This was originally written in 2012 while in Brazil. It was the start of a different story, but since then it’s been added into my current chain of events for Ilandrior. In the new timeline, this takes place after The Folly of Wizards by many decades.
The city of Mesoshire had two great advantages to Gart. One, it was big, perfect to hide in. Two, it wasn’t Alden, and the priests of Stilan held no authority. He made his way through the market, not drawing any attention, even from the vendors. Everywhere, the sounds of a bustling city growled, drowning out Gart’s galloping heart. It still pounded in his chest, begging him to run, to do something. He cursed, wishing he’d spent more time learning meditation in the Temple.
The first thing he had needed to do was switch his acolyte robes for something more common. It hadn’t been as easy as he’d expected, but he didn’t expect his curse to kill the poor soul. He’d never been the best at spellcraft in class. Maybe they were right, and that blasted book did have power. He laughed, which drew a few eyes. When no one seemed to act, Gart relaxed. Nothing too serious. He regretted it, but there wasn’t anything to he could do now.
Gart stopped at a fountain, an incredible work of art and arcane magic. Five layers floated in the air, suspended by magic. Water also seemed to vanish and reappear at the top again. He sighed, wishing he was able to enjoy such things a bit longer. A man wearing the crest of the Veladion Academy upon his rich clothes came up next to him. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked Gart. “It’s one of my best works.”
Gart nodded in agreement. “It sure is pretty,” he commented, his mind already seeking a way to get away from this mage unnoticed. Mesoshire may be neutral territory, but that didn’t mean it was safe. And if this mage was no friend of any Stilanian…
“This is one of my finest creations,” the mage continued. He clapped Gart on the shoulder, then added, “But if it makes commoners like you happy, then how can I…” he stopped. Gart knew what was about to happen. Before he could say another word, Gart pushed him away and ducked into the crowd. Soon, he heard the familiar cry, “Guards! That man is a heretic!”
By the time the guards responded, Gart was already gone. Curse the Order, he needed to find a way to remove this and fast. It was bad enough to have the word ‘heretic’ branded on his back, but to have any in contact with him know it was impossible.
Soon he was beyond the crowd, charging down a side alley. Signs hung on the occasional door, proclaiming services both mundane and magical. As he walked, a sign jutted into the alleyway, “Hex Removal Services.” Gart thought for a moment, struck by the bluntness of it. Finally, he shrugged, and went in. This was the only city in the Juralen valley where mages and priests were side by side. No doubt hex removal had a high demand.
Inside was nothing he had ever expected. There were no chairs to be seen. Piles of random objects lined the walls; cages with exotic animals, murals of all sorts, and other items Gart couldn’t place. A few of them seemed to be moving, but he couldn’t be sure with the dim candlelight. He saw a desk among the mess, with piles of paperwork and coins of various types placed upon it. Placed upon the table was a sign that read, in the crudest letters Gart had ever seen, “Please Ring Bell.” Placed next to it was a small triangle, with a rod tied to it. Again, Gart shrugged, lifted the triangle, and with the rod rang it three times.
Immediately, the wall opened, and an orc came lumbering through. It was green, of course, although Gart had never actually seen one in person, and it was completely bald. On its forehead sat a tattoo that Gart guessed to be a skull, with two long tusks flowing from the mouth. It, like the paintings, appeared to move, but this time Gart was sure of it. Confirming it, the tattoo began to talk, “What do you need, heretic?”
“I was cursed by the Order of Stilan because I touched the Book of Laws.” Saying the words seemed to help, Gart thought. Being open about his situation for the first time was almost soothing. He immediately regretted his openness, when the eyes of the orc shot open – he hadn’t even noticed they were closed – and the tattoo gasped. He added, “At least, I think it was, but I’m not sure, I only read a little and I know I hadn’t read it before…”
“How old are you?” the orc asked Gart, the tattoo nodding in agreement with the question.
“Twenty-two, sir. Sirs,” he corrected himself, not sure if the tattoo was another entity or not. Spirits weren’t an unknown topic of the acolytes, but he’d never heard of one in the form of a tattoo.
“It’s incredible you lived this long,” the orc murmured, followed by an audible thump. He moaned, rubbing his head, while the tattoo spoke. “And you want us to remove this curse, so that people don’t just look at you and know you’re a heretic?”
“I’m not a heretic!” Gart shouted, drawing a shushing noise from a few of the paintings. He looked at the ground sheepishly, ashamed of his outburst. Silence filled the room for a moment.
“Then why’d you look at the book?” the tattoo asked.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Gart explained, “I just saw it lying on a desk. It’s not like it has a title written on it. I wanted to know what it was.”
The orc nodded. “All right then,” the tattoo began, “We’ll help you. But there’s a price, and I don’t mean money. Tell me what you read, and I’ll remove the curse.”
Gart thought hard about it, staring at the floor. Never had an acolyte – or anyone else that he knew – revealed a part of the Book of Laws. It was forbidden! Anyone who revealed even a sentence of the Book could be put to death. Worse, he could be cursed forever, his spirit fixed and not allowed to go on to the afterlife. But then again, that’s already what they wanted to do to him. And yet…
The door to the alley burst open, and as Gart turned he saw three guards march through, swords drawn. One pointed the weapon at Gart. “Show me your back!” he demanded. He stared at it, seeing his life end that instant, whether he acted or not.
As Gart stood there, frozen by fear, the orc shouted, “Hey, that’s my customer you’re threatening! Don’t you think I’d know if he were who you’re after, eh? Now get out of my store!”
The guard turned his attention from Gart, stalking towards the orc. His sword remained drawn before him. “Oh, I’m sure he’s running from something to be your customer,” he breathed, his voice thick with menace. “Maybe I’ll have to bring you in for questioning. After all, you’re aiding a criminal, and I have authority here.”
The orc spat towards the guard, and to Gart it seemed that the saliva turned into a silver bolt. It collided with the sword, and in a flash, it was gone, the guard still clutching the air before him. “I have rights above your authority,” he said, “including having you leave here. Now.” Many small voices began to boo at the guards from the various paintings. Slowly, the three men left the room. The door closed behind them on its own, echoing a satisfying sound through the alley and the store.
“Now,” the tattoo said, while the orc cleared his throat, “back to business. Are you going to tell us what you read or not?”
Gart drew in a deep breath, praying to the Light he was making the right decision. “No, I won’t.”
A gasp came from a goblin, which began to jump in its cage while chanting, “Won’t tell! Won’t tell!” The orc closed his eyes, while the tattoo seemed to fade. Gart guessed that they were discussing what else to do to get him to reveal that text. After a few minutes, the tattoo said, “So you don’t want to tell us the stuff you read. That’s fine, I doubt it was very interesting anyway.”
This caught Gart off guard, he smiled and began to thank them for understanding. The orc raised his hand to stop him, while the tattoo continued. “I’m actually impressed, the last heretic… er, runaway from Stilan… er, whatever you are, spouted off for near half an hour before I told him he could stop. But I can’t just remove the curse without a price, that’s not how magic works.”
“I’ll pay whatever it costs, but I don’t have much money,” Gart said, reaching for his wallet bag.
The tattoo began to talk in a strange language Gart had never heard, as if he were lecturing Gart on something. Finally, the orc spoke, “Money buys things of the physical world, not magic. Those that charge for magic with money are the really altruistic types.” He waved his hand, which Gart noted was covered in black runes. Sparks of blue and crimson followed his movements, forming into the guard’s sword. “You ever kill a man, heret… young man?”
Slowly, Gart nodded. “Hmm, you’re more than I expected. All right, here’s the price.” He picked up a necklace, with a strange rune hanging from it. Gart thought it looked like the same runes on the orc’s arm. “This needs to be in Arhals. Take it there, by any means necessary.”
“What?” Gart asked, confused. His question was echoed by the tattoo.
“This is a sacred amulet to my kind, a gift from the Hidden One. When my kinsman died at the hand of the soldiers of Stilan, it was meant to return to our home, to return to the One. Until this is done, his spirit will remain in this world, trapped, unable to rest with our ancestors. But,” he looked deep into Gart’s eyes, “its magic can be felt by mage and priest alike. They will hunt you, even more than they are now. They will try to kill you. But that’s the deal. We’ll remove the curse if you take this to my kin in Arhals. They’ll know what to do with it from there.”
“And if I don’t agree?” Gart asked guardedly.
“The curse is getting worse. We can see it because it’s our job, but soon others will too. You won’t be able to run much longer,” the tattoo said. “Although, that’s a really low price for this service. I’d take it while you can.”
Gart swallowed, thinking hard. He didn’t want to turn against everything he knew. Serving orcish spirits to return to the God of Death? That didn’t seem in line with the teachings of the Light from the Temple. Then again, they had turned against him because of a simple mistake. They did want to kill him already. But to serve another god? Then he would be a heretic! Was it worth that title becoming true because that blasted book had led him to a mad orc with a talking tattoo?
As he thought, he remembered the passage he’d read. He hadn’t thought about it before, not even when he read it, but now it came back to him as clear as ever. “Let no secrets be among you, but always remind each other of what has taken place. Those who seek to hide our past will fall into oblivion, and the Light will judge them unworthy of life.”
Gart nodded. “I’ll do it,” he said.