Sunday, April 9, 2017
The End of a Long Journey
It's been a while since I posted anything that I've written, or anything at all on here. Chuck Wendig, who's Flash Fiction Friday Challenges I've written for in the past, put out this challenge. I immediately thought of my Necromancer's apprentice, Max, who I've written about before. This entry comes in at 1,433 words and is called "The End of a Long Journey". I hope you enjoy it.
Max knew he was getting close to his master's tower as the forest got quieter and quieter. The normal denizens of the forest here knew that a powerful wizard lived in the spire and, as such, stayed away from it most of the time. He sighed with relief. He'd been away for over four months and it hadn't been an easy journey. Max felt like he'd earned a little respite for the last few miles.
He trudged up into the foothills of the northernmost reaches of the Bortan Mountains. It was getting dark, but Max didn't want to stop for the night when he was so close to his home. Thinking of his home reminded him that he'd been Alacast the Necromancer's apprentice for just over five years. It had been a great five years. Max learned so much, not just about Necromancy, but about how to be a wizard.
Finally, he reached the top of a hill and saw his master's simple black spire coming up out of the forest below him. He picked up the pace and was at the door within minutes. Max spoke the magic entrance words at the door of the tower and entered. The first floor was where his master kept all of his protection. Several undead minions stirred as Max entered, but they quickly recognized him as a friend. He walked right by them to the stairs in the back and went up to the second floor. The floor was dark, unlike the entrance. Max tried to navigate his way to the stairs upward, but almost immediately stubbed his foot on something, nearly dropping his pack in the process. He cursed and hopped back, running into something else behind him.
He sighed and muttered an illumination cantrip, lighting up the room around him. He noticed that the room was not at all like he remembered it. All the same furnishings were there, but they'd been haphazardly rearranged. Shrugging to himself, he wound his way through the jumble to the stairs. These stairs wound their way up the outer wall of the tower. He reached the third floor, where his own rooms were. Max was tempted to enter his rooms and sleep before reporting to his master, but he knew that probably wasn't the wisest course of action.
He sighed again and continued up the stairs to the top of the tower. He reached his master's chamber and rapped on the door. "Enter, Max," he heard his master say through the door.
Max opened the door and entered. His master looked up from the book he was studying and said, "Well?"
Max smiled and said, "I have it, master. I have the Amethyst Crystal Ball you desired."
Alacast rose excitedly and walked over to where Max stood. He reached his hands out, waiting. Max kneeled down and placed his pack gently on the floor to rummage through the bag. He pulled out a purplish orb the size of his own head. He stood and placed the orb in his master's hands.
Just as he was releasing the orb, his master sneezed and dropped the orb. Mune, the goddess of luck, must have been with Max because he managed to catch the orb before it could smash into pieces. Alacast and Max just stared at each other with looks of utter surprise on their faces. "How did you ever manage to catch that?" Alacast asked. "I think that, besides myself, you might be the clumsiest man on the entire planet of Uroth."
Max nodded and shrugged. "I don't know, master. I just don't know."
Alacast let out a little chortle. "Well, let's take it to the ceremony room, Max. I'm sure that you're eager to rest from your long journey."
Max carefully put the orb back into his pack and followed his master down the stairs. Alacast said, "Tell me of your journey, Max. It must have been quite the adventure."
Max replied, "Oh, it was indeed. You were correct that the Wizards' Guild in Bortan City had one Amethyst Crystal Ball in its possession, however, they were unwilling to sell it. They were, however, interested in a trade. There was an item they sought that was lost in the Delrool swamps. So, I hired a group of adventurers and we recovered the item. It was some sort of staff. I tried identifying it, but it didn't seem to like that."
Alacast paused on the stairs and said, "It didn't like that? What do you mean?"
Max shrugged, "I could sense that it was a moderately powerful item, of course, but it seemed to have a sort of sentience of its own."
Alacast turned and headed down further. He said, "Interesting. It would have likely spoken to you, had it been a truly intelligent item. I've read about semi-sentient items before, but I have never had any experience with any myself. Anything else?"
"Well, I got to know the adventurers really well," Max repled as they reached the second floor.
Alacast stopped, glancing back at Max. "You want to leave me to go on adventures with these people?" He made a placating gesture and continued, "It wouldn't be uncommon for apprentices of your age to want to leave their studies and see the world a bit. If that's what you want, I would support you and welcome you back when you were ready to return."
Max shook his head, "Oh, it's not that, master. I am very happy here with you. It's just..."
Alacast nodded, knowingly. "Ah, what's her name?"
Max blushed, not knowing he had been that obvious. "Rixi. She's an elf."
Alacast chuckled and continued down the stairs. The two of them didn't speak as they passed down to the first floor. The minions stirred again, but this time they eagerly approached Alacast and Max. Alacast smiled at them, "Ah, my pets. All is well, you all are doing a fantastic job."
The minions grunted and moved back to their places as Alacast and Max passed to the basement stairs. Alacast asked slyly, "So, should I be expecting a young elf maiden to visit my tower in the near future?"
Max blushed again and shook his head. "I don't think so, master. They're off questing. They were going to use the gold I paid them to book passage to Faald Island."
Alacast whistled, "Heading to the frozen north, eh? An old acquaintance of mine lives there. Or did, I haven't kept up with my correspondence the past few years."
The two of them reached the ceremony chamber in the basement. The room was dark until Alacast spoke a command word that set the dozen braziers around the room ablaze. Max saw Alacast's pet rats scurry from the corners of the room towards them. Alacast reached into his pocket and pulled out an old piece of bread. He tossed it into a corner and the rats ran over to fight over the snack.
Alacast motioned to the pedestal that was meant for the orb. Max set his pack on the stone slab in the center of the room and carefully removed the Amethyst Crystal Ball. He placed it on the pedestal. As he stepped back, he felt something squish beneath his right foot. He heard a squeak and then felt pain as one of the rats bit his foot after he stepped on its tail. Max hopped around in pain and ran into the pedestal, knocking the orb from its perch. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Max and Alacast watched the orb fall to the ground and explode into a million little Amethyst shards.
Max sank to his knees, in despair. Alacast shook his head as he walked over to his apprentice and placed a reassuring hand on Max's shoulder. "It's alright, Max. As you might know, Amethyst crystals are a component of several powerful spells."
Max let out a deep sigh and said, "But you needed that orb to commune with the dead."
Alacast shrugged and said, "There are other Amethyst Crystal Balls out there. In fact, I've heard rumors of one with the Druids of Mirewood."
Max's face fell into his hands as he contemplated the journey he would soon be taking. The Mirewood was on the continent of Darel, more than three times further than he'd already travelled to retrieve the first orb. Assuming all went well, he might be gone for over a year, longer if the druids needed convincing as the Wizards' Guild had. However, his master needed the orb, so he said, "I'll set out tomorrow, master."