said during their tour of the college, that it wouldn’t be safe to enter the Forest until their third year in the junior division. He wondered what their objective was in going to such a dangerous place when they were so woefully unprepared.

“Our teacher in the senior division is the head of the Botany department at this college and he sets us various tasks to complete throughout the year. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, we usually do something with the new first years in the junior division every year, so this year we’ve looked through the list of things we’ve been given to do and picked out the most exciting sounding one to do with you lot.” Philera explained, pacing back and forth in front of them, her black senior division robes billowing out behind her as a light breeze blew past them.

“The task we’ve decided to do requires us to go into the Forest and get the eggshells of an Earth Drake. Earth Drakes are a species of Drake which belong to the Draconia family of creatures. If you’ve been taught about how creatures are classified in Beastology yet, then you’ll understand what that means, but if you haven’t then just suffice to say that it is a type of dragon. So what we’ve got to do is go into the Forest, find the Earth Drake whose eggs should’ve hatched relatively recently, and steal some of the shattered egg shards that should be lying around. Simple, right?” Philera smiled at them after she finished speaking, her eyes burning with excited anticipation.

Kason let out a small gasp when he heard what it was they had to do. They were still going over the basics in Beastology and so had not covered such creatures as dragons. For this reason, he didn’t know what the differences were between drakes and dragons so all he could picture when he thought of a drake, was what he had seen in books that showed dragons as gigantic scaly monsters with four legs and enormous leathery wings.

Having thought about what they were up against, he shivered and felt cold sweat blossom on his forehead. He looked up at Philera and the other senior division students with pleading eyes, hoping that one of them might either say that this was all a joke, or that one might try to persuade Philera out of doing this crazy task.

Unfortunately, no one did any such thing and Philera began talking again, “Of course this earth drake is still quite young and this batch of eggs should only be its second clutch meaning that it will still be quite weak from the process of laying the eggs. This means it will most probably be sleeping when we approach it to get the eggshells and therefore we don’t need to worry about it too much.” Kason, who still had images of giant scaly beasts chasing their group through the Forest going around his head, heard this and thought that the drake, even if sleeping, still seemed like a pretty large source of worry to him.

“What we do need to worry about are its young!” Philera continued, oblivious to the nervous and scared looks on the children’s faces. “Although they won’t be very old and don’t have much intelligence, they will instinctively stick close to and protect their mother. They, unlike the adult drake, will probably be wide awake and vigilant when we get there.”

“So, how will we get the eggshell shards without being mauled by baby dragons then?” Asked Alford, his face pale and voice slightly shaky.

“Glad you asked,” said Philera, closing her eyes and nodding her head while smiling in a triumphant sort of way, “For that task, we have Hugo here.” She gestured to the thin young man standing nearby. “For some reason, Hugo’s presence just doesn’t register with animals unless they come in direct contact with him or have high ether manipulation ability.”

Seeing the children’s disbelieving faces, Philera raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s true, no one knows why he’s like this, not even the headmaster. But this ability comes to be extremely useful in cases such as this, the drake won’t be able to sense him, let alone its offspring, so as long as he’s careful, Hugo should be able to sneak in and get us the shells so that we can take them back.”

Hearing this explanation of their intended plan of action, Kason felt his anxiety ease slightly. Even if they were going to be messing around near a dragon, at least he wouldn’t have to get close to it. He did feel worried for the young man called Hugo though, no matter what Philera said, he simply thought it impossible that someone could be ‘invisible’ to animals like she claimed.

“Anyway, now that you know what we’re doing, shall we get going?” Philera said, with a bright smile and began to walk briskly around the edge of the forest.

As they began to make their way after her, a flock of some small birds flew overhead of the group. As they passed, one of them swooped down momentarily and jabbed its beak into the group before pulling back up while moving something around in its beak. On its way back to the fast moving flock, it just happened to fly straight into the back of Hugo who had been walking slightly apart from the group of people. The bird quickly recovered from the collision, flapping its wings furiously, and in a panic-stricken sort of manner, flew desperately away from Hugo as though it had just realised that he was there.

The children stared wide-eyed at Hugo, who was rubbing his back while scowling in the direction that the bird had flown off in, while Perceval and the large young man called James guffawed with laughter. As Ledia hurried over to make sure that Hugo was alright, Kason stared off after the bird who had now rejoined the flock, thinking to himself that perhaps Hugo did indeed have some kind of special ability.

Their shocked state was disturbed by a shout from Philera who was now a good distance in front of them. They jogged for a moment to catch up and then followed her as she continued walking. As he was walking, Kason thought of something and moved closer to Perceval who was nearby so that he could speak to him, “Why aren’t we just going through the college buildings? Wouldn’t that be quicker?”

Perceval glanced down at him for a moment then rolled his eyes and began to speak, “Don’t you remember what your teacher told you when they gave you the tour on your first day? Until the third year of the junior division, it is prohibited to go into the Forest. Obviously, we don’t want you to get into the trouble being found would bring, and also they would punish us for bringing you along as well.”

“Then, umm…” Kason said, looking nervously up at Perceval trying to gauge his mood. “Why did you bring us along?” He asked in a small voice.

Perceval looked down at him and grinned, what seemed to Kason to be, a slightly evil looking grin, “For the adventure obviously. Just because you first years can’t use magic yet doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the fun!”

Kason grinned weakly back at him and slowed down slightly so that he could go back to walking with Harper and the others. He personally would have been fine with not being ‘part of the fun’ as Perceval put it. He glanced at the faces of the others who were walking around him silently, all of them had far away looks in their eyes as though they were contemplating something important and all of them had grim expressions on their faces.

All of them except Lexia. The timid look she had shown while they were introducing themselves to the older students earlier was gone and now, from the odd quaking of her lips, Kason guessed with mild incredulity, that she was trying to suppress a delighted grin from spreading across her face. She marched along in her leather suit with a spring in her step and head held high, quite the opposite of the other children.

Kason pondered her sudden change of attitude while he walked in order to take his mind off the thoughts of dragons that would otherwise consume his mind. After considering for a few minutes as they walked around the forest and he came to a conclusion that disturbed him slightly.

She was enjoying this whole experience.

In fact, thinking back about her behaviour from the point he had first told her about it, she had never seemed to be particularly worried about it. She had happily volunteered herself to come along without even knowing what it was they were doing and had only seemed to lose this excitement when they were introducing themselves to the senior division students.

He remembered how when they had first met, he had thought that Lexia seemed to be a quiet and reserved girl, but he got to know her, her behaviour had gradually become more and more outgoing. He had never really thought about it before, but this did indeed seem to be the case, he had just never really realised it.

‘So, she’s shy around strangers but fearless in the face of dragons.’ He thought, looking over at her with a half admiring, half helpless gaze. ‘People’s minds work in strange ways…’

They walked for about fifteen minutes from the path where they had first started, following the forest’s edge until it curved abruptly away from them, revealing a stretch of grass which disappeared after a short distance under the cover of the Forest’s canopy. The group stood for a moment at the edge of the forest, looking at the tangled mass of trees, vines and other shrubberies that grew only a short way away from them.

In Kason’s eyes, the trees seemed to grow ever taller and the darkness between their trunks ever thicker as he stared at them. The gnarled pillars of wood, wrinkled with age and covered with withered debris, seemed to loom over him, even at the distance they were from him and Kason imagined he could feel a pair of eyes watching him from in the gloom. Accompanied by what seemed the soft thud of wings flapping in the air.

Suddenly, he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder and jumped slightly. He turned and saw that Harper was looking at his with a slightly worried expression, his long blond hair blowing in the slight breeze that player around them. He licked his lips nervously and smiled at Harper, who smiled back and let go of his shoulder. Kason then turned back momentarily to the Forest, but the illusion was broken and the trees, which had seemed ancient and sinister, now looked to be relatively young and the soft thump of wings, he now realised, was just the breeze buffeting the treetops.

Kason, still feeling a bit shaken, brought a hand up to his neck and felt for the smooth leather strap which hung there next to the silver chain of the college pendant which he was wearing. He found it and tugged on it so that he could grasp the silver locket in his fist. He had put on on a whim earlier that morning when he had been getting dressed but now he felt a strange sense of security from its presence. He then looked down at his right hand to make sure he was still wearing his ring. He remembered Brent saying that they could be used once to save oneself from danger so he was anxious to make sure he didn’t lose it before they made it to their destination.

Philera moved to stand in front of the group. She pointed to the eaves of the forest across the grass and said, “We will have to cross this gap at a run. There isn’t usually anyone keeping watch over this strip, but just in case…” Philera then took out a wand from inside her robe, “Hugo and I will cast some spells on you youngsters to make you faster so that you don’t fall behind.” She then looked towards Hugo, “Just a simple enhancement SSP type will do, we don’t need anything fancy.”

Hugo nodded and took out a pair of fingerless gloves which he slipped onto his hands. He then moved to stand in front of Kason. He looked down at him and said in a slightly gravely voice, “I’ll just be a moment.”

He then moved both of his palms towards sides of his head, fingers splayed and suddenly pulled them away, as if he was trying to pull something out of his ears using his palms. He then bent down slightly and pushed both palms towards Kason’s legs until they were almost touching them. As Kason watched, he thought he saw a slight silvery radiance dance around his ankles for a moment as Hugo moved his hands away, but it was gone the next moment leaving Kason unsure of whether it had ever really been there.

Hugo then moved onto Harper who was standing nearby and began the same process again, leaving Kason free to watch Philera applying a spell to Kayla. Philera’s spell was done in a completely different way to Hugo’s, she whirled the tip of her wand through the air around in a circle several times, before flicking it daintily in the direction of Kayla’s feet.

Once all the junior division students had been seen to, Philera stood in front of them again and said, “Okay, so on three we all need to just rush as fast as you can towards the forest over there.” She looked around for a moment and then began to count, “One, two… Three!”

As soon as the word ‘Three’ rang out, all of the people standing behind her began to run at once. If anyone had been watching all they would’ve seen would have been a cluster of white and black figures streaking across the grassy stretch at speeds too high for a normal human to achieve.

It took them only about fifteen seconds to reach the Forest, but to Kason it felt like much longer. When he first started running, he didn’t really notice anything was different. But as he got going, he felt the breeze which had previously been gentle, blowing hard against him, pushing his hair back on his head and making his white robes flap against his body. As he ran, he took a look to his right for a moment and saw a hedge growing a short way away. He thought for a moment and realised that they must be running along behind the meditation gardens.

They safely reached the leaf-strewn eaves of the Forest and stopped to catch their breath. As Kason stood there, he suddenly felt a strange sensation in his legs and realised that whatever spell had been cast on him to make him faster had finished operating. He also felt a wave of slight fatigue wash over him and put a hand out to lean on the trunks of one of the trees that grew nearby.

They stood there for a couple of minutes, recuperating, and then Philera moved to stand in front of the group again. She looked at each of the senior division students, checking silently that they were all ready, and then addressed the group of youngsters, “We’re here now. Make sure you stick with us at all times so that you don’t end up getting hurt and don’t make any loud noises once we get inside unless you want to have, err, problems…”

Philera spoke in perhaps the most serious voice Kason had heard her use so far with them and so he took her words very seriously. Although they did not do anything alleviate the anxiety that was still squirming around inside him.

Philera took one last look at all the assembled students then, with a nod of her head, signalled that they should begin their journey into the Forest.



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