Tover of the Dark
Image     “Hello the Camp!”

     Brenna stared out beyond the flickering campfire into the night’s shadows, searching for the voice’s origin. Her hand skimmed the sleep sand in the small pouch on her belt, ready to throw it. She knew trouble would come, and the harsh desert terrain didn’t count as trouble. When it wasn’t the weather or monsters, then it’d be thieves in the darkness of this placid night. Except it should have happened while they slept. Should have been dark elves, too. But maybe it was a dark elf, a scout.

     She glanced at her friends. Damek gripped his mahogany staff tighter, his gray eyes intense. Sven didn’t conceal his wariness as metal brushed against sheath. He drew his swords, muscles tense.

     “I mean no harm. May I join you?”

     “How many are you?” Sven asked.

     The stranger, no novice of travel, stood back waiting for a sign of permission from the camp. “I am alone.”

     “What?” Damek whispered to Sven, “Are we to believe he’s traveling Sinking Desert alone?”

     A thin smile rose on Sven’s lips. “Wasn’t I alone when you found me? Perhaps his party ran afoul of dark elves or other beasts, and only he survived.

     “Step into the light.” 

     A short, thin man moved out of the darkness. Brown hair swept against pearl colored skin along his forehead, shadowing dark brown eyes. He carried a worn satchel, and wore no visible weapon. “It’s been a long time since I’ve met friends out here, in the wilds.”

     Sven studied the newcomer’s appearance for signs of trouble. “State your name and business.”

     “I am Tover, a lumen. My work is cartography; I’m mapping magical energy in the aboveground of Aleria.”

     “A lumen?” Brenna forgot her hesitation and rose, dropping the sand back into the pouch. “A lumen, truly?” 

     Tover smiled. “I know I look funny, but yes.”

     “No, it isn’t that… You don’t look very strange,” she said.

     “He means he doesn’t look strange enough,” Damek sat on his bedroll. “Lumen have lived in caves for all of known time. They have big eyes, and his are small by their standards.” 

     Tover sighed with a small smile and nodded. He didn’t block his eyes from the firelight that would have bothered most lumen.

     “Oh!” She hoped she hadn’t offended him. His eyes were slightly larger than hers. They weren’t huge, and she wondered how big they were supposed to be.

     “So, he’s a lumen then?” Sven asked Damek, still doubtful.

     “Yes.” Damek set down his staff and bid welcome to Tover. 

     “He’s safe?” Sven lowered his swords, but hesitated sheathing them.

     “Lumen are a good race. I’ve never heard of a lumen gone bad. He’s safe.” 

     “Met many, have you?” Sven pushed.

     “Actually, yes.” Damek leaned on his elbow. “Lumen as a race are magical and have some of the best gem artifacts in the world. I’ve made trips to their capital city with Allure Academy. Some visit the Academy, too.”

     “But I’ve never seen one before,” Brenna said.

     “They come in secret. Adventuring is discouraged by their people,” Damek replied. 

     Sven questioned Damek’s conviction. Even though Tover approached honestly, there was always a first time for every race. He accepted Tover’s company, but he’d keep an eye on this lumen. Sven put away his weapons and waved for Tover to join. “What are you doing all the way out here? Don’t lumen live far to the east, deep in the Thunderclap Mountains?” The fire popped, highlighting the pause and startling Brenna. Sven held still, suppressing a grin. He wouldn’t chide her on the reaction considering he was undecided about the visitor’s motives.

     “I told you. Mapping the area.” 

     “Really?” Brenna asked. “We could use some maps. We are on our way to…” 

     Damek rushed to interrupt. “To Grimhorn Hills, to count the herds of styrac and see if the black ink has affected their populations.” Liquid smoke, the black ink, coursed across the sky on magic winds blocking out sunlight wherever sent by the dark elves. With darkness to quell their fear of sunlight, they strove to subjugate all of the aboveground. Damek hoped he could find and destroy the source of this evil magic before the city of Forfarshire fell to the unnatural night. He wondered if Tover accepted his weak lie. Brenna, young and naïve, surprised him with her bluntness and lack of guard with those she trusted. 

     Desert sand danced, swirling in a light breeze. It crept into every bedroll, article of clothing, and pouch as they traveled. The sand rubbing together as the wind picked up, sounded like short bursts of rain on bricks.

     Tover shook sand off his boots. Unperplexed at the reply, he knew styrac herds didn’t concern humans during an epic war, and certainly not a mage. He took no offence to the lie, though he offered truth. Some business was secret.

     “Yes…” Brenna continued. She raised an eyebrow and shot a queer look to Damek. “The way to Grimhorn Hills is dangerous, and if you’ve mapped that area, it’d help us.”

     “My maps won’t help you with danger. They’re maps of magical energy, not populations of beasts or terrain.”

     “Oh.” She sat back, shoulders slumped.

     “My maps can’t help, but I’ve been that way recently. I can tell you what I encountered.”

     Brenna brightened. They sat around the campfire and talked about the dangers of the desert until nodding off late in the evening. Tover surprised them when he abruptly said goodbye and left into the night. The breeze died away leaving quiet. The velvet black sky was speckled in diamond pinpoints of light. Sven took first watch.

     In the morning, Damek, Brenna and Sven traveled on to the base of the Misery Mountains where they set up camp in a shallow cave. The party rested among the cool roots of Ironwood trees. They had seen several scorpid, men with scorpion bodies on their lower halves, to the south, and found signs of Star Stalkers, a tribe of desert cat men. Keeping out of sight, they had skirted around potential confrontations. Time pressed on their conscience, but they didn’t speak of it.

     Sven sharpened his swords during first watch. When Damek finished the second watch, he woke Brenna for the last. Rubbing her face, she stretched her arms high over her head. She started to rise and froze, eyes wide. Behind Damek, a skinny black dark elf poised with throwing knives in hand. His scarred face twisted into a hideous grin. Brenna screamed. 

     The intruder pulled back his arm, preparing to throw as Damek turned toward him. Brenna heard Sven scramble from his blankets, grabbing the swords’ sheaths, but he wouldn’t loose the weapons in time. She raised her arm to block the knife. The dark elf’s face changed to surprise, and he fell over. 

     Behind him stood a little man. Tover. “Mind if I come in? I brought breakfast.”

     Silver glinted from the dark elf’s back. The attacker’s black face looked washed out, hollow, while his clouded eyes were unfocused and glassed over in death. Muddy-blue blood pooled under his head.

     Brenna hugged Tover. “Tover! You saved my life.”

     “And brought breakfast.”

     “But how did you know about the dark elf?”

     “I didn’t until I saw his tracks following yours.”

     “But we covered our trail,” Sven said.

     “You did pretty well for a pair of humans and a barbarian.” Tover retrieved his knife from the dark elf’s back before Sven drug the corpse away from the cave.

     He shared several small gila woodpecker eggs and skinned prickly pear cactus pads. As they ate, Sven roughly questioned Tover about how he followed them while Tover patiently explained the minute leavings that gave away their direction.

     Brenna ignored the conversation and thought about her training in Allure Academy. Everyone talked about her special abilities, producing the fire and heat spells that came to her so easily. 

     She didn’t feel special. Though the spell’s magic sang in her heart, she lacked the proper control. Where Brenna went, fires ran rampant. When her father’s patience ended, he begged Allure Academy to keep her year round and holidays. If only she hadn’t burned down his shoe shop that second time! She’d be home, in Forfarshire, helping to keep back the black sky. 

     Instead, she found herself pulled into an impossible quest. She got in the way and slowed them down. They babysat her because they couldn’t leave her behind. They had no choice. She wished she’d left the night before with Tover. If only she had money, she’d hire him as her escort. Perhaps she’d persuade him to take her off their hands after all.  

     The conversation lulled. “You seem adept in the desert,” she commented.

     Tover shrugged. 

     “I was thinking, if we’re headed in the same direction, perhaps you’d assist me.”

     “I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Sven said. 

     Brenna’s eyes widened. “What?” 

     “What’d you have in mind, Sven?” Damek asked.

     “Seems as if we keep bumping into you. I thought you might consider joining us, as long as we’re both traveling east.” Sven took a bite of cactus. 

     Brenna couldn’t believe it. They were usurping her guide!

     “I can’t.” Tover shrugged. 

     Sven rubbed the edge of a scar on his chin and glanced at Damek. 

     “The truth is,” Damek began,” we could use someone with your skills. Your eyes are better than ours under the dark sky. Grimhorn Hills isn’t our final destination.”

     “I know. It’s the Globe of Darkness.” With a stick, Tover scratched at the dirt on the cave floor, then tossed the wood into the small cooking fire. 

     Sven cast Damek a suspicious look. What did Tover know? He flexed his fingers, then closed them in a tight fist. If only he could reach in and yank out the information. 

     Damek shrugged in response to Sven. He fingered the long sleeves of his gray robe. “Have you seen the source of the liquid sky magic that blocks the sun?”

     Tover looked up with his eyes, keeping his face turned down. “No.” The quiet in the cave thickened. 

     Unable to stand it any longer, Brenna prepared to spill the plan. “Hey, we’re supposed to stop it, or at least, those two are, and anything you know might help. Please tell us.” 

     Tover looked at Brenna and smiled.  “Aboveground, it’s easy to hear things without being seen. Dark elves said that the Globe of Darkness caused the daytime black. They said it’s in a tower, near the entrance to the their caves.”

     “Is it the danger of our mission that keeps you from joining us?” Sven asked. Tover had been near the enemy without getting caught. Sven felt pressed to convince him to come, and he was used to getting his way in these matters. 

     Tover chuckled beneath his hand, then rubbed an eye absently. “No.” 

     Sven and Damek shared a long look. They must persuade this kind little lumen to aid them on their perilous quest.

     “Tover,” asked Brenna, “why can’t you come with us?” She didn’t know whether to be pleased or frustrated. 

     Wind brushed against the cave entrance, causing a low whistle to rise and fall. The dry breeze stirred her hair. It carried a hint of some exotic desert flower.

     Tover stared at her. He seldom crossed a human that spoke her mind rather than so many meandering words. Emotional and more exuberant than the others, Brenna caught attention like paper catches flame. He liked her strange company. “I don’t travel during the day.” Leaning back against the stone wall, he looked down at the scratches in the dirt near his feet. “My eyes are poor in deep dark and even worse in daylight. I’d be a liability.” 

     “I’m not sure your estimation of your eyesight is accurate,” Damek said. “However, even if true, you see better at night than us, and better once we cross the line of dark magic. You’ve proven your tracking ability by following us, and your ability to survive in the wilds, including finding sustenance. 

     “You’d be an asset.” Damek had to be careful. Tover really didn’t understand how useful his eyes were. Or maybe he just didn’t get how bad the human and barbarian eyes saw in dark conditions. “I’m not certain we can succeed, but even less certain we can without you. We can care for you and protect you while we travel in the daylight, and you can help us when we reach the dark elves black sky.”

     “Consider it,” said Sven. “We’re traveling by a secret path this day, and it’s unlikely we’ll meet again if parted here.”

     They finished breakfast without more conversation. Brenna took their small pan and tin cups outside the cave. She set them on a large, flat rock to scorch them clean with her magic. Not much chance of burning down buildings out here. 

     Holding her hands in front of her, palms out, she recited the incantation. Wind blew from her hands, carrying flames in licking curls over the rock. The pan and cups were clean, but still to hot too touch. On the large rock, black scorch marks surrounded them.

     Tover sat on a boulder overlooking the desert sunrise beyond, and Brenna joined him. Yellows and reds lit the sky like burning wheat on dry ground. The wind launched sand off the tops of dunes, letting it dance around in merry circles and fall again to the desert floor.

     “Will you come?” she asked.

     “It isn’t my task.”

     “It isn’t mine either. At least, it isn’t supposed to be. We could be the outsiders together.”

     “I’m not used to aboveground people.”

     “And yet you follow us.” Brenna thought about home one last time. The urgent quest beckoned. No home existed if they failed. So she wouldn’t be the one to destroy the evil globe. She’d still help in her own way. She’d take this chance to help her people. With Tover along, they would fair better. The others felt the same. “Please come Tover. We may not be the ones to finish it, but we can help them get there.”

     “I do want to map secret paths,” he said. The wind whipped his hair about his round eyes. “I’ll come.”

References: Brenna, Damek, Tover, Sven, Barbarian, Human, Lumen, DarkElf, Scorpid, Scorpion, Styrac, Stalker

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