Monday, August 8, 2011

Demons, Magic, and All Things Unbelievable

I started writing another story on a whim. Here's a bit of it. I'd appreciate any thoughts or feedback. Of course, if you don't like it, I might hunt you down and kick you!


Daritan Talgini woke to the sound of hooves outside the tavern. A sliver of candle light flickered in the hallway. Please don’t knock on the door, he thought.
In the past week he’d been woken in the middle of the night by strangers and werewolves three times.

He closed his eyes, as if by doing so whoever was outside would go away. And then, much as he expected, and much how he dreaded, a knock came at the door. “By the Great One,” he cursed to himself, then rolled over and pulled his pillow over his head. Let Yhorin or Tristin deal with it this time. Wait, no, Tristin is dead. That had happened five nights ago, after Tristin had decided to traipse after the old man who kept spying on the tavern whenever a storm arose. Tristin full well earned his death. Who attacks a strange man in the middle of the night without trying to reason with him first? He’d been singed to ash in an instant and Daritan and Jimn had fled, as might be expected when a man breathes fire hotter than the hottest forge fire upon your friend.

“You better come out,” Yhorin called through the crack in Daritan’s door.

“By Gloom, Yhorin, can’t you deal with it?”

“You need to come see this,” Yhorin insisted.

By now there were the sounds of many feet up and about. No doubt all the tavern staff was awake. Time to see what was happening this time. Another dark wizard, were-bears, or those little pigmy devil things with the sharpened teeth from that retched island?
He threw on the shirt he’d worn the day before, which had been left hanging from the end of his bed, and walked out and around the corner, into the tavern’s common room.
Through the open front door of the tavern was visible an elegant coach, dressed in all black and with actual glass windows. Glass! For a coach! “Coit,” he cursed under his breath. It was undoubtedly the same coach that had been parked in the middle of road, door open, which they’d passed only the day before as they’d returned home from the Red Mines.

“Coit,” Yhorin agreed gravely, and looking as if he belonged in a grave as well. Of course, the grave look about him might full well be the lingering effects of having been poisoned some month or so ago. “Take a look inside.”

Daritan gave his lumbering friend a skeptical look. Everyone else in the room nodded or otherwise indicated that he ought to take a gander into the retched carriage that was keeping him from yet another good night’s sleep.

Daritan shuffled to the front door, suddenly quite keenly aware that he was wearing his stained unders, and that Kara was likely to see. He thought about pulling his shirt down, but it was a vain effort. Likely, he’d only draw more attention to the stains. And no story, demons or not, could save him the embarrassment of explaining how he’d shat himself. I ought to burn this pair.

He stuck his head out the front door and looked into the carriage, which had one of its double-doors currently open. A bottle of wine sat in a chill-box with ice—real ice! How’d they get ice all the way down here? Nobody else knew how to manipulate cold within a thousand miles… did they?

Resting in front of the chill-box was a finely cut and bleached piece of vellum, with full signet emblem carefully inked atop the page with the same symbol stamped in wax at the bottom.

He took up the page.

Daritan Taligini, Yhorin Dhonohmin, Hrothgar Bloodein, and Seth Rendikas:

The pleasure of your company is requested. A banquet shall be held to which you will be esteemed guests. There is much to discuss.

There was nothing else written. No name signed, no date given. Just the wax emblem at the base of the page: two parallel lines, a wavy line between them, and wings to either side.

Daritan kept the paper in his hand as he turned around to face the others. “That’s it? You could’ve left me in bed for this. It isn’t even dated! Surely this could have waiting until morning!

Ricky, resident gambler and bus boy, shook his head and lifted a finger to point over Daritan’s shoulder.

A tall, gaunt, and quite sickly looking gentleman in a top hat and dressed in all black stood, slowly shaking his head back and forth.

“Who’s this, then?” Daritan asked. And how did I not notice him before?

“He won’t say anything,” Kara said. “I’ve tried… But I… Well, don’t you get the feeling when he looks at you that you have to accept the invitation?”

Now that he thought on it, something in the gaunt gentleman’s eyes did compel Daritan to enter the coach without question. Of course, following such promptings—in the middle of the night, no less—is exactly the type of thing that kept getting them into all these damned queer situations. He’d never heard of half the nightmares and demons he’d encountered in the last three months, let alone believed they were real. Now it seemed he was doomed to some form of paranormal experience on, at the very least, a weekly basis.

His hand subconsciously slid to one of the scars on his left forearm. Bad new, that. Even now he couldn’t explain what had possessed him to try casting ritual magic that involved self-mutilation. He still didn’t feel quite well in the head. It seemed whispered voices hid around every corner, and flickers of shadow always at the edge of his vision.

“I…” He turned and looked at everyone in the room. “This is a bad idea. We shouldn’t go.”

Yhorin nodded his big head, his eyes wide and pleading.

Seth looked hesitant to say anything.

Seth was their recently acquired business manager, who’d only become necessary as the previous one had somehow turned lycanthrope and, of course, had needed to be dispatched, which was one of the few occasion in which Daritan had had the opportunity to use frost as a weapon. “I think we should go… I don’t think he’ll leave unless we go with him.” He pointed to the coachman.
“And if he doesn’t?”

“Well, think on it,” Seth said. “Whoever has invited us knows all of our names, surnames included, he knows where we reside, despite our brief stay at this residence, and he has, it would seem, found us before, if you will recall this coach from our journey? Additionally, it would seem they predicted Hrothgar,” he gave a polite nod to the heavily bearded tracker who stood, fully-dressed in his furs, “would be in residence at this moment, despite his constant journeying.”

Hrothgar grunted, farted, and scratched at his beard. “Aye, weird that, isn’t it?”

Daritan took a moment’s pause to think. “So you believe we should go.”

“I hardly believe we have any other choice. Think of what has happened to us of late. Do you truly believe we could avoid the circumstances we are invited to?”

No, Daritan thought. “Well, we might simply leave, as you’ve so often suggested. We could sell the tavern and take passage to the south or east, and leave all this incredible nonsense behind us. I would say to the north, but I’ve no mind to become entangled in the war, even though I find the climate more amenable.”

“Perhaps if we’d followed on that plan some weeks ago,” Seth said as if he were weighing his words as he spoke them. “But I think the time for that has gone past us. That is not to say, it shall not return again, but I believe, at the moment, we are inclined to take up the offer before us and enjoy a ride in this luxurious carriage.”

Daritan sighed and resigned himself, for as he ran through Seth’s logic, he could find no fault. For, in truth, he did not believe they could escape whatever new mystery now presented itself. With recent events going as they had, it would seem they were about to find themselves, yet again, in another unusual circumstance which would be beyond reality to any random member of the general populace.

“Let’s be about it, then,” Daritan said, going to the side of the room and grabbing his spiked shield from where it rested against the wall, and then jumping into the carriage. “Well?”

“Are you not going to be dressed first?”

Daritan grinned. “If our unknown, yet undoubtedly esteemed host deems to interrupt my sleep, then he can deal with my state of undress.”

“Would you not prefer, since you have chosen to bring your shield, to at least bring some form of armor, should the occasion require?” Seth asked.

“Very well,” Daritan said, seeing the wisdom of Seth’s suggestion. He promptly leapt from the carriage and walked to his room where he retrieved his somewhat antiquated suit of ever so slightly rusted chainmail. Quite as a point, he did not don the armor, choosing instead to shove it in a bag and return to his previous seat in the carriage, still in nothing but his ruffled shirt and stained unders.

Yhorin, looking very much as if he’d rather not, went to his rooms and returned fully dressed in his own suit of chainmail, which sat upon a quilted doublet. His hammer rested at his hip and for a brief moment he looked something fierce, until it could be noted that much of his size was, in fact, not muscle. With all the trepidation which usually escorted his actions, Yhorin entered the carriage, causing it to sway as it adjusted to his weight. He took the seat opposite of Daritan, leaving the last two seats open, in which Hrothgar—all muscle, sinew, and hair—quickly took up residence. Sometime later, after apparently collecting an assortment of potentially important items, Seth entered, full armored and carrying about his person several bags or notable size.

“You will be able to manage the tavern in our absence?” Daritan called out to Kara, the fiery red head for which their tavern, The Fiery Wench, was named.

“Have we not done so endlessly these past months?” she called back, a coy, yet mischievous smile upon her face.

“So you have,” Daritan was forced to admit. “I’ve frozen some twenty kegs and left another dozen or so chilled, so the stocks should be well and full until we’ve had a chance to return.”

“Bring me back something interesting,” Ricky said. “Maybe an item to accompany the odd-metaled war scythe you returned with on your last outing.”

“Hey,” Yhorin said. “that’s mine! I’m going to learn to use it.”

“You can hardly practice with it when you’ve left it behind, can you?” Ricky said, quickly walking forward to close the carriage door. “Have a fun… um, trip.” His words were muffled by the clear, and, upon closer inspection, most definitely perfect glass windows.

In a quick moment they were away. Seth drew the black curtains for the windows on his side of the vehicle while Yhorin did the same for the opposite side.
“Should we have the wine?” Yhorin asked.

Seth looked at the fine bottle as if it were filled with poison, which, given recent events, very well might’ve been true. “You can, my good friend. I will not touch the stuff.”

“Suit yourself,” Yhorin said. He grabbed a glass, of which there were four, and poured himself one.

In the light of the carriage, the wine which Yhorin poured became a mix of deep purple and red, both colors swirling quite mystically in his glass. Suddenly curious as to the source of the illumination which allowed the wine’s colors to be seen, Daritan looked about and noticed four ambient glowing stones in each corner. They were of indistinct material and appeared to be enchanted after a fashion which could only confirm that they were, as a group, most assuredly heading into another most peculiar adventure.

“I voice my idea yet again,” Seth said after some minutes of travel. “That many, if not all, of the odd occurrences we are so constantly assaulted with might be explained by the odd connection Kara seems to share with the were-beasts and dark magicians we’ve encountered.”

“And yet she was not invited,” Daritan pointed out. “Perhaps it is time we pursue other avenues of logic to explain how it is that we have so constantly and continuously found ourselves in extraordinary circumstances.”

“We’re cursed,” Yhorin said, taking a sip of the wine. “My, this is the most aromatic and lovely drink I’ve ever experienced!” In an instant he had finished his glass and his eyes and smile suggested he’d somehow become pleasantly and instantly inebriated.
“We are not cursed,” Seth said dismissively.

“I would not be so quick to dismiss the possibility,” Daritan said. “Especially given that we cannot discover any other possible explanations.”

“You do have a limited use of magic,” Seth pointed out. “Such abilities might be enough to draw unwanted attention.”

Daritan gave a nod of his head, though he knew, as those who know anything of magic, that his limited abilities were nothing of note.

“Does it not seem to you,” Daritan commented, as he continued to examine the extremely fine and lavish nature of the vehicle they occupied, “that whomever has taken the liberty of tracking us down and, indeed, inviting us to banquet, has the luxury of such extra monies as to afford… well, extreme luxury?”

“It seems to be so,” Seth agreed, to which Hrothgar nearly grunted and scratched himself, after the fashion with which he was accustomed to doing.

“Do you hear that?” Hrothgar said, craning his head as if to somehow hear more. “The coachman is cracking the reigns constantly.”

After a moment to listen, Daritan agreed.

“But we don’t seem to be going very quickly,” Hrothgar noted.

“For such a fine vehicle, it would reason that the master craftsman involved would’ve endeavored to make an unparalleled system of suspension,” Seth reasoned, “which, furthermore, would explain why we do not seem to be experiencing the full strength and force of our travel.”

“But we are beyond the lights of the city,” Hrothgar said, pulling aside the velvet curtain and motioning the enveloping darkness around them. “We cannot have been gone more than fifteen minutes, but we’ve gone at the very least ten leagues.”

Seth frowned and Daritan furrowed his brow as he thought about everything he’d learned of magic and came up with no explanation for how such a feat might be accomplished.

The remainder of their journey passed with relatively little of interest. Seth made several observations as to their circumstances while Yhorin and Hrothgar both fell asleep, which Daritan wanted to do as well, seeing as how he’d barely slept in a week. But the shadows in the corners of his vision were flickering again and a hollow voice, no more than a whisper through the passing trees nagged at the back of his mind.

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