The dragon just stared at me for a few moments, teeth bared all the while. It took a step towards me
and then another
and another. When it finally stood a mere arm's length away from me it paused and stared directly into my eyes; I held my ground. For a few moments the air itself seemed to be on fire, this dragon was rife with irritation.
"Be angry all you want Sylus, I spied a lake down by the forest at the base of the mountain; I know what you've been doing while I kept you" I smirked.
The dragons face lightened and bore a more gentle expression, he then said, "As a future Armedon, I'd expect you to at least be punctual." He then laughed a guttural laugh and remarked, "But you do know me well Malak. Aye, while you were off being late, I did indeed enjoy a swim."
Sylus had been my friend since I was twelve; He worked and learned at the academy since he was just a hatchling. We basically grew up together. He was technically a drake, not a dragon; dragons were much larger and much dumber than drakes, but other than that, they shared many characteristics, each could fly and breathe flame. Drakes even had few cities in the floating isles of Awey. They were a cultured race, and could even cast magic, and despite most people's bigotry towards them, many kept a level head in human countries. Sylus was no different; he was calm and tranquil, level headed and eloquent. Just the type of person I enjoyed spending time with.
Sylus walked over to the fire and sat on his haunches near the flames. I ambled over and joined him. His gaze drifted onto the watchman I took from the lords' estate. The watchman was still out cold.
"This must be the reason why you were late, eh?" he said with a look of disdain. "He didn't-"
"Aye, he did." I said with frustration in my voice. "Not only that, but it was my fault he knew about the stone as well
Were it not for that damn watchman I wouldn't have blood on my hands either."
"You killed someone!?" Sylus said with intensity.
"I had to; he nearly cut my head off." I said flatly.
"You know how serious this is don't you Malak? Your father will be furious at you for this."
"I know!" I said irritably. "I'm well aware of the consequences of my actions." The campfire crackled and churned. All was silent for a few moments as Sylus contemplated the next course of action. Sylus looked at me and said, "We'll wait for him to wake, and then I'll take him to the academy. I wouldn't want him waking up mid-flight to fall to his death in surprise. Looks like you'll either have to walk, or wait for me to get back."
"I'll walk. It'll give me time to think anyways" I said distantly. Sylus gazed at the fire. I got up and walked over to the ledge of the mountain. I looked off into the distance at the countryside below. It was serene. Much of the Jallarin countryside was. Jallar spread across the southern continent for miles; it was the second largest Kingdom in Arkhas, ruled by the benevolent Queen Eris. The mages of the Three Spires were on good terms with Queen Eris, many moved to Jallar when their training was complete to live normal lives, or at least, as normal as a mages life could be. Most mages however, preferred to stay at the academy, fulfilling contracts and traveling the world in the name of arcane enlightenment.
I lost myself in thought; I didn't even notice Sylus beside me. Sylus looked off into the countryside as well, and then turned his head towards me, he looked grim and asked me, "He'll be out for a while. Why don't you start from the beginning as to how this happened to pass the time?"
"Very well," I stated, "It began simply enough, I left camp at sunset and made my way to the lords estate. By now, it was midnight, and after looking for a good vantage point I spent the next hour tracking watchmen patrols. After I was certain I had their pattern memorized, I slipped between patrols and into the manor. I used a spell that made my hands and feet sticky enough to cling to walls and infiltrated the mansions ceilings. Then the guard I had killed looked up and threw a candlestick at me
I finished the rest of the tale as Sylus stood listening intently. After a few moments of contemplated silence he turned his head and said lightheartedly, "Well, you are quite the professional."
"Very funny" I retorted. "I suspect that he'll be waking soon. Shall we get ready?"
Sylus walked back to the fire and sat back down on his haunches. An hour passed and mid-day approached swiftly. The watchmen finally began to groan as I dashed over to him. A few preparations later and I was ready for nearly any eventuality. The watchman opened his eyes slightly, and got a good look at me, his eyes then cracked wide open and he crawled back several feet in fear.
"You! What did you do to me? How did I get here?" cried the watchman. His eyes met Sylus' and if he wasn't afraid yet, he definitely was now. He jumped to his feet and bolted towards the forest; he didn't make it very far. I cast some elemental magic raising the earth around his feet to lock him in place. "NO! PLEASE!" begged the watchman, "Don't let him eat me!" he shouted. I shot a quick smirk to Sylus; he just grunted indignantly. Sylus was the first to speak, "Relax, I'm not going to eat you. My friend here just wants to explain a few things to you" The watchman looked at Sylus incredulously; he was clearly surprised to see him speak. Great
of all the yokels to touch an Arkstone, it had to be the one that was completely ignorant of the world and its' inhabitants. You'd actually be surprised how many people are content with their small worlds before them, completely oblivious to the outside world and its machinations. This was one of them.
"Okay dragon, if you're not going to eat me, then tell your friend to let me go. There's no reason to keep me imprisoned." His voice was shaky and frightful. He'd likely try to run again if I let him go. But I had to give him the chance, after all, this was a future student of the academy, whether he liked it or not. I released the earth holding his feet in place, he fell to the ground and picked himself up soon after. I escorted him back to the fire and the three of us sat down. So far, so good. I was the first to speak,
"Do you know what you've done?" was all I asked. He stared at me for a bit, contemplating his answer. "I acted in fear." He remarked. "I heard the commotion upstairs and figured one the wizards of the academy had finally come to take what was theirs." He paused. It was deathly silent as he stared at his palms' 'Mark of the Ark'. "I've heard tales of what you can do wizard. You can turn men inside out by simply lookin' at em. I knew the only way to fight you was to be just as powerful as you were." He continued on, "I didn't know the stone would hurt or knock me out, otherwise I would have just ran."
"You should have ran" I said coldly. Sylus shot me a glare. I picked up on his hint and changed my tone. "Do you have any family in Jallar?" I questioned gently. He looked at me oddly, wondering why I would ask such a thing. He cautiously answered.
"Just my pop" He said. "The rest of my family was killed in the Klauwak raids ten years back."
Klauwaks. Nightmarish creature's chest high to a man, they looked like demons with sandy tight skin and black horns sprouting from their temples, claws about three inches long dot each of their three fingers, alone, they were easy enough to kill, but In packs
they were a force to be reckoned with. Even mages were warned to stay away from them. Much of their numbers had diminished after the Jallarians raided their caverns a decade ago. Now they were a rare sight. Still, this would make things much simpler with less family to worry about. I decided it was now or never; I laid the bad news on him.
"Like it or not, you're now a mage." I paused a few moments to let it sink in; he just looked solemnly at his 'Mark of the Ark' on his right hand. "As a mage, you are dangerous, you can maim or even kill those around you accidently without proper training, So Sylus here is going to take you to the Three Spires Academy to get you trained up and ready for re-integration with society. After you learn how to control your newfound powers you're free to go." I left out the part about it taking five years. I didn't want to deal with it at the present time. He looked distraught, much as I expected, his tiny, comfortable world was being turned on its head. The campfire crackled and split. Embers flew into the sky on the breeze. The forest was gently stirred by the wind as we waited. The watchman finally said, "If I go with you to this academy, my father will be taken care of, right? Without me, he'd have no one to provide food for him, no one to protect him from Klauwaks."
It wasn't uncommon. Many times chosen and accidental mages alike were the sole providers of their families; my father was very lenient on letting families stay together, so long as each new addition to the academy did their part. His father would probably be given an easy task to do to pull his weight like tending the books (provided he could read) or tending the gardens.
I told him an escort would be along for his father within the week and a letter sent to him by hawk the following day. He'd have his family and nothing to lose. His cooperation was now ensured. His eyes brightened, possibly excited, he definitely had a sense of adventure about him. Perhaps he wasn't a lost cause after all. Suddenly it dawned on me that we didn't know each other's names.
"I'm Malak" I offered a hand, only then did I care enough to get a good look at him. He was very tall, about six feet and five inches, thickly built with blonde shoulder length hair to match his shaggy goatee. His nose was slender and his brow strong, with a squared jawline as well. "Jorvar" he grasped my hand with vigor, and shook it firmly. He was definitely excited for the future, and why shouldn't he be? His life as a lowly lord's guard was over; he was a mage now, strong and dignified.
"Lovely" Sylus jested, "Just lovely". The three of us stood up around the campfire and moved with a purpose. I extinguished the fire with a quick spell and set forth to the edge of the mountain, before I went to jump down the cliff I overheard Jorvar asking how Sylus was going to take him to the academy. He was in for a surprise I'm sure, when he would discover he'd be riding Sylus back. Luckily that weight charm was still in effect. I'd consider it my gift to Sylus for dumping Jorvar on him in the first place. I dropped several feet down onto the ledge below the outcropping our campfire was at. Descent would be much easier than climbing up, especially now that I was rid of Jorvar. It would be about two days travel if I rushed back to the academy. I wasn't looking forward to confronting my father about the past night, so I'd take my time. Dropping from ledge to ledge I began to think about how Sylus was lucky, having wings built in from birth, If I really wanted to, I could give myself a set to match, but that was a spell that was difficult even for me. Magic was more of a conduit than a force, it used your body and Arkstone to generate the magic, if you went to cast a spell beyond your abilities, the energy would have nowhere to source from, and it would start taking life essence. Luckily, most mages could cut the flow of magic before it did any serious harm, but some overzealous mages would expend all their energy and collapse, dying from energy loss. That's not to say that it was impossible to cast certain spells, magic was all about efficiency. All one has to do is be clever about the way they intend to draw the magic. There was always a way, in my experience nothing was impossible, it just took slow practice.
Losing myself in thought was the fastest way to travel in my opinion, I hadn't even realized I made it back to the base of the mountain. Looking back up I saw a small green dot take off in the direction of the eastern mountains, good, I thought to myself, they'd make it back to the academy before nightfall. I also started my way towards the mountains, walking forward, I set on my journey.
* * *
I stopped at the base of the mountain range and borders of Jallar, a small mining town was situated a half mile or so from the mountains. Nightfall was already upon me, but I was making better time than I had hoped. Staying the night at the local inn of the mining town would do well to delay my arrival. It was an old inn, broken down and weary, 'The Jolly Klauwak'. What an ironic name, Klauwaks never showed emotion around people outside of their clans, but the name became fitting the moment I stepped inside the inn and spotted a stuffed Klauwak head twisted into a jovial expression above an enormous fireplace. It looked queer, its black horns sprouting from its temples and demonic face warped into a face of glee. I found it quite peculiar. Sitting down at the bar I took in my surroundings, the inside was much the same as the outside, old and weary, but it maintained quite a bit of warmth on the inside thanks to the fireplace and stuffed head. Other trinkets lined the walls, no doubt collected and bartered over the years as small treasures. Though it was midnight, the inn was lively and festive, miners from the town spending their coin for the day. The Innkeeper spotted me at the bar, hand without drink and immediately set to correcting the problem. "What'll it be, bub?" he said gruffly. He was a short grizzled man, easy to tell he worked the mines regularly when he wasn't keeping the inn. "I'll take a room for the night, and some ale."
"all right then, that'll be ten goldpiece for the room and five for the ale."
"Five goldpiece for a cup of ale!?" I exclaimed. "It better be the best damn ale I've ever had for that price" I grumbled as I gave him the coin. He silently poured me a cup of ale and pointed me to my room, "the first one on the left up the stairs is yours buddy. Thanks for the business." And with that, he set upon cleaning and tending the bar. I quietly sipped my ale and eavesdropped on the locals. It was the best way to gather information without causing a stir. "Did you hear about Lord Bendleton's guard? They say he was burned alive. One of those damned mages I bet. Maybe even a dragon." Perfect. People had already set to rumoring about it. And if it made its way all the way to the borders of Jallar then it must have been big news. No doubt Lord Bendleton had made a big deal of it. Luckily Queen Eris would shoot him down in court if he dare brought it up. All we had to do was bring up the very valid point of him stealing the shipment of Arkstones in the first place. Arkstones were worth fortunes; his crimes were severe enough to warrant extradition to the mercy of the Armedon. He wouldn't make anything official, but he would do everything in his political power to make life hell for the local mages in Jallar. This was all because of that damn watchman looking up when he wasn't supposed to, none of this wouldn't have happened otherwise. I've had to have done assignments like these a hundred times, sneak in, grab the stolen goods, sneak out. This was the first time anything like this had happened.
It wasn't the first time I had to kill either. I've killed in self-defense before, several times, once against a mob of would be 'witch-burners'. But all of those times were when my life was in direct danger and under circumstances I had no control of. This time someone died because of my failings, had I done the job under the veil of stealth, no one would be dead right now, and Jorvar's life would be normal. My mind raced with different possibilities, what if I had used invisibility, what if I possessed an insect, what if
what if. 'What ifs' were useless. What's done is done, nothing more to it. Now all that was left was to face my father.
I mulled over my guilt for the next hour or so as the bar began to quiet down as everyone head off to home or their rooms. After taking a quick glance at the fire to be greeted with nothing but embers, I decided it'd be best for me to get some sleep as well. I wasn't looking forward to it. The dreams would be
unpleasant. I made my way up the stairs and into the first room on the left, inside was a cozy bed wrapped in a quilt of what appeared to be elk fur. A candle flickered gently upon a desk in the corner. I got into the bed and drifted off slowly into sleep
When I gained consciousness I was no longer in my room, I was in a void, black as the deepest midnight and devoid of any life. A loud boom of "MALAK!!!" reverberated across the void, bass sending echoes in all directions. Several feet in front of me, a wisp of yellow energy appeared and twisted until it took the shape of a man, then with a loud 'crack' my father materialized before me. His face stern with concern, and features twisted in frustration. He was shorter than I was at about six feet, yet much thinner of a build, he wore a well-trimmed goatee and a head of combed brown hair, he wore a black cloak with yellow embroidering stitched in various geometric shapes around the coat tails of the cloak, inside the cloak he wore a grey tunic with some fine pants and boots. In his hand, his personal staff of the Armedon, outfitted with a very powerful blank Arkstone upon the top. He gazed at me for a moment in the silence of the void.
I looked down in shame. This was why I was avoiding sleep for so long. My father had long perfected the art of the dream world, he could enter and influence the mind very easily, and he took a great interest in dreams and their properties, and had published several books detailing the inner machinations of the mind. Had it not been so terrifying, I would be enthralled right now, it's not every day that your dreams are invaded by a conscious presence.
I continued to look down, not meeting his gaze until he finally said not in anger, but disappointment, "Do you know why it is I send you to do these tasks and not one of the other mages of the academy?" his voice was gentle, much as it always was. He was a kind man.
I remained silent, not uttering a word, and not meeting his gaze. I wasn't proud of what transpired. He continued on, "I send you, because unlike most at the academy, you show extraordinary restraint in your dealings with the common folk. You don't lash out in anger, and you don't seek a fight, you operate under the veil of anonymity." He paused a moment to let his words sink in. "Now however, I'm not so sure. You could have done countless different things to avoid killing that guard, you could have frozen him, temporarily paralyzed him, or even
" I cut him off "I only did it out of self-defense!" I exclaimed, "He nearly cut my head off! What was I supposed to do? I reacted; it was reflex, nothing more!" tears in my eyes began to form, "I didn't want to hurt anybody!" I shouted, now visibly crying, he approached me carefully and put a hand on my shoulder, he then soothed, "Son, life is precious, each of us only gets one
You'll have to carry your guilt until the day you die, which alone is punishment enough." He comforted me as I continued to sob. "But I can't let you off that easily. As punishment for your actions, you'll be off assignments until I deem fit, and you'll be training the newest bunch of mages fresh to the academy. I believe you've already met Jorvar
" I just stood there, stunned. Being off assignments meant being cooped up at the academy; no more adventure, no more seeing the world
it was the worst thing he could do to me and he knew it. Not only that but teaching wasn't exactly one of my favorite past times. I hated answering questions, and bright faced mages always had a thousand questions.
After he had said what he came to the void to say, my father took several steps back and bade me farewell, "Good bye son, I'll see you tomorrow evening." And with a flash of yellow light, he was gone. I woke up on the floor of the room I rented for the evening, dawn light seared through the dirty window of the room illuminating the room in a soft orange glow, the grizzled innkeeper stood at the doorway looking at me on the floor.
"Just making sure you weren't pilfing somebody. There ain't none of that in my inn. I gotta clean those sheets ya know. Looks like you had a rough night regardless." And with that, the innkeeper turned and head down stairs, oblivious to the events that just transpired within my own mind.