Chapter II

Chapter II

Broken Bones

As had become her routine, Cellian checked the wards around the Fallen Tower as the first rays of the sun lit the sky. Not every morning, but most of them, she was here making sure that the demon, and its minions, were contained within the Fallen Tower. For six months, through the end of spring until now, mid-autumn, she had been doing the task. Almost every day, her friend Konni, the sharp-eyed kobold fisherwoman, joined her as she had today.

“Someone throw rocks at this one,” said Konni, clearing away some pebbles from the base of one of the ward stakes.

Cellian knelt down to look. “Nothing serious, yet. But we will have to keep an eye on it.” She picked up a pebble. “Children or imps?”

Konni looked back and forth. “Hatchlings, yes? Playing silly bravery game maybe?”

Cellian nodded. “I think so too. Not a serious danger if we ward the wards against the stones.”

“Bad thing must be sealed away,” said Konni with a fierce nod. She started placing the pebbles in a bag.

“I will have to read up on elemental wards,” said Cellian to herself. “Hopefully we can get started tomorrow.”

“Yes, see Ssellian then.” Konni waved and headed off for her daily fishing.

 *  *  *

Earth to earth or air to oppose earth? She pondered as she walked. Which would prove more effective? Which could I actually create? Her thoughts were consumed with such matters as she made her way back up the hill to the Tower of Abjuration.

Master Winn was waiting for her just inside the door. “Report, Apprentice,” he said, idly tapping a leather scroll case in his hand.

“All is well, Master. Someone has been throwing rocks at one of the ward stakes. I was thinking about how best to protect it.”

“No serious damage?”

“No, master. But best to stop it before such happens.”

Winn nodded. “Forward thinking, a good trait in a wizard. Now take this to Master Malikkikorus of the Changing Tower.” He handed Cellian the scroll tube. “And bring me back a reply.”

“Yes, Master Winn,” she turned and headed back down the hill. Not sighing until she was well out of earshot. And I was so looking forward to a nice, warm cup of tea.

It was not a long walk to the Changing Tower, though she approached the door with caution, as any right thinking wizard should. Today, the stone of the tower just had an odd blue cast to it, nothing too unusual. Still, caution is the best policy, crossed her mind as she rapped on the door with the scroll tube.

The heavy door slowly creaked open and someone peeked out. It was Rufys, “Oh, Cellian! Um, hello.”

“I have a message for Master Malikkikorus from Master Winn.”

Rufys plucked the tube from Cellian’s hand. “I will take that to him.”

“A reply is expected.”

“Ah,” he said glancing back. “I will deliver it to him but it may be a while before he is able to reply. Wait here.” Rufys closed the door. Cellian looked around and waited. After a bit, Rufys slide out -opening the door only wide enough for him to do so- and he quickly closed the door behind him. “We should come back in an hour or so.”

“Very well,” said Cellian. “I have been meaning to pay my respects to the ancestors. If we do not tarry, that should work out.” She strode off, listening to Rufys scrambling after her. Cellian was glad to be away from the Changing Tower, too much uncontrolled magic for my tastes.

“Um, all right,” said Rufys catching up. “Sorry about all this. Sometimes things get out of hand with the transformations . . .”

“Yes, I see that.”

Rufys tried to be unobtrusive as he looked himself over for anything missing . . . or extra. Cellian smiled, “You seem normal to me.”

“Good,” he laughed. “You cannot be too careful.”

“How far are you going in the Barrow?” asked Rufys, trailing behind her.

“Only to the hall of bones,” she replied, equally quietly. “I have no close ancestors here but it is a place that helps me think and focus.”

He nodded. “Nor I, but I hope to one day be interred here.”

She smiled. “Who knows what the future holds? Hopefully such things are far, far away. The Barrowdelve is a place to honor the past, after all.”

“That is so, Cellian,”agreed Rufys. “But this has been my home since I was a boy, I hope to make my name here among the wizards. My family are simple farmers, and it was only by luck that my talent was discovered. I thank the gods every morning that I am here.”

“You parents must be very proud.”

“Yes, I hope so, but they are uneducated, they do not understand magic. When I am a journeyman, I hope to have some time to go and help them and my brothers and sisters.”

“You are lucky to have them,” smiled Cellian.

“Sometimes, I remember much fighting too. But such is the way of family.”

Cellian nodded. “My only family is my mother, at least she understands my studies.”

“She is well thought of among the wizards.”

She smiled, “I know, she is skilled and has always done her best to guide me. But sometimes it would be nice to have more family. Like everyone else has.”

 *  *  *

They walked into the Barrowdelve in silence. As always, the massive doors stood open inviting all to visit their ancestors or seek guidance. Cellian paused and took a deep breath before entering. Her booted steps echoed as they walked down the entrance corridor, their way lit by mage light, the ornate carvings on the walls telling the history of the city, passing under the gaze of the four statues there.

The pair entered into the hall of bones, the heavy tapestries lining the wall depicting the guilds and families of Mor Aldenn and muffled the sounds, many of the crypts of the poor hidden behind them. But elsewhere the human bones that gave the hall its name here on display: set back in alcoves, piled orderly in open tombs, even a few neatly arranged in caskets against the walls. A decorated carpet from a distant desert, a gift of a wealthy traveler, was spread out in front of the simple shrine near the center of the nearly octagonal room. The shrine held a bowl for offerings and various holy symbols were hung from it, gifts from visitors all.

Cellian made a sign of welcome and knelt before the shrine. Rufys did the same. For a few moments they were alone with their thoughts and prayers. Cellian touched one of the holy symbols, “I wonder how far it traveled?”

“Farther than us I do not doubt,” answered Rufys with a wink.

They prayed a bit longer. “Well, let us make our way back and see if that reply is ready.”

Rufys nodded, “I hope so.”

They had just started on their way our though the main corridor when the sound of distant chanting echoed down through the hall from a far corridor. Cellian glanced to Rufys and they both moved to one side, there not being time to politely leave. A minute or so later a procession of men in mourning black carrying lanterns appeared. The lead member slowly swung a censor that emitted blue-white smoke that smelled of earth and the forest in time to their deep chant.

As Cellian stepped back to curtsy to the mourners, she felt something crack under her heel. She waited for the procession to leave before investigating. Against the wall was a desiccated finger, old and brittle, her heel had reduced the largest bone of it to powder and flakes of skin. She swallowed and willed herself to focus.

“Rufys,” she said carefully kneeling down, “come and look at this.” The sad remnant of a person looked to have been roughly handled even before Cellian’s boot crushed part of it. There were gouges along the dry skin, though what had caused them Cellian could not tell.

Rufys came over and squatted down. “A . . . finger?”

“Yes, from an ancient body. . . I am almost certain.”

“Finger? As in a person’s finger?”

“Yes,” she replied. “But what is it doing here?”

“Well, we are in a catacomb, Cellian . . .”

“Which is a place where the dead are safely interred. This,” she pointed to the finger and then the corridor, “is not safe.” She looked back to the hall of bones and then to the exit. “But where did it come from? And how did it end up here?”

“Those are good questions,” said Rufys standing and looking around. “We could ask the Diviners . . . or the Necromancers.”

“How much can either tell us from a single finger? I fear the worse.”

“Walking dead?” Rufys gripped his staff tightly and glanced nervously at the archways leading deeper into the tombs.

“No,” said Cellian levering herself up, “grave robbers.”

Rufys made a sign against evil. “Who would dare?”

“Who indeed,” said Cellian glancing down at the abandoned finger.

 *  *  *

The gibbous moon shone among the clouds making the entrance to the Barrowdelve seem cold and sinister. Cellian watched from the shelter of a doorway, her mother’s elfin cloak drawn tightly around her.

Konni moved quietly up to Cellian. “Anything Ssellian?”

“A few late visitors,” she answered. “The last one left some time ago.”

“Do we wait?”

“Yes.”

Konni crouched at Cellian’s feet. “Wake me.”

The kobold folded herself under her straw rain cloak and blended into the side of the building. Cellian shook her head, even with her mother’s cloak, she would never be as skilled at such things as Konni was even in her sleep.

The half-elf turned her attention back to the gateway wondering if this had been a good idea after all . . .

 *  *  *

Cellian awoke with a start and blinked awake. The moon had vanished behind the clouds and a mist of rain was falling. Drops of water from the hood of her cloak fell onto her face as she moved. “Ick,” she whispered.

She blinked the water out of her eyes almost missing the figure in dark clothes slipping into the Barrowdelve. Cellian froze and waited, counting her heartbeats, to see if there were others. After counting to thirty, she toed Konni.

Konni rolled into a fighting crouch. “Ssellian?” she hissed.

“I saw someone go in,” she whispered, “and not like a visitor.”

Konni shook the water off her rain cloak. “We go?”

Cellian nodded and followed the kobold. Konni moved with a hunter’s grace that Cellian could not match, try as she might. They paused outside the entrance as Konni studied the ground. “Three since the wet. Not sure if any before.”

“Three? Not good odds then.”

“I go and fetch dwarf and red hair?”

“Not yet, let us see if we can learn a little more first.”

“I go first,” the kobold slipped in. She set her rain cloak down and wiped her feet. “You do same.” Cellian did and Konni bundled the cloak off into a corner.

“I see, so we do not leave tracks,” whispered Cellian. Konni nodded and moved in, keeping away from the footprints. Cellian followed slowly making certain that her footsteps did not echo as they had earlier in the day.

As they approached the hall of bones, Konni raised her hand. Cellian stopped. Konni slipped forward.

As Cellian waited, she reached into her satchel to make certain her wand was there. Konni waved her forward. “Four. All big,” she whispered. “Took that path.” She gestured to the corridor leading to some of the earliest tombs.

Cellian nodded.

“Guards?”

“Not yet,” answered Cellian, “we do not know what they are doing, besides acting suspiciously.”

“Follow?”

Cellian sighed, “Yes.”

Konni crept forward, Cellian followed. The carvings and decorations were of an older style but still clean and expressive. Cellian made a sign of reverence as they entered. The mage lights were not quite as bright in this corridor, lending it a contemplative air. The effort of moving quietly made it seem so much longer as they moved down that hearing voices ahead, and being able to stop, was almost a relief.

“Careful,” the voice echoed, followed shortly by a ring of a hammer on metal. After a moment there was the grating of stone against stone. Konni edged forward. Cellian stood still, hardly daring to breathe.

Konni stopped. Cellian counted her racing heartbeats, nineteneleventweleve. Konni slipped back. She held up four fingers to Cellian. Cellian nodded and waved her back.

“Ha! Look at this!” echoed another voice from ahead. Cellian thought she heard one of the others telling him to keep it down but she couldn’t be sure.

“What now?” asked Konni in a low hiss.

Cellian pointed back up the corridor. “We go back. You get help and I’ll watch.”

Konni nodded. They started backing away. They both jumped when a crash echoed from down the corridor. Soon followed by cursing and a babble of voices. They looked to one another and ran.

Skidding to a halt in the hall of bones, Cellian waved Konni on. “Keep to the plan.” Konni sprinted off towards the entrance. Cellian ducked behind the shrine, pulling the elfin cloak around her. Shivering, she waited. Her wand gripped tightly in her hand, though she did not remember taking it out.

Time crawled by. Cellian found herself jumping at every sound, every movement. She tried to keep still, using the discipline taught to her by the masters. Taking smooth, deep breaths, focusing on herself. Quietly she wrapped herself in defensive magic, a mystic armor to keep her safe should things go wrong. She found it easier to think clearly once the spell was cast. As if the magic armored her emotions as well as her body.

She still jerked when the voices came down the corridor. “. . . ruined everything. No one can miss that shattered stone.”

“The marble was damp. I lost my grip,” replied a reedy voice.

“Quit complaining. What’s done is done,” a deep voice cut off. Cellian could see it was attached to a grizzled dwarf in equally worn work leathers, a heavy tool bag slung over one shoulder. “We knew it could not last. Tonight, tomorrow, we would have had to end it. A week was a good run.”

“True,” agreed a tall narrow-faced man, the first voice again, with a full looking sack over one shoulder. His dark clothes stained with dust. “We should leave with the dawn. Before that broken tomb is found.”

“We have benefited from the people of Mor Aldenn and their generosity towards the dead,” said the dwarf. “No need to overstay our welcome.”

“No, I have no wish to be torn apart by angry mobs,” said the reedy voice, belonging to a short man, slightly hunched with wide shoulders. He also carried a bag, though not as full as that born by the tall man.

A fourth man did not say anything, his features hidden by the hood of his dark cloak. Nor did he seem to carry anything. Something made Cellian crouch further behind the shrine when he glanced in her direction.

“What is it my friend?” asked the tall man. “A watcher?”

She heard a footstep come closer to her hiding place. Cellian bit her lower lip. Act. I must act. She stood and saw the three men moving towards her. The hooded one standing behind. They paused, surprised by her sudden appearance. Cellian gestured and spoke in the arcane tongue. Ribbons of bright color flowed from her fingertips, washing over the grave robbers.

The broad-shouldered man’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed without grace. The tall man stumbled and stopped. But the dwarf just narrowed his eyes. “Wizard,” he said drawing a heavy bladed sword from a sheath on his back.

Cellian stepped back, watching the dwarf as she prepared to run. The tableau was interrupted by the clattering of boots echoing down the main entrance. Cellian dodged away to the archway to the inner sanctum. The dwarf spun towards the approaching noise. “Damn,” he said.

Emerging into the hall of bones were two mail-clad warriors. The rings of their armor chiming as they ran. “Drop your weapons or face the summery justice of the Aldenic Guard!” cried the lead warrior, her sword flashing. Behind them came Rufys, who fell against the wall gasping for breath, and Konni, her spear held ready.

The dark cloaked man looked to Cellian. She could not see his face but she could feel his hatred. She flinched. Wordlessly, it turned to face the guards and pulled back its hood revealing . . . nothing. The figure just came apart, the folds of cloth breaking apart into black wings and eyes. In a split second, the man was gone and a murder of crows had taken wings. Their raucous cries echoing in the confined space as they flew toward the exit.

The guards struck at the birds as they flew by, but not well, they were as shocked as anyone. Rufys tried to push himself into the wall to get away from them. Only once the cries of the crows were receding in the distance did Cellian see that Konni had speared one of the birds.

The dwarf watched dumbfounded at this turn of events and threw down his sword. It struck sparks from the stone. “I surrender, guardians.”

The tall man, still disoriented, dropped to his knees. “Me as well.” The broad shoulder man just groaned from where he lay.

 *  *  *

His honor, Mayor Oswin Theodorick looked at the dead crow on his desk and then to the Aldenic Guardsman and then to Cellian. He cleared his throat. “It seems that the city owes you its gratitude,” he glanced down at the parchment in front of him, “Apprentices Varr and Redland . . . and Fisher Konni?” He looked and saw the kobold hiding behind Cellian. “Ah, yes.”

“Thank you, Mayor,” said Cellian, after waiting a moment to see if Rufys would speak. “We only did what anyone in the city would; protecting the Barrowdelve and our ancestors.”

“Of course, of course,” nodded the Mayor. “It is good to see such civic pride among the young. My advisor and I have decided that you deserve a reward and recognition.”

A man in well cut clothes of black trimmed with white stepped forward. Cellian recognized him as Lord Balsadarus, the Mayor advisor from the Archwizards. He handed each of the three a velvet bag. “Twenty gold coins for each of you and you will be spoken of in the mayor’s next speech. If you attend, all the city will see you.”

“Thank you, sir,” echoed Rufys and Cellian. Konni just tucked the bag away carefully.

“Now be on your way apprentices . . . fisher,” said Balsadarus with a gentle shooing gesture.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” “Thank you, Mayor Oswin.”

 *  *  *

The sky was just beginning to lighten with dawn. Cellian stretched. “Sorry to keep you from you sleep.”

“It was an adventure,” said Rufys with a tired smile.

“Good pay,” nodded Konni.

The elven guard who had rescued them stepped over. “You did well tonight, but you must be careful.” Her accent placed her as being from one of the distant elven lands.

“We were, guardswoman,” said Cellian.

“You could have reported it to the Aldenic Guard.”

“We had no proof . . . just a feeling.” Rufys nodded in support of Cellian’s statement.

“Next time you get one of those feelings, come and find me, Zalla Leafblade, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Most certainly,” agreed Rufys.

“Ssellian, do we check wards?” asked Konni.

Cellian stifled a yawn. “Yes and then I have to get back to my lessons.”

Rufys nodded. “I am going to find some breakfast.”

“Be blessed,” said Zalla, “and remember my name.”

“We will,” said Cellian with a wave as she and Konni headed off for the Fallen Tower.

Zalla watched them go and returned to her patrol.

 *  *  *

Watching them all, hidden in the shadow of a chimney, was a crow. Its black eyes glinting with intelligence and malice.

 

Written by Sean Holland

2 Comments on “Chapter II”


  1. […] Wizard's Path Headless Hydra Games is equally proud to present the second chapter in their new online serial – free of charge. The story is called Wizard's Path and is written by Sean Holland. […]


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