Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chapter 5

The air smelled singly of ozone, all other odors obliterated by the sudden influx of power. An angry hornets’ nest of stray electrons continued to sizzle and buzz, gradually fading to an unnatural stillness.

He had materialized in a valley, robbed almost entirely of his memories. He knew his name, where he had to go, and that he was a wizard of unfathomable power. Deeper than these three facts he could not penetrate. Where he was, why he was here, what he had done before today; all were unattainable pieces of information to him. They were also of no consequence — there would be plenty of time to resolve these minor difficulties once he reached his destination. And that lay toward the West. Just how far west he did not know — the direction was all that held any significance to him at present. Westward to the information he sought, and toward his destiny.

He traveled on foot, not so much from necessity, but rather from choice. It gave him an opportunity to assess the situation he found himself in. For the first two days every new sight was a valuable piece of information, a learning experience. Slowly he began to remember.

Birds. Trees. Rain. People… a certain King in detail.

The third day began cloudy and overcast, and soon had turned to a gentle rain. When it began to rain again on the fourth day, Poté-Nûn (for thus was his name), exercised a smattering of his extensive power for the first time. Speaking only a single word, he formed what would be called on another world an umbrella. His spell served the same purpose as an umbrella; though there was no visible manifestation, Poté-Nûn remained dry. The rain simply refused to fall on him. Even the ground was dry where he placed his feet.

Shortly after midday the rains cleared and the sun issued forth. The wizard decided to stop for a short while for a small meal and to further ponder the ongoing effects of his strange amnesia. Why should his name, his destination and the name of Maront the King be the only important facts he could remember? Obviously the three pieces of information were interrelated. But how? And for what purpose?

The lack of positive information was maddening. Surely there must be some hint, some clue that would unlock the mystery of his past; but try as he might, that clue still eluded him. At times it seemed to mock him, standing almost within his grasp and then backpedaling the minute he made a conscious effort to comprehend it. At other times, it was as if the hint he was looking for would sneak up behind him, only to evaporate when he turned around to face it.

His meal of gathered berries and fruit finished, his deep meditations having yielded nothing useful, he resigned himself to continue his journey. He was almost manic in his purpose, the possibility of not finding the information he sought never entered his mind. He would succeed and he would have his answers, but for now, westward, for however long fate required of him.

The surrounding countryside impinged upon his senses not at all. Though some would have called the rolling hills and flowering trees beautiful, Poté-Nûn scarcely noticed them. He walked on the only road that traversed this country, all but oblivious to the verve of life that encircled him. These things held no answers for him, could not tell him what he so desperately wanted to learn. Since they played no part in his destiny, they were beneath his notice.

He paused as he crested a hill. The road wound down the far side of the hill directly into a village scattered over a small valley. Village? City? He remembered both terms but could not make a distinction. The name of the place he needed to find was Gorian. Maybe this was it. Maybe his answers were not so far away.

No. Gorian was a city. Maront was a King. Somehow he knew that this was not Gorian and that he would find no king here. So be it; for the moment even a village meant people, and people meant possible information.

From the hilltop the only logical choice was to head straight for the center of town, and, with no further hesitation, he began his descent into the valley. The buildings around the square appeared to be in somewhat better repair than the others. Some even showed signs of fresh paint; an indication of persons and functions of relative importance.

His passage into the village did not go unnoticed. It was nearly sundown, and virtually all the inhabitants were at home or returning home from their day's labor. He assumed that visitors of any kind were rare in this hamlet; and everyone paused to stare at the stranger on their street.

Looking neither left nor right, he threaded his way through the throng directly towards the center of town. When he reached the square his eye fell upon a sign attached haphazardly to a ramshackle, two-story dwelling that looked as if it had never stood square and hale.

Not overly impressive as a hotel, he thought silently.

The sound of water sloshing caught his attention and he turned to see a huge man with two buckets of water suspended from a pole across his massive shoulders approaching the structure. Years of hard labor in the sun and wind had burnished his skin to the color and texture of well-used leather. Wrinkles etched the corners of his eyes and the flesh of his forehead. His red beard had gone mostly gray. To Nûn, he didn’t appear to be the sort of man that would make an hospitable innkeeper.

No matter, thought the mage. A place to stay for as long as he needed would serve his purposes admirably. Who his landlord was immaterial.

“I need a room for the night. Is this your establishment?”

The man stopped, turned toward the wizard and regarded him warily for a moment.

“It is, sir. We don't see many strangers ‘round here, but I guess if you can afford the room, you’re welcome to it. A hot bath and dinner, too, by the look of you.”

“Both would be appreciated,” answered Nûn. Peasant! he silently added. If you knew half the extent of my power you would not hesitate to offer me anything I desired.

The wizard restrained himself. There may be some piece of information to be gathered here, slight as that chance may be. Better to learn what I can first, then punish this upstart commoner, the mage reasoned.

“My name is Wiak,” said the innkeeper. “Lodging is half a silver crown. That includes supper, a bed, and first meal at sunup on the morrow.”

Nûn stood silent and motionless for so long that Wiak began to fidget. Finally, Wiak spoke again.

“That’s our price, and fair it is, too! If you can’t pay, then you can as easily keep on goin’.” A note of defiance had crept into his voice.

Poté-Nûn, in answer, stooped down, picked up a flat stone from the dirt at his feet and flipped it into the air like a coin. He lashed his hand outward, snatching the stone from the air, and extended his hand palm up to Wiak. On the flat of his hand lay a full silver crown.

“Someone must have dropped this coin here, and fortune smiles on me to find it,” Nûn said. “That should cover my expenses for two nights. If I am here for a longer period of time, you will have your money.”

To Wiak's ears, it sounded like a threat.

“My room?” Half a silver crown, indeed! Half a copper is probably closer to the truth. Wiak regarded the coin (it had looked like a stone moments before), set down his buckets and hefted the weight of the coin, turning it over and over again, and bouncing it up and down, up and down in his hand. Satisfied that it was genuine, he slipped it into a pocket of his shirt. He cupped his hands around his mouth and called, “Faik! Faik! Where are you, you little whelp?”

A small, dark-haired boy of about ten came racing around the corner of the building. His companion was a dog of indistinguishable breed. It was impossible to determine who was chasing whom, but this seemed of little consequence to either the boy or the dog. On they came, bounding and laughing and barking all the way to Wiak’s feet. At the sight of the stranger, both stopped as if a puppeteer’s string had snapped. Had Wiak not been so distracted by the coin, he would have thought his son’s behavior extremely odd. The boy’s energy was usually boundless; it was impossible to make him sit or stand completely still for more than a few seconds. Alas, Wiak did not take heed of the wariness that had replaced the laughter in his son’s eyes.

“Show this traveler to his room. He will be in number two at the end of the hall.”

“Yes, sir,” was all the answer from the boy.

Faik turned and proceeded into the inn, pausing only to light a candle at the door.

The boy is afraid of me, thought the wizard. The old man was too blinded by the wealth that I flashed before his eyes, the fool! But the boy… the boy I will have to watch closely.

Poté-Nûn followed the innkeeper’s son up the stairs to his room. The wizard probed the other rooms with his senses and could detect no other persons in residence. Perfect, he thought. Except for the innkeeper and his family this place is deserted.

Faik lit the room’s single oil lamp and disappeared as quietly as he had come upstairs, refusing even to look at the stranger lodging in his father’s inn. Nûn spared him no more attention. He walked to the only window in the room. The view was as he suspected; it looked out onto the square, now almost empty with the night settling in. The first moon was just rising in the East. Its pale orange glow illuminated the mall with a shifting, wavering, feeble light. The last remaining stragglers were hurrying to their individual homes.

Poté-Nûn stood gazing out at the ascending moon long after the last of the villagers had retreated to within the shelter of their homes. Something about standing at the window staring up at the glowing orb tugged at his memory. This was the time it had happened. But what was it that had happened? Try as he might, he could not complete the connection. Maddening! This inability to remember. He knew the missing pieces of information were paramount to his guest, but that was all he knew.

A knock sounded at the door. Nûn roused himself from his fruitless reflections, closed the curtains and turned to the door.

“Come,” he said.

The door opened to reveal Wiak standing in the hall with two buckets of water. He held one in his hand; the other rested on the floor, obviously placed there to allow him to open the door.

“Yes?” demanded Nûn, glaring at the innkeeper’s interruption.

“For the bath you wanted.”

“Set them over there. If I require anything further I will summon you. Please serve me my dinner here in my room.”

The wizard chose to ignore the look of incredulousness on Wiak’s face. The ignorant peasant has probably never been addressed by that tone of voice, he thought. He is most likely used to being called ‘sir’ and treated as if here were a minor noble. HAH! It is time someone put him back in his place. He is no more noble than the kitchen scullions at the palace. He should be …

Nûn paused in his mental castration of Wiak. Palace… kitchen scullions… nobles…

These were all pieces of the puzzle, but the wizard had no idea where they fit.

“Schimry!” he swore aloud. “Was there something else?” he challenged the innkeeper, who was still standing in the doorway as if caught in a stasis spell.

“No, nothing,” came the sullen reply. Wiak turned and stalked down the hall, leaving the door of the room open.

Muttering an imprecation against all peasants in general who thought they were pedigreed, Poté-Nûn rapidly crossed the floor and slammed the door home. Still mumbling, he returned to the water buckets the proprietor had left sitting next to the wooden tub. He poured the first one in and reached for the second. Seizing on an idea, he replaced the remaining bucket on the floor and waited for the water in the tub to become still. The mage focused his attention on the now calm water and prepared himself for his spell. Magic directed at the others was relatively simple. Magic directed at, or concerning one’s self was not only more difficult, but also more dangerous. The spell could, all too often, get out of control. Nûn, however, had complete confidence in his abilities.

Randomly picking a geometric shape, he projected this shape onto the face of the water; mentally, he covered the shape with a veil. The configuration represented the entirety of what he used to know. The veil was his amnesia. Throwing the full force of his concentration at the picture now before him, he whispered only a single word:

“Unveil.”

Slowly, the shroud began to slide from the heap of his questions. Nûn began to perspire, both with anticipation and with the sustained effort of his exertions. This was the most dangerous part; if he failed, lost control, or allowed his attention to wander, he might drive himself insane, or worse. The veil had completely disappeared and Nûn applied himself even more diligently to determine what lay beneath it. Shapes began to coalesce before his eyes. Three shapes, three distinct objects. The first was a medallion that lingered momentarily on the face of the water and then dissolved. The second was unfamiliar — a flat object with markings in two corners and four black spots on its face. This was replaced in turn by a third image, a form that caught and held his attention: a scroll rolled very tightly, yet not bound in any manner.

As the mage watched, the parchment began to unroll of its own volition. Try as he might, he could not read the words written on it. They were of an extremely ancient origin, true, but more than that, they seemed to be constantly in motion. They flowed on the page like drops of liquid on a glass pane. As he watched, the scroll, too, began to fade and disappear. Soon all that remained to be seen was his reflection in the shallow water.

“By the balls of Alóer!” he cursed. “What went wrong? That spell should have worked! Unless this amnesia is caused by a wizard almost as powerful as myself?”

Nûn retrieved the last bucket of water and dashed it into the tub. He stepped out of his robe and lowered himself into the now tepid water and began laving the road dust from his body. While his hands performed their mechanical duty, his mind was occupied by questions concerning his adversary. Not that an enemy surprised him; everyone was a potential enemy if they chose to stand between him and his goals. But an enemy with the ability to call on enough power to subvert his spells… that surprised him.

And what significance did those three crumbs of information convey? Were they the clues he needed? Were they the tools employed against him? Were they the key to his opponent’s identity?

“Schimry!” he swore again. Putting the problem from his mind, at least momentarily, he concentrated on his bath. Finished, he stood up, stepped out of the tub and exercised his power once more.

“Dry.”

The water that had been dripping from his body instantly evaporated. He donned his robe and sandals and proceeded to empty the wooden tub. He stood listening to the gurgling of the water as it ran from the drain in the floor, through a pipe and down the wall of the inn to be reabsorbed into the ground below. He realized he was trying to avoid thinking about his complete lack of information and cursed his unknown nemesis again. The reminder of his predicament lent new impetus to his quest.

“I must proceed to Gorian with all haste. There I will find the answers to this quandary. To Gorian, first and foremost to unlock this prison I find myself in and then to find the jailor.”

Another knock at the door.

“What now?” he snapped. He had completely forgotten about dinner.

“S-S-Sup-supper, sir.” Faik’s trembling voice came through the door.

“Leave it. Tell your father I will see him at first light by the well. Tell him also, I do not wish to be disturbed again this night.”

He heard the boy’s running footsteps as he headed towards the stairs and his family’s living quarters on the first floor. A half smile touched the wizard's lips.“Nightmares.”

He knew the spell would keep the boy up all night. He felt the quiet surge of power as his magic materialized and followed its quarry. Again, the half smile ghosted his face. He weighed the idea of eavesdropping on the boy’s nightmares, but discarded it as trivial entertainment. He could use a good night’s sleep. If he desired, he could replay the spell at his leisure.

The smile was still on his face as he fetched his dinner. It was simple fare: a bowl of stew, half a loaf of bread and some hard cheese. Grumbling at the sparseness of the meal, he carried it to the table, sat down, and proceeded to ingest it.

“Peasants!” he mumbled again

Nûn was up before the sun. He dressed quickly, strode out of his room and down the stairs. Crossing the common room, he opened the door and stepped outside, heading for the well in the square. After tossing the bucket into the water, he stooped down and picked up a small handful of loose gravel, dropping the pebbles in a small silk pouch he wore at his belt. The handle creaked in protest as he turned the crank to recover the bucket. Finally, he scooped a ladle full of water from the pail and added the contents of the silk pouch to it. Then he raised the utensil skyward.

The sun was just becoming visible on the horizon. Nûn stood motionless, his arm extended over his head. He waited, gathering his power in a shadowy aura about him. When the full disk of the sun had become visible, he was ready.

“FIRE!”

At his command the contents of the ladle burst into a brilliant flame. Reds, greens, oranges and blues all coalesced and dissolved in a magical, hypnotic dance that the gods alone knew the steps to. One color would dominate briefly, only to be consumed and superseded by another, and then another. The coruscation continued as Nûn watched, and with a final blazing flash the transformation was complete. Before he could lower the ladle to observe the jewels he had metamorphosed, he heard a low whistle behind him. He whirled to face the intruder.

“A wizard!” whispered the boy, Faik, as he turned and began racing back to the inn. “Papa! Papa! He’s a wiz…”

“Stone.”

The wizard’s single word command cut through the air like a knife. A flash of lightning, a roll of thunder, and the boy became a master’s sculpture, caught in the act of running.

Nûn was amused to see that because his mind had been occupied by the making of the jewels, the statue before him was formed of precious stones. Rubies, emeralds, and sapphires made up the body and limbs, with two black onyx stones for eyes. Onyx that was blacker and deeper than any ever found. These two stones burned with the light of life of the young boy trapped forever within the prison of stone.

The noise and commotion had aroused the rest of the village and the inhabitants were pouring forth to discover the cause. Wiak stepped from the door of the inn, his eyes scouring the square until they fell on the living stone that had been his only son.

“My son! By all the gods now living and dead! My son!” He looked to Poté-Nûn who had not moved from his spot by the well.

"You! Demon! What have you done to my son? I command you to restore him this instant!”

The wizard just looked at him and laughed. “You command me? You dare to command me? Don’t be a fool!”

Wiak’s overwrought mind snapped. The sight of his son trapped in the stone and the laughing, taunting voice of the wizard were too much for him. Growling low in his throat as a wolf about to make a kill, he rushed the mage, hoping to catch him off guard. Several of the other townspeople, seeing Wiak’s determination, also charged the despoiler.

Nûn stood his ground, spreading his arms as if welcoming them. He brought his hands together like a thunder clap and shouted, “Blind!”

He sidestepped one man who came charging straight at him despite the loss of his eyesight. The man continued headlong into the stonework of the well and, carried by his momentum, plunged to his death in the water dozens of feet below.

Wiak had stopped running and was now wandering aimlessly, cursing the wizard and promising to cut him into little pieces and burn them when he caught him. The agony of his heart and mind were apparent on his face. His unseeing eyes were tear-filled, spittle drooled from the corners of his mouth, and intense hatred had twisted his countenance into an hideous mask. His hands, resembling animal claws more than human appendages, were full of hair that he had yanked from his own head and beard. A long, wailing cry of grief and desperation escaped his throat as he groped his way along the square. He staggered and fell to his knees, unable to locate the source of his terrible suffering. He raised his hands to the heavens in supplication, begging the gods to intercede on his behalf.

All to no avail. The gods were silent on that dark day.

Robbed of his son, deprived of his sight, and denied his revenge, Wiak could take no more. He howled his anguish and despair; his heart burst, and he collapsed into the dust. Blood frothed from his mouth and seeped into the dirt where he had fallen.

Poté-Nûn, oblivious to the despair and chaos transpiring around him, simply stood by and watched Wiak die. He felt no remorse. Rather, he experienced a perverse pleasure in realizing how effective his last two spells had been.

“Let anyone try to stop me,” he laughed. “I am the most powerful wizard alive!”

He threaded his way through the throng and out of the village. Once the mass confusion of blindness had taken over, he had used the opportunity to transfer the jewels from the ladle to the pouch. He tucked the pouch into his belt and threw the ladle aside. His last thought of the village was that no one would ever notice that the wooden utensil had been transformed in the fire that spawned the jewels. It was now solid gold.

3 comments:

jadey said...

Mike I have a question for you. Can you tell me what this error means I keep trying to get onto Helium and this is what is popping up

Status: 500 Internal Server Error Content-Type: text/html
Application error (Rails)

jadey said...

Hi Mike,

Just stopping by to say hi. Hope you are having a great day. I am missing you all. I promise I will be in sometime soon.

jmr said...

Hope to see you soon, Jadey.

Jump!