It was a quiet night.
“Come younglings, gather ‘round. This past year has been exciting for ol’Morik and I am to share a tale.”
The sun was long gone and a great fire blazed high beside them into the starry above. The many children that attended the annual festival at Uzmorth closed in on Old Morik, eager to listen. Uzmorth was a decent sized village that rested in the kingdom of Tembriss and each year a festival took place commemorating the return of the child-king Volkere 200 years ago. Late at night, for the final day of celebration, all of the adults would return to their homes and the children would be left with the story teller Morik.
The many children sat down at Morik’s feet and stared up into his aging eyes. He was a plump old man. His cheeks, rosy, and his grey hair worn thin swayed to one side. He wore plain leather and cloth clothes that were just the right size for him. His boots were dusty and appeared to be as old as Morik himself. His outfit spoke justly of his character as Morik was a simple man, but an exciting one, at that. He spoke softly then,
“Now children, this year Morik has a tale that will surpass all the rest…”
The children gasped and looked around at each other.
“A tale that will leave you on the edge of your bottoms…”
Smiles shot across their young faces; anticipation was building.
“A tale about me.”
The smiles died down and excitement mellowed into wonder. Confused, one child spoke up,
“Morik, the stories you usually tell us are about dragons and necromancers! Heretics and chimeras! How could a story of you be any better than they?” A few more children murmured their agreements.
“Ahh, patience,” Morik began. “I have yet to spin this tale, for I have preserved for you tonight a story most unusual, yes.”
The children’s attention was grasped once more.
“A few longs ago, I visited onto Aedarin along with a group of fame-seekers. This was during the era of Tembriss’ Great Hunt. Do you know of this?” Morik stopped and looked around at the seemingly larger group of children. One of them raised his hand,
“It’s a big hunt that scary looking people go to. They go by boat and sail to Aedarin where the Xan Reh live. the Xan Reh tell them to go hunt huge monsters for money.” The boy was visibly proud of this answer.
“That is most correct, little one,” Morik chuckled earnestly. “I went, along with a crew, to the Great Hunt; although I went not to kill monsters. I was to search for a precious artifact.”
The children stared in awe. Most, if not all of them, were leaning forward where they sat.
“This artifact was rumored to hold extraordinary powers. I intended on finding it, too. You all well know of ol’Morik’s desire to adventure.” The children nodded chaotically. “Good. As this was my biggest journey yet.” He winked dramatically.
Morik paused and looked around the fire, sweat building beneath his brow. Many glinting eyes stared back at him, waiting for the rest of the tale. Shadows mingled between bodies, the flickering of the flame seemingly mocking their anxious need to hear the end. He began once more, “So there I sat in a large metal boat built by the famous Steam Fiend himself: Fillious Grey! The boat was large and of blackened brass, engines roaring as we skewed across Unending Waters. It rocked back and forth… back and forth… I sat next to a man in massive plate armor. He had with him two large claymores that were fastened to his back. His muscles bulged like full sacks of grain! His hair matted like wolf fur! And his eyes…. His eyes carried within them more desolation than frostbite itself.”
“Was he a demon!?” One eager girl blurted, waving her hand in the air.
“No, Child. All known demons were trapped within the kingdom of Aedarin, remember? After the fall of the tyrant king Ruik, Aedarin was walled and Tembriss claimed it as their own. Now then… We arrived on Aedarin’s shores. The docks of New Remblis were crafted of black metal and rung out as we stepped their length. the Xan Reh lead us through the base and into a meeting hall. There we sat, awaiting Sinj’s arrival. He was a tall, bald man; Very frightening presence about him despite his age. He was the leader of the Xan Reh and had been since its foundation. He was there at the downfall of king Ruik, and ordered the assassination of the brothers who defeated him as well. Sinj was a powerful man.”
“But, Old Morik,” a smaller boy began. “Sinj didn’t kill the brothers, his daughter did!”
“That is correct, little one,” Morik replied, nodding. “It was she who took their lives and evidently damned Aedarin to corruption. The brothers were supposed to protect their kingdom after defeating Ruik.”
“But why did she kill them if she knew it was going to ruin her homeland?”
“She was misled by her father, Sinj. She was unaware of the consequences. But Sinj, blinded by his hatred for demons, had them killed.”
“Do we still send bad people to Aedarin if it’s full of monsters?”
Morik nodded slowly, “Yes we do. Tembriss and Aedarin had an agreement; Tembriss’ prisoners would be sent to Aedarin. Although King Ilian of Aedarin did not like the idea of prisoners flooding his land, he had no choice but to agree. Aedarin was in desperate need of the gold that Tembriss had promised. Shall we return to the story?”
The children nodded in a messy unison.
“Sinj had told us all that we needed to know. He explained the dangers that lie outside of New Remblis’ walls… He gave us warning that we would most likely never return. Few do, he recounted. I was paired with a young lad on my journey. As I had no weapons for myself, I was in ruthless need of a partner. He happened to be heading in the same direction as I, so as it was, we teamed up. He looked no older than the age of twenty… I remember clearly those two beautiful swords on each side of his belt. Hair, long, black and sleek. He was tall, handsome, and grabbed the attention of almost everyone who passed. He was called Ehrin.”
The girls in the crowd looked at each other with whimsy. The boys were nowhere near impressed as they mimicked sword skills of their own.
“We exited the gates of New Remblis and walked cautiously into the trees. The dirt path that we treaded was worn and eerie. A lingering fog took control of the forest. Ehrin, despite my warnings, kept his swords sheathed at all times... You could say that I was perhaps a bit frightened.”
Many of the children narrowed their eyes and grinned at Morik’s obvious edit.
“Okay, so I was as frightened as can be just before one wets themself!” Morik and the children roared with laughter and the fire, seeming to be sharing the excitement, grew in size. Laughter died to idle conversation as many fought to recapture their breaths, and Morik, feeling unusually tired, stretched at his aching muscles. “Now-now then, let us continue, hmm? We journeyed then for one long, passing through the ruins of Crimm, a small town set north into a wooded valley. We visited on our journey Yanduin and Terath; Twin castles that rested across beautiful plaines beyond, standing guard over the valley from mountainside to cliff-fall, tall as sentinels, proud as crumbling stone can learn to embrace. We detoured at Yanduin to explore.”
Morik paused and looked around the crowd. The children’s attention was completely held. He could feel his hands shaking. They ached and burned.
“Yanduin was a large castle with spires that reached into the cloudy skies above. We could hear things moving within its halls. The castle’s interior smelled like blood and death. Ehrin decided that it would be most unwise to continue exploring. Although I was disappointed by this, I would rather stay alive than suffer an encounter, for there is no end to the modifications one meets in the shape of a demon. Where once the sound of hooves and wings meant goats or geese, these noises now carried with them overwhelming dread. I will admit, however, that I have never found myself happier to see a goat where such sounds lurk,” Morik chuckled to himself. “ We continued our journey Northward onto Gedule, the once-bestowed resting place for the artifact. It was a properly named city set into the heart of Mount Gedule, which, in itself, could be seen from almost anywhere in Aedarin, so we began our climb up the steep and snowy roads.”
Morik looked at his hands. He moved to wet his lips but found his tongue to be dry.
Another child asked a question, “Why were you looking for the artifact in the first place?”
Morik’s face lit up. His eyes seemed to droop as if he was staring off into a dream. “They called it a weapon; An object of myth. The person who held the orb last would slowly be overwhelmed by its energy and have an undying thirst for blood. It was said that they would go into a rampage, killing and eating every living creature in sight. The wielder’s speed would increase. Their strength would be unmatched. Nothing would survive its chaotic wake… This power would continue to control until another touches the orb, but only if they can first get past the current owner.”
The children looked amongst themselves, horrified at this answer, small gasps followed by devoted attention.
“Where did the orb come from?” Another asked hastily.
Morik continued as he loosened his collar ties, “Some say the mysterious mage, Xem created the orb to spite his younger brother. Some say it was used by the Xan Reh to defeat larger foes. No one knows for certain, child. But we heartell of its dangers.”
“But why look for it, Morik?” the child retorted.
“Why do we collect the shiniest stone in the riverbed? Why do we pick the flower that blooms brightest in a dark forest? The same reason is why I wanted this artifact, as I am Old Morik!” He stood quickly with fists raised high, startling many. He stared at the stars above the fire and spoke softly, almost to himself, “Greatest of all recollection…” The old storyteller allowed his words thus far to marinate in his audience’s mind. He swept his eyes to and fro, accounting each face into memory, each name as it appeared inscribed in embers upon their foreheads. He spoke these names softly to himself faster than any mouth could speak. The night air was cold. Wood shifted in the fire. “Finally we reached Gedule,” Morik began again. “ I located the home in which my research described and traveled within. It was dusty and destroyed. Most of the furniture was made from well-carved stone. Ehrin was suspicious about staying in Gedule for too long. He declared manytimes over how it was particularly unsafe. Ignoring his incessant pleas, I descended then deep into the basement of the home and found the entrance to the hidden store-room as described. I thought about lighting a torch before I entered, but there was no need as soon, a blue light washed over everything. There it was. The artifact I had been looking for sitting on a pedestal. Nameless, and blue, and enticing me like a glowing star. I could feel its energy flowing about the room. Warm ripples in the invisible ocean we all swim in. I carefully held it in my hands. It was warm and kissed my skin like a wonderful summer breeze. I placed it inside of the bag I had specially made for this occasion, and we quickly left.”
“What did you do after you found it?” A boy inquired.
“Why, I returned home to Tembriss.”
“Do you have it with you?” This excited many more into asking. There was a hesitation; a ringing in the storyteller’s ears.
He smiled a sly smile and the children flew into a begging frenzy. They wanted to see it for themselves, an object of old, of far away lands and impossible happenings.
“Now we have to be careful not to touch it,” Morik began as he pulled a glowing bag from his backpack, “As it will slowly consume you if you do.” Morik stared at the orb inside of the bag. He could feel its power hum throughout the air, whirring softly, as if singing its own song. All of the children watched with the patient reverie that only wonderment can bestow - all but one, that is.
It was a quiet night.