Feedback is greatly appreciated. This is not written far in advance, so hearing what people find interesting may affect where the story goes, or at least what part I focus on. I'd in particular like to know if you preferrred I concentrated on Mara's side of the story, or got something in from Fern and the rest, too.
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Mara's hands worked on their own, fixing the water flask to her belt so it would not bounce uncomfortably, while she watched the odd pair until they slipped out of sight past the crest of the hill. Fern had the stature and long legs typical of the humans up North. Her hair was salted with so much grey it was lighter than her skin. Luen was short and scrawny even for a goblin, and had to scramble to keep up with her, but he was as used to doing that as everybody else was to seeing it.
It was strange to think that the adolescent goblin was a veteran already, but he had earned a set of griffin claws as a trophy-share in his second hunt, the previous one for the whole party apart from Mara.
But if the plan works, I might top that on my first hunt. Inevitably, that thought drew Mara's mind towards imagining how things could go wrong, from someone or something else waking the dragon to her failing in myriad ways. Well, three or four ways. The most productive thing she could do was concentrate on her surroundings. Another look to get her bearings; her aim might be in the next valley over, which joined with the one she was barely in around a rocky outcrop. Lucky if it wasn't any farther.
She backed away a few paces from the smaller cliff they had used as lookout point before turning to walk along the valley, watching for a way down to its bottom. Grey stone plunging down to her left was replaced first in patches, then in total by the copper-straw of old pine needles, as the hillside grew less steep. No paths here. She took the chance when she did not have to expect causing an avalanche of rotting plant material that would take her right along to the bottom more quickly than was advisable.
Walking sideways and occasionally using roots as handholds worked well enough. Only once a grating scream made Mara flinch and slide a pace or two downhill. Belatedly she identified the call of a watcher-bird, telling everyone in hearing distance that it disapproved of her presence.
Apart from that bird and chirping insects, the airy wood was very quiet. The day was turning towards noon, and the air was still and heavy. The spots of sunlight filtering through the treetops made the ground or bark glow where they fell, bright enough to sting Mara's eyes. Or maybe that was mostly the sweat; walking downhill was hard work on soft ground, when you had to carefully watch your balance.
She went even more slowly when she approached the ward, to avoid stumbling into it—it did not have the good grace of meeting the ground where the latter was flat.
The outer shell was composed of circles of radial lines of roughly equal size. One whose centre was at ground level was tall enough that its upper rim would be just out of the reach of Mara's hands if she stretched. In the one next to it she could see the feed line that connected it with the weaver of the ward. The whole structure reminded her of some flower seed heads she had seen, when they were ready for the wind to take the seeds away. The ward lines went right through the ground and the trees, so not any touch would set them off. Presumably small animals would not register, either, but too much disturbance would ripple through and cause alarm. That was how all wards worked, surely.
A closer look at the area where two of the circles met showed Mara that the ward was not well-made: while there was not much more than a handspan of space between the lines of one circle at its edge, they only overlapped and crossed a little with those of its neighbour, rather than being firmly connected to them. Having found her opening made a smile tug on her lips. It turned into a smirk as the memory of the woman had taught her how to weave wards flashed through her mind. That principled lady certainly would be opposed to using the knowledge she had shared to circumvent any kind of protection, no matter their creator.
Paying careful attention for the reactions she got, Mara reached out with her own magic. There were no safeguards against the ligatures she set, thought the pressures of those had to be carefully balanced. They let her shorten and thicken enough strands to open a gap big enough for her, without the shock of it carrying inwards.
Mara ducked through the hole she had made in the fence, and just as carefully let the lines return to their original shape. Still no sign of anything untoward happening. She shook the tension out of her shoulders. Looking back where she came from, the slope she had climbed down seemed tall as a temple tower.
Looking forward... for the first time since Luen alerted the camp of having smelled magic she felt optimistic. The feeding lines linking the source of the ward with its perimeter were not all straight. She could see several flowing together. Otherwise very soon it would have been tricky, if not impossible, to move in here without touching them.
Besides, setting her own pace, without having to worry about the words and looks some of the others had for her pace, was a refreshing experience. She allowed herself a short break before going on.This entry was also posted at http://anke.dreamwidth.org/110950.html. You can comment wherever you prefer.