“What in the name of all the dark gods are you?” growls out a man dressed in bandit black as he struggles against the weight of a dark skinned, intermittently translucent, young man kneeling on his back. He shifts his gaze to glare up at another youth in fanciful clothing of red and gold. The handsome, almost pretty, features of the young men are each the other’s mirror.
The one restraining the bandit chuckles. It is a hollow sound, an empty shell of spun bitterness interwoven with spite with little amusement within.
“Do you want a story, child? Ander, tell this barbarian child a story. He should know how small and coarse he is, before he sleeps never again to wake,” he says
The man in red shakes his head and sighs, “To be fair, you were trying to murder me, and you did slay the poor woman that warned me of you. So you have no room to pass judgment…. Or for that matter to even complain about what comes next. Dark gods indeed.”
Ander, pauses then looks down upon his shared captive with a look of indifference. “Hmm, but you have asked a question of me, and it poses no great hardship upon me. Let it not be said that I deny the last requests of those I execute. I am Lathander Maris Vess: Marquis of High Port, Baron of Greenmarch, Honorary Vice-Admiral of the Unbidden Dream Mercantile Fleet, Master of the Silver Lantern Pleasure House, and Incarnate Deity Emeritus of the Church of the Smiling God. Last, living citizens of the Diamond Empire, which is now dust and gone.”
“I…,” began the would-be assassin only to be cut off by knee to his ribs
“Ah, that would be ‘who’ I am rather than ‘what’. I suppose I will have to tell a story after all, and offer a demonstration as well. I caution you, please be a good and attentive audience, Maris hates it when I am interrupted. Once, upon a time….”
Dressed in a tunic of crimson silk, Lathander walked into the ballroom of his manor to behold a grand revel. A glorious tableau of debauchery. His annual birthday eve celebration. He smiled, greeted his guests as friends or as one would greet a lover, and dived head first into the carnival of hedonism he had devised this year. The event had a life all its own, music its pulse, wine its blood, and Lantander and his guests its flesh. It lived and exualted for one night, and erected a gilded effigy of itself in the memories of those that partook of it. In due course however, the festivities came to a close. Lathander’s guests, friends, lovers, sycophants, and leeches were carted home. They were borne away by their servants or his, exhausted, unconscious, drunk, and well satisfied. Lathander for his part, ever the good and generous host, had eclipsed his guests in enthusiasm over the course of the night and into the wee hours of the morning. However, once they were all gone he collapsed into a chair and bade his servants to bring him a hot bath and a bed.
As he soaked away the remains and aches of his merriment, Lathander began to drift into sleep only to be roused by a hand touching his. He cracked open an eye to see that the hand was wrinkled and spotted with age, but then again so was his own.
“You should not fall asleep in the bath, my lord,” chided a familiar male voice.
Lathander opened his eyes fully to gaze into the aged face of Folvic Solthis, his personal magician, advisor, physicker, and most importantly childhood best friend.”
“Vic, what have I told you about calling me ‘my lord’?” he grumbled.
“That if I did it again you would have me drawn and quartered,” laughed the old wizard as he pressed a bottle into his friends hand.
Lathander huffed, and drank down the offered potion with a sigh of relief. “You were missed at the party, my friend.”
“We both know that only you missed me, Ander. Besides, you know, I do not care for large gatherings. I hated them when we were young, and I have even less love for them now….But, as I have said since our youth, thank you for inviting me, my friend.”
Lathander chuckled at that, “Of course I invite you, Folvic. You are the only one that calls me their friend and means it. Everyone else just wants to enjoy my hospitality, to curry favor with me, or ask me to speak on their behalf to my royal cousin.”
“Of course I mean it, Ander. How could I not? All that I have, I possess because of you. No friend could be greater than you have been to me. I must return that faith in kind.”
“You are exaggerating, Vic.”
“Oh? I did not know you were given to the sin of humility. I was the bastard child of a scullery maid, being used for mean spirited amusement by a gang of lordlings when we met. You plucked me from their clutches, kept me in the safety of your shadow as one would a younger brother, and even begged an archmage of peerless renown to take me as his apprentice. Not to mention any number of other kindnesses through the years,” retorted Folvic with an arched eyebrow and a tone normally reserved for slow witted children.
Lathander rolled his eyes, “It was not so grand as all that…, and people have the nerve to call me a wordsmith. I pale compared to you.”
“Be that as it may or may not be, come with me. For, I have a gift to give you, Ander. One that I hope will show the depths of my gratitude,” said Folvic holding a robe enchanted with warming and drying spells to his friend, as a servant helped the man rise from the deep copper tub.
“Is it a kiss? At long last have you fallen for my charms, wizened though they may be?” said Lathander with a broad grin and a wink as he wrapped himself in the offered robe.
Folvic just gave a long suffering groan at his friend’s antics, and walked on knowing that Lathander would follow.
The two walked deep into the heart of the manor, past bright tapestries and priceless wonders, to the stairs leading up to the tower that Lathander had gifted to Folvic the day he had completed his apprenticeship. The stairs moved of their own accord, bearing the elderly men to the tower’s top most room. The chamber was filled with bubbling cauldrons, sparking arcane instruments, beakers, alembics, magical circles, all of the trappings of high magic. However, these wonders and oddments were ignored, and it was to a simple stone work bench at the room’s center that Folvic led Lathander. On the bench were two small, open wooden chests. The one on the left was lined with black velvet, it held a small gold goblet of steaming purple ichor, and an amulet of dark skymetal set with onyx and diamond. The other was lined in red velvet, embellished with thread of gold, and held a rune etched, crystal vial filled with shimmering crimson liquid.
“Ander, the one on the right is for you. The other for myself, made possible by you.”
Lathander had some talent with magic, and he called upon it to try and understand the artifice on the table. He immediately realized that true understanding of his friend’s workings was beyond him. Though, he did manage to understand that the box intended for him burned with the magics of change and was touched by something akin to his own innate ability to beguile those around him. The other, was a black sun of necromancy, shot through with prominences of other magics.
“What? What is this, Vic?”
“Eternity, my friend. For you, I have distilled the essence of a beast from a far off land. This I did to make the perfect anodyne, a panacea for your greatest ailment. One which will give you your life to live over. Your mortal beauty and vigor restored, for a span of years such to beggar even the elves. Never again shall it fail, should you wish to keep it,” Folvic replied, rapture and pride bright in his voice, as he placed the vial into Lathander’s hands.
“And for you?”
“Eternity and infinity, gained in measure such that I may walk the world until the dawning of its last day. My life to live, evermore. Wrought of your gold and my mastery of the arcane alone. Forged and crafted arch-lichdom, without obligation, let, or lien,” Folvic exulted as he placed the amulet around his neck and took the goblet in his hand.
“Do you trust me, Ander?”
“Then you know the color and hue of my soul. You know that I would never break faith with you or harm any good soul that walks the world. The form of my flesh is of no consequence. Time is the enemy of my arts, but I can now best it. For the good of you, for the good of all, I cast aside humanity,” he pauses briefly as though looking for the right words, “I have seen strange portents in my divinations, Ander. My talents will be needed longer than this frail form will allow. Of this I am certain.”
“But Folvic, becoming an undead? Why not just take the potion you made for me?”
Folvic shook his head, “Too fragile, my friend. I can make due with a twisted form, if it is everlasting. Though, for you the same would be a crime. Function matters more for my purposes than appearance,” Folvic paused for a moment, seemingly gathering himself. “In my life I have been given much, and for this much shall I give. Lathander, have faith in me, as I do in you. Much good have you invested in me, which has blossomed into knowledge and power that I alone possess. That knowledge must stand, that power must not fail, I must endure. In truth, against what I do not know, but all the same I must.”
Lathander did trust the man, he was certain of that, but this was a shock that strained his heart more than the evening’s exertions had. Folvic had never once failed at a task that he put his mind to, never broken his word, acted selfishly, or called upon his arts except in the service of others. The choice that was before Lathander, to his mind, was an easy one.
“Thank you, Vic. I must admit that the wisdom of age is not my favorite fashion statement. Together then?” he asked as he pulled the stopper from his vial and moved it to his lips.
By unspoken accord they each began to count, in time with the other, down from 10, as they had since boyhood when doing some risky thing together. On “one” they both quaffed their potions. For the space of a long moment, nothing happened, then both men screamed. Folvic clutched at his chest as his heart abruptly stopped, to beat no more. Lathander clawed at himself, as his bones began to writhe within his flesh, and ethereal gloom twined with akashic flame overtook his mind. His form and essence in that instant were forever remade.
Lathander, finishing his tale, looks down at his dumbfounded captive, who is wheezing words like “madman” and “monster”.
“It all goes a bit hazy and vague for a long while thereafter,” he says with a shrug. “I clearly remember awaking, feeling renewed. The ecstasy of feeling sunlight on my skin, as I never had before. Finding a note of apology from Folvic, saying that for reasons he could not explain, he had to depart. It promised that he would be watching over me from a distance, and though I have yet to see the man I believe it still. Maris appearing from me for this first time, is a shocking though clear memory…. Ah yes, I’m pretty sure I was there when the flame of civilization was snuffed, supplications to the gods were answered for the first time by only empty silence, and magic became little more than guttering embers where once had been flame. Upheaval, war, and rumors of war…. Bits and pieces, tatters of memory really,”
Lathander pauses for a long moment before continuing, “ You know, it has been said that more than the ability to love, or the faculty to learn, the power to forget is the greatest gift enjoyed by the children of man. Trust me, it’s true.”
“Ander, it’s time to send the savage child to his… rest,” hissed Maris.
“Yes, I suppose,” Lathander sighs, his form shimmers faintly and in the space between one heartbeat and the next there was no longer a dark-skinned man but a dark-furred fox gazing into the eyes of the condemned bandit. “This won’t hurt.”
“No! Mercy! Hel…,” the man begins to breathlessly shout as the fox approaches and a hand that smells of smoke slips over his mouth.
“Good night, know peace, sleep now, rest,” Lathander utters softly as he puts his muzzle next to the man’s face and inhales.
The man’s racing pulse slows, stills, and stops. His eyes close as if to sleep and dream of things that no living being could ever know. Warmth and days now lost to him, enrich Lathander and add to his own overflowing supply. Maris stands, picking up Lathander as he rises. “Where and what now?” he asks the small creature in his arms.
“First, duty calls. I shall pay weregild to the spouse and children I smell on my savior, to compensate them for the loss. The body should be returned to them, as well. She did not know who her shout was saving, but I will not sink so low as to leave the debt unpaid.”
Maris scoffs, believing the people of this era to not be deserving of such considerations, and that dieing for Lathander was already more reward than such a base person deserved. He keeps these thoughts to himself however, as he moves Lathander to his shoulders and walks over to pick up the woman’s body, “And after?”
“Hmm….How would you feel about mercenary work? We are suddenly in need of more funds, and it was fun last time.”
Maris rolls his eyes and groans.