Cyril was the elder. At eighteen years, he was free to leave the village whenever he wished… yet spearfishing was the peak of his aspirations, so he bought a two-person boat and achieved nothing less than his best. Ordnar was three years his junior. Dreaming of taking up arms with the knights of Parada, he instead took his spear to the sea, and filled his role in the story. Each morning they left Deleanor at dawn, returning to the village only once they’d reaped the bounties of the ocean. Through calm waters and taxing tempests alike, Cyril entertained his apprentice with fantasies from the world beyond.
“There are caves north of here,” he rambled on this day. “Do you make it north very often? They’re all harmless, really. You might come across some wolves, but that’s no problem. I must have killed hundreds of wolves in my day, easily. But you have to go way north, to the Dark Forest, for the really interesting caves. Have you ever been to the Dark Forest?”
Ordnar shook his head, focusing his attention on balancing amidst the waves.
“You must see it someday. There’s a cave occupied by a cult of vicious werewolves, they sacrifice lost travelers to their bloody god. But I never made it that far. I found a different cave. Are you even listening?”
“Uh huh,” Ordnar mumbled. “Can you get us closer to land?”
“Whatever. Anyway, I heard whispering in the trees. So I followed the noise, because I’m not going to be frightened by anything in that forest. And I saw a trio of creepy, disheveled old men crawl into this cavern. ‘Now there’s an adventure,’ I thought, and I decided to follow them.”
“That’s not very smart,” Ordnar interjected. “They probably had knives.”
“They did,” Cyril grumbled. “Won’t you let me finish? You’ll understand one day that you have to chase the lead while it’s hot. So I followed them, but it was dark in that cave and I didn’t have a torch. Very soon I couldn’t hear them anymore. But get this! I kept crawling, and eventually the passage opened up to a candlelit room. I saw passages all around the cavern, sloping downward. And there were smaller niches, like the one I came through, all along the walls. I hesitated, because I didn’t want to get myself lost. Then I heard footsteps… Slow, methodic footsteps echoing around the cavern.”
“Sounds scary,” Ordnar commented. “Do you know what else is scary? The skies right now.”
“Don’t be a child. Anyway, before I knew it, this… thing, walked into view. It was much taller than me, for sure. It looked like a knight in a full suit of armor, but the armor was gold, and it was meant to look like a human figure. I mean, its helmet had a face, but the eyes were jewels, and it wore a crown.”
“Sounds made up.”
“Stop. This all happened. It saw me right away, and it pointed at me. I thought it was going to kill me. It never made a sound, but instantly these homeless people started crawling out of every niche in the wall. There must have been four scores.”
“Wait, how do you know they were homeless?”
“Well they, uh, looked like they had never bathed. Their clothes were all dirty and torn, and their hair was long and mangled.”
“That’s just ignorant.”
“Maybe. These homeless people all drew knives on me, and I thought I was done. But the golden one kept pointing at me, and he said: Not him. And then he repeated it. Not him. I thought his voice would be muffled, but it boomed around the cave. All the homeless people stood aside, and I got out of that cavern so fast. I made it back to Deleanor in record time.”
“What did he mean, ‘not him’?”
“It means that adventure is a job for a paladin. I was never supposed to come across that scene. Stories like that are meant to be about kings and knights, important people whose destinies outlive them. The ordinary people, us farmers and fishermen, we just get in the way. It’s not fair.”
“It’s not.” Ordnar took one last jab at the waters before bundling up his spears. “Cyril, we need to turn back. There’s a storm building.”
“Hmm, I don’t think so. It’s supposed to be clear today.” Despite his objection, the fishermen turned their course toward land.
“It’s supposed to, but it’s clearly not.” The duo rowed with a vigor, as it started to rain. As they picked up speed, the rain grew to a frenzy.
“Lowe will be pissed,” Cyril complained. “We don’t even have half a haul right now! He’s gonna kill-”
“Cyril, look!” Deleanor was in sight on the shore, and the village was taking the heart of the tempest. Even at a distance, the fishermen witnessed shacks being torn apart by the winds.
“What the hell is that?” Cyril screamed. They rowed furiously, desperate to make sure their families and friends were safe. As their boat approached the docks, they determined that this storm was certainly not natural. Twisters tore through the village indiscriminately, and the wails of the victims pierced through the winds.
The two docked and grabbed their spears, moving cautiously toward the disaster. With no cover, the fishermen cowered behind one of the sturdier stone buildings, and peered deeper into the village. A stranger stood tall in the village square, laughing amidst the carnage. His face was obscured by the large brown hat of a wizard, which matched his brown robes.
“Who is that?” Ordnar whimpered.
“He’s not from around here,” Cyril answered. “Why is he laughing?”
The wizard raised a staff for the fishermen to see, and with a maniacal chuckle, pointed it at a row of homes. A whirlwind formed from the staff, growing in size until a veritable tornado whipped into the huts. The duo expended every effort not to scream.
“We need to do something,” Cyril spoke just loud enough to be heard above the winds. He grabbed Ordnar and crept along the building, heading to the north side of the village. “We have to get to the armory, and stop him.” Ordnar didn’t argue, and promptly the fishermen took cover within the heavily fortified building.
The winds were muted within the armory, and Ordnar felt safe… but Cyril did not come here for shelter. He exchanged his fishing spear for a glaive, and searched the shelves for a fitting chestplate.
“We’re not guards, Cyril!” Ordnar worried. “We’re not supposed to do this!”
“Every guard is either dead or deserted. Someone has to save Deleanor. Find some armor.”
“We’re not heroes!”
“Then pretend we are for a moment and save your damn village.” Hurriedly Ordnar relented, and found a chestplate that fit slightly better than the rest. He tried out one of the two-handed glaives, but deciding they were too heavy, kept his fishing spear. Cyril slipped out the front door, back into the tempest, and Ordnar followed closely.
The wizard could be heard cackling beyond the courtyard. Cyril ran for cover across the green with Ordnar close behind. They peered around the building to see their adversary with his back turned. The wizard waved his staff in a frenzy, sending tornadoes in every direction. Cyril saw an opportunity.
“Wait here,” he whispered to Ordnar. “I think I can do this.” Cyril crept into the open, gripping his glaive with both hands to hide his tremble. He moved carefully toward the unsuspecting foe, prepared to roll for cover should the wizard turn around. When he was within striking distance, his enemy still oblivious, Cyril calmed his nerves for what he must do. He thrust the spear, as he done a thousand times before, and bellowed a war cry.
The wizard whirled around and snatched the spear from him effortlessly, as if he had been expecting it. Cyril stood shaking as the foe’s wizened face contorted into a grin. He tossed the glaive between his hands weightlessly as he watched the fisherman like prey. “Not… you,” the wizard laughed. Then he drove the spear through Cyril’s eye.
Ordnar would never forget the way his friend screamed as he died. The boy crumpled, tremoring as his soul left him, and the wizard never stopped laughing through it. Ordnar curled up and hugged the wall as the wizard scanned the vicinity for any survivors. After a moment, the frustrated foe walked north, out of the village.
With great effort, Ordnar stood up. Before his sanity caught up with his body, he started to follow the wizard. This isn’t smart, Ordnar told himself. He has magic. He just killed your friend. He’ll kill you too. Yet Ordnar knew that if the wizard slipped away now, he would never find that monster again. With no village to return to, it was time to chase the lead.
Ordnar stumbled north, following the vague footprints in the drenched earth. The storm still raged around him, and he did not know if that was a sign of progress. Through the blinding rain he pushed onward, looking for any semblance of the wretch who had ruined his life. Before too long a figure emerged from the obscurity, the winds whipped into a frenzy, and Ordnar prepared for his finale.
Yet the winds settled, and to Ordnar’s dismay, this figure was a different foe entirely. Blue light pierced the darkness, two beacons illuminating from crystal eyes. The golden man stepped into view.
The creature that towered over Ordnar seemed more than human. With a mask of gold and a glimmering suit of armor, Ordnar could not be sure if someone was concealed within, or if the golden visage was the creature. The golden man stopped at a distance and seemed to stare at Ordnar with its jeweled gaze. It raised an arm and pointed at the poor fisherman, and Ordnar knew exactly what it meant. No, he thought. Not me. It can’t be. Yet Cyril’s story echoed in his mind. The golden man was not going to kill Ordnar. He was here to watch.
As Ordnar stood petrified by the figure, he heard careful footsteps approaching from behind. Cyril’s murderer entered the scene in no hurry, and took his place in front of Ordnar, ignoring the golden man completely. “You’re a brave kid,” the wizard spoke. “I hope it was worth it.” His eyes bore into Ordnar, awaiting a response.
Ordnar raised his spear and straightened his chestplate, hoping he wasn’t shaking too noticeably. “You d-destroyed my village!” he managed to squeal. “You killed my friend! Why did you do it?”
The wizard stepped forward slowly, and Ordnar could finally make out his face. The man’s gray hair was long and mangled, his beard unkempt and dirtied, his eyes bloodshot and manic. “You won’t like this, kid,” he snarled, “but this didn’t happen for any reason. I just wanted to do it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to. That’s just how the story goes.” The wizard stopped within arm’s reach of Ordnar and pocketed his staff, trading it for a knife. “I am Nurim of Bronzehearth,” he continued. “I want you to curse my name as you die. And I will know yours before you pass.”
“I’m nobody,” spoke Ordnar. “I’m just Ordnar Egai. I caught fish in Deleanor before you destroyed it.” Ahead of him, Ordnar saw the golden man nod.
“Heh,” the wizard chuckled. “Then stand, fisherman, and meet your end.” He spun his knife in a flourish and began circling Ordnar. Nurim lunged for a hit, and Ordnar parried as well as he could. The wizard spun out of range and sidestepped around his enemy before going in for another stab. This cycle repeated; Nurim was a dancer, choreographing each move for a fantastic display. Ordnar was clumsy by comparison, aiming desperately to land a blow.
Ordnar tired quickly. It soon became impossible for him to block any longer. He began backing up, forcing Nurim to approach from the front. “You’re so close,” the wizard taunted, advancing on him steadily. Ordnar jabbed forward, a move which Nurim sidestepped effortlessly. He was no stranger to the spear, but harming a human was something new entirely. He tried again, and once more Nurim jumped aside without slowing his forward march.
“This is it, kid,” said Nurim. “It’s you or me.” He stabbed downward, and Ordnar hesitated on the dodge. The wizard seemed to stop just before the kill; the blade barely grazed Ordnar’s shoulder before Nurim darted out of reach. He could have cut my throat, Ordnar realized. That should have been it. He ignored the pain and assumed a fighting stance, as Nurim began creeping around him. With the last of his strength, he stabbed forward along Nurim’s path.
His strike was clumsy, and the spear should have missed by an inch- but the wizard never halted his arc, and Ordnar opened his side.
“How?” Nurim howled in pain, scrambling backwards. He quickly rose, and retreated gradually toward the golden man, clearly unimpeded by his injury. “You’ve bested me, kid… but I won’t be killed by some nobody!”
“Don’t try to follow me,” Nurim growled. “We will meet again someday… in the Dark Forest. And you won’t be walking away.” Without another word, the wizard turned and ran out of sight. The golden man stared at Ordnar for a moment more, then nodded, and disappeared from sight.
The broken fisherman collapsed from exhaustion. He wondered if he should follow the curious duo. What could await him in the Dark Forest? That story should be about a king or knight, someone extraordinary. Ordnar would just get in the way. Yet there was a reason he survived the disaster. Someone had decided this adventure was about an ordinary guy. It’s not fair.
There was no Deleanor to return to. Ordnar had nothing left but a fishing spear and a deadly hate. He can’t get away with this, he thought. He’ll hurt more people, and no one can stop him. Ordnar rose from the mud and looked to the north, making up his mind. He was no longer a fisherman; his role in the story was to avenge Deleanor. Somebody has to do it.