Samira led the way swiftly through the forest.
Tag stumbled behind her, doing her best to keep up, but she had lost sight of the witch by the time they were halfway there. She reached the mint patch and stopped to catch her breath. Samira was crouching near Kirchai, hands outstretched over him like she was warming them at a fire.
Tag opened her mouth twice to ask a question, but closed it both times. After a minute or two Samira scooped up Kirchai and stood, turning to Tag. The skunk was limp in her arms.
“Is he all right?” Tag asked.
“Yes. He's tired from magical expenditure, but he'll be fine.”
“And that—“ Tag glanced back at where Kirch had been standing. The leaves were still again, looking perfectly normal.
Samira started walking. “There are places—not just in this forest, but everywhere—where magic resides. Sometimes a witch put it there, sometimes it just accumulated as the tail-ends of spell after spell were caught in something. The point is, once a well of magic takes hold, any magic that comes near it is sucked into it and becomes part of it.”
Tag batted branches aside. Samira had slowed down, but they were still moving at a good pace. “But then, why don't they just get bigger and bigger and bigger, until all the magic in the forest gets sucked in?”
“Ah.” Samira sounded like she was smiling, although Tag couldn't see her face. “Because once they get big enough, people start to notice. Either they become unstable and break apart, which can be—somewhat unpleasant for anyone in the vicinity—or else they attract the attention of a magician. And when that happens, the magician is very fortunate indeed. Wells are amazing things. They take in magic, which is what this one was doing to poor Kirch, but once you know about one you can harvest its magic for yourself, and put it to good use.”
“You mean, Kirch's magic was getting sucked right out of him? What would have happened if we hadn't come?”
“It was my magic, really, that he was holding for me. It would all have been drained away by mid-afternoon, most likely—most of it is gone now. Kirchai wouldn't be hurt, but he'd be more exhausted than he is now. We witches aren't always doing animals a favor, when we take them for our familiars.” She laid her cheek against Kirchai's striped head. Tag was briefly envious.
When they reached the oak, Samira settled Kirchai into his favorite corner. “Now,” she said, straightening. “Do you have that mint you went to pick?”
Tag blushed. “I forgot it the first time. When I found Kirch there.”
“No matter. We're going back there now, and fresh mint works just as well.” As she spoke, Samira pulled baskets and bundles off the shelves, sorting through them. “That magic needs to be harvested.”
Tag took some of the bundles, following her outside eagerly. As the door rolled closed behind them, she had one last question. “Is there a lot of magic in it to harvest?”
Samira glanced at her and smiled. “I've only come across wells a few times before, in all my life. They're not that common. But from what I've seen, this one...” she ducked around a drooping branch. “Is rather larger than any I've seen before.”
To be continued...