The setting sun glared at Naphtali as he trudged along the overgrown forest path. He knew that delivering the package for Master Alvah would take several days, but this forest truly seemed to distort time. He shifted the satchel that held the package to his other shoulder and scratched absently at the magic-suppressing seals that decorated his wrists. If those cursed seals weren’t there, Naphtali could have easily used his pyromancy to create a flame to light his path as he continued onwards, but as it stood, the seals prevented him from doing so. Instead of continuing on through the darkness, he would have to find a clearing in which he could spend the night. Almost as if sensing his thoughts, the forest seemed to open up before him as his path led into a small clearing. As he set about lighting a small fire, Naphtali knew that he was already lucky enough that Master Alvah had allowed him to leave the castle in order to make this delivery. Most servants never left the castle after they were bound into service by one of Master Alvah’s seals. But the material he carried with him was valuable, which was why Alvah had sent him to deliver it instead of using a post hawk.
Naphtali sat down by the small fire and took the spellbook out of his satchel. Just because the seals didn’t allow him to use magic, it didn’t mean that he lost his interest in learning about it. He read the castle’s spellbooks whenever he could, rarely deterred for more than a few days by the punishments he received for getting caught sneaking around the library. Plus, this spellbook was rare, almost completely unique if what he overhead earlier was correct. It wouldn’t hurt anyone if he read a few pages before he slept through the night. And so Naphtali leant back against a tree near the edge of the small clearing, opened the book, and promptly got lost in the words.
Naphtali wasn't sure how long he’d been reading before he fell asleep, but as he blinked awake in the late morning light, he knew he’d read for far too long. As he became more aware, he noticed two important things. Firstly, the weight of the book had disappeared from his chest, where it had lain all night after he fell asleep while reading it. Secondly, he could hear breathing from something else about a few paces away. Naphtali froze. If whoever (or whatever) was over there had damaged the spellbook, he would be in the most trouble he’d ever been in in his entire existence. Master Alvah would probably kill him upon his return. He briefly considered running away, but knew that any attempt of it was futile, since the seal Alvah had placed would allow him to simply teleport Naphtali right back to the castle. He sighed inwardly and resolved that he’d have to try to get the book back undamaged.
Praying that whoever else was in the clearing hadn’t noticed him stir, he shifted slightly, as though he was still asleep, so that he faced the area where he heard the breathing more directly. He heard the breathing pause as he began to move, but he forced himself to settle back down as if he was asleep and hadn’t noticed. After a few seconds, the breathing resumed, and Naphtali heard the unmistakable sound of paper on paper. Was this other person reading the book? If so, why then had they not just taken it with them and fled the area so that they wouldn’t get caught? Naphtali pondered this for a second before deciding that whatever this person’s logic was didn’t matter to him, and that as long as the book was unharmed then he could probably get it back easily enough. He opened one eye slightly and had to stifle a gasp.
A few feet away from him, lying on the ground, was a creature, the type of which he had never seen before (Not that surprising, since Alvah’s servants were forbidden from interacting with any of the magical creatures in his menagerie). The creature Naphtali found himself staring at couldn’t have been larger than a puppy. It certainly appeared to be a puppy at first. At least until Naphtali opened his eye a little more and noticed the wings, the oversized tail, and the antennae on its head. It was lying down with its head in its paw, tail swishing lazily around it, as its orange eyes wandered over the lines of the book. As Naphtali watched, the creature flipped over to the next page with such familiarity that Naphtali would have assumed that it had read many books before this one, if not for the fact that Naphtali had never heard of any creature similar to this one that could read.
Rather unfortunately, the creature chose this time to glance back up at Naphtali, and their eyes met. Naphtali jumped up from his reclined position to try and grab the spellbook, but by the time he was on his feet the creature had, with lightning speed, snatched up the spellbook and bolted for the trees. Naphtali grabbed his satchel and took off after the strange creature, intent on retrieving the spellbook. As the two crashed through the underbrush, the small creature pulled farther and farther ahead of Naphtali, a sliver blur flickering and weaving through the trees and ferns towards a nearby river. Suddenly it screeched to a halt. As Naphtali continued to barrel towards it, he could see that it was looking around frantically, its paws empty. It must have dropped the book! Naphtali slowed down, eyes scanning the area for any hint of the ornate cover of the spellbook peeking through the flora, intent on finding it before the small silver creature could. They spotted it at the same time, a flash of gold amid the leaves. Their eyes met once more before both of them dove towards it. He wasn’t as fast as this small thing, he knew, but the book was closer to him than it was to the creature. If he could just get there first, he could continue on and forget this ever happened!
His fingers closed on the edge of the book. He had done it! He had gotten the book first! Naphtali looked up from his prize, only to find himself face-to-face with the strange creature. It had managed to grab the other side of the book, and its orange eyes glittered intelligently as it sized up its opponent. Naphtali blinked, and was suddenly pulled upwards. It took him a moment to register what was happening, but by then it was already too late. The creature rose upwards, its wings flapping madly as it took to the air. This caught Naphtali by surprise, and his fingers slipped off of the book. The small creature darted through the air towards the river, making a chittering, almost laughing noise as it flew. Naphtali followed on foot, frantically looking for a way to cross the river and get his book back from this strange creature. He wished again for his fire magic, which he could’ve used to hurl a fireball and knock the creature out of the sky. As he grumbled, he spotted some rocks dotting the river and sprinted towards them. He scrambled across, trying to keep an eye on both the rocks and river below him and the escaping creature. As he reached the opposite side of the river, he looked up just in time to see the creature’s tail vanish into the trees. He sprinted over to where he thought the creature had entered the brush and paused. There was no sign of the little silver creature. Naphtali half-expected to see it’s glowing orange eyes peering out from some bush or tree, mocking his inability to capture it. But there was no sign of the orange eyes, nor any traces of silver fur.
Naphtali now had three options. One, accept the loss of the book and return to Alvah, which would almost certainly end in death. Two, give up and try to run away. This could maybe be successful, if it weren’t for the fact that the seals on his wrists would allow Alvah to teleport Naphtali right back to the castle if he was gone for too long. Some runaways found ways to lessen the effect or hide the seals, but the very presence of the black swirling marks would mark them as runaway. This was also dangerous, as runaways often had bounties put on their return. This would most likely also end up in death, or a life of running and hiding. Three, Naphtali could venture into the forest looking for the creature. He didn’t know what was in the forest, didn’t know which way the creature went, and the longer he debated with himself the father away the creature could be. He could die in the forest, but he also could find the book. That was his best chance. Steeling his resolve, Naphtali began his trek into the forest, alert for any signs of the creature. He knew rudimentary tracking magic, but the seals kept him from using it. He also didn’t have any of the materials he would’ve needed, but that was besides the point.
The greenery was much thicker on this side of the river. Naphtali crept along, alert for any signs of danger or the small silver creature. Every chirping bird or rustle of leaves sent his hair on edge. Suddenly, a silver flash of movement from the underbrush to his left! Naphtali froze, instantly on high alert. After a moment of stillness, Naphtali turned his head towards the bush and found himself face-to-face with a pair of glowing orange eyes! Surprised, Naphtali stumbled backward, landing sprawled in the dirt. He glared up at the eyes but before he could move they had vanished back into the bushes. Naphtali sprang to his feet and whirled around, trying to spot the tiny creature. He quickly spotted its long tail dangling from a tree a few dozen feet away. He barreled towards it, desperate to try and catch up. As soon as he got near the tree, the tail whizzed up and out of his sight, disappearing into the leaves and branches. Naphtali swore and leapt as high as he could, grabbing onto one of the tree’s branches and hauling himself up. He could spot a silver shape lurking around above him, and Naphtali began to climb up the tree as fast as he could, using the branches to boost himself up higher until he was near the top of the tree, almost able to grab the creature. Moments before he could, the small silver thing whirled around and leapt off of the tree and into the air, spreading its wings. Just as Naphtali realized that the creature no longer had his book in its arms, he heard a splintering crack from below him and looked to find that the creature had broken several of the branches below him, which meant that Naphtali would have to find a new way down. He glared are the creature, which had flown back up and hovered just out of Naphtali’s reach, grinning and chittering. Naphtali realized with a surge of fury that this little creature was toying with him!
Naphtali was completely fed up with his situation. This tiny little thing had stolen his book while he was sleeping, led him on a wild chase through the woods and up a tree, tried to strand him on top of said tree, and now had the audacity to float there and mock him. With a shout, Naphtali snapped off one of the thin branches near his head and threw it at the small creature with all his might. The branch smacked the small creature right between the eyes and it dropped a few feet in the air, stunned, before blinking and looking at Naphtali, taken aback by his sudden attack. Naphtali yelled again, throwing another small branch at the creature.
“Give me back the book!” Naphtali screamed as the creature ducked out of the branch’s path. “You have no idea what you’re doing taking that book! Damn you!” Tears began to form in his eyes as he tried to yank another branch off the tree to throw at the little flying menace.
For its part, the creature looked at Naphtali, and an inkling of what might have been guilt flickered across its face. It flew a little closer to Naphtali, and stopped when its gaze was drawn to the swirling, black magic-suppressant seals that decorated Naphtali’s wrists. It looked surprised, then angry, then sad, all in a the span of a few seconds, before turning and flying down to the ground, landing near a bush a few yards away from the tree Naphtali was still in, and disappeared into the greenery.
Naphtali, tears still pricking his eyes, began to make his way down the tree, placing his hands and feet as carefully as he could, feeling utterly defeated. He hopped past the last few branches into the clearing at the base of the tree, and felt a surge of anger as he noticed the end of the creature’s silver tail disappear into the bushes around he clearing. He started after it, but froze when he noticed what was lying in the center of the clearing. It was the spellbook! Naphtali ran over to the spellbook, tears blurring his eyesight as he picked it up and checked for any damage. The spellbook was completely unharmed! Naphtali couldn’t believe his eyes. Before he could stop himself, he thought how the little silver creature must have been very careful with the book as it ran so that the book wouldn’t be damaged. Naphtali picked up the spellbook and turned to leave, but as he did his eyes spotted some scribbles in the dirt next to where the spellbook had lain. Leaning over to get a better look, Naphtali’s heart froze when he realized the scribbles were letters. The scribbles in the dirt read, “Sorry. Be free soon.” right above a detailed copy of the seals on Naphtali’s wrists.
Clutching the spellbook to his chest, Naphtali stood up. There was no sign of the creature, but Naphtali had no doubt that it was nearby, still watching. Drying his eyes, Naphtali took a deep breath. “Thank you.” he said, before beginning to walk away. He paused at the edge of the clearing. “And, uh, sorry for hitting you with a branch.” With that, Naphtali turned and left the clearing, intent on delivering the spellbook and keeping himself alive.
On the other side of the clearing, a pair of fluorescent orange eyes watched Naphtali disappear. “Be safe.”