Pol's Tale - Part 3

From The Final Challenge Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

When I woke up a few hours later, Keller was gone. He had apparently had mercy on my sorry hide and let me sleep. He even covered my tab. Speaking with him, however, put me in a pensive mood, damn the man. Some things I preferred not thinking about, and now my overactive little mind was buzzing. Buzzing with the aftermath of too much brandy and too many memories. I took a deep breath and staunchly squashed my mind's tendancy to wander. There will be no nightmares this night.

I breathed a sigh of relief, and nearly choked as my head exploded. Breathing is hard some days.

The harsh light of the Loth Llorien Inn (a single table candle, actually) drove me to my feet. It was not quite morning, and sleep would be impossible come light. Far too many hunters around when the light shined, and I preferred my native element: the soft, warm blanket of darkness. I really felt poorly today, but not nearly as poorly as I did some days in my youth. Oddly, I had both of my parents, and they were sincerely good people, but some deviant streak in me made me be what I started my life as: a thief. It was just too much fun. That's always been my problem, I liked to have fun too much. And, in the eternally fair cosmic scheme, I always paid for it.

For some reason, the conversation about Godzilla made me remember Jander. Jander (despite everything bad he was: Killer, Oathbreaker, Cheater, Liar, Republican) was a powerful warrior. Not as powerful as Godzilla was, but he had something Godzilla did not. He had desire. Where Godzilla had power as the mountain cat, natural, raw and unquenchable, Jander had power as a raging inferno, consuming everything in its path on its rise to greatness.

And great he became. Like so many mortals these days, he pleased the Gods, and became one of them. He led a following of evil men, bent on destruction. Yet, we live in a world where law is supreme. And he broke those laws. One day I strolled down the Avenue of the Gods, and his temple was a smoldering ruin; his following broken and gone. He had met his just and timely demise.

I sat back down suddenly as a face appeared I had hoped not to see this evening. Ozymandius strode in bellowing for wenches, beer and a comfortable chair. I had to grin to myself. Ozymandius may be just another armor clad, thick-necked warrior, but he had excellent priorities.

He shot a quick look around the Inn, as any veteran would, and spied me right away. Smiling as he walked, casually knocking patrons and staff aside, he approached me with no hesitation. There was once a day when men would tremble at my presence, but something told me red-rimmed eyes and a face too boyish to be called manly no longer awed them.

"POL!", he bellowed, nearly extinguishing my candle. Purple and green spots erupted before my eyes as the shock from his deep resonant voice invaded my chest like a sledge-hammer.

"Hello Ozy" I said weakly. For some reason, having Ozymandius here made many of my bad memories recede into the darkness for a while. I still remember him as the lad I first met, when I could have claimed dominion over the world. Shorter than Keller, yet much thicker, he moved like an avalanche. Hardly graceful, but entirely unstoppable. Back then, however, he was much more timid. I can recall times when during my travels I would find odd items, and I would simply give them to him. I could always judge character, and Ozymandius always seemed to me to be a fair person. He followed no god at the moment, yet he had a sense of justice. So, I helped him however I could.

"It's been ages Pol! How have you been?"

"Not too bad, I suppose. Just trying to have a quiet night," I hinted. I secretly thought Ozy would be much happier riding on a Dragonship with a horned helmet, wearing furs. At least Keller was soft-spoken.

"Quiet! Hardly the Pol I remember. Where have you been?"

I knew this question would come up sometime, and I wished I had an answer that wouldn't spawn more conversation. I shrugged. No place else to go today, and I know a sleepless night will be waiting for me if I try to go home. Might as well...

"In truth Ozy, I've been learning a new trade."

Ozymandius let out a raccous guffaw. "A new trade?!," he laughed. "I can see it now. Pol, Master Mage, Journeyman Rogue, and Apprentice Dressmaker!"

I gave him a moment to laugh; he deserved it. Not too often does one get a word up on me, and I might as well be sporting about it. He did, however, laugh too long. I actually would not have minded, but he drew some attention to me, and the other patrons of the Inn looked at me with a mixture of curiousity and patronization. I had taken great pains not to be recognized, but anyone with any experience would know who I was when they saw me. I felt a growl grow in the back of my throat. This was quite enough.

I concentrated a moment, and every fire in the Inn flared to a blazing inferno, blinding everyone except me. Thunder crashed, and wind buffeted the tiny establishment as the sky grew a deep angry red. Outside, I heard the screams of a terrorized city running for shelter. Ozymandius' beard was slightly singed, and his eyes were as wide as saucers. He had fallen backwards in his chair, smashing it to splinters with his great bulk. He had stopped laughing.

With barely a thought I stopped the spell, and all grew quiet again. I hadn't even moved, save a light squint of my eyes. "You did mention Master Mage, didn't you?"

Ozymandius grinned lightheartedly. He knew he could wrench my head from my body if he really wanted to. He also knew he wouldn't be walking without a limp for the rest of his life if he tried. After several years of a reputation for being a has-been, it felt good to let loose.

"Very nice," he said.

I grinned inwardly, perhaps a little smugly, as he hefted his significant self from the floor. He bellowed once again for a comfortable chair while simultaneously cursing whatever pointy-eared, barely competent craftsman had made such a poorly designed and haphazardly constructed piece of furniture. The chair arrived quickly, as the innkeeper fawned, muttering apologies while picking up bits of wood from around my table.

"So," he said casually. "What line of business are you in now? Finally decided to give up the adventurer's life and be a merchant prince?"

"Hardly," I replied, puffing on a cigar I had created automatically from thin-air. "I have quite enough money to put me up in style for a very long time."

Expending the mana for the spell cleared my head quite a bit. I felt almost cheery. Almost.

"In fact, I've taken on the responsibility of being a Ranger. And if you laugh, I'll turn you into something slimy."

He smiled, and quietly nodded his head. I was somewhat taken aback. The Ozymandius I remember would have laughed louder and harder just to see if I really meant what I said.

"Actually Pol, I had heard that," he said, taking a mug from the serving wenches tray and dropping a few coins (far more than enough) casually in her palm.

"How is it that a city-boy, raised and bred to stalk the streets and libraries of the great capitols of the world, takes to the forests?"

I shrugged uncomfortably. Deep down, I knew this question would come up, and I allowed it. So much for being clever. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I replied, waving the wench back over.

"Try me," Ozymandius replied with a mischievious grin.

"All right then," I said, sounding more self-assured than I really felt. "It's all because of a woman."

There, I said it. After so many many years I actually admitted it. A woman, who said barely a word, that I had met but once, had driven me into drink, then the forests. I met her quite by accident. During my youth, my religious background was quite solid. I had met Sinclair at an early age, and asked him for allowance to follow his teachings. I had expected him to shoo me away, since I had made my living as a thief then, having not studied magic yet, and had no plans to change. Yet, he accepted me with great warmth and wisdom, telling me that he too had been a thief once. He was a kind master, and he pointed me in the right direction. I was sincerely happy for quite a long time. I had taken up the arts of magic, studying my first minor cantrips with Starfire, and progressing into master in a short time. I led a fruitful life, and grew rich. I had even helped many on their own roads. This became my demise.

Her name was Marisa, and she was so very very young. She had accidently wandered, or perhaps was sent by a mischievious mage, into the great sewers of a ruined city far to the east. Normally, I would have sent Lazarus to do this type of thing. As a great cleric, he could have easily pulled her from the clutches of death by simply calling on his power of summoning. Of course, Lazarus was no where to be found that evening, so I went. I had great aspirations for being a rescuer. Help those weaker than yourself, Sinclair had said, and I took this to mean "help people, and they'll give you things."

I had approached stealthily, and under the guise of invisibility. She was besieged by the foul denizens of this underground labrynth when I stumbled upon her, barely holding her own. She, however, had no such protection as invisibility, and in the dim light I could tell she was tired, fending off the foul beasts for gods know how long. Acting quickly, I engulfed the room with fire. So precise was my control, I could have easily lit the wick of a single candle in a room, while melting all the others and bringing the teapot to a perfect boil, all without even slightly charring the linens. Amidst the chaos, I could hear the screams of agony as the mud monsters and lemurs of the lower realm burned. Yet, when the smoke had cleared, the tired and almost-beaten form of my little refugee was untouched, and ultimately, unharmed.

Then she turned to me, and life as I knew it changed. Her perfect blue eyes, and slim turn of cheek burned me as I had burned the monsters of this place. In the ebbing light of my banner, I could see her angelic presence in all its glory. My heart stopped beating, and the world stopped turning, and for a moment I thought I had been the victim, and she the savior. But this was to be a short-lived moment. Her strong will broke me from my musings. "Thank you" was all she said as I led her out into the light of day. She smiled at me, and wandered away home. All I could do was stare at the place she had stood a moment before, thinking of what would make a suitable shrine.

"You know," Ozymandius said softly. "You're not the first man to have gone gaga over a woman. Though I hardly think it would have caused a century of self-destruction."

"I'm strange in that regard Ozy," I replied. I even managed a smile.

He just shook his head, sadly perhaps, and went about drinking his beer. After a moment, he spoke.

"You mentioned you studied with Starfire?"

"Yes, I did. Now he was an interesting character."

Starfire was easily the most powerful mage the world had seen at that time. He followed Madman for his entire career before he slipped into the Vortex, that place where so many Guild members go when they no longer have a place in the world. Despite being a follower of madness and chaos, he was one of the best and truest friends I had. I still miss him on occasion, and took my penchant for random acts of generousity directly from him. One day, he found me rather worse for wear after a run in with some Midgard cityguards, and taught me how to call upon magic to shield myself from attack. I took the liberty of showing how to conceal himself in the shadows. From that point on, I learned much about magic from him, always a little here or there. After his dissapearance into the vortex, I had learned enough from him to become a Master with time. He ws a patient and generous teacher, and never withheld the secrets of the craft. Some rumors persist that he had a falling out with the gods of the realm. Yet, I still persevere in my hopes he'll come back one day, if for no other reason than to show him how well his only student had done for a while.

"Huh," Ozymandius grunted. "Interesting."

"Yeah, interesting" I replied smiling. "I think it's time for me to renew my guild affiliation."

"Don't be ridiculous Pol," Ozy said with a grin. "You haven't paid dues there since before the world was young. They'll never let you in."

We shared a smile as I walked away, sparing a moment for a friendly pat on the shoulder of my old comrade. As I strode towards the door, I faded from existance as I recited the words as Starfire had taught me. It was time to see who remained of my past, and what remained of my future.

Pol's Tale - Part 4