Andril Tainer had really had enough of all this shit. Fuck you very much.
Now in a meta-magic state of consciousness, which amazingly made a lot of sense to him at that exact moment, he thought it high time for something he normally would try to do sparingly: reflect. He wasn’t sure if it was the dreamy mist or the foggy clouds, but there was something about this exact moment that made him consider a reflection after all.
He could have thought of the whole recent affair—getting kidnapped by a sabotaging dragon shapechanging asshole, being left for dead on an underground island full of undead, and creeping through a lunatic’s underground fortress chased by laboratory experiments–as a real pain in his ass.
But then there was the arcane research he had acquired. That made the reflection a bit blurry now didn’t it? Abraxas had inadvertently given him several lifetimes of spells, perfected at the expense of another mage’s backside, or life perhaps. Spell research and the early practice of those spells was dangerous work.
Andril had acquired shelves of that knowledge in the matter of a single night.
Thanks, fucker. Andril now had a simple goal. It was a goal that he knew his shoot first, and ask questions later pal Lord Haryk shared. Maybe it was the euphoria of feeling weightless, maybe it was the arcane research, but something about using Abraxas’ own spells against him made Andril Tainer feel warm and toasty.
He was adrift in the void, drifting on the fuzzy clouds of his own consciousness now. Full of toasty and warm thoughts that mostly featured his empowerment and Abraxas’ death, and some featuring both, when there was a change in the void. A sound, small but there nevertheless. It annoyed him as just then he was still spooning the idea of murder most foul.
Someone was calling him from far away in the haze and the grey and the smoke of his floating cloud euphoria. He thought it rather funny because ordinarily, he didn’t need to enter a portal to reach this level of enlightenment, he just needed to smell some of the residues at the bottom of the glassware after he made a potion of haste.
He also thought it was funny because the person calling to him, was him, at least it sure sounded like it. Well, he figured, when one calls to oneself, one does answer, doesn’t he? “Yes, Andril, whaddaya want?”
“I’d like to discuss your future, dear boy,” came his other self, sounding much closer now, nearly inside his head, but not quite. “I mean to have a chat about where you are going so to speak.”
“Well, what would you like to know exactly? I have plans, same as you!”
“Of course you do, of course you do,” sympathized the dreamy Andril. “I’d not doubted that for a second.”
“Well, then what the lighted fuckery are you pestering me for? As if I care what you doubt anyway. I am alone with my thoughts here, can you not tell?”
“I clearly do, Andril. I only ask because I’ve taken it upon myself to be your guide, dear boy.”
“Guide? You? Don’t make me laugh. You can’t even guide that pistol-whipping Haryk to a toilet before he’s pissing on the tavern floor.”
“See, our journey on the path has already started off well.”
“Andril, you, Lord Haryk and the boy are currently on the Path of Light. It is my task to help you choose when to go.”
“You mean where. Where to go.”
“That’s what I said, Andril.”
“Have you been drinking that Kill Devil’s Rum with Haryk? No? Because it’s just us here dear boy. No Haryk. No pest control specialist.”
“They’ve other thoughts Andril. And other choices. I’m here to discuss yours.”
“Oh great, so I pulled the short stick and landed the ultra-feminine version of me guide. I hope Haryk got as lucky. Well then, Guide, what choices do I have?”
“That depends on you.”
“Me, how in the blasted darkness of Ket am I suppose to know what choices you have on this so called Path of yours?”
“Waiter. Check please.”
“Now, now Andril. We’ve got to figure ourselves out here. So I’ll need your full participation.”
“Well, I’m doing my part thus far. I’m waiting.” Andril sighed. This conversation was getting no where and this whole floating cloud bank was an even better place to think than his tower!
“Andril. Before you, or behind you if you wish to think of it that way, lay the destinations of journeys you are destined for. You must choose one.”
“One? Why is it always one? And how am I supposed to know which is best?”
“That, Andril Tainer, is why I am here.”
Moments later, or perhaps it was hours, or days, Andril found himself someplace dark. Like a great lamp had been extinguished, he felt cold, and sensed a great weight upon his shoulders as well. And there was only the still darkness around him. Nothing more.
Andril was no where he would have said. He was just. That was it. He just was. And as he just was, he just was a part of a vision happening near him, very near. It was like seeing inside of a clear bubble that sprang into being out of the nothingness, while all the outside was distorted and murky and devoid of light, color, or shape. Entering the little bubble, he found himself within a scene. Next to him lay bodies, bodies he recognized. Haryk lay there, as well as a woman draped in bags of various sizes. Next to this woman lay others—one with green skin, a strange elongated face. Another had horns upon his head. Andril walked towards the bodies. His steps were sluggish, his body weak. They were smeared in blood, laying in pools of blood.
“What has happened to them?” He asked.
“Or what will happen to them,” came the dreamy Andril’s smart reply.
“That is not a fair answer.”
“Life is not fair, Andril.”
“That’s what I say!” Andril scoffed. “Why do I feel this way, Guide?”
“You feel the price you must pay to choose this destination Andril. This is a difficult journey to take.”
“Well, I don’t understand. Are they dead?”
“They could be.”
“Borindin’s bleeding gums. What is that supposed to mean, Guide? Are they dead or not? Stop playing games.”
“Andril, you are a man of logic. You must know that every stream can flow in the direction it has a path to do so. But not everyone can see where it goes.”
“Are you suggesting I could save them? Save them at my own expense I dare say! What game is this you play?” Andril tried to move nearer the bodies but they began to fade back into the ether. Andril cried out, angry that the image disappeared so soon.
Andril felt himself again, alone again in the void. He also felt himself grow strong once more as though he was returning back to himself, and his relief spread across his mind. He and the guide walked on, or at least he imagined they did, into the stillness, the black. Their footsteps matched perfectly, landing on nothing, but doing so at the same time. Beside him, around him, Andril began to hear voices, small but distinct.Subtle yet with a strength he felt drumming into his core. They were all chanting, singing. There was hope. He stopped, but the guide walked on, and Andril stepped faster to catch up.
“Why are you not showing me this vision, guide?”
“Because it is not a choice, for you Andril.”
“And how do you know that? How can you possibly know that! The voices are beautiful. The people, they are all….they are all…”
“They are all calling to you Andril. I know. And they are all so very far away. You have not the way to walk this path, now.”
“It’s terrific, marvelous. I’ve never felt anything like this. I wish to go there! Take me there, please!”
“I told you, that is not a choice you may take.”
“But I don’t understand, why show me if you do not intend to honor my wishes! Bring me a new guide, damn you!”
“I am the only guide available to you my dear boy. Please understand, not all choices are available to you now.”
“And why can I not chose it? Eh? Why do you keep me from this choice?”
“I am not keeping you from it, Andril. You are.”
Andril again felt himself pulling away from the blurry image, and he and his guide walked on, through the perfect darkness of the space. He stepped. His guide stepped. From time to time a voice would echo near him, or in some cases far away. He felt the presence of other choices, other visions, but he found himself walking away from them all. On they walked, until Andril sensed another presence, another vision, and this one too drew him towards it, but for very different reasons. He felt relaxed here as the darkness grew into dim light before him. A sunrise. Over a great bay. Around him, the city lay in ruins, and great storm clouds lay on the horizon. Smoke was in the air layered like a slice of meat over the vast body of water below the city.
“I don’t understand. There is nothing to do here. I feel nothing. I am, I do not feel needed.”
“That is because you are not needed here Andril. This is not where others need you, it is where you need to be.”
“I feel like myself. This place, a great battle was waged here no doubt. The fools, fighting for scraps! Now they are here. To the victors the spoils. I feel that this is a smart place to be.”
“That’s because it is your choice. You belong here.”
“My choice? And how would you know what I will ultimately chose? Eh? What are you up to anyway? This is some kind of hoax, a sham. You’re a cheap Cillandrial charlatan! Why the premise of choice, if not to sabotage me for some foul purpose? To what end is this little game of yours? What are you trying to keep me from?”
“It is not a game Andril, and I am keeping you from nothing. You are as free to choose, as ever you were. And this scene before you feels right, because you have chosen it already.”
“You read my mind? Do spells work here? Because if they do…”
“It is not a spell Andril.”
“Lucky for you then. Now, what if I chose here? Eh? What’s in it for me? You say you knew I’d choose this destination. Tell me why. You are a guide aren’t you? You can do that can you not?”
“Of course,” answered the guide. Andril stared out into the ruins and the bay, listening. “Here you find your true potential. Power. Here is where you lose none of that strength that you have fought to find. Here is where you are meant to go.”
“Well, you’re right, and it wasn’t like the choices were great. I’m ready to chose!”
The guide was silent.
“I’ve had enough and I’ve made my choice, although I daren’t think it’s the one you’d choose!”
“I’m glad to hear. How shall I take you on the next part of your journey, Master Tainer?”
“I’ll dare not sacrifice my hard earned work, all I’ve fought for! I suspect you’d have reasoned as well. I chose to be where I can most benefit myself of course. Really no choice at all.”
“An excellent choice, Andril. I will see you there.”
Andril stepped forward into the vision. One step, then two. He turned back, and saw no one behind him. Just the dark. Nothing more. “Guide?”
There was no answer.
And then a voice inside his head answered. “It is time, Andril. Let’s on with it.”
“Let’s,” Andril answered himself feeling more and more sure that he had avoided some grand trick. “It’s about fucking time someone as smart as me was running things.”
No sooner had Frank’s body entered the glimmer of the Kasillian portal, then Andril’s booted foot appeared out of it, and then came the mage’s hand holding his magnificent staff and the rest of him as well. The four had gone in.
Three had come out.
Andril saw first only the ancient stone platform, the four statues standing tall and robust despite their decay. He overlooked an expansive bay, covered in smoky clouds. Around him, everywhere smoke billowed from fissures in the ground, and in the bay itself, wounded ships with their sailors working on repairs littered the areas closest to shore.
He saw Haryk first. Then the boy beside him. They were still blurry, as though they weren’t quite there yet. He assumed logically that this meant he wasn’t either. “Looks like you bastards chose the blue pill too,” laughed Andril. And then he really got going, “Must have been tough Haryk with only two of your minds working on a decision.”
“I kind of thought of it as the red one actually,” said Lord Haryk. “Clearly it didn’t work, because I was supposed to go where skinny bookworms stay in the library and let us real adventurers do all the cool stuff.”
Tahg was grinning from ear to ear. “That was amazing! Seriously guys! Are we, um, teleported or something then?”
“I should have known better than to enter a magical portal with you half-wits.”