Read The First Chapter Of Sagiros' Published Novel, THE VENTIFACT COLOSSUS

Long time EN World member Sagiro (Dorian Hart in real life) told adventurous tales of his D&D campaign for over a decade in the Story Hour forum. Now, at long last, and at the urging of his forum readers, he has finished the first novel based on that campaign. It is called The Ventifact Colossus, and is available for sale on Amazon in both e-book and trade paperback formats. From Dorian's website: "The Ventifact Colossus is a new fantasy novel that chronicles the story of a hodgepodge team of would-be heroes, as they set out to save the world from a variety of absurdly dangerous threats. If you’re a fan of fantasy epics with flawed but likable characters, daring swordplay, high magic, terrible monsters, powerful but mysterious artifacts, intriguing mysteries that will all be explained by the end of the series, and villains with excellent mustaches, then you will surely enjoy The Ventifact Colossus: Book One of The Heroes of Spira." Want a preview? Dorian has provided EN World readers with the entire first chapter!

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Despite the woolen hood that masked his face, a few drops of wind-blown rain found Dranko’s cheeks and wiggled their way through his latticework of scars. The largest and deepest scar—earned eight years ago when he was caught applying glue from the church bindery to the inside of the head chaplain’s hat—tended to divert rainwater into the corner of his mouth. Every minute or two he wiped his cheek with a damp sleeve.

He lurked in an alley’s shadow and watched the citizens of Tal Hae hurry along the street. A chilly breeze whipped stinging needles of water sideways into their faces, which made it the perfect day for Dranko to ply his trade; people were inattentive to their surroundings in a rainstorm. They would be casting their eyes downward to avoid puddles, while their minds would be on dry rooms and warm fires.
His patience was rewarded in the hour before noon when a likely looking mark walked past his alley. A fancy merchant was trying to keep the rain from his fancy clothes with a fancy umbrella, while the wind played havoc with its fabric. A bodyguard walked ahead of him, head tilted down to keep water from his eyes. The bottom of a coin purse peeked from beneath the hem of the merchant’s silk tunic.
Dranko smiled. They never learn.

After drying his face one more time, he slipped out of the alley and started the tail. At first he ignored his target and instead scanned the foot traffic for the two blocks ahead and the block behind. He took stock of everyone in his field of view. A doddering old woman lurched around pools of rainwater; a pair of waifs chased a weaving path between rain barrels and dripping vendor carts; a despondent young man with a basket of bread took shelter beneath an awning. Dranko didn’t need to locate the city guardsmen, as he knew their routes and positions by heart after years of experience. He’d long since memorized every side street and narrow lane that might be useful during a hasty exit.

Satisfied he had plotted a safe approach, Dranko strode forward, drawing a small knife but keeping it concealed beneath his cloak. He caught up with his prey. The knife flashed. The coin pouch dropped into his off hand. The merchant kept walking, oblivious.

There was always a chance of such thefts being spotted by a meddling third party, so Dranko turned calmly down a small side street, then darted into an even narrower alleyway before scaling the back wall of a dilapidated chandlery. Once on the rooftops he scooted from building to building in a low crouch until he was several blocks from the scene of his crime. Only then did he sit with his back to a crumbling chimney and examine his gains.

It wasn’t much. Given the tailoring of the merchant’s clothes and the muscles of his bodyguard Dranko had expected better, but turned inside out the money pouch produced only one silver talon and six copper chits. Still, it would pay a week’s rent and keep him fed for a couple of days, and “fed” was not a condition he took for granted. He returned the coins to their purse, stuffed the purse deep into his pack, and splashed along the puddled rooftops towards his home.

Four blocks from his abode on Fishwife Row, on a gently tilted roof atop a row of weather-beaten tenements, Dranko stopped, lay flat, and cocked an ear. Over the din of the rain came an unusual cry from the street below. Had he been spotted by the Tal Hae constabulary? Had someone been tracking him since his bit of larceny? It was always a danger in his line of work. But he heard the cry again, and this time there was no mistake: it was one of pain. He peered down from the roof. An old beggar crawled into a narrow alley, its cramped width littered with damp, smelly refuse. The poor man slumped against the wall and clutched his ankle. Dranko squinted; there was a pool of blood forming beneath the beggar’s leg, mixing with the runoff from the building wall. His filthy rags were soaked through.

“Gods damn it.” Dranko pulled his head back and out of sight. He’d wait, is what he’d do. He’d wait, and someone else would come along and give the man aid.

Three minutes later there came another pained shout, and the sounds of sobbing cut through the hammering of the rain. Once more Dranko poked his nose over the edge of the roof. The beggar attempted to stand but collapsed and lay still.

I’m wet, thought Dranko. I’m cold. I’m tired. I just want to get home and drink something besides rainwater.

Thunder pealed in the pipe-smoke sky.

Damn the Gods. You especially, Delioch.

Dranko unslung his pack and pulled out a rumpled cream-colored robe with faded gold trim. It was too small for him; now in his mid-twenties, he’d grown broad-shouldered and pot-bellied since the church elders had given it to him. It was a struggle to get the wet fabric sorted out, but he managed to pull the robe over his street clothes. From a small pocket inside the pack, he fished out a cheap pendant on a silver chain and forced it over his hood. Both robe and pendant featured the stylized open-fingered pattern that indicated Delioch, God of the Healing Hand.

Properly attired, Dranko carefully descended the wall and approached the beggar. The old man’s ankle was broken, a compound fracture, bone poking through the skin and blood leaking out.

“What happened?” Dranko’s voice was low, gruff, almost guttural.

The beggar looked up, squinting into the rain. When he saw Dranko’s face, he shrank away, cowering against the wall. Dranko sighed—he knew the beggar had ignored his robe, his necklace, and probably even his alarming network of scars. Others, including some in the church, had looked at him in the same way many times over the years. What the beggar noticed were the tusks. Two thick teeth like small boar tusks protruded from Dranko’s lower jaw, marking him as goblin-touched.

“I’m not gonna stand here in the rain all day,” Dranko growled. “You want me to heal that ankle, or would you rather bleed to death in a pile of garbage?”

Water plastered the vagrant’s straggly hair to his face. “I was begging for coins,” he croaked. “All I wanted was a chit or two for a meal, but he pushed me aside. I fell, and my leg…”

Dranko leant down and examined the break. Gods, it was an ugly one. For all his expertise at healing—the one skill for which he had shown aptitude during his time at the church, if one discounted scaling walls and picking locks—he wasn’t sure he could fix this. He didn’t have any of his salves in his pack, only a small roll of bandages along with a few dirty rags. In the best case this poor fellow would live out his days enduring a painful limp.

But maybe…

Some of the more senior priests at the church could channel the divine restorative power of Delioch, but Dranko and his church had parted ways years ago, long before he had mastered any sort of proficiency in the art of divinely inspired healing. Faith, piety, and devotion—these were the things that determined the strength of healing one channeled through Delioch. That’s what Mokad had always told him, especially during his scarring sessions. But despite Mokad’s sharp-edged ministrations, or perhaps because of them, Dranko’s devotion had never been a thing worthy of mention. Though Dranko had tried channeling several times, he had never been successful.

He took a deep breath.

“This is going to hurt.” Dranko offered the man a leather strip from his pack. “A lot. So bite on this and not your tongue.”

None too gently he put the strip in the beggar’s mouth, and before the old man could protest, he twisted and pulled on the broken leg. His patient screamed through clenched teeth.

“It beats being dead.” Dranko prodded the wound with his fingers, felt the bone beneath the bloody shreds of flesh. “Now hold still and scream quieter. I’ve got to get this right or you’ll live out your life a cripple.” He nudged everything back into place as best he could.

Delioch, please let this work.

With one hand clutching his pendant and the other gripping the old man’s ankle, Dranko shut his eyes and entreated his God. “Lord, I pray for healing, that this man be made sound and whole.”

Nothing happened. He spoke the words again, louder. “Lord, I pray for healing, that this man be made sound and whole!” The beggar spat out his bit and screamed in agony. Dranko had rolled the divine dice and lost.

“Lord! Please! I pray for…”

A chill ran through his body, like he had swallowed a bucket of ice water. The beggar stopped screaming. Dranko’s hand grew bright, and a thrilling warmth flowed down his arm into the man’s wound. For all of Dranko’s transgressions, and surely Delioch knew them just as well as Mokad, the God of Healing found him a worthy vessel.

Bones knitted, veins reattached, skin closed. It was more than his own body could endure. Dranko passed out a second later, falling limp beside the beggar in the rain.

***

Sometime later Dranko awoke in a fit of coughing, a rivulet of rainwater seeping into his open mouth. The slick wet cobblestones pressed cold against his scarred cheek as he lay on his side, still in the tiny street where he had cured the beggar.

I did it. I channeled.

His body felt drained of its defining energy, as though he had gone a week without food or sleep. He tried to recall the feeling of Delioch’s divinity rushing through him but couldn’t muster up the memory. What he had was a surety that he had served as a conduit for a power infinitely greater than himself. Also, a splitting headache.

There was no sign of the beggar. Dranko set his back to the alley wall and surged to his feet, an unwise maneuver that brought dancing lights to his eyes. He leaned heavily against the wall and willed himself to stay conscious. When his senses returned in full, he cast about for his pack, but there was no point. Someone had lifted it while he napped. His hand dropped to his belt; at least his knife was still there. But his newly acquired coin purse was gone, along with an old apple and some expensive burglar’s tools he’d kept in the bottom of the pack.

Dranko’s first instinct was to rant and rail against the heavens. He had offered up a piece of his soul to heal a stranger, and this was his thanks? To be robbed? A curse upon his god came to his lips, but he left it unspoken. Yes, he had taken Delioch’s name in vain on dozens of occasions before now, for all the indignities of his life, but this time he lacked the animus. He had channeled! Forget all of the scorn heaped upon him at the church; Delioch had worked His perfect grace through Dranko’s scarred body.

Now he was feverish and weak. A channeler was not merely a conduit for Delioch’s might; some of his own essential vitality was given irrevocably to the supplicant. A bit of his soul was gone forever. Doubt and fear crept into his heart.

I’m not doing anything better with my soul these days. Maybe that’s why Delioch let me put it to good use.

He glanced up at the wall of the building, and the thought of climbing it made his head spin. But he was in his priestly raiment, soaked though his robes might be, and seeing as no one had come along to arrest him while he was unconscious, there was no reason not to walk the rest of the way home.

Dranko lived on the third and highest floor of a rotting tenement that leaned precariously over Fishwife Row. He rented a squalid room from a coarse woman named Berthel, who in four years had shown a complete lack of interest in repairing the holes in the roof or purchasing any charms to keep away the bugs. The climb up two flights of stairs left him winded and faint, and he barely had the wherewithal to strip off his drenched robes and change into dry clothes before collapsing into a rickety chair.

He had set out a collection of pots and buckets to catch the drips on days like this. One of them nearby was misplaced, and a puddle was forming on the warped wooden floorboards. Dranko stretched out a foot and nudged the bucket beneath the drip. When the sound changed to the plunk of water into water, he closed his eyes. All he wanted now was to have a few minutes of relaxa—

“Drank-ooooooooooo!”

The sound of his name carried over that of a fist pounding on his door.

“Go away,” he groaned. “We’re closed.”

“Dranko, open up. Rent’s due.”

“That’s why I want you to go away.”

The door opened. Berthel was large, loud, lazy, and never waited to be invited in. She stepped carefully over the drip-catchers while pretending not to notice them.

“And how are we today, beautiful?” she asked.

“Poor.”

Berthel laughed. “Then being a bit poorer won’t matter much, will it? How about that rent?”

Dranko rubbed his temples. “I had it, but I got rolled on the way back here. Someone took my pack, and my pack had your coins in it.”

“You? Someone robbed you?” Berthel gave him a look of pure skepticism.

“Yeah. Me. So how about I pay you next week with an extra silver thrown in to reward your patience?”

Berthel crossed her arms and said nothing.

“Hey, look, when have I ever gone more than two weeks without paying rent?”

“Last month.”

“Er, okay, fine, but when have I ever gone more than four weeks without—”

“Yes, yes,” said Berthel. “One week from today, with two extra silvers, and I won’t kick you to the curb.”

Dranko sat up a bit. “Thanks. Though maybe I should hold off paying you until you’ve done something about this drafty strainer I live in.” He looked pointedly at his collection of containers.

“Right.” Berthel laughed again. “You got somewhere else to go?”

Dranko paused. He imagined the sanctuary of the Church of Delioch, God of the Healing Hand, where those who needed succor were given harbor and comfort. Six years he had spent beneath that roof, wearing out his welcome day by day and year by year until, drained of patience, they had turned him out. His one friend there, a girl a couple of years his junior named Praska, had tried to warn him, but he hadn’t listened.

“No,” he said. “I guess I don’t. Now if you don’t mind, your perfume is obscuring the aroma of my chamber pot. Also I have to figure out where my next meal is coming from, and after that your rent. One week, I’ll have your money.”

“I know you will,” said Berthel. “And…are you okay? I mean, whoever took your money, did they hurt you much? You look like crap, even more than usual.”

Dranko grimaced. “I’ll be okay. Thanks, Berthel.”

His landlady turned and picked her way between the buckets to the door. “Oh, almost forgot. Some kid came by today and left this for you. Said it was important.” She produced a small envelope and tossed it to Dranko, who caught it deftly before it could land in a puddle. “I didn’t know you could read,” she added, then gave one last braying laugh before departing.

Dranko turned over the letter in his pruny fingers. Its beautiful wax seal and fine calligraphy were an absurd opulence in his grungy apartment.

“What in the twelve Hells is this?”

He ripped open the envelope and slid out a thick beige card.

You will appear at the tower of the Archmage Abernathy in the city of Tal Hae at sundown on the first day of spring in the year 828.

Dranko peered with suspicion at this unlikely invitation, its words glowing with faint enchantment. He flipped it over, saw that nothing was written on the back, then ran his fingers along the heavy parchment. From his time working in the church’s bindery he knew that this sort of paper was rare and pricey. (Among his dozens of scars from Mokad was a long one on his elbow, testament to a moment of carelessness wherein he had knocked over a pot of ink and ruined a sheaf of vellum.) The expense of the paper made the obvious conclusion—that this was some odd prank—harder to countenance, though it was still more likely than him being summoned by the elusive archmage of Tal Hae.

His life not having much overlap with wizarding circles, assuming there even were such things, Dranko knew only the usual street gossip about the archmagi. Powerful, mysterious, and never seen outside of their stone towers, the archmagi were said to be working on some grand project on the orders of King Crunard himself. Typical citizens had heard only faint rumors of them, rumors they probably disbelieved.

Other possibilities: the letter was a ploy to lure him either into a trap, or out of his house so someone could rob the place. The first of those was more likely. Unless someone desperately needed buckets of rainwater or a stiff straw mattress with a few fleas in it, his apartment was not much of a target for premeditated burglary. But a trap, that he could believe. Careful though he was, his cutpurse hobby had occasional repercussions. Someone may have tracked him home after one of his outings, and now was planning revenge.

The letter…there was certainly some sort of glamour making the words glow. Had he inadvertently robbed a wizard on one of his extralegal excursions? Or maybe, maybe, the invitation was on the level. This was already a momentous day, the day he had channeled Delioch’s healing energies, years after being cast out of the church. Was the letter related? Had Abernathy used his wizardry to sense the power he had so briefly touched? Who knew? He didn’t have much time to think about it—the first day of spring was tomorrow—but the possibility made it worth the risk.

***

Dranko Blackhope arrived at Abernathy’s tower the following afternoon and noticed for the first time that it had no doors. Though he had ranged far and wide through Tal Hae over the years in search of prospects, targets, and cheap liquor, Dranko had never visited the wizard’s tower in the city’s northwest corner, in an old park that offered few opportunities for his ignoble trade. He had seen the upper portion of the smooth stone cylinder from afar but had no clear picture in his head of what the place looked like at ground level. Now that he stood before it, he found that its bottommost section was no different than the rest of it—seamless stone, unsullied by carving or graffiti or anything else. The tower was a tall featureless post thirty feet across and nearly a hundred feet high, rising from the grass like an ancient menhir. Indeed there was no reason to think it was hollow, save for the fact that a mighty wizard was purported to live inside of it.

There were no windows either, and Dranko didn’t give himself good odds of being able to scale the smooth tower wall to check out the roof. His mind flashed to his friend Praska, a fellow novice in the church and a co-conspirator in many of his childhood pranks. She’d try to climb the tower, no question; she could climb almost anything. Gods, what would she say if she could see him now, answering an invitation from an archmage? Whatever happened next, this might occasion his first trip back to the church since his exile, just to tell her all about it.

After a quick scout-around that revealed no immediate ambush, Dranko walked a slow, careful perimeter of the tower, running his hands over the stone in case there was a door masked by illusion. That seemed like the kind of thing a wizard might do—test Dranko’s reasoning and resolve to see if he was truly worthy of whatever it was he’d been summoned for. But, no, there was nothing. The sun had already dropped behind Tal Hae’s western wall, and sunset was imminent.

He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Hello? Abernathy? I’m here. You going to let me in, or what?”

A bird chirped and the sound of a dog barking came from several blocks away, but Abernathy, if he was really inside this pillar of rock, did not respond.

“Great,” Dranko muttered. “I should have guessed this was some kind of idiot joke. Maybe someone from the church who still—”

With no noise, lights, or warning of any kind, Dranko found himself somewhere else. He blinked his eyes. Gone were the park and the tower and the fish smell of Tal Hae, and in their place was something more like a parlor, or a library. (Not that he had much experience with parlors and libraries; the church of Delioch had both, but with his reputation for troublemaking Dranko had seldom been allowed to visit them.) This place had a cozy, comfortable, happily disorganized feel despite being quite a large room. Bookshelves lined the stone walls, and many of the scrolls and books lay on their sides or had spilled onto the floor. A half dozen small tables were heaped with more books and leaves of parchment, as well as inkpots, quills, pots of wax, and an assortment of small curios. Among them were valuable figurines and objects d’art, small and easily palmed.

But while the objects and furnishings of this scholar’s lounge were interesting, Dranko quickly focused his attention on the people who stood nearby. Five others, three men and two women, were looking around in confusion or wonderment, and Dranko guessed that they had not been expecting to get magicked directly into Abernathy’s tower, or to find themselves part of a larger group. They stood in different parts of the library, none too close to any of the others. It seemed that each of the six of them was waiting for someone else to speak, so Dranko broke the silence. “I don’t suppose one of you is Abernathy?”

Everyone looked expectantly at everyone else.

“Did all of you get one of these?” asked a sandy-haired kid, holding up a card that matched Dranko’s. “I’m Ernest Roundhill, by the way. My friends call me Ernie. Nice to meet you.” He was an honest-faced young fellow with a sword at his belt. Dranko pegged him at eighteen years old.

“I’m Aravia Telmir,” said a girl on his left. She looked out at the others from beneath the brim of a large and ridiculous conical hat, purple, adorned with little stars and moons. Did she think she was going to impress a powerful wizard by playing dress-up? The hat shaded her face enough that he couldn’t know her age, though from her voice he guessed late teens or early twenties.

On the other side of Ernie was an elderly woman holding a cleaver dripping with blood. She was in her sixties, and dressed like Dranko imagined someone’s mom would dress: long peasant skirt, dingy blouse, tattered scarf, bonnet around her gray hair. Laugh lines dominated her face.

“My name is Ysabel,” said the old woman. “You young people can call me Mrs. Horn.” She held up her cleaver and graced the room with a friendly smile. “Try anything, and you’ll be my next victim.” When Ernie took a quick step away from her, she laughed. “No, no, don’t get the wrong idea, young man. I was butchering a deer a moment ago. Never thought that invitation was really from a wizard.”

Dranko grinned at her. “Noted.” Her return smile went straight to his eyes, not his tusks. He liked her.

“Tor. Tor Bladebearer.” Tor was a tall, muscular, and well-dressed youth who carried himself with a grace and confidence Dranko didn’t see much of in the poorer parts of town. A nobleman’s son, maybe? There was a sheathed sword strapped to the boy’s back, and the kid could doubtless do some serious damage with it, but his face was guileless and full of wonder. Dranko would have bet a gold crescent that “Tor” was a pseudonym.

Closest to Tor was a grim, dour-faced man, probably in his mid-forties, and like the two youths he carried a sword. His right hand was on its grip, though he had not yet drawn it, and his eyes were wary, flicking around between Dranko and the others. Of his fellow guests in the library, this guy was the only one sizing him up in the same way he was doing to them. Competent and humorless; probably a soldier or mercenary.

“I’m Grey Wolf.”

Dranko tried not to laugh, but a poorly-stifled snort came out. “Your name is Grey Wolf?”

“No,” said Grey Wolf. “But it’s what I prefer to be called. Is that a problem?”

“Hey, no, that’s great. Whatever makes you happy. I’m Dranko Blackhope.”

Grey Wolf scowled and narrowed his eyes.

Ernest squirmed uncomfortably at the exchange. “So, anyone know why we were…magicked here by an archmage?”

“Teleported,” said Aravia. “The correct term is ‘teleported.’”

Dranko updated his impression of the girl. Maybe she was a wizard herself? The hat was still outlandish.

“Teleported,” Ernie repeated. But no one answered the question, and an awkward silence lasted almost half a minute.

Dranko hated silence as a rule. “Maybe this is a test. Maybe we’re supposed to find Abernathy somewhere in his tower, and the first person to catch him wins a sack of gold.”

Ernie laughed and Grey Wolf rolled his eyes, but Dranko was only half-kidding. He walked to the door and tried the handle. It was locked. He shook it, turned it both ways, and even put his shoulder into the door in case it was merely stuck, but they appeared to be trapped in the library. Maybe there was a hidden exit somewhere, but it would take hours to search properly through all the clutter. He glared at the door. If only he had his tools…

Grey Wolf sighed and sat down in one of the room’s wooden chairs.

The boy who had called himself Tor Bladebearer (a name no less silly than Grey Wolf) picked up a little onyx dog from the table nearest him and examined it idly. “All of the archmagi work for the king, right? I’ll bet King Crunard asked Abernathy to assemble a team for some kind of secret mission. He must have picked me because of my swordsmanship. What about the rest of you?”

“I am a wizard,” said Aravia proudly. “I have been studying under the master Serpicore for over two years and have learned several significant spells.”

That answered that, then. A young wizardess, full of herself.

“Really?” exclaimed Ernie. “That’s amazing! What kind of spells do you know?”

Aravia smiled, straightened, and spoke in a crisp and practiced manner. “I’ve learned heatless light, minor arcanokinesis, minor lockbreaker…”

“Lockbreaker?” Dranko interrupted. “Now we’re getting somewhere!” He gestured to the door. “How about lock-breaking us out of here so we can find Abernathy and let him know we’re waiting for him.”
“Do you really think Abernathy would have locked us in here if he wanted us to break out?”

All eyes turned to the far side of the library, where a woman stood mostly hidden in a shadow. She was almost a ghost, with cheesecloth-white skin and hair so pale it must have been bleached or dyed. But the odd thing was, she was wearing black Ellish robes, and everyone knew that all Ellish sisters had dark hair. Maybe she was part of a weird secret sect within the Ellish temple? Who knew? But like the rest of her sisters she didn’t like the light; though she stood in the darkest corner of the room, both of her hands were shielding her eyes from the library’s lamps.

She also had a weapon on her belt, a stout club with a spiky flanged head. Dranko frowned. Had he missed a follow-up message that warned the wizard’s guests to come armed? Was there going to be some kind of arena battle staged for Abernathy’s amusement? The general feeling among the citizens of Charagan was that the mighty wizards in their towers were of a benevolent sort—wouldn’t they have taken over by now if they weren’t?—but no one knew for certain. Perhaps Abernathy was a cruel, ruthless sorcerer who enjoyed making strangers fight one another for sport. Dranko hoped not; the tenets of his faith would put him at a severe disadvantage.

“Maybe,” he said. The closer he looked, the more freakish he found her appearance. It was possible that Ell had put a curse on her, but he didn’t know much about the Ellish religion. Ell was the Goddess of Night. Her clergy were all women, who never went outside during the day.

“What’s your name?” he asked her.

“Morningstar of Ell.”

“Well, Morningstar of Ell, maybe Abernathy is testing our initiative, and wants us to figure a way out. Aravia, what do you say about that lock?”

An eager expression came over Aravia’s face and she moved toward the door, but before she had crossed half the distance the door swung inward without needing her arcane persuasion. In walked an elderly man, in his seventies at least, with a long hooked nose, wrinkled face, and startling blue eyes. An untended white beard sprouted from his chin. He was dressed in a plain white robe and had white slippers on his feet.

Dranko repressed a snort. The wizard was certainly dressing the part.

The old man stopped inside the doorway and sighed with relief. “Ah. Good.” His voice was aged and crackly. Wizardy. “All here then?” He counted them with a wrinkled finger, but frowned when he was finished. “Are there any more of you? Did anyone leave the room?”

“No, sir,” said Ernie. “It’s just the seven of us.”

“There are supposed to be eight,” said the old man.

“You must be Abernathy,” said Dranko. “Nice place you have here.”

“I must be, and I do. Now, tell me your names, please.”

One by one the guests introduced themselves to the wizard. When Grey Wolf gave his nom de lupine, Abernathy shook his head. “No, I mean your real name, Mr. Wolf.”

Grey Wolf stared at the wizard for a moment. “Ivellios Forrester.”

“And you, ‘Tor Bladebearer,’” said Abernathy. “That’s not your real name either, is it?”

“N…no,” stammered Tor. “But I’d rather not say it in front of strangers. Uh, no offense.”

Abernathy scratched his face through his beard. “Very well. Are your initials ‘K.B.’?”

“No.”

“How about ‘D.F.’”

“Yes.”

“Fine.”

Dranko held his breath, but Abernathy didn’t come back to challenge him. Was it because he had chosen the name “Dranko” at such a young age?

Abernathy looked around the room one more time, then stooped to glance under the nearest table. “Do any of you know a man named Kibilhathur Bimson?”

The question was met by blank stares and shaking heads.

“Well, it was an old spell, and my tower is built to prevent…oh, never mind. You seven will have to do.”

“Do what, exactly?” Dranko asked. At the same moment Morningstar said, “Why have you brought us here?”

Dranko expected the old man to launch into some grandiose speech, but instead the wizard merely brought his fingertips to his lips. Several seconds passed during which Abernathy did nothing but pass his gaze around his guests.

“The world is in some danger,” Abernathy said at last. “It has been for some time. Recently that danger has grown more immediate, to a degree such that I felt I needed a team of…agents would be the correct term, I think. For—”

“I knew it!” Tor interrupted gleefully, only seeming to realize afterward that he had interrupted one of the (supposedly) most powerful men in the world.

Abernathy smiled indulgently at Tor and continued. “…For reasons I don’t have time to explain, we archmagi don’t leave our towers and don’t have an adequate sense of what goes on outside of them. You will be my eyes, ears, and hands out in Charagan.”

“For how long?” asked Grey Wolf. “I have a job to get back to, you know.”

Dranko wondered the same thing himself, but he bristled at the guy’s self-important impatience. He forced out a smile, showing his tusks.

“What are you, a bouncer, Mr. Wolf? Or can I call you ‘Grey?’”

Grey Wolf glared at him silently.

Abernathy fixed his penetrating blue eyes on each of his guests in turn. When they were turned to Dranko, he squirmed in spite of himself. Could wizards read minds?

“I don’t know for how long, exactly,” Abernathy admitted. “Maybe a long time. And perhaps this will become a permanent arrangement.”

“No thank you, then,” said Morningstar. “I appreciate the offer, but I should not stay away from my duties at the temple for very long.”

The wizard sighed and walked to the nearest wall. With a wave of his hand a window appeared in the stone; he gazed out of it upon the rooftops of Tal Hae.

“I could compel you,” he said wearily. “Some of the others felt I should.”

“Others? Others who?” Tor’s voice was clear and deep, but his inflections were boyish.

“The other archmagi,” said Abernathy. “Some disapprove of me summoning you at all, and the others feel that I should simply coerce you with threats. For instance, I could say something like, ‘Serve me in our kingdom’s hour of need, or I will turn you all into toads!’ But I am disinclined to that sort of bullying.”

Grey Wolf looked meaningfully toward the door. “So we can say no?”

“You may,” said Abernathy. “But I will put one condition upon you, in return for my forbearance regarding transforming you into amphibians. And that is, I would like each of you, in good faith, to allow me to try convincing you without threat of force, or blackmail, or any kind of improper strong-arming. I’ll visit you each tonight at the Greenhouse. If you promise to hear me out, and should I not sway you to service of the Kingdom of Charagan, you will be free to return to your lives.”

“That sounds more than fair, Mr. Abernathy,” said Mrs. Horn, every bit as polite as Grey Wolf was insolent. “But if you don’t mind my asking, why did you summon us to be your…agents? If the world is in danger, shouldn’t you have picked great warriors or other powerful wizards?”

Ernie Roundhill’s eyes went wide. “Am I here because of the statue of me in Murgy’s basement? Do you need us to hold up the sky?”

Abernathy’s expression became hard to read. “I don’t know who Murgy is, or about any statues, although I’m sure that’s an interesting tale. And the sky is not falling, except in the most metaphorical of senses. No, you were chosen by a very unusual spell I cast three days ago. The spell was designed to select several people who will be instrumental in helping protect Charagan from the evils that beset it. It chose you. But why you specifically? I don’t know.”

The old wizard didn’t have much experience in lying to people, that was certain.

“What kinds of missions are you going to send us on?” asked Tor. He looked like a puppy eager for a walk.

“Scouting, initially,” said Abernathy. “After that, it will depend on what you learn.”

Tor’s shoulders slumped a bit. “Will there be fighting? Battles against the forces of evil? Monsters?”

Dranko snorted. “Monsters? Forces of evil? Are you serious?”

But Abernathy wasn’t laughing. “That is entirely possible,” said the old wizard. “My boy, whatever your life was like before today, it is likely that should you accept my offer, you will be afforded opportunities for adventure and glory that few in a generation are given.”

Tor grinned like a six-year-old offered an entire apple pie, but Ysabel—Mrs. Horn—clicked her tongue. “Abernathy, don’t you think I’m a trifle old for adventures and glory? And I’m just a farmer. Unless you intend adventurous sewing, or a glorious feeding of the chickens, I can’t see that I’ll be much good.”

Abernathy gave the old woman an apologetic look.

Ernie’s voice had a noticeable wobble. “So it’s, uh, dangerous, then?”

“Very likely,” said Abernathy. “I won’t lie to you. Though some among the archmagi feel you should be left in the dark until you earn our trust, I think it is important for you to know what we’re dealing with.”
From somewhere distant in the tower, a single chime sounded. Abernathy tugged his beard and looked nervously at the door to the library, at which point the conjured window, deprived of the wizard’s attention, shrank to a point and vanished.

“I will briefly summarize, as I shouldn’t be away from my work any longer than necessary. It would be a bitter irony if I let things get out of hand because I took too much time talking with you.”
He took a deep breath before continuing.

“There is a very powerful and dangerous man—no, not even a man, a monster, a being of a sort we do not know how to kill. He is currently locked away, but we believe he is figuring out how to escape. If he succeeds and comes to Spira, he may decide to conquer the world or destroy it, but it would be best it not come to that. I and the other archmagi have spent many, many years maintaining the locks on his door. Your first assignment will be to go to where that door is and inspect it. It’s all much more complicated than that, and I’ll explain in detail when I have more time, but for…”

He was interrupted by a low grinding roar, a nearly subsonic groaning, as if giant hands had grasped the tower and now were trying to bend and twist its stones. Dranko was overcome by a sourceless vertigo and lurched involuntarily. Holy Hells! Aravia stumbled and fell to the floor, though nothing was actually moving. Abernathy braced himself against a table, his eyes wide.

“Is it the monster?” cried Ernie.

Then it stopped. A burly red-faced man in workman’s clothes, with a bulbous nose and a bristling black beard, had appeared in the center of the library. He was in the very act of bringing a hammer down upon a chisel. When his swing did not meet with any resistance, the man overbalanced, stumbled, and dropped his tools.

He looked around as he bent to pick up his instruments. “Well, damn. So that fancy card weren’t no joke then.”

Dranko let out his breath; it was only the missing invitee.

Abernathy held up his hand and, eyes closed, turned a slow circle in place, muttering syllables beneath his breath that Dranko couldn’t quite make out. When the wizard opened his eyes again, he was obviously relieved.

“The tower’s wards appear to be uncompromised,” he said. “Good. I’m surprised something like that didn’t happen when the rest of you arrived.” He walked to the newcomer. “Please tell me you are Kibilhathur Bimson.”

“Be glad to, seein’ as it’s true,” said the man. “And you must be the Archmage Abernathy, and this here’s your tower?”

“Welcome to the team!” said Dranko. “Abernathy here was telling us about our new careers as prison door inspectors.”

Abernathy gave Dranko an aggrieved look. “Kibilhathur, as I was telling your new companions, it’s not quite so simple.”

The man with the chisel scratched his beard. “My new what?”

Dranko cleared his throat. “Do we get paid to be your lackeys? ’Cause I have some back rent to pay.”

“Hmm,” said Abernathy. “I confess that I have an unusual relationship with money. I can’t simply produce it from the aether. Creating permanent solid objects is extremely difficult even for the most skilled wizard, and the spells for it are typically limited to wood, stone, and poor-quality iron. Conjuring up gold or gemstones would be quite out of the question.”

“Yeah,” said Dranko. “Okay. But what about money you get the old-fashioned way? Does anyone pay you to be a wizard?”

“I used to have a decent amount saved by, but that was a long time ago. What I had left, I’ve recently spent on things for you. I’ve purchased you a house, a converted bakery called the Greenhouse on the Street of Bakers. As for working expenses, I think that in the course of your employment, should you choose to accept it, you may find valuables that you will be welcome to sell or keep.”

“Great,” said Dranko. “What about up-front money?”

“Oh, well.” Abernathy looked around the library, made a few halting steps in several different directions, and finally strode to a tall bookshelf where he took down a jade owl figurine. It was six inches tall and had small rubies for eyes. He handed it to Dranko. “How about this? Are there still jewelers in Tal Hae who will give you coins for it?”

Dranko’s eyes nearly bulged from his head. Having done a bit of fencing in his day—and not the kind where you poked holes in people—he had a decent sense of the value of things, and even if the gems in the eyes were fake, he could imagine fetching ten gold crescents for this little owl. More, if the rubies were authentic.

He composed himself. “That’ll do for a start.”

The chime sounded again from somewhere deep in the tower’s heart. Abernathy flinched at the noise. “I have to go,” he said hurriedly. “Our enemy is ever battering at the door. As soon as I’m able, I’ll visit you at the Greenhouse. Good luck!”

Before Dranko could even open his mouth to ask one of the dozens of questions he still had, the bearded wizard wiggled his fingers and the library disappeared.

Remember, you can buy Dorian's book from Amazon right here!
 

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Warren LaFrance

First Post
Read it on my kindle.

Great read and I am looking forward to the next book... Of course I have to ask.. When is the game world and adventures going to show up for 5E or such... ;)
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Yay, Dranko! (It's been a while, i thought it was Coaltongue?)

Glad he healed that beggar - wouldn't want to be Kulpable for someone dying while he did nothing. :)
 


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