A Fallen Hero
The light of the setting sun glinted off the icy waterways as Karnus made his way through the streets of Glantri City. As he weaved through the crowd, the wizard let his mind wander over the experiences of the past few days; hours labouring in the laboratory, days spent weaving the material and the arcane together until eventually, he had succeeded in his enchantment. Instinctually, Karnus’ hand wandered to the as yet unfamiliar clasp which now adorned his cloak, and he smiled as his finger caressed the cold metal.
Distracted as he was, the wizard failed to realise that someone was pushing their way through the crowd, calling out to him as they approached. Eventually the sound of his own name broke Karnus out of his reverie, and he turned to face the oncoming stranger with a raised eyebrow.
Except that the woman who approached was not completely unknown to the wizard. Karnus struggled to place her face as she closed the distance between the two, pushing her way past pedestrians with evident frustration. ”Master Perdissium,” said the woman in greeting as she stopped by the wizard. Karnus nodded as his mind raced, trying to identify her. After a few long seconds, her smile diminished slightly. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Karnus adopted a sympathetic expression. “Sorry, I’m feeling a little drained right now – my mind’s not working at its best…”
The woman smiled again. “I understand. I am Analytha. You saved me from those shadow creatures in Blackhill…”
Karnus eyebrows shot upwards as recognition dawned upon him. “Of course, I remember now!” The wizard recalled only too clearly the horror the pair had faced in Ryndathilar’s ruined homestead, and how Analytha had been the only other of the Eriadna guards to escape along with Karnus and the captain. “How are you?” he asked of her.
The woman nodded as she fell into step beside Karnus. “I am well, considering. I and some of my friends left Ellerovyn seeking a fresh start in the army; mostly members of the guard corps. It’s not exactly been easy, but it’s nice to have a purpose again.”
Karnus nodded. “It can’t have been easy for you to readjust after the disaster. But where there not opportunities among your compatriots? From what I’ve heard they could use an experienced sword.”
Analytha shrugged her shoulders. “Some of us needed a change. It was either the army or become mercenaries, and I chose the former.”
Karnus smiled at the warrior. “Well, I’m glad that Glantri can call upon your skills. Tell me – have you seen much action?”
The two walked for a while, the woman regaling Karnus with a brief overview of her few short months in training and her first few missions patrolling the central valley. Eventually the pair came to a bridge across the canal. Stopping to admire the stars twinkling in the crisp Glantrian sky, Analytha turned to Karnus with a concerned look on her face.
”Master Perdissium,” she began, “I know I have no right to ask this of you, but I hoped you might be able to help… It’s Ryndathilar…”
Karnus had become quite fond of the burly guard captain throughout their adventures together. He frowned at the soldier and asked “is he ill?”
“In a manner of speaking… I fear that our erstwhile captain has struggled to adjust to life after the disaster. He came with us to the City, tried to join the constabulary, and it was all going well for a while.” The woman sighed and leaned upon the railing. “But he harboured such great sadness within him. His wife, his children, his brothers and sisters… all turned to shadow.” Karnus recalled the legion of dark creatures they had fought in Blackhill, creatures that had once been living, breathing, loving human beings. “It broke him,” continued the soldier, “he hasn’t been able to cope, and I fear…”
“Yes?” said the wizard.
“I fear seeks for solace at the bottom of the bottle.”
“Ah.” Karnus nodded in understanding. He could well comprehend how the man would be haunted by what happened to his family. “That is a pity, and I’m very sorry, but I’m not sure how I can help.”
“Talk to him. He respects you. He was greatly impressed by your leadership during the exodus…”
Karnus agreed to talk to the erstwhile guardsman, and Analytha was so pleased that she hugged the wizard, guiltily looking around her at this break in protocol. Karnus smiled and let Analytha hail a gondola to ferry them to Little Boldavia, where Ryndathilar had last been seen.
The soldier led the wizard through the twisting alleyways of Little Boldavia. Karnus could tell that the woman was nervous by the way she moved, but he had walked these streets often enough to know that if you looked like a powerful wizard (or warrior for that matter) the rogues would leave you be in favour of easier pickings. Eventually the pair turned a corner into a short alley with a small ale house at the end of it.
As the pair approached, the door was thrown open and a man stumbled out, propelled by an unseen force to slam into the wall opposite and slump down comatose. A burly man appeared at the door, swaying drunkenly. He surveyed his vanquished opponent, glanced at the two staring onlookers, then staggered back into the pub.
Karnus looked to Analytha with a raised eyebrow. “He looks terrible.”
Analytha nodded as she started after the drunken Ryndathilar. Karnus sighed, and then strode into the mirky ale house.
The interior was crowded, and the wizard would have had to fight his way through were it not for the wake left by Ryndathilar returning to his table. As he passed by the bar, the bartender realised that he had a wizard in the building and fairly dove into Karnus’ path, smiling obsequiously.
”My lord” began the startled bartender in a commoner Fenswick accent, “can I… help you at all?”
Karnus looked over the man’s shoulder at the table behind him. Rynathilar lay slumped over the table, looking as if he hadn’t just bodily thrown a man through the door. “I wish to speak to that gentleman,” said the wizard.
The bartender glanced over his shoulder, then back to Karnus. “I would reconsider that, if I were you, master. He’s a mean old drunk, is that one.” Several of the other patrons, who were all by now staring at the wizard in their midst, nodded sagely in agreement.
Karnus raised an eyebrow as the barkeep continued to talk. “I mean, it’s not like a worthless wannabe Alphatian could be of any interest to you, my lord… perhaps you’d prefer to sit over by the fire and sample some of our delightful wares. We have brandy from Averoigne, gin and rum from Fenswick, and a delightful… little tipple… from…” the man’s speech died off as he met the wizard’s impatient gaze. “Or perhaps I should just get out of your way?”
“That would be best, yes,” replied Karnus. The barkeep bowed and moved aside, mumbling “don’t say I didn’t warn you” as he went.
Karnus paced the remaining few feet to Ryndathilar’s table, swept up a stool as he approached, and plonked himself down onto it in front of the reclining ex-guard captain. The prone man grumbled something inaudible, in a tone just above a growl.
Karnus leant forward, his elbows on the table, his fingers steepled in front of his mouth. “Captain Ryndathilar. It’s good to see you again. How are you keeping?”
Ryndathilar’s eyes briefly locked onto the wizard’s face. “Go… away” said the inebriated man.
Karnus rolled his eyes and leaned back. Analytha came up to stand behind Karnus. “Please Ryndathilar,” she began, “Master Perdissium has come to help…”
“Perdishi… um?” slurred the ex-guard.
“Yes Ryndathilar, it’s me” replied Karnus.
The big man leant forward slumping on the table and squinting to focus on Karnus’ face. It took long seconds for the man’s intoxicated brain to verify the wizard’s identity, but when it did a grin broke on the man’s face. He stood up unsteadily, nearly knocking the table over, and shouted to the crowded pub. “Hey everyone! Here’s Karnush Perdishium! Saviour of Eriadna! A drink! A drink for the hero!”
The barman caught Karnus’ eye as the wizard gave a nearly imperceptible nod and the guard fumbled in his pockets for coins. Finding none, he looked disappointed until Karnus produced a few coppers and slid them to the barman as he brought the round.
“Thanks,” said Ryndathilar as he slumped back down. Karnus sniffed suspiciously at the dirty mug he held, and glanced up just in time to witness Ryndathilar downing his drink in one enormous gulp. “Another!” he shouted at the barkeep.
Karnus set his drink down without imbibing any of it, “I think you’ve had enough, my friend.”
Ryndathilar regarded the wizard with watery eyes. “What do you know?” he said, “I don’t need to do what you say! You’re not my boss!” He swayed even as he sat there, but Karnus was impressed by the menace that exuded from the man, and his mind snapped back to the poor peasant who’d been flung out the door moments earlier. It appeared a different course of action would be required.
Karnus turned to Analytha, whose face was contorted in a mixture of pity and disgust. “I think perhaps you should leave this to me.” The woman looked doubtful, but Karnus was insistent. “Wizard business,” he said, before writing his address on a piece of paper and passing it to her. “Ryndathilar will be lodging here for the foreseeable future. I will be away on business for some time, so please look in on him.”
As the soldier left, Karnus turned back to Ryndathilar, who by now had several more drinks before him. Karnus glanced at the barkeep, who could sense a decent line of credit when it walked in, then faced the guard. With a few quick words of magic, the wizard unleashed one of the more simple enchantments he possessed upon the inebriated guardsman, watching with satisfaction as the last trace of hostility melted from the big man’s face.
“Ryndathilar,” said Karnus gently, “I think it’s time we went home, don’t you?”
“Oh Karnus,” the man tried to stand but collapsed back onto the bench, “you’re my best friend in all the world. This man!” he shouted to the denizens of the pub, “this man is my friend!”
Karnus rolled his eyes and stood up, extending a hand. “Time to go!” he announced enthusiastically.
“Yes!” cried Ryndathilar, launching himself at the wizard, who deftly sidestepped the oncoming drunk. Ryndathilar staggered to the bar, propped himself up, then turned back with a grin on his face, “let’s go and get really drunk. I’ve always wanted to visit the Mage’s Hostelry, and now,” he turned to the nearest horrified commoner, “that my best friend is here he can get me in!” He favoured the startled man with a wide smile.
Karnus shepherded the staggering guard out of the bar and into the alleyway. As the man walked unsteadily along the street Karnus paced beside him until they reached a canal, whereupon Karnus swiftly hailed a gondola and shoved Ryndathilar into it. The gondolier gave the wizard a doubtful look, but Karnus stared him down. “It’s double if he’s sick,” muttered the gondolier as the small boat pushed off, rocking from Ryndathilar’s drunken fidgeting.
The gondola pulled up to the side of the canal near to Karnus’ apartment. The wizard paid double triple the normal fare to compensate for the vomiting and singing, then heaved the warrior up and led him to the door of his stairwell. Ryndathilar looked up at the building with a puzzled expression. “That’s not the Hostelry!” he exclaimed.
“Everywhere’s closed, my friend,” explained Karnus, “we’re going to have to rely on my own stash of drink.”
This appeased the ex guard, and he staggered into the stairwell, singing in Alphatian to himself. He crossed the threshold and tried to follow Karnus up the stairs, but staggered back, falling to the bottom of the flight. “I think… I think that last drink has just hit me, Karny,” he grinned up at the wizard.
“Don’t call me Karny,” muttered the mage as he put his hands under the big man’s elbows and hauled him up. Ryndathilar was much taller than Karnus, and put his arm round the wizard’s neck to steady himself, squeezing tight to combat the nausea. Thus, in most undignified fashion, Karnus pushed and shoved his friend up the three flights of stairs to his home.
After opening his door, Karnus heaved the big man down onto the couch, where he lay mumbling to himself in Alphatian. Sighing, the wizard cast off his heavy outdoor cloak and moved into the small kitchen area where he started to brew a draught which would ease the delinquent guard’s sleep.
A clatter brought the wizard rushing back into the sitting room; Ryndathilar was on his feet, moving unsteadily towards the door. Karnus interposed himself between the guardsman and the exit, staring at the man and saying “you’re going nowhere, Ryndathilar!”
The big man looked at the wizard with bleary eyes for a second before staggering forward. “Out of the…. way…” he slurred as he advanced. Karnus rolled his eyes, lifted a hand, and shot a bolt of sapphire magic at the guard. In his inebriated state the man was unable to resist the mental assault of the stunbolt, and he recoiled backwards, thrashing madly and collapsing on top of Karnus’ coffee table, which shattered under his weight.
“By the light of Rad!” Karnus strode forward cursing and stood next to the moaning warrior. With another pass of his hands, Karnus quickly dropped a second charm spell onto the unfortunate man, before slumping down onto the sofa and surveying his wrecked lounge.
Before the stunbolt wore off, Karnus stooped down and grabbed the burly guard under his arms, hauling him up onto the sofa. “And I thought Drewen was a difficult drunk,” he mumbled as he flopped his friend onto the couch and straightened up to massage his aching back. The wizard nipped into the kitchen and returned with a steaming mug, which he brought to the warrior as the stunbolt began to wear off.
“Drink this, Ryndathilar, it’ll make you feel a bit better…” The man looked up at Karnus with bleary eyes, trying to form words while he grasped clumsily for the mug. Karnus rolled his eyes and moved closer, bringing the cup to Ryndathilar’s lips and assisting the man in pouring a good measure down his throat.
“Wha… what’s in it?” asked the man as he coughed on the liquid.
”It’s Fenswick herbal tea, with some thorian hemlock to sober you up and a good measure of fenris tooth to ease your sleep – trust me, you’ll need it.”
“What? No booze?” The man held the drink at arm’s length and eyed it suspiciously.
“I think you’ve had quite enough alcohol for tonight, my friend, now be a good chap and drink that all up, will you?”
After another suspicious glance at the mug, the man shrugged and downed the remainder. “There,” he slurred, “all gone.”
“Good chap,” replied Karnus, standing back from the man, who rose uncertainly to follow the wizard.
“No problem,” replied Ryndathilar, “I’d do anything for you… You’re my best friend in the whole world…”
“Oh Rad, no…” mumbled Karnus as the man staggered forward and gathered him into a tight embrace.
“My only friend…” continued the inebriated guard. “In all the world…”
Karnus patted the man’s back and muttered, “there, there,” as the awkward embrace continued long after the wizard thought appropriate.
“Nobody else left…” continued the guard. Karnus winced as the embrace grew tighter, “all gone now…”
Feeling more than a little awkward, Karnus could only continue to pat the man on the back. “There, there,” he repeated, all the while noting that he should never use charms on drunken people ever again…
Much to the wizard’s relief, the guard finally released him, and staggered back to slump down on the sofa. “Don’t want to sleep…” murmured the big man as his eyelids became heavier, “don’t want to… sleep…”
Karnus shook himself out of the shocked state he had been left in and crouched down by the warrior. “Why not?” he asked.
“They’re in my dreams… shadows… in my… dreams…” with those words Karnus’ draft did its work, and Ryndathilar’s eyes slowly shut.
The wizard straightened up and stared thoughtfully at his slumbering friend. Though it had been only a short while since Anora’s death, Karnus had found that by throwing himself into his work he had been able to distract himself from the pain he felt. He had sought refuge in his plans for the future, in his growing thirst for knowledge. Yet now, confronted with someone who had lost everything in the meteor disaster, Karnus realised that he hadn’t taken any time to mourn for his lost love. Nor could he afford to – when he thought of it, the pain was so raw that the wizard feared he would be overcome by it. He looked at Ryndathilar and saw there what he might have become, had he given in to the anguish.
Except in Ryndathilar’s case that pain must be a thousand times worse. His whole family was gone, his wife, children, brothers, sisters, all turned into a walking mockery of life… Karnus shuddered, and suddenly found himself eager to see his own family, back in Specularum He half smiled at the thought that he would be among them on the morrow.
The wizard stood by the slumbering man and regarded him contemplatively. “I swear, my friend, I will help you through this. Through your redemption, both of us will be able to put the horrors of Blackhill behind us…” Karnus turned and walked from the room, leaving the slumbering warrior to his sleep and his dreams.
Tarinthal and Honaletha played amongst the long grass of the meadow, as Ryndathilar lay beside his wife, relishing the warmth of the sun that beat down upon them. The children’s laughter brought a smile to his face, and he felt totally at ease once again.
Suddenly, the warm light from the sun changed into a reddish twilight. The laughter of the children became screams. Ryndathilar jumped up and ran to his son and daughter, but as he ran toward them he could see that their forms were fading. Time slowed as he approached the pair, but their screaming as they transformed rang in his ears. By the time he reached them they had become living shadows, reaching out hungrily to him.
Ryndathilar turned to find his beloved wife standing behind him. As she changed her beautiful face contorted hideously, to be replaced by the somehow hungry expression of the creature of darkness she had become. The warrior moaned and sank to his knees as his transmuted family moved in to devour him. As the creature that had been his daughter reached a hand towards him, Ryndathilar felt a sense of familiarity, as if this had all happened before somehow…
Suddenly, a solid hand was rested upon his shoulder. Startled, the warrior turned to find Karnus standing beside him. Knowing that this wasn’t how it happened, the man began to protest at Karnus’ appearance, but before he could speak the blue robed wizard held his staff aloft, and spoke words of power that deafened the warrior, sending him reeling to the floor.
As the wizard finished his spell, the eyes of his staff flashed with a clear blue light. The shadows that surrounded the pair screamed and contorted, struggling to escape the grip of Karnus’ magic. As Ryndathilar watched, the shadows were consumed by a bright spot of light that grew in each of them, and in mere seconds the foul creatures were gone, replaced by three motes of radiant energy which danced around him playfully.
Ryndathilar found himself standing upon a hillside in what felt like spring. The clear, crisp air contracted with the warmth he felt earlier, but was somehow reassuring. The motes of light yet danced around the warrior, and he smiled and raised his hands to the sky as they flitted around him. With one final flight around his body, the lights flew into the sky, soaring ever upwards. Ryndathilar stared at the vanishing points of light until, as darkness fell, they became lost among the stars…
Karnus awoke late the following morning, dressed quickly, then spent some time pouring over his spell book. By the time his studies were completed it was nearly afternoon, and Karnus was aware that he had arranged to meet his travelling companion shortly after lunch. Sighing, the wizard rose from his desk and opened the door into the sitting room, where the sleeping Ryndathilar lay snoring loudly.
The wizard moved over to his sleeping friend, regarding him curiously for a moment before stretching out a hand and uttering the words to a spell, removing the enchantment that Karnus had placed upon Ryndathilar the night before. Karnus then leant over and abruptly shook the sleeping warrior, who sat bolt upright, glancing around him at the unfamiliar surroundings.
His eyes finally alighted upon the watching wizard. “Karnus? How did I get here? Where am I?”
“Relax, Ryndathilar,” responded the wizard, “you’re in my home, where you stayed last night.” Karnus held a hand up to forestall Ryndathilar’s questions. “And before you say anything, I should point out that it’s well past breakfast time, and you’re probably starving.”
The wizard fixed the warrior a filling meal of bread, a selection of meats and cheeses, and a strong cup of coffee. As he munched his breakfast, the warrior avoided Karnus’ eyes.
Finally the wizard broke the silence. “I am leaving town for a few weeks, though I may be away much longer. My ward is out of town and my apprentice is busy at the Great School. I am loathe to leave my home unattended for so long, so I require the services of a guard. I wish to employ you in this role.”
Ryndathilar looked up at the wizard in shock, then down in shame at his ragged, filthy clothing.
“Obviously,” continued Karnus, “the wages will be more than enough to equip you with all that you require, and you can reside here.”
Ryndathilar couldn’t meet Karnus’ gaze. “I can’t,” he said, “I wouldn’t trust myself.”
“You refer to your drinking problem. I understand. I can assist with this, should you desire it.”
The guardsman raised an eyebrow. “How?”
“I can ensorcel you; Place a compulsion upon your mind that will prevent you from drinking.” The guard’s face lit up, and Karnus knew then that at least a part of the once great man regretted his descent into drunkenness. “Be under no illusion, however,” continued the wizard, “this spell is not one I place upon a friend lightly – go against the compulsion and you will suffer greatly.”
The warrior was silent as the wizard stood up. “The choice is yours Ryndathilar. Say the word, and I will place you upon the path to regaining your dignity. Or, you can go on your way, and let all the potential you possess go to waste. Choose.”
The guard stared at his empty plate for long seconds before looking up to Karnus with steely resolve in his eyes. “Do it,” he said.
Karnus nodded and brought his arm up, his outstretched palm facing the warrior. “Do not resist,” he instructed. Then, his voice imbued with the all the power and might of the geas spell, the wizard solemnly pronounced his command; “Ryndathilar, you will never again suffer a drop of alcohol to enter your body, nor shall you partake of any other drug or potion for any purposes other than the healing of your wounds.” Karnus felt the rush of magic through his very being as he placed the mighty enchantment upon the warrior. He lowered his hand, momentarily overcome with the power he had directed.
Ryndathilar glanced at himself. “I don’t feel any different…” he began. Karnus went to a cupboard and brought out a bottle of brandy. “Drink,” he commanded of the warrior as he poured him a glass.
The big man took the glass with an unsteady hand. “I’m not sure I want to…” he said.
“Drink!” commanded Karnus.
As the man brought the glass to his mouth, he suddenly dropped it and doubled over in pain, dropping to the floor. “What… what have you done?”
Karnus knelt by the man, “sorry, but I had to be sure. The enchantment has taken.”
“It burns… so… much…”
“It will pass, my friend, yet this is but a taste of what lies ahead… you don’t want to know what would have happened if you’d actually drunk the stuff.”
Karnus spent some time showing the man around his home while he packed for his voyage. Eventually the pair set out for the city centre. Karnus gave Ryndathilar a pouch of money and directed him to buy some clothing and a decent sword, his own enchanted blade having been pawned some weeks earlier.
As the gondola bumped gently against the side of the marked docks, Ryndathilar climbed out to stand looking down at Karnus. “Thanks,” he said, cradling the money.
“Think of this as a second chance, my friend.” Karnus looked up into the big man’s eyes. “Don’t waste it.”
Ryndathilar nodded. “I won’t,” he said.
“Good luck,” replied the wizard as the pair shook hands, “I’ll be back soon.” Ryndathilar stood and watched as the gondolier pushed the small boat away from the dock. Karnus turned in the boat to hold the man’s gaze, noting with some pleasure the half smile on the man’s face.
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