Hoseforn sat alone in his office. His eyes were closed as he took steady deep breathes, his mind wandering from subject to subject. The dinner had gone as well as could be expected. It always brought some joy to the old man’s heart to see all of his students, new and old, wonder at the great feast and all that it offered. He thought of his beloved staff, who had all become like family too him, who were preparing even now for tomorrow’s lessons. And he thought of the dangers that awaited them all. The disappearances, the murders, the strange vibrations that seemed to be flowing from Ealinata’s core itself. There was so much to do, and what felt like so little time to do it.“What would have done in my place, master.”
Hoseforn whispered to himself. He often wondered at what Glitterthorne would have done in such strange and trying times. He had taught Hoseforn well, and yet he could never help but feel like there had still been so much left to learn from the old dragon. With a few more deep breathes, Hoseforn let his body relax and his mind wander further back, into the ethereal realm of dreams and memories…
…. Many years ago, in a small cave, on a forgotten island ….
Asmodius Hoseforn laid on his stomach with a large tome in front of him and a long piece of grass hanging nonchalantly from his mouth. A small ball of light hovered by his head, bobbing up down just a little, though not enough to disturb his reading. His legs kicked back and forth methodically and a light, inadvertent hum, tuned to a rhythm he couldn’t remember hearing, came from the boys’ lips.
The book in front of him was enormous, its pages old and yellowed with the passing of time. What had once been gold filigree on the edges and cover of the book had almost completely worn away, but still held some of its previous wonder and artistry. To most, the marking inside the book would have meant nothing, as few could speak the language of the dragons, much less read it. But to Hoseforn they were a treasure trove of knowledge and wonder. He studied each passage with an almost religious vigor, hoping to pull whatever secrets from the book he could.
But as the boy read the peaceful look on his face changed to one of confusion, and perhaps a little annoyance. He flipped back and forth between a particular pair of pages as if expecting something to jump out at him that he had somehow missed, but there was nothing. At last, he let out a sigh and turned to look at his companion.“Glitterthorne?”
A massive and ancient golden dragon laid peacefully on the floor of his lair. Books, gold, and a range of strange and magical artifacts surrounded him. His body lifted and fell peacefully, obviously meaning he was deep in sleep. Or at least that was what the old dragon hoped it was portraying. Sadly, for the old dragon, his young ward was not easily deterred by something so trivial as manners. “Glitterthorne?!”
Asmodius called again, this time a bit louder.
Again, Glitterthorne attempted to look as if he was peacefully sleeping. The boy had so many questions, and never easy ones either. A curious mind was a wonderful thing, but when you well over 8000 years old, answering all of them was exhausting. “GLITTERTHORNE!?!”
Asmodius yelled. His voice echoing off the walls of the cavern. Glitterthorne let out a massive ‘hrumph’ the mighty breath knocking Asmodius’ hat askew. Finally, Glitterthorne opened one eye to stare at the petulant child. “What is it Asmodius? What is so important that it cannot wait until after I have slept.” “I have a question.”
Asmodius chimed.“You? A question? How out of character. WHAT is your question child?” “I think it might be a delicate question.”
Asmodius added, seeming suddenly hesitant. “Promise you want get mad at me?”“The only thing that will make me mad boy is how long it is taking for you to ask the damn question. Out with-it lad.”
Asmodius hesitated for another moment, seemingly rethinking what he was about to ask, but another blast of hot air from his master’s mouth forced him to move forward. “Why do none of these books discuss necromancy? The only thing they say is that its evil and not to attempt it.”
The old dragon stared at his student for quite a while, an unreadable expression on his face. “Why?”
It was such a simple question, but Asmodius could tell it was loaded with meaning. He suddenly felt very unsure of himself, as if answering the dragon wrong could end poorly for him. “I don’t know, it just seems strange. None of them give a reason ‘why’ its evil. They just say that it IS evil and leave it at that. How am I supposed to know if they are right if they don't give me any reason why they’re right?”
Again, the massive dragon stared at the boy, its face difficult to comprehend. “Is it not enough to be told that something is evil? Do I need to explain to you why murder is evil? There are some things in the world that are wrong by their very nature. Must these things be demonstrated to you?”
There was no anger in the dragon’s voice, only caution. Hoseforn looked down for a minute, his face deep in concentration. “But you can just tell me anything. Someone can tell you that giving someone you love a flower is evil, that doesn’t make it true. And even if murder is usually evil, does it make it always evil? What if you’re defending yourself, or your family? I don’t think it’s as black and white as all that. Sure, there are some acts that are evil in and of themselves, but they are few, and should still be explained so that young impressionable people like myself don't try them out of blind curiosity or ignorance.”
Glitterthorne let out another massive sigh and a grumble. “You are too curious for your own good Asmodius, I pray that it does not lead you down a dangerous path. Fine, come with me boy. It is time for another lesson.”
Hoseforn jumped up excitedly and followed the great golden giant out of its lair and onto the beach that sat just outside its entrance. Asmodius looked around a little surprised, as night had come without him ever realizing. A great and full white moon sat high in the pitch-black sky, tiny flecks of light surrounding it on all sides. While Asmodius was distracted by how long he had spent studying, Glitterthorne unfurled his long leathery wings and took off into the sky. To most it would have looked graceful and effortless, but Asmodius saw the small hesitations and twitches in his master’s body. Unnerving signals that his master was getting old.
Glitterthorne flew just above the water, the air from wings forming ripples on the water’s surface. He circled for a few minutes before suddenly folding his wings against his back and diving into the water. It had been so sudden that Asmodius felt a sudden pang of fear that something had happened to his master, but after a few moments the old dragon’s head reemerged from beneath the waves, an enormous fish in his maw, and paddled back towards the shore. This too was fascinating for Asmodius to watch. While it was little surprise that dragons moved so gracefully in the air, it was a surprise that they could move almost equally as well in the water. Glitterthorne’s entire body swayed, much like an eels would, and seemed to cut through the water with little difficulty.
The old dragon made his way onto the beach and placed the large fish on a small rocky outcropping. The fish still twitched and spasmed, but it was obvious that the initial bite had ended the creature’s life. “Come here Asmodius.”
Asmodius moved quickly to his master’s side, staring from the fish to the dragon with an inquisitive expression. “Death, in all its fascist, is a natural part of the order of things. Do you remember who it is that rules over the dead?”
Hoseforn nodded lightly, “Of course, death is Grimma’s domain.”
Glitterthorne nodded once before continuing. “Indeed. Grimma’s followers are worshippers of death, decay, and the void. Among all the clergy, there are none who worship the shadows more than they do. And yet, they despise necromancy. Any guess why?”
Asmodius was a little surprise at the statement. He had never really thought about it, but if there was any he would have thought practiced the necromantic arts it would be the followers of Grimma. After a long moments consideration Hoseforn finally shook his head. He could think of no-good reason why. Glitterthorne seemed almost pleased at this, though Asmodius wasn’t sure why. “It’s because necromancy is not a natural art. Necromancy is a perversion of death. It is, I think, not an evil act in and of itself, however. Many cultures believe that the body is sacred, but once the soul is released the body is nothing but an empty vessel.”
Glitterthorne stared down at the large fish, that had finally stopped moving. He raised one of his large claws and began to move his long taloned appendages in a complicated pattern. He then began to speak in a strange language that Asmodius had never heard before. It certainly wasn’t draconic, which was the language most often spoken when casting magic. It sounded like an infernal language, but it had a strange hiss too it that sent shivers down Asmodius’ spine. With a final slashing movement, the spell ended, and an eerie green light engulfed the fish. For a second nothing happened, and then the fish began to wriggle and hop up and down. Rodrick moved towards it in wonder, a myriad of questions forming in an instant. But something he held him back. The longer he looked at the fish the more…wrong it felt. There was no life in its eyes. Its movements were jerky and uncoordinated in a way that was strange, even for a fish stranded on dry land. “It’s not terribly comfortable to look at, is it? This is what a creature without a soul looks like. I can control its movements with several strands of mana, I can command it act like a fish on land would act but it never looks quite right. This type of magic is discomforting to witness, and that is generally enough for others to label it as evil. But that is not where the true evil lies.”
Asmodius watched the fish for a few moments longer before finally asking the question who knew Glitterthorne was waiting for. “Where does the true evil come from then?” “It is draining and impractical to constantly control a corpse like this. And in most cases, the necromancer is looking to control an army of corpses not just one. So, they’ll pull the creatures soul back into its body, and trap it there. They’ll then enslave the creatures mind, so that it has no choice but to do their bidding. Souls that have departed this world are not meant to be forced back. It’s not only traumatizing, its excruciatingly painful for them. Their pain doesn’t cease either. They become trapped, in a body they cannot control, and in a constant state of pain. That is why so many consider necromancy an evil art, and why none of my books explain how it works. A soul is an expression of pure life magic and contains a creature’s entire essence in a way that we do not entirely understand, to corrupt it is an abomination.”
Asmodius continued to stare at the fish for a moment, obviously deep in thought. Finally, he turned back to look at Glitterthorne again. “I thought some priests were able to bring back people from the dead. How is that not an evil act?”“It differs in the way’s the power operates on the soul. Resurrection is an act blessed by The Four. It can only be done on a body that died from physical wounds, never sickness or old age, and requires any especially egregious wounds to be healed first. It also always requires a willing soul, if a departed being does not wish to return, for whatever reason, the resurrection will fail. It is the choice that matters in all of this, I think. Sometimes all we have are the choices we make. It is the one common gift that we are all born with and to remove that gift, is an especially evil act. Do you understand now?”
Asmodius considered everything for a long moment. He continued to study the fish, its body moving in that unnatural way, before finally responding. “I think so. Though I have one more question. What about a person’s own soul? Is it even possible to interact with your soul? Is it evil then?”
Glitterthorne paused for a moment, and then released the spell on the fish, allowing the disturbing and unnatural movements to finally cease. “Why, Asmodius, can you never ask me an easy question?”
Glitterthorne said with a heavy sigh. “In theory, it is possible. But it is so incredibly dangerous that no one is dumb enough to try it. Altering your soul alters you as a person, change the wrong thing and the results are unpredictable at best and catastrophic to everything around you at worst. Remember, the soul IS magic, a pure expression of it. It is powerful and unstable in countless ways. Please, for the love of the gods and everything on this planet, do not try to alter your soul.”
A knock on the office door caused Hoseforn to snap awake from his memories. He took a second to compose himself, before calling out. “Come in”
The twin doors to Hoseforn’s office swung in smoothly and Maurine sauntered into Hoseforn’s office. Currently she looked like a rather attractive woman in her 30’s, but even in her human form she exuded an almost alien sense of power and confidence. “Afternoon headmaster. You left the dinner in a hurry, is everything alright?”
She asked, her voice silky and almost regal sounding. “Yes, I suppose I did. All is well, I simply needed a moment to think before meeting our guest tonight.”
The door closed a moment after Maurine entered, signaling that she was the only who arrived. “Where are the others?”
Hoseforn asked curiously. “Maya and Vermont are training, of course. They’ve trained at least once a day every day for the past two months. Not that I can blame them. And Throndrout said that he had an experiment that he needed to watch closely, less it explode…again.”
Hoseforn nodded, expecting the answer. “Fair enough. Though I had hoped they would be able to meet our guest. Their input would be welcome. And what of Dex?”
Maurine’s face soured just a little at the mention of the school’s master of the rogueish arts. “I believe his exact words were, ‘Can’t, I have shit to do.’”
Hoseforn let out a small chuckle. “Well, whatever he is doing I’m certain it’s important. Recent events have kept him busy, perhaps even more so than the rest of us.” “I understand the utility of keeping someone like….that.. around but it still makes me uneasy; regardless of how well he has his issues under control.”
Maurine added with a disapproving look on her face. “I know your concerns, Maurine. The situation is under control. He is a valuable member of this staff and I highly doubt we could find someone better suited for the work we must do here.”
While his tone was light there was a sense of finality in his tone. Maurine did not protest the point any further, instead choosing to move over to Hoseforn’s desk, where she began to rummage through a large stack of papers that had been haphazardly thrown on to the desk.
After a few moments of, slightly awkward, silence, Athena’s voice chimed in. “Your guest has arrived, Master Hoseforn.”“Excellent, please show him in.”
After another few seconds the rooms to Hoseforn’s Office opened with an announcement from Athena. “Presenting the honorable Nih’Ras, beloved child of Na’Has and Chief among Na’Has’s Fangs.”
Na’has strode into Hoseforn’s office, a look of amusement and mild wonder on his face. The tall and muscular man wore a pristine white robe while intricate jewelry adorned his head, neck, and chest that contrasted brilliantly against his deep brown skin.
Hoseforn stood and bowed low, pressing his fists together “Ah, welcome Chief Na’Has. We are honored to have you as a guest at our humble academy.”
Na’Has smile broadened as he returned Hoseforn’s bow. “The honor is mine, Master Hoseforn. This place is full of wonder that I could only dream of.”
Na’Has turned to Maurine who approached him and offered her hand. Na’Has took her hand in both of his and gently kissed the top of it. “As always, it is the greatest of pleasures to be in the presence of your beauty, most precious of Nih’Ras’s children.”
Hoseforn thought for a moment he saw Maurine blush at the affection and admiration in the young Chieftain’s voice. But she covered it well as she placed her hand on top of Na’Has’s. “The pleasure is mine, sweet cousin. Thank you for doing this favor for us. Your help is greatly appreciated.”“It is the highest of pleasure to aid however I may.”
After a second’s hesitation he released Maurine’s hand and turned to Hoseforn. “I must thank you as well for continuing my brother’s development. I trust he will grow into a true and remarkable warrior under your guidance.”
Hoseforn nodded as he attempted to hide the mischievous smirk that threatened to form after the interaction between Na’Has and Maurine. “We are happy to have him. My understanding is that he is quite the warrior already.”
Na’Has sighed and rubbed the back of his head a little. “His skill with his blade and the lash ((the term used for the unique grappling hook used by Sa’Hari’s people)) are both excellent. It is everything else that worries me. He is too brash and stuck in his ways, especially for one so young. I fear that he does not see the value in others. There is the potential for greatness there, but it will waste away if he does not learn to grow.” “We will do all that we can to aid him in his growth, you have my word on this.”
Hoseforn gestured to a large couch near the center of his room. “Please sit with us. I am anxious to know what news your travels brought.”“I fear the news is ill.”
Na’Has said as he sat. Maurine sat next to him and Hoseforn took a seat across from them. “I think your worries are well founded Master Hoseforn. In every town we stopped there have been reports of more disappearances. In some of them it may have only been one or two, in others it was as many as ten.” “Ten?! From one town?”
Maurine said, aghast. “I’m afraid so. The towns people were devastated, as you would expect. Nearly everywhere we went the locals have become frightened and suspicious of outsiders.”“Were there any signs of the missing people? Any bodies found?”
Hoseforn asked as he rubbed his beard thoughtfully.“No, the missing are never found. We tried to speak with any travelers as well, but few people traveled the roads. Most of those who did travel did so in large groups and kept to themselves. We had no troubles on the road, but I suspect it had to do with the size of our group. I am not sure what would happen if we were only a few.”
Hoseforn was silent for a moment, obviously deep in thought. “You’re right, this is disturbing news. I will have to have someone investigate where the highest number of disappearances have taken place. Perhaps there is a clue we kind there. Thank you, Na’Has. Though this news is unsettling, it is incredibly valuable.”
The three continued to speak for some time after that. Na’Has pointed out on a map where the greatest number of disappearances seemed to be occurring and what other news he had learned on the journey. Hoseforn and Maurine shared what little they knew of the disappearances and spoke a while about their plans for Sa’Hari’s training. After a couple of hours of conversation Na’Has excused himself, explaining that his party would be leaving before daybreak, as he was anxious to get back to his people and make sure they were all okay. The three said their goodbyes, the goodbye between Maurine and Na’Has seeming... odd.
Maurine watched the door as Na’Has left, an odd unreadable look on her face. After a moment she turned to see Hoseforn staring very hard at an upside-down piece of paper. After a moment he looked up and began to speak before Maurine cut him off. “Not a word.” “What? I didn’t say anything.” “Let’s keep it that way. I don’t need any of your remarks.” “Remarks? Remarks on what? I see nothing to remark on.”
Hoseforn went back to looking at the paper he was holding, flipping it so that it sat the right way up. But after a moments pause. “Although….” “DON’T!”
Sa’Hari looked at Karya with a slightly inquisitive look on his face. “Mountains? Oreads I meet in desert. Strange this?”
To be fair he hadn’t spoken much to the Oreads who traded with his people. But if they usually lived in the mountains, they were quite a ways away from their homeland. There was probably a good reason for it, he supposed.
When she asked if he was human, he hesitated. “Ehh, human? Not quite. I am child of Na’Has. We are not same.”
This was a concept Sa’Hari knew he was not equipped to explain well. His people looked human, but the power of their demi-god flowed through each of their veins. It allowed them to change, become stronger, faster, and harder to hurt. It was this blood that made them such fierce warriors as well. If anything, they were more closely related to the Naga that once called the desert their home then humans, though he did not understand this concept well either. All these things, Sa’Hari did not want to explain to an outsider. Karya seemed alright he supposed, but he didn’t trust her enough to explain his people’s ways yet.
Sa’Hari turned as he heard Athena chime in again, greeting another person to the room. A third roommate? A quick glance around showed him that he had indeed missed the third bed. Strange.
Sa’Hari looked at the newcomer, intent to begrudgingly greet them, and stopped cold in his tracks. The young person before him had a slender form and a curled set of ram’s horns coming from their head. Interestingly, they seemed to hold both feminine and masculine traits, though that mattered little to Sa’Hari. There was only one people he knew who looked like this ‘Wayafar.’
He though to himself, nearly hissing at the thought. He had rarely seen one in person, but every time he had the experience had not gone well.
Sa’Hari wasn’t exactly sure what had caused it, but a schism had existed between the Fang’s of Na’Has and the Wayafar people for generations. He had been taught by many of his elders that the Wayafar people were weak lambs, too easily led to slaughter. He knew of their love of stories and myths, but this was another mark against them in Sa’Hari’s mind. Stories were nothing but prettily told lies, not to be considered by any real warrior.
He had been close to expressing these thoughts with action or words, when things he had spoken of with his brother stopped him. Nih’Ras had spoken only a little of the Wayafar people, but he had always seemed a little sad that there was such strife between them. He had expressed, in confidence to Sa’Hari as most of his people would have balked at the ridiculous idea, a wish to mend the relationship between the two peoples and become friends or even allies. This was a hard concept for Sa’Hari to grasp, as the weak did not deserve such treatment. What was there to gain from a relationship with ones such as this? Still, he would dishonor his chief to act to rashly.
Sa’Hari lifted the hem of his hood so that it covered his mouth and hid any discomfort he felt from being in the Wayafar’s presence. He willed his body to relax, and it did… a little. Deliberately keeping his hand away from his sword he looked at the Wayafar, who was apparently named Taari, and simply said, “I..Am…Sa’Hari.”
His voice was strained, but he managed to keep any audible hiss from it. He looked down as he heard a thud and saw Karya scrambling to her feet. It seemed she had fallen…again. ‘What is this hell you have placed me in, brother?’
Sa’Hari thought to himself, groaning internally. @LuckyBlackCat@StOpossum