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The Alchemist's Tale

I wrote this for a storytelling contest back in 404.  Nathan read it, as I had been relieved of the burden of speaking above a whisper some months earlier.

In the year 398, two brothers came to Arinth.  Their names were Contra and Jarion Argonte.  Though born to privilege and luxury on the mainland, the winds of fate swept them across the sea.  Along with their close friend, Loggins DeMoray, they signed on with the Town Guard of Innismoor and swore to serve the people of the island.

 

For many years they served faithfully, and when Innismoor was destroyed they continued on in service to Greymist and Midpoint.  They won no great fame for this service, for in those days the Town Guard was the home of many heroes.  Who has not heard of the courage of Captain Blaize, or the steadfastness of Samual Dorsey?  The unfailing good humor of Hu Chan, or the cleverness of Hathil Dissad?  They served alongside the most famous names of our age Earl Fenrick McPherson, King Willum McPherson, and still others, far too many to name.  Even among these, Contra, Jarion, and Loggins came to be known as reliable and hardworking men.

 

Contra was a Shieldbearer, and Jarion a Stone Alchemist.  Loggins had no gifts of magic, but many of the grim felt the bite of his knives.  Their adventures in those years, ranging even beyond the bounds of these mortal realms, are too many to tell here.  It is the story of the last year of Jarions life that I will recount today.

 

Now there are many dangers that are well-known to the people of Arinth and unfamiliar to mainlanders, but ghouls are a threat that is known in all parts of the world.  All of those who give in to the unnatural hunger find only that it increases a hundredfold, never to be sated so long as the curse of ghoulism endures.  In the year 400, Jarions resolve broke for just a moment.  He came to suffer this ghastly curse.

 

Contra, Jarion, and several others learned of caves on Arinth and went forth to explore them.  The tunnels they discovered led them deep within the earth.  Then the earth before and behind gave way.  Luck had not entirely abandoned them, as they all survived the earths tremor.  As the dust settled and their lights began to fade, however, they felt as though they had not eaten in days.  The dread hunger grew within them until they were as ravenous as the great beasts that haunt the tides.  It was not the fruits of the harvest that they craved.  No bread would grant them comfort.  Each of them struggled. One of them failed.  Even the most tenacious can falter.  When they discovered a chest within a secret passage, a poisoned needle slew one of them.  Then Jarions hands and mouth were stained as he feasted.  Hunger lent him unnatural strength, so that even Contra might not hold him back with main force.  Only moments later did Zormandy discover another passage, this one leading them to the sunlit lands and freedom.  They could not so easily leave behind the horror they had witnessed, however.

 

But on Arinth, many things are possible.  Corruption can be cleansed and curses may be lifted.  Even in the deepest darkness, there is cause for hope.  So Jarion did not despair, and never again did he surrender to the hunger, even though it was with him always.  Contra and Loggins, and many others besides, vowed to see him set free and made whole once again.  Scholars spoke to them of the one called the Ghoul King, whose name is the Wendigo.  They learned a tale of ages long past, in which the evil one had been imprisoned by the forces of magic.  Yet the ceremony of imprisonment was flawed; the Wendigos influence still touched the world, and he caused the dread hunger to well up in those who delved in the earth.  Ghouls stalked their prey in great packs.  So long as he was able to slip between the cracks of his prison, the Ghoul King would surely win free.  The only hope was to craft a new binding, one from which there could be no escape.  The heroes of Arinth gambled everything on this desperate ploy, for the old prison had to be destroyed before a new one might be fashioned.

 

Again and again, Contra, Jarion, Loggins, and others walked in the darkened halls of the depths.  They were guided by a mysterious man named Hajen, who had made this battle his lifes work.  With each of the prisons seals that they broke, they brought Arinth one step closer to salvation or ruin.  Nor were the three of them the only ones to prove their mettle in this trial.  Zormandy Trackenar showed her skill with traps a dozen times over.  With her hand she broke the seals, and though the hunger was more terrible for her than any other, she did not falter. 

 

When their long quest drew to a close and only two seals remained, they met a singular ghoul, who had dwelt in the darkness of the caves for a thousand years.  He alone knew the whole truth behind the prisons flaw.  He too had suffered a moment of weakness.  It was his failure, a thousand years earlier, which had created the cracks in the prison.  In all those centuries, he had once again found his courage, and once again he wished to attempt the ceremony so that he might spit in the face of his tormentor one last time.

 

In Mais of 401, nightmares roamed the land unchecked.  Some of the horrors did not fade with the dawn, however.  Even the most tenacious can falter.  Hajen, who had for so long been a source of strength for Contra and Jarion, had failed in his struggle.  He too suffered the terrible curse.  He saw some of the fate that awaited the brothers, and found one last way to grant Jarion the strength he would need in days yet to come.  He begged for the mercy of a clean death, and it was granted.

 

In Augustum of 401, Contra, Jarion, and others ventured forth once more, and upon their return only one seal remained.

 

Then came Septembris, when all the burdens of fate would be lifted.  But even the most tenacious can falter.  Contra saw, as Hajen had, the duty that awaited his brother.  He turned away from the horror and despaired.  Why should he hope for victory if death was to be the only reward?  It was not the hunger that took Contra, but the terrible burden of spirit that rests upon all those who struggle against the darkness.

 

It was only now that Jarion saw with clarity the fate that awaited him.  The ancient ghoul, who had once promised to lend his aid, was nowhere to be found when the hour drew nigh.  The ritual to construct the Ghoul Kings prison required the sacrifice of one who suffered from the curse.  Jarion did not flinch from this burden.  His mentor and his brother had both turned aside from the task.  His true heart and steadfast courage endured where Contras reckless boldness had failed.

 

It was not a handful of people that ventured into the depths for the final battle against the Wendigo.  All the heroes of Arinth took up the sword and marched to war against the evil one.  Only Jarion went to this battle unarmed; he had set aside his weapons, his shield of stout oak, his shining steel plate, and even the tabard that marked him as an Argonte.

 

Only one seal remained, and Zormandy broke that one as well.  The assembled host of heroes felt the hunger well up within.  As one, they steeled their will against it.  They came to the final chamber, the heart of the prison itself, just as the lone prisoner was released.  His wrath was terrible to behold; he had gathered a vast pack of ghouls and other, darker things besides.  It was a desperate battle between the two massed forces, but the truly important struggle was deep within the ranks of the Arinthians.  Eight of Jarions close friends gathered around him.

 

Loggins DeMoray, Tobin the Spirit Guide, Zormandy Trackenar, Xyjak of the Yak Clan, Heather, Justin Lee, Quintus Servilus, and Balthasar encircled Jarion and spoke the words of magic.  The spirit of the Ghoul King entered his body, and at last Jarion was truly alone in his battle.  Crystal began to encase him, even as the battle raged around them.  The heroes of Arinth fought a losing battle.  Once Jarion was fully bound in crystal, the Ghoul King was trapped as well.  The sacrifice was complete.  The curse that had lain so long upon the ghouls in that cavern was suddenly lifted.  By his imprisonment, Jarion set free a multitude.  The heroes of Arinth returned home with songs of triumph.

 

All save three, that is.  Much later, on the docks of Greymist, looking out over the waters, Heather, Loggins, and Quintus mourned the loss of a dear friend.  This victory came at a terrible price.  Jarions oath of service to the people of Arinth was forever fulfilled.  He has taken his place among the ranks of the fallen.  His name shall be covered in glory.  But as for myself, I still mourn.

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