22 January, 707 CR.
The winter wind cut sharp and cold across the balcony, but its bite was unnoticed by the lone figure standing at the curved parapet overlooking the southern sprawl of Metamor Keep and it’s the town nestled up to the southern wall of the ridge upon which the keep had grown. The skunk did not seem to take heed of the wind or its cold, nor how it whipped the heavy fabric of his robes about his body. The wind tore at the unclothed fur of his tail and head, mingling black with white into an featureless shadow peppered with flecks of white.
In the distant courtyard upon which his gaze rested eight torches guttered, their flames bent with the wind, shedding fitful light upon the stone obelisk in their midst. There were no names yet upon the monument, as the keep archivers were still attempting to gather together the identities to all of those lost in the winter battle. Not only those who had died battling the unprecedented invasion, but as well those who were struck down as innocents. Commander of the Watch Eindah had suggested that a light always be shed upon that monument, so that the memories of those who fell would be recognized and honored by the light of the sun or in the deepest shadows of night. In nights such as this, however, his task was difficult.
Murikeer wondered for a time how long it would be before Llyn’s name was inscribed upon the stone. Letting out a slow sigh, the vapour of his breath grasped away by the wind, he turned his attention toward the north, toward Glen Avery. Was there a home for him there? Was there a home for him here, within the walls of the place that he had finally come to find acceptance, he wondered. He felt that they closed in around him, clutching at him, hemming him in. Llyn had made those fears insignificant, despite the problems that they had shared since returning from the north. She had make the keep feel like something of a home.
But she was gone now, and all he had left was the raccoon that was his master more than his friend. A harsh taskmaster, but one he could respect. In recent days their relationship had become strained, however. Stresses left over from the battle, on both their parts. He had, as well, the rat Matthias and his wife the Lady Kimberly. His association with them had also become known to the raccoon, whose mage faction had been long at odds with that of the rat, making them enemies by tradition, only allies by the necessity of serving Metamor.
Now those two had migrated to the small hamlet of Glen Avery, where the last remaining relative Murikeer had also resided. Though embittered by the changes that Nasoj’s curse had wrought upon her, Walter had seemed pleased to learn that his sister’s son had also survived the Three Gates. How much the seamstress would be willing to suffer his presence should he live in the same village, however, was something he did not know.
The words of the paltidor priest resurfaced time and again in his thoughts… “What plans have you for this coming year?” the priest had asked. Quite innocently, but the question was pointed. Muri unconsciously rubbed at the black leather that covered the ruins of his right eye, where Thorne’s cursed blade had stolen his sight. The healing that both Raven, her acolytes, and Father Hough had granted him had all be powerful, giving the skunk back all that the fires had claimed in his last strike against the dark mage, but none of them could undo the curse of the tainted blade. He would never likely find any healing capable of replacing that damage, though with time it would heal as nature would intend. Still leaving him blind in one eye, bereft of depth perception, and forever affect that magic which had been the focus of his many years of careful and diligent study; illusion.
In time, at least, the pain would fade as well. It was only by sheer force of will that he hid the agony from the eyes of his teacher each time he used any manner of magic. Even the simplest of spells sent lancing spears of utter torture spearing through his skull, scattering his thoughts and making it difficult even to remain conscious, much less concentrate on the magic at hand.
Yet his plans, those which Vinsah had questioned, would need his magic. A great deal of it, and working without flaw, if he was to see his intended course through.
Gritting his teeth, he turned about abruptly and stalked back into his study, letting the wind slam the heavy oaken door shut behind him. The witchlights which lit his room had been in place for months now, much to his luck and foresight, though now it pained him even in the simple task of damping them at all. He had simply banished those in his bedchamber rather than deal with them, relying solely on the noisome stench of pitch torches to see by.
Crossing through his study, he cast the trapstone upon the table, heedless of where it came to rest as he passed through the door into the main chamber without caring to the witchlights. There were many items that would fade under the constant, unwavering illumination… but there was little he wished to do about that until he could once again focus on his magic without near fainting for the pain. Perhaps the Lady Kimberly had practiced enough to manage witchlights, he mused as he descended the stairs and turned toward his bedchamber.
She had just learned to summon a passable illumination a week before the battle, but he realized that she would not be able to affect his own lights, or create any for him. She yet lacked the fundamental knowledge to link their energies with the world energies that surrounded her.
Closing his bedchamber door, he drew one of the torches from the sandrack beside the door and thrust the pitch end into the hearth. It caught with a swift whuff of life, illuminating the room in a subdued, ruddy, flickering orange glow that was alien to the witchlights he was accustomed to in his home. He thrust the torch into a sconce and crossed to his bureau and drew back the chair to sit down. The usual clutter of half-inscribed pages, scrolls, and books of study he normally had dominating the desk had been removed to his study, which was directly above his bedchamber. Not out of fear of catching any of them on fire with a spark or dripping pitch, but rather to make room for his private apothecary.
Drawing the small madrigal chest from the shelf above the bureau, he began selecting a small collection of powders, herbs, and other items from its many small, intricate drawers. Sprinkling them into a cup, he returned the chest to its niche, then crossed over to the fireplace he hooked out the small cauldron of water he kept to one side and carefully added steaming water to the mixture. Stirring it with a small bit of slender kindling, he crossed back to his bed and set it upon the nightstand to cool before removing the torch from its sconce and stifling it in the sandrack with a hiss.
The foul smoke of the torch hung about the ceiling of the room in a rancid cloud, the tendrils of thick, oily smoke migrating toward a crack in the mantelpiece to be drawn up the chimney. Muri waved one hand before his muzzle as he sat down on the edge of his bed and stared into the fire.
For all that had transpired, he found a strange sense of fearlessness when it came to gazing upon fire. Not careless, brazen fearlessness, but rather the same sense he had always possessed toward it. It simply /was/, as it had always been. His recurrent dreams of his last pitched battle with Thorne had not seared into his being a terror concerning the flame.
Regardless of the terrible wounds it had caused, burning all of the fur and a good portion of the flesh from his body, the fire had saved his life. Thorne had not been so lucky. Nothing save a few seared, heat-shrunken bones had been recovered from the room that they had fought in. Muri would have been similarly reduced to ashes had the wall behind him not given way under the force of the explosion when he cast a pyrock loose amongst nearly three hundred gallons of lamp oil.
As he stared into the fire he found himself stroking the ring, which he wore about his neck upon a simple leather thong. An intricate thing, woven of a black and mahogany tinted steel wires created by alchemic recipes he had gleaned from Rickkter’s tomes, it had line of tiny diamonds around its circumference that gleamed like stars in the firelight. Within the ring he had fixed a host of simple yet powerful spells. Careful incants of protection and safety, of health and warding and warning, all intended to see its wearer safely through nearly any situation.
He had created a similar, yet far more simplistic, item for Matthais; a symbol of his faith, affixed with a spell that would warn him of danger. As both Llyn and the rat were often in situations that put them in danger, often when they did not realize, he thought he could help them in small ways.
He had finished his work on the ring a mere five days before the Yule festivities, and he had intended to present it to her on the eve of the new year. A token of his regard, and desire to take her hand in a ceremony of marriage. There were many things that differed between her follower ways and his lightbringer faith, but the solemn bond of marriage was something both shared.
His hand closed over the ring as his jaw clenched, fighting back tears as he realized, once more, as he had each day, each hour, since her death… that had she been wearing his ring only five days earlier she would still be among the living. Like the sword that stood in the corner of his bedchamber, given by Dream that he might gift it to her, likewise bound with spells that would aid in its use. Both had been gifts for her, ready but not yet given, which would have saved her from the deathblow that Muri’s one-time pupil had delivered upon her.
Swallowing the ache of grief that clamped his throat, he hooked off the eyepatch and flung it aside, caring not where it landed as he fumbled for the mug on his nightstand. Raising it, he quaffed the foul tasting, scalding contents in one swift draught. Gagging, he set the mug aside as the burn of the hot water gave way to the swift, warm detachment that the drugs induced. The only surcease from his agony, both in spirit and in body, was through a sleep induced by the powerful elixir he brewed each night as he contemplated all that he had lost.