Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Once Upon a Time In Ar

Ethereal eddies spun slowly in the crucible, casting purple glimmers while golden bubbles emerged, bulged, and popped softly into miniature ghosts. Dardaniel, a young man in appearance despite his advanced age, straightened his aching spine before leaning against the back of the tall chair surmounted with the household’s crescent arms. He drew in a long breath and resumed his work. Small circular motions of his index finger kept a silver spoon stirring the crucible as he muttered an interminable ritual. The imp-like face engraved on its handle twitched and wrinkled its nose at tiny specters coiling around it.

Reduced to stumps draped with molten red wax, candles in a tall candelabra threatened to extinguish their feeble, trembling flames. Their sallow gleams revealed books and ghoulish artefacts crammed on shelves behind the wizard. This had once been his grandfather’s study, now mostly overlooked by the rest of family. It was why Dardaniel chose this small chamber to conduct his arcane labor. Somewhat claustrophobic, it still smelled of old varnish, leather, dust, and other less mundane things. He hadn’t seen Lord Widdemar for years. The head of the House of Haaken lived on the manor’s top floor, a recluse who no longer spoke with his son, Felldorian. Everyone knew he was still among the living as his aerial servants continued to come and go, picking up meals and occasional mail, or delivering signed edicts to rule his domain and his aging progeny as he’d done for nearly a century. The servants were bound to silence. When questioned about their master, they responded with quizzical wind-like sighs before flying up through the service shafts.

Nothing surprised Dardaniel these days. It didn’t help that a monstrous war raged between his beloved Alphatia and faraway Thyatis, no doubt orchestrated by the immortals. He’d received news that Empress Eriadna had been killed when a magical storm laid waste to Sundsvall and the imperial palace. Or had she? As a loyalist and a fervent supporter of the empress, he found this hard to believe. He didn’t want to believe it. Something made him think that she’d survived somehow, for she was a mighty sorceress, perhaps the mightiest of them all. Her son, Zandor, the rightful heir, promptly seized the throne in the wake of the tragedy. It was no one’s surprise that he’d proclaimed her death with neither hesitation nor a shadow of proof, for Eriadna’s remains were never found. Thoughts, fleeting hopes, and somber concerns jostled through Dardaniel’s mind, challenging his concentration. He repeated a crucial verse of his spell and grimly stirred the crucible’s purple eddies, staring into them as if they would yield a hidden clue.

Oddly, two bubbles bulged and widened, lingering in the swirls despite the silver spoon’s insistent stirs. Dardaniel frowned, leaned forward, and hunched over the crucible. Dark spots turned the globes into a pair of strange eyes glaring back at him. They beckoned his mind, dispelling his nagging worries. The wizard continued the incantation with more resolve, playing along with the enchantment. As his consciousness was drawn more deeply within, the eyes grew more real and blinked. Soft tawny fur surrounded them, just above a pointy snout. Two wide rounded ears appeared, along with a long-fingered hand fitted with an opposable thumb. The vision cocked its head and waved. Dardaniel was certain he’d also perceived the hint of a smirk before the image vanished amid a blur. The last of the golden ghosts faded when the eddies turned into a dull-gray pudding-like substance. The silver spoon struggled for a moment and, with a scowl on its face, leaped into the air where the wizard caught it and laid it down on the desk’s top.

“By the stars, how could this be?” he muttered with mounting embarrassment. Everyone in his lineage had always attracted avians as their familiars. Not that he’d had much use for one as an imperial courtier at the palace. Yet the world was changing, and Dardaniel thought it prudent to seek a trustworthy servant. But some odd-looking furry critter? Great Geas! A rat of some kind? Dismay overshadowed his embarrassment. Perhaps being Felldorian’s illegitimate son was to be blamed. He could already hear the pointed sarcasms of Ethrenielle, his father’s official consort, a harridan who’d always treated him like a pariah. She was the reason he normally lived away from the Haaken manor house, at least he had until the war started. From his mother’s side he’d inherited mixed djinni heritage. But that still didn’t explain his enchantment’s startling and disappointing result.

“Strange looking rodent, if ever I’ve seen one,” he said to himself. Intrigued, Dardaniel stood and reached for a tome on a shelf. He blew off a layer of dust before setting the book down, which caused the face on the silver spoon to sneeze. “Gesundheit,” the wizard answered distractedly as he quickly flipped through the compendium’s parchment-like pages. His fingers stopped at an image that seemed identical to his vision.

“Blinking dweomers! That’s no garden shrew I’ve snagged,” he realized. Looking more closely at the spindly script, he learned that his creature was a denizen of Grünfold, a thickly forested region on the Kingdom of Ar’s southern border. More importantly, the entry also said this beastie had wings, truly a must in Floating Ar. It meant the world to Dardaniel that his future companion possessed the means to soar through the air. His honor was safe, and in Alphatia, honor mattered.

He’d never traveled to Grünfold before, a backward province in a backward kingdom. Few mages of Ar wanted anything to do with such a nasty place, one reputed for uncouth monsters and impudent rascals. He couldn’t just teleport there, like any decent wizardly gentleman should, for one first had to know a spot where to materialize. Dardaniel grimaced. He’d have to fly there instead.

Time was of the essence. The enchantment was still in effect until he found his soul companion, but it wouldn’t last forever. Now a wizard with a mission, he slammed the compendium shut and snapped his fingers to return it to its place on the shelf. Dardaniel pocketed the silver spoon and promptly stepped out of the study. In the dimness of the hallway past the door, he hollered. “Feyward! Malvolian! Prepare the Silver Cloud. I leave at once!”

To be continued.