I was hoping to do more for the Spring season, but you’re just going to have to live with a new Bardass! chapter. I’ll be gone until the 27th unless I can find me a decent hotspot in the Philippines. Ciao!
Quest 11 – The Way of Alchemy
After two days of wandering within the west Rhean forests, Brier, Arco, and Coleen were still in search of the hidden village.
Coleen: I don’t know how much longer we can keep this up…
Brier: We’re fine. You’re a great mage.
Coleen: Thanks, but I’m more concerned about you. Are you absolutely certain you’re reading that map correctly?
Brier: Are you saying you think you would do a better job?
Coleen: Well, I HAVE traveled throughout all of Rym.
Brier: What makes you think I haven’t?
Coleen: Maybe the fact that we still haven’t found that village.
Brier: If you want the map so badly, just say so.
Brier folded up their map and flung it towards Coleen.
Brier: We won’t be needing it anyway. Take a look at that!
Brier pointed above the forest canopy towards a column of black smoke.
Brier: See? I’d say somebody’s cooking up a fierce meal. And I want in.
Coleen: Uh, not unless you want something huge and completely burnt. That doesn’t look good.
Brier: You think so too, huh? Alright, let’s find out what’s going on!
The three ran frantically to the source of the smoke and arrived at what appeared to be a small settlement in a clearing in the forest. Several buildings were broken down and in ruins.
There was no visible fire, but smoke still seeped out from under a building that had collapsed in its place.
Coleen: How terrible… What happened here?
? ? ?: *cough* *cough* Ooooooh…
Brier: Looks like we’ve got a live one.
Coleen: He looks pretty bad… I wish we brought a Cleric.
Brier: He’ll live.
Coleen: Don’t you have a song that can help him?
Brier: Do I?
Brier: No, I don’t think he’s in danger of going unconscious.
? ? ?: Oh, don’t mind me. This has happened before. Just give me a while.
The mystery man brushed off some of the rubble on his body, sat up, and shook off the debris in his fairly long black hair.
He looked youthful, but had tired, unfocused eyes. He glanced between Brier and Coleen half a dozen times before addressing the two.
Avery: Sorry, my name’s Avery. What brings you to my domain?
Coleen: Not much of a domain you have here. It looks like the entire village got razed. You’re the only survivor we could find.
Avery: Village? What village?
Brier: Look around you.
Avery: What, those? Those are my old workshops.
Coleen: ALL of those ruined buildings are your old workshops?
Avery: Yes. This happens a lot. Looks like I’ll have to build a new one.
Brier: So… there’s no village around here?
Avery: Can’t say. I haven’t seen another person in quite a few years.
Coleen: Seriously? You don’t strike me as the hermit type.
Avery: I haven’t been around any hermits, so I wouldn’t know. Ah…
The young man passed his hand down his face, then looked down and around his surroundings.
Avery: It appears my glasses were blown away in the blast. Would you mind accompanying me home? I have some spares there.
Brier: Your home? The one that just got destroyed?
Avery: No, that was just a workshop. I have many important documents I keep away from this site. I wouldn’t put them in any danger.
Coleen: Well, it couldn’t hurt.
Avery: That’s the spirit! Now, it should be south of here. Please, clear the way, if you will. I’m afraid I lost whatever weapons I had on me in the blast.
Following Avery’s directions, the party cleared the path of all threats and made their way to a secluded cabin.
Avery: Yes, yes… Do go in. I must reward you for helping me back there. I’ll cook you up some steaks I have saved up in my chilling chest.
Coleen: Chilling chest?
Brier: What’s that?
Avery: Oh, sorry. You people must have a different term for it. It’s a box that uses the latent power of ice spirits to keep food chilled and preserved.
Brier: Come again now?
Avery: Still confused are we? Oh, that’s right… That’s one of my inventions. My fault. Again, I’ve been alone for roughly 15 years now. I lose track of these things.
Coleen: 15 years?! That’s longer than Brier’s been alive!
Brier: Has not! I told you, I have a hex on me!
Avery: Oh, hex problems? You must tell me all about it after dinner. As the last Lorathian alive, I’m sure there’s something I can do about it.
Brier: Really? Tha- wait, WHAT?!
Coleen: Last Lorathian alive? You?
Avery: Indeed. Surprised there’s a survivor?
Coleen: Surprised there’s one aside from Duvall!
Brier: The Dark Lord Balken destroyed Lorath with a spell of Cataclysm, leaving only Caden the Necromancer, one of his Four Generals, and Duvall the Afflicter, another Lorathian outcast, alive. When the Seven Heroes attacked the castle at Aria, Caden was killed, leaving Duvall the sole survivor.
Avery: Interesting story. I haven’t heard any of it, but I can confirm that my brother Caden was indeed killed around six years ago.
Coleen: Your brother? Caden the Necromancer was?
Avery: Yes. My older twin, to be exact.
Brier: Twin? But Caden was… Well, he looked way older than you. And that was before he died.
Avery: A long time ago, I asked him to cast a hex of youth on me. Reverted me back to my 15-year-old form and locked me in that state. That was until Caden died. The curse broke, and I started aging again. I don’t look half bad for 47, don’t I?
Brier: Th… That’s the same hex I’ve got on me!
Avery: Is that right? Well, that’s a Lorathian spell. Blood bonded, too. Only way to lift it is for the caster to die. Terrible curse, that.
Brier: Huh? But didn’t you ask for it to be placed on you?
Avery: Oh, yes. But all the time spent in the youth-locked form drains time away from the end of your life. If I weren’t a Lorathian, I’d be lucky to have ten years left to live. As a Lorathian, I used the life force of the monsters I killed as a catalyst to power my hex. You, on the other hand… Well, for your sake I hope you’re not too old.
Brier: Uh… 30. Plus six years locked in this state.
Avery: Well, that’s not too bad. You’ll live. Have a seat!
Coleen: You’re really 36? I never would have guessed.
Avery continued talking about himself while preparing the steak dinner. Just as he said, he produced three cold steaks from his “chill chest” and lit up a stove to cook them.
Avery: I’ve been out here studying the way of Alchemy undisturbed. I trust you’ve at least heard of the practice.
Coleen: I know of it. Alchemists spend their lives searching for the “Philosopher’s Stone,” which can turn ordinary rocks into gold.
Avery: A ha ha ha ha! That is something of a popular simplification. But, no. Actually the so-called “Philosopher’s Stone” is actually a stone that has been turned to gold. So the “Stone” is actually one of the goals of the Alchemist, not a tool. And we would call it the “Scholar’s Stone,” not the “Philosopher’s Stone.” It is so named because it is believed that enough study into the field would one day reveal the art of transmutation; that is, the transformation of one material into another material. But alchemy is so much more than trivial pursuits. For instance, my chilling chests. Oh, but before that, let me show you something.
Avery walked across the room to a drawer and removed a leather bag from it. He opened the bag and pulled a translucent blue stone from it.
Avery: Do you know what this is?
Coleen: It’s pretty… but unlike any gem I’ve seen.
Avery: It’s Spirit Stone. Before Lorath’s demise, the Old Ones created hundreds of these stones. They are the essence of spirits, trapped in stone. A mage such as yourself would chant spells and ask for help from spirits to perform a myriad of tasks. But with Spirit Stones, the spirits become your slaves and perform tasks exactly as commanded. After Lorath was destroyed, Caden visited me and gave me all the Spirit Stones he looted from its ruins. I’ve been performing experiments ever since.
Coleen: Experiments? Why not release the spirits from these stones?
Avery: I thought about it. When I was young, I thought it was the best thing to do. But as an Alchemist, I couldn’t just leave it at that. With Spirit Stones, even normal people that haven’t trained as mages could harness the power of the spirits. So much power is concentrated into even one stone! One Ice Spirit Stone powers one of my chilling chests for six months! Think of the applications! One day, normal humans might be able to travel through the air like wyverns! Homes might be kept comfortably cool even in the hottest summers! Deadly dungeons excavated remotely through the use of mechanical cats!
Coleen: Wait, that last one…?
Avery: The point is, I didn’t trap these spirits. The only way to release them is to use the stones, and if they must be used, it might as well be for the benefit of Alchemy. The Old Ones would have used the spirits to prolong their useless lives for another thousand years.
Brier: So those destroyed workshops… Experiments?
Avery: Yes. When you arrived, I was working on an idea for a weapon I had. You know of cannons, correct? I was trying to power a miniature cannon that one could carry effortlessly across the battlefield and fire missiles with exponentially more force.
Avery: Hundreds of times more powerful. Unfortunately, the chamber I built wasn’t strong enough, and the entire device blew up. Along with the workshop, of course.
Coleen: And how does a new weapon like that benefit humanity?
Avery: Well, that was more of a pet project. I do have a lot of stones. And I’ve been meaning to travel out into the world, but I need a reliable weapon first.
Brier: And here I thought you were perfectly fine with being alone out here.
Avery: Oh, I am. But I’m not a doctor or a Cleric. I’ve been awfully tired recently, and I haven’t a clue why. It’s been keeping me from getting work done. I tried going to bed earlier, but I’d be even more tired the next day. I’ve been planning to travel to the Sakarlands for treatment, but I can’t cover all that forest with just my Tri-Loader.
Brier: Your what now?
Avery: Sorry, that’s another one of mine. Let me show you…
Avery opened a chest and pulled a strange device out of it.
Avery: It fits around your hand and wrist, like a glove, see? On top are three half-length arrows. You pull these cords until the mechanism locks them into place, then you just aim and pull each trigger to release the arrows.
Brier: Um… so, it’s like a bow?
Avery: The strongest archers can pull a bowstring with up to 100 pounds of force. That’s enough for an arrow to punch a hole into a cheap suit of armor. The Tri-Loader allows anyone to load three arrows with 150 pounds of force behind each of them and fire them at three separate targets in rapid succession. It’s enough to chase off beasts around here, but I can only fight off up to three at a time. I’d never make it very far without stronger weapons. But maybe with you two accompanying me, I can finally get to see the world.
Brier: I see. But our plans are to go deeper into the forest.
Avery: Oh, no doubt. But after your business is done, surely you wouldn’t mind escorting me to the Sakarlands.
Brier: I don’t see why not.
Avery: I knew you wouldn’t let me down! Ah, if you excuse me, I should attend to our dinner. I know a few secret techniques to get them extra savory.
As Avery turned to the stove, Coleen spoke quietly with Brier.
Coleen: Are you sure about this? This guy’s brothers with Caden the Necromancer. I’m not sure we could trust him with our backs. Besides, those Spirit Stones…
Brier: He’s a Lorathian. I kind of need a guy like that on my side. Have you noticed how knowledgeable he is about stuff we haven’t even heard of? He could be a great help, especially since we don’t have a Cleric.
Coleen: Well… If you say so… It would be kind of nice to travel with a cute face for a change.
Brier: I ought to slap you.
Coleen: Oh? I thought you didn’t like being called those kinds of things. Make up your mind.
Brier: I… Well, I’m not ugly.
Coleen: I never said you were. You just aren’t cute.
Brier and Coleen told Avery about their current quest over dinner.
Avery: Oh? So there’s another village hidden somewhere in this forest? I wonder why I never stumbled upon it.
Brier: I don’t know, considering it should be close by. See, take a look at this map.
Avery: A map? Let me see… Ahh… No, I’d say… according to this map, the village you’re looking for is a two day trek from here.
Brier: Two days?!
Avery: If we take it easy. I’m sure we can get there in one if we’re in a hurry. But I wouldn’t suggest doing so. There are many hazards in the direct path, as well as ambushing predators. I’m sure if I study it a bit more, I can plot us the safest course to the village.
Coleen: You can do that for us?
Coleen: I was just being wary, Brier.
Avery: But there’s plenty of time to prepare tomorrow. I think we should rest for the night.
Brier: But… the sun hasn’t even set yet.
Avery: It’s best for me to get as much rest as possible.
Coleen: We understand. Sleep well, Avery.
Avery: I try. Oh, I should prepare some cots for the two of you. I always keep some spares ready in case I have to sleep over at one of my workshops.
Arco: Hsss! Maa!
Brier: Arco, what’s wrong?
In the dead of night, Brier was waken by his familiar, and led to a staircase leading down into a basement. Candles lit the interior, and a man’s voice could be heard muttering to itself. As Brier approached the source of the voice, he found his host sitting at a table in a crowded and dim candle-lit library.
Brier: What was all that talk about sleeping early? No wonder you’re so tired. I hope you’re at least working on that trail.
Avery?: Ha! Ha ha… No.
Brier peered over Avery’s shoulder and saw him writing frantically across an empty journal.
Brier: Then what?
Avery?: If you’re not feigning an interest in assisting, then assist. Get me a vial of ink.
The bard did as was told.
Avery?: Tell me, do you plan on stopping by Lorath?
Brier: Not yet.
Avery?: The only person in all of Rym that could possibly lift your hexes is there. And you want to keep away?
Brier: I’m in no position to fight him.
Avery?: I suppose not. How far you’ve fallen, Balken.
Brier: Oh? Tell me, Caden. How long have you known?
Caden: Since you appeared in front of my brother. My time in death has awakened me to new senses. I can see everything for what they truly are now. And you still look like a monster, even in that form. After all, you’re not the least bit surprised about my using Soul Transference to return to the living realm. Though, come to think of it, this is the first time I’ve seen you without your helmet. How ridiculous you look.
Brier: Shut it. You’re just a soul living off your brother’s body. He’s not going to last long like that.
Caden: He’s a Lorathian. He can handle much more. But if you go to Lorath, I may not need to stay in this body much longer.
Brier: Now you’ve got me piqued.
Caden: I’m no longer your general, Lord Balken. I’m no longer obligated to answer your questions. Hold this.
Caden stood up, placed the journal into Brier’s hands, then sat back down and lay his head on the table.
Brier: You can’t just end it like that! You will tell me what you’re up to, NOW!
Avery’s body stirred. His head slowly raised and faced Brier.
Avery: Brier? What are you doing here? For that matter, what am I…?
Avery: That is my name.
Brier: I… saw a light coming from here and found you sleeping.
Avery: Is that so? I don’t remember… Wait, what’s that you’re holding?
Brier: This? I thought it looked interesting. What can you make of it?
Avery: Allow me…
Brier handed the journal to Avery, who closely examined every inch of the first few pages.
Avery: Amazing… This must be one of my brother’s old journals. The first page is a diagram of… some kind of magical glyph. It doesn’t say what purpose it has… best not to tempt fate. But it seems he also writes in detail about the places he’s traveled to, including the different styles of warfare he’s encountered… discussions with veterans and old scholars that studied obscure magics and mythology… Where did he get the time to do all of this? Oh my…
Avery: A device powered by Spirit Stones… Incredible destructive force, but limited to a single use. Of course, a bomb! Why didn’t I think of it? I was close to such an invention myself, but to think my brother encountered such a device long before I… Yes, it certainly is time I left. But not before fashioning one of these devices for myself. No… a better one!
Brier: I’m not sure that’s wise.
Avery: No, it’s simple! With the right adjustments… Of course! Obsidian! Obsidian would work! You must escort me to Harl so I can acquire enough Obsidian for my device!
Brier: Way out there?
Avery: Well, not right away, but… After your business is done. Maybe prepare for the trek in the Sakarlands first. I promise, if I’m right, I’ll be able to reward you a hundred times over.
Brier: I think you’re overselling yourself, but… Eh, why not? But we’re not going to get that far unless at least Coleen’s with us.
Avery: Why wouldn’t she come? Aren’t you two…
Brier: What? Oh no no no… Don’t get the wrong idea. She’s not my slave.
Avery: I wasn’t….
Brier: I know it’s a fair mistake to make, but we’re just traveling partners. Not master and slave.
Avery: Understood. But I…
Brier: As long as we’re clear.
Avery: Yes. Crystal.
Brier: Get some sleep, Avery.
The once Dark Lord recalled the first time he met Caden, outside the borders of Lorath. Balken’s army had campaigned unsuccessfully to enter the ancient land, falling prey to illusive wards that confused outsiders. Caden broke the ward, allowing the army to at last behold their unseen enemies, and advised Balken to cast a spell of Cataclysm, razing the kingdom in a deadly surprise attack before sending in his soldiers to finish off all survivors.
No one knew why this Lorathian turned on his own kind, and Balken knew better than to trust such a person to remain faithful to any cause. He never truly trusted Caden, but he trusted his own strength would be enough to utterly destroy him if he dared turn his hand against the Dark Lord.
Knowing this, Brier would have to be a fool to travel with Avery. Without his former strength, the bard would be helpless if Caden were to move against them. But Brier was always a curious sort, and he couldn’t deny the possibilities Caden’s reappearance might lead to. And so, he left himself no other choice but to trust.
The party prepared themselves to travel by mid morning.
Coleen: You’re bringing an entire cart? That’s going to slow us down.
Avery: Only for as long as we’re without something to carry the load. I built this myself. Even something as small as a goat would be enough. Actually… How about this familiar of yours… Arco, correct?
Brier: Arco’s a strong familiar, but he’s a dozen times smaller than a mountain goat.
Avery: Hmmm… I suppose you’re right. Not tall enough to provide the necessary leverage. Maybe if he leveled up, though?
Coleen: Keep dreaming. It’s been ages since Arco was the little newt I remember. I wouldn’t count on him growing any larger any time soon.
Avery: Well, I still need my cart. But I’ve allowed for this. We should still be able to make it safely in two days.
Avery joined the party!
Avery [Alchemist] lv. 45
Title: Blood Brother
And so, the three departed towards the hidden village, where it is hoped Brier will find the bard Fahren and learn new secrets about his class.
Next time, on Bardass! The trio take on a quest to recover an ancient relic, but lose Brier in the process! What will become of our young(?) hero(?!?) next time in Quest 12 – An Ancient Hymn!