Hunters and Hunted

by Terry Spafford

Sean soared on the thermals that rose around the Keep, glad for the chance to stretch his wings. Electra's teaching had made it impossible for him to get the time for a good flight until today. Today, Electra had meetings with many of the other Keeper magicians meaning Sean had a day off. She still wanted to see him later that afternoon, after her meetings were done with. His only wish was that Saroth was around to fly with him, but the Dragon had gone South for his annual task.

Folding his wings in, he dove from the sky, pulling up just above the tree tops. He glided slowly over the forests, watching the natural magic of the plants interacting with the energies in the air. He backstroked suddenly, something catching his eyes.

Circling back, he landed and shifted to his morphic form, crouching to look at the ground. It looked physically untouched, but the magic energy around it was disturbed. It had a slight order to it that didn't exist on the surrounding land.

Sean blinked and studied it closer, finding the remains of a spell on it, a spell that had a different tint to it from the magic he was used to. Lifting his head, he saw more evidence of the spell as a set of footprints leading deeper into the woods. Occasionally the spell seemed to jump up and wrap around a twig on a tree.

He scratched his beak thoughtfully. "Someone's been through here, with a Track-hiding spell active. Cast by someone who's more concerned about hiding his physical trail then his magical trail. But who?"

He shifted back to animal form and took off. Now that he knew what he was looking for, the traces of order in the forests chaotic magic was clear, leading away from the Keep. Unlike the thing that had made the magic tracks, Sean's tracks were visible physically, but unidentifiable from the rest of the tracks on the magic plane from other animals. His curiosity piqued, Sean flew on, following the thin trail of ordered magic.

The trail slowly got stronger as Sean flew on, indicating he was catching up. Soon, the forest opened up to a small clearing and Sean started in surprise. Five Lutins were gathered at the far end of the clearing, apparently plotting amongst themselves. Sean circled once, to confirm that they weren't the ones who had created the trail, and noticed the true source. Crouched in the bushes near the Lutins was a raccoon watching the Lutins carefully. He was partly physically hidden by a simple 'Do Not Notice Me' spell, but between the Keep's curses and the coon's natural magic, he stood out in the forest like a lit lighthouse on an uninhabited bluff during a moonless night.

Sean laughed to himself, realizing who the raccoon must be. {He lead the scouts on a weeks long chase through the northlands, yet I manage to trail him without really trying,} he thought, grinning.

The Lutins were starting to notice him circling. Worried that he might mess up whatever the raccoon was planning, he broke off his circle. He noticed a natural rabbit hiding in the bushes on the opposite side of the clearing. To hopefully convince the Lutins he was a regular eagle, he let out an ear splitting screech and dove down. The rabbit bolted into his burrow before Sean could catch it. Keeping up his act, Sean hopped over to the burrow and peered into it.

The Lutins focused their attention on him, laughing at his antics. Sean gave up on the burrow and looked back at the Lutins, tilting his head inquisitively towards them. He was just in time to see the raccoon make his move.

In the time it took Sean to hop a few steps into the clearing, all five Lutins were taken down. Rickkter was standing between their bodies, watching Sean as he hopped out.

Sean shifted to morph form. "I hope I didn't interrupt your mission," he said once he was able to.

Rickkter relaxed a little and started cleaning his blade. "No, I just came out for a workout and came across them. I was hoping more would show up, but that was just a scouting party," he explained, speaking with an accent Sean didn't recognize. He replaced the blade and looked up at Sean. "You're Sean right? From Magdalain Island?"

Sean nodded his head.

"I've never been down there. Heard it's a beaut though."

"It is, but it's mainly just a few fishing villages. It doesn't have anything like the Keep,"

Rickkter crouched down and started inspecting the Lutin's bodies. "Very few places do, but all places have a certain beauty to them. What brings you out here?"

Sean smiled inwardly, lifting his wings proudly. "I was stretching my wings, and I noticed your trail. Curious about who was leaving it, I followed it to here, where I saw you."

Rickkter tensed and looked at Sean. "Followed my trail? There shouldn't have been anything to follow. I had an invisibility spell active too."

Sean was unable to keep a bit of pride from his voice. "You were using magic to hide yourself and your trail. It left a trail of its own that was easy to follow... IF you know what you're looking for. And once you stopped, well, you practically lit up the region with all the spells you had active on you."

Rickkter seemed a little surprised by Sean's revelation, but didn't show it. Sean glanced up at the sky and let out a little surprised screech.

"I'm late! Electra's gonna make a feather duster out of me. I'll see you around, Rick," he called out, shifting back to his eagle form and taking off, winging back to the keep.