Points of Brilliance 2: Hauntings
Revised version posted Nov 4, 1995
Originally posted Oct 29, 1994
Stay tuned after the story for a brand new Magic card!
Taking my leave of Ariel after supper, I wandered my house on Scintilla with troubled thoughts, pondering the identity of my mysterious attacker. The more I contemplated it, the more I had to come to the conclusion that he had not died, but merely escaped. (I was correct, but did nothing at that time, I now am sad to say.) Not from the plane, surely, for he was too wounded from Lord Hegromeltastonite's assault and Ariel's final lightning bolt, but to another location on Scintilla. I soon found myself in the tower, and gazed over my pride and joy.
After discovering Scintilla a couple hundred years ago, and finding that it suited my disposition, I worked (and my minions labored) to create an architectural masterpiece. When it was complete, I named it Sablemorn, after a city of power from my home plane lost in the mists of time. I imbued it with much power, and set guards to protect it. It is an edifice of wood and stone, glass and steel that sometimes looks as if it grew there on the low hill, menacing those who dare to approach it. Some might call it an architectural nightmare, because it does not show any recognizable pattern in its forms, as if the architect was mad. One of those native to Scintilla would find forms from many different periods and cultures of that plane, and quite a few that were unrecognizable. It does fit strongly in the mold of what is called a "haunted house," one dark and mysterious, supposedly inhabited by monsters and the spirits of the dead. There are buildings larger, and buildings more attractive, and those stronger, but I have never seen one quite as unique as Sablemorn. It is as much its own as it is mine, for I sometimes touch an alien intelligence as I quietly ponder there, as if my effort created something akin to life. Certainly, it can defend itself.
But that night, I felt little from Sablemorn itself as I sat slumped in a chair in the tower. What I did feel was the growing sense that there was someone or something near the house, perhaps hiding in the swampland behind, or among the mighty oaks and pines to the west. Though weary from the battle, I felt outwards with my magical senses until I could draw on the power of those lands. Bending some of the creatures that live in them to my will, I bade them search for unnatural presences. Several bog imps chittered rudely at the interruption to their normal activities, but dutifully scouted the entire swamp region. The dryads I had brought from the Shanodin Forest to serve as protectors responded to my call and glided silently through the forest. After half an hour, I released them all from this service, as they had found nothing unnatural that I had not put there. Standing, I paced slowly around the tower, looking out of the windows in all directions in turn, trying to either give a name to my apprehension, or dismiss it. I paused, looking at the waxing moon bathing the landscape in ghostly light.
I jumped slightly as I felt arms encircling my stomach from behind, but calmed back down as I felt Ariel's warming presence. She put her cheek against my back, and just stood there, silently holding me in her warm embrace. I soon had relaxed so totally that I almost crumbled to the floor. Smiling, she pulled me upright and guided me to the stuffed chair. She forced me to sit, then climbed on my lap. Transferring a kiss to my lips with a light touch of her fingertips, Ariel fell asleep there, cuddled close with her head on my shoulder and my hand slowly stroking her long red hair. But I was still so agitated that sleep eluded me through long hours, finally enveloping me an hour or so before dawn.
My mind raced through my memories, still active after I fell into unconsciousness. I dreamed about the first time in my life that I had cast significant magic. My first mentor, Ahrmin ip Wandrun, was a master of the Red and Green schools of magic, though he was powerful in all types. He said that he was born in a land of broad deserts and fierce storms, and had later come to work the magic of nature and the elements when he fled from that land, tired of the harsh climate there. I had found him living like a hermit in a cabin high in the Stonecraft Mountains, where the red and green mana flowed easiest and cleanest. Or rather, he found me lost in the forest.
I was new at planewalking then, and did not even know the way back to my home plane. I was dangerously hungry from lack of planning, and had slumped against the trunk of a tree, listening to my stomach emit a low growl and watching the last vestiges of sunlight fade away. Then a wolf came padding up to me and bared his fangs. Frightened, I tried to simultaneously back away and draw my dagger. Finding that the wolf did not follow me, I calmed slightly and remembered that I was a mage! Although certainly not a very good one. What I knew of magic I had found by myself, and the drawing of energy from faraway lands was beyond my knowledge. So I slowly, carefully, felt the magical presence of the forest around me, and focused its cloud of energy to find some of the denizens there. I called, and some sprites answered me. They cartwheeled around my head, and the head one (at least I assumed so) hovered in front of my face, examining me closely. "Hi, I'm Wilda," she said in her high-pitched voice. "You do know that you're trespassing?"
"Er, no," I replied, trying to keep an eye on the wolf. "I'm just passing through, trying to find some food."
Wilda made a tching sound and waggled her tiny finger at me. "You should know better than to annoy the Great Lord of the Mountain! He'll eat you up in one gulp!" She flew down to my arm and tugged on it. "Time to leave! Most dangerous!"
"Like that wolf?" I asked, pointing.
The sprites all looked in unison, and then seemed to notice him for the first time. "Yes! Come here, wolfy wolfy! Big meal! Mmmmm!" they cried.
I stood up and began to back away as my sprites taunted the wolf to attack. He looked quizzically at the small forms, then started bounding toward me. I used my connection to the sprites to force them in front of the wolf. He tripped, sending sprites everywhere.
"That wasn't very nice!" shouted Wilda, as she and the other sprites jumped on the now-recovered wolf's back and held on as he charged again. Although it was harder this time, I got the sprites to impede the wolf's progress in an attempt to buy me time to escape. As he sideswiped a tree and was dazed, I turned tail and ran, starting to perceive the fabric of reality and preparing to walk to another plane. But I ran into something just before I left. I fell backwards onto the ground. I tried to roll to the side, but the wolf was there and stared at me unblinking.
There was a flash of light, and a terrible voice spoke. "What are you doing on my mountain?" it demanded. Trembling, I shielded my eyes and looked at the figure that I must have bumped into, now casting bright red light all round.
"I, uh, was hungry, Great Lord," I stammered, guessing at the figure's identity.
The figure seemed to ignore my words, coming closer to inspect me. The wolf, standing right next to me, showed no fear as he gazed at who I presumed to be his master. "You are a mage, a planewalker?"
"Then release my sprites," the voice thundered again. I mentally snapped the thread connecting me to the sprites. "And the land, also." Frightened, I complied. Wilda (or another sprite; I was too scared to make an identification) appeared at my nose and tweaked it with her small hands. She flew away.
The figure came closer. "And an elf, I see. That is rare." I could feel him rummaging around in my aura, counting threads, of which there were precious few. "Not very powerful. Hmmm." After a moment, something cool touched my forehead and I lost consciousness.
When I awoke, I opened my eyes to find a wooden ceiling. I tried to sit up, failed, and then realized that I was tied down with... spider web. I shuddered at the thought of the size of the spider that had spun this silk.
"He's awake!" came a familiar voice. I caught a glimpse of Wilda as she flew down next to my head and whispered in my ear, "You're awake. I wasn't sure if you had noticed." I struggled a little. "Yep, you noticed! Are you hungry?"
"Yes!" I let out with a brief explosion of breath, wiggling vainly.
"I guess you are!" Wilda said gleefully. I caught a glimpse of her as she flew off to one side. "Hey, guys, he's hungry!" A chorus of joyful shouts answered her, and a flock of sprites came swooping in on me, landing all around my head but not seeming to get stuck in the web. "Open wide!" I somewhat hesitantly did so, but fairy hands pulled my mouth open further and other ones shoved lots of berries into it. I started thrashing and mumbling incoherently. "Oh, we have to let him chew and swallow," I heard Wilda say sheepishly. The hands were removed, and I started to work on the mouthful they had given me. It took a while, but the berries were by far the sweetest things I had ever ate. Probably because I had not eaten anything in a long time.
After repeating the process twice, Wilda looked off to one side, and started bouncing on my chest. "Oh, Master, you're here! He's awake! And all fed! I fed him myself!" Another sprite elbowed her in the ribs so hard that she fell over and rolled off my side. "With a little help."
The voice that I had heard earlier, although not quite so loud or as harsh as before, spoke again, "Elf who is a planewalker, what do you seek?"
"A way home?" I asked doubtfully.
"What did you seek by leaving your plane?" came the slightly testy reply.
"Adventure. Wealth. Romance. The usual things one seeks when they set out into the world. But I see that other planes are not the place to seek them."
I almost imagined a smile on my host's face. "You can find all of those, in any quantity that you desire, among the planes. You have just not been looking in the right places."
"Definitely not. I haven't eaten in three days, and I was almost eaten by a dragon, and crushed by a rock slide, and one time I couldn't even breathe the air. I think that I'd rather seek adventure in a world that I know."
"Adventure is seeking things that you =don't= know, my boy. And I think that you'd find your home plane is not so familiar as you might think. There is always something new. Like an elven planewalker."
"There are not that many elven planewalkers? But elves are the most prolific race..."
This time I did hear him chuckle. "Actually, they're not. Maybe in your home plane, but humans, like me, make up the great majority. Did you not know this? It seems that you have not had much experience with these things."
I flushed with color. "I'm afraid not. I just started walking one day, and... everything changed. I've been wandering ever since, seeing few people."
"So it is with most of us. Lady Luck is fickle with who receives the Gift." There came a sound of snapping fingers and a surge of power, and the web melted quickly away. I sat slowly up, chasing the sprites off my chest, and saw my host for the first time, sitting in a chair across the room. He seemed neither young nor old, with dark eyes, swarthy skin and black beard. He wore a turban on his head, and light robes done mostly in different shades of green. He smiled. "I think that you have found yourself a master, and myself an apprentice."
I rubbed my temple for a moment, and replied, "I expect so."
Some mages look back at their apprenticeships as times of great pain and suffering. But Ahrmin was a kind and gentle soul, one who never harmed one without good reason. (A rare trait in a planewalker, that, and one I try to emulate.) He worked me hard, sure, but the reasons were clear and the lessons never left any permanent marks. He was not above practical jokes, like the way he greeted me the day I arrived. He always greeted travellers that way, although they were certainly few and far between.
Well I remember the first lesson that he gave me, the following day. We sat on the heather under a huge oak tree, with a marvelously clear sky above. "Look, look at my aura," he said.
I struggled to comply, as I had little experience in the magical sight. But soon I succeeded, and was amazed! His aura shone brightly, with luminescent threads going off in all directions. I tried to touch one that went past me, but my hand didn't even seem to come close to it. He looked like nothing but a giant spider in the center of a three-dimensional web of spells that could be called upon at a moment's notice. This was power that I had never dreamed of, I had never imagined that one man could hold so much.
"But, but how do you do it?" I asked. "You can only draw power from one stretch of land at a time, and some of those threads look much too powerful for that."
He laughed jovially. "I see that you have not learned how to pull from distant lands. But that doesn't mean that people who know the method can't. Look closer. Some of those threads are to land."
I gasped. "But how? I can certainly feel that there are lands at a distance, and sometimes even identify them without looking. But the touch is so faint..."
He chuckled. He did that a lot, especially at the beginning. "Not naturally, you can't draw power out of lands far away. At least, most can't. Here." He flipped a small object to me, which I just missed catching. Wilda, ever present in some fashion or another, dove behind me, hefted the object in her small hands, and presented it to me. When I took it, she put her hands on her hips and stuck out her tongue. She flew away.
Examining the object (a small smooth stone, I now saw), I noted the complex rune on one side. And another on the opposite. Neither were familiar. I looked quizzically at Ahrmin.
"Know anything about runes, Thurm? They're the basis of our magical power. The one side, the rune that looks like a camel..."
"Sort of like a horse." I nodded, still somewhat confused, but one of the runes looked like it had four legs. "That is my personal rune, which in a very real magical way, is a part of me. The other rune, which looks like a tree, symbolizes the land that mana is to be drawn from." He considered my quizzical expression for a moment, then said, "Ah, mana is the magical energy that we draw from the land. I guess that I really must start at the complete beginning."
He spoke for hours, tutoring me on the information it turned out I so desperately needed. I learned of the five colors of magic, the separate but not necessarily superior magic of artifacts, and how to cast them most efficiently. My eyes were opened; what magic I had muddled through before almost by accident really paled in comparison to what could be done.
I jumped up. "Show me how to do this!" I said excitedly.
"Wait. You still cannot pull the mana to you effectively. You must make some manastones."
I glanced down at the rune-covered stone I had dropped on the ground. "Like this?" I asked, picking it up and turning it over, becoming lost in its intricacies now as I understood magic better.
"Yes, some call them manastones, some call them stelae. Others call them by other names. You, of course, must make your own. I will show you how to craft and use them... tomorrow. Light is waning. Before we begin them, you must create a personal rune. I take it that you do not already have one?"
"Er, no," I said, still lost in the design.
"Then you must find one, and I will show you how to give it power, bind it to your soul. Choose wisely, for this will be inextricably yours."
After a few moments, I looked up from the stone, but Ahrmin was gone. I hurried back to the cabin, my mind racing with the new ideas in it.
I slept deeply that night, and the dream I had I still vividly recall to this day. I floated through an infinity of grains of sand, though each grain was much, much more than it appeared. Each was a world in its own right, and had its own view of what should and should not work. I paused, gazing deeply into one, in which the ground rippled and engulfed the fauna for sustenance. In another, great metal machines of destruction rained fire upon one another, sending the countryside into ruin. In a third, only the indistinct forms of whatever hid beneath the surface of the water could be seen. And so I went, seeing many strange and wonderful sights. But one, once I looked, drew in my consciousness and I could not leave the sight behind
There was a war here, one fought not by mortals like on my home plane, nor by machines like on several planes I had seen, but by the gods themselves. No, their immortal minions. But for some reason, I undeniably knew that it was the the gods that fought. But they seemed to be not so immortal now, because as I watched, several fell and breathed no more. I came closer, intrigued, because I was certain that I was safe in my dream, and I had never experienced gods at war.
I stood near the crumpled form of an angel, still beautiful and radiant in death. Like I had never seen gods quarrel so violently, I also had never seen such a creature as this, one that looked like a human female, yet had wings of a bird, and shone with a not-quite-physical light. She stirred slightly, and I realized that I had misjudged her condition. I knelt beside her and touched her shoulder, seeing if I could assist. She grimaced underneath the fresh blood, and flexed her oddly-bent wings slowly. Her radiance strengthened, until it became too much for my mind's eye. When I looked back, the gashes that had criss-crossed her body were gone, and her wings were whole. She sat up and looked at me.
"Such strength in a... mortal?" she said. Her last word was hesitant, as if she was not sure.
Since this was a dream, I replied, "No, I am a planewalker, a powerful mage, Thurmananthalas Stormwind. Tell me, why do you fight?"
"Because it is wished to be so. We do not question our masters," she said somewhat sadly. "We give our immortal souls in an ephemeral disagreement."
"Why not just leave, flee and begin elsewhere?"
She arched one eyebrow. "Obviously you do not know about my master. He is all-knowing, except for the minds of his foes. There is nowhere I could go to run from his knowledge."
"Even to another plane?"
"Another plane? I do not understand, unless-" She paused. "Unless the legends about other worlds and those who can traverse them is true." I nodded. Though it seemed impossible, her face brightened further. "Please take me! I must es-" She was snatched away so quickly some feathers drifted towards the ground. I turned to see what had taken her, and my blood froze.
A giant being seemingly made of pure malice with fangs and claws added as an afterthought stood over me, grasping the vainly struggling angel in one claw. Twin fires shone from its head, seemingly windows to an infernal place of pain and torment. It flexed its bat-like wings and reached down with its other claw to grasp me, its maw opening in anticipation. I fell backwards in terror, scrabbling back to escape the demonic figure's grasp. Its claw began to close.....
And I was in the cabin, Ahrmin roughly shaking me awake. After I stopped hyperventilating, and my heart felt as if it was going to remain in my chest, he said dryly, "Glad to see that you're adjusting so well to being an apprentice. They normally don't start having nightmares until the second night." He grinned, and left the room. I closed my eyes to calm myself a bit more, then realized something was odd. I opened my still tightly clenched right hand, and there was a single crumpled feather.
To be continued....
And, as promised, here is your free card...
T: Add <1> to your mana pool. This mana may only be used to cast Summon or
Artifact Creature spells.
T: Create a token Shadow Creature, an exact duplicate of a creature attacking you. Treat Shadow Creature as an exact duplicate of the card or token it copies, and it may use any special ability it possesses this turn. Shadow Creature may only be created during an attack, before blocking is declared. Shadow Creature is buried at the end of the turn in which it is created.
"The unwary might meet anything within the halls of Sablemorn."
|Copyright © 1997 Tim Bailey|
The term "Shanodin" is property of Wizards of the Coast. The rest of "Points of Brilliance Part 2: Hauntings" is Copyright 1995 by Timothy Bailey. All rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for profit, with the exception of the normal charges for online time.