by J.N. Thomas
A fantasy story about a man and his mistakes.
She shook her cloak and watched as drops of rain disappeared into the grey morning. She was thoroughly soaked; her pack, her cloak, her clothes and even her food despite her careful wrapping were water ridden.
With a sigh, she continued her trek up the steep mountain trail. Her feet were sore from the endless walking. Worst, she guessed that her expensive traveling boots were about done for, if the quantity of water soaking her feet was any indication.
She was tired and weary, but she kept on walking through the lush forested mountain side. It would not do to turn back now. To turn back when in the distance, at least as far as the cloudy morning allowed her to see, she could make out what appeared to be a tall spire reaching out into the heavens.
She was still too far off to make out the details, yet the sight was still beautiful. She could make out, through the opening between the lush green trees, the yellow gold domed roof on top of the spire. She could tell there was a walkway or maybe just a balcony on the side of the tower. She noticed openings too large to be arrow slits spiraling around the tower in their slow decent towards the base of the tower. Or so she assumed, since she could only see the upper part of the tower; the rest of it blocked off by the muddy path.
Not for the first time she wondered why she was sent here. Why she had to relinquish the splendors of her apprenticeship to come in this backwater complex? She had risen so high and for what, to travel for three months through the human kingdom of Astar, the brutal orcish lands and the sand scorched desert of Anarus. To finally reach the Spire, a place she had never heard of before she started this journey.
All this travel simply because her mentor had told her to do it. Often times during the trip she longed to turn back, to tell the great Arch Mage himself, that she had failed, that she hadn’t found the Spire of which he had spoken of. But then she’d imagine his face. She imagined his sleight shoulder shrugging as he would have turned from her and told her to depart. She imagined how he would have set her aside, his once most promising pupil, and taken another talented apprentice into his care. Every time she was about to give up, she’d imagine all that and worse. Every time she simply took one more step.
Upon reaching the top of the small rise she swore bitterly. Before her the ground sloped steeply down to an overflowing brook to then steadily rise up again to another rise. With some heartfelt curses she quickly continued her path, the sight of the Spire a clear beacon off in the distance.
She knew soon she would have to rest. She had been walking for several hours now, and as her stomach noisily reminded her every so often, it was long past her mid day meal. But the thought of stopping to sit on a wet log, or even a large rock, to then munch a soggy salted meal turned her stomach almost as much as the lack of food did. She was close, perhaps an hour more of walking would see her to her destination. Her stomach would simply have to exercise patience.
She leaned heavily on her staff as she navigated through a small ledge where the relentless rain had caused part of the road to collapse. She felt the mud give way beneath her feet causing her to catch a wet root with her free hand. Cursing she regained her balance and finally made it to the top of the miniature cliff.
“Blood,” she mumbled as she looked at her left hand where the root had cut through her soft skin and blood welled up as if eager to exit her body. Almost as eager as her magic had been in the orcish lands.
There had been a small troupe of orcs, a hunting party most likely. They had carried long spears, strangely curved bows as well as gleaming axes. It had been the first time that she had seen an orc in her life. Her first look at the greenish skin, the pointy ears, the large flat foreheads that made them look like some stupid brutes. She had been scared of the large tusks that kept their lips in a sort of permanent sneer.
She had not thought. She wasn’t even sure that they were going to attack her. She had only acted, spilling forth blasts of magical fire as she had been taught. She had watched in amazement as her clumsily cast spells blasted two of the orcs into a bloody pulp. She had cast more bolts as the other orcs grabbed their fallen and turned to run. She had cast until they were all dead.
She had felt a strange elation when she realized she was the stronger. That she, a young lady barely over five feet high, had killed a dozen or so eight feet tall orcs. Still to this day over a month later, she felt the sense of power deep within her. It lay there curled, content and patient. She knew given an opportunity it would leap through her and deal death on any foe she might face. She had the control on another’s life. It was a pleasant feeling.
It was a safe feeling.
Carefully she set her pack down on a mildly wet rock. With her good hand she rummaged through the bag in search of something that could serve as a bandage. With a heavy sigh she took out the only garment that was not as thoroughly soaked as the rest of her. She then put part of the garment in her mouth and with much frustration proceeded to cut a long strip of cloth with her dagger.
Once her hand was carefully wrapped in the cloth, she repacked her bag and resumed her trek up the trail. The trail was pretty narrow, she doubted two people could walk side by side on it. As she walked branches and leaves gently came in contact with her arms. Despite the grey clouds and the tight environment from the trees, she didn’t feel threatened in any way. As if each had a place in some grand painting made especially for her.
She could hear the birds, in the forest. She could heard their musical voices drifting through the damp rain filled air. She could also hear the predators as they caught their prey. The sounds of the hunted crying their pain did little to disturb the lovely music of the forest. If anything it only enhanced it.
The music reminded her of the village that she had stumbled across late in the night two days prior. It had been small; four, perhaps five, wooden huts placed in a rough circle around a large fire pit. A dozen or so scantly clad villagers had been dancing around the fire, their musical voices raised high in song.
She knew them at once by their long hair, lithe figures, and large luminous eyes that they were elves. They had been as beautiful as the stories about elves suggested. But their beauty was more in a feminine way; with their smooth angular faces, long straight hair, slim long fingered hands, and small almost non-existent curves.
She had eaten their food and dried herself by the fire. She had also remained polite through their foolish stories and prophecies of how the Dark One would rise once again, and lead the elves, humans, orcs, and even the mighty dwarves in a war that would destroy civilizations as well as end the threat of the demon empire in the east. She nodded pleasantly as they recounted how the Dark One would save them all.
She shouldn’t have been surprised though. She knew that many of the elves within these forests were little more than savages that had been allied with the Wizard of Darkness in his failed war two thousand years ago. A war which had claimed victims in the hundreds of thousands and had been narrowly won by the united forces of the elves of Yenelus and humans of Astar. And considering that elves lived close to a thousand years, it was no surprise that some where still loyal to that monster.
But still she ignored their foolish notions and withheld her opinion. She played nice, smiling a lot and nodding at their foolish stories of a golden age to come. She didn’t even mind when one of the young elven males slipped into her furs that night. She was simply too happy to have a warm and dry place to sleep.
When, in the morning, she had left, the lover, an elf with overly large pale blue eyes and thin youthful body, had handed her a silver medallion with the dreaded symbol of the phoenix. She had politely taken the gift and discarded it as soon as she was out of sight. She had no wish to be associated with a cult to the Wizard of Darkness.
She wondered how even his allies could still believe in him. They hardly seem to be capable of the atrocities of the past. How could such gentle folk still follow the memory of a man who not only nearly destroyed them, but killed so many innocents? And for what; for the simple thrill of death. It was even said that the Dark One would eat flesh from the foes he would kill. That he would cause hundreds of minds to explode with a single glance. That he had enslaved even the most powerful dragons to rain death on the world.
And only one man had stopped him, the Arch Mage himself. The ruler of White Rock, savior of the free races of Astar, the elves of Yenelus, and even the dwarven strongholds of Melindur, whom had not even participated in the war but would have been next to fall before the Wizard of Darkness. It was said that the Arch Mage had either destroyed the Cloaked One in battle or that he had simply capture the land’s Nemesis through an ingenious plan. But one thing was certain, after the final confrontation between the Arch Mage and the Dark One, the land had been at peace.
She shook her head as she continued to climb the steep path. There were fools aplenty in the world, and these little elves where no exception. And was she a fool as well, going half around the known world because one man asked her to. Was she as foolish as even the elves?
She shrugged and then proceeded to push through the thick vegetation that had started to claim the thin path. She moved through the wet leaves and stepped on soggy and slippery ground, trying desperately to keep her balance. She didn’t relish the thought of being covered in mud as well as being wet to the bone.
As she neared the peek of her climb she felt a few rays of sun slide through the thick grey clouds that hung heavy above her. She felt the warm touch of the light upon her face, nearly blinding her and inflicting sweet pain to her brown eyes. She enjoyed the warmth so long denied to her.
Blinded as she was it took her a moment to realize that she had crested the small rise and to notice what lay before her. She placed a hand above her forehead, shielding her dark eyes from the sun’s painful rays to catch her first full glimpse of the Spire.
The valley was dominated by a beautiful clear blue lake and a mountainside thick with lush green vegetation. Trees, bigger than she had ever seen, spotted the gentle green hills that filled the rest of the valley. Deer and wild horses galloped freely over the land while colorful birds flew from one tree to another crying out their approach to the rest of the world.
Between the lake and the mountain side sprawled an immense walled city of white stones. She gazed above the city’s rooftops at the dozen of elaborate towers that spiraled as if the owners wished to touch the clouds by merely stepping out onto the top balcony. The city, she was sure, could house tens of thousands of people. Even from her distance she could see the broad avenues, immense fountains and large mansions.
But despite the city’s splendors, they were little when compared to the citadel that lay against the mountainside. Large gardens flanked an immense complex of several gold domed interconnected buildings and one large tower, the one she had seen for the last several hours. The Spire, she presumed, rose up high over the city, making all the other towers appear to be no more than saplings beside a full grown tree. She could see now that what she had taken to be mere windows were in fact huge doorways leading to balconies that spiraled around the entire tower. She counted no less than two dozen balconies, as well as the huge one at the top of the tower.
And to think she had considered White Rock large.
With a shrug she headed down the small path towards the deserted city. She wondered what long lost city this place was. Perhaps it was Calidin, the Great City of Morning, that had been constructed and then hidden by the elven magic hundreds of years ago. No, it was said that city was deep within Yenelus, which lay thousands of leagues away. Perhaps it was Genurus, the lost city of the dwarven smiths. But somehow she did not think the dwarves could create such splendors.
She eventually veered off the path onto a large stone road. The grey, pink, and white stones that somehow had survived countless years of erosion by wind and water, looked smooth and beautiful by the light the sun rays provided.
As she walked on the even stones towards the city she realized that it had stopped raining. She looked up to find that the clouds had parted sufficiently to let the yellow sun and some blue appear in the sky. With the clouds all around the sight made her feel like if a large eye was watching her.
She shrugged away the sudden discomfort and headed directly towards the city. Hurrying her steps a little, she passed through the open city gates into a broad plaza made entirely of alabaster stone with at its center a large unused fountain, carved in the likeness of a phoenix.
She stopped moving and looked around. Only deserted streets greeted her. She looked at the beautiful buildings, and examined the swooping curves, the fragile looking balconies, and the oval windows, all telltale signs of elven architecture.
She took a fearful step back. She now knew where she was. This city had been the home of some of the greatest wizards of all time. It had been a prosperous city before the Dark Times had come. Before the Wizard of Darkness had made it his home. Before he had enslaved it to his will.
But he was gone, she told herself and then smiled, the city had been deserted for about two thousand years. And now she knew why the Arch Mage had sent her here. This place would be littered with powerful arcane such as scrolls, wands, staves, and even books. She would learn so much here.
She laughed joyfully and struck off towards an inn. She was sure that most of the houses, not to mention the towers or the Spire, would be filled with trap spells, and in her tired state she didn’t feel like working her way through those. She rest one night, eat a warm supper and start fresh come the morning.
Finally electing one, she entered the three story high inn to find a rich wooden common room with a dozen or so empty tables and three times as many chairs. To her surprise she found that the wood was still in great condition, as if the last two millenniums had never happened.
She smiled and began to cast a simple spell to let her see all magic in the room. She carefully crafted the words and waved her hands in the elaborate movements required by the spell. She felt the magic rise in her and settle behind her eyes. She then looked around and saw, as she had guessed, that the entire building was cloaked in preserving magic.
Carefully she peered outside to see that the entire city seemed to be cloaked in the same powerful spell. It was almost as if someone had cast a spell to stop the effects of time on the entire city.
She couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to cast a spell of that magnitude. To feel such power, to affect so much. Perhaps it had been the Arch Mage himself who had cast it after defeating the Dark One. Perhaps he had cast it for a time when he would send a promising pupil to learn from these magical caches.
She smiled; a pupil such as Trivina Dul’Fur.