Well, I finally finished the last scenes story, called Burdens. Now I'll be going back to work on the story featuring Mordain Thaendil, the Mage of Shadows. As always comments and criticism are welcome and appreciated. It's not supposed to be a scary story but I'll finish off by saying... submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this tale Burdens.
Carry your burdens until you are carried home. I carry my burdens but I will never see home again unless I can remove one particular burden. Nathaniel Drakkon they call me, and often far worse for I am a man of duty not compassion. I have made mistakes and ruined lives, but perhaps the worst mistake was the day I claimed my victory. I avenged my brother’s murder but it seems the gods or fate decreed that I should be punished for that. The spirit of the murderer, the warrior Lilith Albrecht, was bound to me, and she torments me to this very day.
It is because of these events that I find myself here on this forsaken isle. There is a ritual, one which may save me from this damnation. Nothing is easy though, a quest is called for, to claim four magic relics used in the ritual. Finding them is difficult, taking them even more so. I learned all this from a scholar, who heard it from an old sea captain, and you get the idea of how many ears the tale has passed through... and how desperate I am.
Even in the mist I can see the ruins rising up ominously above me. A temple or castle, it is difficult to decide which it is. The howls do nothing to make me feel better about this situation. I draw my sword, the long sword covered in runes taken from the spirit after her defeat. I say dryly, tempting fate “What could possibly go wrong?” I say it on purpose, fate has pushed me too far and I am looking for a fight.
“Everything! Everything can go wrong.” Lilith hisses like a snake. As I mentioned, always there, always tormenting, torturing, grinding down my will bit by damn bit. She is in my head and hovering over me and behind my eyes when I close them, even just to blink. Her image floats in front of me and her shoulders shake as she throws her head back and laughs like some cackling fiend. The wolf pelt hung over one of her shoulders moves with the motion, giving a brief image of what the wolf was like in life, snapping jaws and glinting eyes, before returning to the dead fur it was when I fought Albrecht high in the mountains of Kuren. That is what it is like, brief flashes of things which should not be, anything to un-nerve me or put me on edge.
Still, my sarcasm is a handy reflex “Good, keeps life interesting.”
There is a wide set of steps leading up to a plaza, they are as wide as a farmer’s field and made of sandstone now wearing away from age. I can relate to that as I scratch my chin through the short and grey goatee beard. One of my worn and scuffed boots touches the first step and all hell breaks loose. I should have checked for magical traps, I am slipping. Men and women, all heavily muscled charge at me down the steps, and from out of the mist to either side as well. I do not panic, I do not waste time, and I show them what hell can do to a man. A torrent of water crashed down from the plaza behind them, directed by my will, my hand. Some turn, unsure of what is happening, but all are crushed beneath the tidal wave. I play the elements well, as the water washes harmlessly around my shins, its power used up. Bodies tumble past me, I pay them no heed, but for some reason maniacal laughter leaves my lips.
The survivors are coming, and I see the bronze helms they wear concealing their faces entirely with only tiny eye slits as a sign of what lies behind the metal. The warriors brandish swords and wear trousers and boots of brown leather. They have no armour and are topless, including the women. Sweat glistens off their chiselled physiques, muscles tense as they run with weapons raised. They seem unfazed by the destruction I unleashed on their fallen brethren. They are mindless slaves, mere fodder minions for the creature that guards the item I seek, death is meaningless to them. They might as well be undead and in a way I think they are. They have no control over their actions, used like puppets to stop any who come here, but I will not be distracted or dissuaded from going on.
As the first few attack I lash out, left and right. The sword slashes through flesh so easily and I move quickly to avoid the next attacker. Two of them lie dead with blood mixing in the water, but there are dozens more clamouring to fight and die. I take the steps two at a time with the warriors chasing close behind. They don’t say anything; I just hear their breathing beneath their helmets. Reaching the top of the steps I turn suddenly and yell “Come on! I’ve got things to do so hurry up.”
The first man reaches me and I deflect a hasty thrust to my right with my blade turned down. Instantly I kick him in the left knee with my left foot, and he stumbles on the steps. One thrust is all it takes, the sword pierces his lung and he falls back down the stone steps. There is not a moment to rest; two more foes reach me, a man and a woman. I do not give them a chance, hacking neck and slashing gut. They die as I roar “Is this the best you have to offer? I’m Nathaniel bloody Drakkon! Kill me if you can scum!”
Another one lunges at me but I catch her coming in, grabbing her sword-arm at the wrist and flipping her over my hip as I turn. She lands with a solid thump on the plaza stone. Instinct warns me and I swing my sword around and end up decapitating the man behind me. A jet of blood squirts up into the air, coming down like rain on my hood. Like a man possessed I launch into a series of overhead downward strikes followed by cross slashes, killing the next three fools to get within distance of my blade. I shout obscenities while I kill them, letting my rage pour out as much as the blood flows. Eventually I am just making noise “Aaaaahhh! Ha, take that. Graaargh!” I lose myself in the anger and bloodletting, slaughtering them with no more effort than when a farmer harvests his crop. They die so easily, and while I break a sweat they seem incapable of wounding me. One of the last warriors swings high but I duck, hacking his leg before rising into a slash diagonally across his chest. The blood sprays hot against my face and I savour it, their blood is my war paint. Panting, I survey my gruesome handiwork; corpses litter the steps below me. I say after heavy breaths “Huff, huff, huff, can’t anyone bloody well kill me?”
I hear the sounds behind me and react, reversing my sword and stabbing backwards. The woman I had thrown down hits my back as a dead weight and I am forced to one knee before I can shrug her off. She falls sideways, sliding off my blade, and I notice she is still alive. Pulling the female warrior’s helmet away I look into her eyes, curiosity searching for some spark of comprehension, something to tell me these people fought of their own free will for a cause they believed in. Instead I see a blank look, her eyes are as dead and empty as any zombie or mindless undead. Worse even, these people are living like this, not simply raised and bound to the will of a necromancer. It was as I thought, nothing more than meat puppets for the guardian of this place. Perhaps they would even thank me for releasing them from their servitude? I wonder. No, absolution is not that easy for me, I do what must be done for the good of myself and Weissland. There is no other concern and thus no redemption for me, no way to clear my conscience for all that I must do. Weissland comes first, family and friends second, me third, and the rest of the world can burn for all that I care. The woman is clearly in pain, blood is running from her wounded stomach into the channels between each stone beneath her. Enemy or not, nobody deserves to die slowly, it had not been a deep wound as she had managed to turn away from it slightly, showing great agility even when committed to a charging attack like that. Taking a dagger from my belt I place the tip against where her heart is and push. Standing up with a sigh, I turn to look at where I am going, apart from hell obviously. It is only then that I notice the pain in my back. I lay the back of my hand against it momentarily and when I remove the hand it has blood on it. No wonder the warrior seemed to hit me with such impact; we were both wounded in the exchange. Unfortunately for my enemy, I have healing magic. Saying aloud the words to a spell, I stop the bleeding for now but do not bother trying to seal the wound completely.
The temple is impressive but I don’t worship the real gods let alone whatever ones this forgotten place is dedicated to. I keep faith in Weissland and those who serve her loyally, which is good enough for me. I doubt the gods are particularly bothered who is bowing and scraping for their adoration. The item will be in there, as will whatever protects it. “Let’s see if it puts up a better fight than its minions.”
Cruel-lipped as always the spirit appears beside me to say “I hope it squashes you like a bug mage, just like I should have done years ago.”
As I start walking I reply dryly “Shut up spirit.” Sometimes I still wonder if I am actually arguing with a spirit or whether I am insane and talking to a figment of my own twisted mind. It almost makes sense in a wrong way. I have become increasingly powerful in the use of illusionary magic, and my skill in that lore began long before I fought Lilith Albrecht. Is it not possible that in my grief and trauma over finally avenging my brother’s death, along with the other magic-users that Albrecht had killed over the years, that I created an illusion so real that even I could not see through it? A question for another time perhaps, I still have work to do here.
I walk past empty pools that had so recently contained crystal clear water; they flank me at either side. I feel like I should refill them, if only to replace the tranquillity here that I have shattered. It will have to wait until later; I must save my magic for the coming fight. It only takes a couple of minutes to reach the temple and enter. There is a large doorway but no door; everything seems to be open-plan. Inside I look at the walls and see embossed images carved from the stone. There are people and creatures dancing and cavorting, or in prayer and supplication depending on where I look. It is like the lives of all mortals summed up in a handful of pictures. After all, in the grand scheme of things, this is all we do, eat reproduce, and spend our time fighting or worshipping and fearing things we do not properly understand. Still the images give me a queasy feeling; there is something off about them. It is the creatures I think, they seem out of scale with the people, like they were carved by different artisans who were unconcerned by consistency. They have large, bulbous heads with orb-like eyes on the sides of their heads, and clawed three-fingered hands. The creatures might be reptilian, I cannot say for sure, perhaps partly amphibian. All I am sure of is that mortal eyes should not see them. That way madness lies... but I am already insane I think, or close enough. I continue onwards, gripping my sword as if it were a loved one not seen for far too long. Jessa and the others flash through my mind and I hope their memory will give me the strength necessary.
I continue on into the temple and notice two sets of stairs at either side of the hall, set against the walls with no railings, a health risk I am certain. They lead up to a balcony area which surrounds the floor below like the rim on a bowl. There are three steps down to this next part of the temple. I can see a huge metal dish on four triangular shaped legs. There is no way I could be lucky enough to find the relic just sitting around in a dish. I reach the dish but it is empty. I told you I was not that lucky. I am about to look around when I hear a voice call “Come to me supplicant. Enter the inner sanctum of the Snake Goddess.”
With no small amount of sarcasm I mutter “It’s never the bunny rabbit goddess or the friendly present-giving goddess is it? Nooooo, its snakes and bugs and lizards and debt-collectors isn’t it? I hate the world.”
“It hates you too.” The spirit said angrily behind me.
I ignored her and searched for the way to this ‘inner sanctum’. Against the far wall I spy a rectangular section which looks slightly different. A hidden door perhaps? I wonder idly. I am sure hidden doors were very stylish when this place was built. Raising my free hand I speak words of power and with some effort I use a wave of magic energy to pull the door sideways, where it rumbles and grinds into the gap cut for it. No doubt there was a panel or stone to be pushed but I am too impatient right now to solve the puzzle when I can simply circumnavigate it. Who would not be impatient when they are so close to freeing themselves of a curse such as this obscenity? The spirit of your brother’s murderer bound to you unnaturally and against your will. It is not something I would wish on any mortal enemy.
I walk through the doorway and find myself in a very large yet square room with an enormously high ceiling. There are six round columns of stone spaced evenly around the room. In the centre is another of the large metal dishes, this one is filled with some sort of liquid. It is not water, and thankfully not blood, but I cannot readily identify it. Somehow I do not think I will taste it just to find out, I am not that curious. There is a throne at the other side of the room, seemingly unoccupied, and on a plinth before it is the magical relic I seek, a dagger resting on two pieces of metal shaped like the letter Y. I can see no guardian and that worries me. I call out to the silence “Surely deities don’t hide from the likes of me?”
I catch movement near the ceiling and a lithe shape drops slowly to the ground. I ready my sword in response. The creature lands on both feet and stands between me and the plinth. She, if such a word can accurately describe a being which is clearly not human, elf or mortal in any way, speaks calmly “There are no deities here mortal. I am the priestess of the Snake Goddess and you will kneel before the serpentine mistress.”
“My first inkling would be no.” I growl with little pretence of civility. I have said it so many times before but no true Weisslander will kneel to a tyrant. In my opinion that includes gods and their preachers.
The snake-skinned woman with the white loincloth and golden blouse and cloak threw her head back and laughed maniacally. She had a head like that of a cobra. She cackled “I could make you do this.”
I took a bold step forward and replied “I could make you a bloodstain. You’ll have to try harder. Now I’m taking the Salamander Dagger, you can step aside or die.”
The woman smiled, revealing fangs’ dripping with what I imagined was venom. She whispered “That will not be so easy; I am more than a match for you.”
I admit I did not take that threat seriously, which may have been a mistake on my part. After hearing the gloating and boasting of very powerful demons, necromancers, orc brutes, assassins and warlords, it seems a bit hollow to my ears. I reply with typical dryness “So many have claimed. They are dead and I’m still standing.”
“Tell me, why do you want the dagger, filthy little man-thing?” The priestess asks.
Jokingly I say “Hey, I might be filthy and little but I’m not... wait, never mind. I want the dagger because it’ll go with the snakeskin boots I’m thinking of making.” A slight twitch of my sword gives emphasis to my veiled threat.
The snake hisses back “You want it for the dark ritual. You want to banish a spirit.”
Snarling like a wolf I respond “What would you know about it monster? I’m rapidly changing my mind about letting you live, so hand it over now! Anyway, I’m bigger than you.” At my full height I tower over most humans, even some elves, and also this priestess.”
“Oh really?” She says faintly amused. And then she begins to grow in stature, limbs thickening with corded muscle.
Standing before me now is a true monster of a foe, close to nine feet in height and wide enough to change a skinny priestess into a behemoth of physical power. Looking up at her face which is now only a few inches away due to her moving around the metal dish my only reply is a sardonic “Well, bugger.”
She opens her mouth wide and screams, releasing a shockwave of magic which sends me crashing across the room into the wall with a whack. I stagger up in time to dive to the right, avoiding her claws as they dig into the stone where my head had been. She says “Stay still and it will all be over soon.”
I keep the nearest column between us as I remark “That doesn’t sound like something I’m going to do.” A few words of magic and I have raised defences around myself. With barriers and wards in place I prepare to fight on my terms instead of letting my enemy dictate the pace. I moved quickly out from the column and struck out with my sword held two-handed but it was deflected by the serpent-creature’s claws. It even created sparks which made me grimace in annoyance. I tried again but this strike went wide as the priestess twisted out of the way and hit me with the heel of a palm to the chest. The power hammered me down and across the floor as if I was a feather rather than a bulky and tall mage.
While I was lying on the ground I tried to regain my composure and wits. Looking up I saw a shadow and instinctively I rolled to my side as a foot slammed down where my head had been, making a slapping noise on the stone. Ignoring my sword and letting it go, I surged up to my feet and grabbed the snake priestess with my hands by the waist and her extended leg at her lower thigh. I lifted the much larger creature as high as I could, which was not high I admit as apparently shape changing snake girls weigh quite a lot, before smashing her down spine first to the temple floor. I was just picking up my sword when she kicked out, landing a hefty blow across my side and back. Once more I rattled to the ground and rolled, roaring in agony as my back wound was torn open again.
On hands and knees I crawl away behind the metal dish, trying to put some distance between us. I can feel the blood seeping out of the wound and making my clothes stick to me. Soon it will soak through my shirt and the robe I wear over it and my opponent will see it. With her snake heritage I realise dejectedly that she can already smell it, so concealment means nothing in this case. I hear her hiss “Do not hide; it will do you no good.”
Dryly I remark “We’ll have to see about that.” Sometimes I just cannot keep my mouth shut. It is getting to be something of a dangerous habit and will likely hasten my death one day. But today I rather think not. I move into a crouching position behind the metal dish.
A blur of motion is what I see as the creature leaps face first over the dish at me, hands outstretched to tear me apart. Personally I do not like the sound of that. Using my hands to steady myself on the floor I kick up and back hard, catching her in the jaw with my boot. I roll sideways as she crashes down on the bowl, knocking it over and spilling its contents across the floor amidst screams of anger and pain. Probably embarrassment too, I have after all just shown her up in her goddess’ holy house.
A particularly wicked thought crosses my mind and I speak the words to an elemental spell as I rise to my feet. With hands out I launch lightning from my fingertips at the priestess covered in the liquid. She cries out in pain and writhes trying to escape as the conducted electricity courses through her body and over her wet skin. Finally clear of the water or whatever it is, the priestess grips a stone column and rapidly climbs it, escaping my magical attack. The lightning trails off like a forked tongue, an ironic little twist as I stop the spell. Often when using lightning emanating from my hands I have to resist the urge to laugh like a villain, it might hurt my image. Wasting no time I reclaim my fallen sword and wait for the next strike. I am losing blood fast now and I wonder how long I can keep this up. I knew this would be a challenge, but not this much of one.
I take cautious steps towards the scattered dish while keeping an eye above. The creature is hiding up there somewhere, possibly waiting me out due to my injury. I hear the hiss of escaping breath and twist with experienced movements. The priestess drops down at me from behind as my sword slashes around and cuts across her stomach. The move sends both of us to the floor, me from twisting and falling back to avoid her claws and her from the wound in mid-air to stop a safe landing. We lie there for a few moments across from each other, our breathing shallow, and I see fear in her eyes. It is a strange thing, something I did not expect. It seems that my sword the Forsaken Path has saved me again.
She gasps “I’m dying. I’ve lived so long, killed by a mortal. I’m scared of what is next. I never believed I would see what lies beyond the boundaries of the mortal plane.”
I whisper with an almost retrospective tone “For life to have meaning it has to end, that is why necromancy is unnatural and wrong as it is a perversion of life. Now you will join all who have gone before you, it is not something you need to fear. Even immortals are not invincible; they do die because that is the rightful order of things.”
Through clenched teeth she groans “Spare me... your cheap mortal philosophy... I do not... want it!” The serpentine priestess faded into silence and soon was dead.
I on the other hand was certainly alive. I could tell because of the immense pain. Dragging my body upright I staggered to a column, using it to lean against. With the words of a healing spell I stopped the blood abandoning my body, and healing the wound as best I could. The white lore, healing magic, had never been one of my strengths. For some reason I could just never properly get my head around it.
“Damn, I thought she was going to kill you!” The spirit of Lilith Albrecht suddenly said.
“No such luck” was my response as I walked over to my prize, the magical dagger resting on the plinth. Picking up the dagger I looked at the detailing. The entire hilt was fashioned like the body of a lizard, making it difficult to hold for proper combat, although as a ceremonial magic item that hardly matters. I say to no-one in particular “The Salamander Dagger, an ancient relic of people who revered lizards as divine, treating dragons as demi-gods I believe. But they had rivals in the servants of the Snake Goddess. There were many holy wars between them. In the end the evil and revolting snake worshippers defeated the slightly less evil yet equally revolting lizard worshippers and stole their little pig-sticker. Of course the wars cost them their civilisation and power as well, which is why only this guardian and her mind-bound human minions remained today.” Narrowing my eyes I sarcastically add “Oooh I could make a fortune telling religious stories to people that don’t know or care.”
I took the weapon and put it into a large pouch attached to my belt. Turning I walked back through the temple and out into the surrounding plaza once more. Finally I have claimed the Salamander Dagger; finally I have gathered the last of the four relics. I should be happier, but I am tired and I have never been a particularly happy person. Too many things have robbed me of such feelings I believe. Looking back I think about the other three relics and what it took to secure them.
First there was the Cube of Eirikon. I found it many miles south of this secluded isle. It was a metal cube the size of an apple perhaps, inscribed with runes, said to be powerful enough to contain souls, and had been created by a powerful sorcerer. The Cube was hidden within the centre of the Chaotic Labyrinth which was purported to drive mortals insane with its twisting paths. Not much of a threat to me, I am already insane.
“Yes you are.” The spirit cackled inside my mind, the sound reverberating like a hammer striking the anvil.
With contempt on my lips I growled “Damn you spirit, I’ll destroy you yet!” The centre of the labyrinth had been strange, and that was saying something of a place which seemed to defy the natural laws of gravity and scale. Distance did not work right there, and I found it easy to misjudge a step and trip or to move further than I thought possible with a single stride. But the centre was different, almost a calm surrounded by the storm of the maze. And that... well that made it more confusing and unnerving. There I found the Cube hovering in a beam of light which changed hues at the slightest whim. I thought it to be some sort of magical barrier, and in a way it probably was. Surrounding the room were four man-sized statues of marble, each one representing a different aspect of war it seemed. When the statues moved and attacked me I was shocked but managed to both survive and defeat them. When the last one was destroyed the beam of light flickered and faltered, before dispersing like mist. The Cube of Eirikon fell from where it hovered and tumbled down the steps of the raised dais in the centre of the room, stopping at my feet before I could prevent its’ fall. I thought it would be damaged, I thought the quest was over before it had even gotten half way. Luckily for me it was crafted well and bore not even a scratch.
As I walked down the steps covered in the corpses of the fallen minions I had faced and slew earlier I played over the second relic in my mind, the bone gauntlet of Phor-Lakai. As I understood the legend from the dusty tome given to me by the old elf who knows the ritual for removing the spirit, Phor-Lakai was a warlord and eventual king in some of these lands hereabouts. He was a great warrior, but something of a cruel man when it came to dealing with his enemies and even those who failed him. From the bodies of many foes he took their bones, fashioning them into the decoration and even furniture of his fastness near the lake of Forlen to the south-east of here. But for his worst enemies, he took a bone to add to his armour and weaponry, covering the chest plate in the ribs of dead men, parts of their spine added to his back plate, and femurs and scapulas and radii all mounted to the metal to create equipment as much for inspiring fear as for defence in battle. But the bone gauntlet of his left hand was slightly different, infused with magic by his court wizards to grant him the power to strike down those who fought against him with powerful energy, among other abilities. Interred with his body when he died the bone gauntlet was just the right reagent for the removing of spirits as it had blasted the spirits of men from their mortal bodies during Phor-Lakai’s reign. With a grim smile I said aloud “It was quite a welcome surprise to find his crypt swarming with undead for me to annihilate. It felt like coming home.” The undead had been easy enough to deal with; a few more would make no difference given my upbringing and career in Weissland. Undead being our most ancient and longstanding enemies I have had more than enough practice eliminating their foul kind. At the last though, I faced the guardian of the relic, a liche who provided a serious threat. Even in my long career as a mage of Weissland I had never actually faced a liche, and the evil scum almost ended my life. Unfortunately for the liche I am nothing if not remarkably difficult to kill.
Reaching the small boat which I had used to get to this accursed island I wondered about the third magical item. That had been something entirely different, a relic known as the last Romarian Crystal. It is to be the power source for the ritual. Who the Romarians were and how they crafted this magical crystal I cannot say but they protected it well. Not by armies and weapons, but by guile and wisdom. Entering a portal as instructed by the book I found myself in a cavernous space, standing upon a shard of rock which floated in the cavern by use of magic. Walking from one chunk of floating rock to the next I arrived at a vaster platform of rock. Amidst black chains which were bolted to the ground yet hung up taut into the air attached to nothing at all, I walked to the creature which sat there alone and waiting. What the creature was I do not know, very little of my adventure to capture the third relic was understandable even to me. In my foolishness I thought to kill it and claim my prize, drawing my sword. The creature rasped “I warn you mortal, that will not work here.”
I ignored it and struck, but found the blade slammed into some sort of magical barrier and flew way; landing embedded in the rock several metres away. I exclaimed “Your magic might protect you from my sword, but I have magic of my own creature!” Raising my hands I found nought but harmless sparks of magic and words which should have torn flesh asunder and yet echoed hollowly around the cavern.
The creature continued “The wards in this place are ancient and beyond the ability of any on this plane or any other to break. No harm can occur here, you will not be able to kill me, and no harm can come to you either. In this place all will know the tranquillity of immortality and peaceful co-existence. Come Nathaniel Drakkon of the Weissland, sit a while and I will present the puzzles and riddles to you. Pass the tests and the last Romarian Crystal is yours.”
Cautiously I asked as I sat down and crossed my legs “Has anyone ever completed these tests?”
“Yes,” the creature smiled “but whenever someone uses the four relics to perform the ritual and banish a spirit, the items are transported back to their rightful place. Unless of course a searcher was to use another ritual to destroy the relics and that has never happened in centuries beyond count.” Nodding I asked for the creature to begin the tests. Thankfully I completed them all or I would have had no way to get the item.
Pushing the boat out into the water and jumping in, I start rowing to make my way back to the mainland. With all four relics I must return to the home of the old elf so we may begin the ritual. The elf was strange as well. He was not a dark elf or high elf as I would understand the terms in Weissland. Admittedly there are elves in other parts of the world that do not share ancestry with the elves of Weissland but I have not encountered many, at least not on the scale of Ciruenalysai or Draleth back home. It makes me think about the wood elves, I do not know what they are like either, beyond mistrustful and secretive. To think, a whole society of elves in the heart of my homeland and I know next to nothing about them.
The old elf had introduced himself as “Erithon Inyon Edovahor, a purveyor of ancient and esoteric knowledge, a seeker of rare and exotic books, and quite a fine cook if I do say so myself.” Given the dusty broken down cottage he lives in I am slightly sceptical about Erithon’s cooking skills with such meagre cooking implements or even ingredients, everything was so basic. But that is hardly the point and there are more pressing matters to deal with now.
Once I gained the shore I clambered out of the boat and retrieved my belongings, my oak staff, musette bag, backpack, and most important of all, my long sword the Forsaken Path. Preparing my power I focussed on the old cottage on the edge of the river and the forest, sited on lay lines. Speaking the words magic covered me like a shroud and I vanished. The teleportation spell shunted my body to a spot twenty yards outside of the cottage along the dirt road which led to it. I walked calmly to the door of the cottage, noticing the flaking brown paint on it. Quietly and in a solemn mood I tapped on the door with my staff.
Erithon opened the door after a couple of minutes of calling “Hold on, hold on.” The old elf, with stringy grey hair and wrinkled skin smirked “Well, well, well, so you’ve returned have you boy? Didn’t think you would, but come in.” He shuffled back inside and I followed, closing the door behind me.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light in the cottage I said “Yes I have returned. I said I would did I not? It is very unwise to doubt Nathaniel Drakkon when he tells you he will do something.”
“Hrumph,” Erithon scoffed “oh big hero can do everything, blah! Did you get the four relics at least? Certainly you were capable of that human if you made it back here.”
Not liking his insolent tone I barked in response “Of course I did elf! Can we get on with it?”
“Yes, place the items on the altar there.” The elf said while pottering about looking for potions and powders and the other tools of his trade.
I did as instructed while Erithon sat down on a chair to read from the large book set out there. I should probably mention something I have learned about all of this. It did not really fall into place until I got the third artefact, but I had my suspicions. The bone gauntlet was protected by undead. Clearly that is not something which should exist or be within the reach of anyone. The unsettling runes on the Cube of Eirikon as well, they draw the eye as if they have a hold over you and not in a nice way. It is a feeling I have not personally had since reading the journals of the cursed Vanel Rathalie, that traitorous necromancer. What should I have expected of something capable of containing souls but I was desperate and determined a bad combination at the best of times. The spirit is dragging me down. The creature though, confirmed everything, a dark ritual which would damn my soul in exchange for removing the burden of that blasted spirit. I never finished these thoughts until now, and with considerable will kept the threads of knowledge from the spirit. I spoke harshly “You never told me the extent of the ritual elf, the cost involved. I’m not sure I would have gone to this trouble knowing what I know now. I even learned about a ritual to destroy the relics. It leaves me rather conflicted.” I need to distract him; he knows evil magic and should not be taken lightly despite his decrepit appearance.
Erithon replied without looking up from the book “What will you do then? Perform the ritual or not? Or will you destroy the relics and waste your chance for freedom, as well as doom anyone else who ever finds themselves in your fairly unique situation?”
I had already put my bags and staff down at the door. Carefully I drew my sword, noticing the red shimmer across the steel before it disappeared, the effect of the many runes covering its surface, some designed to seek out magic. I said contemplatively “Well I could complete the ritual but then I can never return home. I could simply leave it, continue on my way.” I added with a dark tone “Really though I’m planning on killing you and using the other ritual to destroy them.”
The old elf tried to turn and put one hand on the back of the chair, attempting to move it out of the way while yelling “You bastard!” Before he could move further I stabbed him in the chest and pulled the sword out. He was spun back to land both back in his seat by virtue of his legs giving out, and slumped over the desk and book he had been reading. Erithon was still alive; I had made sure he would bleed a while before dying as I wanted him to hear me talk.
My deadpan response filled the cottage “Yes, that’s what they usually say.” Turning away I picked up a cloth to clean my blade while saying mockingly “I don’t know why I expect you vile purveyors of evil magic and dark rituals to be more original. I suppose if I have a failing it’s that I expect too much from people.” I looked back but Erithon was already dead, his tongue hanging out of his mouth and his eyes glassy. Dryly I added “You died in the middle of my monologue, how very inconsiderate of you. I had a whole section prepared on telling right from wrong.”
Dumping the old elf’s corpse unceremoniously aside I flicked through the pages of the book to find the correct ritual, the right ritual, the one which would destroy the items forever and prevent anyone from ever using the ritual for its original purpose, stealing the souls of others. When I had finished the ritual I calmly picked up my possessions, as well as replenishing them with some of the more neutral potions Erithon had owned. Leaving the cottage I stood outside and cast a spell, watching as the cottage burst into flames. Even now I can hear the spirit of Lilith Albrecht, who murdered my own brother and other magic-users, laughing at me. I have given up another chance to banish her and free myself of torment and madness. You can have your little victory today murderer, I think grimly, but tomorrow is another day and there will be more opportunities for me to destroy you. Mark my words this is not over.