It was late afternoon, and the tavern held only the usual crowd. There were only three logs in the fire, enough to keep it going, but not the roaring blaze they would keep in the evenings. The curtains were open, letting in the gentle spring breeze. The barmaid, Corinna, was clearing the dishes from the adventurers’ table. They were in each week, rejoicing and nursing wounds from their weekend excursions into the old goblin runs and such. They were a pleasant group, if a bit loud.
The batling, Shadowflight, was the quiet leader of the group. Then there was Desdra, a pixie that occasionally wasn’t. Romba, the loud-mouthed, boastful human had his feet on the table, as usual. Liveria, the lizard-centaur crossbreed, was leaning in through the window.
The door opened to a welcome visitor. The broad-brimmed, high-peaked hat and dark leather cloak of the traveler were barely hung on the pegs at the door before he was sitting at the table by the fire with a mug of ale in his hand.
“News you wouldn’t receive, stories you’ll barely believe! Ten silvers a tale, a song for some ale, I promise I’ll never deceive!” His trademark limerick wasn’t really necessary, as everyone knew his business, and everyone wanted his trade. The normally quiet afternoon hours were suddenly busy and crowded. The entire town was eager for news and entertainment. The old minstrel was only too happy to provide, one mug at a time.
“I ought to charge double for this tasty bit,” he laughed and took another long swig of his ale. The crowd pushed forward, silvers clattering at his feet. He laughed and set his mug on the table beside him. “Last time I was here, I told you about some unrest in Tontves. There was a dark elf mage taking more than his fair share…”
The dark elf called himself Magewind and no creature in their right mind said no to him. Those that did say no, it was usually followed with ‘please, don’t hurt me.’ He took anything he wanted, and he wanted anything worth having. If an archivist in a library discovered an old spellbook, Magewind would be there to check it out, permanently. If an armorer crafted a special weapon or shield, it would quickly find its way into Magewind’s hands. The most beautiful castle in the realm was renamed Windgate and added to his holdings. Enchanted artifacts, unusual potions, gold, jewels, beasts, women, all were his if he desired them. Yes, there were those that tried to stand in his way. But he had his way, and they stand no more.
Finally, a group of men met quietly in the middle of the night, hoping to escape his notice. One of them had the ability of Vision, and he shrouded the room from sight. Another knew the acts of Creation, and he weaved Shadow throughout the chamber, such that not even the men who met could say who had spoken which ideas. Some had special affinity with the creatures of nature, and set a guard around them on land and in air. Some with a knack for Locks and some with a skill for Creating walls together secured even the entrances by which they came. One with an aptitude for Stealth crept around and watched for suspicious signs. Finally, a tall man with a long, frosty white beard waved his arms in the air and around the house wailed an Ice Storm that would slow any who approached, as well as cover any sound that escaped the other enchantments. Working together, they secured their meeting from detection and dubbed themselves the Wizard Defenders.
All the long night, that ice storm raged around the shadowed house while they debated methods by which they might defeat the dark elf mage. Before the dawn woke, the ice storm calmed, the shadow faded, and the house stood empty. Its occupants had left by way of Teleportation, Beacons, Stealth, Speed, Insubstantiality, and Flight.
Over the next week, the Wizard Defenders searched out various reputed heroes. Some found that the reputation was the hero’s strongest ability. Some found little more than broken skeletons where heroes used to be. The brilliant plan that had so secretively been conceived looked as though it would come to naught.
Then, one of the talented men found him: A warrior who wielded an electrified broadsword with a green jewel set in the hilt. The hero, going by the name Shandar, was spirited to the shadow house. The following night, the Wizard Defenders brought Shandar to Windgate.
Illusion was useless against Magewind; he knew the true form of anyone in his sight. A moving ball of shadow would only gather his attention instead of avoid it. Regardless of the objections, Shandar, a man of honor, declared he would not enter the man’s home (stolen though it may have been) in a deceptive manner. Shandar, to the Defenders’ dismay, pounded the gate and demanded audience with the mage.
The golem guards, confused by this unusual request, allowed him through. Magewind, intrigued by the hero’s evident foolishness or bravery, met him openly in his center court to find out which it was. Never one to underestimate his opponent, Magewind had done his research.
“You are Shandar, an adventurer who earns his meals with your excellent broadsword. You are honorable, because your parents were not. You are foolish, because you demand entrance to my home for an audience with me. You are a valiant and worthy adventurer, but you are no match for me. Why do you come here?”
“I came here to stop your evil works, and break the stranglehold you have on this kingdom. You may know my history, and even of some of my weapons, but you do not know everything about me, nor can you see the future that exists without you.”
This angered the mage, and he threw a fireball at the hero. Shandar didn’t even flinch. The fireball engulfed him and burned fiercely before flickering out, leaving Shandar standing unharmed. He had an Amulet of protection. Magewind snarled and a held up one hand. Three balls of ice, each bigger than his fist formed in midair, circling his hand. He figured if Shandar’s world wouldn’t end in fire, it would end in ice. The iceballs flew at Shandar. One struck his shield; one struck his armor; the last hit him in the head. As they struck, however, instead of iceballs, they became snowballs, and Shandar shook off the attack easily. With snowflakes in his hair, he stepped forward and drew his sword.
Magewind realized this hero would not be as easy to dispatch as he had thought. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and seemed to blur, making it hard to tell exactly where he was standing. Magewind made a blurred motion and suddenly a dragon stood behind Shandar.
Shandar spun and attacked the dragon. Dragons, though formidable, hold fewer tricks for such an experienced adventurer. The dragon did not stand against Shandar long. Magewind, however, had not stood idle while they fought. Shandar turned, sword at the ready, and a glass bottle soared from one corner of the room and shattered against his chest. The acrid liquid inside spread out on his armor and began to smoke and sizzle. His armor wouldn’t stand up against the acid too long. He pulled a dirk from his belt and threw it, targeting the section of wall that was less clearly defined than the rest. His aim was true, and he heard Magewind cry out in pain and fury. He charged the sound, blood welling out from midair, sword raised high.
The dirk, though painful, had not actually done that much damage. Magewind brought his palm to his lips and blew a gray dust into the air. The dust swept toward Shandar and caught him in the face. He stumbled, and stopped. His head bowed, shoulders slumped, and, with acid eating away his armor, Shandar lightly began to snore.
Magewind threw back the hood of his Cloak, and boldly walked up to the hero. He snatched the jeweled sword from his slack hand with a haughty laugh, and pulled a dagger from Shandar’s belt. He dipped it into a vial of deadly poison and took fine, slow pleasure in slitting the warrior’s unprotected throat.
As Magewind’s laughter and Shandar’s dying gurgles filled the air, the Wizard Defenders stepped into view. They had snuck in while Magewind was distracted with the hero, and now he was distracted completely, absorbed in the murder of an honorable man.
They raised their arms, readied their Rods, turned their Rings, whispered their incantations, and as one launched their attack on Magewind. Light, darkness, fire, ice, and a myriad of other forces lanced across the room toward Magewind as he let the hero fall to the stone floor. Despite the force of their attack, he did not so easily fall. Some missives rebounded back on their caster, often plastering their bodies to the wall. Other attacks he deflected, or took minor damage from. Even so, it was powerful enough to bring him to his knees, from which he launched a counter attack, just as powerful as the rest. Several minutes of heated attacks and returns followed, ending in a deafening explosion of power that could be heard from far outside the walls of Windgate.
The roof of the castle was merely embers, floating on the winds. The walls were scorched, iced, broken, and crumbling. The stone floors were cracked and discolored. Of the dozen or more member of the Wizard Defenders, three remain.
One is now blind, with his tongue in a permanent knot, making serious spellcasting impossibly dangerous, if possible at all. He stumbled his way back to the village, and reported the garbled tale.
Another is a tree, rooted in the center of the cavity of destruction that is left of the dark elf's fortress. Through the veins and pulp of this tree runs neither blood nor sap, but a lethal poison. His family and friends attempt to guard the tree from those who would steal his bloodsap to use on weapons, one of the deadliest poisons known.
The last of the Wizard Defenders is little more than legend. Supposedly, a misty, vaporous cloud floats seemingly randomly along the river that flows near the site of the battle. Legend says that if you can find the vapor, it will communicate with you, and can heal grave injuries or grant wishes. Few can say that they have stood within the Magician's Mist, but many claim to know those who have.
“But what of Magewind?” whispered the little, wide-eyed girl in front of the fire in the tavern. The story was long in telling, and darkness has fallen, yet no one had moved.
“Ah, Magewind. The place where he made his stand, where the body of the hero had fallen, was little more than scorched earth when all was said and done. The hero’s corroded armor remained, but nothing else. The kingdom has celebrated his downfall, but there are those that say he is not dead, but only gone, and will one day return for his vengeance.”
The old storyteller sat back and picked up his mug of ale.
Corinna wrapped her shawl around her. Despite the crowd that night, most of the tips had gone to the news-bringer. Not that he’d helped clear the tables or bring the food, she’d noticed. With all of the extra work from the crowd, she’d hardly heard the story at all. She locked the door and headed for home.
In a clearing near the edge of town, an elf lay unconscious in the grass, a broadsword in his hand. A scream brought life to his eyes. He opened them slowly, looking confused. A second scream brought him quickly to his feet. He moved quickly toward the sound as a cry for help echoed through the woods. Breaking through some shrubbery onto a dark road, he found a barmaid being roughly handled by a couple of goblins. He threw himself on the first, driving the blade of the heavy broadsword into its chest. He jumped up to confront the second goblin, and the act of pulling the sword from the first one parried the second goblin’s strike. They circled, and the goblin leaped forward, weapon swinging. The elf’s shoulder stung as it took a glancing blow, but the broadsword scored true in a return thrust, killing the second goblin.
“Oh, thank you! I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t showed up!” The girl threw herself on him in a fit of gratitude. “My name is Corinna. Who are you?”
“I am-“ he stopped, startled, for no name rose to his lips. He had no idea what his name was, or where he’d come from, or how he’d gotten here. He looked down at the broadsword in his hand. A crackle of energy whispered up the blade and across the green jewel in the hilt. Strange, bright blue letters etched across the stone. “Cache,” he read in a whisper.
“Well, it is very nice to meet you, Cache. Let me show you into town. I’m a barmaid in the tavern there, if you need a room for the night.”
He followed her, and accepted her kindness in silence, for he had not a penny on him. She promised to introduce him to other heroes in the morning, who could help him find work.