Pol's Tale - Part 6
I left Midgard under cover of invisibility, and strode into the Haon'dor forests. My target: the Half-elven camp. I really needed to speak to my Uncle Jacek. If anyone could help me, he could. Now that the proverbial cat was let out of the bag, my mind was swamped with images of Marisa, and her blue eyes. If I didn't shape up soon, it will be time for me to take my final rest in the Vortex, like so many others before me.
As I approached the split in the path thad led south into the Half-elven tent village, I heard the crack of a twig as it snapped underfoot. I froze, and strained to hear what approached. Before I heard my visitor though, I smelled him. The pungent odor of rotting animal hides, and the foul smell the herbs used to make Shamanic tattoos was just too familiar.
My day just went from bad to hellish in the blink of an eye.
"Hello Sadow," I said as nonchalantly as I could, as I looked over my shoulder to see him. He was as I remembered him my first day out of the Vortex. Greasy black hair, enormous gaps in his yellowed teeth, tattoos and bead rattles and animal skulls adorning every inch of his emanciated body.
"Hello, Pol," he rasped. Then he began the chant I remember so well. I didn't take him seriously then, since shamen were non-existant in my time. I learned the hard way. The chant was just the precursor to the most painful magic I had ever experienced. The rift. It didn't manifest itself physically as all the spells I cast did. You couldn't see it, but by Tynian's teeth, you could *feel* it. It was like having your spine removed through your nose.
I cast a small cantrip, as quickly as I could. "MooooOOooooo" came the bellow of the phantom cow in the distance. Sadow's eyes went from bloodshot and fierce to dreamy and love-struck in a heartbeat. He turned to look into the forest, and I took my moment to run as fast as my little legs could carry me.
The trees blurred through my sweat stinging eyes as I sped through the depths of the Haon'dor. I saw the tops of tents through the trees, and realized that safety lie just a few strides away. That's when the searing pain of Sadow's rift took me. I dropped to my knees from a dead run, rolling through the leaves to come to an abrupt stop at the base of a hollow stump. I barely noticed the cuts from stick and stone as my back was arched in agony. He floated a few feet off the ground, just a few paces away. I didn't know shamen had mastered the art of flight, and he had easily caught up with me. I cursed myself. None of my usual magical protections were up. Just a simple shield spell to keep branches from snagging my clothes, and not the mighty stone skin.
I had no other choice but to fight. I concentrated for a moment, and flung a bolt of lightning. It flew unerringly and struck Sadow right over the heart. The sizzle of burning fur told me it hit true. But when my vision returned after the flash, all I saw was the tell-tale warp of Sadow's protective cloak shimmering. He grinned, and began his chant again. I looked death in the face, and realized he needed a shave and a bath.
His second rift hurt just as bad as the first. My vision blurred, and every muscle in my wiry frame bunched into rock hard knots. I couldn't even concentrate enough to form a simple magic missile, the most rudimentary of all my attack spells. My whole world consisted of a small pile of leaves under my nose, wracking pain, and the pure innocent face of my little elven girl.
Sadow's chant rose to a crescendo, and I knew my time was very short. I considered throwing another spell, just to let him know I didn't give up. Then thought better of it--I *had* given up. Sadow's chanting became fevered, then abruptly stopped as the heat and force of exploding flame washed over my back. Then words I hadn't heard in a century drifted into my befuddled head.
"Pzar," I heard a male voice say. A wave of warmth washed over me, and I felt better than I had in ages. I gave my head a little shake, and looked up in time to see Jerald, my old companion standing a few feet away. Beside him, a figure I recognized only from heresay, Jaator, crouched low in the brush, alert for further danger.
Jaator said not a word as he faded back into the trees. Jerald just looked at me with a mixture of odd sadness and near contempt.
"Your time has long passed, old friend," he said walking away. "It's a sad thing when heroes from childhood turn out pathetic and careless. Better to have remained a memory."
Then he left. I suppose at a different time I would have been offended, but it's hard to be angry at someone that just pulled your arse from the fire. Besides, he had made a good point. Remaining a memory is sometimes the best thing.
I ran the remaining distance to the village, passing the unconcerned and overpaid mercenaries my people were wasting their money on. I splashed through the stream to the Altar, where I knew my Uncle would be sitting in quiet meditation. Well, not meditation exactly. I knew a family secret no one else did. Uncle Jacek, like me, was a lazy slug. He did, however, learn more from listening than doing. Hence, despite his overwhelming lack of ambition, he was a leader in the village and well-known for his wisdom.
I approached respectfully, and plopped down next to my uncle in the shady spot. Jacek barely lifted his head from the napping position, but I could tell his eyes were open.
"What brings you here, Pol?" he asked.
I struggled to get comfortable for a moment, then realized I was stalling. Might as well get it over with. "Well, Jacek, I've been very confused lately. Seems like I'm in a constant state of living memories, and trying to revive past glories."
"And the girl?" he asked. (Smugly if you ask me.)
I sighed. He had me again, damn the man. Pinned down like a chicken at Marty's.
"She haunts me still, Uncle."
"Pol, why do you insist on dwelling on the past?"
"That's easy for you to say!" I replied with more heat than I had intended. "You live in an eternal now. A constant state. I'm a Guild member; the world is different for me. We fight constantly, and strive for power, riches, and revenge. We live and die, engage in tragedy and triumph. And through it all, I really only need to know one thing. Why? Why did I lose my place? Why do I torture myself with drunkenness? Why do I fight vile monsters and risk my life daily? Why do I live in fear of unwashed and crude hedge magicians?"
I was on the verge of tears after my outburst. Things do seem meaningless here sometimes. The struggle for power supercedes every instinct we may have, and undoes everything of lasting importance.
"You already have the answer," he said smiling. I knew he was more elven than human then. A suitably vague reponse forcing introspection. I grumbled something to that effect under my breath.
"Pol, you do the ONLY thing that has meaning here."
"What's that, Uncle?" I asked, more than afraid of the answer.
He smiled a rich and warm smile. "More often than not, you have fun."