Insanity’s End: The Seekers

June 1, 2007

Aubrick Talorn, Champion of Magtheria, stood guard by the door. A giant of a man, he stood nearly seven feet tall, garbed in gleaming silver that would turn aside the most fearsome of blows. He was the greatest warrior Magtheria had ever known – and the last. His kingdom had been the first to fall.

He was its sole survivor.

His blade, Danruil, burned with a cold flame. He kept it unsheathed, his eyes prowling the empty corridors that led to the Chamber of All Knowledge. They had bested Incenthyrix, the guardian of the chamber, but that only bought them a few moments of safety. Incenthyrix was a product of a forgotten age, a construct forged from magic itself, and the eldritch powers that bound it to the world could never be broken.

It would reform in a matter of minutes – and the legends said that whatever blades and spells had felled it once would not avail against it a second time. When it returned, the heroes would have but one recourse – to flee, and hope they could escape its demesne in time. Aubrick glanced towards his companions as sweat dripped from his brow, but he didn’t speak a word of urgency.

They knew the legends as well as he.

Tailos Spellweaver stood before the Well of Endless Souls, and the waters before him roiled and shook as he bent them to his will, forcing them to show him what he wished to see. To those weak of mind or spirit, the Well showed only their own dark fate. Tailos did not need a well to know his own fate – demon’s blood burned in his veins, a curse that had been passed down his family line for twenty generations. Like all who came before him, he knew it would claim his life before his twenty-fifth year.

As long as he could save his homeland before then, he would go without regret.

His youthful features betrayed nothing of the war he raged to command the powers of the well, but Aubrick knew it was not easy – though he knew as well that his companion would surely succeed. Tailos waged a war every day to master the flames that burned within his very body – he had passed through a dozen trails to become the foremost magus in the land, in a tenth the time most men took. In this, he would not be denied.

The waters of the well grew still. Tailos passed one hand across it, and an image formed within its depths.

The room it showed was a strange one – though small, no more than ten feet across, it had the look of luxury about it. The walls were smooth and unadorned, rather than formed of brick or wood. Strange metal boxes lined the walls, and a well-crafted wooden desk sat in its midst, covered in neatly stacked piles of papers.

At the desk sat a single bespectacled man, in outlandish clothes. He held a pen in one hand, and was jotting down notes rapidly as he perused the paper before him.

A plaque on the table gave his name: Stanley Miller, CPA.

“That is him?” asked Rowen Dawn, former High Priestess of the Lady in White. “He does not look like much.”

“We do not need him for his looks, Rowen, nor for his strength in arms. The Well has searched through a thousand different worlds, and this man alone has what we need. Let us pray that it is enough.”

Rowen’s face grew dark, and she turned away from the image. “The time for prayer has passed.” Her voice was cold and hard.

Her goddess was dead.

When the Ancient One awakened, the pantheon of man had ridden forth in all their glory to turn it aside. They led a host that was the stuff of legend – legions of winged angels, scores of honored knights who had proven their mettle in a hundred lifetimes. The gods themselves, garbed in arms and armor last seen in the Age of Myth.

And the Lady in White rode at the front of the host, the goddess of life, a beacon of hope that no matter what dark force threatened their world, there would always be the light to drive it back.

They rode out in all their glory, and they were not seen again. No reports had come from the battleground – no survivors had emerged to carry tales of their defeat. But Rowen knew when her goddess perished. She felt it strike her in the heart, felt an absence and a void where once had blossomed life and magic. Some of her kindred died from the shock of it – or perhaps simply chose not to go on living.

Rowen had lived, though Aubrick could not have said what she was living for. Revenge, perhaps. His kingdom dead, he had known a loss nigh as great as hers, but his goal in their quest was merely to save what was left – to ensure that life would go on.

Rowen, though… Once, she had been a beauty. To see her smile was to know her faith. To hear her laugh was to feel her love. Aubrick knew this, he remembered this, but seeing her know, there was only darkness left. Her eyes were hollow and black, her cheeks sunken with lack of food, for she slept and ate only when she must. She never smiled, and every night Aubrick could here her struggling to smother the wracking sobs that shook her through the hours of the dark.

By rights she shouldn’t even be there – his blade and Tailos’ magics were needed to succeed. Once, Rowen could have called upon the Lady in White to strike down their foes – or undo the touch of death itself.

But the Lady in White was dead, and none could bring her back. Rowen could offer no more than a single strong arm – and burning determination and hatred.

Aubrick, for all that he once cared for her, had not wanted to let her come. Perhaps it was purely selfish – if she wasn’t here, with him, he could remember her as she was. Now, she was merely a reminder of how the world had changed.

But Tailos had listened to her plea, and let her join their expedition. He would not share why, but it was he who had arranged it, and he who knew what it would take to save this world.

Stanley Miller, CPA. In this, Aubrick agreed with Rowen – he didn’t look like much. The thought passed through his mind, just as the Chamber began to shake.

“Quickly!” cried Tailos, his voice straining as he kept at bay magics as old as humanity itself. “Into the Well – it will take us to him, and we shall see for ourselves if any hope yet remains!”

Rowen stepped forward first, striding up to the edge of the well, and then stepping off without the slightest hesitation, almost as though she expected the still surface to support her weight. But no – she passed through the image without even a ripple, and Tailos stared at Aubrick next.

It was harder, for him, and he could not say why. Perhaps because he was a man of action, and this felt like flight. Perhaps because he was used to the flash of the sword and the gleam of steel on steel – tangible things, rather than mystic doorways to another world.

In the end, he knew the truth, though has was afraid to utter it. He had left his kingdom, and when he had returned, it was gone forever.

Now he was leaving his world itself behind, and should they fail, there would be nothing left to return to.

He stepped into the Well, nonetheless. If they did nothing, the outcome was already certain. Any hope, no matter how slim, was worth the chance. He felt the world fall away from him, as the Magus followed close behind.

In the Chamber of All Knowledge, eldritch power blazed into being, tearing through the room in search of intruders to rend and flay… but there was nothing there.

The search had truly begun.

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