A casual glance around the room would tell the person looking that it was busy. At least for a tavern located on the stretch of road such as this one. A road stretching through hamlets and towns in both directions and eventually stretching to bigger cities and even to capitals if a person went that far, this road was well traveled. That doesn’t however mean that this tavern was well used. This particular place of business was a stump on this road. Merely a place to rest before a person continues on their way, but only for a moment’s breath and not much more. ‘Traveler’s Reprieve’ read the sign, kept above the doorway on a swinging wooden post. A building made of cob, it seemed rather out of place among the farmland and forest. It had a round shape to its walls, which were an odd yellow and red color, and large windows made of warped glass. Its nearest neighbors were less than a mile from it, and the nearest town less than three. Everyone within that distance would be able to spot its walls and roof full of bright colorful fauna. While the building seemed appealing to maybe the casual traveler, most steered past due to the oddness surrounding it.
Despite the normal circumstances of the building, it remained oddly busy this day. Watching his staff and establishment with pride, a small gnome sat at the edge of a bar he owned sucking on a water pipe. With an exhale a cloud of smoke escaped the gnome’s lips, its color was a blue normally reserved for the skies above. As it filled the air it took the shape of distant mountains, and the Innkeeper smiled as he looked upon it. As it dissipated he could see his night continued to get busier as a tall gentleman came through the door. A cloak of red hung from his shoulders as he walked in the doorway. No one noticed him but the Innkeeper until the door shut behind him. With a loud bang, as it once again embraced the archway in which it resided, the man cringed. At that moment everyone shot him a glance, and the inn went quiet. Though only for a moment, for they saw it was no man, but a tall boy. He stood for a moment before finding himself a path around all of the tables and busyness. He came to the bar and stood, all of the Innkeeper’s staff busy running drinks, food, or just busy chatting customers for an extra coin.
He took another long drag on the water pipe to examine his newest patron. Though he stood above the average height of most men, the Innkeeper could tell he was young. He had a round face with a pair of large bifocals planted upon it. He removed his Luvas, a coned felt cap of elven popularity, from his head revealing a crop of short dusty blonde hair. The gnome let out another puff of smoke, this one he focused on the tall boy. He spoke a word under his breath as he exhaled and the smoke shimmered. Its color became a red deeper than blood, a red that paled the boy’s cloak. As he waited for it to take shape, he noticed the boy had begun walking towards him. He quickly batted away the smoke as it began to form, fluttering it away into the air around them. As he did the boy reached where the smoke was no longer, holding his hat in his hand.
“Was that a soul peer spell?” the boy said with a shine in his eye. The gnome smiled as he looked at the boy closer up. Nicely dressed in richer cloth, with a vest underneath his cloak, and at the base of his neck sat a rich red bowtie. A wizard. “Because I don’t think I’ve seen someone use a water pipe as a focus!” The Innkeep’s smile grew, an apprenticing wizard at that.
“You’ve a trained eye for an apprentice, young one.” The Innkeeper spoke, still eyeing the boy. There was something familiar about him, and he couldn’t quite place it.
“I’m actually at the end of my apprenticeship.” The boy stated with a sense of pride. “I’m in the process of submitting my Dissertation of Magic.” The gnome gave the boy a quizzical look at this. He was much younger than the average age to be submitting a dissertation. To his knowledge most humans didn’t submit one until their mid twenties. Once again, the innkeeper felt that familiar tug as if he’d heard this before, but he shrugged it off.
“Interesting for a human of your age, so what brings you here to my Inn…?” the gnome said making a circular motion with his hand as he took another drag from the pipe.
“Oh? Clark. Clark Lutren.” He stuttered, and took a seat beside the gnome. “I was just looking for a place to stay for the night before continuing on.” Clark removed his cloak as he got comfortable on the wooden stool at the bar. Shrugging off the pack that was underneath and placing it on the ground next to him. “Do you know if there are any rooms available?”
The gnome puffed out his smoke as he pondered the thought. Lutren. The name went through his mind. Why did that name sound familiar all of a sudden? That was going to bother him, but he realized the boy was waiting on his answer. “Only one of my rooms has currently been rented tonight.” He spoke directing Clark’s eyes to the archway at the end of the bar. “So yes, I have rooms available. Just talk to Sharon, she keeps the place running for me.”
Clark nodded in thanks, still staring at the gnome intently as he puffed on his pipe. The gnome finished another drag and held the pipe’s tube out towards the boy, gesturing for him to take it. Clark hesitated at first before grabbing the wooden mouthpiece leading to the device. As the gnome let out his smoke it shifted once more to the familiar Blue Mountains he knew. Clark watched intensely reworking the spell in his own mind. He put the mouthpiece to his lips and started to pull the vapor into his lungs. He let it fill his lungs and held it for just a moment, removing the mouthpiece and closing his eyes to forge the spell. He expelled the smoke, which was already a deep crimson as it left his lips, and as it met the air it began to form that of a distant city, a lone tower standing over the walls and buildings below it. This display had drawn the attention of the rest of the crowd within the inn, and the smoke continued its story. Crimson clouds formed above the tower, trees followed a narrow path snaking its way towards the crimson city of smoke. Silence hung in the air as this image flowed. Clark looked at the gnome who sat impressed at the level of detail in the spell, a true reflection of power, skill, and control.
“How’s that?” Clark asked, leaning back onto the counter confidently, admiring his own work.
“Impressive, young one.” Stated the gnome, who pulled out a small pair of bifocals to get a better look at the image before him. As he put them on he found himself getting out of his chair, along with other patrons who were now standing around the crimson city which was slowly drifting towards the floor. He moved close towards it to find it was even more impressive still, as the smoke was not just an image, it was a city! A full three dimensions existed within this display, peering over the wall you could see detailed buildings and shops which sat on streets and alleys filled with people. Crimson horses drove crimson carts which went through a small crimson gate opened by tiny crimson guards. They followed a crimson dirt road that led to the edge of the smoke before flowing away. The gnome looked back to the young mage who had a smile that went ear to ear as he looked at the crowd that appreciated his work. Lutren.
Just as he walked back towards his chair, in which he planned to buy the young wizard a drink and inquire about his studies, a gasp came from some of the patrons still looking at the smoke city. The innkeeper looked to see it changing in both shape and color, he looked to Clark to find him wondering as well what was happening.
The city was strewn through with strands of violet and silver which erased the color crimson as it flowed through it. The smoke twisted and span in a flurry of violet and silver until an image began to form. Trees of violet wood and silver leaves began to fly by in a flurry through the smoke. As the trees dispersed the image settled on a tower made of silver, engulfed with violet flames it stood crumbling amongst a forest with familiar trees. Before it could begin to fall a hand shot through the smoke and began to disperse it with a wave.
“Seriously? Still blowing your smoke dreams?” said the man who waved his way through the violet and silver. He stood halfway past five foot with hair like a sandstorm. Blue eyes pierced a handsome young face and around his neck flowed a long scarf, much like his hair he was a deep yellow, this marked him as a possible dabbler in magic. A sword strapped across his back from his right shoulder, and a battered pauldron on the other. As he came into view the innkeeper realized it was the young who checked in the night before. Palmed extra gold to the gnome to keep his stay secret. He thought to remember his name.
“Kayden?” Clark exclaimed staring at the man still fighting the smoke as he walked towards the counter. The gnome surprised as he began to worry that the young wizard was reading his mind. The young man stopped at the sound of his name and looked at Clark.
“Clark?” The man, obviously Kayden, began to smile and hold out his arms as Clark got out of his chair and moved with a speed the gnome didn’t expect. Clark collided with Kayden, them both wrapping their arms around each other in a hug that could only be described as monumental. “ME BRUTHAAAA!” They both exclaimed loudly, Clark slightly lifting Kayden off the ground due to his advantage in height.
When they finished their hug, and most of the patrons were back to sitting down and now staring at the scene amongst them, they both began to ask each other question after question. “What are you doing here?” Clark asked first. “Where have you been?” He asked second, cutting Kayden off before he could answer. “Why haven’t you written?” Clark asked third, cutting off Kayden’s attempt to get a word in.
“If you’d let me talk, I would tell you!” Kayden blurted above Clark’s insistent questioning. Clark settled back into his chair with the rest of the patrons in the bar. The gnome merely sat puffing on his pipe watching the two as they rejoined him at the bar. Kayden looked at him and snatched the pipe out of his mouth, throwing it on the counter. “Quit with the smoke, Gordin. You’ll kill everyone in here with your breath.” The gnome glared at him before blowing what he had into Kayden’s face, resulting in him batting the air before him to remove it.
“You should be more respectful of the one who provides you with a haven.” The gnome spat at him looking at the two as Kayden took the seat between Clark and him. “So you two are brothers.”
“Yeah, this is my younger brother Clark.” Kayden said motioning towards his brother.
“Well, you’re definitely not the bigger brother.” The gnome twisted in his seat grabbing the pipe mouth as he said it. Kayden shot daggers at the gnome.
“What makes you say that, sand fly?” Kayden growled, putting emphasis on the insult. Clark chuckled, causing Kayden to turn his gaze towards his brother, this resulted in a full laughter from Clark and the innkeeper.
Kayden unbuckled the sword from his shoulder placing it next to him and turning leaning his back and the sword against the bar while crossing his arms in annoyance. “Whatever, keep laughin’.” Kayden said, refusing to look at them, instead angrily staring down a table where a card game was being played. He didn’t so much care about the patrons playing, or even the game, it was just a place to stare.
As Clark and Gordin, the innkeeper, finished their laughing; and Gordin began to exhume more smoke from his lips, Clark moved the conversation back to the beginning. “Kayden, really, why are you here?” Kayden turned to his brother, seemingly over the insult to his height which still had Clark smiling.
“I’m on…” Kayden waved his hand as if trying to catch a word to use. “Vacation.”
Clark looked confused, and Gordin arched a brow not joining into the conversation but listening as an innkeeper does. “Weren’t you doing something with the elves?”
“Ken Meiji.” Kayden corrected.
“Whatever.” Clark rolled his eyes. The Ken Meiji were a division of wizards that blended magic with the elven ‘art of the sword’. It wasn’t often they allowed any non-elven members, but they’ve been known to allow exceptions. Kayden used to adventure all over the place, writing letters back to Clark often. When he joined their ranks to better himself and earn money, his letters became fewer and farther in between. “It’s of elven origin. Either way the last letter you sent said you were in the swamps of Dhartorm.”
“Yeah, I only stayed there for a month or two.” Kayden had uncrossed his arms and was now relaxing with his boot on his knee and elbows on the counter.
“I thought you met a girl there?”
“Vera. Yeah.” Kayden looked down at that. Clark flinched not realizing that was a touchy subject.
“What happened with you and Carmin?” Clark asked, realizing he might as well be on the subject.
“Well, for one, I joined the Meiji. Two, I met Vera. Three…” Kayden thought for a second. “No that’s about it.”
“I thought you two were engaged?” Clark was desperate to hear what happened, Kayden hadn’t stressed much detail in his letter about why he and his teenage love had split. Hopefully he could get an answer now.
“Yup, but time moves on.” Kayden said, sitting forward putting his hands on his knees, feet on the chair since he couldn’t reach the floor. “What about you? How’s your schooling, Mr. Fancy Wizard.” Kayden put his famous brand of sarcasm on the name. Clark half rolled his eyes at his dodge of talking about his own life, but he was happy to tell Kayden about his own accomplishments for once.
“Well, I’m doing my Dissertation right now.” Clark started as a mug of frothing liquid was sat on the counter before Kayden and himself. They both looked to Gordin who was also receiving a mug of the same brew.
He shrugged as he took a sip of the liquid, getting white bubbles on his short and twisty moustache. “Might as well drink as you catch up.” They looked at the drink quizzically, and Gordin waved his hand at them. “It’s on me.” Clark smiled at that and took a drink from the golden ale. Kayden, not a drinker, looked at it and the Gordin before sliding his slightly towards Clark as if to say ‘All yours”. Clark didn’t argue.
Time seemed to slow as the sounds of ale being sipped, chairs moving, patrons chatting, the footsteps of the barmaid, sound of the chef in the kitchen clanging pots and pans were the only sounds existing amongst the three. Kayden looked at everyone in the bar studying them all intently and listening to the sounds around. He breathed in a sigh and turned back to face the bar, running his left hand across the side of his head. His hair wasn’t extremely long, but it hung long enough that Gordin hadn’t realized the ear that was missing on the side of Kayden’s head. A scarred mess of skin sat there instead, but Gordin only got a glance as his hair fell right back into place. Kayden looked at him realizing the gnome was staring.
“What are you doing your Dissertation on, Clark?” Kayden turned back to face his brother, realizing where the conversation had left off. The gnome continued to drink and puff his pipe, wondering about the possible hearing loss the young man dealt with. Clark set his mug down, having finished off his own ale and grabbing Kayden’s.
“Well, that’s just the thing.” Clark smiled. “I’m going for Universalist.” Gordin began choking on the intake he was taking and Kayden looked surprised to say the least.
“Universalist?!” Kayden fully turned to face his brother. “Doesn’t that mean you have to travel to all the Towers?”
Clark took a quick sip of his new ale before answering. “Well, sort of. I’ve already been to two of them. I just have to visit the other six.” Kayden looked down as he began to think, moving his hand as drawing lines on a map. Finally he gave up and began reaching into a small bag on his side. He started to pull things out and set them on the counter in front of him. First was a pair of small wooden statues, one of a bunny and the other of a raven. Next a bag of what seemed like dirty rocks. A tiny corked glass bottle, a ram horn, a pair of horseshoes, piles of paper, and various other things that seemed impossible to all be brought out of the bag he was reaching into.
Finally Kayden pulled out a scrolled piece of paper that turned out to be a map of Lyragon. He set it in front of Clark and unrolled it before him. It was detailed and Clark immediately realized it was one of Kayden’s own drawings. He then handed him a sheet of the paper from the stack and a thing of Wadd wrapped in twill to hold it by for writing.
“Put the paper over the map and sketch me your planned route.” Kayden said and began placing the objects back into the small bag on his hip. Clark made a mental note about Kayden’s magical bag before beginning to mark the paper. He could easily see the map beneath through the thin paper. He easily drew the path he had currently taken. He had headed north through Darkress to the tower specialized in the school of Necromancy. He thoroughly enjoyed his time there. People have such a misconception about that form of magic. He then went west along the great wall along the border of Lyragon and the neighboring country of Kaslin. They were consistently at war, but things had recently been silent. Clark very much enjoyed his time walking along the wall and into the northern part of his home province of Chuth.
“You went to Darkress first?” Kayden, having finished repacking his things, had moved his stool closer and was peeking over Clark’s shoulder.
“Hmm… Isn’t that the tower for Necromancy?” Gordin said, having moved to the other side of Clark and was now standing on a stool peeking over his right shoulder.
“Oh! How did that go?” Kayden asked, tearing Clark’s attention to his question.
“I hear Darkress is a very spiritual place because of it.” Gordin stated sitting on the counter.
“I’ve fought necromancers before, they were more of the evil variety though.” Kayden started, continuing to cut off Clark before he could get a comment in.
“It was very nice, and I enjoyed what I had to learn there!” Clark blew out, remembering what it was like trying to compete with Kayden for a piece of the conversation.
“Well that’s good.” Kayden scratched the scruff of a beard he had coming in and continued studying the path Clark had taken. “Why did you walk so long west?” Kayden began tracing a line with his finger down the map. Clark took the time to take another drink from his ale. “You could have just ridden the river southwest to Chuth and been there quicker.”
Clark set his ale down and began to explain how he had wanted to visit the length of the wall but this time he just let Kayden get everything out before trying to speak.
“Why did you not go to Chuth first of all? It was closer and you were living there!” Kayden put his hand in his hair looking at the map, looking confused. “Now you’re here” Kayden grabbed the Wadd and put its point against the map on a place along the route Clark traced. “And you’re planning on going to Adira next? Which tower is that?” Clark looked at him, removing the mug he was sipping on from his lips.
“Enchantment, right.” Kayden cut Clark off and he just sighed and returned to his ale. “Then to Silverleaf. Transmutation?” Clark just nodded, barely listening. Gordin was receiving plates of food from his barmaid for the three, what looked like dumplings with beans and a slice of bread.
“No. You’re going to go to Silverleaf first, and then go to Adira.” Kayden stated grabbing the slice of bread from Clark as he sat down his ale to begin eating and using it to erase the markings from the paper. He moved the map in front of him moving his plate away. He began to trace a new route along the map.
“I already planned on going to Adira. I sent word ahead of my arrival.” Clark argued and began reaching for the slice of bread on Kayden’s plate.
Kayden slapped his hand, not even looking up from the map. “Well then send word that you were wrong and stupid and are actually going to Silverleaf.”
Clark rubbed his stinging hand and resigned to eating the food on his plate, knowing that Kayden would eventually give him his plate anyway. Gordin and Clark continued to watch Kayden scribble away on the paper over the map and correct mistakes with the little piece of bread he had.
“Is he always like this?” Gordin asked Clark just as he started to take another bite of dumpling.
“Kayden?” Clark looked back to his brother who he saw erase with the bread before biting off the black portion and continuing to erase with the fresh bit while chewing. “Eh, he normally would have cracked a joke by now.”
“Okay, there we go.” Kayden said pushing the finished product towards Clark. Gordin stood back up in his seat so he could lean to see the map. On the paper was line stretching through the length of Lyragon, small branches came off the line in places which led to Elven symbols Clark couldn’t read. There were several dots across the line as it went with more symbols above them. One portion had what Gordin and Clark assumed was a cartoon boat sitting beside it. All the map did was confuse Clark more.
“I don’t understand.” Clark said, trying to continue his eating not really caring about Kayden’s new route.
“How? Do I have to draw a map for you?” Kayden joked, biting his bottom lip as he said it. “Oh I did.” Kayden chuckled at his little joke and started to outline the new journey for Clark. “This is more efficient and takes us exactly where we will need to go.”
“What?” Clark choked, swallowing his food and looking at his brother in more confusion. “What do you mean we?”
“Well, I’ve got nothing to do, and you obviously need my navigation skills.” Kayden just smiled as he rolled up the map with the outline inside.
Clark sat staring at his brother. A thousand questions raced through his mind, and none of them he knew the answer to. All he knew was here was his brother back from whatever adventure he just got out of and he wanted to travel with him. He started to say something but Kayden just grabbed his sword off the counter and pushed his plate towards him.
“Eat up. We leave tomorrow morning.” Kayden looked at Gordin who raised a fork in understanding. He walked through the arch at the edge of the counter and off towards his room.
Clark looked over at Gordin who was taking a bite out of the bread he was dipping into his dumplings. “You can get your key from my maid.”
“I didn’t pay for a room though.” Clark stated, still lost at it all.
“I believe your brother just did.” Gordin took a bite of his dumpling soaked bread. “You know how brothers can be.”
Clark looked at his brother’s plate which was left untouched. He sat for a second before shrugging it off and taking his brother’s portion. He actually enjoyed the thought of traveling with his brother.