The Story of Malair, Part 7

Malair dismounted as they crested a dune just outside of Balgurzon. Pinnacles of stone rose from the earth maybe two or three marks away.

"Is that Balgu'zon?" The boy asked as he came to a halt next to Malair.

"It is," Malair responded. He pushed the hood on his cloak back, watching a gust of wind whip the sand around in the distance. "Those are the Silent Spires of Balgurzon. They descend into the depths of the desert where the city actually resides."

"The city unde'ground?"

"Yes." Malair pulled his hood back up and mounted his horse again. "Let's head onto the city, it's been long enough for travel."

 

"Pull your reins," Malair said to the boy as he tugged on his horses' reins and came to a stop.

From the sand around them, figures rose up with hook swords connected by a length of chain. Brown cloaks caused them to shimmer like mirages.

Malair slowly turned his head towards the figure that had risen up between his horse and the boy's horse.

He was not surprised by the figures, but they were quite stealthy. His left hand had strayed down to his calf to loosen the dagger stored there. He felt a cold piece of metal wrap around his wrist. A brief glance showed one of the hook swords held by another cloaked figure.

"What business do you have here?"

Malair turned his gaze back to the figure in the center. "We're here to conduct research in the Great Library."

"For what end?"

"Interest in ancient artifacts," Malair said.

"And the boy?"

"My son," Malair lied, hoping that the boy would not contest the story.

The figure turned and looked up at the boy. The boy was shaking atop his horse. After a long moment, the figure turned back.

"You may enter the city."

And with that, the figures seemed to vanish back into the desert sand.


Click here to start at the beginning of The Story of Malair.

The Story of Malair, Part 6

Malair stood impatiently outside of The Broken Raven. The sun had been up for over one mark and they still had not left. Already, he was regretting allowing the boy to accompany him to Balgurzon.

"I'm sorry sir." The boy practically shouted as he fell out of the doorway. "I was hoping you waited."

"I almost didn't," Malair responded. "Let's go. We're already behind."

Malair walked off towards the stable as the boy jogged behind. He pulled out two gold pieces and the stableboy gave Malair the reins to two horses.

"I'm gonna ride this?" the boy said, his voice betraying awe at the situation.

"How else did you expect to get to Balgurzon?"

"I thought we was gonna walk."

Malair chuckled. "Balgurzon is two and a half weeks by horseback. You would spend nearly a month, at least, if you walked."

"Oh." was all the boy replied. "I ain't big 'nough for the horse."

"Have you ridden before?"

"No. Ain't never done it."

"Well, you'll need to learn quick." Malair handed one of the reins to the boy. "Here, you lead this one as we walk."

With that, they set off away from The Broken Raven.

**

It was mid-morning when they stopped. They had not made it far, but the boy was getting more comfortable around the horses.

"How about we rest a bit and then you can try riding." Malair walked his horse off the main path and tied it to a tree.

Not far off was a stream so he took their water flasks and dunked them in to fill them. Glancing back, he saw the boy was attempting to tie his horse up to the tree as well.

**

After a full week of travel, the boy was riding the horse confidently and they had begun to cover more ground every day. Malair found it thrilling to see the world through the boy's eyes. It was clear to him that the boy had never traveled. Even now, the boy was forging ahead. Malair followed behind and studied the boy.

Of course, that lead to questions for Malair. Why was this boy trying to get to Balgurzon? It was a large city, one of the biggest in Tasguliere that he knew of, but if the boy's parents were dead, what good would going to Balgurzon do?

Maybe it was one of the orphanages in the city. There were none between where they were and the city, but surely there were closer ones.

Malair shook his head. He'd have to ask the boy when they made camp for the night. Maybe he would get some answers then.

The Story of Malair, Part 5

Malair wandered back to The Broken Raven and ordered another pint of ale. The bird was still on the table and he took another bite of the now cold meal. The innkeeper brought out a piping hot loaf of Moutain Hot Sweet Bread. Malair muttered his thanks and tore into the loaf.

Now he was going to have to hang onto the Queen's Scepter. He had no idea how to use it, nor did he want it. He knew it would be a score for the Shattered Immortal and he would receive a sizable reward. But she had turned it down. Sort of.

The question was, what to do now with it? He needed to study the lore like he should have done first. Perhaps he could venture towards Balgurzon. They had a library where he could find the lore. If it was anywhere, that's where it would be. Then he would know what to do with it.

After finishing his meal, he spoke to the innkeeper and arranged for travel to Balgurzon. It would be a good two and a half weeks of travel. He would set off at first light. As he started to head up the stairs, a boy approached him and tugged on his cloak.

"Mister, I heard you was going to Balgu'zon." The boy was scrawny and had bright white hair. "Can I go with you?"

"I'm not sure that I want a traveling companion." Malair stopped at the bottom of the stairs. "Besides, you should travel with your parents."

"Don't have none. They died."

Malair observed the boy and noted the thinness of his body. It was clear that he did not eat regularly. After a moment, Malair acquiesced and finally spoke to the boy.

"We leave at first light."

The boy broke into a grin. "Thanks mister. I'll be outside in the morning."

"Why don't you stay in my room tonight. There's enough space." Malair turned and started up the stairs.

The boy hesitated and then followed Malair up.

It appeared that he had a new traveling companion. Malair smiled. It would be nice to have someone else along on the journey to Balgurzon.

The Story of Malair, Part 4

"Did you not read all of the lore?" The woman across from him lifted her tankard and took a long drink. "You're a blundering fool, Malair."

"Shut up," Malair replied. He bit into the bird between them. "I just need you to tell me what it's worth, Sascha."

"It's worth more than you could imagine. I'm risking my life just to sit here and talk with you." Sascha was eyeing the tavern around them. "I don't know why you think we're safe here."

"Because this is the only tavern for days."

"Which is why we should not have met here." Sascha dropped her voice. "It's the only tavern for days which means everyone will be coming here."

The realization took a moment to sink in.

"I'm sorry," Malair said. "I didn't even think about that."

"No, you didn't. And I know that you didn't read all of the lore."

"How do you know that?"

"Because you would never have taken it if you had." Sascha leaned back and took another drink.

"It's fine, nothing has happened, nothing has come after me."

"So you haven't noticed any strange creatures or weather or anything?"

"Well..."

"Exactly. So what is it that came after you?"

"I killed a pack of sand wolves a few days ago. And I had a run-in with a forest-walker."

"Both of them typically docile creatures. I'm telling you that you've caused problems for yourself by taking that, that thing."

"Sascha, come on. You're the Shattered Immortal. You've lived long enough to know that with this, we can trade it and get anything we want!"

"Shut up." Sascha hissed. "You're one of a handful of people who know me as the Shattered Immortal. Shall I make it one less?"

Malair held his hands up in surrender. "Sorry, sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. It's just, well, you're one of the best at moving items along, having done it as long as you have."

Sascha hissed and two fangs protruded. "Be careful, Malair. Despite the ale here, I am particularly thirsty tonight."

"Sorry, sorry, you're the best there is. No one else is as good as you."

"Outside. Now." Sascha said standing as she drained the last of her ale.

This is not going well. Malair thought as he stood, drained what little he had left and followed Sascha outside.

Sascha pulled her cloak on just as the door closed, the darkness enveloping them.

Malair followed suit and plodded away from The Broken Raven into the nearby woods after Sascha. Sascha stopped and Malair knew they were out of sight of the tavern.

"Show it to me." Sascha stood just out of sight under a tree.

Malair pulled a cloth-wrapped package from underneath his cloak and pulled on the tied twine. He folded down the cloth to expose the top of the Queen's Scepter. It seemed to glitter in the moonlight. Malair looked at Sascha and in the darkness of the trees saw every year Sascha had lived.

"As risky as this is for me, I must say I've never seen anything like it." Sascha's voice was soft in the night. "Does it work?"

"Does it work? What do you mean?" Malair asked.

"Stupid fool." Sascha hissed back. "You should have read the lore. This thing, it has unimaginable powers. Powers you could only dream of obtaining. If you knew how to use it, you could become immortal. You could become all powerful. You could even control the world around you."

"How much is it worth?" Malair said, wrapping the cloth back around it.

"Nothing," Sascha replied. She stepped back into the tree line. There was a sharp breeze and she was gone. "Everything."

The Story of Malair, Part 3

A bright blaze of blue flames exploded in the Hallelian Forest. An unearthly moan rumbled through the air as the forest-walker was engulfed in flames. The vines tightened around Malair's body and he almost passed out before they began to loosen and he fell forward, his fingers barely wrapped around the Queen's Scepter.

Malair lay, his face turned to the side, gasping for air. He kept his fingers around the Queen's Scepter as he saw the forest-walker stumble to the side before collapsing to the ground. The air smelled of charred wood and damp moss. He winced as the flames lit the vines and began to singe his soft armor. Burn marks appeared around his arms. He grabbed at the vines around his throat as best he could with his free hand.

Malair rolled away from the vines and then he was flat on his back. He stared up into the tree line. Turning his head to the left, he saw the forest-walker struggling to crawl and finally let go of the Queen's Scepter. The flames extinguished almost instantly.

He slowly pushed himself up and stood. He walked over the forest-walker and nudged the creature with his foot. The body dissolved into a pile of ashes. The fog rolled back in.

The Queen's Scepter was a powerful object, clearly. He carefully picked it up and tucked it back into his belt. He walked over to the tree where he had been trapped, picked up his daggers and replaced them in their sheaths. He glanced around and saw and heard nothing.

He would at least be able to continue on for now. He needed to get further from the Halle Stronghold.

The Story of Malair, Part 2

Malair listened to the squelching sounds as he pulled his boots from the mud step after step. He had made his way into the depths of the Hallelian Forest far off to the west of Halle Stronghold. It had been a couple of days since he snatched the Queen's Scepter from the dead queen and escaped the icy behemoth that guarded the ruins. He followed the small brook, staying in the mud, knowing the water would slowly wash away the evidence of his passing.

The trees grew bare towards the forest floor, the canopy becoming thick at the very top creating a dark environment. The fog laid heavy, almost unnatural in the Hallelian Forest. Malair had to listen to the squelching sound because he heard no animal sounds. He was concerned that something else was going on.

He had read about the Upper World and the creatures that wandered the land. Ever since the last queen had died the land had been at rest. The creatures who wandered it were peaceful. Or rather they had been. In his haste from the ruins of the stronghold, he had killed at least a dozen sand wolves who had pursued him until he reached the border of the Hallelian Forest. As soon as he crossed into the tree-line, the sand wolves had stopped.

Initially, it had not been concerning. But as the sounds of life died away, he was left with silence and eventually the sound of the water. Then the fog appeared. Nothing concerning, but slightly unnerving nonetheless.

Malair stopped. He looked down and saw that the water was still moving.

But no sound.

He jumped out of the brook and placed his back against a tree. Squatting, he yanked his daggers out of the sheaths on his calves. He scanned his surroundings. Nothing appeared to be moving, but the fog had gotten thicker.

He glanced down and saw that he had landed into a patch of little vines. He carefully shifted himself so that he was not tangled in anything if he had to move.

He waited a few more moments before he started to stand before he was jerked back down.

The vines had grown substantially and latched themselves onto his legs. They pulled tighter dragging him back down to the ground. He slipped a dagger underneath a set of vines and attempted to pull through them to cut them. They seemed to be like a rock and unbreakable. His arm was yanked back and bound quickly to the tree. A vine found its way around his neck and started to pull him to the trunk.

From the fog, a great creature with dripping vines emerged. It walked with what looked like a heavy step but moved silently. A forest-walker. He had read about them. This would not go well unless he could get some fire. His only hope was the Queen's Scepter. But that was trapped behind him tucked into his belt.

The grip of the vine around his neck grew tighter. With his one free hand, he attempted to grab the scepter and missed. He struggled to draw breath.

The Story of Malair, Part 1

Malair stood at the entrance of Halle Stronghold surveying the ruins. The courtyard around him was nothing but toppled pillars and mounds of stone. A guardhouse off to the left was missing half of the wall, giant oak beams jutting out where the stone had ripped away. A rusted chain swung from one of the beams. The main hall rose imposingly overhead; its great stained glass rose bloom shattered and broken over the oak doors. The doors themselves lay broken, the left one looking as if some creature from a child’s nightmare had come and bit off a chunk. The right door was lying smashed on the steps leading up to the hall. A crow cawed somewhere nearby, and Malair jumped slightly. 

He tightened his leather bracers and checked that his twin daggers were loose in the sheaths strapped to the outside of his calves. His dark brown hair hung straight to his shoulders, and his green eyes shone vividly even on the brightest days in the Upper World. A breeze swept over the ruins as Malair raised his arm to shield his face from the dust cloud racing towards him. As the breeze died down, he looked around the ruins from the entrance one last time. His gaze lingered on the giant beams in the shattered guardhouse. The chain was gone. 

Malair rubbed his eyes and blinked a couple of times. Nope, definitely no chain. He must have been imagining things earlier. He walked into the courtyard, small stones crunching underfoot. An unearthly moan echoed over the ruins causing him to freeze. His eyes darted around as he crouched pulling out his daggers. The moan faded away with a fresh breeze and as the wind passed the sound was gone. He remained for a few moments before sliding his daggers back into their sheaths. 

He proceeded forward towards the main entrance to the stronghold. Skirting around piles of rubble and over some large beams of wood, the crunch of stones changed. He grimaced he recognized the sound. Looking down he saw human bones and smashed skulls, some of them looked fresh. A rattling chain echoed across the ruins. Malair froze and looked around again. Nothing was in sight. 

**

Malair stepped across the threshold of the stronghold and was assaulted with the smell of death. Someplace within the depths of the stronghold, a steady stream of water fell. There was natural light filtering down from windows in the walls and skylights. He crept through the entryway and into the great hall. Pillars lay broken over the floor, a section off to the back collapsed over the dais where the throne would have set. Malair had studied the history of the Upper World for a long time. 

Halle Stronghold was the seat of power for a small kingdom ruled over by a queen from the house of Sidon. One of the few kingdoms where a queen sat in power, they had prospered a great deal until a larger kingdom nearby had marched in and overwhelmed the small number of defenders. Halle Stronghold fell into the hands of the more experienced invaders, but the architecture had been left alone. Despite the slaughter, the invaders had a love for architecture, and Halle Stronghold was nothing short of a marvel. 

Back in its prime, Halle Stronghold was surrounded by soaring pillars and strong walls. The great hall was marble from wall to wall with a great purple and blue woven carpet running down the middle. Gold trim lined the pillars near the floor and lofty ceiling. Great skylights were open to the air allowing bright light to filter in. A small skylight over the throne had a mechanical contraption with polished silver that rotated through the day. The sunlight beat against the polished silver and fell on the throne at all times of the day. 

A column cracked and fell somewhere behind the caved in area. Malair skirted to the edge and moved down the length of the hall. A whirring noise echoed. Apparently, the mechanical contraption filtering sunlight down was still working. And then it died again. Corridors left the great hall leading towards private quarters, the kitchens, and wine cellar. He was here for one thing though, the Queen’s Scepter. 

A slender silver rod topped with a small clear diamond, the Queen’s Scepter was more than what it appeared, more than even the last queen knew it was. Legend had it that any person with even the slightest hint of impurity would be corrupted, but the power it gave the user was worth it. The Scepter had caused the small kingdom to rise and had caused more than one kingdom to fall. Just thinking about something would result in the Scepter bending the natural world to the user’s desires. Earthquakes, mudslides, floods, fires, anything the user could imagine could potentially be created and manipulated if it already existed. 

As he came around the dais, he saw the broken remains of the throne. Made of marble and edged with black marble, the throne had enough room for two full-grown people to sit comfortably. A few threads remained from what would have been sapphire throws lying across the throne. He mounted the few steps up the dais to the throne and slipped into it. He sat looking forward at the collapsed ceiling, then he slumped. He had no idea where the queen’s body lay, but the scepter would be with her for sure. No one outside the royal family had been allowed to handle the scepter, and the queen’s family had been slaughtered as she watched. At least the history Malair had learned from traveling bards had said that. Someplace in the ruins, though, her body lay with the scepter. 

He startled out of his thoughts hearing a distant and steady thump sounding like footsteps. He closed his eyes and focused. Somewhere on the second floor. The steady thumps faded away. No one else was supposed to be here but maybe bandits had taken up residence. He would have to proceed carefully. He pulled his daggers out and stepped down the dais and into a corridor leading off to the left of the great hall. 

**

He poked his head into a small room with a smashed in door. Dark stains on the wall and floor along with slash marks in the wooden bed frame told him someone had died here. Several more rooms down this corridor had resulted in similar discoveries. Where the hell was the queen lying in state? And there was the thumping sound again. Malair slipped into the room and gazed down the length of the hallway, the thumping stopped. A cold presence fell in the corridor. The thumping picked up again, and Malair’s heart began to race. Just outside the door, the thumping stopped. Ice began to form on the door frame. He yanked his fingers away just before ice froze over them. He could barely see outside the room. 

A behemoth of a figure, his skin tinged blue with great blades attached to his hands, ice cracked under his step as he wandered down the corridor. Well, this was unexpected but at least he knew what was making the thumping sounds, not that he would want to run into whatever it was. 

**

Malair slipped up the narrow stairwell in the back of the stronghold. Still no luck in finding the queen’s resting chamber. It was here someplace; the bards had alluded to that without a doubt. Deeper he moved into the maze of halls and stairwells. The stronghold was much larger than it looked outside. Only one door left in this hallway, this had to be it. A gentle push and it swung silently inwards. 

A pale blue light filled the room. There in the center lay the dead queen preserved by the power of the scepter. Her beauty remained even in death. The room was lined with rich blue curtains, the floor free of dust. The queen lay on a black marble slab dressed in a dark green dress that had been smoothed out lovingly by her attendants so many years ago. Her rich blond hair was pulled back as she had always worn it. There in her hands lay the brilliant silver scepter topped with that flawless diamond. A wealth of power in such a small instrument. No wonder kingdoms had risen and fallen at its hands. 

Malair stepped up to the side of the beautiful queen’s eternal resting place. His hand trembled as he reached out. He hesitated just above the scepter. It was all right here. He just had to but take the Queen’s Scepter and he would have no equal in all of the Upper World. So much power. Yes, it would be his. 

He grasped the scepter and his fingers grew icy cold. From somewhere in the stronghold an unearthly howl resonated. He looked down to see the queen’s head had turned and was staring at him; her eyes opened wide. He hastily yanked the scepter out of her hands and stumbled back from the marble slab as he watched the dead queen rise from it. Her face grew dark with fury as he fell and scurried back towards the door. She took first one step and then another and another as he found himself with his back to the wall. She stretched her hand out and made to snatch the scepter back from him as he fell through the floor. 

Malair landed hard on his back as his breath was knocked from him. Up above the dead queen watched through the hole that had formed in the floor. Malair watched as the dead queen began to age and decomposed before his very eyes. He rolled out of the way as her skeleton pitched forward and hit the ground next to him. A black cloak fluttered down along with her dark green dress. He lay on the ground for a few moments until the unearthly howl sounded again from the second floor somewhere near the hole in the ceiling above him. He scrambled grabbing the cloak and shoved the scepter through the back of his belt. Swinging the cloak around he ran out of the room and found himself in the great hall. 

From the left side of the hall, the great blue behemoth emerged, its eyes pure white and seemingly fixed on Malair. It took a couple of steps forward slowly. 

Malair judged the distance, with the speed that the brute moved he should be able to get out of the ruins before the brute got anywhere near him. It was time to leave for sure now. Two steps more from the behemoth. 

“Myyyy queeeeennnnnnnn!” The brute howled shaking the dust from the chandeliers still hanging. Another column crashed down behind the behemoth. 

Yes, now it was time to go for sure. Malair took off towards the main entrance. 

The brute appeared in front of him. 

Damn, he was fast. Malair compensated and ducked left as the brute swung his weapon. Malair’s daggers appeared in his hands as he rolled to a stop behind the brute. Two quick slashes to the back of the behemoth’s knees. A weapon came around faster than Malair thought possible. His daggers flew and caught the attack. Not enough to stop it. Malair tumbled head over heels into the wall with a resounding thud. He opened his eyes to see the brute slowly walking over to him. 

The slices to the back of the knee should have crippled him. What the hell was going on?

Malair rolled out of the way as the behemoth swung both his weapons downward and they hit the marble floor. 

Chips and splinters of marble exploded. 

Malair threw up his arms to cover his face. 

The behemoth’s weapons were stuck in the marble floor. 

Malair scrambled back to get away from the behemoth. 

The weapons were pulled from the marble effortlessly. 

Malair rolled back and brought his daggers up to catch the behemoth’s blow. He was flat on his back with the tips of the brute’s blades just above his nose. Long, tough pieces of blackened steel shaped with a slight curve. They were growing darker by the moment. 

Malair’s hold on the weapons faltered momentarily. What the? He pushed back. His hold faltered again bringing the blades closer to his face. Are his weapons, absorbing my energy? Malair pushed back and faltered again. Damn it. With one last effort, he pushed up and to the side. The brute stumbled, pitching forward as Malair rolled away. 

He was up and running to the broken doorway. 

The brute was mere feet behind. 

Only fifty feet more. 

The brutes weapons were swinging and just missing his cloak. 

Only twenty feet. 

The blades caught the very edge of Malair’s cloak. 

Ten. 

Malair tugged at the clasp holding the cloak on. 

Five. 

A guttural roar erupted from the brute as Malair burst out of the great hall into the ruins of the courtyard. 

He got halfway across the courtyard before he realized the brute was no longer behind him. He skidded to a halt and turned. 

Dull eyes stared back. The great brute stood there in the entryway. His gently curved swords hung down at his sides. 

Malair slowly backed away towards the entrance of the ruins. The brute did not move. He crossed the entrance and the brute still stood watching him leave. He finally turned to face the great plain surrounding the ruins of Halle Stronghold. The Queen’s Scepter was finally his.