Storm Watch

by Terry Spafford

Michael sat at a table in the Deaf Mule, watching the varied patrons come and go. Cope had brought him in after explaining about the lurkers, then headed for the bar to get drinks. He returned barely long enough to leave Michael a drink before he was pulled into an argument with a group of wolves. Michael reached back and touched the fur spot on the back of his neck, which seemed larger than he remembered when he touched it just a few moments ago.

{You must be the new kid from the farms,} a low-pitched voice spoke in Michael's head, startling him enough to spill his drink. Twisting around in his chair, Michael saw a large and very tall figure standing behind him. The figure was covered in dark bronze skin. His face was nearly human, except for a muzzle. The muzzle extended a short distance out from his face, making his head longer than normal. The mouth was closed keeping what had to be fangs out of sight, but the muzzle itself was tipped with two ridges ending at slightly flaring nostrils. The eyes, nearly human but sparkling with something Michael couldn't quite tell what, watched him closely.

{Sorry about that. Let me help you with that,} the voice continued in his head, the figure reaching into a small pack on his waist and pulling out a cloth. The figure started wiping up the spilled drink, while Michael stared. The head was perched on a longer than normal neck. On the figure's back, a pair of stunted wings twitched occasionally on either side of a cloak clasped at the base of the neck A 2 or 3 foot long tail, ending with a triangular point, extended from under the cloak. The cloak itself was sky blue with the Keep's Mage guild shield on its back. The cloak's clasp was a golden sun, split by a lightning bolt.

The figure finished wiping up Michael's spilled drink, grabbed a chair, turned it around so the back was in front of him, and sat down on it. He extended the clawed hand to Michael's. {Hi, I'm Saroth, one of the Court Magicians, the Court Weather Warden and the Court Weather man err Dragon.} he said in Michael's head.

"Do you need to do that?" Michael asked, getting a little annoyed with having that voice in his head.

{Do what?}

"Speak in my head like that."

Saroth shrugged his shoulders. {Well, I could speak out loud, but you won't like it.}

"Try me."

Saroth seemed to smile with his muzzle. {Don't say I didn't warn you...} he trailed off before opening his mouth. He emitted a loud roar, followed by a high pitched keening sound, startling the entire bar. Donny didn't even flinch while wiping off the glasses, but did toss a glare Saroth's way. The rest of the patrons exchanged bemused glances in the pairs direction, not seeming to be surprised. Michael, startled even more, fell out of his chair.

Saroth stood up and helped Michael back up.

After they had settled down again, Saroth 'spoke' again. {The spells that changed me slightly differently than others, most noticeably by taking away my normal voice. Of course if I hadn't been messing around with it, I'd probably still be able to speak.}

"What happened?" Michael asked, curiously.

{Well, it all started about 6 years ago,} Saroth started, a glazed look coming over his eyes as he dredged up old memories. In Michael's mind, images started to form, each image matching the story Saroth was telling him. {I was human at the time, just like everyone else, and apprenticed to the Magicians here. I had shown a knack for Weather prediction and manipulation when I was younger, mostly summoning small rain clouds, dust devils and lightning bolts, nothing really large scale. Electra, the magician I worked with the most, was helping me find my limits, and try to go beyond them. Others tried to teach me some other stuff, both magical and practical, but I was a bit of a klutz back then, and couldn't seem to focus on much. Few had the patience to teach me like Electra did....}

"Saroth! How many times have I told you, add the bay leaves, and the garlic and THEN put it over the fire, not before," a large man wearing an apron scolded the younger man, waving a spoon at him.

"I'm sorry, I got confused!," Saroth stammered, backing up a few steps and bumping into a shelf. A small box filled with white powder tipped over and fell into a bowl.

"ARGH! It's ruined!" the larger man screamed, rushing to the bowl and staring at it in dismay.

"I'm sorry! I'll clean it--"

"You will do nothing of the sort! Get out of my kitchen before I decide to serve Saroth-stew tonight!" the Chef shouted. Saroth quickly made his escape, not sure if the chef would follow through with his threat, and not wanting to chance it if he was serious.

{Anyway, it soon came time for our annual trip down to the farmlands, to re-anchor the weather control spells for the farmers,} Saroth continued, smiling at the memory of his encounters with the Chef.

"Weather control spells?" Michael asked.

{They are ancient spells, or maybe an enchanted object; no one knows for sure; that were set up before even our records here at the Keep. They divert and weaken the storms that would approach the farming plateau down there. They automatically watch the lands and the weather so they can send storms to gently water dry fields while keeping others from being over watered. Without those spells, that plateau would be a desolate, windswept wasteland instead of the bread basket of the region it is now. No one has ever figured out how it works, but it does. Until a few centuries ago.}

{A few centuries ago, one of the Keep's mages was down there and could sense the spell controlling the weather. Legends say it was a particularly stormy season that year, and the wards were going full power diverting a hurricane around the edge of the plateau. His curiosity piqued, he tracked down the source of the wards. It took weeks, but he finally found them, and made a scary discovery. While the wards themselves were more than strong enough to handle anything around them, the enchantments that bound the wards to the plateau were weakening. Unless something was done, the wards would break away from the earth and wander with the magical currents, leaving the plateau unprotected. Storms would sweep everything on the plateau, villages, farms, everything into the sea.}

{The mage acted quickly and decisively, forming and casting a spell to re-anchor the wards back to the ground. It was a powerful spell, but sadly, not powerful enough. When he came back to check on his work the following year, he found his anchors had nearly pulled loose, forcing him to reset them. He added a few smaller wards to the area to warn him if the anchors were faltering, and returned often through his remaining years to reanchor the weather ward. When age began to wear on him, he trained an associate, and started a tradition that has continued to this day. Ever since his time, someone, usually but not always from the Keep, has monitored the watch wards and returned every year or so to re-anchor the enchantments, continuing the protection of the plateau. Sometime along the way, those mages gained the title Weather Wardens.}

Saroth tapped the clasp on his robe and stretched his wings a bit before leaning forward on the table. {Believe me, I know the strength of those storms that come in off the sea down there. If those enchantments ever broke loose, everything in that state would be swept off the plateau and into the sea in the first gale.}

Michael wowed softly, "Why haven't I ever heard of those spells?"

Saroth shrugged. {We try to keep as quiet as possible outside of magical circles and outside of the Keep. With few exceptions, it's been a Keep task since that first mage decided to interfere. We generally do not want other magicians going down there and interfering with the wards. And it's peace of mind for the people who live down there too. After all, would you be comfortable knowing the only thing keeping your farm or village from being blown into the sea was a prehistorical spell that needed to be re- anchored every year?} Michael stayed silent as he thought that over.

{Now where was I? Oh yeah, it was my fourth trip, and I was very anxious to go. Electra, the Magician in charge of those spells at that time, had promised that she would let me help set some of the spells, not just watch like I used to do. Having an affinity with weather, it was a task I was very interested in, one of the few I could focus on. I particularly seemed to have an affinity with the weather down there that Electra loved to study when we were in the area. I guess it was because I was born and grew up a little on that plateau....} Michael caught a brief glimpse of a burning farmstead before the dragon continued on, the images fading almost before he could sense them.

{Thomas had other things for her to do though.... }

"I have just received some reports. Nasoj is on the move, gathering troops. We believe that he is planning to try and attack the Keep," Thomas gravely told the council gathered in the war room. "We are not certain when he will make his move, but it will probably be soon. Because of that, I am encouraging everyone to stay around the Keep and prepare to defend it."

The council rumbled softly at the implied order, considering what would need to be canceled, rearranged, and delayed. Electra was the first to speak up with her concerns, standing up from her position at the table.. "But what about the Weather Wards Enchantment? It needs to be re-anchored soon. Our wards are indicating they are weakening faster than expected." She looked imploringly around the council, "I have talked with Saroth, and he is predicting that there are bad storms forming in the oceans this year. If the wards break loose, the plateau would be swept clean before they even realize it."

"I realize that, but at the same time, I can't have our magicians off on some remote mountain while Nasoj is attacking. We need our strongest people here to defend the Keep." Thomas thought for a moment. "You have been preparing Saroth to replace you. Is he prepared to do it alone?"

The rumbling of the council went silent and their gaze centered on Electra. She held her gaze on Thomas while considering his suggestion. "He knows all the spells, and the order to cast them, but, because of his abilities and affinities, I don't know if he is ready mentally. We could end up with another Casner."

The Council gasped in horror. The chaos and damages caused by Casner, the weather magician 130 years before, was well known.

Thomas sighed and considered the situation, glancing down at the reports that had triggered the meeting. "I understand the danger, but we can't risk letting Nasoj get through. We need all of our senior magicians here, for the defense. Work with Saroth, prepare him as best you can for what he must do. Make arrangements to keep in contact with him somehow on the trip, but he will have to make the trip and do the casting at Mount Weagle by himself. Let us pray we don't regret that decision. Dismissed."

"Who was Casner?" Michael interrupted.

{Do you know of the Year of Storms and the Year of Drought?} Saroth asked. Michael nodded his head. Those two years were well known to the farmers, even though they happened long ago.

{Well, Casner was the weather magician of the time. We aren't certain what exactly happened, but we think he let the power get to him. In any case, the anchors were set, but he did something to the wards themselves, throwing them out of whack. It took years for the Council to sort out what happened and get it fixed. In the mean time, the plateau was struck with a taste of what it would have without the wards. First was the Year of Storms, whence you could count the number of days of sun on a single day. While fixing it, they ended up swinging the wards to the other extreme, causing the Year of Drought. They were lucky they had gotten so much rain the year before; it helped make sure there was enough water in the ground for everyone to survive... barely.}

{Anyway, back to the story. After a long discussion, the Magician's council finally decided that I knew enough to re-anchor those spells by myself. They gave me a horse, a couple of guards and a telepathy spell to keep in touch with the council. I was thrilled, and extremely nervous, at the thought of doing those spells alone. I did not want to let the Council down.}

{From Electra's and my own studies, we figured the best time to reinforce the spell would be in about two weeks, more than enough time to get down there, so the three of us took our time going to Mount Weagle. I kept track of what was happening back at the Keep through the telepathy spell and was growing increasingly concerned by the news. I tried not to let it affect my task at hand, but it was difficult, to say the least.}

{Nasoj had beaten our defenders back to the Keep itself, and was about to make his final attack when we arrived at the mount, on the morning of the day I needed to start the spell on. Needing my entire attention to cast those spells, I reluctantly broke the telepathic link and started mentally preparing myself, even though I dearly wanted to know the outcome and if I would have a Keep to return to.}

"You two make camp down here and wait for me. Only Magicians can go to the top of the mountain. Don't worry, I should be back in a few days, and I'll reestablish the link as soon as I'm done to find out what's going on," Saroth told the guards. They started preparing the camp at the usual spot, while Saroth started climbing the path to the top of the mountain. None of them tried to let their concern for their homes show.

The path was well worn from centuries of use, though some areas required more concentration to get past than others. After a few hours of hiking and climbing, Saroth reached the flattened peak and surveyed the area. The air tingled with the tension of the spells around the mountain top, most of them fixated on a single warn flattened bolder at the center of the peak. Saroth set his pack down at the head of the trail and ate a cold meal, then finished the mental preparations. The spells needed to be started at sundown and could not be interrupted for anything.

He watched the sun set slowly over the lip of the plateau, settled the heavy weather warden cloak around his shoulders and approached the central bolder, keeping it between himself and the last rays of the sun. Partly blinded from the glare, he felt more than knew the right moment and started the incantation for the spells.

As he chanted the words, he felt the power of nature building around him. At first, it was the same sort of power he got when he normally played with the weather, but it quickly grew to levels he had never felt before. He continued the chants automatically, shaking under the power coursing around him.

{What an experience that was, all that pure POWER. There are very few places you can go to experience that sort of feeling... very few places you can go and survive at least,} Saroth broke off his dialog, seemingly enthralled by the memories. Shaking his head, he returned his attention to Michael.

{As I said, that was my fourth trip, but it was the first time I set those spells alone. Electra had previously shielded me from most of the castings, and I understood then why she did it. You can't imagine what I felt, unless you did the spells yourself. I had the power of the sun, the clouds, the wind, the rain, the hail, the snow and everything else all in my hands ready to go anywhere I commanded. Believe me, It was quite the experience. I nearly lost it right then and there, but the thought of what the Keep was going through kept me grounded. At that point I knew exactly how Casner could've lost control all those years ago.}

{Without realizing it, I entered a thrall as I finished the casting. I found out later I spent almost a week up there, gliding with the winds and powered by the sun. Hunger eventually pulled me back down enough to shake free. I could feel the magic surging through me as I finished off the last of my supplies I had carried up with me, and reopened the link back to the Keep. Electra reassured me that the Keep still stood, and Nasoj's attack had been repelled... but that there was a major cost to it.}

Saroth practically flew down Mount Weagle, the images that he had received from the Keep clear in his mind. The council had assured him that every thing was under control now, and there wasn't any need to rush, but Saroth couldn't help himself. He needed to see what had happened with his own eyes.

The guards snapped to attention and drew their weapons upon hearing Saroth sprinting and sliding down the mountain. They only relaxed when he managed to gasp out what he had learned, and forced him to eat his fill while they broke camp. They quickly hit the road and pushed the horses as fast as they dared, traveling until they could no longer see the trail for the darkness, and picking up again at the first light of false dawn the next day. The trio arrived back at the Keep within a week, the guards peeling away to check on their own loved ones as soon as they were in the Keep's lands. Saroth pushed on to the Keep itself, focused on his goal and his worries.

Saroth discovered the Keep was vastly changed from what he remembered just a few weeks earlier. A kid, who looked to be only 6 or 7, was walking along side a team of oxen pulling a sled loaded with furniture. Three of the most beautiful women he had ever seen were discussing something with a wolf man and a cat man. He left his horse in the stables with a goat morph and shook his head, words barely getting through the daze he felt. Shock and fatigue were taking their toll on him, only his duty to report on his mission kept him going. He moved through the halls towards the Throne room, gawking at the changed people. Some waved and congratulated him for his job. He didn't say a word, not recognizing anyone.

Outside the throne room, a 12 year old red-haired girl met him. "Welcome home, Saroth. Excellent job on the anchoring. I knew you could pull it off."

Her words finally sunk through to him and he snapped out of his haze. "Electra?"

She smiled at him, "In the flesh. Come on, Thomas is waiting for you."

She lead Saroth into the throne room. On the throne, a horse man is sitting, looking at some reports. He saw them come in, and put the reports down.

"Congratulations, Saroth. Things are a bit chaotic here, but they've scryed your work and the mage's say they have never sensed those spells this strong before. You are going to be an excellent Weather Warden," he said, extending a hoof-like hand, holding a cloak clasp.

Saroth took the clasp and shook the thick fingered hand, dumbfounded. "W- Weather warden? But isn't that Electra's position?" he asked.

"It was, but I was getting way to old for that job anyway," Electra explained. She looked down at her new body and laughed a little at the irony. "We both knew you were going to replace me eventually, it was just a matter of time. Just don't let that council seat get to your head; you've still got a lot to learn, young man, and I still have a place on the council, even if you're in my old official position." she added sternly, but still smiling.

"Yes, M'am!" Saroth responded. He turned to Thomas. "Thank you sir, it was more than I ever expected."

Thomas waved him to leave and refocused on the reports, the task of keeping the changed Keep weighing heavily on him. Electra pulled Saroth out of the Throne Room.

"You look exhausted; You'd best go back to your quarters and rest. We'll find something for you to do that'll take care of that swelled head of yours tomorrow," she said. She started walking down a corridor and remembered something. "One more thing, stay out of the way of the rest of the magicians. There is still some sort of spell over us that we are trying to figure out, and reverse."

{Over the next week, I helped out as best as I could, helping rearrange quarters and other odd jobs, 'To take down my swelled head', as Electra put it. A week and a day after I returned, I noticed my first scale patch, on my arm.} Saroth indicated the position, the spot indistinguishable from the rest of his bronze skin.

Saroth woke up slowly and dressed. For the first time all week, he didn't have any work to do until after lunch, and he aimed to make the most of his half day off. The Keep was finally settling down, and normal routines were reasserting themselves. He splashed some water in his face and noticed something on his arm.

Moving to the window for the light, he examined it closer. His forearm was covered in bluish green scales.

"ELECTRA!" he shouted, eyes never leaving the scales.

The 12 year old, who was now living in the slightly smaller room next door rushed into the room. "What is it?" she asked, concern pushing out the fatigue in her eyes.

"This!" Saroth replied, holding up his arm with the scales.

"Oh my!" she exclaimed. She stepped closer and examined them. She poked and prodded his forearm for a few minutes, hmm'ing to herself, her small grip holding the young wizard still despite his panic.

"Well, what's causing this?" Saroth finally asked, unable to hold on any longer.

"Hm? Oh, it is definitely that spell we haven't figured out yet. It seems to have activated a random change in you."

"So I'm going to become an animal?"

"Yes, a dragon by the looks of these scales," she replied, releasing his arm. "Don't worry, the same spell that allows the other to morph should work on you too. I wouldn't try messing with it though. Especially don't try any spells on yourself. Do you still have the telepathy spell on you?"

"Yeah. I haven't had time to get it removed yet."

"Well, we'll need to wait until this is finished before getting rid of it now." She moved to leave the room. "I'm going to go talk to the other magicians; at least now we know what this spell over us is so we might be able to remove it. Remember! No spells on yourself until we say so!"

"Yes M'am," he replied, tearing his eyes from his arm.

{I followed her orders for all of two days, by which time, my arm had entirely changed,} Saroth told Michael, a smile clear in the voice he sent to Michael's mind. {At the time, I was barely 20 years old, and a natural meddler. Not a good combination in any case, and Electra had given me an order I couldn't resist disobeying....}

Saroth sat in front of a counter in his workshop, a spell book in front of him. It was a simple spell, used for clarifying magic sight to help show any spells cast on a person. He had carefully mixed the ingredients before he realized he had forgotten to start the fire to heat it. Starting by hand would take to long, and fire spells still evaded his comprehension, so he used the handiest trick he had at hand. He summoned a small lightning cloud and directed it to ignite the wood fire with a bolt.

The fire burning nicely, he reached for the small cauldron with the ingredients, the cloud forgotten. Unluckily for him, he forgot that clouds, especially lightning clouds, hate to be summoned and then ignored without being dismissed. The cloud reminded him of its presence by zapping the cauldron with another bolt, and escaped out the window with a brief shower of water.

The charge reacted with the ingredients, activating the spell prematurely. It also sent a shock up Saroth's arm knocking him to the floor the cauldron spilling its charged ingredients onto him. The magic went wild around him, accelerating and changing the transformation of the unconscious Weather Warden.

Saroth woke slowly and raised a hand to his head. He noticed two things at once. First, his bluish-green scales had changed to bronze skin, and secondly, the room seemed to have greatly shrunk. As he watched through confused eyes, he felt a surge of power and the room seemed to shrink more. Something clicked in his mind, turning the situation upside down and he realized the room wasn't shrinking; he was growing! Reacting quickly before he got caught in the room, he dived out the window of the lab and landed in the court yard, one story below.

When he woke up again, he had finished changing, and a large crowd had gathered around him. Electra was standing next to his large head, tapping her foot.

"You couldn't keep from meddling in it, could you?" she accused, glowering at him from the end of his muzzle. Saroth started to speak, but she stopped him. "Don't bother trying to talk yet. We're setting up the morph spell for you now," she warned.

Saroth lifted his head to look around. He tried to get to his feet, noticing he was leaning far more forward than normal, yet he was completely comfortable in that position. He took a tentative step and heard shouts behind him. Twisting his surprisingly long neck, he noticed just how BIG he was. From his head, down his long neck, to his large body with well proportioned wings to the long tail he hadn't noticed before, he was at least 45 feet long!

"Probably closer to 50 feet, actually," Electra said. "Now would you please try to clamp down on the thoughts you are sending? You must've affected that telepathy spell too... And Hold STILL."

Saroth set his large head back down to the ground and waited, snorting softly. A few minutes later, Electra was ordering everyone back as they started the morph spell. He felt himself starting to shrink, as the spell took effect. At 10 feet, he stood fully upright, his legs started losing their massive muscles and his muzzle shrinking. His wings had shrunk into uselessness, but otherwise remained. He felt his hands change, becoming slightly more hand-like, but still claw tipped, before he stopped. The large ridges running down his neck and back shrunk, and nearly disappeared completely.

"We can't take it any further. The spells are too tangled," one of the magicians reported.

Saroth, still 7 feet tall, looked over the crowd. The only person he could look eye to eye without bending his still too long neck, was a giraffe morph who also had a too long neck.

"Thank you," he tried to say, but all that came out was a roar which sent some of the crowd scrambling backwards.

"What is it?" Electra asked, craning her neck to look up at him. "Can't you talk?"

Saroth shrugged his shoulders and tried to speak again. All that came out was a high pitched keen and another roar. He knew what the words sounded like, but he couldn't figure out how to make his throat, lips and tongues make the right noises. Remembering the telepathy, he spoke to her mind. {I don't think I can talk!} he sent desperately.

"Sit down and let me look at you," Electra ordered. He complied and she started looking him over, waving the other magicians over to join her. After a long consultation with those magicians, she sat down next to him and took a clawed hand in her own small hands.

"I don't know how you did it, but you've somehow managed to remove your ability to speak naturally. As you suspect, you know what the words are, and what they sound like, but you've lost all knowledge of how to make your body make those noises. Maybe with practice you could learn to speak again, but we aren't sure your throat and mouth, in any form, would be able to handle it.”

“The good news, if you can call it that, is that telepathy spell has been implanted in your voice's place. It is now a natural part of you; not a spell anymore. Be careful though, it can only carry as far as your voice used to. There won't be any more calling the Keep from Mount Weagle, but at least you can communicate." She shook her head in amazement. "Do you have any idea how lucky you were? Mixing spells is very dangerous; you could've been killed. Instead, you seemed to have fallen in the mudhole and come up covered in daisies."

{Will I be able to cast the re-anchoring spell next year?} Saroth asked worriedly. A small cloud started gathering over his bronze head.

"I really don't know. We'll need to do some tests to find ... HEY! Watch those clouds!" Electra shouted, running out of the way as the clouds broke open over the new bronze dragon-morph.

Saroth looked up and quickly dismissed the clouds, but not before being completely soaked by them. Electra returned as soon as the sky over his head was clear again..

"Until then, we're going to have to find you some new quarters. Your old ones aren't really big enough anymore. Any place you had in mind?"

Saroth looked up at one of the towers he had explored years ago. He remembered that the top of the tower was one large room, with a large doorway going to a balcony, plenty big enough for him even if he was full dragon. No one used it because the only way up besides a flight or teleporting spell, was a small, tightly curving staircase. "That one," he said, pointing to the tower.

Electra looked in the direction he pointed at. "You'd better hope those wings aren't just for show," she said, a smile breaking out on her face.

{They weren't. In full dragon form, once I learned some flight basics, I easily moved all my stuff up there and set up. Testing later showed that I, thankfully, could still cast the re-anchoring spell, which I have done every year since. In fact, I just got back from there last night,} Saroth finished.

"So you're the one I should thank for the weather we got back home?"

{If you wish, but I'm just the maintainer. The spell itself largely works automatically.... Hi Cope. Just talking to your new friend here.}

Michael was thrown slightly by the sudden shift in conversation, especially since Saroth was still looking at him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Copernicus coming.

"Hi Saroth. What's the weather going to be like today?"

Saroth paused and seemed to go into a trance. {Sunny in the morning, with light winds bringing in clouds from the south. We've got showers coming in the afternoon, sometimes heavy, starting around lunch time.} Saroth sent mechanically. He snapped out of his trance and seemed to remember something. {Speaking of showers, I need to go down and tell laundry to make sure they get the wash in before the rain starts.}

He stood up and returned the chair to its original position. {It's been a pleasure talking you, Michael,} he said, shaking Michael's hand. He left the Deaf Mule, nodding his head to others in the room. When he reached the door, he needed to duck down to get his tall figure through, and disappeared down the hall.