Stuart Loomis sighed as he felt the small boy's forehead, shaking his head while the child slept. Tightening his purple cloak around the leather jerkin and pants that covered his slender form, he looked back to the boy's mother, who was sitting on the small wooden chair, rocking herself back and forth while anxiously awaiting the wizard's diagnosis.
"And you're saying he hasn't woken up for three days," Stu said his crisp voice that had a drawl to it.
The mother nodded. "Yes sir. Three days ago he seemed fine and was playing with his friends. When he came inside, he went straight to his room. When I heard no noise, I went to check on him and found him asleep. I assumed he was just taking a nap..." She stopped, trying her hardest to keep her composure.
Stu crossed his arms and continued to stare at the child. He had come to the desert town of Miffleteau at the request of his old friend Hara. Moments after he had teleported town-causing a slight panic from the people who had seen him appear in the streets-Stu explained who he was and where he had come from, which resulted in several concerned parents asking him to look at their children. Dusk was now approaching and already he had looked at six children, all of whom were experiencing the same sleeping symptoms as the little boy.
"I will do what I can to help your son," Stu said in a quiet voice before leaving the room. "I must go and meet a friend who knows more about this sickness than I do."
The mother nodded as the wizard left her son's room. As she heard the door shut, he looked at her son and prayed to the gods that he would soon wake.
Stu walked through the dirt streets of Miffleteau underneath the star filled night sky. He tossed back the hood of his cloak, revealing his curly red hair and handsome face that featured light gray eyes and a small nose.
After whispering a command word in the draconic dialect, his long blue staff with the circular jade gemstone mounted on the top, materialized in his hands.
Even as he took his first steps through the boundaries of Miffleteau, Stu noticed he was still gaining the attention of the villagers who were still running around town this early in the evening. He took note of the burly butcher wearing an apron that was stained with fresh blood, and the group of prostitutes, male and female, standing by the a small cottage, giving him looks that told the wizard that if he was a fellow working individual like themselves, then he had better not do business in their territory.
Stu moved past the prostitutes and walked close to the large stone buildings that reminded him of the ones back home in Stoddarvale. He had actually been on his way home when received a message from an old friend, asking him to come to the town.
He continued to travel the city streets until he saw a large two-story structure with marble statues of lions displayed in front of a white sign that read: The Lordly Lion.
After wiping his hand over his face, Stu entered the restaurant.
As he entered the Lordly Lion, Stu noticed the many heads of animals mounted above the Lion's fireplace and all over the walls . He took his eyes away from the restaurant's trophies and quickly found his way over to the bar where the bartender, a large curvy woman with black hair and tan skin greeted him. "What ya havin?"
Stu smiled while noticing a tattoo of a scimitar on her wrist. "Just some ale please," he answered. "Whatever you have on tap."
The bartender nodded and drew a blue clay mug from under the counter. "Judging by the accent in your voice, I would say you're from Napiersen."
"Close, I was born and raised in Tippsin, which is east of Napiersin" Stu answered as the bartender handed him his drink. "I currently reside in the north. I'm actually here to meet a friend."
"A wizard like yourself," she commented, pointing to the staff as Stu was leaning it against the bar. "I must say, not many mages who stop in here wear leathers and a shirt under their capes-" she stopped when she heard a loud crash coming from the other side of the restaurant.
"Excuse me," she said before grabbing a large battle axe that was hanging above several bottles of wine.
Stu took a sip of his drink while listening to the chatter going on amongst the Lion's customers as well as the bartender's yelling from the opposite side of the lobby. He was about to relocate, when he felt a firm hand gently touch his shoulder.
Surprised by the sudden interaction, Stu 's body released a defensive spell that shot a tiny lightning bolt at whoever had touched him. When he turned to face the newcomer, his eyes widened, recognizing his friend Hara Bona, a robust dark skinned man wearing white and blue silks and a white turbin that covered most of his black hair.
"Hara, I am so sorry," Stu said as the man regained his composure.
Hara held his hands before Stu and said in his soft voice," No need to apologize my friend, I should have known better. Mages from my land are also known to employ defense spells to keep themselves from getting stabbed in the back. I am happy you chose a simple lightning spell where most magic users I know would have used poisonous spikes. I am also happy you could meet me here on such short notice."
The wizard nodded and pulled a seat for his friend. "So what is this problem you were speaking of? From the words in your message it sounded like you were in some trouble."
Hara shook his head. "Things are fine in the desert as I am temporary here with a group of my fellow guardsmen. We are charged with accompanying a high priestess as she makes her pilgrimage across the world. The priestess happens to be Sultan Rashad Bishir's niece, Nala Aliposa."
"Sultan Bishir, he rules the Firebeetle country not too far from here"
"That he does, and here is where comes the problem," Hara answered as he leaned close to Stu. "When we arrived in this town two days ago, Nala was compelled to help the townspeople with their crisis, as any priest would. When we went to the temple to pray to our goddess Rajah, the Lady of the Sands, we found ourselves facing undead as well as facing the same slumbering sickness that overcame the children in this town. I think the temple was overrun by an aragol, or how you say a, lich."
Stu raised an eyebrow. "A lich? Are you certain?"
Hara stared at the wizard for a moment, then stroked his thick pointed beard. "I am not sure, it appeared to look like a woman floating in the air. It hit my comrades and I with some powerful magic. Nala tried to battle her while the rest of us escaped to seek aid."
Stu closed his eyes and sighed. He remembered reading about all kinds of undead during his early apprenticeship. According to the texts he read in his mentor Demeteria's library, liches were powerful magic users who gave up their bodies to become much more powerful in their specific field of magic and to gain eternal life, but in the process, their souls would be torn and whatever left of their humanity would be lost.
"What about the priestess and your men?"
Hara shook his head once more as a sorrowful look passed his face. " Some of them are staying here at the inn. A few others stayed with Nala. While we were exploring the temple, we found an altar rooms. This beautiful song came out and my men soon feel asleep. The priestess knew what kind of magic we were dealing with, and she immediately told me to cover my ears and had me go for help while she stayed with the men. It has only been one day but I fear for her."
"It was lucky then that I was walking this direction when your Stu finished his ale and patted Hara on the shoulder. "Do not worry Hara, we'll save your priestess and your men."
Hara smiled and followed Stu as they left the Lordly Lion and began their walk to Miffleteau's temple.
Stu and Hara walked quietly along the city streets, passing a trio of homeless men sleeping on the corner.
Stu sighed as the sound of flat harp music filled the air around them. With each step they took, he began to feel a mysterious exhaustion overtaking them while the music was becoming louder. Sensing that the exhaustion was resulting from the music, Stu ripped off two small pieces of his shirt and put them in his ears
He glanced at Hara, who appeared to be placing tissue paper in his own ears. Hara looked back at Stu and began signing with his fingers, We heard this same music in the temple.
Stu nodded, remembering his mentor mentioning that some wizards specialized with magic that affected a person's energy and sleep.
After three blocks, the two friends arrived at Miffleteau's temple. Along the way they had passed six women and two grandine males sleeping on the sidewalks and alleyways.
Stu looked up at the massive building while Hara opened the door. Like most structures dedicated to the gods, Miffleteau's temple walls were made of white brick while the floor had marble lining. There were stained glass windows depicting warriors and wizards fighting in glorious battles that had taken place hundreds of years ago. Stu guessed this temple was dedicated to Tristain, a god of battle and tactics, and his wife Rayna, a goddess worshiped by barbarian warriors.
Hara opened the temple's dark wooden doors and entered after Stu. Together, they scanned the main lobby, finding dark blue and purple banners hanging from the ceilings and the walls. They also saw the many bodies laying on the floor.
At first Stu assumed these people were just caught in the spell of the song, but as he walked past each body, he saw the skin of each body appear pale and withering, as if they had aged by years.
Stu looked at Hara and asked with his hands, Is this what you found when you and your men came here for the first time?
The desert man nodded and replied, There were only a few bodies like this throughout the temple. The epidemic must have spread.
Stu looked away and walked into a narrow hallway where oil paintings of Miffleteau were hanging on both walls. Underneath the paintings, Stu noticed dozens of glowing runes, recognizing many of them as letters from the elvish alphabet.
The wizard stroked his chin as while Hara caught up to him. This doesn't appear to spell any words that make sense, but there is a reassurance of the letter G, he thought.
Hara brought Stu to a large circular room where broken skeletons and splintered bones were scattered all over the floor. He pointed over to a pile of four frail bodies. She must have brought the skeletons to life to fight them.
Three of the bodies were large men covered in scratches and torn chain mail, their swords inches away from their fingers. The fourth a woman wearing dark purple robes with dried blood stains running down the left side of her midsection, her chest moving up and down slowly. Stu stared at the woman for a moment, guessing that she must have used her divine magic to protect herself from the lich.
Hara's eyes widened with worry as he rushed over to the bodies. Stu was about to follow his friend, when he began sensing a powerful magical presence approaching them. After tapping his staff on the ground to catch Hara's attention, Stu began signing, Someone is coming. Get Nala out of here.
Much to Stu's surprise, the lich appeared to look like a tall, slender woman wearing a blood red gown with a snow white mask that covered her face. Her body began emitting a white aura, as she raised her hands in the hair.
"It appears more guests have arrived," said a beautiful and hollow voice that echoed in Stu's mind. "No doubt you are here to keep me from my children."
Stu shot a look at Hara as he carried the priestess' body in his arms and walked out of the room.
"I will deal with them later," the woman continued, balling her white gloved fingers into fists as she prepared to launch a spell at the wizard. "But you young wizard will have the satisfaction of dying a slow and painful death at the hands of the Countess."
Stu stepped back as the Countess opened her fists and shot two thick strands of lightning, both of which hit the young man in the chest.
Stu let out a scream as his back hit the wall, while small trails of black smoke rose from where the lightning bolt had hit him. He pointed his staff at her and shouted," Freeze." The Countess started to laugh, but stopped as several crystal clear spikes burst from the floor, penetrating though her body and pushing her into the ceiling, her blood dripping to the floor.
Stu quickly got to his feet, only to realize the cloth had fallen from his ears. The harp music began filling his ears once again, much louder than when he heard it from outside.
Taking his focus off the woman, Stu waved his hands, creating a magical circle of silence around himself that deafened all sound, including the music. He noticed a wooden door near the pile of Hara's fallen comrades and walked through it. He quickly spotted the small, black harp with bone white strings. Etched along the harp's sides were runes similar to what he had seen in the temple hallway.
Stu looked back and saw the Countess floating towards him, her body soaked in water and blood.
It looks like my spell worked too well, Stu said to himself, realizing that because of his circle, he was unable to hear the crashing coming from the other room that was created when the Countess broke though her icy bonds.
Stu quickly moved to the harp, while the woman swept its left arm, sending several glowing darts that hit the human in the chest and face.
Disoriented from the attack, Stu stumbled towards the altar and pushed the harp from the altar.
The Countess screamed as the harp hit the floor, shattering on impact. She was about to cast another lightning spell to end the foolish mortal's life, but Stu turned just in time and made a motion with his left hand, creating a circle of fire that wrapped itself around the woman
Stu smiled and clenched his fingers, causing the circle of fire to engulf the masked magic user. Once the fire vanished, the Countess' charred body fell to the floor.
Wasting no time, Stu stepped forward and drove the blunt end of his staff through the woman's face, smashing the mask and along with the front part of her skull.
The moment Stu walked out of the temple, he was greeted by Hara, who embraced the wizard tightly.
“It appears I was wise to call upon you for aid,” said the desert man “Thank you my friend.”
"It was no trouble Hara," Stu said before telling his friend about the duel he had with the woman who called herself the Countess. When he was finished, Stu placed his staff at his side, then turned to his friend. “I take the sultan's niece is well.”
Hara nodded. “Once the music stopped I noticed that she and the other priests were regaining their strength.”
The wizard bent down and picked up the pieces of the harp. “If you don’t mind, I would like to keep this and show it to Demetria.”
Hara looked closely at the broken pieces of the harp, then back at his friend. “I do not see any reason I, nor anyone at the temple would want to keep it. I also talked to Nala about the aragol. She told me that while she was asleep, she was kept having several nightmares. The children around town kept having the same experiences. I hope that with this Countess defeated, the children will be able to sleep peacefully."
"So do I old friend. So do I."