Ties That Bind: Part Three
Art by merlynia
“This is going to be amazing, don’t you think? Binds involve some seriously powerful magic, you know. Connecting souls together must be a really tricky business, what with all the dangers it comes with, but it can be pretty handy every once in a while. For example, you’ll always know where I am, like there’s a compass in your head pointing right to-”
“Do you ever shut up?”
Layla was silenced for a brief moment and, disgruntled, folded her arms across her chest. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Now, as I was saying-”
Harwood tuned out the endless chitchat, ignoring the nuisance as much as he could. He had to keep in mind that this was only for a few days. No matter how short this turned out to be, the Eyrie just wanted it all to be over with.
He and the Gnorbu were being escorted to a specific chamber in the manor, which was no doubt some kind of special protocol for these kinds of things. The Eyrie was strictly against magic in most forms. He knew what devastation it could bring, and how it could cause pain that surpassed physical wounds. Hearing the young girl’s enthusiasm on whatever type of complex spell that was to come did nothing to calm his growing nerves.
After roaming around and listening to Layla run her mouth, the Blumaroo butler finally showed them to their destination. A large door stood in the center of a grand hall, ancient markings and colored glass etched into its surface. The servant pulled it aside, revealing a huge, dome-like room. If he wasn’t told otherwise, Harwood might have thought it to be some old ballroom, or perhaps a spacious observatory. Most of the lofty, circular ceiling was lined with massive windows, allowing the midday sun to spill through. The air was tinged with a strange sort of stale zing, and it didn’t take the Eyrie long to identify it.
Not one piece of furniture or decoration could be found in the room. Instead, carved into the marble floor was an intricate symbol. It covered most of the room, and was somewhat shaped like a loop, its many branches and swirls racing around the room haphazardly. In the center was a definite circle, and all of the patterns led to it, making the ring seem like a target of some kind. The design was an amazing piece of work, its tendrils and gems weaving through the marble like jeweled serpents.
No matter how beautiful it seemed, it only made Harwood restless. “What is this place?”
“The chamber of magic,” an unfamiliar voice replied, “a hall used only for the most intricate of spells.”
The Eyrie turned to see a tall Gelert dressed in dark robes, stars flecking his deep indigo fur. Six other pets in similar garments also entered the room behind him, a certain spark lighting up each of their eyes.
“Bastian!” Layla ran towards the Gelert, embracing him happily. “You’re back!”
The man chuckled and pulled himself from her grip. “It’s nice to see you, Layla. But we can talk about my outing later. Are you ready for the enchantment?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Bastian turned to Harwood. “I’m the Earl’s head mage, and I’ll be overseeing the Bind. I take it you’re prepared?”
The Eyrie could only nod, words escaping him as his palms grew clammy.
“Excellent. If you would step into the center of the pattern on the floor, we can begin.”
A nagging sense of dread had entered Harwood’s mind as soon as the Earl had put magic into the equation, and being faced with it now strengthened his ill feelings. Surely this wasn’t necessary. Maybe there was another way to do it. But Lord Norbury’s mind was made up, and there was little chance of him changing it.
Pushing those thoughts aside, the Eyrie reluctantly made his way to the center of the room. It would be over in an instant, he convinced himself. Layla stood close by, observing the mages’ actions with care and excitement.
“Did you know that a Bind requires exactly seven casters?” she chattered. “Fyora above, this is gonna be something...”
Each mage chose a different position around the center of the room, all at equal distances, standing just so. Blood pounded in Harwood’s ears, his nerves wound tight as springs. One thought singled itself out in his mind as he waited for what was to come.
What if something goes wrong?
The mages began to chant in some foreign language, a singsong gibberish that echoed in the large room, growing louder as seconds passed. The vine-like patterns on the floor let off a bright cerulean light, the veins glowing with white-hot energy. Harwood took a cautious step back as the mages’ hymn ceased.
“Open your minds! Clear your thoughts!” Bastion instructed over the whirring of harnessed magic.
The cyan energy crawled upwards, forming a dome-like barrier above the center of the floor. The opaque, electric blue walls pulsed with power, surrounding Harwood and Layla in the blink of an eye. Every hue in the known spectrum flashed with vivid brilliance before the Eyrie’s wide eyes. While Layla stood fascinated by the display, Harwood’s heart hammered within him, panic flooding his mind.
What am I getting myself into?
A sparking, star-like orb shot from the barrier and snaked its way through the air like an eel, leaving fading beams of light in its wake. Several more burst from the structure, twisting and zigzagging about the room. A melody entered Harwood’s mind, a haunting, familiar tune that played relentlessly, threatening to drive him mad. He drew his wings close to his body, his limbs rigid with fear. There was no way out.
This wasn’t what I’d bargained for!
“Stop the spell!” he wanted so badly to yell, but the words caught in his throat. The magic had taken on a numbing, drugging effect that slowed his reactions. The rhythmic flashing of lights, the barrier’s pulsing hum, and the hypnotic swelling of music blurred together in his mind until he was rendered helpless. The only thing he could recall feeling was a sensation he couldn’t place, as if part of his conciseness was being fused with another. The enchantment was tying the two together, working to make them inseparable and complete.
When all seemed to fall in place, the music slowly began to still, the barrier gradually fading away. The markings on the floor reverted to their normal color, energy no longer flowing through their crevices. The starry spheres danced about the room, tasting their last moments of freedom before disappearing entirely.
With time, Harwood stepped out of his reverie, cringing as a sharp ache throbbed in his skull. The Eyrie stretched his wings, feeling a dull pain in his chest after the mages had finished their work. Despite the discomfort, he was merely thankful for no longer being confined. He highly doubted he would let himself be forced into such a situation ever again. “Ruddy magic...”
“Are you all right?” Layla asked, seeing his pale complexion. She rubbed at her temples, clearly feeling the same soreness.
The Eyrie gave her an indifferent glance. “Fine.”
The Gnorbu paid him no further mind as Bastion stepped forward, a grin on his angular face. “The Bind was executed perfectly. Come to the back room so I can explain what happens now.”
Bastion quickly showed them to a room near the chamber of magic, a placid, Shenkuu-themed room with rose tinted blinds. An exotic smell greeted them, not overpowering, but subtle and sweet. The three sat down at a small table as a maid brought each of them a specially brewed drink to help them regain their strength. Its taste was peculiar, but the effects were impossible to ignore, soothing the ache in Harwood’s head and chest.
“I suppose Layla is well-informed when it comes to Binds, but you have yet to know, Mr. Harwood. They are very intricate spells used to connect two souls, normally for protective reasons. In the past, two or more people have been subject to this method to ensure that they were never separated.”
Harwood wasn’t particularly keen on learning the spell’s reputation. “And?”
“It connects the people involved on a mental level, but also a physical. If one strays too far from the other, say, a few miles, depending on the spell, the Bind’s ties would be strained. This would cause discomfort for anyone affected, and your instincts will automatically direct you back to the person you’re Bound with. It’s effective for situations like these, but it also comes with some risks. If the two of you are separated over long distances for a prolonged period of time, it could very well mean death to you both. A Bind has limits.”
“And the Earl did this because he thought I’d walk out midway?”
“That would be the case, Mr. Harwood. But the Earl is only cautious.” The Gelert seemed mildly offended, but abruptly caught himself. “Lord Norbury may be a bit to blame, however. He’s been a bit off since the accident. Poor man suffered of heart failure not too long ago.”
The Eyrie’s brow furrowed. “So King Hagan is fine with having an unstable man with this much power?”
Bastion began to answer, but Layla cut him off. “King Hagan doesn’t know just yet. My uncle is fine, most of the time. The servants have been keeping a close eye on him, though. If anything goes wrong, we’re prepared to send a message. He... probably won’t be Earl for much longer.”
Layla cleared her throat loudly and looked to Bastion. “Is there anything else about the Bind we might need to know?”
“Like when it wears off?” Harwood added.
“The Bind breaks when the mission has been completed. It’s the only way to be rid of it.” The Gelert nodded, reviewing the facts in his head. “There isn’t much more to explain. Just be careful, and things should go smoothly. May Fyora be with you on your journey.”
Bastion got up from his seat and left the room without another word, leaving the two alone.
Layla sighed, glancing at her new acquaintance. “Well, looks like we’ll be stuck together for a while.”
“Wonderful,” the Eyrie huffed.
The Gnorbu fumed, her brow furrowing in irritation. “You could at least act a bit more pleasant about it. I can’t say I like this any more than you do, but if you’d just cooperate, it’d be easier on both of us.”
“I didn’t come here to make things easy.” Harwood glared down at her, his gaze boring into her skull. “I’d rather be stuck with a sack of dung.”
“Then we can agree on something,” Layla snapped. “Let’s do this. If I can tolerate your attitude, I won’t bother you. How’s that sound?”
“Would you like to die young?”
“You can’t kill me.”
“Oh, I can.”
Layla scowled. “Anything to shut me up, is that it?”
“You’re catching on.”
The Gnorbu shot up from her seat, her face flushed with anger. “Fine. Be a complete idiot for all I care. I hope my uncle does strip you of your ranks. It’s the least he could do.” Layla briskly stormed out of the room, making sure to slam the door just loud enough.
Harwood sighed, rubbing his temples and looking up to the ceiling. The aching had made a reappearance during the brief row, putting him in an even more foul mood. “What did I do to deserve this?”
Unfortunately, he now knew that there wasn’t a mission out there that was worse than being stuck with a bratty young woman.
To be continued...