Pillars of Light
Story 1 of Tales of the Wandering Blacksmith
by Vaughan W. Smith
Vincent rubbed his hands, trying to warm them over the fire. He was lucky to get a spot near the fireplace in such a crowded inn. The night was cold, and he had been travelling a long time.
“Hands off!” a woman called out. He turned and looked in her direction. It was a waitress fending off some drunken louts.
“She shouldn’t have to deal with that,” Vincent thought. He wanted to intervene but looked at the two men hassling her. They were heavy set and had dark eyes. Big trouble.
“Just mind your own business,” he thought and returned to the fire. The heat was comforting. He used his right hand to reach into his pockets and retrieve his money. Only three coins glinted in the light from fire.
“So much for forging my own path.” He had refused any aid, instead choosing to take off with the clothes on his back and whatever money he had. It hadn’t taken him far, and soon he would have nothing left.
“Not quite the adventure I was picturing. What do I do next?” he thought. He played with the coins in his hand, trying to decide what to do. His stomach rumbled reminding him that he hadn’t eaten dinner.
“Better save them for the next meal. I can last,” he decided. He returned the coins to his pocket and focused on warming himself.
A few minutes later he felt a hand on his shoulder. Vincent turned quickly to see who it was. He recognised the two men who had been hassling the waitress.
“Can I help you?” he said.
“I believe so. Why don’t we step outside?” the first man said. He had a scar above his right eye.
“I’d rather not. Could you please explain what you want?”
“We’ll explain outside,” the second man said. He started to pull a dagger out.
“I definitely feel safer in here,” Vincent said. He needed some sort of plan.
“Wrong answer,” the man with the scar said. He reached out and hauled Vincent into a standing position. Vincent pushed back, but the man was like stone and didn’t react in the slightest. The second man slid around and poked the dagger into Vincent’s back.
“Start walking. And don’t bother with making a scene, we already paid off the innkeeper,” the man said. Vincent looked over and saw the innkeeper watching. As soon as he caught Vincent’s gaze, he turned away with embarrassment.
“You still haven’t mentioned what you want,” Vincent said. His attackers said nothing, pushing him along. Soon they were outside and the bigger one dragged Vincent behind the lane.
“Is your name Andar? Are you the son of the wizard Granthion?”
“No, my name is Vincent. You made a mistake.” The man with the scar punched Vincent in the stomach.
“We have your description, and we’ve been tracking you. Answer truthfully,” the man with the dagger said.
“My name is Vincent.”
“I don’t care what you want to call yourself. Were you born Andar, the son of Granthion?” the man with the dagger said again. His companion threatened another punch.
“Yes. Now leave me be, that’s all in my past. Look around, I’m alone and have nothing of value.”
“Oh, but you are something of value. Start walking,” the man with the dagger said. He pointed into the nearby forest. Vincent could see a small trail leading out of town and through the trees. He started walking.
“That’s better. Stay on the path. Don’t make us chase you. We’ll catch up, and you don’t want to give us any more excuses to exercise our frustration.”
“Maybe I do,” Vincent thought, but he decided to bide his time. He would likely only get one chance to escape, so he would wait for the best opportunity. Whatever these people wanted, it couldn’t be good.
He continued down the path and kept looking for possible escape routes. He also tried to identify landmarks that may help him navigate his way back to town. But there wasn’t much that he could rely on. The path began to curve and soon he emerged into a clearing.
He saw a large barn at the end, but what drew his attention was the large group of Blighters spread throughout. The hunched beasts were dressed in rags and armed with knives and their long sharp fangs. Their grey skin made them look like creatures of shadow. No matter how often he saw them, he could never see how they were originally human. It seemed impossible.
“Nice crowd,” Vincent said.
“You should hope they’re nice. If you cross us then they can tear you apart in seconds,” the man with the scar said. Vincent didn’t doubt that. However, he had never seen a group of Blighters act so patient and calm. Someone or something had to be controlling them. In his experience they had been like wild dogs. Acting on instinct and relentless.
Vincent saw men spread through the Blighters. When they weren’t focused on him, they glanced around at the Blighters.
“Tainted Ones,” Vincent muttered under his breath. Those men had to be keeping the beasts in check.
“Keep going into the barn,” he was instructed.
“My chances of escaping are practically zero now. I should have tried running before,” he thought. There had to be thirty Blighters and at least five additional men in the clearing. Not counting anyone who may be inside the barn or hidden in the forest.
Vincent played along. He didn’t like how things were turning out and he knew his current situation was dire. He could only hope that he had some sort of opportunity soon. There had to be a reason they were bringing him in alive.
The barn was poorly lit, and Vincent couldn’t see much. But when his eyes adjusted he did spot a tall man standing next to a single chair.
“Please sit,” the man said, pointing. Rough hands shoved Vincent from behind, causing him to stumble. He regained his footing and closed in on the chair. After looking around the room, he sat down.
“Bind him,” the mysterious man said. The two who had accompanied Vincent grabbed ropes from the barn, tying Vincent securely to the chair.
“You can leave now,” the man told them once they were finished. They left the barn immediately. The man waited for them to leave and then began again.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation. You are Andar correct?”
“I was once. I’m Vincent now.”
“Very well, I can appreciate not advertising your lineage. Your father is the entire reason why you are here today.”
“I had gathered that.”
“Good. My name is Rindale. I have plans for you.”
“Rindale? I don’t recognise the name.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. But in time, everyone will know it. I am an avatar of the Blight,” Rindale said. He grabbed a lantern and brought it close. He showed his face to Vincent.
“No way,” Vincent breathed. Rindale’s eyes were jet black.
“I wanted you to see that I’m the real deal and not just some bit player. You are going to help me get to your father.”
“Why would I do that? As soon as you let me go I’ll go as far as possible from him.”
“I can see you have already done that. But we have ways of persuading you, though they hinge on one thing.”
“You need to be infected with the Blight,” Rindale said. He turned and started pacing the room. Vincent was horrified by the thought. He started to struggle with his arms and legs.
“Don’t bother. Even if you were to somehow escape this chair, you’ve seen what awaits you outside.” Vincent slowed and eventually stopped.
“What do you want with my father?”
“He is the world’s greatest wizard. I need him for my work.”
“He would never help you. He is committed to curing the Blight.”
“I know that. Which is why you are going to help me,” Rindale said. He stopped pacing around the room.
“Enough chatter, it’s time to get this started.”
“I won’t let you.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Rindale said. Pushed up the sleeve on his coat, exposing his hand. Vincent could see something happening. One of the man’s nails was jet black. Some sort of tar was accumulating on the edge of the nail. Rindale reached into his coat with his other hand and produced a dagger.
“Here’s the fun part,” he said. He carefully dripped the black substance onto the blade of the dagger.
“Now, let’s make you officially part of our cause,” Rindale said, closing in. Vincent leaned back, trying to avoid the man and his knife. He realised it was futile, though; he was completely bound.
“Just relax and accept your fate,” Rindale said. He leaned in with the dagger, preparing to cut Vincent on the neck. Vincent heaved backwards, toppling the chair and knocking over Rindale in the process. The dagger clattered to the ground.
“Don’t be stupid. They’re outside waiting for you,” Rindale said. Vincent scrambled along the ground looking for the dagger. He found it and started sawing away at the ropes binding his hands. Rindale rose and looked over.
“Again, this is futile. You aren’t leaving this place without being infected.”
“You’re probably right,” Vincent said. Once his hands were free he started to free his feet. Rindale stood and observed, keeping his eyes on the dagger.
“But for whatever reason, you want to control how I’m infected. Otherwise, you would have just gotten something else to do it,” Vincent said.
“You’re correct. I can control the process more than one of them,” Rindale said, gesturing towards the door. Vincent pictured the large group of Blighters outside ready to attack.
“And now I have the dagger, so you can’t do that. If you want me alive you can’t use the Blighters.”
“It’s fine. I can have you bound and we can go through this again. You step outside without being infected and they’ll know what to do.”
“Then I guess I need to take matters into my own hands,” Vincent said. He took the dagger and scratched his leg with it just above the ankle. He shuddered as he felt the black substance enter his body.
“What are you doing?” Rindale said.
“You said I wasn’t leaving here without being infected. But I know enough about how the infection works. It needs to travel to the head and the heart. I’ve just bought myself enough time to get to my father. I won’t be your puppet.”
“You’ve delayed my plans, but I won’t let you leave,” Rindale said.
“I’m not asking,” Vincent said. He had nothing to lose now, and had taken a huge risk infecting himself. But it was his only chance.
Vincent took aim and hurled the dagger at Rindale. It was a poor throw but on target. Rindale reflexively dodged, and the dagger clattered off the wall behind him. Vincent used the opportunity to run for the door. He heard Rindale cursing in the background.
Vincent burst through the doors into the open space. All eyes were on him.
“I’m one of you now, just relax,” Vincent said. The Blighters remained still, and the Tainted Ones controlling them looked confused. Vincent started off at a run. Rindale emerged just behind.
“What are you doing? Stop him!” Rindale called out. He shocked the Tainted Ones out of their surprise, and they let the Blighters loose. Vincent could hear their excited grunts.
“This may not end well,” he thought. He saw a ball of flame flying through the air and dived to the ground. The fire slammed into the barn and engulfed it in flame.
“A wizard’s fire! Help is here,” Vincent thought. He stood up and ran towards where the fire had come from. The Blighters were not deterred by the fire, and kept up their pursuit.
“Maybe it’s my father?” Vincent thought as he ran. But it didn’t seem right. His father was too busy to follow him all this way. He had probably sent someone else to do the job.
“Duck!” a voice called out ahead. Vincent dropped to the floor and watched another fireball hurl over his head. He heard the impact as several Blighters shrieked in pain. Vincent returned to his feet and pushed on.
He entered another small clearing. There were a wizard and a woman standing ready. She was armed with a bow and had an arrow nocked.
“Keep moving we will hold them off,” the wizard said. Vincent didn’t recognise him and didn’t care. He acknowledged the two of them and kept running. The twang of the bow caught his attention as he ran. He knew that without their help he would have been caught already. His chest started to burn with pain.
“Just keep going,” he thought. With each beat of his heart, he could feel a drumming within him. It was probably his imagination, but it felt as if the infection was slowly progressing.
A crash sounded to his right and Vincent dove into some bushes. He peered up and saw a gang of Blighters running off into the fray.
“They’re not after you, they’re responding to the fight. Just wait it out,” he thought. Once the danger cleared he stood. His legs were jelly and he wasn’t sure if it was the excitement, actual tiredness, or even a result of the Blight coursing through him. He couldn’t see anyone following, so he decided to take more care. He walked slower and tried to mask his trail. By avoiding branches and plants he hoped that it would not be obvious where he had gone.
Vincent winced with pain due to the exertion and paused. He turned and looked behind to see if anyone was following. A massive explosion sounded.
“They need help,” he thought. He looked at his hands, and turned them over. He couldn’t help anyone. He had no skill at fighting, and he wasn’t strong. But if he survived and reached his father, he could at least bring help. Even if it was too late.
“Just push on,” he whispered. Spurring himself on, he returned to his walking.
At first everything went well. He put hours of distance between himself and where he was captured. He had been careful of his trail, moved at a good speed, and minimised breaks. But it wasn’t enough. He heard more signs of movement right behind him. Leaning against a tree he peeked out at the trail. A man was approaching with purpose, a handful of Blighters in tow.
“I can’t hide, this it. I just have to run,” Vincent thought. He turned and ran. He heard raised voices, knowing that the group behind had been alerted to his presence.
“It doesn’t matter, just keep going,” he thought. He altered his route, venturing off the path and skipping over plants and low-lying brush. He stumbled and almost fell several times, but just managed to maintain his footing. It felt as if they were falling behind, so he increased his speed even further and pushed forward to what looked like another clearing.
Vincent slowed as he rushed out of the tree coverage. He was indeed in a clearing, but there was one clear problem. In front of him was an unclimbable rock face.
“I’m done. This is it,” he whispered. He turned to assess his options. The Blighters in pursuit were almost there. He looked left and right, trying to find a way out. There were none. He closed his eyes.
“You gave us quite the chase. But it’s over now,” a man said. Vincent opened his eyes and looked at the man. He was medium height with brown hair and no other distinguishing features. Except for the black mark on his forehead.
“It must be hard with such an obvious mark of the Blight,” Vincent said.
“It was hard, but it just means I don’t have to worry about blending in. I can just work with these fine friends,” he said, gesturing to the Blighters. They spread out, blocking any chance of escaping from the clearing. They stared at Vincent with a murderous hunger. Vincent swallowed hard.
“They would love to have a go at you. I think it’s because you’re not fully turned yet. Not sure exactly how that works. But because I’m here, you’re safe. Just come with me, and we can all move on,” the Tainted One said. Vincent didn’t know how to respond. A feeling of despondency broke over him. He started to reassure himself that he had done everything possible, but it didn’t work. He felt defeated. He started to speak, but was interrupted. Something was happening.
A white light shone down from above. Vincent wasn’t the only one to notice it. The Tainted One and the Blighters all stopped and stared.
“What is that?” the Tainted One said. Vincent wasn’t sure, but it seemed somehow familiar. It had to be a spell. The light split into separate pillars, each one hovering over a person or creature. Vincent looked up at the one above him. He could feel strange warmth coming from it. Before he could determine what it was he was distracted by an odd sound and looked over.
The pillar above the Tainted One’s head suddenly pulsed down. He was enveloped in the light and dropped to his knees. The pillar of light disappeared within a few seconds and he collapsed completely. He tried to utter something but then just passed out. The Blighters shrieked in distress. One by one they were targeted too. Like the Tainted One they seemed pained by the intrusion of the light. They writhed and moaned before also passing out.
“What is going on? What kind of spell is this?” Vincent thought. Suddenly he felt the light surround him. The force of it knocked him down. A white-hot heat permeated him completely, and he felt it burning away. But it wasn’t his body or his mind that was targeted. The ugly oozing taint that was slowly spreading throughout him was retreating. He was being healed.
As the realisation dawned on him, and he saw a glimpse of his father’s face.
“Thank you,” he thought. It was the first time he had been truly thankful for his father’s intervention. He didn’t understand what it was, but in the end he wasn’t surprised. But he felt warmed by the fact that his father had found a way to help him, even after everything that had happened. Just as quickly the light left, and he was pitched into darkness.
Vincent awoke slowly, and took time sitting up. Hours had passed it seemed, and he looked around as he remembered what had happened. The Tainted One and the Blighters were all still unconscious. The Blighters seemed changed somehow, but Vincent didn’t wish to go inspect them. He had his suspicions but didn’t want to take any chances. He stood with care, keeping an eye on his enemies. They weren’t stirring.
“Whatever happened must’ve taken a greater toll on them,” he thought. He slowly crept away, and returned to the path he had been taking. He needed to backtrack and then find a way out.
“I mustn’t waste this opportunity,” he thought. Earlier in the day he had been going out on his own and starting a new life. But that was nothing compared to what had just happened. He had been on the edge, everything about to be taken from him. But now, this truly was a new start. His resolve was stronger than ever. He would not waste this second chance.
“I’ll make you proud of me father. One day I will return as your equal. One way or another,” Vincent thought.
These stories have been through only minimal editing to make them available for free online in a timely manner. Eventually they will be taken down and compiled into a book so please take this opportunity to read the story as it unfolds.