Beastwalker (Pharim War Book 3)By: Gama Ray Martinez
Jez was naked except for the mud. It completely covered him, though a minor effort of will removed it from his hands and face. The excess drained back into the mud pool at his feet. That working wouldn’t be enough to get him through this, though. He closed his eyes and concentrated.
Water and earth separated from each other. The water congealed around his torso and arms, and the dirt hardened around his legs. He started to sweat as the water churned, and he drew that sweat into his liquid shirt. He tried to take a step, and the dirt around his legs started to flake away. He focused, hardening the dirt while keeping it flexible enough to move in. He took a breath and stepped over his discarded brown robes. He pulled back the flap to the tent that had been set up to give the challenger a measure of privacy and stepped outside.
Besis, the Academy’s protection master, stood there and smiled. He said something, but all of Jez’s concentration was being spent on his makeshift clothes. He looked up, and his heart fell. A hundred yards away, trapped by a binding circle of glowing sapphire runes, stood three chezamuts.
The soldier demons, who made up the vast majority of the hordes of the abyss, were terrible in combat. Facing them would be challenging under ordinary circumstances. He’d done that before, though admittedly with help. Being forced to do it alone while he maintained the earth and water around him would’ve made dealing with one extremely difficult. Three was beyond impossible. Silently he cursed Besis. The protection master had promised him this would be a fair test, not one that depended on knowledge that had been locked away or on power that would burn away Jez’s flesh if he touched it.
As his thoughts raced, the water of his shirt began to drip away, but he caught it before more than a few drops had fallen to the ground. There was nothing left but to try. He started walking toward the circle. After a few seconds, Besis caught up to him. As per tradition, he didn’t say anything as he began walking side by side with Jez. They neared the circle, and the red scales of the demons became clear, and the glow of their brass claws became distinct. Their legs were jointed in reverse and ended in cloven hooves. A pair of curved horns rose from their heads, and their eyes were like points of fire.
Jez stopped in front of the circle and took several deep breaths. He glanced up at Besis. The protection master met his gaze. He didn’t say anything, but he was sweating and wringing his hands. Jez tried not to look too deeply into that. They were in a small clearing on the slopes of Mount Carcer, and the fire mountain gave off constant heat. That had to be why Besis was sweating. He would never summon creatures for a test that he couldn’t handle on his own. Still, Jez hesitated. If he’d been asked a day ago, he would’ve thought it unlikely that Besis could take on three chezamuts on his own, and certainly not easily enough to defend someone in close quarters. Maybe he’d just underestimated the master.
He looked the chezamuts up and down. A low growl escaped the throat of the one on the right. The other two repeated it a second later. The one on the right tried to slash at him with its claws, but the attack impacted the invisible wall made by the binding circle. The other two did the same as soon as it drew back. They moved at exactly the same time, practically a mirror image of each other. He looked closer. The scales on two of them were a little too smooth. Their movements were jerky, and Jez’s eyes wandered to the ground. Only one of the demons left footprints. Understanding dawned on him.
Protection was one of the most demanding dominions, with four schools of magic in addition to more mundane areas of study. Jez had proved his ability with terra and aqua magic by making and maintaining his clothes. Binding would be demonstrated by banishing demons. That only left warding.
It was a struggle to keep the earth and water around him while crafting a third working. The water kept dripping from his hands as they formed patterns in the air, but he let them go. It shouldn’t be a problem as long as it wasn’t too much. The strain of having to split his concentration three ways made it take longer than it would have otherwise, but finally, a ward against illusion came into being. He felt resistance as it intersected with the binding circle. The wall shimmered but remained intact, and two of the chezamuts vanished. Jez smiled, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Besis relax. Jez released the ward and started another working. He took a deep breath and stepped into the circle.