The Beast in the Cellar
I was in the study gazing out of the window at the majestic towers of Alyura, the city I chose to conduct my latest magical studies in, when I heard the commotion in the hallway. I turned to face the closed door as I heard the noise drawing closer, my brow furrowing as this uncharacteristic noise interrupted my musings. High noon, with the brilliant sunlight playing over the crystalline waters of the Hyridan Sea, and sparkling with such brilliance from the gem studded towers of the High Lord’s citadel and the Eternal Church of the Silent Word, is not something to be missed on a cool spring day. The fact that this disturbance was happening in such a quiet place as the Mages’ Studies and Research Tower was unheard of. I held my hands clasped behind my back and affected a suitable expression of annoyance. I also checked to make sure that my scarlet and black robes were in order. One had to always maintain appearances, after all.
The door opened a bit too suddenly for my liking and I found myself calling to mind a spell for defense out of reflex. A shielding enchantment was just about on my lips when I realized who’d entered the study room. A thin waif of a boy still out of breath from running had burst into my chamber. A boy! And hurrying just behind was an apprentice, a youth that I recognized as one of the scroll scribes that sometimes did what passed as security for the Guild. As if anyone would be foolish enough to barge into the Guild uninvited! Yet here was a boy that had done just that.
I cleared my throat and dismissed the shielding spell. My gaze fixed on the young apprentice in the bland unadorned beige robes and I said in a low tone, “I take it there is great reason for this intrusion. One that only I can solve, thus taking time out from my studies and deep thinking. Because I’d hate to think this is a situation easily handled by an apprentice and that you couldn’t take care of it.”
To his credit, the young man didn’t pale at the implied threat but instead stood with an almost noble countenance. Perhaps he was noble; I rarely bothered with such details with those beneath my station. In the Guild your outside status was completely irrelevant. Power and knowledge was the coin of this realm and without it even a king is a beggar in these halls. “This boy wished to see a Guildmage, my lord, and when told they were not available for idle talk, he burst in pass the sentries. This was the first unlocked door he could run into.” The apprentice bowed respectfully then and I had to admire his ability to say these things with such candor.I raised an eyebrow, still looking at him and not the boy. “You mean to tell me that a small boy was able to dodge the sentries, run the halls, and avoid pursuers long enough to find a Guildmage before being stopped?” I paused and a small smile crept to my lips which the still bowing apprentice didn’t see. “Well I think I may as well hold audience with this special child that is so gifted. And I will have a word with those responsible as well. Your superiors should be informed that their choice of sentries is lacking in capability. You may go now.” The young man trembled with something, either anger at my words or fear of his superiors. He remained bowed as he backed
towards the door. “Yes, lord.” He remained thus until he was in the hallway outside and closed the door, but not without sparing a glance at the boy that had caused such trouble.
And what of this boy? He was slender of build the kind of boy built for running and light labor. His blond hair was in need of a cut and his blue eyes looked directly at me with no deference to my station or craft. There wasn’t even the surprise one would expect an ignorant peasant to have when in such a place of learning. Books, maps, and charts of arcane symbols lay about on the tables yet the boy showed no interest in them at all. This made me cock an eyebrow as I regarded him but it didn’t alarm me in anyway, as perhaps it should have. His clothes were ragged, his feet bare and dirty and all in all I could see him as nothing more than a beggar or a craftsman’s errand boy. “Well,” I said in a deep tone of voice meant to show I was in no charitable mood, “What is it that brings a boy to this place where he surely does not belong?” My body stood erect and still, my eyes fixed on the boy’s. I expected him to fidget then turn and run out of the room and out of the Guild, having gotten a close up look at a Guildmage.
This didn’t happen. In fact the boy looked at me squarely and said, “There’s a monster in my father’s farmhouse cellar, sir.” A straightforward confession of purpose, spoken in a serious tone. Again nothing gave me warning, since these simple words grabbed my attention. I found a seat close to the boy, one where a person could sit calmly and enjoy a glass of wine while resting from his studies.
“A monster, hm?” I mused, perhaps taking this too seriously too easily. I admit to having found the notion quite romantic. There haven’t been monsters of any kind in Alyura for many years as far as I knew. “Truly? And what makes you so sure they aren’t rats or the like?” I asked. “And why come all the way here instead of simply asking the guard to explore your cellar?” Already my mind was working on the possibility the boy could be speaking truly. All manner of beasts could find solace in a dark basement. And defeating such a beast could be good for one’s career as either a wizard or guardsman, assuming the alleged monster was worthy of the skill used to defeat it.
Only then did the boy look away from me, down to his dirty feet with a despondent look. “They didn’t believe me, of course. Said they didn’t have time to listen to a boy’s pranks or stories.” Then he looked back and me with that same fire in his eyes and said, “But it is true! There is some beast in my cellar. And I bet a wizard could take care of it right and quick!” There was sudden eagerness in the boy’s eyes as he dared to come closer. He reached out as if to grab my robes in emphasis, but I stood quickly and stepped back to avoid the resultant soiling. “I’m sure you can get rid of it for me and my father! Can’t you?”I stood there for only a few moments, but my mind was already set. Of course I intended to see this cellar for myself and to see what may dwell there. Nothing in the boy’s manner showed him to be a tale teller and I knew that if there was some beast left over from the purges, when the city was founded and people flocked to it, then it would be my name that joined those of the city’s defenders. I smiled as I stroked my thinly trimmed beard. “Very well, boy. I will investigate this matter. But I am sure you know the penalty for deceiving a Guildsman on any account? Waste but a moment of my time and I’ll see you flogged in the town center until not a bit of skin remains. Understood?” The boy nodded slowly, but there was no fear, no apprehension or
hesitance at all in his expression. Only a dread certainty in his eyes. This still gave me no warning of any kind. Instead it only made me more resolute that the boy spoke the truth of a beast in the cellar.
Arriving at the farmhouse just before dark was my idea. I let the boy stay in the Guild as my guest, but I saw to it that he was kept out of the way. I needed time to formulate my own plan. If the boy was correct and there was a beast in the cellar of the old crumbling farmhouse, he would be well cared for. He’d be rewarded, praised both for his bravery and for getting the help of an expert wizard, namely myself, in destroying the thing for the good of all Alyura. If the boy lied, however, he’d be punished. It would be a simple matter to deliver him into the hands of the guard, register the full accusation, and recommend the appropriate, aforementioned, punishment for wasting a wizard’s time.
The boy was with me now, timidly following. He had become more apprehensive the closer we approached the dilapidated dwelling. We were alone, as I didn’t want to share the prize, so to speak. No self respecting wizard of any skill would need mere guardsmen to stop a beast lurking in a cellar. Or any beast for that manner. As we approached in the fading daylight, I noted the condition of the crops: brown and withered, untended, weed grown. Although I had spent some time researching the histories to become acquainted with the legends and lore of the many beasts that had once inhabited the region, I found myself wondering what manner of creature could cause such blight without leaving its hiding place. I would have asked the boy how long this had been going on and why he’d waited so long to speak up about it, but he seemed to be more and more anxious. Well, I was the wizard after all, so I went straight to the cellar door.
Pulling the door up gave me the first indication of the beast’s presence. The musty fetid stench that came up was overpowering. I almost fell to my knees in a fit of choking and gagging. The stench was so strong it felt like a something solid was trying to settle in my stomach. The boy didn’t cough at all, but he was further back and I thought nothing of it. No warnings. Once I recovered, a simple spell conjured a ball of light and I began my descent to confront this beast in the cellar. The darkness quickly surrounded me as I went down the old creaking stairs, trying my best not to breathe too deeply since the stench of decay and rot persisted.
They say that sometimes a man can be blinded by fame and glory, the alleged wise man, the learned man, as well as the ignorant one. This blindness takes over despite any prior knowledge or experience. Regardless of anything else that happened that day even my own observation, the only warning that rang true was the sound of the cellar door slamming shut. It was only the fact that I turned quickly at the sound that I was able to prepare for the beast’s attack. The boy had leaped down towards me, but he was no longer human. The clothes in tattered rags, I know beheld a shape that was similar to a man’s but squat for running about in small places, covered in sickly patches of dark fur for hiding, and with a long muzzle full of teeth for ripping apart its prey. Red eyes shown in the darkness and I could only guess the dark was its natural habitat.I managed, because my wits finally caught up with me, to leap to the side, finding a clear area amid old decayed barrels long disused. As I spun to face the creature, I uttered my shielding spell, setting a slight bluish glow in the dark dank cellar around me. The beast seemed to recoil some from the light, as if its natural shape was indeed
nocturnal as I suspected. But its momentary blindness didn’t last long enough for me to strike first. Again it leapt and in my arrogance I stood fast. This proved to be a mistake, since, although the shield protected me, the power of the assault made me stumble backward, nearly losing my footing. But more surprising was the effect it had on the shield. Some power the beast had was actually draining the magic from it, causing it to slowly but steadily fade away. The creature’s muzzle widened as if in a grin to show that soon I would be its latest prey. But I, a powerful wizard of some repute, couldn’t let happen!
My shield enchantment was beginning to flicker and the beast pushed against it, salivating and waiting for the moment it would fail. Then it could sink its teeth into me and end things right then and there in its lair. But I had another plan. Waiting until the shield was nearly depleted, I drew the last of the power out of it suddenly. This threw the thing off guard, as if someone opened a door it was leaning on unexpectedly. Taking this energy, I added more of my own, creating a burst of scarlet force that hurled the creature against the rotten wooden wreckage against the far wall. I heard it yelp, in pain or surprise, I didn’t care which. Instead I launched my next and final spell.
With it safely across the cellar, I hurled a bolt of fire towards it. I couldn’t see it clearly in the darkness, so I had to maintain the spell and redirect the flames. Although it was not an easy task, I managed to catch the beast and set it alight. It screamed with a sound a man’s throat can’t make, but by then I was headed for the ladder to go back up. It leaped and rolled and crashed into other things, making the fire catch and spread, but that too was part of my plan. I realized that the farmhouse was unoccupied, and hadn’t been for quite some time. It was my hope that this foul place would burn along with its monstrous secrets.
And burn in it did. The howls died out after a few minutes, but I stayed behind to make sure the beast in the cellar didn’t somehow survive to run off into the night searching for a new place to hide. The farmhouse caught easily enough and burned bright and long, my magic shaping the fire expertly to make sure it didn’t spread. I burned the decayed fields as well, and by the time the crescent moon rose high in the sky, the entire area was blackened earth and ash. After a walk around the charred land, I went back to the Guild, to my rooms, where I ordered a bath and a meal.
The next day, I wrote my report and was not really surprised to find that the farmhouse had indeed been deserted for years. Or that the boy, in his run through the Guild didn’t set off any sentry spells, which explained how he drained my shield, but couldn’t counter the fire quickly enough to save itself. Oh and I did get the recognition I desired, but not as a great monster slayer. Instead I was promoted to investigator. Now I had the opportunity to spend my days looking for more mysteries like the beast in the cellar.