As you open the book, a vision slowly enters your head. You look upon a man and a woman alone in the darkness, a voice in your head tells you the man is called Astor, and the woman Vera, a large castle surrounds you, their voices carry on the wind…
“I cannot come with you,” she says as she whisks herself away in the darkness. Astor stands silently; the moonlight glints off her gown as she disappears into the shadows of the castle yards. A single tear rolls down his face and drops silently to the grass beneath him. With a turn, he too walks slowly off, back into the darkness.
His thoughts echo in your head, seemingly carried upon the same wind as his true voice.
All had seemed to be going well, he thought to himself as he began to pack his things. Lady Vera had been the only thing keeping him here, his soul ached for the open road, but even more did it ache for her. The feel of her hand as she led him along through the gardens brought a chill to his spine. He could see her smile as she ran along, “Come you must see the orchids, oh and the jasmine at sunset! I can't believe you’ve never been here before!” The sunlight sparkled through her hair as its parting rays burned the sky in shades of orange and yellow. All had been well, he assured himself…so what had changed, what had gone so wrong?
Danvier would know, or if not, he would talk to her about it for him, right? Danvier, Astor’s long time friend would be able to help. It was he who had introduced the Lady Vera to Astor all those years ago, he who had told him of her interest, he who had encouraged Astor along. He carries himself down the corridors, his soft boots making nary a sound as he traverses the back passageways leading to Danvier’s room.
Voices arise from the room, Danvier’s voice he thinks, but the other…Vera? Cautiously he listens up against the door, to the voices within.
“…and he said nothing?”
“Nothing, he just stood there for a moment, then walked back into the castle. You know I didn’t want to hurt him; I’m just not ready for this. Plus, you never know when he will take off in the middle of the night again, I…I just…I’m not ready, I can't do it. But…but, he didn’t even call for me when I ran off, did I mean anything to him? Am I that easy to let go?”
“I would never have let you run off like that, I would have done anything-“
“Anything, had you not already found Laurne, right?”
“Of course…had I not already found Laurne…right. I would have chased you to the ends of the world. But Astor is not like that, he lives behind a mask, a façade, a pleasant face to show the world, blocking all emotion from entering his heart. He is not like you and me, he cannot love, he cannot even feel. For Pelor’s sake he is a wizard! Who knows what horrible secrets lay in the recesses of his mind?”
“But he is not like that with me. I can see through his mask, I can feel his happiness, I can feel his pain. I could hear it in his voice that night, see it in his eyes when he asked me to leave with him. That was hard for him; he let me in that night.”
“You may have thought you saw it, but I can assure you that no such thing exists in his heart…no pain, no sadness, only cold dark emptiness.”
“How can you say that? You’re his friend?”
“Yes, but I am your friend too. And I know he cannot be right for you, he will only cause you pain. I speak these words so that I may save you, save you from him. You know I have always had feelings for you-“
“But now you’re with Laurne-“
“But I will always feel for you, say the word and I will leave her for you. Say the word, and I would leave it all for you.”
Astor could take no more, a simple spell bursts open the door in a flash of blinding light. The two sit there, squinting at the sudden burst of light. In an instant, Danvier is upon his feet, sword in hand. “Astor,” he cries, “what are you doing here?” His sword drops lower, no longer on guard, but not away entirely as he recognizes his friend. His voice quivers as he speaks, afraid of what his friend might, and most likely did hear.
“Doing here? DOING HERE?” Astor booms. “I was seeking solace from a friend. I was seeking a caring ear for, yes, even my cold inhuman heart has felt pain this eve. But this is what I find, whispered words, ill spoken in hopes of ill-gotten gains. How long have you plotted against me, friend? How long?”
The Lady Vera stands, perplexed, the friends stare at each other, a new hatred clearly evident upon the mage’s face. It was a strange sight, you hear in her thoughts, on a face so usually happy and jovial, Astor’s now rages with anger. Light flashes and you see her and him as she envisions them together in the woods, he is smiling and laughing, then falls onto the ground as he clumsily looses his balance while trying to climb a tree. The man before her now is strikingly different than the soft smile that had looked up sheepishly at her from the ground under the tree. The soft smile is gone, replaced by a grim visage; the eyes no longer glitter with joy, they now burn with a fire the Lady Vera could have never imagined on the peaceful magus. Her thoughts return to the present, and she realizes that she has been staring at Astor.
“My lady, you should leave here. You should not bear witness to what is about to happen,” Astor speaks coldly. Danvier is beginning to look afraid as he glances nervously about, his sword now on guard. Vera looks up at Astor, and speaks quietly, “Astor, please. Let us go from here, please, let’s just go.”
“Then you will come with me?” his face softens slightly.
“I told you…I cannot. I am sorry Astor, but I can’t.”
“Then…Danvier?” the face hardens once again. She nods in the negative, but it’s as if he doesn’t notice. She raises her eyes, pleading with the mage to let this all go and he stares back for a second, seemingly lost, his face softens once again, then he looks up.
“That glimmer…in your eyes. I can see it now, now I understand.” His face lights up with a smile, but not the carefree smile Vera had known, it was different now, somehow, odd. His hands move in practiced movements, energy welling up around him, both Vera and Danvier cower as the mage’s spell discharges…but there was no fiery blast, no lightning bolt descending from the heavens…nothing. She looks up to see what had happened, to see if Astor is still there, and he is, but different somehow. His skin is now stone, a dull grey granite, melded perfectly with his body. In charges Danvier, hacking away at Astor. “NO!!!!” Vera cries, but Danvier’s heavily enchanted blade bounces off the magical stone time and time again. Astor’s hand rises, throwing Danvier forcibly backwards then holds him floating in mid-air.
“Now I see what must be done. Now it all becomes clear.” His hands rise again, as he calls flames from the heavens. Vera screams as the room is engulfed by the inferno, screaming in pain as the flames devour her flesh. Danvier could not even scream before he was consumed, couldn’t do anything but watch as his life was stolen from him. The room is engrossed in the hungry flame, spreading from room to room until the entire castle burns in the unnatural fire. Through the burning heat, Astor stands, protected by his own enchantments, calling meteors from the sky, wreaking his havoc upon the land. When at last the mage is satisfied that not even a single stone will remain, he leans down upon the charred corpse of the Lady Vera, slinging the body over his shoulder and casts his enchantment, finally disappearing.
A horrible laugh escapes his lips as he crumples upon the floor of his room in a far away castle, which quickly turn into gasps of pain until finally he bursts into tears, kneeling over the body of his beloved.
The vision slowly fades as you return back to yourself, but the haunting vision of the mage and his beloved still remain clearly etched upon your mind.