Kahle pulled his sword from the body of the dead mage. He wiped it off using the mage’s robe before sheathing it. Remembering his friend, he hurried over to the pile of ruble that had been parts of the wall and ceiling of the stone room. The mage had collapsed part of his own house down upon Orond. The process of moving the pieces of stone was slow and tiring. The late spring day was cool, but Kahle was soon covered in sweat.
After fifteen minutes, or more, he uncovered an arm. He scrambled to move more pieces, and soon had Orond’s head and torso uncovered. Battered and bloody, his friend was nearly unrecognizable. There could be no doubt about Orond’s death. A large section of stone had crushed his legs and abdomen. But Kahle did not want to believe it and struggled to move the piece pinning him. His efforts were vain, however. Kahle finally collapsed to the floor, exhausted and grief stricken.
Orond had been his childhood friend. Both of their fathers had been members of the Terrgat and had hunted mages together. When Orond became old enough, he inherited his father’s medallion and joined the mage-hunting order himself. Kahle followed soon after. This assignment was only their seventh together. It was supposed to be easy. A single mage, living alone in the woods. The mage was dead, but it had cost Orond his life.
And now, he couldn’t even free Orond’s body and bring it back with him. The sun was moving towards the horizon, and Kahle needed to get back. The first priority was the medallion, even he knew that. Carefully, he lifted Orond’s head and slipped the chain off his neck.
The mostly gold disk glinted in the later afternoon light. The emerald green circle inset surrounding the black onyx flame glowed slightly. Each medallion had been handed out by King Cepheus personally. Since the King’s murder at the hands of a mage over a century ago, no new medallions could be made, the secret of them buried with the King in his northern castle. Several had been lost over the years, so each was now carefully tracked. Many lives would be spent to retrieve even one if necessary, thus it was essential to get this back safely.
He considered Orond one more time, promising to come back and retrieve him, when he noticed a hole in the floor. At first, the splintered wood seemed to be just part of the wreckage. But Orond’s outstretched hand was actually gripping the edge of a trap door. Had he tried to escape the collapse? Or had he been about to open it before the mage’s attack? The battle was a blur in his mind, and he couldn’t be sure what Orond had been doing just before the ceiling fell.
Kahle bent down for a closer look. At first, the trap door wouldn’t move. The damage to the floor had shifted the boards so that it was stuck. After a minute or two, Kahle managed to pry it open. Past it was a ladder leading down into a cellar. Some sort of light source was providing a small amount of illumination.
Without another Terrgat, it would be foolish to go down there. And others would come to completely destroy the place. But if there was someone down there, they could make off with forbidden materials before that happened. It was his responsibility, so he climbed down.
The room was very dim, the light coming from around a door set in one wall. Hand on his hilt, Kahle walked slowly over to the door. Pushing it open with his foot, he saw a boy, no more than twelve, hastily stuffing items into a pack. Both froze in surprise at the sight of the other.
Kahle recovered first. “Who are you?”
The boy’s eyes were red and swollen, and he looked ready to break out in tears again at any moment. He just stared at Kahle, apparently unwilling or unable to speak.
“Tell me who you are, boy.”
A thought occurred to him. “Are you the mage’s apprentice?”
The boy nodded.
Anger welled up in Kahle’s chest. A mage had killed his friend. And another mage – the apprentice of that other – stood before him. His sword was halfway out of its sheath before he registered the fear in the boy’s eyes. A frightened face that looked nothing like Orond but reminded him of his friend anyway. He slammed the sword back home. Confused, unsure of himself, Kahle sat down on a stool near the door of the room.
The apprentice should be taken back. If he refused, he would meet the same fate as his master. Kahle shouldn’t hesitate. He should be relieved to exact more revenge on the mages. But the boy seemed so helpless, so lost. Kahle knew how he felt. With Orond gone . . . Orond. His friend’s death. Why did he hesitate?
The boy could have said no. Then he could be let go, no questions. It would have been careless to let him leave, but few would fault him, and then only if they found out. Now, though…
The boy continued to stare, unmoving. His terror, and perhaps sorrow, had gripped him tightly.
“Sit, boy. Standing and staring like that is doing neither of us any good. Relax. We can talk.”
Slowly, the boy sat on a stool next to him, about ten feet from Kahle. Still he said nothing.
“You understand that your master was violating the wishes of god and king. He was wrong and needed to be punished.”
The boy gave no indication that he heard, much less understood.
“Your parents wronged you by apprenticing you to him. Now we must determine how best to undo that wrong. Is that clear?”
If it was, the boy showed no sign. Kahle sighed. The simplest thing to do would be to take him back and let the captain sort the boy out. But would he come? Perhaps he was too frightened to put up a struggle. Or perhaps we has too frightened not to.
The terror on the boy’s face had completely drained away the last of Kahle’s anger. Sighing once more, he stood. There was only one thing to do, but he no longer had the heart or the stomach for it. The boy had been caught up in this world. Now he had a chance to leave it.
“Your master is dead. I guess you probably know that. Others will come. Do not be here when they do. Leave this behind. Leave magic behind. If you do not, you will share your master’s fate. This is your chance, boy. Take it.” Kahle turned to leave. He wanted to be gone from here. To forget this place that had stolen his friend’s life.
“Dayon.” The voice was unsteady, but it still had an edge of defiance to it.
Kahle turned back. “What?”
“My name. Dayon. And my master’s name was Salvor. And you killed him. For what? For your dead king? I hope you rot with your friend, Terrgat.”
The boy raised his hand and muttered something. Flame shot from his hand and struck Kahle right in the chest. When the fire subsided, he smiled at the look of shock on the boy’s face. His anger and grief had returned in force.
“Stupid boy. You could have lived. For a time, at least. Your master knew that our medallions protect us from your forbidden magic. Apparently he neglected to teach you that. Or perhaps you were a poor student.” Kahle closed the distance between them quickly as he drew his sword. He plunged the blade into the boy’s gut and twisted it. The boy’s eyes were wide as Kahle shoved him off and wiped the blade on his jerkin. He gasped for breath, but it was futile. The wound was slow and fatal.
Orond was still dead. This did not change that. But it did quench his own anger a little. Now he had to get his friend’s medallion back. He left the boy, still trying to breathe, on the floor.