Stories

Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Lost Roads | Comments Off on Stories

A lot of the lore and wisdom in the Lost Roads of Lociam is passed on as stories.

Below, therefore, are some stories for you to enjoy, and hopefully the will tell you a little more about the world.



 

The man of Arah-en

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna that part of the land there overlaps an older, far vaster domain, known only as “The Old Land” or “Arah-en. This kingdom once stretched all the way from the Shining Strands to the Blackdrop gorge, and from the GreatWald to the River Izx. This kingdom fell apart long ago, long before Hara came out of the west to settle this land and make it into the realm of his dynasty.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-henna of a single standing stone that bears witness to the old road that ran through Arah-en, connecting the three major cities with the northern coast and the eastern river. The road is long gone, and if the stone was once a milemarker it has since grown into a standing stone taller than a man. Some say that runes can sometimes be seen skittering across its surface on cloudless nights under the new moon.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna a wanderer can take off from the path when he reaches the standing stone, and head down into the canyons to the east. There, a lone river winds between cypress and Hol-tree, pooling and slowing until it turns into the marshes of Garrak. Before the big lakes immediately before the marshes, though, there stands a big lone tree. This tree is an Iron-barked oak, older than the storms, and marked by countless centuries of passing wanderers. Some words are carved in the bark and then grown over as the tree mends itself and reaches taller into the sky. Nowadays the bark is so hard it cannot be cut, and the tree will not burn.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna a wanderer that reaches this old tree may find a deep hole in the ground not fifteen paces out of its shade. The hole is regular, not cut or dug by man or beast, but just a sinkhole in the earth itself, swallowing small pebbles to widen in the spring and filling in with the slides of the autumn. It is terribly deep, and too small to climb into. If one listens carefully it is said you can hear the echoes of a deep cavern underneath, but if you throw a rock into the hole it will simply vanish, and you will never hear it hit the bottom.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna that a wanderer who sits by the hole may encounter an old man, wandering round the hole, chanting on an ancient hymn and tugging on his great beard. This old man is, as far as memory stretches, as much a part of the land as the hole, the tree, the river or the the stone leading to him. He is simply called “The old man of Arah-en” and he sometimes appears to walk around the hole, around and around, chanting his ancient hymn and tugging on his great beard. Where he comes from noone seems to know, or where he goes off to, but he appears from time to time, to walk around and around his hole in the ground.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna they speak of a powerhungry magician named Kerra-sha traveling to probe the mind of this old man, and dig the secrets of the ancient hymn for his own use. When, late one night, the magician came upon the old man walking around and around his hole he threw a powerful spell of scrying upon him, wanting to learn all the old man knew, and all of Hara-shenna stopped.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna they speak of a night when the veil of the night pealed back, and a beacon, bright and true, shone out across all the lands. The mind of the old man of Arah-en showed the true and the simple of the world, and washed away all the gray and maybe from the world. In a strange kind of fashion there was a wrong and a right for everything, for a moment.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna kings and powerful men traveled to the hole by the tree by the river to seek out the old man of Arah-en. They wanted his mind’s beacon to light the way for their court, their company, their army or their followers. With the truth and simple right and wrong noone would be able to sway them, but they all traveled in vain. While they fought over who had the right to hire, kidnap or use the old man, he kept walking around and around his hole. He would never fight over any of their causes.

It is told in the hills of the kingdom Hara-shenna people live in a strange sort of peace, knowing that the old man of Arah-en walks around and around his hole near a tree by a river, and that the riddle of wrong and right can be revealed by the light of his mind.


By the first beach

There was a time, long before the stars shone down on the land and long before there were waves upon the ocean, when there was nothing at all.

There was nothing between the land and the sea and the sky apart from a distant hum. The tempest of Chaos on Order was nothing but a whisper in the air, and the ground moved in a slow hum of power.

There was a single living being on all of the world. He lived all alone by the very first beach, by a long-gone black sea, where no waves stirred, and where the water cast no reflection, because there were no stars, no moons, and no sun to reflect.

This lone being had noone to talk to. He had no voice with which to speak and no ears with which to hear, as he was alone and there was noone to talk to, and noone to hear. He had nothing to do, and so sat by the ocean, watching the still surface.

Countless years passed, and slowly the lone being made plans. Each time he sat by the beach he would think of something new, imagine something new, and place it in his plan. He trained himself in working with his hands, to slowly prepare himself for the task ahead.

Slowly he started working, and more years passed. Slowly, over the course of too many years to count, he completed the plan he had laid out. The thing he had built was a family.

Once they were ready, he spoke to them.

“I wish and hope that you will find everything that you see, to be more than what you see.

I wish and hope that you will find everything that you seek, so that the world will be more than what you see.

I hope and pray you will find it.

I hope you will find me in you.”

And once this was done he build a home, a big and elaborate house, with many doors and windows, as stars were starting to shine down from the sky, and waves slowly started lapping at the shore. Across the horizon, at times, a faint red glow could be seen as the sun was starting to rise before it sank back down, a bit brighter every day.

The house had ups and down, stairs, attics, basements and rooms. Doors upon doors and windows facing windows. Now the waves were rolling and crashing, the wind was blowing, and the stars were shining. The sun slowly rose over the horizon, and the rain fell in the middle of the day. The world was being born around this house.

The being, not alone anymore, with his family walking through the house and across the beach, decided the plan was completed, the work was done, and it was time to play. It was time to have fun, as countless years alone in the darkness by the still sea had finally come to an end.

Finally, the being, who was no longer alone, found a game to play. It was a fun game, and he told his family of how to play it, but they didn’t play with him. He played alone, just to have fun.

Once the being started playing, the first part of the game was all about hiding, and the being went into his elaborate home, through a thousand doors and up a thousand corridors.

When he had hidden in a room, he moved to another, and down a hall, and up a corridor, and through a window, up a roof and into an attic. Finally, he completely forgot where he had hidden himself.

And so, hidden away in this house on the beach, this lone being had to spend the rest of his game in doing a single thing, over and over.

The rest of the game, throughout the elaborate house, this being, the first being, did nothing but trying to find himself. All he left to the family he had created, which was now spreading across the world, were his words.

“I hope you find me in you.”

There was a time, long before the stars shone down on the land and long before there were waves upon the ocean, when there was nothing at all.

There was nothing between the land and the sea and the sky apart from a distant hum.



 

The Death-speech of Paladin Kyyrios

As noted by arch-scribe Al-Rassh of Ynnios, Wisdom’s Halls

It so happened that the scribe Al-Rassh of Ynnios stood present at the pre-dawn of the 9th day of the 4th month in the year 1431, when the Paladin Kyyrios of the Order Anew Circle delivered what was to be his death-speech. It has since become a part of the myth of this character.

The Paladin had fought a Chaos incursion in the westmost part of the mountain range known as Lorra’s Deep, a treacherous area of jagged rocks and steep cliffs. He has entered this area with a virtual army; nine other paladins, fifteen other knights of high standing and a total of 140 warriors in tow, along with support, guides, sages and magicians. The entire party had been of over 200 people, but now, nine days afterwards, there was only the Paladin left. He had fought his way to the center of the Chaos incursion and found the diluted human mage who had conjured these beings into existence. He had laid this man to the ground, as well as the principal demon controlling the mind of this hapless servant of chaos. He had then started his fighting retreat, unescorted, wounded and alone.

For five days he had trekked up the mountainsides and over steep cliffs until he came to the place known as Lorra’s Fall. There his flight ended as the night was still heavy around him, and to the east there was nothing but the sheer drop many hundreds of meters to the rocks below. The Paladin ran up the slope with the demons on his track, and found the campsite of Al-Rassh and his companions, mostly hunters and poets, who had set out for this location to gather herbs and write songs about the mountains. They had not had much luck either, but nothing of the hardships they had endured could have prepared them for the squalid tide of demonic flesh now rumbling up the paths on the heels of the bleeding paladin. He stumbled into the camp right at the edge of the Falls, and seeing that the night was still about them, and that he would not be able to hold the demons off with his back to nothingness, and with darkness all about him he wept. The scribe noted down his final words, and they are now engraved on a massive piece of rock taken from the site and placed above the eastern gate of Wisdom’s Halls. Below is a faithful copy of the last words of the Paladin before he waded down the slope into the host of demons, never to be seen again. The demons never reached the camp of the scribe or his party, but were driven off and dissipated, but at the terrible cost of one of Lociam’s great heroes.

“I feel so extraordinary. It is as if something’s got a hold on me. Standing still, yet I sense I am in motion, overwhelmed with a sudden sense of liberty.

My Faith stays true, and yet I feel so freed, so tired, so worn. So long have I fought, so many friends have I lost, and now I stand here, with my back to nothing, and with darkness about me, knowing I will lose this fight because there is no daylight. So sure of myself have I been, in my ability and my Faith, and now I find that a simple matter of time elude me, and will lay me in an unmarked grave.

I used to think that the day would never come that my life would depend on the morning sun.

When I was younger, those of my age spoke to me. Now that I have grown into my own they’re afraid of what they see.

That’s the price that we all pay, as our valued destiny comes to nothing. How I would long for their companionship now, where I am alone in the fight. And fought I have, fought for such a long time it is like a journey, mapped in scars. I can’t tell you where we’re going, where the journey ends. I guess there was just no way of knowing.

But it appears to end here, for me. While I have performed well, the journey mapped by scars and guided by pain ends here, simply because of the darkness about us. How I wish I had done things differently, and not been here in darkness, or been able to ask respite of the enemy. But alas, such is not their way. It is just such a sweet irony that I fail here because of something as simple as the lack of the early dawn of summer. And here I was, thinking that the day would never come that my life would depend on the morning sun.”

With this last cryptic utterance he leaped to his feet and charged into the oncoming horde.



 

The incarnate and Kuras

Peace is a treacherous thing. Even if you think that you are at peace, that the war is over and the enemy vanquished, that does not have to be be absolute truth.

So did the city of Mare-deep learn in the fall of 1209. Long faded were the memories of wars with the neighbors, and now the only strife they experienced was the jockeying for position between merchants and Houses, of politics of the court and the changing policies of their rules. Far removed was the thought of real war, and the cityguard which dutifully patrolled the streets and walls stood ready against threat of menacing highwaymen and bandits, the occasional burglar or drunken brawl. Nothing more had been needed for generations in their city.

To the north of the city, in the ridges of the Shimmering Red mountains, between the Haunted peaks of Gar, a darkness was slowly dwindling. Banished there long ago in the wars of humans and trolls, a lost tribe of mountaintrolls dwelled. They had done so for many years, and left alone they had nurtured the hatred for their foes, and plotted secret revenge for many generations, merely waiting for a sign from their kings to once again march to war. The signal never came, as the kings of trolls were long ago laid to waste, and the war was long over. Yet the tribe waited, protecting their little domain they considered to be quite vast, and for every generation seeing how their numbers dwindled, weapons growing dull and memories fading. Finally, in the fall of 1209, there were just a handful left, and while they still as fiercely protected their domain, they were considered nothing more than a smelly nuisance by the neighboring villages, easily repelled when one or two of the trolls strayed into their region, and rarely did their manage to rob any of the merchants traveling the forest around the mountains.

Sitting around their sacred stones the last of the tribe decided to send an emissary to the court of whatever king might be in rule and see if they could be reinforced for the battle they thought was close at hand. Of course, there was no king, and no battle, but so long had passed and so much darkness was in their minds that they never could consider this. So a messenger was chosen, outfitted and sent on his way. He wandered straight south, following the old markers that his father had taught him, and that his father before him had taught him. Noone had traveled that way for many generations, but the trolls assumed all was the same in the world, so the messenger was greatly surprised when he came upon the city of Mare-deep on the third week of his travel.

Not sure what to make of this strange human-filled obstacle the troll attacked, and was repelled by the city guard reinforced by some adventurers that happened to be in the city at the time. Badly injured by fire and magic the messenger withdrew, and headed back to his tribe. After reporting what he had seen the tribe came to realize that the world they had left behind was no longer there, and if humans could build a city on what had once been a troll trail, then much more must be lost than they could ever have imagined. Eight warriors were selected to go raze the city, despite the objections of the messenger, and they headed down from the mountain. In the foothills they were greeted by an armed company of the king’s men, who had been sent out to investigate the odd troll that had attacked the city walls with such ferocity. The trolls, who had learned of war but never actually been in one, were greatly outmatched, and the battle which followed was a bloody affair. Two trolls escaped, and while one perished the other managed to reach the tribe, pursued by the company which was still relatively intact.

Times were dire. The tribe sat around its sacred stones, and now the stones outnumbered the tribe, which had once been a mighty thousand, and now less than a handful. The wailing and gnashing of teeth from their council echoed between the peaks, until they reached agreement on what had to be done. The tribe unbarred their ancestral cave and ventured deep into the shrine of their long-sleeping goddess, the Dark and Terrible Mourg-Aagkh. There they armed themselves with ritual weapons and proceeded to slaughter one another, splattering blood on the walls of her cave, until only one troll remained alive, a crumpled heap on the cave floor, covered in the blood of his family and uttering curses in tongues long-forgotten by men and dwarves. This did indeed wake the old goddess, as they had hoped, and a terrible bargain was struck.

So, in the 8th year of the rule of King Akura the Sage-like, the Haunted peaks of Gar shook, and a great rumbling was heard throughout the land, as the ground heaved in pain. From the mountain’s innards came rolling black fog and thundering crashes, as the dark goddess became an incarnate, possessing the lone troll and imbuing him with all of her terrible power. An evil breath came down from the mountains and choked the forests and the fields, and the armed company had to hide in caves or choke to death. Then the incarnate emerged from its cave and started down towards the city of Mare-deep.

It was a terrible sight to behold, powerful beyond belief, this incarnate. It looked like a troll after a fashion, but with three sets of horns on its head, two curved and one straight, and with dagger-tusks in its mouth along row after row of awl-like teeth. It was grotesquely muscular, covered in magical blood-tattoos and moving divine glyphs, and carried an array of ritual weapons bathing in flame, ice and lightning. The first to encounter it was a scout from the company, who barely escaped with his life, as he only just managed to outride the creature. The company prepared on the slopes of the foothills, and soon the incarnate was upon them.

Nearly eighty men lost their lives within a matter of minutes, as arrows bounced off the advancing monstrosity, and a cavalry-charge was swept aside with four cleaving blows, leaving men and horses in a tangled bloody dying mess on the field. Then the beast came upon the rest of the company, and only a handful escaped with their lives, abandoning their stalwart companions to a most gruesome death at the hand of the dark goddess working through the troll. They fled back to the city and tried to report what they had witnessed, and were scarcely believed. However, as reports of villages being struck with fire, wind, ice and thunder came in, the ruler of the city, the merchant-son Uhlmek, was wise enough to prepare. He reported to the king and requested that a great-company be sent to his aid, while he evacuated the people from the city and prepared it for a siege.

The siege happened just as the leaves started turning golden and red on the trees, when the incarnate came upon the city. Invoking terrible curses the walls shook and houses rattled, fires broke out and men fell dead where they stood, as if struck by arrows or lightning. The guards fought valiantly, but as the incarnate smashed the gate and strode into the city they understood all was lost. Seemingly offended by the sight of shrines and churches the creature proceeded to walk street by street, almost ignoring the soldiers attacking it, and raze every church it could find, including the Savior’s church and the shrine of the saints by the square, smashing them one by one. Then it turned towards the castle and a last stand was made at its drawbridge. Many hundred men fought the lone incarnate, but it was immediately clear who would win the day, and soon they were pulps of flesh crushed underfoot, flung against the walls or into the mote. Undisturbed the incarnate then proceeded into the caste, pulling it down with its bare hands, wrecking pillars and walls until it crumbled around it with the sound of crying and thunder.

Emerging from the wreckage the incarnate sniffed the wind, and then set off at a great pace after the evacuated population, heading south. Its intent was clear; not only would the city be razed, the churches crushed and the castle pulled down, but the entire population would have to be slaughtered as well. Setting off faster than most men could ride the incarnate pursued the evacuees.

Just south of the city, by a roadshrine, lived the young priest Kuras, the living saint of the Man-father, who had saved the fleet-people of Yo-ung in the storms of 1199. He was blessed with the sight of his god, and the strength of many men, and now lived a humble life blessing passing travelers and praying, maintaining the balance the Man-father had created, and advising those that would listen. The evacuees passed by his shrine and told him of the terrible thing that had happened, and he blessed them all and sent them on their way, before taking a piece of chalk and drawing a line across the road.

A few days later the incarnate came down the road and attempted to cross the line of chalk. There it was halted, for the first time since it emerged from its cave, and bellowed in rage. Kuras stepped forward with his great mace in his hand. The incarnate’s eyes flamed with black fire as it cursed him, striking at him with all the powers of dark, frost, fire and lightning but the living saint survived, although scarred and bruised. Much of his armor melted or rusted to pieces, as he attacked the terrible creature.

The battle was long and many times it looked as if one side would be victorious only to be foiled at the last moment. Kuras would strike at the incarnate, crippling and mangling its flesh, only to have it heal before his very eyes and snap at him with its tusks, or sweep at him with a ritual weapon of great savagery and intricacy. The incarnate would curse and strike at Kuras with spells and weapons, shatter his bones and hacking him limb from limb, only to have him pulled together by the might of his god, and continue fighting. Finally, by the end of the fourth day’s battle, Kuras managed to smash the incarnate’s big cleaving ritual blade and drive it into the chest of his opponent. The incarnate topped backwards, spewing blood, bile and dust everywhere, and Kuras quickly jumped onto his foe, smashing its head until the incarnate was finally dead. The body withered and crumbled into dust in a matter of minutes as Kuras collapsed by the roadside.

Only several hours later some evacuees who had seen the lightning and fire over the treetops managed to reach the site, seeing trees felled around the shrine, rocks smashed and the ground covered in blood and metal shrapnel. They treated the wounds of the living saint and prayed for his recovery.

The city of Mare-deep was rebuilt and stood ready in 1247, and the roadshrine of the living saint Kuras was made into a church, the chalk line into a silver filament placed into the new stone road and the Man-father’s church of the city into a towering place for worship and training of holy warriors.

Little did the people of the city of Mare-deep know that this act of destruction and horror prepared them so well for the coming Black Crusades, and without that church and its place of training for paladins and priests, the town would have been ground to dust but a few decades later.



 

The power of Faith

Last night had been a good night. The brutal fighting between the two armies had generated a lot of casualties, and they were now strewn about the battlefield, ready for the likes of Yorran to claim. He was, he readily admitted, the lowest of thieves. He did not steal from the living. Neither did he take the time and spare the effort of digging through the graves of the wealthy to pry riches from their cold dead fingers. No, Yorran was a low thief. He stole from the recently dead, the fallen on the battlefield, among others, before they could be carted off and buried. The early morning hours were his best, since the field was then littered with bodies from the previous night’s fighting, which had been brought to a halt when darkness became too dense to see your own banners in. Now it was yet too early for the dead to be carried off the field, and far too early for the fighting to begin again. He pried a ring off a finger of a fallen soldier, and looked at the sword. With the trained eye a smith would envy he noticed the hairline cracks in the metal blade, and knew it was not worth carrying off. He could pick up as much jewelry and money as he could carry, but only ever one suit of armor, and two weapons. Anything more was excessive, and overly cumbersome, even for him. He pushed the sword away and continued, about his business.

A few minutes later he found himself straying too close to the camp of one of the armies, something which was related to a great measure of danger, as officers and soldiers alike never approved of his kind. The fighting had never reached this far up field, but there were still bodies up here, as a group of soldiers had withdrawn up the side of the hill, and several had died from their wounds here. This unit had seen heavy fighting, and all the armors were in a mess, and weapons and shields alike where broken. Yorran also noticed that some of the men had not died swiftly when they fell, and that none had noticed this, so that they had died out here in the cold of the night, surrounded by nothing by their dead comrades. Yorran pitied the men who did not die in combat. He had some morals, after all.

In a gorge next to the camp he saw three bodies tangled in the undergrowth, and decided to examine them. After a few minutes of climbing and silently cursing at thorny bushes he started his search of the bodies. A few moments later he was interrupted as two officers and four soldiers rushed by the bushes, without noticing him, and continued down into the gorge. Yorran sat very still and hoped noone would see him, or hear his heart beat, much like the drum in a deathmarch.

He followed the rushing men with his gaze, sitting very still, and saw them descend into the gorge, and then disappear. For a few moments he just sat there, unable to see where they went, staring down the gorge. They could not have vanished. There was no cover in the gorge at all. None. A groups of six men could not have hidden that quickly. Especially not from him, since they didn’t know he was there. He cursed silently to himself as he crawled, on his belly, from the bushes, and slid down the side of the gorge, to investigate. To not know would mean that he could expose himself without knowing it, and get murdered up here. Such things happened to thieves of his order.

At the bottom of the gorge the tracks of the soldiers ended by a boulder, and Yorran thought that they could have climbed over it. But no, it had been too quiet. He would have heard it. And too quick. No person could climb that quickly. He felt a tingling deep in his soul, and focusing on the tingling he found that it seemed to be caused by the boulder. He reached out to touch it, to somehow feel more, and his hand passed through its outer layer, and was invisible. The boulder wasn’t real! It was just a clever illusion. Pressing further he felt no resistance, and walked through. The boulder wasn’t thicker than paper, and on the other side was a passageway, and further, into a hollow the path lead. Whatever they had in here must be valuable, especially if they sent so many men down to guard an invisible door. None were here now, though, but, Yorran thought, they could be back at any time, and he hurried down the passageway.

Further down he stopped and pressed himself to the wall. He heard voices up ahead, and didn’t dare to use the small measure of magic he had himself, as it might be felt by those up ahead. Instead he crept, slowly, silently as mist, his back to the wall, down the final meters to the far end of the passageway. There was a room-like cavity between the boulders, with a ceiling made by another rock, and lit by five torches. In here crowded a group of people. The soldiers and officers that rushed by just now, two more officers, some sort of dignitary, all crowded around another person. This person was laid out on a slab of rock, immobile, dressed in armor. A small heap of a person was propped up against a wall in the far end as well. Probably dead. Yorran tried to see more, but couldn’t. The others were in the way. Then, one of them spoke.
“Curses! Why isn’t the priest here?” It was the dignitary who spoke. One of the officers answered.
“My Lord, he was killed in last night’s fighting.”
“So where is the sorcerer then?!” the dignitary snapped, his armor rustling.
“He is drained since the death of his comrade, and he has been asked to shoulder all of the magical defense all on his own. He is hardly able to speak, let alone do anything here.” The dignitary grumbled. He then shifted to the side, and Yorran got a good look at the man on the slab. It was the King! Yorran was stunned. He knew the king by sight, having seen him many times in parades in town. The royal looked deadly pale. Even worse, actually. He wasn’t breathing. Pale and not breathing. Oh dear Savior, thought Yorran. The king has fallen! All is lost!

Yorran gripped at his sword-pendant. It was a small icon of the Savior’s sword, and it hung, now worn with touch and age, around his neck. It was at this time that the heap of a man in the corner moved, slowly straightened and got to his feet. It was a small monk, Yorran could plainly see. He was dressed in the simple robes of his calling, with the image of the Saviors sword embroidered on his chest. It was just a small icon, now worn grey, but still recognizable. The man moved, half-sleeping, over to the slab.
“He has been in here since sunset, my Lord. He has been in prayer all the while. It looks as if the prayer is over.” The dignitary eyed the small monk, and moved reluctantly to the side, allowing the man to lay his hands on the body of the King.

What happened next was difficult to put into words. For anyone who was not a believer in the Savior’s church one could say that there was a sound, like a chime, and a light, and that it was then over. For Yorran, and anyone else who was a believer, it was something far more. The air seemed to open, sending gentle light onto the hands of the small monk and the body of the dead king. The slight rustling of the heavenly gates were heard, and the muffled sounds of steps as the soul of the king walked down the path of the dead, which normally is traveled only one-way. Then the light shifted, shone on the faces of the monk and the king, and the eyes of the monk closed, as the eyes of the king opened. His wounds knitted together, the flesh taking on its healthier former state, the royal beard moving as breath was drawn. The king sat up as the monk fell to the floor. An officer rushed to the monk’s side. After a quick check he looked up at the dignitary.
“My Lord, my Liege. He is dead.”
“What has happened here?” The King spoke, his voice clear and unwavering, regal.
“My Liege” the dignitary spoke “You were killed in last night’s battle, and now it seems this humble monk has given his life to save yours. To bring you back, sire.” The King looked at the still form on the floor.
“A noble sacrifice, something which will be repaid his order in time. But now I must return to the lines. Death has showed me that there is nothing that will stand in our ways, and I need to show our men that the Savior is on our side in this battle. He has seen it fit to return me to this war, and I do not intend to prove that my Savior was wrong about me. Let us make haste.” He swung his armored legs off the slab, and with the vitality of a far younger and abler man he rushed from the chamber, trailing his general, officers and soldiers. None noticed Yorran.

He was alone in the room with the dead form. Yorran slowly made his way to the fallen monk. He didn’t bother searching him, as a monk would be poor if he had walked this far through the war-stricken lands, giving out alms to all needing. He felt he was shaking, like he was beside himself, in shock, and could not readily understand why. Within him all the words of sermons and lessons welled up, filling him, and brushing aside the petty thoughts of trinkets pried from the dead. This was a greater task. Yorran, who normally brushed aside thoughts greater than the next meal or rumor of war felt himself weeping, caught up in the moment, the gravity of the event unfolding before him. He kneeled next to the older man, placed his hands on the cooling body, raised his face to the heavens, and began his prayer.
“Honored Savior, who gave light and hope to the world. Save all of us who dwell in loss of our dreams, and help us realize the greater good for ourselves and for our children…” here the nursery-prayer started on about to end war and suffering, but Yorran opened his heart instead. In a small, trembling voice, he spoke to his Savior, and felt that somehow, somewhere, he was heard.
“Savior. Hear me. This man gave his life for his king. Now let me give my life for him. Let him continue the good work he has done. I am not about to dwell in light or dreams, and will waste my life here. Let me instead give my wasted chance to this man, who can do so much better. Please. Please. Please…” his voice faded as he slowly leaned over he dead body in prayer. Over and over asking, asking to be taken instead. To offer his own dreams in exchange for those of the small monk.

Three hours later the illusionary rock wavered and released from its grip a small monk, breathing freely now, his heart once again beating, and around his neck the simple and worn sword-pendant of his Savior, and of his savior.



 

The Test

The knock on the door was almost completely silent, and it had to be repeated twice before the notary on the other side noticed it, and came over. He listened for a third series of timid knocking on the door, and assured himself it was not just a trick of his mind, and then pulled the heavy brass-door open. Outside, in the gloom om the pre-dawn stood two forms. One was a man, hunched over and looking into the ground, holding his hat in one hand and a boy by the hand in the other. The boy was about five or six years old, and stared at him, wide-eyed, under a fringe of unkept, brown hair. The notary recognized the style of clothes and features as the Kooger-tribe that lived out in the southern woods, over the river, some days from the city where the academy was. He looked at the man for a few more moments, but failing to get a reaction cleared his throat and spoke.
“May I… help you… sir?” The man made an effort to look up, failed, and instead started digging through his pockets, produced a piece of paper in poor condition and handed it over to the notary. The bright eyes of the boy were still fixed on him in amazement. He carefully unfolded the paper, and read it. He then beckoned the man and his boy inside, went to his desk, and re-read the note. He muttered “Harraman” under his breath as he got up, smiled to the man, and started walking towards the stairs.
“Please stay here. I will inform my master. Please, have a … seat.” He regretted it at once. Once these two sat anywhere it would be his afternoon to clean it afterwards. These tribesmen were notoriously dirty and infested with all kinds of bugs. He went forth up the stairs, knocked on the door to the study and entered at the voice of his master, Aldous Claghsman. The elderly man, wearing his robes and gloves, were working with something his apprentice and notary did not fully recognized, and quickly covered it with a cloth and turned.
“Yes what is it?” he snapped. He seemed mildly irritated to be disturbed. He was always busy with something, so there was never any way not to disturb him. His apprentices all learned this early on.
“We have another letter and another hopeful from Harraman, sire. They are downstairs now.”

The old man wanted to moan, but before his apprentice he only let a sigh be heard. Harraman was a constant nuisance. He traveled up and down the land, and spotted more or less talented children, and sent them, and their fathers, to him, to be tested. Why him? Well, because Harraman had been in his class at the academy when they had been youngsters, and because his was the only academy in this part of the land. And, sad to say, Harraman was good. He had found children in far-off corners of the region that would, one day, become arch-mages, high priests, and sorcerers of great renown. These were talents that would have been wasted had they not been found. And still Aldous hated these hopefuls. Mostly because it distracted him from his own work, but also, he had to admit, because many of the hopefuls showed far more promise than his own apprentices, and a few even greater promise than he himself had done when he was their age.
“Bring them to the main hall. I will test the boy-child.” The apprentice hurried off and he finished the small matters he was working on before slowly making his way downstairs. There the boy and his father waited, anxiously. The older man reeked of fear, Aldous felt. The child was curious, and not intimidated.
“Good morning. My name is Master Aldous Claghsman. I believe you have a letter for me.” The man held out the paper, folded and unfolded many times, and Aldous took it.
“Thank you” he ventured, but got no response. The man was stiff with fear. Poor savage. These tribesmen were all equally impressed and terrified when they came into this city, the academy, these halls. He liked doing that to them. He glanced at the letter. It was much the same as the ones that came before it.
“Dear friend” Ha! “I have sensed great promise in this child, and send it to you for testing. If I am proven correct I ask you to please school him, and introduce him to the arts until he is old enough to travel to the academy at Fireground. If I am wrong please extend my apologies to his father, and see them on their way. Harraman.” Harraman had sent three hopefuls that had been weak. Three out of eightynine. This was number ninety. Aldous sighed.
“Come here” he beckoned to the child.

The child, bright-eyed and unwashed, barefoot and dressed in rags, stepped forward, urged by his father.
“Hello there little boy” Aldous whispered. “I am uncle Aldous, and I will be asking you a few questions. Do you understand me?” The boy nodded.
“What is your name, child?”
“Foor” was the short answer, and then the child blew his nose on his sleeve.
“Hello there Foor” Aldous said, trying not to show his distaste for the manners, or lack of manners, the boy showed.
“Tell me, can you read?” The child looked puzzled for a few seconds, then decided on an answer.
“No”. Aldous nodded. He didn’t expect as much. He activated the magical tattoo he carried on the back of his right arm, and summoned up a small image of Harraman in his palm. A simple illusionist trick. The child looked first at him, then at the simple illusion, and then back at him. That was a good sign.
“What am I holding in my hand, Foor?” Aldous asked, and Foor squinted, tilted his head to one side, and looked.
“Nothing. It isn’t there. It’s just… image. Nothing there.” As if to emphasize his point he pulled his finger across the image, disrupting it and dissolving it.
“Good Foor” Aldous spoke, and activate the second magical tattoo on the shoulder, on the right and below his neck. A small flickering flame appeared between his fingertips.
“What is this then?” If the child said ‘Fire’ it was good, but if it said more, it was better.
“It is real. A flame without burning on anything. Warm. Dangerous. But magical. Controlled. Neat.” Aldous cocked an eyebrow, looking at he boy. This was impressive, even for one of Harraman’s selected.

“Now Foor” he continued, steadying himself. He always disliked this last part of the test.
“I want you to empty your mind, don’t think of anything. I want you to relax, all right?” Foor nodded. Aldous stretched out with his magical sight, his Fathom seeking into the boy, Astrally examining the core of the child. If he could find a spark, and he was pretty sure he would, the boy could practice at the academy, and become a magician one day. If he found more, like a small flame, this child had the promise of greatness.

The apprentice was rocked off his high chair in the hall by the sensation that shot through him. In all his years with Master Claghsman his Astral sense had never experienced anything like that. It echoed and reverberated, and he rushed to the main hall, feeling that this was the origin of the disturbance. As he burst into the hall he saw the prone body of the father of the boy, sprawled out on the ground. His master, Aldous Claghsman, was sitting on the floor, on his honorable behind, looking stunned, his eyes glazed over. He turned his eyes on the small boy in the middle of the floor and felt, even without trying, the huge, consuming blaze inside that tiny soul. The force of the child’s soul was greater than his own, Aldous’, anyone he had ever encountered. He was the promise. He was the new beginning of magic. The apprentice, sensible as he was, ran.


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