“Hey Georg! Wait!”
I stop and turn around to the side as I hear the heavily accented voice call me from a doorway.
“What’s the hurry? Hold on, can I get your opinion on something real quick?” asks the man in the doorway to the small alchemical laboratory.
“I don’t really have time, Valnik, kind of busy right now, you know?” I answer waving back to him, but my pace slowed.
“Ah! Come on! Don’t be like that! Come! Come!” the older man waves me into the room, entering back inside himself before even giving me a chance to decline. I realize this is a life or death situation right now, but Valnik was always nice to me and I don’t want to be rude to him, you know? Is that weird? When I was still studying the occult arts he used to buy me dinner sometimes. Good guy.
Looking down the dark-hallway where I can hear the sounds of fighting begin to escalate I wonder if I really have time to stop. I sigh and walk to the door anyways, to at least poke my head inside for a moment before I keep running for my life.
“What is it, Valnik? There’s something going on down the hall you know?”
“Yes, yes” he waves me off not caring. He’s too old to really care about anything anymore except his passions for alchemy and the occult sciences. I kind of respect that you know? He’s the kind of man who would tell the hero, if he were standing in front of him, to wait to stab him until he’s finished pouring his potions into a vial. Not a care in the world. He’s close to death anyways and he’s accepted that in a very respectable fashion.
“It’s just them, you know? The so-called ‘hero-party’' Valnik spits on the stone floor for emphasis. Only after doing so does he realize that it was the floor of his own room. He looks at the glob there for a moment and shrugs, setting off to continue his work. Not a care in the world. Dark-lord bless you, Valnik.
“Come! Look! Forget them! The ritual is already complete anyways, they are too late! No, I have something else to show you! I’ve just about perfected it!”
The old cultist walks around a large table covered in glass vials and beakers full of all manner of bubbling, sour smelling liquids and froths. Floating tanks filled with grisly little trophies. One in particular, filled with eyes that all stare in my direction bothers me the most. I never asked Valnik where he got those from. Don’t really want to either. What a man does in his own room with a tank full of eyes is none of my business, tell you what.
“Here!” he pulls out a glass and holds it out to me. “Come! Try!”
“Is this really important right now?” I ask.
“Yes! Now come!” he emphasizes and waves me over.
I sigh and do as he asks, I’ve always given in to peer pressure from my friends a little too easily. Walking into the room I impatiently take the glass from the man and look inside at the freshly stirred, swirling red liquid.
“What is this?” I ask suspiciously, already having an inkling of a notion.
“Try! It’s the newest attempt! Is perfect! He will love it when he comes back! Something to pour over our graves!” says the man with jubilation.
Shrugging I place the glass to my lips and take a tender sip. An acrid bitterness washes over my tongue as the red liquid enters my mouth. A mild burn as the alcohol stings the back of my throat, as the potion, the wine, slides past my esophagus. I cough and splutter, holding the shaking glass out back to the laughing man. Memories of my spider-kin life flood back at the pungent taste, accompanying it is a familiar nausea which trickles back towards the forefront of my being like so many dropslets of the red water down my throat.
“You always were a light-weight, Georg!” he laughs. “How can you be part of a real hero’s guild if you can’t even hold your liquor?”
“Valnik, you should go. This is no place to die,” I tell my friend while trying to wipe the bitter taste out of my mouth.
“Pah! This is the perfect place to die, Georg! Well? What do you think?”
I look at the glass in his hand and nod, feeling a warmth in my head already. “Yes Valnik, I’m sure he’ll like it when he comes back.”
“I sure hope so! I do it all for him after all!”
“We all do Valnik, we all do.”
Pacing back, I look out to the side, down the hallway where I can see the first explosions start to illuminate the distance.
I look back to the old cultist.
“Get out of here, while there is still time.”
Nodding to him a final time we part ways, “Goodbye Valnik, I’ll see you on the other side.”
“Goodbye Georg, I sure hope not.” He points to his eyes with two fingers and then points back to me. I do the same back to him before turning to run out of the room. Already now I see the silhouettes down at the end of the hallway as they clear the rooms one by one.
Running the opposite direction I try to gain as much distance as I can from the chaos. These were good people, this is a good cause. If only he’d come back to us soon. If only the ritual would work. Maybe it will? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just a single man, a single cog in the machine. A single member of the guild.
Speeding down the hallway of the stone fortress, I can’t help but wonder what a magnificent man he must have been to build such a place. I wish I could meet him, the hero with the lance. But he’s been gone for a while now. He left us a long time ago now.
I never really believed that he would come back, that he could come back. But the others did and that was enough for me to be here.