Songs by the Hearth
Thaal’s Second Lead
“Hm? What is -” The man turned, his several adornments rattling quietly on his elegant robes. “…no, I don’t have any spare coins.”
Thaal ignored the assumption. “That crest, there; you have taught in Stormhold.”
“Why, yes, at the most prestigious in Storm’s Eye. I am Beiro of the Imperial Colleges” he replied, with no faint smirk.
“Have your studies included the Elemental race and their nature?”
“Yes, of course. My studies have been quite extensive.”
“Then I am in desperate need of your tutelage.”
Beiro scoffed in dismissal. “Forget it; I am here on official business from the College, and I can spare no time to teach urch-”
Thaal interjected “You are not returning to Stormhold. I have seen you, behind your ostentatious residence, holding court with-”
“You’ve been spy-”
Thaal did not let him finish. “You will remember me saying that I am in desperate need. I don’t care about your freelance teaching, and it’s obvious that my appearance is what is dissuading you, so -.”
“Would you -!”
“Take these and ask no questions.” Thaal tossed a small, drawn sack to Beiro, which made a sharp, metallic sound when caught.
Beiro opened the bag, and looked back to Thaal. “Where did you get this much… No, never mind, I suppose I don’t care.” Beiro drew himself up and regained his regal posture. “I will permit you among my students, then, on two further conditions.”
“You will refer to me as ‘Professor’, and you will never interrupt me again.”
Thaal followed Beiro’s directions to the stone cottage outside the city, which was shaped to look like a royal keep, inlaid with various gold insignia in several dozen locations. Walking around its perimeter, he caught sight of the forest clearing where ‘Professor’ Beiro supposedly conducted his lessons. Sitting there were three young men, dressed in shabby robes, all trying to read out of the same book. The one holding the book, who looked to be the oldest, was tall, rail thin, and wore a tight skullcap that covered his forehead and ears. The next, a short and stocky individual, had long, greasy hair, a beard to match, and dirt all over his hands. The last, seemingly the youngest, had a typical adolescent build, and his hair was tied or slicked back. Beiro himself was absent.
Thaal made an effort to be heard as he approached. The tallest looked up from the text and shouted “Oi! You there! What’re you up to?” The other two turned as well, regarding the pale, hooded figure with obvious suspicion.
“I am here, I imagine, for the same reason you are.”
The youngest sneered. “Tch. Not likely.”
Thaal did not react. “My name is Thaal. I have been accepted by Professor Beiro.”
The dirty man loosed a deep chuckle. “None of us call him ‘Professor’ when he’s not around. Come sit with us, Thaal.”
There was some tense chatter among the three, which ended when the dirty man stood up, and, raising his voice only slightly, spoke with an authority to silence any opposition. “I do not share your relentless vainglory, and so I am going to welcome our new comrade of the arts.”
He turned to Thaal, his face softening into a warm smile. “I apologize for my brothers, Thaal. My name is Berend. The tall one with the funny hat is Skamos, and the littlest there is Yuriel. I imagine you find yourself much poorer now. Beiro doesn’t hold anything closer to his heart than gold.”
“Yes. I gave a hefty inheritance to be here.”
“Well, I will offer my assistance, to make the con you’ve suffered worth it.”
“Thank you. When does Beiro conduct his classes?”
Another chuckle from Berend. “When he bothers to show up, he might talk about arcane theory for fifteen minutes before going on a tangent about something amazing he’s done for hours, and then dismiss himself to his little make-believe castle for wine and prostitutes. We’re not even allowed inside.”
“So… what are…”
Yuriel piped in. “I jumped in through the window one night and filched some books. I don’t think he noticed. We could probably make off with the lot of them.”
Thaal glanced over the stone wall on the visible side of the structure. “The only window I see is…”
“All the way up there?” Yuriel wore a smug expression. “Yeah, that’s the one.”
While they had been speaking, Skamos had not broken a steady, piercing glare. “What are you here for?” he suddenly demanded.
“Now, Skamos…” Berend attempted to interject.
“No, Berend, it’s alright.” Thaal brought up a hand and pulled back his hood, revealing the deathly pallor and bright veins. “I have come to learn whatever I can, in a simple journey, to cure a malady.”
Skamos narrowed his eyes even further. Yuriel gasped like he had seen some exotic animal for the first time. Only Berend spoke. “Oh, Mother… what is it that’s happened to you?”
Thaal reseated his hood. “It’s not important. I promise I will not interfere with your studies.”
Berend insisted. “If you would just tell me… oh, fine. We’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other, anyway.”
Three weeks pass, uneventfully. Beiro gives his unremarkable lessons, and Thaal learns little.
“…and that’s how I got this medallion, from the magistrate of the time, no less.” Beiro had been telling a boast that the brothers had heard no less than six times. “In any case… ah, I’m sure you all have much to ruminate over, so I will retire for the night. Berand, gather some wood, will you?”
With that, Beiro and Berend headed to their respective destinations, leaving Thaal, Skamos, and Yuriel. Skamos was the first to break the silence. “Well, to my surprise, there are no daggers in my back.”
“Did you suspect I would put some there?” Thaal tittered.
Yuriel was sitting, a couple inches off the ground, rotating slowly. “Yeah, I thought for sure we’d have to do you in for somethin’ sneaky.”
“I know what I look like, but -”
“Don’t play stupid” Skamos barked. “Your aura is anathema to me. You radiate the intent to kill at all times. I don’t know what you’re all about, and I can -”
“Fine, then” Thaal interrupted. “I’ll lay it out.” Thaal had a story prepared for suspicious minds.
Skamos said nothing, but cocked his head to one side.
“I was born into an especially depraved part of the undercity. Before I had seen my seventh summer, I sold myself into servitude to help support my family. My master was a degenerate scholar, who was shunned by all organized schools of the arcane. It was supposed to be relatively safe, but… his insanity manifested in these wicked experiments he’d perform, but usually on rats or birds.”
Yuriel was upside down now. “Oh, I see where this is going.”
“I was called into his study one late night. He commanded me to stand in the center of a large circle of unfamiliar runes. I guess that he was trying to fuse an elemental spirit with my flesh. Nothing spectacular happened when he completed his ritual, but since then….” Thaal pauses to lightly clutch at his heart “an unnatural chill has sat inside me, and as you can tell by looking at me, my body is rejecting whatever that bastard managed to accomplish. I figured if I could learn more about elementals of ice…”
Yuriel righted himself and exclaimed “Say no more!”, then jumped unnaturally high into Beiro’s upper window.
Skamos’s expression was still sour. “The fact that all was very believable only sets me more on edge. While I’ve never encountered an ice elemental myself, I doubt it’d make me feel like-”
Yuriel returned, haphazardly holding a few thick tomes under his arms.
“These are his books that have stuff about elementals in them. I think this one… here is a study of their language, and this other one… Hell I don’t know, you read them.”
Thaal accepted the books. “I understand, Skamos, but please consider how little I understand what’s going on inside me.”
Skamos grinned at this. “Maybe we’ll have to cut you open and find out.”
Thaal did not smile. “Maybe.”
A few months pass. Thaal hungrily absorbs the Primordial language, and studies the books given to him, pausing only to entertain Beiro’s attempts to reconnect with his glory days.
Thaal is hurriedly jotting something down on a scroll, and does not notice Berend approaching him.
“Hello there, Thaal.”
“Ah, yes, Berend?”
“I have something for you, my snow-skinned friend! Well, Yuriel found it, but since he didn’t want to talk to you about it, I’ll be taking the credit!” Berend laughed at himself. “Look, it’s a standard ritual set for conjuring elemental entities, but with a little work, we could modify it to be more useful, don’t you think?”
“I see…. Yes, I think I…” Thaal looks back to a book in his lap, turns back a few pages, and looks back up. “Yes, if we alter the syntax to be more like a summoning than a conjuring, maybe we could bring it to form.”
Berend’s expression turned uncharacteristically grim. “You know, Thaal… We’d be messing with your life. I have no idea what’d happen to you.”
Thaal closed all the books he was reading. “At this point, I am not particularly worried.”
Two nights pass. The three brothers and Thaal create the subtle modifications they think necessary, with Beiro’s help, who has been told Thaal’s story (and now hopes that lifting such an exotic curse will really show those philistines back in Storm’s Eye). Now, Thaal stands inside a set of Primordial runes, with the brothers in protective circles of their own.
“Alright, Thaal, are you ready?” Beiro inquired, within the circle closest to Thaal’s.
“I’m not getting any more ready waiting.”
Skamos smirked. “Sometimes I think you might be alright.”
Beiro and the brothers made some simple gestures, and spoke some simple words, and the air around Thaal grew dense with arcane activity, and then cold, and then colder, and then much colder. The cold in Thaal’s chest grew sharper, becoming a pain like a cramping muscle, which started in his head as well. He groaned, clutching the places he was agonized.
The brothers looked on, Berend worried, Skamos smug, and Yuriel fascinated, but dare not speak, lest their words intermingle with the magic at hand. Beiro wore an expression containing mostly confusion.
The pain Thaal felt did not decrease in its crescendo. As it neared its peak, Thaal thought he might hear a voice in his ear, but he could not understand the words, nor glean anything about its origin. Then, he lost consciousness.
Thaal awoke, on his back, still within the runic circle. The others’ circles were still in place, but their inhabitants were all dead, mutilated and strewn about the room. Thaal cursed sharply under his breath, and did not weep, though he wished he would.
this wasn’t it either. another dead end
Berend… Yuriel… Skamos… I’m sorry