The Tome of Nomolos
Author: Here's another piece of writing for you all to enjoy! I hope you like it. I would also like to say that the character you'll see in this story, Oberon the wizard, is in no way an attempt at plagiarizing the work "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I merely named the character after him, I mean no harmful intent. This was pointed out by a reader and I wanted a chance to explain myself, should anyone else think the same thing.
Edit: I recently tweaked this story, following some good advice, fleshing some of it out. I hope I've improved it.
The bandits who had inhabited the ruins of the castle in the mountains were now gone. Their corpses littered the land on which the once proud capital of Mahou had stood. The castle had once been a bustling place, but now, it was a mere shadow of its former self. Taken centuries ago in a war, the castle was nothing than a crumbling ruin that housed a number of long-dead skeletons and forgotten artifacts. The nation of Mahou was long gone now, but the castle still had a purpose. The thieves who had been living there for the past four decades, terrorizing the forest and mountains with their guerilla combat and bloodthirsty nature had been entirely wiped out by a mere couple of intruders.
Shamgar, better known as The Slasher, was a tall, muscular brute of a man with light-skin. His brown hair, short as it usually was, showed the early signs of middle age with a number of gray streaks. His dark brown eyes had seen years of combat and death, many of which was caused by his own saw-toothed claymore. Over his cloth trousers and shirt, he wore an ensemble of armor, which he had obtained from the bodies of his enemies over the years. As a warrior by trade, he wore protective armor, although not an entire suit. A pair of steel pauldrons, a shirt of chain mail, gauntlets and greaves adorned his heavily built body. They weren't the finest pieces of armor, as they all shared dents and scratches, but they had saved his life more than enough times for him to appreciate them. His claymore found a resting place in it's sheath that was strapped to his back.
Saskia, also known as The Shadow, was a somewhat small, slender woman whose skill with blades was as deadly as she was beautiful. She had a head of long, coarse black hair and eyes that were gray like the steel of her kukri knives. Unlike Shamgar, who was a blade carrying butcher, Saskia's talent lay in stealth. Her lithe, olive-skinned body was protected by only a chestplate of boiled leather armor and a matching pair of vambraces. She didn't care too much for cumbersome steel armor, for it would slow her down as well as make too much noise each time she moved. To help her conceal herself better, she often wore a hooded black cloak. It had fooled more than a few enemies into thinking she was just a patch of shadows in a room with little light.
Thieves, warriors, bodyguards, they were all those things, but such is the life of mercenaries; you do a job, any job, and you get paid for it, one way or another. They were partners and had been for the better part of twenty years. Shamgar would do the heavy lifting and most brutal ways of combat while Saskia would take the more cunning approach. Their talents combined, they made quick work of the bandits as Saskia took out the guards on post with her knives, allowing Shamgar to run into the ruin, screaming at the top of his lungs before lopping off limbs and heads. As soon as the decrepit place was cleared out, they signaled for their employer to come forward from the safety of the surrounding forest.
He was a young man, sixteen at least, with a pale, lanky body and bright blue eyes. He wore the light simple clothes of a traveler; from the soft leather boots that shielded his feet from the blood spilled beneath him to the slouch hat that lay on top of his auburn hair. While the others carried blades, he carried a long wooden staff with a beautifully cut ruby set at the very top. As he made his way through the woods, the stone glowed bright, illuminating the path towards the two. Once inside, he looked around and nodded, saying: "You two truly do live up to your reputation. Quick, yet so savage!"
"Yes, yes, yes!" Shamgar said impatiently. "Well, Oberon?"
Oberon turned to him, looking quizzical. "I beg your pardon?"
Saskia wiped her kukri of the bandit's blood, smearing it along her leather trousers. "You came to us, hired us to help you look for something in this dead place, but when it came to doing some dirty work, you just stayed back and let us take care of the hard stuff!"
"Yes," Oberon nodded slowly, "but what is the point?"
"Why the hell didn't you do anything to help us out?" Saskia demanded. She pointed at the staff he held onto. "You're a sorcerer, you have all kinds of power, why didn't you just blast this place apart from the forest?"
Shamgar nodded and sheathed his sword.
Oberon shook his head and sighed, rubbing his nose. "The proposition, as I recall, was that you two would come with me to Castle Nomolos so that I might search the ruins for a valuable artifact. The specific outlines of this deal of ours was that you would protect me and be both my sword and shield, as I am but a novice sorcerer. I know the basic teachings of those who follow the Witch Star, but not enough to do battle with such a force of thugs." He pointed to the many corpses around them. "I can only do so much, but to cast a gigantic fireball to send them to Hell is not one of them!"
The two mercenaries looked at one another.
"I'm sorry if I happen to disappoint your expectations of me, but that is the cold hard truth. Now, once again, I applaud the two of you for such quick and efficient blade work, but I'm afraid that there is much to do before I am to give you your payment."
"The search, of course!" Oberon exclaimed, smiling widely. "Castle Nomolos is a place where bountiful treasures of all sorts are said to have been collected and stored away. Come now, the both of you, we have much to look through! This place may be a ruin now, but once it was a magnificent place and I'm willing to bet some of it's secrets are still hiding safe and sound, we just need to know how and where to look!"
With the state of decay that the castle was in, it was more difficult to search for whatever it was Oberon had his heart set on finding. He had Shamgar and Saskia look through every inch of every room that still stood long past nightfall, much to the mercenaries chagrin. The rooms were filled with furniture that had been torn apart long ago. Mattresses were torn open and their feather fillings were emptied out, strewn about the rooms. Bookcases, dressers, desks and tables were in shambles, although neither of them could be sure if they were victims of the castle's original destruction, or if the bandits had some nights where they played rough with one another. To look through each room individually took more time and energy than either mercenary had predicted and it began to chip away at their patience. Worn out by the excessive labor, Saskia took Shamgar off to the side and lowered her voice.
"We should just kill this bastard whelp!" she urged, glaring at the boy. "He's done nothing but order us around like we're lowly slaves at his beck and call!"
Shamgar sympathized with his partner, but he shook his head and took her by the shoulders. "Listen to me, Saskia, I don't like it anymore than you do, but we have to be smart with this one. He's a sorcerer-"
"Novice!" she snapped. "He said so himself, you heard him! We can take him!"
Shamgar scowled and smacked her over the head, his strength nearly toppling the woman. "Novice or no, a sorcerer is not one to mess with! We must wait for the most opportune time if we are to do it! Use your head, would you?"
"Damn it all!" Oberon suddenly cried from a room on the other side of the main hall. "There's nothing in this one either! This can't be, there must be something somewhere in this castle!"
"Think, Saskia!" Shamgar whispered in her ear. "He's got money, yes?"
"He's got money to pay us for helping him find something valuable in this castle. So far, we haven't found anything-"
"Probably because there's nothing here!" she interjected.
"But if there is something here, then it will be worth something!"
"Why? Because he said so? Look at him, Shamgar, look at how he treats us! I think we have a difference in viewing something's worth."
"Saskia! Do you not know the stories of Nomolos?"
Oberon called to them to follow to the last room in the place, the throne room. They kept a safe distance behind him, talking between themselves. They passed through large metal doors that no doubt once served as a mighty barrier of protection from intruders, but now were reminders of whatever tragedy it was that befell this place. The doors looked as though they had been beaten into with something large and powerful. Most likely a battering ram.
Shamgar continued from where he left off: "Nomolos, to a great many people in the world, is considered one of the most, if not the most powerful practioner of magic ever known! There are so many tales about him floating about to this day!"
"Like what?" Saskia challenged, doubt clear in her voice.
"One story said that Nomolos created a magic ring that helped him subdue and imprison demons from Hell. It was even said that he was the master of these demons once he had them inside the ring!"
She looked at him skeptically.
"You can choose to believe me or not, Saskia, but whether or not this is all true or not, the truth is that the treasure vault of a sorcerer, any sorcerer for that matter, is going to have something of great worth, just ready to be found. If you will really be content by killing this brat, then I'm all for it, but I say we do it after we find something here."
"If we find something," she murmured, watching Oberon move about the throne room. He investigated the pillars that held the roof above their heads and the two once magnificent thrones that sat at the back of the room on a raised platform. He seemed particularly interested in the throne on the right of the platform.
"Whatever. We'll find it, kill him, take his money, take the item, then head back to civilization. We'll have something we can sell for a lot of money, we'll have the money he'd have given us, and I think we might be able to get a reward for taking care of this place. Not only does this work out for us financially, but word might get out about us and we'll get more people lined up to pay us for work!"
Saskia shook her head. "If we can get so much money from this job alone with that plan, Shamgar, then why would we need to work at all afterward?"
The swordsman thought for a moment, then shook his head. "We'll figure that out later, but does that plan agree with you, or do you still want to cut his throat right now?"
She looked at him, then looked at Oberon who was currently looking at the remains of the throne room. "...I guess I can wait..."
"AHA!" Oberon cried out in triumph. "I KNEW THERE WAS SOMETHING!"
An audible click echoed through the throne room and before the trio's eyes, a hidden door appeared on the far right wall. It first appeared as an outline, but then a section of stone pulled back and slid to the side, opening a new passageway. Shamgar glanced at Saskia and grinned devilishly as Oberon dashed inside.
"Nice going, boy," Shamgar praised, following him into a large vault room.
It was perfectly circular in shape and it was as high as twenty feet at least. At first look, it seemed like this secret room had been untouched for years, but once the excess of excitement dissipated, the three treasure hunters realized that someone had come before them already, although they could not determine how long ago. At first, Oberon was stricken with disappointment, but then he realized that there was something still left inside the vault. In the very back of the room was a tall, ivory pedestal and on that pedestal was some kind of object, but before they could get close enough to see what it was, a great wall of fire burst from the floor, preventing them from getting any closer.
"Oh great!" Saskia waved to the flames. "How the hell are we going to get through that?"
Shamgar looked at Oberon. "Well, boy? Any bright ideas?"
"Oh, I might have one or two. Here, be a friend and hold that would you?" Oberon removed his slouch hat and tossed it to the mercenary, who caught it just before it flew into his face. "I'm going to try something and I'd hate for that to get scorched. I'm rather fond of that hat."
Shamgar had more experience in dealing with those who studied the Witch Star than Saskia, so it came to no total surprise to him when Oberon, standing before the fire wall, raised his staff before him, pointing the precious red stone on top towards the obstacle. With a few unheard words, the ruby glowed brightly and began to absorb the crimson flames. Within mere seconds, the fire wall was gone and the ruby on Oberon's staff was brighter than ever, sizzling from the heat. Saskia, needless to say, was stunned at what she had just witnessed.
"There we are, nothing to it!" Oberon walked briskly towards the pedestal and removed the item from the top. He turned and held it over his head, revealing what it was to his underlings. It was a very thick book with leather binding and golden clasps sealing it shut. "Behold, my friends! I hold in my hands quite possibly one of the last treasures of Nomolos in existence!" He looked at it and shook his head. "I was hoping to find something of value, but I never really expected to find one of his grimoires!"
Saskia stared, her jaw slack for a time. Finally, she came to her senses. "A book?" she shrieked. "We did all this work for a book?!"
Oberon looked hurt. "Not just a book, but one of Nomolos' books! He was widely regarded as one of the finest magicians in the history of our world and those who study the mystical arts often strive to be as great as him! Please, show some respect if you think you are capable of it."
The woman glared hatefully at the boy as he walked by them. She silently pulled out her knives and looked to her partner. He nodded and slowly pulled his own blade from its scabbard.
"Now that you've got what you've come for," Shamgar said smoothly as the two advanced on the youth, "can we get what you owe us?"
Oberon was already leafing through the grimoire when the question came to him. He lifted his head and nodded. "Yes, I do believe you are right, it is time that you were given what you deserve." He whirled about on his heel and pointed his staff at the two would-be killers.
Shamgar and Saskia froze in their tracks.
"It's true that, since I'm young, I don't have the experience in dealing with magic and compared to many of the great ones, I'm still many years from reaching their level of expertise, but I do have an advantage that my elders don't really have," Oberon turned his head slightly. "Unlike those grey bearded sorts, my hearing works just fine, so I was able to hear you two conspire against me."
Shamgar grit his teeth.
"My hat, if you please?" Oberon asked, strangely polite. "I'd like it back."
The swordsman merely threw it to the side. Oberon's eyes left his disgruntled employees for but a moment as he watched the hat sail into a pile of broken boxes covered with cobwebs. At that one distraction, Saskia surged towards him, a murderous gleam in her eyes. She was in range, she was about to cleave into the boy's neck when he suddenly snapped his head to face her, his lips reciting another unknown and unheard phrase.
Shamgar did not see it, at least not at first. What he saw was Saskia halt abruptly, her knives raised over her head. She began to shake and her fingers, which were known to have an iron death grip, suddenly loosened and let her blades fall to the floor with a clang.
He stepped forward. "Saskia!"
"I honestly had hoped that I would not have to shed blood in my effort to retrieve one of Nomolos' relics," Oberon said sadly. "I am perfectly aware that in this world there are two types of people: kill or be killed. I am aware that some day, I will have to die and I have made peace with the inevitable. However, if there is a chance, even a slim chance, that I might be able to have a hand in determining my own fate, then I will do whatever possible to keep myself from having an unwelcomed death."
A small dot of light appeared on Saskia's back. Shamgar watched as the dot grew brighter and brighter until it suddenly opened with a thin column of gray vapors trailing to the ceiling. From the hole a bizarre looking apparition, resembling a serpent of molten fire slid outward and began to curl itself around her body. As it moved, it burned both the leather armor and her cloak, sending fresh smoke into the air around her.
"What in the hell is that thing?" Shamgar exclaimed in a hushed whisper.
Oberon lowered his head, studying the book once again. "According to Nomolos' information in this text, this is one of the creatures from the elemental plane of fire. It says there are many in existence and all vary in appearance and strength. It doesn't say what this is called precisely, so I think I'll just call it a Magma Snake. Fascinating," he murmured and waved his hand.
The Magma Snake suddenly dissolved into nothing more than just a pile of burning liquid and fell from Saskia. It hit the stone floor and immediately it began to eat away at the granite. Saskia let out a whimper and fell onto her side. Shamgar stared down at her and knew that she didn't have any hope to make it out of here. Before his eyes, Saskia passed onto the world of the dead, her body still smoking.
Anger began to swell within Shamgar, although if one were to look at him, they would not be able to see it right away. At best, the only hint of his emotions that could be seen would be his knuckles turning white as they gripped the hilt of the claymore, which shook from the rage he was trying to repress.
"So that just leaves you then."
Shamgar charged at the boy like a mad bull. He didn't get far as Oberon's lips moved feverishly and the next thing Shamgar knew, a tremendous force hit him in the chest, sending him flying into the pedestal behind him, shattering it on impact. The mercenary groaned and tried to pick himself back up.
Oberon gave him a look of pity. "You still have a chance to walk out of this vault alive, my friend. From what I heard, it was clearly your woman friend there," he nodded to Saskia, "who truly wanted to murder me. You went along with it for reasons that are your own, but I suspect that if it wasn't for her, you would not have done it or even thought of it. She's dead, but there is no reason for you to die in this forsaken place, Shamgar. You have another shot, so what do you want to do?"
The brute stood up and raised his claymore, taking an offensive stance.
Oberon shook his head sadly. "May I ask why?"
"She was mine!" Shamgar seethed, his dark face showing a tint of red now. "MINE!"
"I see. Well then, if there is no persuading you otherwise-"
"There isn't!" he barked.
"Very well," Oberon lifted his staff, the glowing jewel pointed at the mercenary. "Let's get this over with."
Shamgar let out a roar of unbridled fury and charged forward. Oberon close his eyes as his staff spat out a great fireball. The wild elemental magic hit Shamgar dead on and swallowed him whole. Screaming within the flames, Shamgar did not for one second release his blade, even as his life began to leave his body. Meanwhile, Oberon fetched his hat from the box pile, brushing off a number of fat spiders that had already crawled onto the headgear.
It wasn't long until the screams of Shamgar faded away and his charred body fell and joined Saskia on the vault's floor. Upon leaving the vault, Oberon returned his hat to its usual resting place and cast one final look at the two bodies inside. Shamgar's body was nothing more but a blackened skeleton that held onto a smoldering scrap of metal with what remained of his armor laying about the bones, glowing red hot from the fire blast.
"You've brought this on yourself," Oberon said to the dead. He turned and walked out of the vault, holding his new book close to his body as the secret door slid back into place.