Chapter 5 - Metlass
As the afternoon sun crept towards dusk, Rhavin sat at the sturdy table of Alan Vo’Mir’s inn. The large hearth flickered with the dying sparks of a smoldering fire. On one hand, a small copper coin flipped between his fingers, the other rhythmically thumped against his temple. Metlass had come, and the main events were about to begin. The bonfire was being prepared, flames stoked in hopes of touching the sky. Music resonated throughout the village and all those from the surrounding farms gathered in the large square. Bodies moved with purpose, mimicking an ant colony.
Rhavin loved Metlass. Dancing with the local girls, all the food he could want, singing with Mykul, and the competitions. Rhavin always participated in the competitions. He wasn’t a strong man, but with a little arcane aid, he was able to shock the whole town with his prowess in arm wrestling.
“It’s all in the technique.” Rhavin would say. But he always used magic to help get him to the last few rounds. Arnvold and Eila disapproved but didn’t make too big a fuss about it. Rhavin always made sure he lost to Bant, the blacksmith. Even with technique there was no possible way he could defeat that man without it being obviously magic. He must have stood at least seven feet tall, and had cannons for arms, proportional to his height.
Getting second meant he always got a nice tray of desserts from the baker: lemon bars, potato pies, and peach cobblers. Metlass really was something truly special to him, but Rhavin wasn’t excited today, he was nervous. The clerics were in town, and he still felt they were here for him.
Most of them wore white robes with golden trim. Their outfits described their importance to Tivos. That level of extravagance was not able to be found in Cavros, only in places like the capital could you find true golden laced silk. They didn’t participate in any of the events, and hardly ate any of the food. The clerics spent their time talking to the villagers, asking about the customs and inquiring about all who lived there. To all the Cavrosians it looked like normal conversation, but to Rhavin it felt like they were searching for someone in particular.
The oddest among them was a man clad in black robes. He always stood a little aways from the other clerics, never spoke, and carried a large black steel warhammer. Rhavin assumed he was a bodyguard at first, but the way he looked around the village made Rhavin feel like the man in black didn’t care about the fate of the clerics; he was there for something else. His face was covered with a black stone mask; It must have been obsidian.
Even with his feelings that they were searching for something, Rhavin felt more at ease than last night. He spoke with one of the clerics and they didn’t seem to pay him any mind. They asked for leaders of the village and moved on. Their intuition must be nothing more than searching for those others are willing to point fingers at. With only two people who knew his secret, Rhavin was confident he didn’t have to worry about the clerics. The large man clad in black did still make him uneasy though.
With Cavros receiving the clerics, it wouldn’t be long before Tivos decided to reclaim it’s forgotten land. And if the capital wanted to reestablish itself here, there would be a large manner of people coming to the town. In light of this, Rhavin decided that today it was time. Today he left the village. He had been waiting years for news of his family, of his father, of his brother. No news ever came. Eila and Arnvold always told him to be patient and that he has a good life here. He felt that if he was going to take on risk of being caught, he might as well do so on the road finding out the fate of those he missed so dearly.
“It’s not time to leave yet. It’s dangerous for you to go out on your own. When we hear from Achim we will all set out together.” Eila’s matronly voice echoed in his head. He did have a good life with them. With time, he even came to love them, like a second set of parents. But he wanted more than a good life, he wanted the truth. What had happened to his father? Why was he sent here of all places? Are the others alive? All these questions ran through his mind daily.
He had a plan to create a large enough distraction to steal one of Alan’s horses and make his way to Tiva. From there he could book passage and find his family. Without her knowledge, he’d taken what he assumed was enough gold to get him across the ocean from Eila. He had a stock of food he planted in the inn, there were only a couple loose ends to worry about: Mykul and the clerics. Rhavin wanted to say goodbye, but not until the last minute. The clerics on the other hand, put a wrench in his plan. The distraction was going to be magic, now he wasn’t sure. Until then, it was time to enjoy what was left of his last Metlass.
The echoing thump of boots on wood pulled Rhavin out of his thoughts. Alan Vo’Mir was carrying two barrels of mead out from the cellar, one under each arm. The barrels looked like miniature replicas pressed up against him. His arms could almost rival Bant’s. Dark eyes shaded by bushy brows scanned the room, until they landed on Rhavin.
“Get out there boy. Metlass only comes once a year.” Alan thundered over to the table where Rhavin sat, and placed one of the barrels onto the table. “You can take one of these to the square for me on your way out.”
“No problem Vo’Mir, I’ll see you out there,” Rhavin said with a smile. Appeased with the response, Alan thundered out to the festival. The opened door gave way to all the sounds of the festival: playful shouts, a plethora of music, and excited laughter. My last Metlass. No problem in having a little fun.
Outside the inn, the festivities were in full swing. Swirling patchwork dresses moved across Rhavin’s gaze in a blur. Men, women, and children tapped and moved around a large bonfire that danced with them.
Rhavin hobbled over to the drink stall, trying his best to leer over the barrel of mead. Bant was managing the stall, nodding his head to the music while he dispensed mugs of ale and mead to all who came by. Hands as large as bear paws grasped the barrel from Rhavin, setting it upon a large stack of others.
“I’ll never understand how you make it so far in the competitions, while appearing to be so incapable. Maybe it really is all in the technique.” Bant’s verbal attack was accompanied by a smile and heavy pat on the back.
“I find myself just as surprised as you. Sometimes it feels like magic.” Rhavin smiled at his own admission of arcane cheating. Bant let out a low rumble of a laugh and pushed a mug of mead into Rhavin’s chest.
“Drink boy, it’s Metlass! Go find a few girls to dance with. Vaera came over and asked about you not too long ago.” Bant gave Rhavin another pat accompanied by a wink as he turned to address several folks looking for another round.
Rhavin made his way over to the dancers as he finished the last of his honey wine. The group was grouping up for the line dance. Setting his mug down on an old table, he jogged over to stand in line with the men.
As the music started the line of men and women came together. Rhavin latched arms with the woman in front of him. He recognized her. Alva was short and plump with golden curls. Her patchwork dress was small and tight enough to accentuate her curves. She smiled at him as they began to step and twirl with the music.
The music changed tunes and the two groups both stepped back and the women’s line shifted over to change partners. Rhavin’s new partner was Semana To’va, one of the village elders. Semana was tall and lanky, she stood half a head taller than Rhavin. Although surrounded by crows feet and sagging skin, Semana’s eyes still held the fire of life in them. As they came together, she gave Rhavin a wink and smile. He couldn’t help but blush.
The songs went on and on, and Rhavin danced with girl after girl. Hearty laughs and giggles resonated through the square. He lost himself in the music and dance, until he got paired with Sela. Her violet gaze took him off balance, and he momentarily forgot how to dance. Watching him trip over his own feet Sela giggled.
“I thought you would be better at dancing, gypsy boy,” Sela teased.
“It seems you’re learning all kinds of new things about me these days,” Rhavin replied with a playful smile. “I can’t believe this is the first time we’ve danced. I wish we could have had more chances.” His smile strained as he knew he wouldn’t get to dance with her again.
“If you promise to practice, I promise it won’t be the last time,” Sela assured him.
As their dance came to an end, Rhavin headed back over to Bant’s stall to wet his mouth.
“You ought to be wary about Vo’Mir’s daughter,” the blacksmith said. “You know that old bear gets all touchy when the boys show an interest.” Bant poured himself a large mug and sat back in the stall’s chair.
“Aye, you’re right Bant. It was just a bit of dancing though, I’m not going to steal away his baby girl. But… I could think of worse fates than that!” Rhavin let out a laugh, the ale and infectious joyfulness of Metlass had overtaken him. A large part of him screamed that leaving this place was a mistake. He could live a quiet joyful life, maybe with Sela. He would help run the inn, or make his own farm. His emotions began to wildly shift from happiness to the dread of never seeing all his friends he had made here ever again.
“Well, she is a young beauty, but those purple eyes can see a lot more than she lets on I’d say.” Bant downed his mug of ale in only a few gulps. “But, a smart woman keeps you on your toes. You could do a lot worse than her. But enough about women, boy! It’s almost time for arm wrestling! Are you going to best me this year? We’ve gone head to head the past several.” Bant clapped Rhavin on the back and started walking towards wrestling tables.
“I’m going to try!” Rhavin shouted as he jogged to catch up to him. Most of the men had gathered around the tables. Arm wrestling was the first of the men’s strength challenges. They had other activities like the javelin toss, and stone throwing. Rhavin only participated in the arm wrestling, once that was done he preferred to drink and cheer for his friends.
The reigning champ always held the bracket because whoever won the arm wrestling tournament would challenge last year's winner. It was always Bant. The man had honed his arms into iron pillars, and there wasn’t a single man in the village who could best him. Calling out the opponents, Rhavin was matched up with Lor, a younger farm boy. He was a stout kid, but didn’t look like much to Rhavin. He might not even need to use any magical influence to win.
“Well, good luck Rhavin. I’m pretty sure you won’t need it. You’re deceptively good at this aren’t you?” Lor asked.
“You’re right, I’m sorry I’ve got to knock you out this early friend, but maybe next year you’ll get someone easier.” Rhavin said with a wink. The match started and Rhavin pushed against the boy's hand. Without using any magic it was tough, the farm hand had sinewy arms but they must have been hardened from all the work he did day in and day out. Rhavin was disappointed he had to use magic in the first round but wasn’t willing to out that early. With a bit of an arcane push, Lor was defeated. The watchers all cheered and Rhavin took a bow.
As the tournament progressed Rhavin defeated several other contenders, everyone was watching his matches in awe as the young boy managed to defeat many of the village's brawniest men. When the tournament had progressed to the semi-final, Rhavin decided it was time to be defeated. He was up against the old man Vo’Mir. Sela’s father could almost tout as large of arms as bant. With the clerics still wandering around the village, he didn’t want to draw the attention from a victory of that stature. Rhavin put up a decent fight, not letting the old man win instantaneously, but gave up ten seconds into the bout.
“Hah! You’re as strong as an ox Rhavin!” the old man roared. “I’ll never understand where that strength comes from, but you serve to impress every year!.” Rhavin thanked the man and gave the crowd another bow before returning to grab another mug of ale before watching the final. Rhavin was sure Bant would win this year. The man was getting older, but those grizzled muscles never gave out. Vo’Mir and Bant both sat down and squared off in the final. Both men’s arms flexed and heaved, but Bant won decisively after only a few seconds. Rhavin didn’t think there was a man in Tivos who could compare to the man’s legendary strength.
As Bant was getting up to claim his ribbon, the black clad man sat at the table with him and offered his arm. Rhavin hadn’t seen him up close before, but beneath the black robes was a man who’s stature rivaled that of Bant.
“A challenger from the big city I see! Well lad, do you think you can best a ten year champion?” Bant proudly asked. The man in black raised his arm into position in reply. “Not too talkative, I see. Well I accept!” The blacksmith sat back down and grasped the man in black’s hand. The match started and Bant began to lose ground immediately. His column-like arms shook with strain while the black mask calmly kept up the assault. It only took moments for Bant to begin heaving, his arm shaking in the attempt to defeat his challenger. In the end, Bant couldn’t hold on long enough. His strength gave out and the man in black had won.
No words were said. The man simply picked up his large hammer and continued to observe the festival. The entire crowd was speechless. Bant had not only been defeated, but it looked as if he was put down with ease. Who was under that mask? Rhavin can’t imagine the strength it would take to defeat Bant. How large were the arms of the man under that robe? Rhavin decided it was time to put some distance between himself and the black clad man. It was time to get some more mead and set the plan in action.
As Rhavin picked up his drink, he started to summon some arcane energy. He felt the energy well up inside him, the feeling always made him ecstatic. It was the biggest rush he had ever known. The energy made him feel all powerful, and the more he drew in the stronger he would feel. He was careful not to hold too much, all he needed to do was lull several clouds over the festival.
Eyes closed as he felt the air around him and conjured a light breeze in the sky above them, enough to pull the surrounding rain clouds over the festival. It was a small spell, one he learned to do while skygazing. But he didn’t want the storm to seem unnatural. And if it stormed without clouds in sight, everyone would know something is amiss. It would take some time for them to float over towards the festival. In the meantime he had some business to take care of.
With a fresh mug of mead he set off to find Mykul. It was time to say goodbye. Metlass wouldn’t last more than a few more hours and he couldn’t leave without saying anything.
He found Mykul sitting on an old log, overgrown with moss. A few of the villages other musicians sat with, or near him. They drank, sang songs, and didn’t seem to stop laughing. Mykul caught sight of Rhavin and called him over with a smile and exaggerated wave. He was wearing a tunic that clung to him like moss on a tree. Over the tunic was a red overcoat, it was a deep red as if soaked in blood.
“I saw your dance with Sela. You couldn’t get the steps down to save your life! Did she flash you more than her purple eyes?” Mykul slapped his knee in laughter as he taunted Rhavin. With the amount of times they had both imagined that scenario together, Rhavin couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as well.
“Nothing quite so bold as that my friend. I had just never looked… Never really looked at her until yesterday.” The laughter left Rhavin’s face, replaced by morose realization. “I wish I had noticed her before I had to leave.”
“Leave? Where do you have to go? How would you get there? You going to walk through the forests for months?” Mykul’s playful words were cut off by the hasty downing of his mead.
“Let’s talk somewhere more private.” Rhavin led Mykul away from the other drunken bards. The two stopped at the edge of the clearing, beneath blooming aspen trees. A familiar copper coin found its way between Rhavin’s fingers, turning and flipping among them.
“My friend, I must leave Cavros tonight.” Rhavin’s golden eyes locked with Mykul. A seriousness so rarely presented, it took Mykul off guard.
“You are going to find your family then?” The drunken smile shifted to a seriousness to match Rhavin’s. “I wasn’t sure you would actually go.” Mykul ran a hand through his beard, and scratched at the chin beneath.
“I have waited years for news of them, Mykul. I cannot wait forever. And these clerics.. They will only bring me trouble. There’s something about that man in the black mask. He is bad news Mykul, I know it.” Rhavin paced a small line. Heavy steps landing with the beats of the faint festival music. “I know they’re out there, I know they have to be alive. The clerics are only the push I need to leave.” Rhavin fingered the cracked elephant head medallion he wore around his neck. “.. They have to be alive,” he quietly repeated.
“So you’re telling me you’re going alone, on a perilous quest across the sea, to find your family, who may or may not have been killed six years ago because some holy men decided to visit our village?” Mykul’s eyebrow raised as his jaw opened. He scratched his bearded chin once more. “Well, I’m with you then.”
“You’re with me? What do you mean you’re with me?” Rhavin asked.
“I’m going to go with you. I’m willing to bet this is going to be an interesting journey. I’ve always wanted to be a bard. I can’t be a bard without something to sing about. The closest thing to excitement we get around here is betting on how fast Vaera will down a slab of mutton.” The signature Mykul smile returned. His hand gripped Rhavin’s shoulder. “You can’t say you’d rather be travelling alone. Who better than the dashing, charming, beautifully voiced, lute playing extraordinaire, Mykul?” As his speech came to an end Mykul looked up at the night sky, placed his hands on his hips, and struck a magnificent pose, worthy of his self imposed description.
“Alright,” Rhavin agreed. “You can come.”
“That’s it? Really? I honestly thought I was going to have to try harder to convince you.” Mykul flashed another smile and started flexing. “Just more proof of Mykul’s magnificence!”
“Alright. If you keep flexing and talking in the third person, I’m going to change my mind.” Rhavin retorted through a few light hearted chuckles. “Grab your things, some food, and meet me by Vo’Mir’s inn. We’re going to have to steal some horses.”
Scratching his head in disappointment, Mykul said,“Not going to work. Alan keeps those guarded, even during Metlass. The only way those are left without eyes, is if the world is being torn apart.”
“Just get your things and meet me there. I’m already working on a distraction.” Rhavin winked at Mykul as he turned back towards the celebration. As Rhavin passed by the large bonfire, it was at its height of the night. Before long it would be morning, and the village was using all of it’s prepared wood. Orange tendrils stretched upwards, like a young child trying to catch the moon.
Reaching the inn, Rhavin walked up to the large oak in front. Getting on his knees he started disturbing a small patch of dirt near the base. The excavated dirt revealed a large leather pack. Dusting it off, Rhavin threw it over his shoulder. He pulled in more arcane energy and the wind started to stir. He needed the storm to seem gradual.
Looking toward the stable, Rhavin saw that Mykul didn’t lie. Vo’Mir kept a guard stationed right outside. A middle aged man, leather jerkin and shortsword on his hip paced the entrance to the stable. Rhavin didn’t recognize him. He didn’t think he was trained with that blade the way the man walked either. His face was contorted with what looked like indecision. He looked as if he was deciding if the pay was worth missing out on Metlass.
The clouds had started to cover the festival, and the wind was picking up nicely. This much magic was starting to put a strain on him. Arnvold never let Rhavin cast much, always saying too much could go wrong. “Without a proper trainer, you could just as easily kill yourself!” Arnvold didn’t have any innate magic. Only his books and tomes on the subject. He was attempting to teach Rhavin how to control it without truly understanding himself. His old teacher’s warnings were put out of his mind tonight though. He had to leave, and he needed horses if he was going to make any ground.
Rhavin stared at the bonfire, clearing his mind of all except the raging flames. He concentrated on the heat, letting it fill him. Focusing on something and letting it fill him was a tactic he used to focus on larger casts, well large for him. His fists clenched and he focused on the fire until he could feel it burning inside of him. He could feel it. Feel it fighting to get out, burning his skin, overtaking his mind. The lightning scars that covered him began to glow azure. As the fire in him grew in intensity, so did the scars.
He opened his eyes and released the heat. It felt like a torrential rain of fire poured out of him. The clouds released all their water pouring a torrential rain upon all the villagers. Lightning struck out around the village catching several huts on fire. Rhavin needed chaos, and this storm would bring it for him. The rain was so dense, it was hard to see ten feet in front of him. Rhavin heard the screams of the villagers as they all ran for their homes. The lightning was working.
Exhaustion overcame him. Causing a storm large enough to cover the entire festival was more than he had expected. He needed these horses because he didn’t think that he would be able to walk back to Eila’s hut much less start a journey.
Just as he had hoped, the man guarding the stable had left his post in the chaos. Making his way into the stable, Rhavin started to saddle a large bay: Wind. She was Vo’Mir’s most valuable horse. Rhavin didn’t feel good about taking the best of his stock, but a fast horse would be invaluable if he got into trouble.
Wind neighed and shook her head as he tightened the saddle. Rhavin whispered reassurances, and stroked her neck. The stable door behind him let out a groan, resisting the hand that pushed it open. Rhavin’s heart fluttered as he looked towards the door, instinctively small sparks appeared around him as he pulled more energy into him, what he would do with it he wasn’t sure.
“Well that was fucking crazy, you made that storm? Remind me not to make you angry, don’t want my hut burning to the ground from lightning.” Mykul confidently sauntered into the stable. He wore riding leathers that hugged his body a little too tightly, and had a bulging camping pack strapped to his back. “Glad you told me you were going to make a distraction. I might have pissed off, like the rest of the village.”
“Good you’re here. We need to move fast. Vo’Mir is going to check on the stables eventually I’m sure.” Rhavin pointed towards a saddle on a shelf. “Grab that saddle and pick a horse.” Mykul nodded in agreement. Continuing to saunter, he decided on a quarter horse, and went to saddling it with ease. Rhavin hadn’t seen Mykul ever riding, but it looks like he knew what he was doing, and right now that was enough for him.
Saddled and mounted, Rhavin and Mykul rode the horses out of the stable. The village square was devoid of life as far as they could see, which wasn’t that far. As they made their way down the road, the only sound was the din of rainfall, broken only by the crackle of thunder.
As the road curved north through the treeline the two pushed their horses to a canter. The road held no signs of life, just what Rhavin had hoped for. After only an hour of riding they had left the storm and decided to stop for a moment and give their horses a quick rest. Mykul pulled a nub of bread from his pack and began to dig into it. Rhavin examined a small map he had pilfered from Eila and Arnvold.
“So what gave you the idea of a storm?” Mykul asked.
Rhavin looked up from his map. “I’m honestly not sure. I just figured everyone hates rain enough that they’d all go home if it was a heavy pour.”
“Well, you’re not wrong. What kind of a festival would it be soaking wet and shivering?” Mykul took a few bites of his bread nub, ignoring the crumbs that coated his face.“So where’s our first stop anyway?” Mykul asked. His bread nub disappeared just as fast as it had appeared.
“This map I have says there’s a village just a little north of here, but I haven’t heard of one up there before.” Rhavin put the map in front of Mykul, hoping he would have more knowledge of outlying villages than he. Mykul took a look at the map and started shaking his head.
“How old is this map? That village you’re looking at is Fell Wood. It was supposedly abandoned hundreds of years ago. My Pa used to tell me a story about it. Apparently all of the villagers just up and left one day. Didn’t take any of their things, they just all disappeared. Never to be seen, or heard from again. Folks around here say it’s haunted. Nobody goes there these days. It’s just a bunch of rubble. The few houses left standing are rotten and ready to collapse.”
Rhavin frowned at the map. He should have known Arnvold’s map would be ages old. The man loved old things, if it was because he was old, or just loved history, Rhavin couldn’t tell.
“Alright, well then that’ll be our first stop. We can camp in one of the old stone houses. Rumors of ghosts should keep people away, and there’s a well so we can water the horses.” Rhavin put the map back in his pack, and mounted his bay. Mykul nodded in agreement, and mounted up as well.
“If we’re to be haunted, I hope it’s ghosts of promiscuous girls. I don’t much care for the ‘kill the living’ kind.” Chuckling at Mykul’s comment, Rhavin started them down the path to Fell Wood.