The Crystal Cavern

Taran shouldn’t exist.

And if the most powerful necromancer in the world has his way—he won’t.

Taran’s life is full of contradictions.  In a world where sorcery doesn’t exist, young Taran is a sorcerer.  Dreams should be harmless and private, but Taran’s entire village dies, because of a dream.  He has a frightening, unique talent, powerful enemies, and murderous vengeance to seek.  Why was his hometown ruthlessly destroyed?  Why do horrible events continue to follow him wherever he goes?

He must face his fate, and find his freedom, in the Crystal Cavern.


Short, choppy waves broke at Taran’s feet as he squinted into the horizon. He shaded his strained eyes with his hand.

Manar smiled and shook his head. “Taran, my son, you won’t be able to see it that way. I sent the buoy out on the tides yesterday morning.”

Taran’s ears burned. He should have known that. Squaring his shoulders, he closed his eyes and sent his mind out on the sea. Calm waters met him; the red training buoy was immediately obvious. He opened his eyes with a long whistle. “It’s gone quite far out.”

“Yes. Can you pull it in?”

Taran frowned. “Father, wouldn’t it be simpler just to….to bring it here, all at once?”

Manar’s frown matched that of his nearly-adult son. “What you speak of is sorcery, Taran. No wizard has ever cast a successful sorcery. I, for one, am not convinced any wizard should try. It is not a natural thing.”

Taran considered that. “What is the difference between sorcery and wizardry?”

“That’s an excellent question, Taran. While you bring in the training buoy, I’ll go back to the house and take out the old books. When you come back with the buoy I’ll explain it to you.”

Taran nodded. Did Manar need time to study or to compose himself? He lifted a hand in farewell to his father. Manar started back toward the house, then suddenly turned and faced Taran. “For now, let’s just say that the difference between them is that wizardry can be done. Sorcery can not.” Manar turned again and left.

Taran sat down in the sand, his white apprentice robes spreading around him. The bright blue trim sparkled in the sunlight, and he studied it. His questions disturbed his father. Wizardry can be done. Sorcery cannot. With a sigh, Taran closed his eyes and concentrated. His eyelids fluttered as he sent out his mind, not in the manner he had been taught, but in the manner that was easiest for him. An immeasurably short time later, the buoy sat on the sand before him.

He sighed again, brushing his fingers across the smooth red surface. “Wizardry can be done. Sorcery cannot.” He shrugged, then scooped up the buoy and started the long walk back to the house.

***

“So you can see,” said Manar, pacing as he talked, “how wizardry is fundamentally different from sorcery. Wizardry is–well, what wizards do, and it involves the manipulation of natural forces.” Manar paced stiffly, his tall lanky body moving somewhat awkwardly, as though he was not quite comfortable in it. Abruptly he sat down behind his big oak desk. “Now any wizard can be Light or Dark. A pyromancer can just as easily use his skills for destruction as for peace. But any wizard is limited to manipulation of the forces he specializes in. A geomancer could work with the forces of growth that occur in the earth to greatly speed the growth of a tree. But a geomancer could not just simply wave his hands and make a tree appear where there was no tree or sapling or seed before. Anything involving creating objects from nothing, making things just disappear, or casting illusions to make something appear as it is not is sorcery.” Manar glanced at the clock on the wall. “Now you had better go wash up for dinner.” He turned away and began cleaning the salt and sand from the buoy.

Taran turned to leave, wondering if he should try to explain to his father what he could do. He glanced over his shoulder at his father, still at work cleaning the buoy. Ocean grime still covered almost half of the training aid. Making things disappear, he reminded himself, is sorcery. Completely impossible. With a carefully restrained sigh he addressed Manar. “Father?”

Manar paused and looked up at his son. “Yes, Taran?”

Taran glanced at the buoy. “I wanted to thank you for answering my question.”

Manar smiled. “Of course you are very welcome, my son. That is, after all, what I am here for.”

Taran smiled in return. He turned away from the gleaming buoy and left, closing the study door quietly behind him.

***

Sleep came quickly to Taran that night, but it was a tormented sleep. He tossed and turned restlessly, finally subsiding into weary stillness.

A cold, thick mist surrounds Taran. He can just barely see in the dim light.

“What in the name of the Light?” Taran turns in a slow circle, straining his eyes, but can see nothing through the mist. He reaches blindly and gropes around him, then takes a few stumbling steps forward, but finds nothing in the mist.

For a moment he simply stands there, feeling trapped and helpless. When the obvious finally hits him he hesitates a moment longer, chastising himself for his stupidity, before he closes his eyes and concentrates. His senses reach out around him. He has never seen a place so completely barren of anything at all…..but there is something….something he can’t quite identify, something that brushes his inquiring senses aside before he can get a handle on it….far off to his left.

Taran opens his eyes and frowns. Never has he encountered something he couldn’t sense….but this place seems to be full of things he has never encountered. Something is urging him to go and seek out this thing, to see with his eyes what he cannot see otherwise. He feels a vague sense of dread about doing that. Standing here letting his nerves get the best of him will not improve his situation, though, so with a deep breath he starts off.

In an amount of time far too short to cover the immense distance his senses indicated, he sees a steadily brightening light ahead. The mist seems to thin out, but that may be an effect of the light.

In a few more steps the light is bright enough to hurt his eyes, and he throws his arm up across them, peering out from under it as he takes a couple more staggering steps forward. Suddenly he halts, almost falling, squinting in the light that is painful even with his arm shading his eyes. In front of him towers an impossibly tall man dressed entirely in the black robes of a necromancer. Where has this man come from? A second ago Taran was completely alone.

Squinting against the glare, he tries to study the figure in front of him. The necromancer is carrying a completely black staff, and the unbearably bright light is coming from behind him, silhouetting him in the swirling mist. Taran tries to discern some details of the man’s appearance, but has to look down when his eyes water too intensely to focus.

The man laughs, a sound that resonates much more than it should. Taran’s hair stands on end. “Blinded by the great Aseligan! So this is the little sorcerer, eh?” He falls silent a moment, surveying the uncomfortable youth, and Taran feels himself being examined with senses beyond the eyes. “Well, well,” the figure continues in a musing tone, “you are a little firecracker, aren’t you? Look, boy, does this light bother you?”

Struggling to function past his confusion, Taran manages somehow to nod.

“Yes, yes….I daresay it would. Don’t just stand there, sorcerer-boy, do something about it!”

He realizes that he is being challenged. With a small theatrical wave that is solely for this strange individual’s benefit, Taran cuts the lights to fully half of what they were.

The man in black smiles, a crooked, dangerous smile that does not inspire confidence. “Very good, young man, very good indeed….” The image of the necromancer is somehow fading. “You could cause me no end of problems. It is well that I found you early.” The image is barely visible now. “I bid you farewell now, Taran–forever!”

Just in time, Taran catches sight of the towering wave rolling toward him, black and impenetrable. He throws himself to the ground, huddles in a ball, and instinctively casts a protective ward around himself. The wave crashes over him, battering him and rolling him, but the ward holds. He is surrounded by thick, oily matter. A smell like death is thick in his nostrils, settling acridly sweet on his tongue, choking him.

Taran jerked suddenly awake, looking sharply around, fully expecting to see a tall necromancer with a staff standing somewhere around. He let out a long breath and fell back against the pillows, shaking. The sheets were soaked with cold sweat, and his heart galloped.

It was only a dream, he told himself, trying to quell his panic. Only a–

A smell like death settled acridly sweet on his tongue, choking him.

He fumbled out of bed, clumsy with sudden fear. The stench was heavy in the back of his throat, and his stomach churned. If the terrible smell had been real, how much else of the dream had really happened? Who was Aseligan?

Where were his parents?

Gripped by irrational terror, he ran down the hall to his parent’s room. “Mother! Father! I–”

He stopped short in the doorway, staring with disbelieving eyes at the half-rotten forms bulging beneath the quilts on the bed. The stench gagged him. He couldn’t feel his hands.
Karran and Manar looked like things that had died several months ago. Rotten flesh hung in sickly flaps, and he could see the gleam of white bone in places. The quilts oozed with thick matter he dared not look at too closely.

Taran fell to his knees and vomited.

He made it back to his own room before the tears came. He no longer had to wonder what was in that oily wave Aseligan had launched at him. Pestilence. Concentrated pestilence had killed and decomposed his parents in a matter of moments.

He couldn’t stay here. He pulled out his well-worn leather satchel, and through his tears began to pack into it his few possessions. He took his blue staff out of his closet and regarded it a moment. The color of the staff indicated that his specialty was aquamancy, and he knew that was not appropriate. Things would be easier for him if he claimed a commonly accepted profession, but something compelled him to honesty, in this as in everything else. He considered a moment before changing the staff to black steel with brass fittings over the ends. The black worried him a little, for he didn’t want to be mistaken for a necromancer. But necromancers didn’t use brass on their staffs; no wizard did. And Taran couldn’t think of a better way to indicate sorcery. He sat on the edge of the bed with his staff across his lap until his tears finally subsided.

When the sun began to rise he ventured out into Feldwar. He dreaded the explaining he would have to do, but he could not simply sneak away and be thought a murderer. He would take proper leave of the village, and see to it that his parents were buried with honor.

But he knew as soon as he stepped into the street that there would be no leave-taking. The cloying stench of death hung heavy over the homes and shops. Not a soul stirred in the village. Taran searched frantically through half a dozen little buildings before he finally accepted that Feldwar was no more. He leaned heavily on his staff, panting raggedly in the bright morning sunshine that seemed so out of place in this village of the dead.

“Light keep them,” he murmured finally, and turned away. He was the sole survivor, a thought that brought with it guilt heavy enough to crush him. If he had but cast his ward wider, he could have saved his parents. Perhaps he could have saved them all. Tears burned the backs of his eyes as he plodded to the stables outside the village gates. His brother Renas lived in the town of Caleb, and he had to be told. And if it took Taran until the last of his days, he would find that necromancer and avenge his people.

Nothing remained for him here. Quite possibly there was nothing for him anywhere. All he could do was go out on his own, and find out what he could do for himself. In a world where sorcery did not exist, he was a sorcerer and so where his skills were concerned he would always be alone.

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