It had been raining all day and well into the night. The late autumn winds blew the dark storm clouds in from the east, where they originated high over the Drakonspekt Mountains. That jagged mountain range was always shrouded in dreary weather. Storm clouds streaked with lightning raged throughout the day and night. The distant rolling of the thunder surrounding the highest peaks could be heard all the way down by the base of the range, into the foothills and echoing out over the grassy plains beyond.
Sometimes the severe weather ventured out of the mountains and swooped over the low foothills, bringing a torrential down pour. The prairie that began at the edge of the foothills and ended where the great eastern forest began bore the brunt of the storms until it ran its course. But today was different. The strength of the storm did not diminish as it surged towards the eastern forest. The old adage about that range was true, nothing good ever came down from those mountains at all.
The wind whipped through the tall pine and walnut trees, knocking the branches about. The wind rattled the leaves, allowing the large rain drops to fall heavily to the ground. The splattering sound of the rain hitting the forest floor reverberated all around you. It sounded like many small metal pellets dropping and pinging on the floor all around you. Traveling through the gloomy wet weather was a lone person riding on horseback. The rider reined in his horse and paused upon the path he rode to take in the dreary scene around him.
He raised his head to look towards the sky above, but the canopy of branches blocked most of the night sky out. To his left was a clearing and it seemed to him that the storm centered on a lone stone tower that was attached to a small keep sitting in the middle of it, about a hundred yards off the main path he was on. High above, the clouds hung heavily over the structure while bolts of lightning struck out here and there. The thunder bellowed out in protest to the tower’s very existence.
Despite the clamor of the storm, there was an eerie presence given off by the tower. He could not explain it, but a definite sense of foreboding creeped into him the longer he stared at the structure. The rider was almost soaked through to the bone. The brown cloak he wore provided minimal cover, draped around his shoulders and hung down to his m id-thigh. The rain seeped through to the heavy quilted grey tunic and black linen breaches he wore beneath. He kept the hood pulled over his head, hanging just above the top of his eyelids where the rain slipped off the edge in a steady stream of droplets.
The horse he rode, a brown Palomino with splotches of white, shifted restlessly underneath him. It neighed in protest to standing idle and in close proximity to the building beyond. He tried to quiet the animal as best he could by shushing it, patting its neck with his right hand and keeping a tight hold on the reins with his left. The horse quieted and gave way reluctantly, but snorted in mild protest. Its front left hoof pawed at the ground demonstrating its continued agitation at not moving away from its current location.
The Keep, although situated in a small clearing, was surrounded by tall Sentinel trees, which cast long dark shadows compounded by the gloom of the storm clouds above. The rider trotted his horse forward and drew up just before the path that led to the Keep. It continued to neigh its displeasure, but the rider kept a firm grip on the reins to control the animal. Here peered forward, looking through the curtain of rain at the keep beyond. Nothing moved. Not a thing could be seen. No light of a fire burning within or the smell of smoke wafted through night air. Just the damp and heavy scent of charcoal hung teasingly in the air. The same scent that could be smelled whenever it was raining. That eerie feeling continued to creep over the traveler as his gaze lingered upon the Keep and inched its way up the tower to the top.
There, just above the crenellations, a black figure materialized framed by the intermittent lightning flashes in the sky above. The sense of foreboding grew within the rider. It seemed as if the figure was watching him, even though it was hard to see through the rain. He was weary and had been riding all day. His horse was restless and agitated and needed to rest and eat, but every sense in his body told him this was not the time, nor the place to do so. He believed it was not a good idea to approach the keep and seek shelter from whoever lived there.
Never one to doubt his instincts, the rider quickly spurred his horse forward. Muttering a quick apology to his steed, the rider swiftly put the Keep behind him and continued riding down the road he had been traveling on disappearing into the shroud of the forest beyond.
Atop the tower, standing in the rain was the lone figure the rider saw. This person was the inhabitant of the tower who had come to the top for a breath of fresh air. The figure stood there silently as he watched this unexpected visitor ride away. He stepped away from the wall and turned towards the opened stairwell that led to the roof of the tower. He stopped for a moment and let his gaze drop to the stone floor of the roof. He watched as rain water puddled here and there amongst the stone floor. It was too dark for him to see any type of reflection, but he imagined it would be a distorted visage of himself.
The rain continued to fall all around him. There was no sign of the storm letting up. The wind seemed to be increasing in strength. He could hear it whistling through the trees of the forest all around him. He drew his heavy cloak closer around him. Unlike the rider, his hooded cloak provided a bit more protection from the rain. It was full length, covering him from head to ankle and was made of heavy fabric lined with soft fur on the inside. A slight chill in the air brought in with the rain could be felt on his exposed face. He lifted his head toward the cloudy sky, allowing the hood to fall back from his head and down around his shoulders. The rain splattered on his upturned face, running down the length of it in rivulets. His long grey hair became flat and heavy with rain water. He could feel the weight of it on the back of his neck.
His name is Rathshemmon. The keep was his home. He grew up here raised by his maternal grandfather, Hogarth, who was still be alive and kicking living somewhere in the city of Windemere, which lay due east of the keep. Rathshemmon had seen his grandfather on and off in the last six months. Hogarth tended to stay in the city close to his scholarly work.
The two of them had a tenuous relationship ever since Rathshemmon’s mother died and his father disappeared. He was young when it all happened and did not know all the details. Hogarth refused to speak about it when he asked. Pain was the only emotion that crossed his face whenever Rathshemmon prodded his grandfather about the subject. The old man was stubborn as a mule when he did not want to talk about anything too personal and this was as personal as it got with him. Rathshemmon remembered both of his parents, Alia and Gethshemmon. He was six years old when his world turned upside down. Ever since then, Hogarth had raised him as his own, but you could tell there was something there that prevented the old man from being…loving.
Life wasn’t all too bad under Hogarth’s roof. He provided for his grandson. It wasn’t a grandiose existence, not by far, but it was not a poor one either. Rathshemmon was home educated by Hogarth himself. The man was very learned in all manner of subjects. After all, he was a scholar by trade. The keep had a small library that held a treasure trove of books from all parts of the world that ranged from Cultural Histories of the many people of the known world, Mathematics, religious pantheons, alchemy, Astronomy, Botany and even Magic. Rathshemmon would spend hours upon hours within that library learning everything his grandfather taught him. His young mind was always hungry for more. Hogarth recognized this craving for knowledge in his grandson and gave way to it.
Of all the subjects Rathshemmon delved into, magic was his favorite by far. Hogarth would not expand upon it during the many hours spent tutoring his grandson. He stuck to the basics of magic and never ventured into the higher practices. But above all, he never allowed his grandson to practice magic at all. Rathshemmon pressed his grandfather, but Hogarth would have none of it until one day he finally told Rathshemmon the reason why. Magic was how his mother died and his father disappeared. His daughter Alia was fascinated with the world of magic. So much so that she grew up to be a practitioner of the art. That was when she met his father Gethshemmon, a meager street mage of some small ability. It was love at first sight, or so they told him. The two wed and had Rathshemmon two years later. Alia grew in her abilities to wield magic as Gethshemmon applied himself to merging alchemy with magic. A foolish and dangerous notion Hogarth thought. He warned his daughter and her husband many times that crossing such boundaries is very dangerous, but his words fell on deaf ears. Until one day it literally blew up in their faces.
From what he could put together, Alia had attempted a summoning spell that would bring forth an elemental spirit from an alchemical plane. Gethshemmon had been helping Alia construct the summoning circle by reinforcing it with alchemical sigils that would hold the elemental in place. The summoning began without much effort due to Alias’ strong ability to handle such things as she had done before, but this proved to be different. Instead of bringing forth the intended spirit, the mixture of alchemical sigils and summoning magic opened a portal that let through something much worse. Alia tried to bring it under control, but it was obviously too strong for her. What happened next was a mystery as there was a deafening boom that rocked the entire building they were in. Hogarth arrived to find his daughter barely alive and Gethshemmon missing. Her final words to her father were to take care of their son.
Hogarth surmised that the amount of mystical energy that caused the portal to close also killed his daughter, drained her life force. Whatever was in the portal must have drawn Gethshemmon in as it imploded upon itself and closed, because he was nowhere to be seen. That was the last time Hogarth spoke of Alia and the incident that killed her. Rathshemmon suspected there was more to the story than his grandfather let on, but he did not push the issue. He secretly vowed to himself he would learn what she learned and somehow find the truth. How he would do it, he had no idea, but he had a lot of time, determination and a particular old man to manipulate into helping him do it.
That was almost twenty years ago. Today, as the rain continued to fall around him, Rathshemmon was shook out of his reverie by the deepening chill of the rain hitting his exposed face. He realized that he should get back below and drew off. It wouldn’t do to get himself sick.
Standing at a full six feet, a slender build and an even more slight constitution, Rathshemmon considered himself to be a lucky man. He was born healthy enough, which lasted until his tween years as he began to immerse himself in the arcane arts. There is always a price to be paid to gain power through the Arcane Arts. His health and the premature greying of his hair were one of them. He was not seriously sick, not by any means, but here was not the healthiest he could be. However, he had no one to blame for that but himself. He was fortunate enough to have been educated and indulged by his grandfather, which led to his fixation with magic. One day, while Hogarth was away, Rathshemmon was practicing a dispelling incantation. It was of a higher level of skill than what he was used to at that point, but he never shied away from a challenge. He carefully spoke the words of power, articulating each syllable.
His first, second and third attempts did not bear fruit, but on his fourth he felt the flickers of magic begin to coalesce around him. An energy field could be felt, the warmth of the magical essence growing hotter. Rathshemmon lost concentration for a few precious seconds as his mind latched onto the sensation. Just as quickly as it began, it ended. The power seeped away, leaving Rathshemmon feeling a bit empty and cold in the library where he would secretly practice his magic while Hogarth was away.
Once again he settled himself. He would not be denied. There was something hidden in the keep, otherwise the spell would not have worked like that. He was going to try again, this time with more concentration. If there was one thing about magic you had to be aware of it was that it was alive and very fickle. You could not force magic to work for you, you had to work with it, cajole it, allow the essence to flow through you, become one with the magic and channel it to work whatever your goal was. Rathshemmon did that now and it worked. The force of magic ebbed and flowed all around him, building up in a crescendo of mystical energy that begged to be released. He felt his hold dwindling, his mind threatening to lose focus when what was hidden finally revealed itself.
In front of him was a floor to ceiling bookshelf filled with ancient tomes. The wall stretch about 10 feet wide and was ten feet tall. All the books upon the shelves began to glow a silvery hue and then it all disappeared, revealing a dark room beyond. And just like that, the wall shimmered back into existence, blocking the room beyond. He sat there for a minute, feeling drained after invoking that spell. He was too tired to try again, but at least he knew it worked and now knows of the room behind the bookshelf. So many questions rummaged through his mind. What was in there? What was it used for? Why did Hogarth keep that from him? The most obvious answer was that his grandfather did not want him knowing what the room was for and what secrets it held. Why did he need to hide the room? Too many questions and not enough answers. But he would rectify that soon enough. He planned on confronting his grandfather as soon as he returned…but then a thought occurred to him. If he did confront Hogarth, that would mean he would reveal his practicing of magic and that also meant risking his grandfather’s wrath.
He would think on it some more. At the moment, he needed to recover from the spell.