The deafening crash of thunder, coupled with the sound of the heavy oak doors banging open, forced everyone in the room to look up from their drinks, books, and games as the outline of a man was framed against the storm outside. As the man staggered in, rainwater and blood mingled and dripped to the floor from his cloak, trailing a crimson path behind him as he struggled to maintain his footing. His clothes were torn to shreds, his armor in pieces, and one of his boots was completely missing, as were two of his toes. His eyes stared wildly about the room as he gasped for air. Fear, anger, shock, and disbelief played across his face in a rapid and violent dance as he stared around the room like a wild man. Several of the men in the room leapt to their feet and ran towards him, concern in their faces as they asked: “Are you alright Roin? What happened? Where is everyone else?” Roin opened his mouth, twice, trying to say something before he finally managed to gasp out on his third attempt: “I… I failed.” With that, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap, too quickly for anyone to try and arrest his fall. As he hit with a sickening thud, a small, odd shaped emerald stone rolled out of his hands and came to rest a few feet from the unconscious man, almost unnoticed by everyone in the room as cries for a healer went up, unheard by Roin whose mind had drifted to a dark place free of pain, misery, or memory.
That had been three weeks ago and now, Roin was in his infirmary ward, tapping his foot impatiently as a man reached his hand out towards Roin and closed his eyes. After a few moments, the man lowered his hand and said: “Your body is healed up now, but your mind is still shattered. If you truly wish to leave you may, but if you stay I might be able to bring back your memory. Something is holding it back from you, but I’m not sure what or why” Roin looked the priest in the eyes and said: “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, but regarding my memory, I want it to stay fractured. I know who I am, where I am, and what I am. If you had been with me, you would understand why I don’t want to remember everything that happened, because what little I do remember, I am trying to forget. Now if I may go, I need a pint of ale. Maybe two.” The priest placed a hand on his shoulder and replied: “Just take it easy for a few days and think about it. If you change your mind, I’ll be here.”
Memories flashed chaotically through Roin’s mind of tendrils of darkness, fangs, and a terrifying laugh, causing him to shudder slightly before answering stiffly: “Nothing could make me want to relive that experience. So long Thomas.” He walked out of the building and headed straight to his quarters in the King’s Lodge, headquarters for the King’s elite explorers and adventurers. For years this building had housed those that the King saw as having unique skills both in war and peace, and from here many had gone forth recovering ancient relics, saving villages, and speaking to restless warlords about the importance of peace. As he reached for the Iron handles, his memory flashed back to the last time he had opened these doors, only three weeks ago, and he was forced to shake the rising memories off as he forcefully pushed them open. The room looked much the same as it had always looked, minus the expression of shock on everyone’s face he had seen last time. Now, when people looked up and saw him, they looked relieved and offered him a seat by the fire and a free mug of the King’s finest ale, asking him how he was doing and what had happened.
Roin said nothing at first, choosing instead to down the entire mug in an instant and enjoying the taste and the slight burning sensation as it swished down his throat. After a few more drinks, he finally began to explain that he was fine, but that he was not going to talk about what had happened right now. Most of the men in the room respected his privacy, but a few tactless individuals kept pressing him for information. Apparently, rumors had spread far and wide about his most recent adventure and the tales of what may have happened were travelling faster than Roin would have thought possible. Stories of dragons, ancient magic swords, beautiful princesses, and more had traveled through most of the King’s Lodge. Still, despite what had been said, Roin knew in his heart that they were just rumors, because he wouldn’t, nay, couldn’t talk to anyone about what had really happened. Some of the new recruits who didn’t know him very well continued to bother him until wiser heads dragged them off, scolding them as they sent them off on menial errands.
Roin was grateful for the assistance, but more grateful to be left alone for a few moments. Ever since he had gotten back, he’d been pestered by priests, wizards, chroniclers, and others who hadn’t given him a moment’s piece. Finally, he was able to close his eyes, lie back and listen to the crackling of the fire, and forget about the past in a mug of ale.
As he sat there, drifting off into sleep, a voice jerked him back to the real world as it said with authority cutting through any fog of alcohol or dreaming: “Roin, get up. William demands your presence.”
Roin opened his eyes just enough to see a man in very formal attire, with a short sword at his side. Roin suppressed a moan as he remembered the number of messengers William had sent while Roin was in the infirmary, demanding he come and make his report about what had happened. William was the sort of man who didn’t have a single compassionate bone in his body. For him, all that mattered was that people followed the rules, one of which was to report what happened on any of the King’s errands immediately. Roin knew he couldn’t ignore the messenger without experiencing repercussions, so with a loud sigh of frustration he stood up and followed the man out the door and down the street to William’s lodgings. The building was not exceptionally large, but the ornate decorations made it clear that this was no commoner’s home. Two golden lions, their jaws opened in a silent roar, flanked the marble stairway to the front door which was decorated with a coat of arms depicting an elaborate shield flanked by an owl and a snake with both an over-sized pen and a sword crossed behind the shield and a family motto in Terran scrawled along the edge. Roin half-grinned when he saw the design because the many conflicts he had been in meant that he recognized that the shield’s design was utterly useless in a real battle. “Much like the man inside” Roin thought as two servants opened the door and ushered him in. He made his way through the fancy vases, portraits, and up a spiral staircase to a door with a large placard on it that read ‘Office of Sir. William Graves. Please knock before entering.’
Roin banged as hard as he could on the door and immediately heard an annoyed voice bark out hurriedly from inside, “Alright, damn you! You can come in.” He pushed open the door which swung open easily on its well oiled hinges and revealed a short, heavy set man sitting at a desk with stacks of gold coins on his left and stacks of papers on his right. Behind him were shelves upon shelves of meticulously organized books, scrolls, and maps of the world that Roin knew were not to be touched without William’s express permission. In front of William’s desk was a wooden chair, which Roin plopped down into as soon as he had entered, leaving the door wide open behind him.
Sir William’s face scrunched up as he said with forced courtesy, “Please… Have a seat.” He then flicked his hand, magically closing the door for Roin and glared at him for a moment in silence before saying coldly, “Well, it’s been two weeks since you returned from your mission, and I haven’t heard anything about what happened, what was lost, what was gained, nothing except rumors and this.” He pulled a silk bag into view and carefully emptied the contents onto the table. All that was inside was a small emerald stone that seemed to glow with an eerie green light, which Roin immediately recognized as his only souvenir from the caverns below. William continued, “I don’t know what it is, under what circumstances you found it, and none of the books in my expansive library can tell me anything, why, not even my magic seems to work on it. So, I summoned you here to tell me what happened and what this thing is, so I can get the records straight.” He reached for his quill, dipped it in the pot of ink and waited impatiently for Roin to start. For his part, Roin just shrugged and said, “I have no idea what that thing is. I know it was down in caverns me and my team went to investigate, but to be honest, I don’t remember much of what happened down there. I know something dangerous was there and I know I am the only one who escaped, and I know that I had that rock when I left, but beyond that…” He shrugged, keeping his face as emotionless as possible and hoping that he would be able to leave before William made him really angry.
William sat there a moment, as if he expected Roin to continue his tale, but when it became obvious that there was nothing more to be said he asked, “And your gear? Your team?” Roin glared back at him, restraining his growing anger on an increasingly weaker leash as he replied in a cold tone of voice that hardly felt like his own, “I. Lost. Everything. Never ask about the Cavern again.”
William didn’t seem not realize how close he was to getting Roin’s fist planted firmly in his pale face and merely sat back in his chair as he closed his eyes and said with a disappointed sigh, “Well, I guess the mission wasn’t a total loss. Now that I have my report, I can send this thing to a higher authority and hopefully they’ll know what to do with it. As for you,” he stood from his chair, disdain in every feature of his face, “you had better get back to the Lodge and get some more training in before your next mission, the gods know we’re not a charity organization! The gear you lost was very expensive and won’t be easy to replace, never mind the cost of training new recruits to fill in the gaps your failed mission left within our ranks!”
Roin stood up violently from his chair with every intention of smashing the man through at least two walls before beating him to a pulp, but he restrained himself and merely allowed himself to say through clenched teeth, “I lost three of my closest friends down there. Don’t talk to me about gear and replacements. I would greatly enjoy smashing your head through a wall, but I don’t think any of the walls here have done anything to deserve having someone so dense smashed against them. Pray I never find anything that has earned such a punishment.” He then turned and strode purposefully towards the door as William sputtered behind him about how he had more questions for him. Roin didn’t care to listen though as he yanked the door open and slammed it behind him, leaving the building as quickly as he could and ignoring the servants who glared disgustedly at him and his dirt-covered outfit. He made his way back to the chair he had been forced to vacate back at the Lodge, and upon arriving, he found a Halfling, sitting there studying a map, who must have come in after Roin had left. Without a word, Roin plucked him into the air and set him down roughly in a nearby bench before retaking the seat for himself and turning his face away from the stunned Halfling who had begun to sputter interjections such as, “What the heck? What’s your problem?” He continued his protest on how unfair life was, but Roin was done listening to people for the day and he drifted off into a deep sleep despite the chattering complaints that continued to stream from the indignant fellow for several minutes. His dreams though were far from restful, for in his dream he found himself trapped, unable to move as a half elf looked at him pleadingly. Her daggers hung uselessly at her sides as her entire body became wrapped in a dark tendril, choking the very life from her bones with a sickening crunch. Beside her, there lay a broken quarterstaff, its owner’s severed hand still clinging to it as acid continued to eat away at the wrist. Just in front of Roin was a pile of bones and the red hot head of a great axe, all of which were still smoldering from the ray of intense fire that had engulfed the half-orc that had moments ago been standing there with his arms crossed in front of his face in a vain attempt to save himself from the inevitable.
Roin stared in helpless horror at this scene as a cold sweat broke out on his brow. After a moment, his strength returned and he tried to run, run as far from this terrifying place as he could, but as he turned he found himself encased in a dark cocoon of thick strands of webbing. It was suffocating him, restricting his movement and he thrashed wildly, trying to become free, sheer terror lending him strength he never knew he had. As he furled about, the vision passed and he realized that the web was nothing more than a bedspread someone had thrown over him to keep him warm after he had fallen asleep. He sat there a moment, gasping silently with terror and feeling the cold sweat that had built up on his forehead, before wiping it off with his sleeve. “Tomorrow, I’m going to see Thomas again, maybe he can at least make the nightmares stop.” With that, he got up and headed to his room to clean up his spare weapons and armor.