A Chance encounter
By Jesse Seidel
The gentle sloping meadows were abuzz with susurrations of the grass interpreting the wind into their rustle and the ever present whirring of cicadas. Amid the field of green was a half-naked figure resting in the midday sun, causing the dew stained grass to glisten.
“Master Tirok! Master Tirok!” shouted a young boy, just barely entering his teens. His burlap robes impeding his ascent up the hill, as he repeatedly stumbled. “Master Tirok, there you are! We had training today, right?” The youth asked, using the back of his head to block the sun from hitting his master.
“Grhn…” Tirok groaned, swatting his hand to command his apprentice to move. “’m up.” He muttered, standing up to emphasis this. Rolling his shoulders, he looked down at the boy the cabal forced him to train with derision, “Go meditate, Goran. You need to be in tune with your surroundings. I need to get ready…” He said. With a swipe of his hand and a thrum in the air, a thin slab of ice plopped into his hand as the heat was sucked out of the water vapor in the air.
“Aw man! I thought we were done with the beginner stuff! Aren’t sorcerer’s ‘sposed ‘ta be powerful?” Goran whined, “Why do ya need to get ready anyway? All you’re gonna do is look at yourself for ten minutes. We’re mages who cares if our hair is neat or if yer kilt is clean! We can do magic.” The apprentice explained, as one might to a small child. “Er…master.” He tacked on hastily, remembering who he was talking to.
“Look kid, just because I have to train ya, doesn’t mean that I got to change my schedule to fit you. Now scram! Master must keep an image.” Tirok commanded, eliciting the petulant whines of his charge.
“Yes, Master…” Goran muttered, kicking the ground as he walked, causing grass and dead cicadas to be carried by the wind. “Huh…thought it rained here recently…”
Tirok, enraptured with making the reflection on the ice mirror look as flawless as possible, did not hear this. In fact, so enraptured was he that he did not register Goran’s scream for a good few seconds. “Goran?! Did you manage to fall down a gentle slope?!” Pinching the bridge of his nose, he’d mutter, “By the Elements, why’d the cabal think I could train someone to be like me”
“Oh Tirok how could you ever hope to get back into their good graces if you let the boy die?” Came a voice that was as even and lifeless as a wasteland. Alarmed, Tirok turned to face the voice. The owner of which was holding a recumbent Goran in a maggot infested hand, the flesh of which seemed as attached to the bone as a glove would be to a hand.
“M-master…” Came the weak cries of Goran. To Tirok’s horror, the arm in which he was being held gained a sallow pallor, the veins within blackened as the newcomer’s necrosis spread.
“Let him go, Horad! You have no quarrel with him!” Tirok shouted, hands splayed. The anger in his voice was mimicked by the arcs of crackling saffron energy coiling like snakes at his fingertips. “If not, then I swear to the Elements that I will sear the sad remains of your flesh from your bones!”
A childish, maddened, chittering laugh came from Horad. It brought to Tirok’s mind beetles tumbling, their carapaces colliding into one another. “I crawled my way out of a collapsed temple! I have conquered death itself! I Life and death are plaything! Do you think fire will stop me?! I do not become a sobbing wreck when my face is marred, because I value power!” One lidless eye, marred with cataracts looked to Goran, “In fact, wasn’t your little burden here going on about how he wanted power? Well don’t worry Tirok! I’ll take the little tyke under my wing! He will know power when I bequeath unto him perfection! He will never hunger. Disease will balk at the sight of him! He will know how to follow orders. All I have to do is raise him as one of m-argh!”
Horad recoiled as a flurry of rocks pelted him, sinking into and tearing his flesh as if it were putty. Reflexively, the necromancer dropped Goran and stumbled backwards, clutching the tattered cloth that hid his form.
Tirok could only watch this in horror. ‘By the Elements…’ he quailed internally. ‘The necrotic bastard’s right. If I didn’t spend so much time looking at my damnable reflection!’ Looking upon the looming, haggard figure nearing his apprentice, he could not act under reason, his legs acted despite his thoughts and rationale and he rushed forward. Horad was bent over, bare phalanges tightening on Goran’s throat when Tirok leapt, a scream of pure fury and panic ravaging his throat. His hand was splayed and orange energy coalesced into a gout of fire that blossomed forth. Waves of heat cascaded across Horad’s face. Linen bandages were reduced to cinders and the acrid smell of burnt flesh, both fresh and rotted was in the air. The sheer force of the spell caused all three to careen backwards causing grass to wither and rot where Horad bounced and eventually landed after tumbling to the chorus of bones snapping and muscles tearing. With a last, rasping incantation rocks and shards of blackened bone rose from the soon to be inert corpse and tore at Tirok.
“G-goran…” Tirok muttered, crawling towards his fallen apprentice. Every inch was pain. Even the breeze, which he enjoyed not ten minutes ago wreaked its havoc as its once gentle caress attacked his burnt face. Eventually, after several agonizing minutes the Master made it to the apprentice. “No…” Said Tirok, barely above a whisper. Then, feeling as if the world would stop if he did not, he said it again. And again. It was broken, it was primal, it was a mantra full of grief and desperation increasing in tempo as Tirok cradled Goran in his arms. The boy had multiple burns across his body from Tirok’s attack. His arm was almost as bright and as lifeless as snow.
“Hrgn…Mast…er.” Goran groaned, seeing Tirok through bleary eyes. “’m sorry, Master…Your hurt cause of me.” He said. His tried to cover his face in shame, but only accomplished covering half of his face and nearly passing out from the pain.
“Don’t be silly, my apprentice. I’m fi-“Tirok tensed as pain wracked his body. Hesitantly, Tirok placed his hand over his face. He could feel where Horad’s last attack tore out his flesh, the wounds swiftly cauterized by the heat of his own attack. “I’m fine.” He firmly said, chipping tried blood from his brow. “Now sleep.” Tirok intoned. As soon as the words left his lips, Goran slipped into the tumultuous slumber of the nearly dead.
Hesitantly, Tirok drew the sleek, obsidian dagger he always kept in a scabbard on his kilt. The dagger thrummed with arcane might as the runes inscribed on the hilt flared to life, emanating a grey glow. Panting haggardly, trying to psyche himself up, he would slash. The runes gave the blade the sharpness of a gale and aided in severing Goran’s necrotic, gangrenous limb. The boy’s face scrunched up in pain, but not even this could awaken him, so powerful his exhaustion.
Tirok then began to chant, eyes and hands crackling with emerald lightning. Staining his hand with his own blood, he thrusted his hand out, palming the earth below. As the blood flowed from his hand, imbued with the verdant magic, the earth began to constrict and bunch until a rune covered stone arm formed, craggy and obviously stone, but incredibly detailed and durable. Placing the end of the arm to Goran’s stump, Tirok’s blood soaked hand flared with life energies. His own arm began to dry and crack. The blood that once flowed through the limb began to turn to slurry.
When Tirok was done he was akin to the far off sages who imbibed in certain herbs to be granted prophetic visions. Aged and slightly stoned. His hair, once as vibrant as the flames he conjured, were now slate gray, matching his arm. His apprentice however was snoring quite loudly. No longer under the threat of his infection he slept not due to magic or death, but simple exhaustion.
As Tirok walked to pick up his apprentice to bring him, the slab of ice he conjured caught his eye. Seeing his reflection he could see he looked old and haggard, as if aging fifty years in half as many minutes. His face, once clear and unmarred, was now wrinkled and wreathed with scars of all sorts.
“Serves me right-“He began to say when suddenly his mind shifted to the words of Horad, ‘I don’t become a sobbing wreck when my face is marred’ “Well fuck that. Who cares? Not going to let that bastard get the last laugh from beyond his…second? Third? Grave. All that matters is Goran’s safe.” He said, stepping on the mirror as he brought Goran’s slumbering body home.