Four moons since the Mark of the Other One blossomed. The moon of Blossoms has come.
The hulking man roared at Him. The face of a man roared spit and accusations, and He sent it flying. The head turned to ash that covered a crater. He woke up in that crater. He screamed for days. For eons. The ash in the crater rose into the air and a storm of darkness swirled before Him. Chains emerged from the storm and pulled Him into the maelstrom.
He woke up screaming. He was lying in a puddle. That was not it. He was floating in an ocean. His own endless ocean world. He felt a presence nearby.
“Stop those do! ARGH. Fuck!" He swore loudly. He was losing all the languages He had known. He could barely hold on to pieces of the native tongue He once spoke. His thoughts were jumbled if He tried to think aloud. All the result of sharing the doctor’s mind.
“I see you have come again for another one of our little talks.” The guardian said with annoying coldness. He could understand her without problems. When He spoke it was all broken. “And another issue. Could you stop making it sound as if it is my fault you keep escaping to this place? I would appreciate it. Now, have you come to talk or are you going to run away again. Make up your mind, please. You might have an eternity here, but my time still holds value.”
Slowly He sat up and looked into the distance. There was no horizon in sight in this world as the water and sky melded into one. “You mouth move many quantity. Fine. Answers needed eventually.”
“As you please outlander.” The woman sat down on the water’s surface. She had to have answers yet He was not sure if He wanted to hear any of them.
As He mulled over the events of the past moons, an unexpected suspicion kept reminding itself. Something the woman had just said, bothered Him.
“Eternity? All time, everlasting? No end?”
“Exactly.” The guardian nodded.
“I will assume you mean “What”.” She corrected him. “What do I mean by what I said earlier?” He nodded in response.
She spread her arms to her side. “Look at this. No human holds power like this. I am in here and I can see parts of your soul so I know. I can say it without a doubt. You are a human. But this. You will never die of old age. Honestly, I am unsure if you will die at all. The power that is linked to your soul defies all mortal expectations. You are something more akin to a Draig’yar.”
“What those?” He inquired.
“I have no real memories of those beings, so I can’t show you. It would do you no good if I bombard you with concepts or paintings or memories not my own. What matters is that you will not age, not like a normal human.”
He considered what to say next. He needed to get the meaning across. “Yet you held beyond imagine a whole lot of strength throughout the lasting.”
“You keep not listening to what I say. You bridged two minds by instinct. Why are you trying to calculate? Language might be a construct, yes. Our thoughts and those concepts behind them are based on instinct. Do not think. Say what comes to your mind. That is holding you back as a mage despite this power within you. You could have obliterated that awakened one. Maybe. But to answer your question – I threw myself in front of the voidstone out of desperation. I was stuck in a perpetual state between death, awakening, birth even come to think of it, annihilation, regeneration. It was luck I lasted this long. The five other guardians were not as lucky as me.”
Too much information, He thought. Let’s start in order then.
“Awakened one.” He said and two figures of the grotesque butterfly and woman in blue appeared from the depths.
“I knew her. I suppose she lost her child to the man she thought you to be. Anger and grief overtook her mind. It is the fate of all humans who go past their limits. You avoided this unfortunate fate for your friend. Do not let your heart linger too much on it. He awakened. He was no longer the man you knew. You did right to kill the monster.” The guardian pursed her lips and considered something.
“The heart sways this flow that courses through our veins and our mind desperately tries to bring it under control. Should the heart consume our minds the flow within us will run rampant. We do not die, yet we cease to be what we were. We keep our memories, but the perspective changes. It is a very poor way to describe it. But you do not care about certain things any longer and an insatiable hunger for what you lost or what you lacked, will chain you to a life of undeath. You cannot die, not in the normal sense. If someone does kill you, your soul crosses over to the Shadowlands, to the primal realm of all shadow. You have a chance to return to this plane countless times. If you wish to end this curse, you need to find a way to release your soul. However, by this point, your mind has been awakened to new thoughts and above all, you do not want to die, ever. For the awakened ones true death means the oblivion of darkness. Their souls will not be reborn in the Scale of Souls.”
“Threat mine limit when once?”
“Idiot. You have no limits. The only thing limiting you is your mind. You should take solace you are still a human. That your soul is human. You are the closest thing to a god in a mortal shell. I use the term mortal very loosely here. You are a true ascendant. But you already knew.”
“You knew. The knowledge was in your mind, but a human’s mind is small and feeble and you could not accept it. All this knowledge you did not accept will be lost to you. You might regain some of it through instinct, but we both know how bad you are at that. Since you pulled me in here, you blocked something. And I am certain that removing me from this place will not undo it.”
“Why, also where wandering from to my mind?” The woman rolled her eyes.
“You are so inept at this. It probably is not worth praying to the Other One here, considering you.” She mumbled. “I do not know where exactly that knowledge came from. I caught bits and pieces of it but I cannot see beyond you. The face of this flow and your soul are all I see. All that I can comprehend to an extent. I can’t see through the heart of your power. I do not know its source. You might be able to. With a lot of practice and learning, let us be honest. As for me, I am here by accident. Your mind did not grasp what you were doing, but some part of you felt that since it worked, it must have been the right thing to so. So, here I am. Bored most of the time.”
“You drag veil across thoughts. Take hold mine will over power.” He leveled his accusation at her.
“I helped you fight those awakened ones after Yalthar. I did not take over you. I guided your mind. Gave it a small prod in the right direction. I can not take over you. What I did, took an enormous effort.”
“Veil before frozen city. Not you?”
“I told you. There was another presence in here before me. I could not see its nature.” He was not convinced. But He had other questions He wanted answers to.
"Magic. Magician.” A firework of vivid images and experiences rose from the depths.
“Stop, stop, stop! No! Enough! Too much!” The guardian protested. He could feel her building a mental wall. He could crush it, but it was probably the wrong thing to do. So, He relented. The woman sat down again and sighed. “Close one. Thankfully, you can use your head.”
"Magic. Strength. Flo ow.” He tried to explain.
“No. It’s flow. And strength. I’ll give you that those two words are similar. When I was learning eldertongue, I hated those words. But there’s a little hook in there.” She considered something. “I understand the concept, but I guess closest I know here are palm readers. Illusionists? Illusions are real. Perfectly achievable with the right power. A trickster I suppose, but for you that word would hold a different meaning.”
“Mage is a person who wields the flow in and around them, but it comes from a different meaning... This is ancient history before time for me.” The guardian shook her head as she looked exhausted for a moment. “Look. We have the flow. A constant that courses throughout our veins. It has nothing to do with tricks or entertainment?” She ventured. “I guess that’s what you mean. It is a constant of our lives, a companion and a curse to some. A real force of nature that is linked to our mind, our heart and is born from our soul. Not a fantasy. The flow, the ways of power and all aspects of the arcane run deep roots into the heart of this world.”
He raised an eyebrow, and He looked next to Himself. He could already feel the storm of concepts and thoughts rising from the depths. The woman would die if He would let all those uncertain thoughts out. The storm bubbled around them but subsided. She had already scrambled backwards and was kneeling. Holding up her index finger, pointing at Him. An odd mix of fear, panic and irritation danced on her face. As if she was angry with a misbehaving child. It made sense actually. He chuckled. His grasp of this power was as good as a child’s. Only He was a powerful child.
“You have potential. I will give you that much.” She wagged her finger slowly at Him and she settled down again. She still looked uneasy. She did not come closer to Him again.
“Where you come?”
“Me? I am one of the Six Guardian Deities of the North. One of the six spellswords that answer to the Iordurian All-King, the Pureblooded Emperor. At least, that is who I was. I believe I told you that already.”
“Know. But no name longer? Not that. Where us come? Us. Them? Man and woman.”
She closed her eyes, clearly vexed. “How can you be so bad at this?”
“Mine tongue bad might able, but argument valid. However, your talk much length.” He regretted uttering this monstrosity the moment He had stopped talking. The woman was staring at Him. It was unsettling. How could someone’s eyes be that cold? The blue seemed to turn paler and paler into clean ice.
“You are an idiot.” She hissed and adjusted her braids. “The more I talk, the better the chance I answer the correct question. I can guess, and I can read bits and pieces from your thoughts, but it is not that easy. You are really ungrateful, do you know?”
“Apology.” He hesitated. “Yet help to me? Why?”
“Why? Because it is inconvenient for me if you were to sit still and settle down somewhere. I need you to stand up and go. I am trapped in here. Not alive, but not dead either. It means I still have a chance to be alive. And the same chance to cease existing, but I do not care what it takes. I will be out of this place and I will know the smell of air once more. But for that I need you to follow the path to power. I have little patience to wait for power to come to you. It will happen sooner rather than later, but I do not have the patience. Not after that kind of imprisonment. If I have to drag you by hand, then so be it. As long as I have any chance of getting out, I need you to try it. A chance to be reborn! I am not helping you out of kindness but need. Remember that.”
“That possibility creating you to lie if unavoidable mine.” He demanded.
“No. A guardian deity does not lie. I will swear to you, outlander. I will not lie to you.”
He regarded the woman in front of Him. So far, her attitude about Him had been upfront. She wore her emotions on her sleeve. Yet, He could not blindly trust her. She liked to talk. He could probably make use of that. If He had the knowledge to ask the right questions.
“Very well. Name, you.”
“We have no names. Once you passed the trials to become a guardian, you were no longer the person you used to be. I am merely the first. My real name is ancient history. No longer a necessity.”
He raised an eyebrow again and looked at the woman curiously. She would say nothing more. “As please you.” He sighed at the thought of having to continue. “Man and woman this realm come from where?”
“You’re getting better.” She mumbled and narrowed her eyes. “You already know the answer. But I suppose you deserve some background from your descendant. Huh.” An odd, calculating look decorated her face. “Never thought of it that way. You are my forerunner and not only mine. You must have had a family.” His heart was pumping now. Those were frightening thoughts. “For some reason, not long after the world engines fell silent, people started to forget. Write it all off as a fairy tale. I cannot tell you why. Perhaps it was this flow within us. The one thing that claims without doubt that we are of this world. Soon no one even bothered to teach that part of our history. But as I started my training, it was one of the first things they taught us.”
She straightened her back and pulled air into her lungs. He wondered about that. Did she need to breathe here? He did not. Or was He breathing? “Let go of the oblivion! You are a child of two worlds. A soul born from two worlds. An existence, unrivalled. They taught us that one constant above all. Year after year, those lessons never ended. I was shown ancient relics, writings by long gone rulers and even those written by humans, who had passed the void. And memories. Living memories of those few powerful enough to discover a robust way to record them when our knowledge of the arcane was in its infancy.”
“What discover? What reason us kind here?” He asked, unable to hold back.
“No one knew. All those who passed the void described a single memory. Black ink, creeping in front of their vision, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to feel anything at all. Some described a flow passing all around them, through them. As if one was chained in the middle of a rapidly flowing river. Nothing to see, nothing to hear. Only the flow remained. Most did not remember that. People woke up in the middle of a torrent of flow, on a grassy hill, somewhere hidden in foothills or in the deepest, remote woodlands, in places you could call absolutely nowhere, surrounded by the nine pillars of the world engines. There has been a lot speculation. Written works from philosophers and mages who made it their life goal to seek the deepest arcane knowledge and solve the mystery of the great abyss. No one knows the truth.”
“What happen to country, your?”
“Divine punishment, most likely. Pillars of fire fell, they shattered our lands and our capital. Those who were left tried to flee to the Empire, but such a world-shattering event caused Ironcourt to betray us, to betray the Pureblooded Emperor. There was a rebellion, the Emperor was killed, and they shut the borders. No one should have been able to defeat him.” The guardian looked sombre. She was in mourning, those events would not have been ancient history to her. “Many of our people awakened out of free will. They hunted down those who did not wish to throw their humanity away. Those were desperate and confusing days. The quickest three tens I have ever known. And I still do not know much about what happened during those days.”
“What next do to? Go from to?” He was at a loss about what to ask. He had had so many ideas. Now, most of them seemed irrelevant. If she talked, He might have new questions.
“Better talk with the healer and his friend. I caught glimpses, but I do not know enough about the Eternal Empire in this age to tell you. Why did you throw away all those memories of the healer? You could have saved yourself so much trouble. It is another reason your eldertongue is this broken.”
“Unnecessary. Not want be else being. Need tongue.”
“You made a mistake.” She scolded Him.
“Do not need picture sex.” He said in despair, hoping she would understand.
“Lies and slander! I know you need sex. You want sex. I can feel it. This is a new experience for me. Never been a man before.” A strange grin was spreading on the guardian’s face as He felt embarrassment make him blush.
His eyes opened, and He was staring at the ceiling. His vision filled with colour as He had sat up too fast. And behind it all an understanding about irritation and a half-hearted apology reached Him. He slammed his fist against the floorboards.
“Stop fun having me.” He wanted to swear, but the words escaped him. He wanted to blow something up. He breathed in and out, slowly, trying to calm down.
One day, the doctor and his helper had removed part of the wall to reveal doors and a small terrace behind the house. He liked to sit there, behind the corner, to enjoy the faint warmth seeping in and the sounds of the village. Quiet shouts, a faint chatter, the sounds of animals and the villagers alike.
To His surprise, there were cows here, chickens, horses, and sheep. All farmyard animals you could imagine from back home. Cats and dogs too, pigs and birds like any other. They were all different to the breeds back home yet not completely unrecognisable. There was nothing else they could have been.
A sense of nostalgia and melancholy accompanied the sight of the villager’s day-to-day life. If it were not for the constant tangled yarn of presences and power, you would have thought this to be home.
“I need leave near coming days.” He mumbled. Despite the familiarity, this place felt wrong. Especially the humans.
They looked different. Not the kind you had ever seen back home. And He could not fully explain the difference. Their skin was slightly darker, something you would see around the Mediterranean perhaps or further east. With this old lifestyle many of them could have simply had stronger tans, but He had seen the healer’s helper without clothes enough times to realise that was not the case.
Many of the villagers had darker hair colours, blonde seemed to be the minority here. They seemed to have awfully small eyes, but they were not Asiatic. Overall their facial features looked less pronounced, but that did not mean they had rounder faces. Everything about the villager’s features seemed smoother. But this explanation did not satisfy Him, as He was certain he had never seen humans such as these. He tried to recall the humans frozen in time, but most of his memories of the past months were a mess.
He turned His gaze towards a rough mirror on the wall. His hair had grown long, it was now wrapped in a bun against the back of his head. The handywork of the doctor’s helper. He was debating whether to chop it all off with a knife or ask someone to teach him how to do His hair up like that. And the hair colour had smudged. From a wheat field to something like a dark kiwi peel. Even darker streaks were visible, but the roots of His hair had turned white. Thankfully, they did not show. His face looked thin and gaunt. He could not stand the reflection of Himself. The grey eyes looked tired and without a goal.
“I going leave soon to come.” He tried to reassure Himself. But He felt weak. His legs did not support his weight properly.
Somewhere beyond, He could feel the guardian’s reply. -Get going then, she said. The only thing holding you back is your mind. Go. Do not linger.-
Where should He go? And when? Should He worry about troubling this village at all? He could leave in the middle of the night, maybe leave a few gems as collateral. The village considered Him a criminal. He might become a fugitive if He ran.
The guardian had confirmed his suspicions. To the humans here, the journey through the void was something long forgotten. Beyond memory, legend and myth. Aside from the doctor and his helper, none of the other villagers had tapped into their power, ever. There was potential here, but mere embers were all that were left. Hidden under a thick coat of ash, barely alive. Yet, the warmth never faded.
He shook His head. His thoughts became fuzzy and jumbled once more. A wave ran across the endless ocean and the face of the guardian danced in front of Him. The sunny day returned, harsh, uncaring. Unfamiliar. Slowly, He stood up and looked for His clothes. The girl who was looking after Him from time to time had brought new pants and a couple of shirts. And both warm- and cold-weather clothes.
He donned His boots, which, against all expectations, had survived the journey south. It had become a habit of examining His clothes before He wore them. The boots were made of unknown leather. Sturdy and carefully made. The new clothes looked less ancient than the ones found in the gateway village and the abandoned city, but still nothing like the streetwear and casual clothing Andrew was used to.
Something between a peasant’s attire and working clothes was the best description He could come up with. The clothes were made with the explicit purpose of what they were. It was a shirt. It had buttons. It was sort of white. Felt like cotton or linen or a mix of the two. That was it. Simple clothing for almost every occasion.
All dressed, He donned the large, red waist-guard. He felt naked without it. An amusing thought struck Him. The girdle made it easy for the villagers to keep an eye on His whereabouts. There had been complaints by the elder, but there were no attempts to stop His little walks, either.
Sometimes, the brat who had to be a relative of the elder tagged along. They had the similar thin build and curly hair. You could still see a couple of brown strands in the elder’s hair, similar to the lush brown that the boy had. And yellow eyes. They weren’t animal like, but both the elder and boy had bold yellow-orange-ish pupils. So far they were the only ones with such an odd feature.
Sometimes the caretaker girl had followed him. The one with the large lips and prominent eyebrows. Her younger sister looked less unusual and if not for those two striking features the two of them would have been identical with light brown hair and brown eyes. And this girl always argued with the elder’s boy. They had to be younger than sixteen, both of them real children. The boy kept his distance most of the time, but there had been times when the boy had approached with questions and a determined irritation. He had ignored the runt.
He had nothing to say to them. There was no excitement there. Oh, hey. You would not believe this, but I am from another world. The human’s birth world as it turns out. I might be a great, ancient, old as dirt itself granduncle to some of you, possibly, maybe. Neither was there any huge solace or revelation in His passenger’s answers. But a spark had been reignited in His mind, the future was more open now, the possibilities unwritten and endless. There was a path He could follow and move forward on.
He snorted a laugh and stepped outside. Already a few were calling out and pointing towards Him, but He ignored them and kept walking as calmly as the wobbling legs allowed Him to.
A hulking beast crashed through the front door of the doctor’s house. He plunged the blood-red blade into the beast’s heart. The beast turned into a stocky man with a familiar face. The man wailed and begged him to stop. He sliced its head into two.
He woke up with a jolt. He had fallen asleep on the meadow. The sun was hot today. Warm scents that reminded Him of summer were dancing around in the air today. Every single tree and bush had sprouted leaves and small blossoms. Spring had come.
“Hey you! Get up!” A rowdy voice called.
“You woke him up! He was sleeping.” He recognised the voice of the girl who usually looked after Him.
“Shut your mouth girl, this is our village. He can’t just do here as he pleases.”
“Sleeping! Hardy, you idiot. He was sleeping.”
Brilliant. A group of five people was approaching. The girl who was taking care of Him, the village elder and his brat and another man and boy with black straight hair. The latter two had swords in their hands. The ginger doctor was nowhere in sight. Annoyed, He sat up. A faint sense of amused curiosity came from somewhere beyond. Good. She was awake too.
“Hawthorne. Please. This is too much.”
“He is a bloodied mage, a criminal and you are content to sit on your arse. Are you the elder of this village or not?”
“The one putting this in question right now is you.” The village elder grabbed the other man by the shoulder. But he pulled himself free and marched forward stopping a good distance away from Him.
“You! Criminal. You will come quietly or face the consequences! Stand up! Now! Your kind belong chained to quarries.”
He did not reply, instead He looked at the village and the horizon behind it. It was a nice view from up here. Rolling hills and small patches of forest as far as He could see.
-Really? You are going to let him talk to you as he pleases?- He heard from somewhere. -A pathetic worm who has never tasted power is looking down on you!-
“Enough! I appreciate your help, but this is too much. Let me speak to him. Please. Put the weapons away for a little while.” The village elder fussed about and tried to take the swords away without success. But the man and boy did back down.
The village elder ambled closer, clearly afraid. He straightened his clothes and tried to sit more comfortably. He let out an involuntary grunt as he did so. The elder squatted in front of Him.
“You should know me.” The old man said. “And going by the state of the healer’s house and what little Sethian said you should understand us. I can tell you are a great mage, but knowing nothing about you, we are forced to assume the worst. People with bloodseals are known far and wide all over Tavran.” The village elder looked at Him expecting an answer. He did not seem all that bad. Old, strict and conservative, but his eyes told a different story.
He had other problems. Bloodseal? He thought.
-The tattoo on your arm, knucklehead. It acts as a medium to unlock more powers and amplify whatever you are doing with your flow. It is a key of sorts.-
A key to what, He thought. Silence. The elder was looking at him curiously.
“What you know want?” He asked the elder.
“I thought the healer said you can talk to us now?” The old man said, confused.
“Understand, yes. Talk, broken yet.” Behind the elder, He could see the man and boy exchange sceptical looks. The girl and elder’s brat had stayed further away.
“Well. We will try to make do. Your name, where are you from, why are you here and what happened to you?” The old man asked with a strict voice.
Immediately as He tried to say his name, He realised that it did not exist in eldertongue. He had problems from the beginning, how could He even explain the other three questions?
His lips moved without him realising. That was the closest to His real name. Did the woman do that? He had not intended to say it. A sense of protest reached Him. “Name mine is Andaris.” He hesitated. But what did He have to think about, why did He need to hesitate? He did not need to lie. To hell with it. “Not here. Not this place. Not from anywhere. But demons assault. I fight off, run away, end up here.”
The village elder stared at him, confused and without ideas about what to do now.
“Gaven. This is hopeless, let’s lock him up until get an answer from Shadowwatch. Iorgen, boy. You need to help us. Now!” But the boy did not move.
“Let me try!” The village elder shouted, upset. “Boy! You must have a home. Tell me where your home is. Forget about everything else. Home! Where?” Andaris suppressed a chuckle. This was exactly like what the doctor had asked him. Should he show him? The man was old and frail. And he had never tapped into the flow inside him.
“Home not this land.” Yet as amusing as it was, his mood was turning sour.
“Gaven, spare us this farce. Now he is saying to your face that he is a demon!”
“Hawthorne!” The elder barked. “Boy!” Andaris stood up and interrupted the elder who now scrambled backwards and fell on his behind.
“My home not this land. I come from north, far. Wake up north. Wake up after darkness. Not thoughts why this place. Words no work. Can only show!” He stepped forward and extended his left hand to the elder.
“Don’t!” A shout came from downhill as the boy and man moved forward as one. The elder’s brat had taken steps closer as well. The girl had turned her back on the situation and was looking at the two approaching the scene. The doctor and his helper were rushing uphill.
“Hawthorne, I will burn your cock if you dare use that sword.” The helper yelled.
“You dare threaten me, mage?”
“I am not threatening you. I am telling you what will happen if you want to be an idiot.”
“You will have to deal with me, bitch.” Hawthorne’s boy yelled. The woman ignored him.
Andaris extended his right hand forward this time. “Up. No fear.” He told the village elder. Although wary, the old man grabbed hold and allowed to be pulled upright. So old and light, Andrew thought.
“Cynric. What am I supposed to do here?” The village elder pleaded.
“Can only show. No words enough to elaborate truth. Yet, not lie. Not reason to lie. Speak to healer. He knows.” Andaris explained.
“Cynric!” Gaven barked again as he stepped away from Andaris.
“Please. Gaven, trust me when I say, he is not a criminal. He is a lost soul. It is difficult to explain.”
“You could give a damn try! What does he mean? What does he mean, his home is not in this land?” The old man barked.
“Just lock the bastard up! He is filth! What are you waiting for?” The boy named Hardy blew a sharp whistle and Andaris felt several presences approach from behind. Come to think of it, they had been edging closer for a while now. He had a lot to learn still. He turned his head slightly. All younger than him. Boys with piss in their heads and blood boiling, itching for excitement.
“Now, there’s a good lad! Iorgen you too. Get in there!” The man Hawthorne shouted.
“No! Hardy. What are you two thinking! This is too much!” The village elder shouted, his voice hoarse and clearly beginning to tire of the constant talking.
“While you are sitting on your arse, we will catch a criminal. Surround the freak! Give him no quarter. My father would be a better elder than you, Gaven.” The boy barked. All around him cheers and rowdy shouts echoed across the hills. Downhill a small group of spectators was gathering.
Andaris felt an overwhelming desire to laugh. Then he realised where it was coming from. Stop that. The guardian kept giggling as his anger grew. The boy, Iorgen, was pulling the elder away from the group of boys.
“Cynric! Do something! Sethian!” The elder pleaded.
The healer had his hands on his head and seemed close to losing his mind. The woman named Sethian seemed to enjoy the show. She had a wild grin on her face and an odd look in her eyes. Her eyes were shining.
“If this lot wants to be humiliated in front of the entire village, there’s little I can do against... seven... ten... fourteen idiots! If you don’t want me to kill them that is.” The woman shouted happily.
“Mage, you will regret this day. You will accompany this criminal to Shadowwatch if you do not help us!” The rowdy brat’s father barked.
“If I were you, I would be scared right now. A thought, Hawthorne. Hardy. But, have fun, I guess.”
“Afraid of what? Filth, barely on his feet?” That boy was really getting on Andaris’ nerves now. He caught the healer’s gaze. There was a pleading look to him. Words came through a haze and Andaris had half a mind left to be surprised that he was the one speaking.
“Not filth. Mage. Unlike toddler as you are.”
The boy’s eyes widened, and he jumped forward. All around him, Andaris felt movement. Power erupted from his veins. The feeling was different this time. So easy, so simple, so fluid. Without effort, this flow bent according to his will.
The boy’s sword reached him, and he grabbed the blade in his left hand. Glass and mist exploded onto the meadow as ice tore through the dirt and surrounded Andaris.
He grabbed the surprised boy by his throat and threw the brat downhill, like a puppet, while tearing the brat’s sword out of his hand and tossing it away. The brat landed on top of his father. All around Andaris were boys caught in the ice, some mid jump. Fear and confusion danced on their faces. Andaris took a step toward the fumbling father and son. The two charged at him again, the moment they found their feet. Andaris caught the father’s sword in his hand and shattered the blade in his fist.
With an impatient wave of the hand, wind tore into the ground between the father and son and they flew sideways, away from one another. This time they did not stand up. It was a good thing too. Andaris felt his feet wobble. His head was spinning slightly.
“Stop this! Stop this madness! Don’t hurt them!” The elder was shouting. Quiet shouts of shock came from the villagers gathered downhill.
“No hurt. Chill.” Andaris looked at the half-frozen figures behind him and the ice crumbled. Not one stood up. Many wore defiant faces, but all of them were on all fours or their knees, huffing, shaking, rubbing their hands and trying to get warmth back into their body.
“I think we can safely say Hardy is at fault here.” The healer’s helper exclaimed happily.
“Mage! I will kill you!” The rowdy brat yelled.
“Hardy!” A frail man, yet still strong. The village elder shouted with rage. “Communal work for the next two moons! That goes for all of you idiots up there!” The man rushed past Andaris and pulled the boys up by their ears. Many of them argued and shouted but all of them fell in line after the elder slapped and ripped their hair.
“Gaven! You will not leave this like that! You are letting a criminal have his way in our village!”
“Shut your mouth Hawthorne.” Gaven hissed. “Communal work for three moons! Do not argue with me.”
A beaten procession of boys headed downhill and Andaris was at his limits. He sat down.
-Stand up you fool.- The guardian’s face swam in front of his vision. -Your only problem is your mind. You are well.-
-You know, they are right.- Andaris thought. -I am a criminal. I killed a man. What are the others going to say? I can’t go after them. They will run. They are probably already running. Becca would have known.-
-Stand up! You absolute pathetic snot. You killed a monster. That man killed himself, no matter what you think what happened. What happened to that confidence and power from a moment ago? Stand up worm! Your mind is stronger than this.-
-My mind is about to break.-
“Healer! What am I supposed to do here?” The village elder shouted. “What am I supposed to do with this?” Andaris saw the man point down at him out of the corner of his eye. He thought to look up but did not feel like it. “I can not excuse not sending him to Shadowwatch any longer. This is too much.”
“Let us not forget that it was Hardy, who caused this situation.”
“Sethian.” The healer groaned.
“What? He did. There’s no debating this.”
Andaris heard the healer complain and mumble something as he walked closer.
“What Hardy did was stupid! Simply plain stupid. I have a half a mind to thank the outlander for not killing anyone, but that does not excuse his actions. He provoked the boy.” The village elder raged.
“Oh, shut it!” The healer barked. “The brat would have swung his sword without the northman saying a word. Seth! Help the man back to the house.”
“Cynric, I am waiting for a solution.” The old man crossed his arms.
“Don’t worry. I will be gone in two days. And I will take both mages with me.”
“You are?” Both the helper and village elder said with surprised voices.
“I asked for a favour. A replacement healer and an aide will arrive soon. The day after tomorrow if they are not delayed. The northman has offered a small compensation for the trouble caused. I hope he will still honour his offer.”
Andaris stared in disbelief for a couple of moments and then nodded.
“Just like that. You’re leaving just like that? Do you think I will allow that to happen? I have no answers about who he is.”
“This is out of your league and mine. His story should be the last thing you have to worry about, Gaven. I will take him somewhere appropriate. The capital.”
“Cynric, you will not leave this village without my blessing.”
“I don’t need your blessing. You will have to find a way to accept the fact.”
The healer came to the other side of the Andaris and helped Sethian pull him up. The three of them made their way downhill, with the village elder pacing around Andaris and the two mages. Nagging and complaining. All the way to the healer’s house. Once there, Cynric physically pushed the man outside when he tried to enter.
“You can’t leave! You can’t go! Mage, damn it!” But the healer slammed the door shut in the elder’s face.
“This is a change of pace for you. Thank you for giving me a warning beforehand.” Andaris could not figure the healer’s helper out. Despite the upset tone, she was grinning.
“Why did you send Gaven after him? Why did you tell that the outlander was outside?” The healer immediately began scolding.
“I said nothing. I didn’t even know where he was.”
“Hardy.” The healer groaned. “It had to have been him.”
“See. I told you! It’s his fault.” Andaris watched the woman’s face curl into a large grin again. Their gazes crossed, and he saw her eyes light up. What an odd woman. He turned his gaze away, towards the healer. Healer? That was the doctor. He was looking at Andaris. The words in his mind were a mess. He knew what they were, but the right word eluded him.
“Don’t apologise. You are not a prisoner here.”
“Was not going to.” His lips moved without intention again. His thoughts were a jumbled mess. Andaris. No, He. He was Andrew. But Andrew did not exist. The word. The name did not exist in eldertongue. Who was He? A violin string was being tortured in His head and without warning the presences of every man woman and child in the village were in His head. All of them.
Andaris grabbed his head and doubled over on the chair. He felt like throwing up.
Someone put their hand on his back and fingers on his temple. The pressure in his head lessened.
“Are you feeling all right?” The doctor’s face came into focus as Andaris lifted his head.
“No. But small better now.”
“He’s dropped his devourer.” Andaris heard the helper comment. “He hasn’t taken the thing off the entire time. I think I know what’s wrong.” The helper rushed off and returned with a familiar earring. The moment she clipped it on his ear, Andaris fell sideways through a wall of cold water. The presences were all still there, but as soon as he followed one, the others vanished. He could gander at them as he wanted to. A glass wall was between him and them and they could not reach him unless he wanted to.
“Do I have to explain it to you or can you figure this one out yourself?” The helper demanded from the doctor.
“Devourers are only ever used these days on very powerful or astute children. Those who have trouble...”
“Exactly.” The woman interrupted the healer. “Anyway, he still does not look all that great.”
“Physically, he is healed. Despite years of medical training telling me it shouldn’t be possible. Scars, minor inflammations. A few scabs here and there. With that bloodseal those should not be a problem anymore, any rot left in his system should fade over time.”
“Physically, huh. So how much of a basket case are you?” The helper raised an eyebrow and looked Andaris straight in the eye.
He laughed. Andaris had no idea why, but he laughed. “Big basket. Full of much potatoes. An ocean of those!” He gasped in between the laughing.
The doctor had distanced himself, but his helper patted Andaris on the back. “That’s the spirit! I can tell right away, you are one true human!”
Andaris chuckled his last and looked at the healer. The man talked before Andaris could say his share.
“I am sorry. You should be well enough to travel. I took the liberty of arranging us some transport. Horses.”
“Thoughts of leaving for a while now. Do not concern. But no know how to ride.”
“We’ll have to make do. But I have to ask that you honour your offer to compensate the village. And me.” A worried expression passed over the healer’s face.
“It’s not nice to bully for coin.” The mage commented.
Andaris chuckled. “Not problem. Where go? Why help me?”
“Trust me, this is not just about helping you. I have my own reasons too.”
“Finally gave up on your lifelong aspirations, did you? Easier to get a young girl from the flesh market. As long as you pay the right amount, she will call you daddy.”
The doctor sighed and rolled his eyes. “I hate you, Seth.”
“What? I was joking. Don’t tell me I hit the nail on the head? Was this your plan?”
“Of course not, you idiot!” The healer raged.
“So, why am I being dragged along?” This time the helper crossed her hands.
“To make it look more official. You are a battlemage.”
“Was one.” The woman snorted a laugh.
“Your oath is lifelong. This retirement is temporary.”
“Sure, once a war breaks out, I might consider ambling to the front lines to be the first to die. You will not be fooling the elder with this. This fire has long since burned out. Only embers remain. If you try to light these, the whole forest will burn down.”
“Gaven fears you. He considers you able enough to handle the northman.” The mage snorted in response. “No, it’s true.”
“Well, I suppose. It’s not as if those who have never had their flow unbound have any clue.”
“Where we go?” Andaris was tired. Humans never changed. They could talk and talk and talk.
“That is up to you. We can take you to one of the nearby towns along the river Irbis. I understand you got separated from some companions. You can try to pick up their trail.”
Andaris did not want to say no to that. He had doubts about following his friends. Were they even his friends? He knew them. Just because they had been through all that, could he call them friends?
“Other pillars.” He had an idea. “Places like my waking up. Near river?” The two mages looked at each other.
“There is one place on the way to Northwatch. Well, a little way further than the town, but it’s close enough.” The healer drawled.
“I think Ironcourt is a better idea. If you want to find out anything about anything – that’s the place to go.” The old mage nodded earnestly.
“He can’t go and simply walk into the libraries in the high city!” The healer exclaimed.
“Forget the libraries. I am talking about pawnshops, antique merchants. The like. You find much more useful things that way. Funny, the Archmage told me that.” The helper had a strange, pained look on her face.
“Fine. But before you think about heading to Ironcourt, I have to warn you.” The healer wore a worried expression. “There’s unrest in the capital. And not only there. Things are unsettled across the Empire. I have to explain a little what is going on. The Empire is in the middle of succession. A new emperor is about to take the throne and the royal family is, from what I have heard, torn apart. The relationships between the heir and his father, the current emperor, are not the best. And that’s not all. Because of this uncertainty, there is talk of rebellion in the capital and the fear that other kingdoms might take advantage of that. It does not help that the mark blossomed.”
“Oh please. It’s just talk. The Ebonveils have ruled for generations. There has always been talk of unruly times in the capital. And even then, the real rule belongs to the Grand Council.” The helper yawned.
“Not this time. The commons have had enough. The Ebonveils have continued to cling onto their pureblood legacy and done little. The current emperor’s even bigger lack of actions has deepened the hate against the royal family. The royal bloodline can’t see past Ironcourt. The commons have never found reason to like them. I know what you will say, Sethian. But with the Mark of the Other One blossoming, the people have had enough. The latest news from the capital was even worse. They handed over all the armies to the brat heir. And he immediately let one of his nine loose at the generals and warlords in charge of the key strongholds all over the Empire.”
“That is... Not too smart actually. Is it? What did he do?”
“More recruits and veterans back to Shadowwatch. Including a new commander. He shuffled the armies around between forts like a deck of cards. There is no logic to it. If the Empire is attacked now... Any way.” The healer looked Andaris straight in the eye. “There is a saying – power always draws in power. I do not want to believe in this superstitious nonsense that is the mark, but since you appeared. Well. Think twice, before you head to Ironcourt.”
Andaris nodded, not truly understanding what the healer had been speaking of. “Might be best to leave lands?” He ventured.
“I don’t know. If you can quietly slip out, then go for it. But I honestly do not know what advice I should give you. For now, I can get you away from prying eyes. Then you can disappear.”
“Good enough.” Andaris nodded again.
“You know, this mess the Ebonveil heir created works out in our favour.” Sethian commented.
“How so?” Cynric furrowed his brow.
“If Gaven writes to Shadowwatch now, his letter will get lost. You know how much paperwork there is involved with the change of commanders. The forts rarely take the time to worry about old village farts when they have to deal with new subordinates and superiors. What are you going to do after, Cyn?”
“I will go home and visit my family.”
“And what about me?”
“You are welcome to come along. No, shut up, Seth. I know you can go wherever you want to. You have nothing tying you down anywhere. And I will take full advantage of that right now.”
“Is that your imperial mandate?” The mage said.
“Exactly. My last chance to use this.”
“I am not sure it works like this. You are asking me to help you let a suspected criminal loose.”
“Let me have this one, Sethian. As a favour, please.”
“Relax. You know I have no problems. But didn’t you forget someone?”
“The new healer has agreed to continue teaching her. Where is she anyway?”
“I think I saw her mother. And that’s not what I mean.”
“Rest.” Andaris mumbled. Those two were not paying much attention to him any longer. It was probably safe to go to sleep. He stood up and colour filled his vision. At least he was still standing upright. He already knew where his room was, it was not hard to find it by hand.
Sitting down, he realised the violin string had gone nowhere. An incessant buzz filled his head. Something filled his thoughts with doubts and helplessness. He was still fading away. For some inexplicable reason one part of him was still resisting. But the one attacking had a name now. Andaris. That is who he was becoming. Still not dead. Why could this not be over? Why had oblivion still not come?
But I do not want to die. I want to live. Just drive a sword through my skull. I do not want to go like this. I do not want to wither away. That makes the darkness that much more frightening.
A sense of anger came from beyond.
-It is in your mind! Stop it, you whelp! You are a true soul of two worlds! You have lived in two worlds. You are beyond this!-
-Leave me alone!- A storm rocked the ocean, following his shout. The guardian had vanished. Where did she go like this?
The beast-man roared at him. The scream was cut in half by darkness and blood.
Andaris jolted awake. He had fallen asleep on the horse. The droning sound of the hooves had made him fall asleep. It was a wonder he did not fall off. Thankfully, he did not have to steer this thing. His horse was tied to the healer’s. It was hard enough sitting on the thing. How did he fall asleep? He sighed and tried to make himself a little more comfortable.
The three of them had left early in the morning. Four days ago now. No one was there to send them off, Cynric did not even wait for his replacement to arrive. The healer only left a few gems at the elder’s door that Andaris had given him. Andaris caught glimpses of a lake below the hills and forests on his right hand.
Faryam lake. Was that what they called it? The river Aryam flowed into its northern end, right past the Farstam village. How had he slept that long? The sun was already over the lake to the west just above the trees. They had only set off a little while ago just before the sun rose above the treetops. The evening was rather cold today. Andaris spun his head around, making the horse under him twitch. They had left only a little while ago. There was the hill over, behind them. That was where they had spent the night.
He pulled his compass out and tried to make sense of everything around him. He looked at the sun and the hill behind them and their heading according to the compass. Well. He was in another world. The direction this sun rose from was the least of his worries right now. Apparently this one rose from the west. Nothing that huge, to lose yourself over. Compared to his other problems.
Andaris took one last look towards the hill. A human figure caught his attention. And a familiar presence drifted into his mind. He looked at the small figure in confusion.
“Wait. Stop.” He finally said without turning around.
“What is it?” The two mages asked.
“Your little helper.” Andaris pointed behind them.