Kelsey Coltrane was bored. Boredom had long since ceased to be a passing sensation for him - it was a state of being so profound as to encompass his entire existence. He had been so far removed from anything that approximated interest for so long that he awoke bored in the morning and closed his eyes at night bored by the very act of sleep. Not even the thrill of passing Galoomp the book seller a secret cache of magic scrolls with his order of Calminshite romances was really all that thrilling. He was not a adrenaline junkie by nature, nor was he one to defy the law for excitement's sake, but anything was preferable to the dull sense that the entire world was moving, and he was standing still.
It hadn't always been like that. When he was a kid at his father's side on the caravan routes, every crested hill had been a new world, and those worlds had been boundless beyond his reckoning. But that had been childhood, and he was an adult now, and the road was marked with sameness wherever it led. Funny how he'd seemed to trade one sort of magic for another.
Funny if you liked your comedy very dark indeed.
He nodded his farewell to the rotund shop keep and made his way down the steps and across the Promenade to one of the outdoor teashops. Waukeen's Promenade, the jewel of the City of Coin, was bustling with shoppers, hawkers, and merchants, the colonnade's white walls and pillars reflecting the late afternoon sun. He didn't care. He wasn't a tourist, after all. He knew Athkatla, and the Promenade, and knew that they were just stone and people. There was definitely no magic here, not of any sort. The Cowled Wizards wouldn't have it any other way.
He ordered his tea, paid for it, and sat. As usual, he was waiting for something to happen.
For once, something did. With a bone-numbing rumble, one of the northwest towers suddenly shuddered as half the terraces that abutted it exploded, raining masonry on the ground and crowd below. A wave of fire rushed from the collapsing structure, and some prickle at the base of his skull told him it was not natural. People screamed, running in every direction for their lives, pushing others out of their way in their haste to put distance between themselves and the falling pillars. Kelsey, however, ran toward it.
Brick dust and smoke filled the air, chokingly thick. A man lay on his side, bleeding from a gash on his head. Kelsey fumbled about in a pocket of his robe, pulling out a small blue bottle. He held the healing potion to the man's lips. (Always a prudent move to keep one or two on hand - you never knew when you'd need them) "Drink this," he shouted over the babble of confused, frightened voices.
Over the tumult came a roar, a wordless cry of rage and frustration. "You dare to attack me here?" The man who spoke was a strange figure, dress in an odd costume that revealed his massively developed arms, yet covered his head, showing only a cold face that appeared somehow stitched on, as if he had tired of one worn before and sought to replace it. He was surrounded by hooded figures in black. Who they were and why such shadowy sorts were attacking someone by daylight, Kelsey didn't have time to wonder, for three of them suddenly disappeared into dust, and he could only be awed and horrified at one who would dare murder with magic in Athkatla. The man to whom he'd given his potion, seeing this, bolted even as his head wound was still healing.
The hooded attackers stood no chance against the stranger, who reduced them to smoke, and stone, and ash with frightening ease. "You will suffer! You will all suffer!" he spat, and the rage in his voice would have made Kelsey's blood run cold, if it hadn't already been half-frozen. He could throw the odd fireball, when he had to, but this sort of power was mind-boggling. And to use it so openly, with such casual, vicious disregard for both life and propriety -
There was movement on the edges of the stranger's murderous tableau, another group of people, struggling to their feet in the rubble. There must have been a tunnel, he realized, and the explosion opened it to the surface. There were three women, and a bulky mountain of a man, no; there were two men, the other dressed in a hood and leathers like the now-dead shadows.
"I won't let you leave!" shouted the stranger, apparently to the newcomers, "Not when I am so close to unlocking your power!"
The youngest of the women, skinny and strawberry blonde, scrambled atop a broken column to stare him down. Magic crackled on her fingertips. "We don't want anything from you!" she cried, firing off a few magic missiles at him. Kelsey winced. She wasn't a local either, apparently. This couldn't end well.
As if his thoughts were made manifest, the scent of ozone filled the air as a Cowled Wizard enforcer squad teleported onto the scene. "This is an unsanctioned use of magical energy," boomed one. In reply, the stranger simply destroyed two of the wizards as though they were made of paper. Kelsey's eyes slid again to the group on the edge of the rubble. Another of the women was trying to pull the first from her defiant perch while the wizards were distracted. She was taller, with a round, lovely face, and pale blond hair. She was speaking urgently, and looked as if she was about to bodily drag her companion down when the stranger spoke again.
"You bore me, mageling," he announced. "You may take me in, but you will take the girl as well," The girl on the rock was suddenly very conspicuous, her friend's hands on her arms, and she appeared to realize it.
"What!? No, I've done nothing wrong!"
The Cowled Wizards were not impressed. "You have been involved in illegal use of magic. You will come with us."
"I'm not going with him!" she cried. "Help me! Please!"
The wizards disappeared with their prisoners, clouded in the reek of ozone. The blonde staggered back, stunned to see her friend slip from her fingers like air. She lunged forward, only to be caught by the third woman, whose delicate features bespoke elven ancestry. "Imoen! Imoen!" Struggling against the other woman's arms, she cast her eyes about in desperation, and for an instant, they met his.
In them, hot and bright, he saw pain, loss, and a determination so fierce it lit her from within like a fire. She burned with intensity and purpose and drive, with everything he had been lacking in his own life. Her eyes seared him, convicted him, shook him to the core. He didn't realize he'd been holding his breath until she and her companions had vanished into the crowd.
Something clicked deep inside him, some truth of the universe made unexpectedly clear. He had to know who she was.