Brandis wakes up with a gasping start, the scarred face of Uranbrulf seared into his mind. His fingers twitch, the tips warming with pure magic. He feels cold beads of sweat run down his temples, his breath comes quickly and heavily. He tries to lift them, can’t. Again, this time jerking his upper body around. Still stuck, even his head is unmovable. He moves his eyes down, then up. He notices the leather wrapped around his forehead, feels the ones wrapped around his wrists and ankles. This does nothing to diminish his frustration.
“Why have I been strapped down?!” he shouts. The caravan stops.
It is midday, one day since the destruction of the Temple of the Light. The survivors have been traveling westward toward the ferry to the mainland. They have a couple more days ahead of them.
Kesher’s blue head appears above Brandis. He smiles warmly, then looks up to whomever is leading the survivors. Nods for them to continue. As they start up again, Kesher walks beside Brandis.
“I strapped you down, Brandis,” says Kesher. “You have a nasty habit of waking up in the moment you slept in. We’ve had to replace many a window—”
“Where is Uranbrulf?” Brandis says curtly. “Is he gone? Dead?”
“He is very much alive,” Kesher replies. “I thought he and I were … matched, but it seems that not even I have the power to destroy him.”
There is a pause, the squeaking of the wagon’s wheels and the light crunch as it rolls along light grooves in the pathway. Brandis says, quietly, “Will you release me. Please.”
“Of course,” says Kesher. He removes the straps and Brandis sits up and at the edge of the wagon. He stares out at the scene behind him: the meadow pathway, nestled between dark forests to the south and the Cherook Mountains to the north. Smoke rises in the distance, from the temple, collecting in a darkening cloud high in the sky. No sign of dragon’s wings beating.
Brandis’s vision becomes fuzzy, and as the adrenaline slows he can feel the soreness in his neck. As he brings a hand up to massage it, Kesher says, “I had to…”
“I know,” Brandis says. His eyes fall to the ground. “I … I am not as powerful as I thought I was. Tell me, Kesher: how was I able to get away from Uranbrulf’s grasp four years ago, yet now the same spell I cast on him does no permanent damage?”
“Uranbrulf is not the dragon he was four years ago. Something has changed within him.”
“He’s certainly not a fat, lazy bastard anymore,” says Brandis.
“I should thank you, Brandis, for saving my life,” says Kesher solemnly. “So, thank you.”
Brandis looks away, noticing Mykel, his swordmage friend and companion, walking among a couple of survivors by the carriage. She glances up at him and smiles.
“I need more power,” Brandis says. “Saving you means little when that dragon is still in the skies.”
“You must continue your training,” Kesher says.
“That dragon is my training,” says Brandis. “Or, it will be my training. Unless … what the Master meant by ‘training’ was ascending to godhood…”
“Ah, your elusive Master,” says Kesher. “I suspect you have not seen him in quite some time.”
“Not since he gave me the skills to become a sorcerer. We have spoken little of him, haven’t we, Kesher? Do you know anything about him? Where he comes from, who he is?”
Kesher pauses. His arms crossed, he lifts his finger up to his lips, eyes narrowed, as if thinking. “Perhaps I should respond by telling you the day I first met your Master.”
“You met him?” says Brandis. “You met him and you never told me about this?”
“There was no reason to,” Kesher replies. “I met him a thousand years ago.”
Brandis stares at him.
“There are things about your Master that not even I understand,” Kesher continues, "but even you must concede that his power comes from longevity and training. He is not a normal human, if he is a human at all.
“I met the Master twelve years after the Cataclysm. In the days before the death of the gods, I had felt strange rumblings within my spirit, prophetic feelings that I could not discern. I know now that they were the nudging of Avandra, or perhaps her angels, telling me that something big was going to happen. Then the Cataclysm occurred, and I felt nothing. My holy symbol felt heavy and empty. I wandered the town I was in, Serekhi, for days, feeling lost and alone. And then, one day, I met your Master.
“Back then he called himself Coren. He was tall, angular, with a narrow, gaunt face and long brown hair. For a while I was certain he was an elf, for his ears were somewhat pointed, but in conversation with him I learned it was merely a trait passed down from his family for generations. Their surname, in fact, was the old language word for “elf ears” – Aeutoei, I believe. I’m not sure if I believed him, though. Perhaps he was a half-elf and just didn’t want anyone to know—"
“Kesher!” Brandis says. “First of all, you knew about the Master for all this time, and you knew that I had been trained by him, and yet you did not tell me this? And secondly, how am I, or you, to believe that this … Coren you speak about is indeed the Master? The Master I know is quite clearly human.”
“Have you ever seen his ears?” asks Kesher.
Brandis begins to speak but then stops. “Well … of course I … have!”
“What did they look like?”
“Do I look like the kind of person who pays attention to what a man’s ears look like?!”
“It is a defining characteristic that separates elves and humans,” says Kesher. “For the most part. When I met him, his tipped ears poked out from behind his long hair, like most elves, which is why I was certain he was an elf.”
“This is pointless,” Brandis says. “Continue your story.”
“Alright… When I met Coren he was a brash young man, steeped in arcane power but unwilling to pursue the typical paths known to arcane beings. In short, he refused to become a wizard, despite how much his guardians wanted him to. Coren had no parents – they were murdered shortly after his birth – and his guardians were two nobles who thought it would be quaint to raise a son of their own. They did, however, strongly wish for Coren to become a wizard, and to attend training at the Mages Guild in Nevelen. Their fear is that he would shy away from this and become a sorcerer instead. But Coren wanted neither. He wished to be a fighter, to use his father’s longsword (the only thing of his biological parents that he kept) and be in the front lines of battle.
“I should not say that it was I who implanted the idea in his mind to merge the two forms, to use his arcane power to enhance his swordsmanship, but we did speak of it at length one summer night in Serekhi, of possible forms and styles of movement, of ways to shield oneself during battle. Many of the techniques Mykel uses today and similar to the ideas he and I spoke of all those years ago, which is the primary reason why I feel your Master is this Coren, or perhaps a descendant of his. Though the power your Master contains leads me to believe that he has been alive for quite some time, for long enough to master all forms of arcane power.”
“That … that is preposterous,” says Brandis. He hops down from the wagon and stops as people pass him by. Kesher stops beside him. “You’re telling me that this Coren fellow and you invented the art of the swordmage? Right then? And that Coren developed it and has continued to develop it for the past one thousand years?”
“I have been alive for fifteen hundred years, Brandis,” says Kesher. “Why is it so preposterous for your master to be alive for a thousand?”
“Why did he teach me to become a sorcerer, then? Why not train me to be a swordmage?”
“Perhaps you were special. The dragon’s blood has sent you down another path, and he wished to nurture it. Have you ever met anyone else besides Mykel who was trained by him?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Then might I suggest you find some. Unlocking the mystery behind your Master might be as simple as collecting all the puzzle pieces. In the meantime, your power will only increase with time and training. Now come, the caravan is leaving us.”
Kesher begins to walk back to the caravan. Brandis stands alone, mulling over what just happened, before he continues onward as well.
[DM’s note: I imagine this will be the first of many Brandis/Kesher moments, hehe]