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Magic is a Dangerous Business


by almedha

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The thing about magic is that, when things go wrong, there are disastrous consequences. Kind of like battling.

     So maybe I liked his audacity. Couldn't get into the Order of the Red Erisim no matter how many times he tried to be noticed, and he still tried anyway. I wouldn't have let him in—only the greatest wizards and witches get in. He's most definitely not. But it seems like every month he's cooking up a scheme to do something great.

     Of course, it's not as though I have no less audacity. But I'm expected to have a good measure of it, being on the Brute Squad. Maybe a different kind of audacity. A member of the Brute Squad just can't avoid getting strange looks for hanging out with a magician, no matter how bad that magician is.

     Because Lowkhi is a bad magician. I mean, really bad. But somehow he thinks he's good enough.

     I guess another reason we're friends is because we couldn't be more different from each other. Him and his fancy violet Darigan fur, all prim and trimmed. Me and my low-born green of an Ixi mange all tangled and curled. He probably combs his suave black hair and I haven't bothered to touch my red dreadlocks in what seems like years. I guess I hang out with him because he couldn't fight a Babaa and win, and he stays with me because he knows he's smarter than I am.

     Everyone needs someone to make them feel important, like they're worth something.

     But Lowkhi's guts... I've never met a magician with such fortitude. He might have made a good Brute if he wasn't so much like a twig. Also, interested in magic. That's always a downer if you want to join the Brute Squad. I know we get second glances if someone sees us in the street talking, but I don't care one bit.

     I'm a Brute, after all. We're notorious for our bad manners and Fyora forbid that we should care what anyone out there thinks of us. And you'd better believe I don't. Make no mistake: I remember every battle, count every kill, and regret nothing.

     Well. Almost nothing...

     **********

     "Wake up, you son of a scarab."

     Lowkhi turned over on his mat at the sound of Thoer's voice. "You know, you have all the delicacy and finesse of an Elephante," he muttered, rising.

     Thoer grinned, but then remembered he was supposed to be angry at his so-called traveling companion. If he wanted to travel, why didn't he do more, you know, traveling? "You asked to come with me. You leave when I do or get left behind. Now let's go." He shouldered his pack of battle-gear (which included a small shield, some pieces of his armor, and a ridiculously heavy battle hammer) and trudged off. When he realized Lowkhi wasn't following him, he spun back around. "You move like a slorg."

     "The obelisk isn't exactly going anywhere," Lowkhi pointed out. "It will still be there when we get there."

     "And let my brothers in the Brute Squad fight the battle without me? Ha!" Thoer turned back toward Tyrannia and started walking. "Follow or be left."

     Lowkhi scrambled to pick up his few spell books and potions before hurrying after Thoer, catching his heavy green cape in a few Meridellian brambles before falling into step next to Thoer. "You know, in another life, you and I would be fighting one another in this war," he commented.

     Thoer snorted involuntarily. The idea of Lowkhi fighting anything was nothing short of humorous. "And what," he hurried to ask before Lowkhi could scold him for laughing, "do you intend to do since your magical kinsmen would not let you join the battle on their side?"

     Lowkhi shrugged. "Help you, I suppose."

     "Hold up a moment. What was their reasoning for not letting you join the Order in the first place?" Thoer asked, to which Lowkhi gave no answer. "Oh, I remember. 'Too much ambition; too little practice.' You don't join a society with nothing to show for your skills. I've been battling for years."

     "It doesn't matter anyway," Lowkhi announced. "I have no love for the Order, and they aren't so fond of me, either. It works nicely."

     Thoer cringed at the thought of Lowkhi trying to help him in the battle, but couldn't think of a way to bow out gracefully without irreparably wounding the Darigan Ixi's pride and confidence. "You surely don't want to see the Brutes possess such great power, do you?" Thoer asked.

     Lowkhi laughed. "Come, Thoer; for all we know, the obelisk is an ancient bakery. It could be nothing at all."

     "I doubt we're fighting over cake," Thoer muttered. A moment later, he realized he had been serious. "Come on, Low."

     "Perhaps if that zombie-eaten red Bori sees me... she'll know what a mistake she made in rejecting my application to join the Order."

     "I won't have you fighting at my side for revenge's sake," Thoer announced.

     Lowkhi laughed. "Then what is a worthy motive in your eyes? Come, tell me. This should be good."

     "Don't mock me," Thoer grumbled.

     "You would keep no one else from the battle if that was what they wanted. What kind of Brute are you?"

     "You're different," Thoer answered simply, and wished that Lowkhi would just leave it at that. But, of course, he wouldn't.

     ""How?" Lowkhi demanded. "I am tired of being told how useless I am! I'm not, but no one will ever give me the chance to prove otherwise. As long as I'm forced to remain on the sidelines, then, yes, I will be utterly useless."

     "You are useful," Thoer objected. "In your own way. One day, perhaps, you will be better at magic, but today is not that day. To go into battle expecting to use a weapon you're not skilled with is foolish." Lowkhi said nothing for a while, so Thoer went on, "Put the fighting out of your head. You may just meet a member of the Order when we arrive who will be willing to teach you."

     Lowkhi's eyes briefly lit at the thought. "You're right! But then..." he added with a slight grin, "you so rarely are."

     "Maybe," Thoer agreed. "In any case, I forbid you from using your magic to help me. Seems a recipe for disaster."

     "But I've been working on transposition."

     "By all the Faeries, Low, your magic will be the death of me. Now. Promise."

     Lowkhi sighed. "I promise."

     **********

     The sight at the obelisk was one of fantastic devastation, and Thoer was only too eager to get in on it when he arrived. No sooner had he spoken with Commander Flint than he was rushing headlong into the fray, Lowkhi watching from a distance. He felt rather like a man without a country, standing here watching the factions battle as though it were something to be spectated. It was hard to tell who was winning. In fact, Lowkhi expected it would take weeks to tally the score when it was all over.

     Except for the Brutes, of course. Thoer, like many other Brutes who had dedicated their lives to the study of war-making and tactics, had never learned to read well or write. The thing he could do, however, was count well by ones, especially when it came to his counting his scores in battle or how many tankards of rum he'd downed after a battle. Although, sometimes that last number was questionable.

     Lowkhi walked along the top ridge surrounding the battlefield and the obelisk. The battlers smashed into each other in dark waves so that it was difficult to distinguish one person from the next, one battlefront from another. Lowkhi had been able to keep an eye on Thoer only because there was no larger green Ixi within his vision, and none with such a... haphazard fighting style. Lowkhi also picked out the Order's fighters in their capes. He couldn't see their leader, Rasala the Bright, but he wished he could. At least he could think that Thoer would be able to exact revenge for him. Even if Thoer didn't know that was what he was doing.

     As if Lowkhi wasn't a prestigious wizard. He could join the Order. He knew he was good enough: if only someone would give him a chance.

     But if even Thoer wouldn't do that... maybe he didn't have a chance. Lowkhi slowly started toward the field, though he wasn't sure why. He was sure he was right when Thoer said any attempt to help would end in disaster. He had been practicing! Thoer was just exaggerating. But what if he wasn't? What if Lowkhi was useless? He seemed to be here... maybe everywhere.

     He was almost to the Seekers' front lines, but he wasn't worried. What were they going to do? Insult him with big words no one knew the meaning of? Hit him with a book? In the end, it didn't matter anyway. He was getting close to the Brute Squad and Red Erisim battle lines.

     He could see Thoer, out in front, though all of the Brutes were trying to be in front. The members of the Order put some of the chaos of battle aside, organizing in rank and file with the skilled-close magic combatants near the front with the magicians wielding longer-range staffs and spells behind them. They were holding their own, but a wave of Brutes is a hard thing to hold back.

     A cluster of hedgewitches dashed out from behind their lines and assaulted the oncoming Brutes with a barrage of light expelled from their wants. The Brutes feinted back from the attack before surging forward with their own. Swords, maces, flails, hammers, all of their favorite weapons: the hedgewitches were no match.

     The Brutes seemed to be holding their own until a line of wizards and conjurers stepped forward. Lowkhi knew the ranks of the order better than most and knew that there were few above the wizards and conjurers. Lowkhi was going to duck behind a boulder to watch when he saw Thoer shove aside many of his brothers-in-arms to face one of the conjurers. How stupid—he thought he could take one on himself?

     Thoer raised his weapon while the Gelert conjurer raised his own. Lowkhi knew that wand, knew the damage it could do. So Thoer didn't need his help? Lowkhi stepped out from behind his boulder and looked around for a moment before pulling out his spell book. Transpositioning was a common magic in Neopia, the art of transporting two things each into the places the other had occupied. It was normally just used for magic tricks to entertain children by pulling Cybunnies out of hats. Some said that Hubrid Nox was a master transpositioner because of some of the strangest places he would turn up in...

     But Lowkhi had been practicing. Focusing his eyes first on a hedgewitch and then on Thoer, he raised his hoof.

     Thoer must have felt something going on because he whirled around, looking for something until his eyes fixed on him. "Low!" he barked. "No!"

     But it was too late.

     Thoer had already disappeared and the hedgewitch appeared in his place. Almost as soon as the Bruce's webbed feet touched the ground, she collapsed into a near little pile topped with a pointy hat. Lowkhi turned his eyes to where Thoer was...

     Should have been.

     Lowkhi's heart skipped a beat as he spun around and around, looking for his missing green Ixi. This had never happened before. Of course, he had never transpositioned anything bigger than a pair of trading cards before. But still... this should have been easy.

     Maybe it was the battle, he thought. He hadn't been concentrating. But even if that were true, then where had Thoer gotten off to? He had an idea, if he thought about what he'd been thinking of before he did it... He whirled about and bolted off the battlefield, not waiting to see what the crowd was so horrified about when the hedgewitch started to pick herself up from her pile on the ground.

     **********

     Ugh, Low... Thoer thought, dragging himself up off the cave floor. Cave? Thoer looked around, squinting and blinking at his surroundings, but his eyes were blurry from whatever stupid magic trick Lowkhi had decided to pull. And after Thoer explicitly told him not to! That stupid Floud of an Ixi. Honestly, Thoer thought his head was filled only with hot air sometimes...

     He started to brush himself off when he realized that some of his armor was gone, broken off in pieces around him. One of his pauldrons was still on, but it was pressing hard against the fur of his shoulder until he pulled it off. He looked down at the fur on his chest and realized... it didn't look like his. He lifted his arms and looked at them. What in the world had Lowkhi done now!

     He looked down at his breastplate, still shiny silver like many Altador-make armor was. Thoer had gotten his armor for a special occasion after joining the Brute Squad, he remembered, tilting the plate toward himself.

     Thoer scrambled back into a stalagmite, as though he could escape from the grotesque form that was now his own body. He was still an Ixi, he saw. He still had the horns and the hooves to prove it. He was even still green. But he had been mutated somehow. He was... ugly now. Terrifying. He supposed that was an asset to have in a battle, but he also couldn't fit in his armor anymore. He carefully looked back into his reflection and bared his teeth. Two fangs stuck out without him even having to snarl... but was he ever a sight when he did.

     Lowkhi, when I find you, you are as good as—

     But he didn't get a chance to finish. He realized that, if he was quiet and listened, he could hear the battle still going on, which meant that he was still somewhere close to the obelisk. Even more silence proved that someone was calling his name out there.

     "Thoer? Where are you? You have to be up here!"

     Thoer opened his mouth to shout back, but it seemed to not work. He was in the middle of feeling his throat, as though that would tell him what the problem was, when Lowkhi dashed by the cave opening and then backtracked one slow step at a time.

     "Thoer?"

     Lowkhi, Thoer wanted to growl, but he simply couldn't. You and your stupid magic! What did I tell you?

     Lowkhi jolted back as soon as he saw Thoer, too, and was about to run, but Thoer caught a corner of his heavy green cape and stared at him. Low, he tried to say, but it didn't happen. What did you do?

     "What happened to you?" Lowkhi asked.

     Thoer snarled at him and shrugged his shoulders. I don't know. You tell me.

     "I didn't do this," Lowkhi insisted. "I didn't; I promise!"

     Thoer shoved him away. How useless. Of course, he had done this! Who else had the opportunity between the moment he decided to use some spell—which Thoer plainly told him not to do!—and now? And now he couldn't even speak. He supposed it wouldn't matter. Most mutated freaks like this could usually only growl and grunt, it seemed.

     "This shouldn't have happened..." Lowkhi muttered then.

     Thoer spun around and threw his arms wide. I kind of figured! Thoer mouthed the words as though he could still be heard. Did you not hear me? I clearly said you shouldn't be using magic anywhere near me and certainly not to "help" me. What did you think you were doing?

     "Why are you looking at me like that?" Lowkhi asked. "I didn't do this! It had to be someone in the Order or something."

     Oh, come on! They both knew that wasn't true. Lowkhi looked like he was about to walk out of the cave, but Thoer snatched him back. Stop it. Change me back, he said without sound. Lowkhi just stared at him. Low. Help me.

     "I'm sorry," Lowkhi said quietly. "I didn't—you were right. You were right." He clawed his own cloven hooves down his face and looked at the ground. "I thought I could—I thought—"

     Thoer spun around and headed toward the entrance, looking down from the precipice the cave was on to the battle raging on down below. He knew when he was beaten. Just another thing in the growing list of differences between him a Lowkhi.

     "I know!" Lowkhi announced. "I'm sure someone in the Order could undo this. I could go get..."

     Thoer whirled around and shook his head, eyes wide. No one could know. No one! Maybe here, maybe now, but in the past Mutants had only ever been feared and chased off. You can't tell anyone, Thoer tried to say. You have to do it.

     Lowkhi sighed and nodded, muttering, "Bruno." The Neovian Gelert who had been mutated by a potion along with other denizens of Neovia and was eventually able to cure it with the help of some other Neopians. But not before he had been chased through the Haunted Woods by his former neighbors with torches and pitchforks.

     "I don't know what to do!" Lowkhi lamented. "I don't even know why this happened."

     You should have listened to me in the first place. Thoer sat down on the cave floor and watched the battle go on. So much for that, he thought. So much for any of this. If Lowkhi was his only way out... He turned to look back over his shoulder where Lowkhi paced.

     "I can fix this," he muttered as he went back and forth. "I can figure it out. How hard can it be?"

     Thoer rolled his eyes and looked back ahead. Did Lowkhi ever learn anything?

     **********

     Yeah, Lowkhi has guts. Maybe more than anyone on the Brute Squad. But that doesn't make up for stupidity by a long shot. I don't know if he'll ever be able to fix this... I think if my only hope of getting back to normal is Lowkhi's skill in magic, then I guess I'll be like this forever. I guess I do have a little hope, but not much.

     I can't go home, not like this. I don't know how my family and friends will react. Will they be scared of me? Will they try to chase me off? I can't go back to Commander Flint—he might think I'm some weird minion of the Awakened or something. Who knows what I am? I only know that I'm the truest definition ever there was of a Brute. I just can't be in the Squad anymore.

     I admit it. I'm scared of how they'll react if they see me.

     Low, why did you have to go thinking you could do things that you couldn't? And all to show off to someone who doesn't even matter? I told you magic was dangerous... Wouldn't catch me within an Eyrie's wingspan of the Order, that's for sure.

     I guess I had a good run in the Brute Squad. More than most people could ask for, maybe. More than I might have, for sure. Maybe because I never thought I deserved it. But maybe that's the difference.

     Maybe magic isn't such dangerous business after all. Maybe the dangerous business is pride.

The End

 
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