Part Four - Adoption
Karnus found that he had remarkably little to do in Eriadna. Tanthalys had proven to be a remarkably gifted administrator, and had continued to organise capably in Karnus’ absence. The search for survivors trapped in the rubble had been abandoned a few days ago while Karnus had been away; he agreed that resources were best directed tending for those who had been rescued, rather than uncovering more corpses.
Many of the wounded had died, and disease had grown more prevalent in the few days that had passed. Many people showed signs of the lung disease which Karnus himself had suffered, but there was little that anyone present could do for them, apart from the few lucky souls whom Simon D’ambreville had treated before he departed.
Still, the atmosphere in Eriadna had changed palpably. Where before Karnus had seen nothing but abject despair, there was now a sense of resolve, a fragile hint of hope amongst the devastation. Many mourned for their friends and loved ones, but the constant activity of scavenging and preparing for their departure at least kept their hands and minds occupied. As Karnus walked through the ruins he was greeted with the occasional grim smile, faces which betrayed the mixed emotions of their owners.
As a result of Tanthalys’ organisational efforts, Karnus felt a little extraneous to requirements. Lacking something substantial to do he set about trying to buoy up the spirits of the people, comforting the desperate, talking with the sick and sharing tales with the guards and mercenaries that Ryndathilar had organised into some semblance of a proper force.
The guard captain greeted Karnus gruffly when he eventually tracked him down. Ryndathilar and some of his men had just dispatched a wyvern that had been attempting to prey upon the survivors and the guards were cleaning their blades as the Wizard appeared.
“Captain,” began Karnus, “I understand I have you to thank for my deliverance.”
“It was nothing,” replied the guardsman, sheathing his sword. “Besides, none of us would have escaped had you not given us a headstart.”
“What happened after I passed out?”
“A few of the shadows survived your spell, mostly those that had been at the back, but I was able to take them out. You look… better.”
Karnus avoided the man’s eyes. “Yes, I feel much recovered. Mistress Pellagi and her people are competent healers, it would seem, and I met an alchemist on the way back to the city who was able to cure the last of my ills.”
“Indeed. Miraculous.” Ryndathilar stared at the wizard with an expression that Karnus found impossible to read.
Karnus took his leave and headed back to the camp which had grown up in and around the square where he had originally addressed the dejected population. Someone had painted a new name for the square over its original name sign: “Karnusia.” Karnus chuckled to himself then moved to find Tanthalys.
As he weaved through the crowd he found himself making up all sorts of excuses to leave Eriadna and head back to Alpharyn. Already he missed Anora’s scent, her hair, her lips… shaking his head he nearly bumped into Faralmyr, who had been striding imperiously through the throng not looking where he was going.
”Mind your step, peasant,” began the Shepherd, before seeing who it was he had almost collided with, “oh, it’s you.”
“Faralmyr.” Karnus returned the man’s cool gaze. “I’m glad to see everything’s going well here.”
“I have the situation in hand, as you can see,” replied Faralmyr haughtily.
Karnus decided he was in too good a mood to bandy words with the Shepherd, so he simply smiled, nodded and went on his way. Eventually he found Tanthalys sitting by a wretched looking man and woman. “Karnus,” said Tanthalys, “these people have just arrived in the city.” He turned to the man, “tell the Wizard what you told me.”
The dejected man looked up at Karnus and said “lights! There were strange lights. Flickering in the darkness.”
”Where?” asked the wizard in reply.
“Almetherys’ tower,” replied Tanthalys.
Karnus’ eyebrows shot up. “A tower?” he asked, suddenly interested.
“Yes, Almetherys was a local wizardess who built a tower to the south of the city. I understand Prince Volospyn was livid about her daring to build so close to Eriadna, but for some reason he didn’t kill her. Politics, I think.”
Karnus turned to the new arrivals. “her tower still stands?” All of the wizards’ homes in Eriadna had been utterly destroyed by the quakes, burying their owner’s secrets. Karnus was intrigued by the opportunity to explore an intact tower…
“I think so,” replied the woman. We saw a tall structure with lights dancing around it, but we were afraid and didn’t linger.”
Karnus took Tanthalys aside. “It could be an experiment gone wrong, or it may be that Almetherys still lives. Either way, I believe I should investigate.”
Tanthalys nodded, “If you believe that’s best. However, we are nearly ready to go – I had thought to depart the day after tomorrow…”
“That should be plenty of time to get there and back, if I leave now.”
“I’ll go with you.” Karnus turned to find Ryndathilar standing close by. He gave him a quizzical look, and the guard captain met his gaze and continued, “Almetherys is… was a powerful mage. Her experiment could be dangerous, and she’s likely to have defences around her tower. You might need help.”
Karnus accepted the captain’s offer of company, and the pair shortly thereafter made their way to the gates of the city and set out. Karnus told the guard captain that he needed to call by Alpharyn to inform them that they were going to be leaving in two days, to which Ryndathilar simply nodded in agreement.
On the walk to Alpharyn, Karnus found Ryndathilar difficult company. The captain was obviously still grieving for his lost kin, so the wizard decided not to press him in conversation. Instead the two trudged on in silence.
Eventually, a few miles from Alpharyn, Ryndathilar silently gestured to Karnus and pointed into the distance. Through the dust Karnus could make out a small figure picking its way amongst the shattered landscape. The two men nodded at one another and set off towards the figure. As they drew closer, Karnus could just about make out that the person in question was small – a child or perhaps a halfling. Fearing the consequences should it turn out to be the latter, he asked Ryndathilar to hang back and approached the unknown person alone.
“Hello?” called the wizard as he approached. “Are you okay?”
The small figure stopped suddenly, turning to face Karnus. It was a young boy, terrified by the look of it. He was covered in a thick coat of dust and ash, but didn’t look hurt. He locked his bright, clear eyes on Karnus, staring in panic.
”It’s all right; I’m not going to hurt you.” Karnus stretched out his hands to the boy and continued walking towards him. The child looked around desperately, perhaps searching for a means of escape, but didn’t bolt. He stood there, hands by his sides as Karnus approached.
“What happened?” said the child, in a strange dialect of Darokinian.
Karnus stopped a few feet away, and knelt so that his head was closer to the boy’s level. “A meteor... a great rock... fell from the sky and struck the land,“ he said in his own loose Darokinian. “Where do you come from? How did you get here?"
The boy hesitated for a full thirty seconds, looking at Karnus with a mixture of fear and utter misery. Then he blurted;
"From a place called Nathrat. A strange elf called Sire Ezechiel was keeping me locked up but a beautiful elf lady said it was wrong and then a few days later Sire Ezechiel told some of his guards to take me to 'the Princess'. Then we rode through the hills for days and there were monsters and there was a village but one of the guards said we shouldn't go there because nobody should see me and then the sky got dark and there was really loud roaring and fire like a dragon and the loudest noise I've ever heard - louder than lightning - and then the ground shook and cracked open and flew up in the air and the horses were dead and the guards were dead and I was scared so I ran away but I got lost and is this still Glantri because I don't like it here and I want to go home." He pauses, looking thoughtfully at you, his eyes staring out from behind a mask of dirt and ash. "You look like a wizard. Are you a wizard because wizards are mean and they all want to lock me up. Everyone always wants to keep me locked up. It's not fair."
"Whoa!” Karnus was taken aback by the boy’s verbal explosion and offered across his water bottle. “Slow down. Here, have a drink..."
The boy took the canteen as Karnus continued. “Yes, you are still in Glantri. My name is Karnus. In answer to your question I am a wizard, but I'm from Karameikos, where we don't lock up... people like you..."
Karnus had been struggling with understanding the boy’s speech, given that he was using a curiously old fashioned style, so he was grateful when the child switched to Glantrian to continue his tale. He held up the flask with a look of curiosity. "Thank you. I haven't had a drink in years."
As Karnus raised an eyebrow at this statement the boy took a cautious sip and held it in his mouth. He tried to swallow but instead ended up splurting it out of his mouth and nose. He looked down as if in shame and said, "Sorry, I can't remember how to drink."
Before Karnus could react, the youth quickly changed the subject. "Karameikos? I've never heard of that. Is it far away? I was trying to get home when Sire Ezechiel caught me but that's silly because it's not really my home anymore. It belongs to someone else and I wanted to leave anyway so I could grow up in a city but that was two years ago I think and I haven't seen any cities and I don't seem to have grown very much. Are there nice cities in Karameikos? Would it really be safe for me there? Are there really other people like me?"
Karnus lowered himself to the dusty ground beside the boy. "Karameikos is a fair distance to the south. It's a warm land, with rolling forests and crystal clear rivers that run to the vast expanse of the sea..." He stared off in memory, strangely nostalgic for a moment amidst the devastation.
Shrugging himself out of his reverie, he continue, "There's one city in Karameikos - it's called Specularum and it's where I was born. My family still live there." He eyes the boy, “Like I said, I'm Karnus. What's your name?"
"I think my name used to be Edgar but I was never really sure. I don't really remember anything before I woke up. Now I'm called Crackle."
Karnus again furrowed his brow at this strange statement, but continued, "Do you know what happened to your family? Are you sure there isn't someone waiting for you in Darokin?
"There's nobody waiting for me. I think Lord Kazakk used to be my father but he's dead now and he was mean anyway. He was the first person to keep me locked up. When he was killed I thought I would be free but people have been locking me up ever since."
Ryndathilar circled the wizard and the boy just outside hearing range, watching their conversation go on for several minutes. He watched as Karnus took a sip of water from his flask then suddenly splurted it out, seemingly in reaction to something the boy had said. The wizard recovered from a coughing fit and rounded on the child. Ryndathilar heard him say "Impossible. Where did you hear that…" in a raised voice. The child seemed startled by this, and the wizard made as if to apologise for his outburst.
The conversation continued for several minutes more, but Ryndathilar couldn’t hear any more of what the two said. At one point Karnus got up and circled the boy, before kneeling before him and extending a hand. The boy stood and shook Karnus’ proffered hand, and the two made their way towards the guardsman.
“Ryndathilar, this is Crackle,” began Karnus. “My apprentice.”
The guard captain bowed to Crackle, who recoiled and moved behind Karnus. “It’s all right,” said the wizard, Ryndathilar is a friend of mine.”
The guard captain nodded to the boy, though Karnus noticed that he glanced away quickly. He remembered the man mentioning he had had a son… perhaps Crackle was a reminder of all that he had lost…
Karnus and Crackle continued to talk about Crackle’s adventures since his awaking several years past, and the captain moved ahead of the chatting pair to scout the road ahead. Shortly the trio found themselves standing on the low hills over Alpharyn, and moved into the town without delay, though Crackle was unnerved by all the people.
Karnus lead the three towards the town hall, and soon found himself standing next to his beloved Anora. She favoured him with a warm smile, then turned her attention to the youngster he had brought, greeting him and leading him to a nearby room to clean him up. As she mopped at his dust-caked flesh, Karnus asked Ryndathilar to check out the town and began to tell Anora of the plan to leave Eriadna the day after the next. She was nodding in assent and agreeing, when she suddenly recoiled from Crackle clutching her hand.
“What happened?” asked Karnus, as the boy screwed up his eyes and started saying “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Anora smiled at the child, ignoring Karnus. “It’s okay,” she said, “it didn’t hurt. You’re safe here.”
Turning, she led Karnus to the far corner of the room, “he shocked me. How did he do that?”
Karnus looked into her eyes. “He’s a very special little boy, and a lot of people are going to want to harm him. I’ve taken him as my apprentice to keep him safe.”
He felt Anora’s eyes piercing his soul “is that all you wish of him?” she asked.
Karnus couldn’t meet her gaze. “He will be safe in my charge, and, if he’s capable, I’ll teach him to defend himself. He could do a lot worse.”
Anora said nothing, and Karnus continued “I need to leave him in your care for a day or two while I investigate something to the south. Can I entrust him to you?”
Her stubborn look suddenly relented and she sighed. “Of course. We will leave tomorrow to join the people in Eriadna. I’ll take care of him and take him there.”
She embraced Karnus, then moved back to the distressed Crackle, soothing him and taking up her cloth once again to wash the remaining dirt from his face.
Karnus came up beside them both, rested a hand on Anora’s shoulder and said, “Crackle, I need to leave you with Anora. She’ll take care of you and bring you to Eriadna where I’ll meet you again, okay?”
The boy nodded cautiously. “Good,” replied Karnus, resting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll see you soon.”
Karnus leant over and kissed Anora before moving out of the room to find Ryndathilar waiting for him.
“Crackle will be safe here,” said the wizard, “Are you ready to continue to Almetherys’ tower?”
The two men left the hall, finding the light having faded to stygian darkness. They set off in a south eastern direction, towards the distant flickering lights surrounding Almetherys’ Tower.
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