Hex 5 – The Golden Forest

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Hex pulled down the hood of his cloak and walked towards the inn’s front desk. “Wha can ah do for ya?” The innkeeper asked. He was a giant of a man with a head smaller than Hex’s.

Hex looked up and placed a golden coin on the table.

The innkeeper snatched took the coin and said: “No questions. Aye.” He then turned around and grabbed a brass key with the number 45 embossed on it. “When ya hear a bell ring, tha means ahm already servin lunch.” The innkeeper pocketed the coin and watched Hex walking away.

***

The room was small—composed only of a round window across the door, a bed suitable for one, and a wooden chest at the foot of it. It was perfect for Hex.

Hex untied his cloak and dropped it on the floor. He removed his shirt and fell on the bed face first. His back was a map with the purple and yellow bruises acting as land masses. Some were as large as a man’s fist. He turned around so he was lying on his back. The front of his body was not much different than his back—except maybe there were more bruises. His hair had grown longer and a light beard covered his chin. Things were happening insanely fast and the past three months with Merlon were gruesome. The man was a hard master.

Hex took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His hands formed a steeple over his chest. His mind running through the stuff he had learned and experienced under the tutelage of the old man, Merlon.

The old man brought him a week’s worth of marching from the city. The first three days of the march was composed of Hex asking and asking. Hex had tried asking questions as to who Merlon really is and what he meant when he said he will be training Hex, but the old man never uttered a single word in response. He finally gave up and they marched on in silence.

Hex didn’t know why he continued on following the old man. There were days when he felt frustrated by the old man ignoring his questions but he never found it in himself to walk away. He continued on following. They went through passages hidden behind waterfalls.

The march ended in a forest overrun by golden, brown colored trees with branches that grew horizontally straight. Merlon stopped and placed a palm on a tree trunk.

“This tree,” he said looking up at the tree’s many branches, “is called as the golden sentinel and we are standing at the edge of the Golden Forest. The forest is as vast as three Val-Kara combined. It is also as dangerous. It is in this place where I will train you.”

Hex said nothing. He sat down on a root and looked sharply at Merlon.

Merlon smiled. “You have questions, a lot of them, I understand that. This is what we will do. I’ll answer a question a day.”

“Who are you?” Hex asked.

“My name is Merlon,” the old man replied.

“That’s not what I meant.”

Merlon put up a hand and laughed. “You asked a question and I answered. Be specific next time.”

The sun was slowly setting and the forest was filled with the songs of hundreds of birds hidden above them. Could the old man be part of Hex’s muddled past? He tried remembering but dark clouds within his mind kept him back. All the while, Merlon was looking at Hex with a hard gaze.

“You really remember nothing?”

Hex shook his head.

“It’ll come,” Merlon replied. “In the meantime, let’s do what we came here to do: control your magic.”

“What do you know of magic?” Hex asked.

Merlon opened his hand with his palm facing upwards. “Quite a bit actually.” The old man smiled his half toothless smile as a small flame appeared in the center of his hand.

Hex took a step back surprised.

“Our training will start with you trying to do the same. You must conjure a flame this small; nothing more, nothing less.”

***

Hex opened his eyes. He quickly sat up and picked up his shirt and cloak. Loud noises were coming from beneath him. He could hear rushed footsteps getting closer. Hex put on his shirt and tied his cloak around his neck.

Muffled voices were coming from the other side of the door of his room. Hex ran to the window and jumped. Glass shattered and he felt a couple of shards cut his skin. Hex landed on the ground and ran. Behind him, his room erupted exploded.

“Damn you, Merlon,” Hex uttered as he ran. He turned around the corner and vanished into the darkness.

***

Beads of sweat rolled down Hex’s face and neck. He was seated on the ground, crosslegged, with his hands before him. His face was tight with concentration. He could feel the heat coursing through his body. He focused on it and tried directing it towards his palm, toward the spell tattooed on his skin.

“Gah!” Hex shouted in frustration. He opened his eyes and saw Merlon seated on a rock in front of him. The old man shook his head in disappointment.

“This is the third day and you’re still struggling,” Merlon said. “Concentrate harder! If we’re lucky, you might be able to at least conjure some smoke.”

Hex closed his eyes again. The third day… He still had not yet asked his question for the day. Hex thought hard on what to ask. The day prior he asked Merlon how he knows magic. The old man gave a shrewd reply: “A great sorcerer taught me how to wield it.”

Hex had to know who this sorcerer is. Maybe that’ll lead him a step closer in learning who Merlon is. Hex’s thoughts were disrupted as pain erupted from his left shoulder. Hex opened his eyes and saw Merlon holding a piece of rock.

“I’ll throw another one if you don’t take this seriously. I know when you’re concentrating or not.”

Hex closed his eyes.

***

Hex couldn’t remember how many turns he took and how many miles he had covered. He didn’t care. The only thing in his mind was to keep running. A shadow passed over him. That made Hex stop. He was in the city’s market. There was no one but him…and his pursuer. Hex knew he was caught. There’s nothing else to do but fight. He opened up his palm and felt his skin go hot.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a hooded man stepping out of the shadows. The man had daggers in both of his hands.

“I admire your courage in choosing to fight. Sadly, this is one battle you’ll never win.”

Hex raised his fist and red flame appeared, covering it. “We’ll see now, won’t we?”

The man charged. Hex stood his ground. The man raised his hands and did a combination of swipes. Hex did his best to avoid but he wasn’t quick enough. He felt the blade kissing his left cheek, cutting it open. Hex leapt a few spaces backwards. His assailant stood straight. Hex could see a smile in the man’s face.

“Time to die, sorcerer,” the man said before he charged again.