Glass shards explode outwards as the small wooden stool bursts through the window, followed immediately by the cloaked young man, who tucks into a roll as he plummets to the gooseberry bushes below.
He had encountered creatures of the mysterious ocean depths, seen the dead rise and walk the earth, stood face to face with a God upon the Celestial plane, and had suffered the attention of Demonic forces, but never before had he encountered something so…alien.
He springs up from the flattened shrubs; his knife leaping from sleeve to hand as he turns to face the shattered window, and for a moment he flashes back to the events brought him to this place.
The goblin drums his clawed fingers on the card-strewn tabletop impatiently as his bodyguards usher the last of the other players from the back room. He smiles a sharp-toothed grin at the young man standing before him, but is unable to disguise the confusion in his eyes.
“Flint, my friend. I’d heard you were no longer chasing the dragon…which makes me wonder what brings you to my humble domicile this evening?”
The young man idly passes a silver coin from knuckle to knuckle, dexterously passing it back and forth until, with a flick of his wrist, it became a small packet of blue powder, dancing along the back of his hand. He pinches it between his thumb and forefinger and holds it where the goblin can see it.
”I’m looking for something.”
The goblin laughs gleefully, genuinely.
“ Zephyr? Your old pal Merwek can help you with that. How much are you looking for?”
“Sorry. I misspoke. I’m actually looking for someone.” The young man pauses, and looks into the goblin’s yellow eyes. “Marcus Adamo.”
The grin slips from the goblin’s face, and his expression hardens. But the young man has known the goblin for a long time, and can tell when he has something to hide. The grin that slides onto the adolescent’s face does not contain quite as many teeth, but it is just as wide.
He might not be able to threaten the information out of his old dealer, but he knows how to charm his way to success. Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t to fight or to flee, but to approach your problems with open arms.
The goblin wheezes, shuddering with laughter, doubling over in the throes of mirth, and slaps the young man on his back repeatedly. His speech is slurred, his eyes are unfocused and his breath reeks with the fumes of Bhelian Gløgg. The young man laughs along, but his words are articulate, his eyes are clear, and his tankard has not yet had to been refilled once over the past hour even though he had been raising it to his lips many a time.
The young man has been given a lot to think about. The goblin has been telling him about his dreams, dreams about the young man, dreams that make no sense, dreams about things that had yet to occur, dreams that bore an uncanny similarity to a vision he’d once had.
“I want you to have this.” The goblin fumbles for something in his pouch. “It might keep you safe if they come for you. It’s not much, but it might make the difference between life and death.” His clawed hand passes a small charm into Flint’s. “I never believed those things they were whispering about you. I knew you weren’t like that. I know you. And I know you can be trusted.”
“I’ll tell you what you want to know Flint. But you need to do a job for me in exchange. It’s nothing big. I need you to boost something for me. The guy used to be part of the Guild until he had a falling out, so I need someone who has experience with that. Someone like you.”
The young man considers this. His personal rule has always been to avoid the Mage Guild, in any shape or form, whenever possible. But he and his companions need this information. So he agrees.
“Good, good. I knew I could count on you Flint. Here’s the address. You’ll want to go tonight. He’s out of town now, but I don’t know how long that will last.”
The mage’s residence is a chaotic medley of thaumaturgical curiosities. Spell reagents spill unceremoniously from dishes and tins, alchemical fluids rest in vials and flasks organized in some incomprehensible system upon shelves, half written scrolls litter the floor, and various tomes lie open haphazardly upon tables with scraps of parchments scrawled with notes stuffed between the pages. Runes and diagrams inscribed in chalk decorate the walls and ceiling, and various small creatures and insects chirp and scurry in the cages and glass jars stored in every free space.
The young man was never the ideal student, but even so the philosophy of approaching magical study with both order and care has been drilled into his training. The tumultuous disorder of this room is nearly incomprehensible.
He begins his search, no easy task in the bedlam that surrounds him, looking for what he was sent to retrieve.
At last he finds what he seeks, and tucks the phial away safely. He turns to go, but catches sight of something on the tabletop across the room. It appears as if one of the scrolls has been completed, endowed with magical intent, and ready to use. Valuable.
He moves to cross the room, but hears a crunch from underfoot. Lifting his boot he recognizes the crushed shards of a Spell Stone, and senses the triggering of an unfamiliar spell.
Magical energy percolates out of the fabric of reality that surrounds the young man, coalescing into a form that defies the geometry of this plane of existence. Invisible, intangible, and yet the young man can feel its presence even behind shut eyelids. He hurls a stool through the window and dives through the shattered remnants moments later.
He is followed.
The young man slows his breathing, watching the ruined window frame. He tries to concentrate. That being…impossible to see, to hear, and yet…it’s almost like he’s in the presence of a spell that’s being cast, that moment where a subtle, immaterial, inexpressible vibration in the nature of reality signals the release of sorcerous energy…except that moment now seems to be never-ending.
He focuses, and hurls his blade. It flies true. And passes through the being without slowing, striking the wall behind it. The thing descends, moving down on the young man steadily, relentlessly. He seeks his Powerstone beneath his cloak, and reaches as deep as possible within it, draining it to fuel his incantation. His fingers move in cryptic patterns as he chants in an arcane tongue in order to release the gift buried deep within him.
The gooseberry bush is engulfed in flames, the conflagration willed into existence by the young man’s will. Without his Salamander’s Heart the intensity of the flames strikes him like a tidal wave of heat, the brightness of the fire blinding him. The gooseberry bushes are consumed within moments, unable to stand against the hungry blaze. But the young man can sense that the entity doesn’t slow, even though the inferno is centered upon it. It reaches out for him, its presence almost grazing the young man.
Out of options, the young man flees. He doesn’t run for home. He can’t be responsible for bringing this thing down upon his companions. He can’t be responsible for bringing it down upon anyone. He heads for the river.
He is followed.
Days pass. The young man plods along the country road, exhausted; his cloak still stained with gooseberries, his boots still smelling of river-water. He has begun to doubt what he knows, what he sensed, what he remembers. His Powerstone should be almost empty, having been recently drained, but it’s full to the brim with stored energy. Something he cannot see, cannot hear and yet somehow he can feel it. But can he be sure that it’s real? That the Spell Stone he had crushed actually summoned something, when perhaps it had only affected his mind?
He thinks on this as he stumbles along. He makes plans; then discards them. Until at last he comes to a decision.
Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t to fight or to flee, but to approach your problems with open arms.
The thing doesn’t understand charm. It doesn’t understand compassion. It doesn’t understand mercy. But it does want something. And so the young man makes a deal. And it agrees.