Based on all original characters created by darthelwig and GhostHelwig. If you take them, I will spank you very hard. You don't even want to know what Ghost will do to you.
No extreme stuff of any kind in this story. Very calm.
Sometimes you need to curb your curiosity, or it gets you into trouble. Unfortunately, Ash never did that. That's how he found himself sitting on the forest floor two feet away from an old, ragged man who stank worse than a ten-day-old corpse on a hot summer day. But something about this man intrigued him. There was something about his man that Ash had a burning desire to discover.
"So boy, what brings you here?" the old man asked.
"Of what kind?" the man said in a gruff, no-nonsense kind of voice. Ash thought that the man's voice would probably have intimidated most men. As it was, it just made him more curious. Men who spoke like that were most often men with power of some kind. What kind of power could a man living alone in the middle of a huge forest possibly have?
"I don't know. I suppose I'll just go out and see the world."
"Why? This is the world, my boy."
"I want to experience other ways of living. There's so much out there that I haven't seen yet."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. It's just a sound."
"You think my journey is trite, don't you?"
"Of course not. There is no such thing as a waste of time on a journey, for each one teaches you something. Why? Do you think it's trite?"
Ash decided to ignore the question, slightly embarrassed to realize that he did indeed feel that way. He gave himself a good, hard mental shake. This was not what he wanted to talk about.
"What about you, old man? Have you ever made your own journey?"
"No." There was a terrible sadness in his voice and Ash's curiosity grew tenfold.
"If I may ask, what was your occupation as a young man?"
"But what did you do to make a living? To support your family?"
"I had no family. No real family."
"You ask too many questions, boy. What does it matter to one such as yourself?"
"I'm curious. There's something different about you, old man. I can't place my finger on it, or put a name to it, but it's there."
"That's simply your young imagination working overtime, boy. Creating something where there is nothing. You young folk these days don't get enough adventure in your lives, so you make it up whenever you can."
"I don't think so." Ash's voice was soft, but confident. The more he talked to the old man, the more convinced he became that there was an interesting story here, waiting to be told. He waited patiently for the man to give in.
The old man heaved a great sigh and relented.
"Very well. I'll tell you. Anything to get you to quit pestering me! Make yourself comfortable, though. It's quite a long tale."
I was born an outcast. My mother had captured the heart of a wealthy, quite married lord and during one of their clandestine "meetings" he impregnated her. When his wife found out about their affair, she nagged, threatened, and cajoled until he finally banished my mother from his lands completely. He never knew about me, and I'm rather thankful for that. If he had known, I'm sure my life would have turned out quite differently, and I would never have met her.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was born in a forest in a distant land, very far from there. My mother had traveled quite a distance, but in those days it wasn't so hazardous to travel. Many people traveled without a weapon of any kind. I believe it was during the reign of King Dalsforth.
"That's not possible!" Ash said. "You would be over four hundred years old!"
There was a sparkle of humor in the old man's eyes.
"I told you it was a long story."
Anyway, my mother raised me as best she could. The forest provided well, and along with what gracious travelers gave us, we never went hungry. I asked my mother once, when I was twelve, why we didn't try to make a new life for ourselves in one of the towns. She told me we would be shunned because she was an unwed mother. Society can be harsh sometimes and usually to the wrong people. Some things, I guess, will never change.
It was that winter when my mother fell ill. She recovered, but was never the same strong, healthy woman I had known. She was pale and lost a great deal of weight. She also had a constant cough which just kept getting worse as time went on, and two years later she died. So at the age of fourteen, I was on my own.
It wasn't that bad. I knew how to take care of myself, but it was so lonely. I missed my mother a great deal. She had been my only companion for years, and now there was just me. There were many times when I thought I would go mad from the solitude, but I survived. And gradually I turned to the only other creatures around me for company- the creatures of the forest. You see son, after all those years, it never occurred to me to find other people or go to a town and find work. I saw the forest as my home. It was the only place I had ever known and to leave it was unthinkable.
We bonded quickly, the forest creatures and I. My days were filled with tales they told and news of the world they brought. I could understand them. I discovered that I could speak their language, but I didn't know I was different. I never thought that other people perhaps couldn't do that. I was very young then.
"Yes. It is."
But I didn't know that. And I grew even more powerful every day.
One day, when I was sixteen, a man found me in the forest. He said he was a sorcerer, and that he would teach me the way if I wished, but I would have to go with him and leave my forest home behind. I thought on that offer for a week and decided I would go. I don't remember why decided to, but I don't regret that I did. So I said good-bye to all my friends and we set off for the sorcerer's home, so he could instruct me.
"What was the sorcerer's name?"
"His name was Barnabuh."
"But he was the greatest sorcerer of all time!"
"So they say. He probably was, until I killed him. Now quit interrupting and let me finish my story."
"You killed history's greatest sorcerer?"
"Yes. I did. If you'll keep quiet, I'll tell you how it happened."
Barnabuh taught me many things while I stayed with him. In four years, I had as much mastery of my powers as he did. And I think that he knew I was more talented, more powerful, than he. I grew to respect him a quite a bit. Maybe I even loved him in my own way, but he was a fierce task master and I had to work very hard to please him.
As I grew stronger in my magical talents, I aged slower as well. And so I asked him about that. And I'll explain this to you right now and clear up that little point. Most people think sorcerers are immortal and can only be killed by another magic wielder. The reality is, the power flowing through me only lengthens my life span. It sort of sustains my body for an extended time. I hope that answers any questions you may have, because I'm not explaining it again.
Anyway, eventually the day came when it was time for me to leave. I packed my meager possessions, bid my teacher fare well, and left to pursue my own place in life. Barnabuh didn't give me any advice or encouragement when I left. He didn't even see me off but I had acquired a taste for life outside the forest and his actions only made me more eager to be on my way.
I wanted to go back to the forest at that point, but I also wanted to see what lay in store for me in the world. So I promised myself that later I would return to the forest and went on my merry way.
I traveled all over the four kingdoms, meeting people and making a name for myself. I restricted myself by my own code of honor to doing only beneficial things for people. Even then there were people to whom the law meant nothing, and I met my fair share of those. I ended up in quite a few scrapes before I learned to tell an honest person from the next swindler in line.
Then I ended up in the capitol of the kingdom of Minear.
I kept myself occupied by studying the people and culture around me. I was fascinated. Minear has always held the most varied cultures of any of the kingdoms, and the capitol seemed to be the focal point. I amused myself for days on end just watching the various peoples intermingle and studying the varying traditions and cultures that could be found there.
It was in Minear that I met her, and she changed my life completely.
"Who?" Ash asked. He himself was from the capitol of Minear, and he was anxious to know. Maybe he knew the family. Besides, the old man's story was captivating.
"Her name was April and she was the most beautiful person I have ever met," the man replied, his voice softening. A small smile appeared on his face as he spoke.
I was sitting on a secluded part of the riverbank when I saw her. She was stunning. Her hair was a color of which I had never before seen- a deep, rich auburn. The curls flowed softly in the breeze. She was tiny, almost fragile-looking, and dressed in a peasant gown, but there was something about her. I think it was the way she carried herself, so graceful and a little aloof.
She walked slowly toward the place where I sat, not seeing me. She seemed so sad, like the weight of the world was crushing her. She almost tripped right over me. Our eyes met and something passed between us. I don't know what it was.
Maybe it was fate. I think we were meant to know each other. Why else would a girl such as herself have sat down and talked to me all afternoon in that little spot of ours? And why else would she have agreed to meet me again late that night in the very same spot?
We talked for hours that evening, about everything under the sun. The time flew by and before we knew it dawn had come, so we parted ways and agreed to meet there again.
"This isn't one of those sappy romances, is it?" Ash asked, his look of interest fading slightly. The old man looked slightly amused at the question, as if he should have expected it. There was laughter in his voice when he spoke again.
"No. More of a tragedy, really."
"Good, because romance bores me."
"I think you'll find this one rather interesting, my boy."
"Well, you see... April was the king's only daughter, which would make her a relation of yours."
"You're talking about that April? She was one of the greatest queens of all time before she died. The things she accomplished for the kingdom were amazing!"
"I know. I was there."
Anyway, as time went on, we realized we were in love, but the king would not agree to a marriage between us. After all, I was just some poor forest boy who fancied himself a sorcerer. I did everything I could to convince him of my worthiness, but he had already arranged his daughter's wedding.
The man he chose was named Mordoch. He was a vile creature, with no manners or feelings. No mention able ones, anyway. He was beautiful on the outside, but within he was the ugliest creature to walk the land. Mordoch did happen to come from a wealthy, influential family, though, and the king wanted only the best to marry into his family.
And so April and Mordoch were married, on a beautiful spring day in the courtyard. I watched the whole ceremony from a window in the castle. Everything went very smoothly. The only way it could have been better was if the bride had not cried during the entire length of the ceremony. Mordoch didn't care about that, though. He was marrying royalty and that made him happier than he had ever been before in his life.
I managed to steal April aside for a few moments during the reception, while Mordoch was off preening himself and ogling all the pretty servant girls- and some of the boys. We shared a few kisses and I tried to reassure her not to worry. I told her I still loved her and would always do so. I told her she needed to be strong. I think I said those things to myself as well as to her. It was so hard for me to watch her be married off to another man- especially to that pig. She told me she loved me and that she wished we could be together, but I told her not to talk that way. It was best if we didn't dwell on what could never be.
And she did pull herself together admirably after that. She went out there with a confident step and her head held high, every inch the queen. No one there could have guessed what she was feeling at that moment, but I knew- because I felt the same way. Still, I couldn't have been more proud of her.
It was shortly after the wedding that the king took ill. None of his healers had seen anything like it before, but I had- in one of the far kingdoms. It was a poison, but it worked slowly, causing the victim intense suffering before they finally went mad and died.
I knew the cure and I could have saved him, but he refused to see me. April tried to get him to take the antidote but his healers didn't know what it was and didn't trust her judgment. She was just a princess, so obviously she couldn't know better than them about the healing arts.
As the sickness progressed, the king began raving about a plot on his life. He blamed me, of course, all the way up to the moment he died.
"Why?" Ash asked, once again intensely interested in the story.
"No doubt Mordoch had been whispering in the king's ear. The man was a weasel. He knew about April's feelings for me and he hated me for it. It was an affront to his masculinity for any part of his wife, his possession, to belong to another man."
"Who really did it?"
"Isn't it obvious? Mordoch himself poisoned the king, so he could gain control. Unfortunately, the king's words were believed and April sought me out to tell me there was a price on my head and that I was to be executed. I fled the city before they could find me, but not before I paid a little visit to Mordoch. He and I discussed a great many things that evening, and I don't believe they ever found all the pieces of him."
"And that's the real story of how she came to power?"
"Yes. With both the king and Mordoch dead, she assumed complete control of the throne. What I didn't know when I left was that she was pregnant. I often wonder how differently things would have turned out had I known."
"With the king dead, couldn't she have let you stay?"
"Yes, but I insisted on leaving. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, but if I had stayed, the people would have believed that she had conspired to murder her father and husband. I didn't want to take that chance with her life."
"So you just left."
I departed in darkness, knowing I would probably never see her again. I set my feet to traveling once more and tried not to think about the woman I was leaving behind. It helped for awhile but she was never far from my thoughts.
I traveled to a great deal of places, visiting old haunts and discovering new ones. I began keeping an ear to the dirt, getting news of April whenever I could but I quickly grew tired of aimlessly wandering and went back to my boyhood home in the forest. There I made a new home for myself, reacquainting myself to the old life and my old friends.
Occasionally, I would go to a nearby town to hear all the news and gossip. I contented myself with the fact April was doing well for herself, and doing a good deal better than most other monarchs.
I approved of her changes to the kingdom. She always had the people's best interests at heart. And she worked quickly. She had told me her plans before but I had never truly thought it was possible for one person to do so much. She worked like there was no tomorrow to make her dreams for the kingdom a reality.
No one ever mentioned to me she was pregnant. No one really talked about it. Like I said before, an unwed mother was shunned.
"But she had been married!"
"That's why she didn't lose the faith of her subjects, but they believed she should have married again for the good of the child."
"There's no mention of anything like that in the histories."
"No. There wouldn't be. Something you should know, son. Histories are written with a pen in one fist and a lie in the other. Rarely do you ever see the truth of the matter. Now where was I?"
The first news I had of the boy's birth was a week after the event.
I had gone into town as usual, but the tavern was almost empty and the few patrons it had were quiet and sullen. The barkeep was the one who told me. April had died in childbirth. There had been complications. The healers had tried to save her and failed- but the boy, the new king, had lived.
I was shocked. I that instant, my world just… stopped. There was this sick, twisted feeling in my gut. I couldn't bring myself to believe she was dead. I immediately went to the capitol, determined to prove it was all a lie, but it wasn't. Instead I found her tombstone, standing protectively over a fresh grave.
Guilt washed over me and I fell to the ground, unable to move, barely breathing. I berated myself for not being there, though I couldn't have known, and perhaps I couldn't have helped even if I had been. But I couldn't stop thinking that there was something I could've done. I should never have left her alone.
I stayed there for days, weeping. It surprises me now that no one came upon me and sounded the alarm. I was no longer a wanted man, but I still did not have permission to be in the castle grounds. I think maybe it was fate once again intervening.
When I finally regained my senses, I went to see the child.
I found him in a nursery, surrounded by attendants. I put them all to sleep so I could see him. I was horrified to see how much he resembled Mordoch, but then I looked in his eyes and I saw her soul. It was somewhat comforting to be standing there holding a piece of her in my arms.
I held him to me for a time, then gently placed him back in his crib and left. I was halfway out of the city when I remembered to wake the attendants, who never realized anything strange had happened.
That's when I went insane. You see, I couldn't erase the guilt from my soul, and it ate away at me every day until I snapped under the weight of it. I don't remember much about this period of my life, which I'm very thankful for. What I do remember scares me. To think that one person is capable of that many repulsive deeds isn't a pleasant thought. I killed many people at that time. I was a dangerous person to cross paths with. I just didn't care about anyone or anything.
It was Barnabuh who finally tried to stop me. We fought. If you have ever had the misfortune of seeing two sorcerers battle each other, then you have some idea of what went on that day. Barnabuh lost his life to me in that fight, and that final atrocious act was what pulled me out of my private hell. When I realized what I had done, I was horrified. I wanted to put things right and try to atone for the things I had done, but everyone was afraid of me. I'll admit they had good reason.
So I exiled myself to this land, far from my old forest home. This is my punishment and I still continue to pay for what I have done.
"And that's your story?"
"Yes. As shameful as it is."
Ash was quiet for a moment, thinking.
"How did you know who I was when I came here, old man?"
"I've been following April's line. I watch over her children with sorcery. It is the least I can do, and it provides me with some measure of comfort. If any of you were to be in dire need, I would come to you and offer my aid. Each one of you is a part of her." There were tears in the old man's eyes.
"Come with me, old man. Join me on my journey."
"No. I am exiled. I will never return. Unless fate intervenes again, I will die here in this forest. That is how it should be. But I do hope you will never forget this day or what I have told you.
"I'll remember this forever."
"Good. Then rest now. Tomorrow you should be on your way to complete your journey and discover your own fate."
When Ash woke, the old man was gone. Somehow he knew that he would never see the old man again, and a part of him was saddened. He had enjoyed the man's company and his story. He didn't know if he could believe it, seeing as it was very farfetched, but it had been quite a story. And the old man told it like he really had lived it.
Ash was preparing to depart when he remembered something. He fished around in his satchel for a moment, found what he was looking for and set it down on the ground. After scribbling a short note on some paper, he set off, a smile on his face.
The old man emerged from the forest shortly afterwards, curious about what the boy had left behind. He found a faded, worn-out, miniature painting of April. And there was a note with it.
"I carry this for luck and as a reminder. I think you need it more."
The old man smiled through fresh tears as he faded back into the forest.