Enderal:The Skinner and Wild Magic
NPC: Skeleton in Vyn - Enderal (-28, -7) @ Z: 908.438232
The Skinner and Wild Magic
She knew that her time had come.
Struggling to hold back her tears, she took a deep breath and knocked at the steel door. A moment thereafter, a man with a distinctive nose and thick pitch-black hair opened. Without having exchanged any words, the woman decided that she liked him. His upright posture conveyed a sense of safety while his black eyes promised wisdom and compassion. The keeper did not ask any questions - they were pointless. Countless women - and men as well - had already come before this door to confess, and this would not be an exception.
"Come in, my lady", he invited her, and pointed to a massive desk with his gloved right hand. With lowered head, she followed his request and entered. The "room of confession", as the folk saying went, was sparsely furnished. Three large windows allowed the clear moonlight to illuminate the outer end of the room, behind the desk, where she would now seat herself. To confess. A bitter taste took hold of her tongue. She never would have dared to imagine it could come to this.
"What is your name?", the keeper began the conversation when both of them were sitting, he with his back to the window, she with her back to the door.
"Smith." The woman did not look up. "Mirtha Smith."
The keeper nodded, grabbed a piece of parchment, a quill, and notated the name.
"And this is about...?"
Mirtha hesitated for a moment. It is too late. There is no going back now.
"My companion, Meron Smith."
She burst into tears, as her words faded away. At the same time, the sentences were oozing out like a slow and bitter mass.
"At first I thought it to be chance. But the evenings on which he came far too late or not at all became more and more frequent. Then I followed him."
The keeper looked at her sadly and began to take notes again.
"Which path did your husband follow?"
"Skinner. We -", her arm moved dismissively, "His family has been walking the furrier's path for countless generations, but what does that have to do with my testimony?"
"Mere formalities, my lady", he said and noted the path on his parchment.
"So you followed your husband - where did he go?" he asked, even though he had a vague idea.
"To the-", the completely hysterical woman balked, "to the Undercity. I have never seen him there, in that ghetto, this place of whores and beggars, this, this ...", she burst out, together with more tears.
"Please calm down and tell me exactly what happened there", the keeper said quietly, but determined.
At the same time, the woman's testimony confirmed his suspicion - the Undercity, thorn in the heart of the Order. A cancer in the ruins under the Upper City, growing ever larger and always lusting for more victims. Robbers, prostitutes, rascals, drug addicts, cutthroats and more - in short, all kinds of pathless scum were roving about in its dark and entwined alleys, escaping their just punishment. Though there were regular patrols and controls, until now the Order had not been able to lead all those stray lambs on the right path again. The thought hurt.
After the woman had found her composure again, she continued to speak slowly: "He beat at the door of an old, downtrodden hut right in the heart of the district. At first nothing happened. But then a cloaked figure lurked out of a window right above the door. Then Meron appeared to exchange weird passwords with a voice from behind the door and it was opened. My husband entered the hut. I waited a brief moment and approached the hut's windows."
"You have been extraordinarily brave, my lady", the keeper said, nodding approvingly - he knew all too well how hard it could be to enter the "cave of the Vatyr" in such situations.
"When I finally saw Meron again, he wore the same brown garb as that devilish gatekeeper. They formed a circle, surrounded by candles and billows of smoke throwing off a sweet, rotting smell. And then...", the young woman stammered, "then... then they brought in an unclothed girl in the room, gagged and bound at her feet and legs. She floundered and struggled, but a pockmarked brawny man knocked her down until all she did was trembling." By then tears were flowing out of her eyes in streams, heavily falling on the room's stony ground.
"And your companion stood back?", the keeper, touched by the woman's pain, asked.- He had heard to understand what she had experienced and what had happened with her husband.
"He... I don't understand it. How could he possibly do that? It just doesn't make... make any sense. Throughout his life he was path-abiding! We... he..." Her voice trailed off in the midst of the sentence and she only stared at the desk with unseeing eyes, as if her silence would undo what happened.
The keeper removed the leather gloves and put his rough, scarf-skinned hand on the woman's. "Often the path Malphas intends for us puts us before tempting junctions - and we do not always recognize them as such. The magic flowing in your companion's veins, and recently reaching his consciousness, is among the most horrible temptations."
The young woman was still sobbing, but slowly life returned to her honest eyes. The bearded warrior's touch calmed her.
"And your companion's deeds are understandable. In the right hands, magic - formed, controlled, and carefully supervised - is among the greatest gifts of Malphas to us", he leaned over to the broken woman, "without direction, however, it can corrode us from the inside out, leading us to pathlessness."
He reflected on the truth of his words. Magic truly was a gift, only granted to a few chosen ones, most notably the Aeterna. Far too many of Enderal's path-abiding people discovered a talent for magic in their youth but failed to report it to the Order like Malphas demanded, to decide if and how their talents should be used.
The young woman's fate was saddening.
He suspected that her companion had recently discovered his magical abilities and let himself be scared by one of the Undercity's ruthless soul fishers. They were irrational fears and lies, enwrought with splinters of truth concerning the Order's admission exam - required for all Endraleans with magical abilities - and how many magically talented novices did not survive it. Anyhow, this was the only possible way .
Wild mages - the name given to humans unable to control their bodies magical energies, might be able to achieve impressive powers, but such powers were akin to those of a rabid wolf - recklessly devouring his enemies, but in time inevitably directing his wrath at his master. The magic practiced in the Order more resembled the powers of a faithful warhorse - having its own will, but nonetheless functioning in harmony with its rider.
A trembling voice pulled him out of his thoughts. "You won't... kill him, right?", she whispered.
He removed his hand from hers and and based his chin on the backs of his hands. First slowly, then determined, he shook his head. "No. Each Endralean deserves an opportunity to return to the right path." Relief blinked in her sad eyes.
Of course he knew of the disastrous consequences caused by a magically poisoned mind - whether there would be a way back for her husband was uncertain at best, but he did not wish to take this glimmer of hope from her. "Malphas help us", he thought and continued the interrogation.
"But we will obviously have to intervene. If the circle you are speaking of truly abducts innocents - even if they come from the Undercity - we have to get down to the root of this evil. Should we expect him in your home, it will not take long for the other pathless ones to take note and remove each and every trace of their rituals. I therefore suggest to wait no longer - you will lead us to the scene of the crime as soon as possible."
It appeared like the young woman had regained part of her composure. She nodded and looked directly at the man. "What is your name?", she asked.
Surprised, he raised his eyebrows. "Simas. Simas Dal'Ceron."
For the first time this night she spoke with a calm voice, contradicting the desperation of her words. "Please protect him, Simas. I am begging you."
"I promise to do my utmost", the keeper said loud and clear.
The preparations were made quickly. Simas told Natara Dal'Veram, the head of the Order, of the circumstances. Though intervening in ordinary crimes or pathlessness belonged to the Order's routine tasks, the elderly warrioress granted Simas a detachment of experienced Order warriors to advance into the Undercity together with him and the young Mirtha - potentially discovering a whole group of criminal wild mages was too important to take chances. Upon arriving in the Undercity, the group did not lose time and was led directly to the suspicious hut by Mirtha. Even though she pretended to be dutiful and confident, Simas knew how torn she had to be on the inside.
Shortly before reaching the hut, Simas, the Order's warriors and Mirtha rested in a dark alley in order to plan the next steps.
"Have you noticed entrances apart from the front door when you were there?", Simas asked Mirtha.
"Not that I remember", she answered and added, more thoughtful and quiet, "but after I had to see the... gruesome deed, I ran back to the Upper City, without looking back - it is entirely possible that I oversaw something."
"You do not need to blame yourself for that. No one could expect you to remain level-headed upon witnessing such horror", Simas tried to encourage her and addressed his men: "So this is our plan: Three of you surround the hut until you are at its backside. Make sure to find possible escape routes. Two stay here with the lady and the the remaining men follow me into the lair."
"Can't I come with...", Mirtha began, though soon fell into silence. Though this operation was about Meron, she knew of the dangers and her death would not benefit anyone. It would be hard enough even without the added diversion.
"You are a clever and honest woman, Mirtha; I can understand your thoughts well - but for your sake I request that you wait here", Simas said with an understanding, but strict, look in his face.
She stared at him for some time, then one was able to hear an, "Alright, I will wait" from her, "but don't you forget your promise to me."
Simas nodded and turned to face his men: "Are your positions and the plan clear? Good, then we begin."
He and his men spread out and when the three charged with protecting the backside arrived, he gave the signal. He kicked the door in and swarmed into the hut with his men. At once fearful, but also furious screams left the hut: "How did they find us...? - No matter, we are better mages than those sons of Vaty..." The noise of battle grew louder and Mirtha could no longer understand the words.
Since Simas had left with his warriors, she had not once lifted her eyes from the door, praying. She prayed to Malphas for her husband's rescue and safety.
And then all there was silence. The Order's warriors appeared outside, together with Simas - two of them carried a lifeless body.
As she saw the body, Mirtha froze for a second before she ran towards the two men with fury. Before she reached them, Simas stopped her: "Is this your husband? Then he had incredible luck to stand next to the door, that way I was able to knock him out before the others in the hut realized what was happening. The other wild mages were not as lucky: apart from two wounded, they are all dead. One of my own, too, lost his life - may Malphas accompany him on his last path"
At once all anger left her and she felt joy: "Does that mean that Meron will be able to live a normal life?"
"Right now nothing is certain, first we will need to determine whether he will be able to restrict the wild magic within himself and become a warrior of the Order. Furthermore, he will have to answer for the murder of the young girl", Simas warned her.
"But if he weathers the Order's admission rituals and vows to stay faithful to his path in the future, he may be pardoned still - seeing how his spirit was clouded by magic.", he said with the hint of a smile.
Mirtha beamed,"I thank you with all my heart. But even more do I thank Malphas, who had mercy on my Meron, granting him the opportunity of a fresh start, even though he completely turned his back on the path."
"Malphas is like a merciful shepherd, though they may at times leave the right path, he does not abandon them, as long as they once again reassure him of their loyalty and lead a good further life.", Simas explained as they left the dark tunnel connecting Undercity and the Upper City to step in the warm light of the rising sun.