Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Friends and Acqaintances

Cor’Nal shifted uneasily while he lay in this dark chamber which, by the stink of it, likely doubled as a goat stable during daylight hours. His companions slept quietly, save for Raell who snored noisily, curled up in a cramped corner as far away from the others as possible (though not near enough in Cor’Nal’s opinion); as though he were conscious of the strange growling noises, and occasional sucking sounds he made when drawing air during sleep. Cor’Nal didn’t mind the smell (not nearly as much as he did Raell’s oral emanations anyway), because it was, after all, only natural for animals to smell as they did, but his recent accommodations on the road had spoiled him, made him more aware of the uncivilized, wilder world around him than he had been while hiding away in the warm beds of Henutsen and Goodale. Despite being away from the true wilderness, lying here under the cover of his own blanket (a blanket he admittedly did not need due to his own magical vestments) in this dirty cell made him feel a bit more connected to his calling, to his home, than he had expected. These things, coupled with the closeness of this tiny space annoyed him. But the truth of his irritation lay in his inability to relax long enough to meditate for the evening, an elf’s version of sleep.

This problem, the druid had reluctantly admitted to himself, was born of the visions, or perhaps more accurately: hallucinations, of the beautiful elf-woman who had tortured him each time without fail, with the same question. The inanity of which had grated on his mind with the passing of each fevered-dream.

“What are you searching for, druid?” She asked him each time.

“Foolishness.” Cor’Nal spoke the word aloud without realizing it. What are any of us searching for? He thought as he glanced around the small space within the grey, nondescript stone walls of Grodek Keep.

Well, aside from a cursed sword, a 10,000 gold piece bounty and enough riches to retire back to North Hembers on. He looked at Gareth; the subject of his most recent thought, as a candle in the corner flickered, casting a disjointed ballet of shadows to dance across his blanketed length. The candle, no doubt pilfered by Ademar from the mage they had just sought counsel from, was a requirement of the former human’s, since they had no fire to light the evening darkness with. Despite the assurance of the keep’s safety, as well as the fact that Gareth and all three of his companions could see as well in the dark as they could in the day, Gareth’s concerns about a possible evening ambush could not be assuaged. Cor’Nal had always sensed, but was now assured that Gareth had an irrational fear of the dark. He thought it comical, though no doubt admitted that due to his dark-sightedness, he could not ever understand the fear himself. Thinking about it for the first time he tried to imagine how he would feel if that ability were to be suddenly ripped away from him, this gift he had grown to take for granted. Would his attitude toward the night be so cavalier, as it is now? Or would he react in a cowardly manner as the former human seemed to? He would have to ask Raell in the morning, having been subjected to the experience himself, if the thought occurred to him to do so.

Raell; Cor’Nal shook his head when he thought of the half-man. His twisted sense of morality, and strange way of achieving his goals toward that end, were often annoying to him; even more so than his abominable snoring. As humorless as the druid was he found it difficult to resist laughter, thinking about Raell’s frantic proclamations while burning down the dead human woman’s house in Henutsen. A cursed woman in a cursed town, no doubt, but Raell’s foolish superstitions nearly had the entire group tossed into the Baron’s dungeons. “It’s evil, it must be purged.” He had repeated over and over while setting the banshee-woman’s window dressings alight. He had thought the half-elf had gone mad as they fled toward the safety of their tavern rooms as the light of the fully aflame estate cast dancing shadows across the town as Ademar’s stolen candle was doing in this room right now.

An odd lot, true enough, Cor’Nal thought as his too-awake eyes now moved to Ademar. If given the chance to choose his friends, he surely wouldn’t have chosen Gareth or Raell, to be sure. Would he have even chosen Ademar? Not likely, he thought reluctantly and with some shame. A druid and a thief do not usually make the best of friends potentially, and there were times when Ademar’s propensities toward certain vices strained their relationship even now, but Cor’Nal felt that if the circumstance warranted, he would lay his life down for the physically and emotionally scarred rogue. He expected the elf would do the same for him as well, though he would never admit it. Ademar has chosen to keep distance; careful not to get too close to anyone for fear that another may turn against him. But over the last two years, his guard had come down, his emotional walls crumbled for the druid, and while their mutual trust was at first due solely because they had both been elves, their bond had now transcended that early convenient partnership to an unspoken level of companionship.

To Cor’Nal, he had become more than a friend, he had become kin.

He expected that his differences from the other two, as well as their unlikely survivability, would never allow him to have a similar relationship, but Cor’Nal accepted that happily. Most people were likely to wander this life never having known even one such friend as close and trusted as he had in Ademar, and he thanked Kutenai for his blessing.

No, he again thought with some reluctance, Raell and Gareth would remain acquaintances; to be respected, but observed closely, to be certain. Their unpredictability thus far dictated as much on it's own.

Eventually, his thoughts returned to the forest-elf-maid of his miniature dreams, or hallucinations, whichever they were. He supposed he would have to deal with her in depth at some point. Was she a message, or messenger, from Kutenai, from Lantana? If so, why? What is it they expect me to glean from this cryptic imagery? He thought. She was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful elf he had ever seen, further proof of a likely message from the divine. He wondered if her beauty was of some significance, perhaps a temptation of some kind. A test of the flesh? No. It could not be. Cor’Nal had yet to take a woman to his bed, the forest having always been his mistress, and would likely be so until Lantana had sent him a woman worthy enough to procreate with. He had never even been tempted by a woman, and as beautiful as the one in his dreams had been, even she had not yet lit the fire of desire in his loins.

Cor’Nal decided that it was of no use to dwell on it. He assumed that whatever or whomever was sending the hallucinations would send more, and hopefully the answers, or the signs toward these answers, would be included within.

It was that last thought he took with him to his evening meditation. It drifted off and diminished as a morning fog will do at midday. His mind clear, he began to slip into trance, chanting barely audibly, his consciousness giving way to the spirit of the earth as he became one with All, his power having been used, exhausted, throughout the days travails, now slowly returned to him. Cor’Nal would once again become the force he had been before the light fell away from Atalanxia’s sky, giving way to Myrrdin’s Eye and the stars that fortified it. When the others awoke; he would once more be nature’s hammer.

Blighters of this land beware.

The Light from the Stair

Zender stood just outside the temple doors. The guardsmen were long gone with Bishop Drent in their care. Looking over head to see where the sun was in the sky, Zender said a small curse under his breath, he knew he was late. Not that it mattered, everyone needed the rest. As he rushed down the stairs, Zender heard a ringing reminder of his new armor. Zender tried to ignore the continuous sound of his armor clinking and clacking as he marched back through the streets, to the inn where his friends were waiting. He knew the straps needed to be adjusted to make it fit better and while he knew about arms and armor, plate mail was something he had never imagined he would own. Zender did not feel as if he belonged in this steel skin. He just kept telling himself that at some point he had to get used to it or at least he hoped so.

As Zender approached the inn where his companions were waiting, sober he hoped, Zender saw a sight that he would come to fear in later days. Lomark was outside in the street, pacing back and forth in front of the inn. Head down as if he was only watching the tips of his shoes, Lomark took slow and measured steps. Ten steps he would take then turning on the balls of his feet, he would pivot around and start the next ten. While there not many things in the world that stumped the quick witted mage, it was clear there was something wrong. Zender quickened his pace a bit when the mage stopped to stare at the priest in white.

“What took you so long?” Lomark said as Zender drew near.

“There were unexpected problems at the temple, things will be fine.” Not that Zender believed that yet. “What is going on, why are you out here pacing around?” Zender asked while looking around, wondering if his other companions were also out or nearby. When he felt the hand on his chest, his attention was drawn back to Lomark quickly.

“Do not worry about those fools, they are still sleeping. I have a problem and I may need your assistance.” The wizard said softly while looking the cleric in the eye. “There is an old tower not far from here; the city has built a wall around it.”

“Herelden's Tower, it is off limits by order of the King. Everyone knows that. More importantly you know that, it has been that way for years.” As he spoke, the cleric’s voice started to grow louder.

“Keep it down.” Lomark said quickly and sharply. “I passed by there on my way to see my master. I needed supplies before we return to that pit. I saw a vagrant child playing in the yard between the wall and the tower; I looked around and saw where some boards were pulled away. I could not stop myself from going in, I saw the child. The boy thought he was in trouble when I asked him what he was doing. He dashed head long into the tower. I wanted to follow him but it wouldn’t let me.”

“What wouldn’t let you?” Zender asked.

“There is something in that tower. It would not allow me to get close. I fear for that child Zender, you need to do something.”

“I need to do something? Why not call the guard, tell them what happened? How much time have you wasted standing here?”

“Only those of pure intent can enter the tower or so I have been told. It is part of the old legend, if it is true it may take a long time to find a guard who is able to enter the tower.”

“Go!” was all Zender had to say. He was furious with the mage. As they hurried through the streets, he took a sideways glance at the wizard. Lomarks eyes were focused and hard, he actually had a look of concern on his face. Zender wondered if under the cold exterior if the wizard actually had a heart. This was only the second time since he had known the wizard that Lomark had shown concern for anyone other than himself. Thinking more about it as they walked Zender recalled the look on the wizards face when he saw how the children were being kept in the cultist lair. Zender started to wonder if the cynical wizard had a soft spot for children. ‘No’ he thought, that can’t be right. There was something else at work there. As they drew closer to the tower Zender put it out of his mind.

“Come back here priest.” Lomark said as they approached the wooden wall that surrounded Herelden's Tower. It is unknown how long the tower had been in Eystlundtowne. Longer than Zender had been alive, of that he was sure. “Here, he went in here. Bend down you can squeeze through.” Removing his bag and shield from his back, Zender set them on the ground, looking at the opening. Turning aside thoughts of his own troubles, he studied the wood with his father’s eyes. As he looked on any thoughts of good in Lomark started to fade away.

“The breaks in the wood are fresh; you can see where someone pried the boards apart recently.” As he pointed to impressions left behind in the wood Zender said. “They used something round, like your staff. Would you like to tell me what really happened?”

“You are wasting time priest, that boy could be in trouble.” As Lomark spoke his eyes narrowed to mere slits.

“Tell me.” Zender said as he moved closer to the wizard. His hand falling to the war hammer he carried at his side.

“Perhaps I was not completely truthful, yet the fact still remains that the boy went in there and he has not come out.”

“What did you do Lomark?” Zender took another step closer to the mage. “Tell me now or I do nothing.”

“Who is telling lies now? You have to make up your mind, throttle me or search for the boy, which is it priest?”

“Lomark, just tell me.” Zender pleaded in a softer tone.

“Herelden was one of the most powerful mages to ever walk these lands. Where he went, no one knows. Perhaps I tried to get in there and found I was unable. Remembering what my master taught me about the tower, I tried to find another way. Perhaps I even paid a small homeless boy a large sum of gold to go explore the place for me. To bring me any books he might find inside.”

“And he has not come out yet? Afraid he ran off with your gold with nothing to show for it?”

“No priest, I am afraid something happened to him and it is my fault. It is an old tower, anything could have happened in there.”

“This is not over.” Zender told him as he turned away. Shaking his head he lowered himself down to squeeze into the narrow gap in the wooden wall. Once he was inside the ten foot high wall, all he could see was the tower and the door hanging open. Taking a moment to reach up to his chest, Zender said a quick prayer to Solarth, asking for guidance and protection. Before taking a step he turned back towards the opening. “Lomark?” he said.


“I don’t care what you have to do, if I am not out of there in ten minutes, you find a way to get me out. Understood?”

“Yes, quite.” Lomark said softly, drawing out the words as long as he dared. Zender could only shake his head and started towards the waiting tower door.

“Blasted mage is going to get me killed.” Zender said under his breath. Standing in front of the open tower doorway, Zender looked inside. He wasn’t sure what he would find as he crossed the open space between the wall and the tower. Yet what he saw now, was the last thing he expected. While the bottom floor of the tower was dark, the light of day showed him all he needed to see. The walls and floors of the tower were pristine, not even as much as a speck of dust marred the floor. Looking down he could see where dust and dirt had built up over the years but none of it pushed past the archway into the tower itself. Zender was tempted for a small moment to kick a pile of dirt into the room but thought better of it. Moving closer to the door way, he kept waiting for something to happen, to feel something resist him, yet nothing did. As he stepped inside the tower, nothing happened at all. Reaching for his medallion once again, Zender lifted it over his head holding it ahead of him.

“Blessed Solarth, please illuminate my way so your servant may see all your blessings.” As soft white glow spread out from his hand and soon he could see the entire room on the bottom floor of the tower. While Zender understood there were many things about magic he didn’t know. He was dumbfounded at the size of the room. It had to be twice the size of the tower from the outside. Shining the light around the room, Zender couldn’t see any way out of the room short of going up the stairs. As he started towards the stairs he called out. “Boy, are you up there?” Pausing just before the first step to listen, he couldn’t hear a thing other than the wind blowing outside. Until he put his first foot on the bottom stair. Calling out to the boy again, he thought he heard a door latching closed. Keeping his back against the wall, Zender started to climb the stairs two at a time.

“Boy, can you hear me?” Zender called out again, racing up the stairs. It wasn’t until Zender noticed that the light he was seeing wasn’t coming from his hand anymore but ahead of him that he slowed down. “Boy, are you up there?”

“Yes.” A small voice said, the word echoed down the stair well.

“Are you ok boy, can you come down?” Zender asked.

“Yea, I am ok.” The voice said again, echoing down from above.

“Can you come down?” Zender asked as he started to move up the stairs again. Soon the light completely filled the stairwell. Dropping his medallion of Solarth into one of his robe pockets, he reached his hand out and placed it on the wall to steady himself. Looking down the stairs he saw nothing but darkness, ahead of him was nothing but light. For a small moment he imagined being trapped between a world of pure light and another that was just an abyss of darkness and despair. Zender shook his head and started to move upwards again. While the stairwell was well lit now, he still couldn’t see where the light was coming from. “Can you come down boy?” Zender asked again.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well then I will come get you then.” Zender called out to him.

“No, I don’t think so.” Zender paused at this, his foot stopping in mid air, just above a step.

“What do you mean boy?” Zender asked.

“I don’t think you can come get me” The boy said. Zender stopped again, the light ahead of him was growing brighter, yet he still couldn’t see where it was coming from.

“What is your name boy?” Zender asked while resting his back on the wall behind him. He felt as if he had been climbing the stairs for an hour. He wasn’t surprised that Lomark didn’t come to help him.

“Oh, I don’t know. Everyone just calls me boy, never really had a name before.”

“My name is Zender, will you please come down now.”

“No, I don’t think so. It is warm here. I like it warm. It gets really cold on the streets at night.”

“Boy, are you alone up there?” Zender asked him. “Is someone keeping you there?”

“No, no one is keeping me here.” Zender shook his head. The voice was closer, he started to move again.

“I’m coming to you boy. Just keep talking.” As Zender moved he looked straight up, soon he could see the light. It almost looked solid, ethereal strands drifted down the stair well, feeling about as if moved by a living thinking creature. “Boy” Zender called out again.

“Yes Zender” the voice was closer, louder. Gone was the echo from above. Zender froze in his tracks, then moving back two steps. Something about the boy’s voice filled him with dread. Not for himself but for the boy.

“I think we need to leave now boy. Come to me, I know you are close.” Zender could feel the light now, even as he started to back away. He could feel its warmth, inviting him to come closer. Zender knew that he didn’t want to get any closer than he already was.

“No, that is ok. I am gonna stay here.”

“Please boy, come down with me. I will take you to the temple of Solarth; make sure you are warm at night, lots of food there too.” Zender could feel the light inviting him to come closer. He wanted to go forward, yet something inside of him knew it wasn’t time. That if he went there, there was no coming back.

“No, that is ok. It is nice here.”

“Ok boy, I will come back again. To see if you have changed your mind.” Zender was now steadily moving down the stairs. Even if he wanted to, his feet would not stop.

“Ok, bye!” the boy’s voice echoed down from above again. By the time the echo stopped sounding off the walls of the tower, Zender was running down the steps three at a time. When he could no longer remember why he was running, he was standing outside of the tower again, looking into that large empty room once more. Looking back at the stairs, there was no trace of the light from above that he knew was just there. Knowing that he would be spending many hours in prayer about what he had just seen, Zender just shook his head and closed the tower door. As Zender squeezed back out to the other side of the wall, he saw Lomark standing off to the side staring at an object in the palm of his hand.

“What were you waiting for? I thought you were going to help me?” Zender asked him. The irritation in his voice was clear as the sky above.

“You were only gone five minutes” Lomark said to him holding up a small hour glass. “Where is the boy?”

“Are you sure it was only five minutes?” Zender asked as he knew he was in that tower for a lot longer than that.

“Yes, I am quite sure” Lomark said softly. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the cleric. “What did you see in there? Where is the boy?”

“Honestly I do not know.” Zender let out a sigh as he put his bag and shield over his back again. “Let’s go, the others will be wondering where we are.” Zender said as he turned from the wizard and the opening in the wall to Herelden's Tower. Reaching into his robe pocket for his medallion of Solarth he felt a bit of comfort as he pulled it out. He smiled to himself as he once again put the lanyard back over his head, kissing it once before dropping it inside of his robe.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Lomark asked when he caught up with the fast walking priest.

Zender smiled at the wizard and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Perhaps” Zender said, ignoring the look of scorn from the wizard. He could only smile at Lomark now, while he still didn’t understand what it was that he had experienced, he knew there was no evil there. No ill intent behind that childish voice or the bright light. Sparing one last look back at Herelden's Tower, Zender knew that he would keep his word and return to speak to the boy again.