My job as a courier was easy. Usually. Up until this point I had never once failed. I had completed all my tasks in the time that was given to me, and was usually back before I was scheduled to be. One night, however, under a dark and brooding sky, I was magically summoned to the presence of the wizard of Castle Medievia.
He turned from his work and said, "I have heard that you are good at what you do."
"Yes, sir, I am." Came my prompt reply.
"Then I have a job for you. You must take this object to Horneg the mage." He reached deep into the folds of his cloak and withdrew a small crystalline ball.
"This ball will allow Horneg to forget that which haunts him day and night, will allow him to forget the loss of his dear wife. He has researched ancient texts for nigh on 4 years, searching for a way, any way, to revive her. Now he stands on the brink of madness. Let him only touch this ball and he will forget, and his memories will be soothed. As a warning to you young man, let no one else touch this ball, least of all you! Any man less than Horneg himself will be destroyed by its power. Never handle it without gloves, let it never touch even the slightest piece of your skin, lest you be reduced to nothing."
I reached out almost reverently, and with my riding gloves carefully secured I grasped the ball. Even through the thick leather I could feel the pulsating power of the ball, the strength of its magic. I carefully set it within my bag and turned to go.
The wizard spoke from behind me, "Beware Horneg young man, for his power is great, and he will resist you if he detects even the slightest hint of anything amiss. Good luck lad." He spoke a word and I found myself just outside Medievia, with a small pouch of gold coins in my hand. I groggily shook my head to clear the remnant of disorientation from it, and called for the aid of a dragon. Something flashed across the clearing, and I found that my bag of gold was gone. A few moments later I heard the sound of wing beats, and a large silver dragon landed near me.
I clambered up on its wide back and said, "To Horneg's keep, as swiftly as you can take me." The dragon jumped into the air and soon I was hard pressed to maintain my grip. The wind tugged at me with incredible force, and far below the trees flowed by like the wave of the ocean.
"Is this as fast as you can go?" I shouted to the dragon against the wind. Our speed instantaneously doubled. Every knuckle on my hands were pale white, the blood forced out of them by the fear with which I grasping at the dragon. Its wings beat at an ungodly pace, propelling us at a speed that I had never traveled before. On the horizon a tall silhouette began to take shape, darker than even the night that we flew through.
"Take me there!" I yelled, but the howling wind snatched my voice away. I caught the dragon's attention and pointed.
"There." I shouted again. The dragon banked off steeply and dived toward the castle. We landed just outside the area, and I clambered off, glad to be alive. Pulling a few extra coins from my jerkin I gave them to the dragon.
"That's for not letting me fall off." The dragon took off, straight up into the air, leaving only a small whirlwind of swirling dust behind. I combed my fingers through my now tangled hair, and surveyed the area in which I now stood. I could see a tangled woods of dark trees to the south, where even the now rising sun could not penetrate. However, To the west was my object, a tall brooding castle that sat upon an even taller butte. I shouldered the bag that contained the magic ball and started to work my way toward it. I had not progressed far when I came upon the extremely steep cliff that soared upward toward the castle. Carefully strapping the bag to my back I began climbing, shimmying up roots and using every ounce of my strength. I had not yet made it halfway when I came upon a particularly difficult stretch. Not a single root or dangling branch presented itself, and the rock was almost smooth. A ledge stood about 15 feet above my head, and should I be able to reach it I could see that I would have no more trouble with the rest of the climb. I carefully set my boot into a small crack, and hiked myself up to where I was able to grasp a tiny protrusion the width of a gold coin. Pulling upward with all my might I reached another small grip, which I set the very edge of my toe on. Reaching as far as I could I caught a hold of the larger ledge, and pulled myself over it. I lay panting, my body trembling from exertion. That is when I heard it. A low throaty grow sounded from over my shoulder. I froze, and my breath became shallow and short. Slowly I rolled over, right into the paws of a giant mountain lion. The lion bit downward with wild ferocity, but I was faster. I jerked my head out of the way, and using my momentum sprung to my feet. Out came my blade, and I waited for his next attack. I didn't have to wait for long. The cat pounced at me, knocking me from my feet, and to the ground, half of my body hanging over the precipitous drop. My sword was knocked from my hand and went skittering across the ledge, stopping just short of the edge. I was completely pinned beneath the weight of the lion, unable to defend myself. It snapped at me, and I jerked with pain as it came back with a portion of my shoulder in its jaws. I freed one hand, and caught the lion by its throat, trying desperately to hold it back. It roared and brought up its paw to crush me, freeing my other hand in the process. I grabbed its paw and rolled sharply to the side. Right off the edge of the cliff. Just as I was leaving the ledge I reached out and caught the edge with my injured arm. The lion somersaulted by me with a frightened yelp and plunged to its death hundreds of feet below. My arm cried out in pain and I slapped my other hand up to support it. I hung suspended, my left arm too weak to pull, and my right just supporting me. As I hung there I felt a slight movement on my shoulder. The cord that held the bag to my shoulder had been damaged and was beginning to separate. I let go of the ledge with one hand, and caught it, just as it started to fall. My body swung to the right with the sudden movement, painfully twisting the arm that supported it. I realized that if I let go now I didn't have a chance of surviving. I reached back up with my other hand, still clutching the bag, and began to slowly pull myself upward. My injured shoulder shrieked with agony, but I continued to lift myself. Slowly but surely I pulled myself over the ledge, and thankfully rested, the bag clutched with determined strength.
As I suspected that ledge was the hardest part of the climb. The rest passed uneventfully, even though my arm was in poor condition. Soon I was up within the courtyard of Horneg's keep. I could even sense the magic of the place from outside. It beat down upon me, lowering my resolve. But I had come so far that I wasn't about to turn back. I started to walk through the area, avoiding strange birds of stone that flew magically around. Before long the path lead to a large gate, locked as tight as any gate I have seen since. I knew not any of the skills of a thief, and the mage's spell that allowed them to walk through such things was far beyond me. I backed up a few paces and rushed at the door, attempting to break it open. Unfortunately I had temporarily forgotten that my arm was damaged, and striking it against the gate brought me to my knees. As I sat pondering I noticed a suit of armor, standing in the corner. Around its neck guard it wore a large metal key.
"The fools." I said to myself "What a poor location to hide a key!" I jerked the key from the around the armor's neck and turned to open the gate. A kick from behind sent me reeling face first into the door. I turned to see the armor that I had removed the key from standing not five feet from me, very much alive, and armed with a large sword. It charged and brought down the sword in a deadly arc. I dodged to the side, and the armor's sword imbedded itself deeply in the gate. As it tried vainly to remove it I returned a kick of my own, and immediately regretted it. My leather boots did not protect me from the hard iron of the armor. Wincing, I drew my sword, just as the armor freed his. It did not lunge forward as a beast would. Instead it began to circle me, trying to determine my weaknesses. It acted almost human. I too circled, every once in a while lunging forward with a slash or jab, which clanged off its solid metal frame, not even seeming to phase it. Suddenly, without any warning it charged straight at me, its sword leveled at my chest. I brought my weapon down in a terrible blow, and smote its arm from its metal clad body. The armor, undismayed by the loss of its limb kept coming, and crushed me to the wall, my head slamming against the unyielding rock. I fell to the ground, dazed by the impact. Through my blurry vision I saw it return to its sword arm and remove the blade from it. It turned at began to bring down the blade to finish me. I raised my sword to counter it, wedging the sword in a crack of the wall. The animated armor's weapon crashed into mine and snapped off at the haft. Taking my advantage I lunged from a crouch right into the center of the armor's breastplate, knocking it clear away from the rest of its limbs. The enchantment dispersed and I stood above a pile of damaged armor. Slowly, I bent over and picked up the key. Walking unsteadily to the door, I began to open it, its multiple images swimming through my head. Before I could a darkness came over my eyes and I stumbled to the side of the path and lost consciousness.
I don't know how many hours I slept. All I know is that when I woke up I was feeling a lot better. I stood up, cracked my back and froze at the unexpected sight that greeted my eyes. Someone had been through there while I was sleeping. The doors of the castle were flung open wide, and there was a grem-lin corpse lying just inside the gate. I cautiously crept in through the door, noticing the deep wound in the corpses back.
"Thief." I noted to myself. I continued to the south where more corpses lay littering the floor.
"Powerful thief." I corrected myself. There was a staircase to the south, and as there were no bodies there. I decided to go that way. No need to provoke a powerful thief. The hallway at the top of the stairs was empty of anyone. The only thing that seemed out of place was an ordinary broom that lay against the wall. I walked slowly up the corridor, my eyes peeled for trouble. Suddenly, out of no where, someone tripped me. I plunged to the ground, landing hard on my chest. A crack echoed through the corridor, and I arched my back in pain. Rolling over I sprung to my feet to combat the menace. To my surprise it was the broom that had been lying against the wall. It swung itself at me, and I, with a swift down slice, shattered its shaft all the way to the ground.
"You guys aren't very tough are you." I smirked to myself. Turning around I noticed a door, and opened it. There, inside the closet were rows upon rows of animated brooms.
"Crud." I said and slammed the door. Immediately the brooms began to pound on the door, forcing it open bit by bit. Reaching down to the ground I grabbed a short piece of the splintered broomstick and braced the door with it. Leaving the door I raced down the hallway, not taking care where I went. I skidded around a corner right into the master thief who I was trying to avoid. He raised his dagger, and though I tried to avoid it, I couldn't. He plunged it deep into my unprotected back and I fell to the ground, near death. He reached down and removed the bag from my shoulder.
"Let us see what you were carrying. Ah a magnificent crystal ball." Even had I tried I would not have been able to say anything. The thief reached down into the bag and grabbed the ball. Instantaneously a change came over him. His eyes lit up with horror and convulsions began to wrack his body. A strange white essence began to surround him and he screamed in pain. The ball light up in his hands and I could smell burning flesh.
"No help; NO!" The thief fell forward with a prolonged shriek, crashing down heavily, the ball's fall cushioned by his cold hands. I slowly and painfully reached down to my side, where I always kept a vial of healing. Quaffing the elixir I felt the blood flow from my back begin to cease. I crawled forward and took the ball gently from the dead thief's hands, shivering at the chill of what had just been living flesh. Standing up, I tried to get my bearings, but I was lost. Down the hall I heard the sound of the closet door finally falling to the combined effort of the enchanted broomsticks. Looking for somewhere to hide I threw myself through a door and slammed it behind me. Looking around for another way out I saw a dim figure in the corner.
"You are not protected! Begone." Horneg said. He raised his hand and began to say something magical.
"No wait! The wizard of Castle Medievia sent me to give you something." I turned from the door and spoke as swiftly as possible in order to stay alive. Horneg lowered his arm and listened.
"He sent me to give you this." I showed him the crystalline ball. The mage looked dubiously at the crystal.
"It is imbued with powerful magic." I said. He reached out to take it from me, but at the last moment withdrew his hands.
"A clever trap, but not a wise one." He said, his eyes narrowing.
"The blood of a man stains that ball, his soul crushed by its magic. The wizard of Medievia wishes to see me deceased, but he would not face me himself. Instead he sent a expendable flunkey!" He waved his arm and the ball exploded into a million pieces, riddling my face and body with fiery particles. I fell to the ground, every inch of my body burning with pain.
"And this shall be the fate of all assassins who attempt to end my life." I only heard Horneg vaguely over my own muffled sobs of agony. He began chanting a spell of power, and looking up with great difficulty I saw a great band of shimmering air beginning to form in front of him. Grimacing in pain I reached down to my side once more, trying to find another potion of health. The pouch was empty except for one potion, a swirling potion of blue and white. I flung it to my lips and drank it. The room grew fuzzy, the spell's power limited by the distance. Horneg scowled and unleashed a terrifying shockwave toward me. It approached at the speed of lightning, seeming to grow more and more powerful as it neared. The room began to blink on and off, the potion continuing to try to recall me. I flung up my arms to protect myself and there was a sudden flash of light. I found myself in Medievia, surrounded by a bustling crowd of people, blood dripping from me into a crimson puddle, my arms protecting me from an attack that was miles away. The crowd hurried me to a healer, where I had thousands of tiny shards of the ball removed from me. I rested for a long, long time.
Later I climbed the wearisome steps to Castle Medievia to report my failure.
"Then we shall have to consider another course of action. Horneg's creations begin to threaten the security and sanctity of all of Medievia. We cannot allow him to continue his path of destruction. Due to the fact that peaceful measures have failed we will have to do what he feared you were there to do. We may have to destroy him and all that he has done." The wizard slumped in defeat and sent me from his presence.
That was long, long ago. Never has another job of such magnitude come by me, nor would I accept another such as it. The scars of that simple job still adorn my body, and I became more cautious because of it. Horneg still stews in his castle, for the wizard has not yet taken action. However, I sense that his days on earth are numbered, and soon he will join his wife once more.