The House of Gradvale: Part 1 | #shorts
The trees towered above a cloaked figure in the forest. Everything was covered in snow and ice. The figure knelt down, his breath billowed out through the cloth covering his face as he inspected the earth below for signs of his target.There he found a collection of broken branches and in the center, a drop of blood.
The bolt found its home, but looks like the wound isn’t fatal. Not for a wizard this powerful.
The figure stood, loaded another bolt into his wrist-mounted crossbow, and suddenly..
The snow and leaves around the figure whirled and twisted, rising up in a column of air, like the dust devils found in the sandy region of the Havas desert.
As the leaves fell, the figure was gone.
A man in a simple robe pulled an animal skin tighter across his shoulders to protect against the cold. He wore a tall cone-shaped hat with a large, round brim on his head and ran through the frost-ridden forest with his hand up against his shoulder. A small shaft protruded between his fingers and blood trailed down his sleeve. His movement was too fast for a normal man of his stature, which was rather rotund. The wizard wore enchanted boots, each imbued with a powerful gem that allowed him to move with unnatural speed. The trees rushed by him as he hauled his portly figure through the ever-shrinking space between the trees around him.
The Shaymar forest was known for its dense flora and there was a myth among the villages that surrounded it that the deeper a person went, the slower time passed. People told stories of being stuck in this forest for weeks, but their families only ever claimed to have missed them for hours.
This was the forest Vang found himself running through. He could feel the touch of magic growing as he descended deeper into the crowded brush. He was aware of the legends but like most stories that came out of these lowborn villages, he gave them no credence.
Vang suddenly emerged out of the brush into a strange, moon-lit opening. The trees here had been severed. Aggressively and, from what Vang could tell, rather recently.
A silvery smoke rose up from the tree stumps where a jagged blade had sliced these giants in two. The cuts were exact, the blade used to make these cuts wasn’t a simple sword. Logs were strewn on the ground, left where they fell, and some of them were piled up in different places, blocking the wizard’s way forward.
“I thought this would be a good place to watch you die!”
The voice Vang heard was cold, colder than the ice that formed on the edges of his robes and it rang throughout the newly created grove as it bounced around in his skull.
“You have no understanding of the evil I have forestalled in my actions. I saw a future ahead of that girl darker than this forest we are lost in.” The wizard’s voice wavered in the cold, but his focus was on the treeline as he searched for his enemy.
“Your visions cannot be trusted. Your people are corrupt and foul. You all have power, but you are nothing more than children meddling in things beyond your own limited understanding.”
Vang stepped forward slowly, carefully lifting his feet up and over, placing them atop the logs on the ground, his eyes continuing to dart back and forth across the treeline in front of him. He drew a sword with his right hand, only a close observer would notice his weapon hand trembling.
A gust of wind swept up behind the wizard, Vang spun around, swinging his sword wildly and while he did so he whispered an unintelligible incantation to greet his enemy with a fireball that formed in his left hand.
A knife grazed his cheek as the cloaked figure flew by him, faster than the wizard could see. Vang let the fireball loose as he lost control. The magical fire lit the trees aflame, melting the ice and charring the lumber instantly. The flames continued to burn and spread across the treeline behind the wizard as he shifted his gaze back to where he heard his enemy flee.
“This is my forest, wizard. I will prime you for your execution before letting you pass through this threshold of death that stands before you.”
As the ranger spoke, Vang felt a twinge in his cheek.
Vang began whispering several spells at once, encasing himself in frosted armor as an almost imperceptible bubble formed around him.
“Your path for vengeance is misguided! You can kill me, but my brethren will not let my death go unanswered!”
“That is a fate that I have already decided for them.”
A shiver shuddered down Vang’s spine as he felt the breath of his enemy warm his ear with this threat. Vang spun around again, faster than a bugbear descending on his dinner, flailing with his sword in a desperate attempt to wound his assassin.
“You must understand what you are doing, my brethren and I are working to protect you and your people, along with everyone else in the realm!”
“Your people look down on us! You are the ones who must be exterminated!”
Vang kept spinning around atop the fallen logs and eventually slipped on an icy spot, falling onto his back with a thud.
The ranger laughed maniacally through the tears that stained his face and screamed, “THIS FIGHT ENDED AS SOON AS YOU TOOK MY DAUGHTER FROM ME!”
Ignoring the ranger’s outburst, Vang stood up and reached into his pouch to remove a bottle that contained a liquid to counteract the poison. As he drank this concoction, he heard a commotion in the distance.
Two giant bears burst through the treeline and roared, their bellows containing the same grief heard in the ranger’s words. The animals bounded across the moon-lit grass, knocking aside some of the fallen trees as they darted towards Vang. He could see the bloodlust in their eyes and knew that while his Globe of Invulnerability would prevent the ranger from any long range magical attacks, his armor would not hold up to these beasts.
“I don’t want to kill you or harm these animals, but you leave me no choice”, Vang said. Then his lips began to move as he cast another spell at the bears that were moments away from tearing into his flesh. A thin, green beam of light shot from two of the wizard’s fingers and when the beams hit the animals they immediately disintegrated in front of his eyes, their roars turning to screams as they were reduced to a pile of dust.
This time the ranger appeared directly in front of Vang, but the wizard was ready. As the ranger pushed his blade forward, in an attempt to run Vang through, he redirected the ranger’s sword and used that momentum to get behind the cloaked man. Vang grabbed the man, putting him in a headlock, a move a monk friend of his taught him, and quickly whispered another spell. With his finger pointing at the ranger’s head another green light began to form, but he hesitated.
“Listen, ranger. I did this to protect people, to prevent death. You do not understand the depth of suffering I witnessed, your girl was going to murder thousands. Including my people. I could not let that happen. But I do not want to end your life.” Vang’s voice was calm as he struggled to hold the ranger in place, his extra weight proving to give him an advantage this time.
“I don’t believe you and your false prophecies!” The ranger’s voice broke and suddenly changed as he began to lightly sob in the wizard’s arms, “You didn’t know my Lilith. She was everything to me and you took her. Who made you God, wizard? Your kind always does as you please with us lowborn, people who live simple lives. All while sitting in your towers as we work for our own survival.”
“I can give you and yours a life. A life beyond th-”
“Me and mine? My wife slit her own throat when she saw what you did. She couldn’t face the world without Lilith!”
The wizard dropped the ranger to the ground and stepped backwards, his legs giving out from under him and he fell to the ground.
“Oh my…I am so..please forgive me. This was not at a-”
The ranger slowly turned to look down at Vang on the ground, “No, it’s never what you intend, is it? It’s never what you mean to happen. But now you think you can go back to your life, back to having visions and playing God?”
Vang looked up at the man, “I-...I thought I was helping. I did not know your daughter. I do not know you. I only know what I saw. I’m so…I’m sorry.”
The wizard’s concentration had broken, his spells were gone and he sat powerless on the ground looking up at the man whose life he destroyed. The ranger cleaned his blades by wiping them on his sleeves and then raised his arm.
“My name is Orem and I want you to know, Vang of Gradvale, that your family will suffer as mine has.”
Orem dropped his arm.
The wizard’s eyes grew wide, “We don’t have to continue this cycle of vio-”
An arrow buried itself deep into Vang’s left eye and his body fell over, lifeless.
Orem felt his arm drop to the side. He heard the thump of the body on the ground. That’s the same moment he heard the wizard’s last words.
“We don’t have to continue this cycle of vio-”
Not continue this cycle of violence?
“I have no choice”, Orem heard himself say. He walked across the grove, over to the treeline the bears emerged from earlier. He greeted another cloaked figure who held a crossbow at the edge of the trees, “Thanks for sending in those beasts, it was a good distraction.”
The other cloaked man spoke up, his voice rang higher than Orem’s and he looked to be about a decade younger, “Anything for you brother.”
There was a long pause as the brothers stood next to each other.
“What happens now?”, the younger man asked.
“Now? Now we kill them, Grek. All of ‘em.”
Grek shook his head in disbelief, “Kill them? The Wizards of Gradvale? And just how in Mielikki’s name are we gonna do that?"
“I have some ideas.” Orem looked back across the grove at the wizard’s corpse, the trees behind the lifeless figure were still burning with the magical fire that was meant for him. The brothers started the trek back to their village, unsure of what consequences they might face and feeling nothing but the vengeance that blackened their hearts.