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Progress
by Larry Bullock

What happens when a merchant attempts to tame Temphis and make it his own?

The stranger stepped into a copse of trees just outside of Gryphon Rock. A crowd was assembled, but being help back by the town's guard and hired help. A few minutes after he entered the small forest, the crowd could make out a light getting brighter from where they assumed the stranger would be.

The world seemed to grow quiet, as if a great inhale of noise just happened and the breath were being held. Suddenly there was a bright flash of light and boom of noise. Dust and particles of debris flew around and everyone took cover, either behind outstretched arms or the person in front of them.

As the dust settled, the copse of trees were gone. The stranger was standing in the center of a new clearing. His staff firmly planted in the ground in front of him. A trickle of sweat ran down his face. He looked up to see Sameal the merchant approaching. Sameal gave the stranger a large bag and the stranger walked away. As the stranger exited the new clearing, Sameal was already signaling to the carpenters to start work on the new shop.

Sameal clapped his hands and started rubbing them together. Things were going very smoothly. The wizard did his job even better than the last time. The ground ended up almost level already. He could have hired people to clear it much cheaper. However, he wanted to impress on everyone that the world was changing. Progress was coming and it wasn't going to wait for anyone. If the workers did their job, he'd have yet another market set up in Gryphon Rock in a few short weeks. Besides, since he was soon going to be the only merchant in town, he would get his money back soon enough. He could afford to be generous.

Sameal had a goal when he came to Temphis from Rinden, to make the New Hope Faire look like a cheap festival. He was determined to tame Temphis as quickly as possible. He had already put three local merchants out of business. He would soon run it all, without any complaint. It's not as if he overcharged anyone for anything. In fact, he strove to ensure that people got the best prices possible. Yes, things were definitely going his way.

It was dark when the ct'orn awoke. It was buried in a pile of dust and debris. Its body ached. It pulled itself up and dusted the debris from its ivy covered body. It looked over towards its home. Gone. Nothing left of the seedlings it had raised and cared for all those years. As the big folk came to his area, he chose to ignore them. He planted enough poisonous plants, prickers, and encouraged enough biting bugs to move in to the area, the big folk never were comfortable heading into his part forest.

Something changed when the dark stranger dared to enter. The ct'orn watched from the safety of the trees and followed him. It could never remember a time when a big folk even noticed him. He was much to small for them to pay heed; just a few inches, a hand at best. The ct'orn wanted to find out what this stranger was doing.

The stranger seemed to know exactly where the center of the forest was. It paused beside the small pool of water which the ct'orn had enchanted to always have clean, fresh water. It knelt down and dared to take a drink of the nectar the ct'orn had crafted for the trees. As the stranger rose, it gripped its staff firmly with both hands. It started to glow as the ct'orn watched.

Primal instinct took over as the ct'orn dove towards the stranger. A large thorn appeared in the ct'orn's right hand. The ct'orn started to let out a cry as the world seemed to suck in towards the staff. As the explosion went off, the ct'orn jabbed the thorn into the stranger, then its world went dark.

As the ct'orn looked over the desolation, it gave no thought to the stranger. It knew the stranger's fate. The ct'orn noticed a signboard at the edge of what had been his home for hundreds of years. It approached and looked up at the sign. It read, "Coming Soon! A New Sameal's Market!"

By the next afternoon, Sameal decided to take advantage of a slow day in his second shop to check on the progress of the work. He left his son in charge and started down the street. He noticed that people seemed to be avoiding him. When they spotted him, they gathered together in tight knit groups and glanced his way, whispering. He felt strange, but paid it no mind. "Just jealous of my success," he thought.

As he approached the construction site, he grew concerned. He could hear no sounds of hammers pounding or saws cutting. He would have expected the workers to be framing the shop or doing some sort of work. Instead, the foreman approached him.

"Sir. Everyone is talking about how the land was cleared. It wasn't natural," the foreman started.

"Nonsense," Sameal cut him off with a wave. "It was no different than last year."

"Didn't you hear the news, sir? The mage you hired was found dead in his room at the inn. There was no sign of a forced entry. The bag of gold you gave him was still there. People are saying that this endeavor is cursed."

Sameal blanched at the news. "Simply a coincidence."

"Sir, look at the sign."

He went over to the sign. He thought the idea was quite clever; advertise to the people that they soon wouldn't have to walk as far to visit his shop. Smeared on the sign, with what appeared to be blood, were the words "Nature reclaims her own." Sameal took a step back and looked at the foreman.

"Replace the sign and get back to work," he stammered.

"But sir," the foreman started.

"I said get back to work!"

The ct'orn watched from where it was hiding. It was dismayed that the big folk started back to work, dragging their dead wood around and constructing something. The big folk were not going to leave just yet. It caught the scent of the spores on the wind. The ct'orn knew it was time to weave a little magic of its own.

Sameal awoke to the sound of pounding on his door. It was still dark, but the sky was beginning to lighten. He rushed downstairs to find the foreman at the door. "The men won't work, sir, and neither will I."

"What is going on?"

"I won't speak of it sir. If you want to know, go and see for yourself. I won't go near the place." With that, the foreman walked away.

Sameal quickly got dressed, locked up his home, and headed towards the site. It was eerily quiet as he approached, even though he could see people on the outskirts just watching. Their eyes were huge.

As he approached, Sameal saw a figure standing before the site of his new shop. It held a staff across its body. As it started to get lighter, he saw that it was the mage.

"What's going on here," he demanded.

The mage gestured, pointing at Sameal and then pointing away.

The mage gestured again as Sameal hesitated.

A strange voice came from the mage. "Nature reclaims her own."

The sun was now fully visible on the horizon. Sameal saw that there were trees sprouting up from behind the mage. Growing much faster than he had ever seen a plant grow before.

With the better light, Sameal saw that the mage's skin was pale. However, there were vines growing from his body reaching up from beneath his clothing.

"Nature reclaims her own," the voice came again. Suddenly a vine sprang from the growth and wrapped around Sameal's ankle. It started dragging him towards the forest. "Nature reclaims her own!"

Sameal let out a scream. "Please! Someone help me! Please!"

Suddenly the dragging stopped just before the mage. The mage bent forward looking down at Sameal. "Leave now, and never come back," the strange voice croaked. The smell of death drifted towards Sameal. The mage's dead eyes showed no emotion.

"Anything. Just let me go," Sameal pleaded.

The vine whipped back, pulling Sameal with it. Suddenly, he was flung away towards the town. He landed with a thud and the breath left his body. His eyes saw only stars and he fought to regain his breath.

"LEAVE NOW AND NEVER COME BACK!"

Sameal and the bystanders ran away as fast as they could go.

The ct'orn watched the people flee. It stood up on the mage's shoulder tall and proud (at all of four inches, it felt as big as a troll hand). It forced the mage's body to walk into the forest where it could feed the growing plants as it decayed. The ct'orn would need rest, perhaps for years, but felt that the people would never bother it again.

Sameal closed his shops and returned to Rinden. The New Hope Faire was good enough for him. Temphis could not be tamed.

Copyright 2014 by Larry Bullock. Appears here by permission.

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