Hiram did not particularly like his mission. Missions like this were meant for the truly devoted, and Hiram would not consider himself that.
Most definitely not. How did I get here?
Thinking over the past few years of his life, and Hiram was at once appalled and amazed at the changes that had taken place. Hiram Beddingsford was a son of a noble in the East, who had too much time and too much money on his hands. Growing up undisciplined and with few friends, Hiram led a solitary life and had a disdainful approach to everything. His parents tolerated him, but never showed him the warmth his two brothers and sister received. Hiram felt an outcast. When he reached manhood, he asked for his inheritance early, revoked his claim to his familial titles and land, and struck out on his own, in effect self-imposing an exile.
Hiram Beddingsford wandered the Kingdom, careful to keep a low profile as he went due to the large fortune he had with him. He visited town after town, not really sure where he was going or what he was going to do whenever he got to wherever.
After a few months of such an aimless existence, Hiram found himself sitting alone in a small tavern in the town of Romney. Brooding over a glass of Darkmoor wine, he barely noticed when a man sat down at his table.
“Hail, friend. You look positively downcast.”
Hiram stirred from his daydream and looked up. Sitting across from him was a man in his thirties or forties; it was difficult to tell. He had black curly hair with some slight graying at the temples.
Forties, most likely Hiram thought.
He had a hard face, and surprisingly intense blue eyes that seemed to bore into Hiram. Dressed in black robes, the man was a study in opposites. If one did not look too carefully at him, he would most certainly go unnoticed in most situations. But once attention was turned to him, it was difficult to ignore his presence. Hiram got the distinct impression that both of those qualities were intentional effects the man utilized when it suited him.
“Friend?” Hiram responded. “I have no friends.”
“Well, now that can not be true. Everyone has some friends.”
Hiram frowned. “You would think so. But then again, you just met me – there’s a first for everything.”
The man studied him for a moment. “No friends, you say? That’s a most distressing situation. Family then?”
“Bah – my family cares not for me. When I left my home, my parents had my belongings ready to go days before I had planned to be gone. They were glad to see me off.”
“My man, you spin a sad tale,” the man replied. “How long have you been on your own, then? You don’t seem to be a member of any particular trade yet you seem to be more than comfortably attired. How are you able to afford such luxuries as a nice clothes and a top notch goblet of Darkmoor red?”
Oh oh, thought Hiram. I suppose I am advertising a bit more than I should be.
“I… uh… was lucky at a game of pokir in the last town I was in and decided to live a little,” Hiram stumbled out.
“Ah, well, good for you, then.” The man did not believe him for a second, but accepted the transparent excuse anyway.
“As you seem to be finding out quite a bit about me, ‘friend,’ I think you should at least tell me your name,” Hiram said.
“Darius of Wolfram, at your service,” said the man in black.
“Well, Darius of Wolfram,” started Hiram mockingly, “is there something I can help you with?”
“Perhaps there is something I can help you with, young Hiram,” said Darius.
Alarmed, Hiram sat up straight and said, “Wait, how’d you know my name?”
Darius’ voice seemed to take on a unearthly quality and the light in the room dimmed slightly, “There are many things I know, Hiram. The Goddess gives me power to do amazing things. And she has sent me to find you.”
Hiram felt a little lightheaded and asked, “Goddess?”
“Yes, Hiram. The Goddess of the Void wants your help.” What Darius did not say at the time, was that the order of the Goddess’ wanted his money to fund activities.
Darius purred, “She can offer you great power. And we of her Order can offer friendship and be the family you wish you had.”
Hiram felt strange; as though he had way more wine than he had drunk. Unable to turn Darius down, Hiram said in a monotone, “Yes, Darius. That sounds like a wonderful idea. I would be happy to help.”
“Excellent, Hiram. You will need to forsake all of your earthly possessions to the order, but in exchange, I believe we can offer you a place of prominence in the order, perhaps a Curate, yes? Once we’ve tutored you in the ways of her power and will, of course.”
“Yes, Darius. Please take my money. I would happily give it to help.”
Standing up, Darius said, “Come, Hiram, there is much to do.”
Leading Hiram out of the tavern, Darius could barely contain the smile he had on his face.
That bastard tricked me. Four years ago, that bastard tricked me out of all my money.
Hiram had spent time in order, learning the ways of Lornu-Ava, but never particularly feeling like he belonged with them. Perhaps he was destined to never find any place he belonged. He had been granted the rank of Curate a few months ago, at least Darius had kept his word on that. And now, he was on his way to the Edder Forest, sent to find something that Darius felt was important to the Order.
Darius had indicated that the head of their order required this object be found. The only warning that Darius had given to Hiram was that there was a chance that the object was under the protection of a guardian of sorts. They were unsure what type of guardian, so Hiram was being sent to investigate. If by chance, he was able to bypass the guardian and acquire the object, so much the better. But something Darius had said to Hiram when they departed stuck in Hiram’s mind: “Good luck, Hiram. I know you will serve you purpose to the best of your ability.”
What the hell did that mean, anyway?
For a couple of weeks, Hiram and his group had made their way across the Kingdom, targeting the Edder Forest in the north. A few times, Hiram had considered riding off on his own at night, leaving everything behind, but either fear or a spell over him prevented him. He was being pushed to the forest.
Curate Hiram and his expedition had arrived at the edge of the forest a few days ago. They had spent time since then studying the edge of the forest, trying to figure out what type of protection existed. Finding little yet tracking all of the details in his journal, Hiram had decided it was time to enter the forest.
A few hours ago, the group had ridden in and to this point had encountered only squirrels and birds. His companions consisted of warriors, cultists, and some of the common mob. While not the brightest members of the order, they followed orders and trailed Hiram obediently.
Hiram’s horse began to act up, nostril’s flaring. Trusting the animal’s instincts, Hiram ordered the group to close ranks and stay close. Ahead of them, the path they were on opened up into a large clearing. Something is up there, thought Hiram. _ Most likely another animal of sorts – my horse can smell it._
Entering the clearing, Hiram was quite surprised at what confronted him. A beautiful woman in green robes stood in the center of the clearing, leaning on a tall wooden staff. She stood there, looking at the group, but said nothing.
Hiram rode forward, dismounted and gave the order for the others of his party to do the same. He handed his reins to a warrior monk of the order, and walked forward cautiously to the woman in green robes.
As he approached, he took a closer look at the woman. There was something decidedly alien about the woman’s features. Her features were perfectly symmetrical and without flaw. It was disconcerting.
“Hello, madam,” said Hiram. “My name is Hiram.”
“I know who you are Curate.”
Oh, good. Someone else knows me before I fully introduce myself. The last time that happened, things did not go well for me.
“Ahh… well, madam. It seems you have me at a disadvantage. You know me, but I know not your name.”
“You may call me Raina.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Raina,” said Hiram. He stole a glance around the glade, and saw that the woman was most definitely alone. “May I inquire as to what you are doing all alone in the forest here? The stories told of this forest tell of a place that is not hospitable to lone travelers.”
With a small smile, Raina responded, “I have little to fear from the forest, Curate. And as to what I am doing here – well, I’m here to encourage you to turn around and not continue on your quest.”
Interesting. She knows about my mission as well as about me personally.
Feigning ignorance, Hiram asked, “Quest, madam? We are merely pilgrims looking to travel through the forest.”
“Hiram, you know that is a lie. You are a Curate of the Order of Lornu-Ava and you are here to collect something that can not be taken. And I am here to ensure that you do not do that.”
Chuckling at her response, Hiram looked dubious as he said, “You, Lady Raina? Pardon my disbelief, but you alone will stop us? There are sixteen of us and only one of you. If you will step aside, and let us continue, we will bid you good day.”
Hiram started to turn away, but Raina reached out and grasped his arm. The moment her hand touched him, an awesome sense of power and magic surged through Hiram. An ancient, alien magic – nothing like the dark power the Curate had come to know while studying with the Order. It scared Hiram.
“Curate, I ask you once more to turn away and you will be spared.”
Hiram could only stare at the woman in green. Ripping his arm free, he took step or two backwards, keeping his eyes on her. Deep in his soul, he wished to comply. He wanted to run away from her and not stop until he collapsed. But a dark force forced him to stay where he was.
Shakily, he said, “I can not, madam. I am compelled to go forward.”
“I am sorry, then, poor Hiram. None of you deserve your fate.”
Hiram turned towards his horse and reached to take the reins from the warrior holding them.
At that moment, there was a bright flash from behind him, and the warrior’s eyes widened in terror. Before Hiram could turn, he heard a large roar, and a felt a great force rake across his back. As he was flying across the glade, Hiram knew his life was nearly at its end. Crashing to the ground, he felt what he assumed was his own blood oozing from great wounds on his back. He tried to move, but found his legs and arms did not respond.
I believe my back is broken. At least it doesn’t hurt.
He heard screaming as the other members of his order ran for their lives. He could not turn his head to watch what was going on; rather he was forced to stare at the pine needles he was laying on. He saw a few members of his expedition race out of the clearing.
I’m not sure where they think they’re going. Whatever Raina is I’m sure is capable of hunting them down should she choose.
He heard horses whinnying and the thunder of their hooves as they scattered. His thoughts became muddled and the edges of his vision began to go dark.
A voice intruded into his thoughts, “You simpleton. You couldn’t even get this right.”
“Yes, Hiram. We had hoped you would at least be able to figure out what we’re dealing with in the forest, but you can’t even be good at being bait.”
What? You sent me here knowing I’d be killed?
“Of course. We needed to determine the nature of the guardian, but all you were able to show us through your eyes was a single woman.”
You were channeling through me? I was just a tool?
With disdain, the voice said, “A bad tool at that.”
Struggling to keep aware of his surroundings, Hiram tried to formulate a response, but could not.
“Die, young Hiram, knowing your life was a waste.”
The world went black.