Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Their Fated Travels...(Chapter Five) Trial of the Gods

Here's another update for you. This concludes the 1-5 part Altdorf story arc. Chapter 6 will be considered as "book 2".
At this point I have over 27k words commited to page.

Here's chapter 5

Their Fated Travels…

By Robert James Freemantle

Chapter Five

Trial of the Gods

Tordrad, Maestro and Rissandrea sat together at the Altdorf docks passenger ticket office/waiting area.

This was the fastest, safest way to travel, Maestro reckoned. He hoped he wouldn’t be proven wrong.

A staff gate opened on the far side of the area as two men came through, carrying a heavy looking piece of luggage.

Rissandrea double took at the man walking backwards with it. It was the drunken Marienburg man she had seen going into the Two Headed Goose last night.

So, she thought, he’s on my barge too…

Maestro had Tordrad in between he and the Shallyan initiate but still he would sometimes look across at her nervously.

Tordrad was sporting a new set of armour - High quality plate that he had obtained with his recent earnings after averting the daemonic outbreak. It was a shiny buffed silver colour from head to toe.

The armour had already been for sale but his request for bear engravings at the breastplate, elbow joints and knees had been easy to achieve for the master armoursmith he had chosen in the capital city here. The helm was reminiscent of a bear’s head in some respects, with the visor having a bear’s jaw style of design engraved and painted into it. The upper part of the helm was taller than normal helms, like the upper head of a bear, giving him an appearance of grandeur and ferociousness.

It wasn’t long now, Maestro thought, until I say goodbye to the city, perhaps forevermore.

They waited.

Emperor Karl Franz sat in his office, considering the paperwork in front of him.

The College Master’s halfling was due at any moment and this appointment couldn’t wait.

A prompt knock on his door from one of the Emperor’s staff confirmed the halfling’s punctuality.

The Emperor requested, “Come in.”

The door was held open by a Palace attendant as Tobias entered, bowing low as he did so. As soon as he was inside the room, the door was closed again.

Karl Franz was in no mood to mess around, “Sit down, please” he asked.

With a bow, the halfling took a seat opposite, across from the great desk, a place where legendary, world changing meetings had been conducted.

So wide was this desk that it could seat eight people wide at it. Tobias looked miniscule against the massive antique.

There was silence for a few seconds, punctuated only by the precise ticking of a nearby wall clock before the Emperor began, “Herr Wilwart. You had been assigned the case of Maestro Rophel Illefescion. I read your reports of last night’s and today’s happenings. Most interesting. But this will be the last night he spends in my city I trust?”

Tobias answered respectfully, “He assures me of such, Excellency. Even now he waits at the river barge terminus with ticket in hand. He, the Kislevite and the initiate girl.”

“Ah the Shallyan, yes I read her report too.” Added the Emperor. “She is a not quite the usual type that we would see in our Temple here.”

“If I may be so bold,” began Tobias, “she is a member of a sub sect of Shallyan faith. They have certain additional scriptures that even the main branch consider somewhat overzealous.”

Karl Franz considered these words, as if every little piece of information about Maestro’s case was important somehow and said, “On the subject of the wizard, if he is not gone by morning, he shall find himself in a jail cell at my pleasure.”

His words seemed cold, even to Tobias who wasn’t particularly fond of Maestro. He didn’t understand why. This must have shown on his face when the Emperor certified, “The man is dangerous, more than he might ever know.”

Tobias thought back to the initial reports on Maestro that he had been privy to. They had dated back to when he was just a boy of twelve years old…

Seventeen years ago…

Young Maestro was an ambitious boy, the son of a financial adviser in the Palace of Karl Franz himself. He was a noble of steady wealth. He had a comfortable life. His family’s money allowed him the opportunity to seek the life that he wanted, to work in the field of specialisation that he desired.

What the boy desired most was to be an engineer. He could always be found tinkering with things, taking them apart to understand how they worked and putting them back together again.

He used to create his own gadgets too - Small, wind up contraptions that spun or moved along the ground in some way, bizarre devices that could fly for a short while if thrown and others like this.

One day however, the life he thought he would be living changed forever without warning.

His performing arts troupe had been set up inside the Palace throne room, putting on a play for the Emperor himself and his gathered guests.

Naturally being a noble born boy, he had been tutored in the thespian arts too, from a young age.

During a particularly emotional song and dance number, the boy gestured sorrowfully with his hand, outwards towards the Emperor himself as if to further hit the dramatic point home. As he had done this, a ball of lightning energy shot from his fingertips and flew towards the throne! It had found its mark, knocking the Emperor’s famed helm clean from his head, sending it clattering noisily to the floor.

The audience and actors had gone completely quiet, so quickly so that the final rolling of the helmet across the shiny stone floor could be heard by everyone present.

Maestro stared in horror. First at his hand, then back to the Emperor, whose head was now exposed!

The guards were moving in with weapons drawn, believing it to be an attempt on the Emperor’s life. Before they could reach the boy however, a wizard grabbed him by the arm that had fired the spell, holding it downwards to the ground. He spoke the following words to Maestro, words that he would never forget: “As you leave your youth behind you, a wizard manifests in its stead. You will come for training, boy.”

The courtroom gasped in surprise at the orange robed wizard’s assertion.

Maestro had replied, “But I do not want to become a wizard, I’m to be an engineer.”

The wizard had smiled and replied, “Of those who display the gift for channelling the winds of magic, most would call it as much a curse as a blessing. But make no mistake, an untrained person with magical attunement in their blood will be set on a course to chaos! Do you want to become a chaos spawn? Do you, boy?”

Maestro didn’t even know what a chaos spawn was but answered, “Not particularly no.”

He had noticed that the wizard, while serious in what he said, had a kindly face. His eyes glowed a strange orange colour, his hair was blonde with streaks of orange permeating through it. He wore a multitude of keys about his person, like jewellery.

“Not particularly?” answered the wizard, to the spectacle of the crowd gathered, “It would be a matter of time” he started, as his appearance and size seemed to grow to Maestro’s eyes. His eyes were focused and for the first time frightened the boy as he continued, “Before the ruinous powers have at you. Those who show the skills of wizardry but refuse to train, or those who try to run away or train illegally outside of the college, they are considered to be hedge wizards…outlaws, sentenced to death.”

Maestro had listened to what the wizard had said but one word stuck in front of his eyes, like a tattoo on his retinas: death.

“Alright…I’ll choose the not me being dead option I believe” came Maestro’s reply in the end, reluctantly, with sorrow secretly in his heart.

Not that the crowds cared, they murmured and tittered from the excitement of it all, while Karl Franz positioned his helm back upon his head, a concern of worry on his face.

Seventeen years ahead again…That same look of concern held true to the Emperor’s dour features.

Tobias asked, “Your Excellency, you don’t surely mean the day he first discovered his magical abilities do you?”

The Emperor looked at the halfling with some surprise, “Of course I mean that day, to some extent at least. He knocked the helm from my head, Herr Wilwart. I have been in countless battles, fought on the front lines against the ravaging creatures that seek to ruin mankind, to leave the Empire in flames and not one of them, not one had ever unhelmed me!”

Tobias raised both eyebrows at this. He knew that there was more to this story than the Emperor was letting on. However, it wasn’t like he could press the issue so he dropped that line of thought there.

“I wish to conclude our meeting by saying this,” began Karl Franz, “You have performed well in your duties for me, but I would have you personally see to it that Maestro is gone on that river barge tonight.”

Tobias bowed emphatically, “Of course your Excellency.” was his response.

“The only way I can be sure of it, is for you to depart with him.” The Emperor added

The colour drained out of the halfling’s face.

The Emperor continued, “You are to travel with him now, on his journey of self discovery, seeing as you so excellently dealt with our own internal problem together.”

It was clear that Tobias was not taking the news of this very well at all.

The Emperor added, “It has already been arranged. Your College Masters and I agree that it would be for the best. Also, you would be serving a second purpose for them…”

Magnamus, Maestro’s master, had come to the docks to see them off. They were about to board the barge as the kindly but somewhat unstable master wizard clapped his hands around his student’s shoulders. “Perhaps this will be good for you, eh Maestro?”

“Perhaps” came Maestro’s sullen reply.

His master continued, “You always had such great potential. Do you remember how you were top of the class, amongst the apprentices? You picked up the first spells quicker than anyone I had ever seen. Quicker even than I when I was first starting!”

Maestro nodded sadly.

Magnamus continued, “After that though, something went awry for you. It is clear that this is the only way for you to advance now, and remember, if you do not, Tzeentch is waiting to steal away the ignorant. You do not want to spend an eternity covered in bird droppings do you?” Maestro had seen all the bird droppings he could stand in one lifetime, often being forced to clean the great telescopic lenses of his college of them for failing tests and exams. Magnamus continued “Or worse still, you could become a chaos spawn!”

Maestro rolled his eyes at Magnamus’s one hundred thousandth “chaos spawn” routine, or so he felt.

Suddenly, the old man’s face took on a serious expression, “Maestro…a Chaos army, the like of which has not been seen in hundreds of years has entered the Empire. The reports you will have heard about the invasion are far more terrible than we have told the public. The Emperor himself rides at the column head of his army, leaving today to join the fight. I have been called upon to aid his forces. Archaon the Everchosen comes to wreak great vengeance upon the people he used to call his own. He too used to be a human, like you or I. It is another terrible example of the power that chaos holds over the souls of all people. Always remember that, even with the best intentions one might still find a path to chaos.”

Maestro looked sombre at this, “I…I should have been there to stand by your side shouldn’t I?” he asked.

“Perhaps”, answered Magnamus, “But you are not trained enough to come to the front lines. You would not be allowed in any case.”

Maestro looked down to the ground shamefully.

Magnamus continued, “Don’t worry. We will do everything we can, but we are fighting to preserve a future, Maestro. If we succeed, you and your generation need to stand ready to take the flaming baton.”

“I will learn, I swear it” promised Maestro.

The kindly old wizard put a hand on Maestro’s shoulder, “I know you will. There is more inside you than you even realise” before giving Maestro a knowing wink.

This made the apprentice wizard think and worry. He hated the thought of responsibility but knew that it was also unavoidable in this case. Therefore, he would be better prepared and better able to survive the trials to come if he took at least that fact seriously, he decided.

Rissandrea smiled inwardly at the touching moment between the two.

Just then, they were joined by Tobias, wearing a fully packed backpack.

“Tobias. Come to see us off?” asked Rissandrea.

“Not quite” replied the halfling. With a heavy sigh he continued, “I have been instructed by the Emperor himself to attend to your training…”

Magnamus added, “I was wondering what they would do about that. Ah yes, that makes sense now.”

Tobias continued, “Normally your master, Magnamus” before bowing respectfully to the master wizard, who returned his bow with a slow and purposeful nod, “would accompany you on your training to attain the journeyman level. However, there is your unusual little…problem as well isn’t there?”

“Well” started Maestro, “I saw a doctor about that and it turned out I was just sleeping on the wrong sort of mattress and…”

“No Maestro!” came the halfling’s incensed reply, “Your magical problem. The issue of your empathic channelling. Were the great Magnamus,” again the halfling and master wizard repeated their bowing routine, “to accompany you, sooner or later it would effect your own spell casting. You would be drawing power from his lore, not your own…” Tobias couldn’t even believe he was saying this, it truly sounded strange that a student could suffer these effects so strongly. He continued, “It would then not be a demonstration of your powers to certify passed or not, would it? It would be a foreign influence. I am trained in the magical studies of Heavens, Maestro and I have no magical channelling whatsoever. I will be your assessor, making notes and ultimately it will be my recommendation that decides whether you are ready or not for the next level of wizardry…”

The last point he had made quite smugly.

Maestro hated the fact that he would be accompanied by the halfling. This was terrible. He didn’t like someone looking over his shoulder, or trying to on tip toes at the very least, watching his every move, waiting for him to do something wrong. His stomach filled with dread on a whole new level, at the thought of this journey.

Tobias continued, “After a further consultation with my fellow masters at the College, it has been decided that the rules governing the future and fate must be obeyed. Therefore, I am strictly forbidden to make suggestions that could effect the decisions you make. Your fate and ultimately your success of failure must be wholly of your own doing. You may ask of me what you will. My knowledge is yours. I will fight if my own life is in danger, but in no way may I influence your decisions. Is that understood?”

Maestro said, “Yes.” quite flatly in his tone. He thought the entire thing sounded ridiculous, but then that was to be expected from the Celestial College. They knew things about the future, the entire basis of their methods was based on the understanding of cosmological fate. He realised that having this thought of non-understanding of the order, made him stand out even worse as an apprentice, but luckily he had said it internally. That didn’t stop Magnamus smiling at him wryly though. Somehow his master was often able to read his thoughts. He knew him better than anyone, in fact. Even his own mother and father…oh his parents, he was leaving them behind in the city too…he had at least had a chance to say his goodbyes to his father…

Morrslieb was large in the sky, larger than normal. It looked every bit like it was ready to assault the larger moon, Mannslieb at any moment. It was a foreboding night. something in the air was different.

Darkness encompassed everything, everything save for a small candlelight that could for all the help it gave be a mile away.

The light increased in intensity and size until it became blinding, filling the small room which from further investigation turned out to be a doctor’s laboratory-cum-sleeping quarters.

As his eyes slowly adjusted to the room’s illumination which seemed to dim, adequately illuminating the surrounding area, his shadow began to extend until it was three times the length of his body – an unusual event, given the source of the light, a small oil lamp on the wall.

A light and somewhat scratchy whispering sound filled the room and his head, radiating through his body and into his soul. He began to make out words within the scratching sounds and as he did so, they rose to a cacophonous white noise. White noise with no specific sounds but teeming with thoughts, feelings and sensations of rage, distrust and deepest dark desire for something long lost.

As he tried to pull together his mind, to sort between his own thoughts and those belonging to the “other” his eyes became drawn to his shadow on the wall. Oddly it had lost its angular upwards bend where the floor met the wall at a right angle. The overall shape had become clearer and more defined. It fully formed into a black spectral figure of his own height and build before his very eyes. He had been dreaming but he was unsure if this was happening for real or not.

The figure before him had no features, save for two glowing red eyes, as if lit by the fires of some long forgotten dimension of chaos.

Suddenly the manifestation screamed at Dieter with a voice like dry leaves being blown by the lightest of winter breezes, “You! You did this to me!” Its spectral finger pointed at him in accusation.

At once, as if on cue the room began to transform around him.

No longer was he standing in the house. He found himself in the centre of a large circular roofless auditorium, surrounded on all sides by massive pillars that seemed to stretch all the way up into the Heavens. Massive stain glass windows depicting key moments in history were set upon the walls at evenly spaced intervals, showing between the pillars. He could feel some presence watching him from all around, like an audience of expectation in all directions. He felt just like a slave awaiting his fate in a gladiatorial arena. He could see no door out of the area. The floor was made of a smooth marble. The clouds were close, as if he were high up, away from anything. Higher even than the uppermost mountain peek in existence. He felt so unworthy, so small. He hated that feeling and hated whoever had brought him here for making him feel that way.

Suddenly it seemed as if the pillars began to transform. Their shapes were becoming definable, recognizable even. They were becoming statues of people…no not people, he realised, Gods!

He looked around him and recognised the gods set into the stone, their stern unmoving features were somewhat like those he had seen in books of religious study yet they were a little different too, he thought. If this was his imagination, surely he would have seen them in the way he recognised them.

None the less, he saw the appearing forms of Shallya, Verena, Morr and one he did not recognize. He could feel that others were present but they had not showed themselves yet.

The Goddess Verena, a woman of dignified serious disposition carried a sword in one hand and held a pair of scales in the other was first to speak, although her lips did not move, “Dieter De’ath, you have been summoned here to answer for crimes you have committed against nature, against Morr himself.”

Dieter was in resignation. His body slumped in defeat before the statuesque apparitions before him. It must be night. He’d overslept…damn, he thought.

Morr’s gaze was upon him. He was a tall man, with an aristocratic air about him and a darkness was visible in his eyes, though a statue, he could feel the piercing intent of harm from the God as he spoke next, “You stole him from me! He belongs to me, as must you all in time.”

Dieter staggered as this voice boomed out aggressively at him with a supremacy that threw him off balance. He realised that the shadowy form connected to him had tethered him in place, binding Dieter at his feet where his body met the dark humanoid shape.

Morr continued, “By the rites of justice, I demand to take this one’s soul and the one he keeps from me.”

The glorious statue form of Shallya, whose eyes were large and caring, set into an innocent face with several tear drops depicted running down her cheek interrupted, “And by those same rights we are here to decide this one’s fate. You of all people should know of fate, father, showing it in dreams to your most worthy of followers.”

“Well…and me” Dieter said quietly, but not quietly enough. Morr’s tolerance was strained to its limits as he snapped, “You only see those things because of the embodiment of your sins, of that which you restrain unto your flesh, of that which is unnatural, against the law of nature. Your very existence is an aberration to the order of balance.”

Verena spoke, “It is not your place to decide on judgement, husband. Regardless of how foolishly he chooses his words.”

Dieter did not dare speak his mind, after the last time, he kept his thoughts internal, “Oh great, a lovers tiff and a problem child, that’s all I need.”

A forth voice chimed in. The God he did not recognize, in the form of a large bare-chested man with wild hair, wearing a loincloth and bearing a spear. He spoke with a deep gruff tone and accent that reminded him of the Kislevite he had recently travelled with. “Perhaps it would be better to defer to the wisdom of the lady here. Her compassion should inspire a balance of reason in you.”

Shallya commented at once, “Thank you for understanding, Ursun. I would bring to light now that this man has no compassion in his heart. He has acted solely for himself. The punishment should therefore fit the crime.”

There was silence. Dieter could feel his own heart beating in his ears as Morr was first to speak again, “As always daughter, you impress upon me a truth that I had not seen. You get your wisdom from your mother. Very well then.”

Verena, the Goddess of learning and justice spoke decidedly, “Then before those gathered here, by the laws which bind us all, I pass sentence upon thee Dieter De’ath of Stirland. You have lived a selfish life, thinking only of yourself, leaving others to ruin in your gain. You will soon learn what it is to care for another’s well being, mortal. The four that you travelled with since this morn were impressed upon your future, whether you wish it or not. Now their fates too will be impressed upon yours.”

With those words, Dieter felt a searing pain burning into his chest, like a hot branding iron against his naked flesh. He restrained a scream and pulled his shirt aside to look. Upon his chest he had been marked with the signs of a dove, a bear, the rune of Azyr and the “Wilwart symbol” of a black rose inside an alchemy vial, Tobias’s family crest.

Verena continued her sentence, “When the last flicker of life leaves the eyes of the final member of this group, so shall your soul be forfeit and belong to Morr, when your sins shall be answered for. I have spoken. So shall it be.”

The pain in Dieter’s chest became suddenly unbearable. He clutched himself in agony, bent double as his surroundings began to swirl out of focus around him. He clenched his eyes shut to stop the unfolding scene making him vomit and then…then all was normal again. He opened his eyes and could see that he was standing inside his house once more. His legs were shaking, his breathing unnatural. He tore aside his shirt and looked, expecting to see the branded marks. In truth, he had expected nothing though, that this was a dream. To his horror however, he saw the proof that it had been all too real. There upon him were the crests, deep in his skin.

Quickly he buttoned up his shirt, packed a few supplies and thought: Which way were they leaving again? Ah yes, by the river.

He ran, in desperate haste, as if the fate of everything rested on him being on that river vessel in time. The chaos moon shone mockingly in the sky above him. He almost stumbled and kept himself upright by holding onto a nearby couple. As he ran on, he heard their shouting complaints behind him. They were not his concern. He concentrated his thoughts on finding the shortest route possible.

The river barge was beginning to pull away. Maestro, Rissandrea, Tordrad and Tobias waved to Magnamus and was that? Yes, Maestro’s father had appeared to wave him off. He had made it in time for one last goodbye, albeit from a distance.

Dieter had jumped over the ticket office barrier and continued past the guard stationed there. There was a shout of complaint from the nearby staff, as Dieter threw a handful of coins on the floor behind him. That should be enough, he thought. He could see the barge now. It was too late! It had gone out too far. No, there was still a chance. It would pass by the city bridge up ahead but he knew he would have to beat it there.

He ran with all his might and there he saw a horse. It belonged to a soldier who was preparing to leave for the war. Dieter ran past the man, took up the beast’s reigns, put a foot into the stirrup and deftly hoisted himself upon the horse. Upon landing, he immediately brought his boots hard into the creature’s flanks, pressing it into action in one fluid movement. Now he had a chance. He ignored the angry threats from the armed man left standing behind him. He didn’t matter.

As the group watched the barge passing through the city scenery, Tordrad spotted a very strange sight indeed. He pointed and said, “Dieter.”

The others looked and saw that quite unbelievably, Dieter was riding a horse through the city keeping apace with the barge as it moved. He pressed the great creature forwards. It was beginning to pick up speed, but the barge was moving away at a different angle now, putting yet more distance between them.

The bridge was coming up soon. Dieter drove the horse forwards, knocking a few people down in his haste. They didn’t matter either. Soon he was at the bridge. It was almost too late. He jumped down from the horse, looked and saw that the barge beneath had already disappeared to the other side of the bridge. He turned and ran blindly, with no idea if he was going to make it in time. He closed his eyes and jumped. He dared not pray. After his experiences with the Gods, he did not want to involve them anymore.

With a crash he landed, on something hard, firm. Water was not firm, he thought. Had he made it?

He opened his eyes and saw the scenery of the city was moving past him, even though he himself was not moving. He was sitting upon a cargo container, high atop a pile of similar ones. Everybody present on the barge was looking up at him.

He stood up, clambered down from the crates and boxes until he reached the deck where he casually brushed himself off, as if he’d meant to do it all.

The group had arrived at him.

Maestro was first to speak, “Hello Dieter! I thought you weren’t coming with us after all?”

Dieter shifted awkwardly on the spot and rubbed his still sore chest through his buttoned up shirt, “I guess you left an impression on me.” He said, and walked along the deck with them to take a seat.

It was going to be a long journey…