Tamin had descended the stairs a half an hour prior. Baird waited, back pressed against the wall adjacent to the entrance. The only entrance. They were at the top of the tower here, with nowhere to go should things go wrong. A good few things could – Tamin betraying him being at the top of the list. He hoped against that for several wildly varying reasons.
Something stirred below. A voice. Baird held his breath and tightened his grip, sword in one hand and the mark of Oblear in the other. In Baird’s former cage was a makeshift dummy constructed from straw and armour taken from the dead. It was a poor likeness but the plan wouldn’t allow the sorcerer to stare for long. Echoing footsteps rose from the stairs.
“Idiot boy,” the elder grumbled, voice carrying up the stairwell. “There’s no way that fool could damage my bars, I don’t care what chemicals you thought you smelled.”
He reached the top step, striding past Baird into the room. A thrill went through him – this might actually work. The sorcerer halted.
Baird lunged, bringing his sword down in a sweeping arc towards the fiend’s back. With unnatural speed the sorcerer half turned and looked at Baird with wide, manic eyes. In the time it took for Baird’s sword to move an inch the sorcerer thrust out his hand. It felt like he had just been slammed in the chest by a bear. He took off from the ground and was thrown down the stairs. The impact knocked what little air he had left completely from him. His armour protected his bones from the solid steps but momentum and gravity sent him tumbling down the rest of them, landing in a dizzy and aching heap, wheezing for breath.
By the time he had his senses the sorcerer was already stood over him with a satisfied smile. Shouldn’t have taken the pendant off, Baird thought as a hacking cough racked his body. I hate magic. His sword could have been anywhere but the chain of Oblear’s mark was still wrapped around his fingers. At least he still had that – and the elder sorcerer hadn’t noticed it yet, instead calling for Tamin. He appeared from behind one of the painted wood partitions on the other side of Baird, looking timid.
“Come here, boy,” the father said and Tamin reluctantly approached. “Now is your chance to repent for this morning.”
Uh oh, Baird thought.
The elder sorcerer turned his attention to the still struggling adventurer. “You’re going to tell me how you got out of that cage.”
Ratting out Tamin would just get them both killed. Plus Baird wasn’t exactly the type to bend to his enemies’ will. He was much too stubborn for that.
“Rot in the Pit,” he spat.
“As you wish,” the elder said before nodding to Tamin.
The young sorcerer paled. He lifted a trembling palm toward Baird. Baird froze, his hope extinguished under a volley of ice water. Tamin’s mouth twitched, eyes watered.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Baird didn’t know what to say. The young man was terrified of his father. This life was all he knew. All Baird could do was brace himself for pain. Tamin thrust his hand forward and he winced.
A gust of wind blew through the room. It tingled Baird’s skin but assailed him no other way. The elder sorcerer exclaimed in surprise as his clothes passed through his flesh as though through water, billowing out and falling onto the steps behind him. It took both Baird and the sorcerer himself a moment to adjust to the fact that he was suddenly stood there in nought but his boots.
Baird was the first to react, pushing himself up with one hand and throwing the mark of Oblear hard at the wretch’s chest. The sorcerer thrust out his hand and a look of panic struck his face as the sigil sailed past his fingers. Baird grinned. The sigil hit the sorcerer square in the middle of his saggy, sallow chest.
He opened his mouth but no sound came, face twisting in agony. The sigil stuck to him and the flesh around it turned grey, blossoming in a grotesque wave across his body and turning to dust. He crumbled away until there was the clattering of bones into a dusty pile. Baird held his breath, watching the remains, but no retribution came. A small, pained sound came from behind him.
Tamin was on his knees, face in his hands. The weather raged on outside. Baird pulled himself up and crouched next to Tamin, wrapping his arms around him. Tamin’s whole life, everything he had ever known, just disintegrated before his eyes. It was seconds before the young sorcerer’s arms were around Baird’s neck, face sobbing into the metal plated crook of his shoulder. It could have been relief or despair. Probably both.
Baird resisted a long moment but could no longer wait, hating himself a little for his lack of restraint.
“How can I stop the storms?” Baird whispered into his ear as he held him.
Tamin pulled back from him and wiped his eyes, keeping his head down and avoiding Baird’s gaze. He rose to his feet and headed for the other partition, giving his father’s ashes and bones a wide berth. His movements bordered on mechanical. Baird felt a pang of guilt as he followed.
“What happened to him?”
“The mark turns the user’s magic against them,” Tamin said, voice small. “The magic that kept him alive past his years reversed.”
Baird placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
They rounded a partition and came to a grand bedroom, lavishly plastered in rich fabrics and gold adornments. At the end of the master bed was a mahogany pedestal, a glowing blue orb upon it. Turbulent mist twisted and warped beneath the surface. Baird was drawn to it, soothed by it. Warming, unseen tendrils snaked into his being, calming his bruises and setting his mind at rest. He was unaware of his hand moving slowly toward it until Tamin grabbed his wrist.
“Don’t,” he said. “It makes people strange. Like father. Like mother.”
Baird’s skin crawled and he withdrew his hand. “What do I do?”
“Shatter it,” Tamin said, voice cracking slightly. “Set her free.”
Baird shook his head clear as the orb’s influence took another stab at him. He glanced behind himself and saw a small foot stool. Not wanting to risk the thing’s spell a moment longer, Baird grabbed the stool in both hands. He spun, bringing the makeshift bludgeon down on the orb with all his strength.
This was it, his moment, his self-appointed destiny. It all hinged upon the word on a man he just met.
The orb did not shatter. The stool sunk into it and it burst like a soap bubble. Mist from within swept into the air like a puff of pollen. Baird stumbled away but Tamin stayed put, releasing a giddy laugh. Baird panicked. Had he been played? The mist engulfed Tamin and he collapsed in a haze of blue, falling to the floor. Baird backed against the partition wall as the blue spread but it did not approach him. A warm, pleasant voice filled his mind, forcing upon him a brief wave of euphoria.
The ancients will not forget this heroism.
The mist was gone. It didn’t so much vanish as it just wasn’t there anymore. Worry struck him as he realised the voice was the last thing he heard. He smacked his ears with his hands but became confused as his armour rattled. His jaw dropped. He clambered to his feet, dashing past an unconscious Tamin, and approached the window.
No rain lashed against the glass. No wind howled, rocking the building. In that moment, Baird experienced silence for the first time in his life. It frightened him, the vast emptiness of it, the sheer depth of nothingness. Before that fear could grow too deep, the sprawling black clouds split like curtains and a beam of golden light fell upon his face. He began to tremble as he lifted his hands to his cheeks. It was warm.
Baird dropped to his knees and laughed. He’d done it. He’d actually done it. He laughed some more. Of course he had. He’d always known he could. Definitely. He pushed thoughts of the cage away and pulled off his gauntlets, wiping the joyful tears from his face. He loosed a deep exhale and buried his triumph. He needed to check on Tamin.
The young sorcerer hadn’t moved since he collapsed, breathing softly. Baird knelt next to him, carefully brushing the hair back from his bruised face. He looked so peaceful it was almost a shame to wake him. With his other hand, Baird softly tapped his shoulder.
It took a couple of attempts before Tamin’s eyes fluttered open. Baird frowned when they did – they were a rich, swirling blue. This faded so rapidly, returning to the proper soft grey, that Baird was certain he’d imagined it.
“Are you alright?” Tamin said as he tried to focus his weary eyes.
Baird blinked. “Me?” he asked, incredulous. “Of course I am! I’m a famous adventurer! You’re the one who collapsed.”
“Oh…” He closed and opened his eyes a few times. “Yes, I am well,” he replied. Physically at least, Baird thought. A sadness hung about him.
Baird smiled. “Good. I have something to show you.”
He helped Tamin to his feet. He was unsteady and shaken so Baird took the liberty of wrapping an arm around his waist. Purely for support. Tamin didn’t complain, leaning his weight against Baird as he was guided to the window. He gasped as they stepped into the warm beam of light, face filling with wonder at the landscape before them, laid out clearly for the first time in both their lives.
Pride swelled in Baird’s chest. He had done this. Of all the heroes who had come and tried, it was Baird who had succeeded. Released the Glen. Avenged his father. Without Tamin though, he never would have. He grinned as he looked out of the window. He couldn’t quite see Glen Feen but the view was more than a victory for him. Flat, barren and laden with water, to Baird it was beautiful. He pointed to the horizon.
“You see where the sky touches the land?” he asked. Tamin nodded. Baird looked down at the slight man and their eyes met. “Just beyond lies your new home.”
They smiled at each other and looked back to the landscape, damp and bedraggled as it was. At his side, Baird’s fingers lightly grazed against Tamin’s. Slowly, their digits twined together as they both watched the clear blue sky before them.
And Baird would even have been telling the truth, if they had been looking out of the other window.