Short Story - 1365 DR - Shades of the Past


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They were seated in a green grove tangled with freezing flowers, glimpses of faint purple and crimson wafting along to a brisk wind bent on having its way. The gentle scent of persevering roses filled the air with drowsy, cloying sweetness, soon to be claimed by the Claw of Winter. Before them, grey walls loomed in every direction in an attempt to defy the very skies; the fading colour of which gave away nightfall’s slow but inevitable encroachment. Bronze gates gleamed in the far distance in a somnolent amber light as the last rays of the setting sun befell it, drawing Thaelandriel’s attention, until the wandering of his gaze ended upon his company.

His lips parted to give way for lilting words, assured in tone.

"The omens do not lie, Tyrvul."

Of course they did. Like most things in life, his visions—when he still had them—were unpredictable even in the best of times, and these cold days of Alturiak, especially in the aftermath of the Longest Year, were not the best of times. He knew that perfectly well, just as Tyrvul did, but he had always derived a certain pleasure from seeing that little tug of his lips amongst his wrinkled canvas of a face; that subtle twist borne of seeming ire that most would’ve missed.

Oh, what a horrible colleague he could be, and there was no guilt to be found in that admission.

"The omens do not—Gods above, spare me from your petulant tit for tat,” The older man echoed in exasperation before scoffing, his eyes narrowing into small judgemental slits. Thaelandriel didn’t think it was possible for his face to look more creased and wizened than it already was, but that moment proved him profoundly wrong and for some reason that tickled him. Still, he listened to his partner’s retort with all the glee of a child barely able to contain it. “Your foretelling may have proven true in days long past, boy, but we live in different times now, something I hardly need remind you of."

Thaelandriel exposed rows of immaculate teeth in a wide grin, basking in the satisfaction—whether it proved fleeting or otherwise—that his nigh incessant verbal prodding and jabbing yielded once again.

"You would deny a dreamer the last of his lingering vestiges of hope? My, I thought you were a scholar of Candlekeep, a pursuer of knowledge and a better morrow!" The half-blood remarked with a tinge of sarcasm in his airy tones. Brushing aside wayward strands of his pitch black hair that reached well past his shoulders, he cast his eyes—flecks of gold mixing with green—down to the worn wooden bench they sat on.

Sometimes he wondered whether Tyrvul found his facetious displays secretly amusing or blatantly irksome—he could never tell after all, the eternal grump of a man that he was, even in the most amicable and joyous of settings; /even/ when he could sense that the old man was enjoying himself in some unclear way.

His gaze rose again to meet Tyrvul’s own, brown and tired eyes staring back at him indeed, with crow’s feet clawing at the corners of them—etching permanent reminders of mortality into his weathered skin. It’d be a long, long time yet before he felt the encroachment of age upon himself in the same way, and it was said his kind would never quite age as his partner had.

A perpetual air of gruff clung to the elderly Avowed and heavy frowns were an ordinary sight upon his withered face, in stark contrast to his own youthful, sharp features, and so they made the most unlikely of pairs in Candlekeep—or so they were told on a regular basis. He could hardly disagree, if only on account of enjoying the attention their nearly dysfunctional partnership drew.

“Bah, I should’ve taken that bloody mantle of the Yellow Rose when I had the chance, at least I’d be spared from your inane ramblings.”

“Mmhm, and I from your irresistible charm, my friend—now that would truly be a loss. Besides, let us not forget you never took well to the Cold Land’s… well, cold, I doubt the peak of a mountain would have treated you any better, hm?”

They both fell prey to a sudden silence then, the course of their idle chatter—or perhaps some would’ve called it banter, if not Tyrvul—coming to an abrupt end as a sobering solemnity took over. He knew what they were both thinking of.

“I do not know what to expect of the meeting.” As always, Thaelandriel was the first to break the uncomfortable silence, the disappearance of his flippant demeanour almost unnatural even to him. It begged the question as to whether it unnerved his partner just the same, if not more so. Perhaps it was only a relief to him.

“Ill tidings, boy, ill tidings. I’ve gone through enough winters to recognise the calm before the storm,” the old man rasped, those thick, hoary eyebrows of his knitting together in the deepest of frowns, “It’s a topsy-turvy world we’re living in. Few of the old rules apply now, and I wager it’ll get worse before it gets better.”

Thaelandriel frowned, forming a little jagged imperfection across his aquiline face, unable to even remotely match Tyrvul’s impressive wrinkles, though that was hardly a disappointment. He could find no words in the wake of his partner’s foreboding rumination, instead dwelling on what the Keeper of Tomes and the First Reader would have to say.

They would soon find out.

The elder of the pair rose from the bench right on cue, almost as if he’d read his thoughts, but not without brushing his fingers across grooves and swirls in the beaten wood of an armrest, a habit of his that Thaelandriel could hardly miss in their time spent together. He thought it must’ve been for comfort, but there really was no telling with him.

“Come on, boy, we’ll grow roots staring at all this dying greenery, there’s naught we can do about it anyroad. The folk out there, on the other hand…” He let the obvious remain unspoken, before speaking up again, “And we both know you can’t afford being tardy again.”

He rolled his eyes at the absurd notion of being called a boy /and/ for being admonished like one, after all he had long since surpassed the oldtimer’s age. While Tyrvul began his characteristic shambling for the inevitable journey to the House of the Binder, Thaelandriel yet tarried to peer skywards, a rueful smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

The sight of night enveloping the world brought memories rushing to the fore. He found himself thinking on the past, when he shared his scholarly pursuits with that of the divine. He missed his days as an Enstarred of the Moonmaiden, he missed the connection he once felt with Her, and the sacred work that came with divine favour, only a faint memory now.

But most of all, he missed the visions.

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Darkness obscured every window in the House of the Binder as Thaelandriel tentatively squeezed past a pair of purple clad knights he’d never seen before, yet candles blazing from every shelf, cornice and mantelpiece more than made up for the dark without. Guests, whether heralds of foreign governments, spearheading figures of authority themselves or their retinues and servants, thronged the vast space of the temple, its corridors and pews filled with a sea of people—some dressed for sombre extravagance, others for plain pragmatism or careless nonchalance.

The Avowed monks all the while glided around the congregated to tend to their respective duties, wine flowing like blood, pumping through the arteries of the Thirteenth Conclave of Candlekeep, a supposed record since the first of the rumours had begun to circulate, and the Year of the Sword was far from over.

In spite of Tyrvul’s warning, Thaelandriel was late once more. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the possibility of repercussions. This time it was his nerve that caused his belated arrival, rather than a moment of neglect that his carefree nature often gave life to.

He almost didn’t want to hear what was to be decided, he dreaded the culmination of the reports, news and hearsay they had been recording and gathering in moons past; he dreaded of what it could mean for the world as he knew it.

He had already lost so much that he could barely grasp the notion of a world even less familiar. Nonetheless, he knew he had no choice but to face the winds of change head-on, whichever direction they bellowed in.

And so he did, doing his best to settle quietly amongst a group of his colleagues standing to the far left, well out of the way of pews and the many people perched on them. Much to his chagrin, he found himself standing right next to his ever glowering partner.

Tyrvul whacked the side of his head harshly as soon as he took notice of his all too late presence, enough to send him reeling a step. The others seemed too transfixed on the pedestal in the middle and fore of the temple where the heads of Candlekeep stood, or perhaps their colleagues were just accustomed to their strange partnership.

The admonishment he had expected poured out of Tyrvul’s mouth as eagerly as the refreshments being consumed by anxious guests, if not even more generously at that, “What’s wrong with you, boy? I told you to shake a leg,” he sneered in his face. While the half-blood looked to regaining his composure and footing, he snatched a glass of something light purple from one of the Avowed drifting by with a tray, and took an unsteady sip. The old man’s raspy outburst was yet to abate. “Lady Luck must’ve her gladeye on you, seeing as I’m dim-witted enough to cover for your bloody negligence. There won’t be a next time, Thaelandriel, do you hear me?”

He offered absolutely nothing in response, waving him off carelessly. Doubtlessly the drink was there to allay the anxious air holding dominion over the temple, but all he could see was a cocktail of uncertainty and expectance in the faces and bearings of those gathered, uneasy glances exchanged between attendants—hesitant like a lamb's first steps upon shaking legs—as though the topic at hand could somehow manifest out of thin air and harm them all.

Perhaps it could’ve, if rumours were anything to go by.

The booming voice of the First Reader filled the air with his usual confidence and air of authority, something he thought he might yet lack himself before so many of the Sword Coast’s prominent emissaries and dignitaries despite his many talents. It was a good thing then that he wasn’t there to speak, but to listen.

"At this time, we do not advise that anyone attempt the use of magic without significant medical aid ready and on-hand, and even then we favour heavy limiting of spellcasting outside of matters of life and death. It is our firm belief that governments should begin taking steps to make spellcasting illegal unless they can be assured that all individual magic users have the proper precautions in place."

Shouts of outrage erupted from the crowds, fists raised and heads cocked back in sheer disbelief, shocked glances exchanged and cast. The voice of a particularly boisterous man broke through the bewildering din, “Bar magic? D’you want us slitting the throats of our wee ones whilst we’re at it?!”

Thaelandriel couldn’t help but scoff. The fault was not theirs, it wasn’t anyone’s for all they knew, least of all that of Candlekeep. Though he tried to look for the source of the most domineering voices, there were far too many figures in the way to pin anyone down with his eyes.

Another voice closer to the fore vyed for the attention of the assembly, a flurry of husky, foreign tones, thick with throaty emphasis and grating consonants, “Once splendorous Halruaa is already in shambles, you cannot possibly be asking us to push ourselves deeper into the mire of decay and deterioration we find ourselves in!”

“Please, esteemed guests, cooler heads must prevail in the face of adversity. We feel your suffering and hardship as keenly as any, for the maintenance of these sacred halls of knowledge once heavily relied upon magical means—yet here we are, adapting to the chaotic tides of change. So can you. Now, we cannot tell what the consequences may be if we continue to push the limits of the fractured Weave. This would of course be but a temporary measure until we are more knowledgeable of the crisis we face, until a method of combatting the Spellfire Phenomenon can be discov—”

The chaos of the crowds only grew in volume and intensity, drowning out the First Speaker and even the interfering Keeper of Tomes, and soon Thaelandriel found his heart drumming in his chest and the dread from before at its apex, striding briskly out of the temple, past throngs of Avowed trying to maintain order, past fist shaking gentry and shrinking servants. His worst fears were realised. He could see no way out, no way to return to normalcy.

Increasingly louder jeers and shouts came from within as he stumbled down the stairs of the temple into open air. With broken resolve, the half-blood strode off into the night, away from the crowds and his life’s work.

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