Utig enjoyed hauling lumber. He’d helped cut down the trees, square the trunks, slice the planks and joists. Even loaded the cart and guided it up to the house. Now he was single handily moving all the timbers, from the cart to the barn at the side of the property. As he stood to take a breather, he heard Quink trying to sneak up on him, stepping into the barn behind his back.
“Boo.” She yelled at the top of her voice.
He was mid drink from his water skin, so he jumped theatrically, spraying water for yards in front of himself. Turning with surprising speed, he reached for his axe leaning against one of the stacks of fresh cut timber.
“Oh my god, it’s you. I nearly cleaved you in two.” He smiled, his hand still hovering above the axe as she sauntered over to him. Quink was laughing like a little child. She had forgone her usual adventuring attire for a pair of green breeches, and a white tunic tied at the waist, her hair secured in a complex bun at the back of her head. She looked so different, and yet radiated the same flirtatious energy when dressed in flowing blacks and tight leathers. He couldn’t help but notice the ruddy glow on her cheeks and the mud on her knees and hands.
“You have spent way too long looking after this wood, and not nearly enough time looking after me?” She stood on her tip toes to place a kiss on his cheek, before swiping the water skin and taking a long drink.
“What on earth have you been doing? Your covered in mud?” He said, pointing at the stains on her legs and hands.
She looked down indignantly, cheeks full and rounded with water before she gulped loudly.
“I’ve been digging out the teleportation circle. I mean, I could have used magic, but something about this place makes me want to do it by hand? Well, I did use a bit of magic, but as I got closer to it, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.” She looked him up and down, he’d stripped to the waist, his muscles bulging from moving the heavy timbers all morning.
“You know, the river runs through the woods out back, we could go for a swim later, to get clean, or dirty, depending on how tired you are?” She grinned mischievously, placing a dirt-stained hand on his chest. Her face suddenly shocked as she noticed exactly how dirty they were, but Utig didn’t give her time to inspect them closer. The barbarian pulled her in close for a fierce kiss. Lifting her up against him as he stepped backwards against a wall.
“Urgh, you’re all sweaty, you big ox.” She complained between kisses.
They lay breathless and sweaty, behind the stacked timbers. Staring up into the large, vaulted ceiling of the barn. Impish grins on their blushed faces.
“You know, this would make an excellent place by itself, if we built a second floor.” Utig gestured towards the large barn’s vaulted roof.
“We could have our own space away from the others, it would give the house some more guest rooms.” It started as an offhand comment, but soon he was examining the structure of the roof and walls, his breathing slowed as he waved his free hand, debating with himself about where to put a joist or supporting beam. Quink lay there for at least half an hour, listening to him plan how to build a home out of the barn. Where to put chimneys, a hearth, its own kitchen. Unable to resist, she suggested a library on the second floor, and he immediately expanded his plans. It was a bizarre moment for the spell caster. She never used to plan the future; she had never trusted anyone enough to do so. She rolled over on top of the barbarian, enjoying the feel of his muscles beneath her, planting a big wet kiss on his cheek before standing up to find her clothes.
While she got dressed, he began writing down what extra timber they would need for the conversion. He had barely moved, laying naked amongst the hay and sawdust, where on earth had he found the scrap of parchment and charcoal?
Finally dressed and standing in the doorway, she turned back to look at him; he had at least started pulling on his breeches.
“You know, you haven’t even asked me if I want to live with you?” She said, casually. Instantly regretting it as he turned his large puppy dog eyes on her.
“By the gods, no, I didn’t. I’m so sorry. I just assumed.” He looked down, embarrassed and ashamed. Quink had to laugh, the warmth of the moment washed over her, looking at the barbarian as he held the piece of parchment awkwardly between both hands, feet shuffling like a child caught eating sweets before dinner. It wasn’t the first time a partner had made plans for their future together without asking her, but this felt new, different, she realised she wanted them too.
“Course I will, you idiot, but you need to fit some kind of windows into the roof. Over there, south facing to get most of the light.” She turned away, blushing even more as she made her way around the house to the large, over-grown, garden.
He wouldn’t call it suffering, Jakol was an excellent carer. It didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eye as well, but his singing, as it floated up though the house. It was torture.
It had been two days since he’d woke up. Today he was to be given the all-clear. And he could finally see the house the party had bought together. The half-elf was in fine spirits, making lunch whilst singing a rather bawdy tavern song. Antios was nervous, he had barely managed to swallow the medicine Jakol had administered that morning, the idea of lunch was making his stomach do flips. The exploits of the heroine in the song were not helping.
He made his way slowly out of the room, down the stairs heading towards the kitchen, marvelling in the difference a few days had made to his balance and breathing. Inhaling deeply; the musty smell of herbs and fungi filling his senses. Maybe he should have waited until he was away from all the stocked shelves and in the kitchen, where the aroma was less likely to put him in a coma.
“And woe is me sang Caridine, a maiden long since past,” the healer could haul plants all day, but couldn’t carry a tune.
“Sir Giriol, my virtues thief, his hand upon my,”
“Busy cooking, I see.” Antios interrupted, taking a fresh smell, and delighting in the more palatable aroma of seasoned meats.
“Ass.” Jakol finished pointedly, turning from the stove, a mischievous grin on his face. Antios suspected he sang dreadful songs, badly, to get rid of unwanted house guests.
“If it isn’t my, soon to be, ex-patient! I’ve fixed you a parting meal.” He pointed to a plate on the table stacked with sausages, fried potatoes and salad.
“Doctors orders are for you to refrain from dungeoneering for another week, at least.” The half elf pouted slightly while Antios made himself comfortable at the table, suddenly lost in thought. The fighter couldn’t help but smile at him as he skewered a sausage with a fork and took a large bite.
“Also, I believe we need to keep an eye on you. Edria will want to check you out once she gets back. Which should be in a few days. And I personally will miss having a brooding soldier type hanging around the house.” He put the pan down and joined Antios at the table, picking up a cup of steaming, thick, brown-black liquid. Finding a clay pot filled to the brim with dark orange honey, he spooned a thick glob of it into the drink, stirring it slowly while watching Antios eat. Personally, Antios hated kafe, a popular drink in most cities now. It was bitter tasting and gave him a headache.
“Maybe, once I’m not looking after you professionally, we could grab a bite to eat at the Mare and hound?” Jakol asked casually, wasting no time. Antios blushed. Havia had mentioned the local tavern wasn’t the hell hole she expected. In fact, she had good things to say about most of the town. And they had both commented on how friendly Jakol was.
“Sure, I’d like that.” He said between mouthfuls, hiding his embarrassment behind the food. Relationships were not his best skill, the people he liked tended to tie his tongue in knots. Give him fighting orcs over chatting to someone he found attractive. Although the forced proximity of the last few days had eased his awkwardness with Jakol somewhat.
“It’s a date!” the half-elf exclaimed, taking a sip of his kafe to hide his smile.
Antios finished his meal quickly and thanked the healer, who wouldn’t let him leave without a hug. He made his way out of the building and into the bright sunshine. It was then he realised he didn’t know where their house was and nipped back in for directions, much to Jakol’s entertainment.
It took him three hours to amble the steep roads leading to the house, their house. Approaching the property he spied two massive redwood trees standing either side of an ornate, stone-built, entrance in disrepair. The trees marked the boundary of their property and Havia had mentioned to keep an eye out for them. They had grown thick and strong, pushing over sections of the small wall that had been built as the entrance way to a long winding track leading down into the valley. The house was massive, even from far way you could clearly see the house had two floors with numerous rooms. He could see the roofs of several other buildings, Havia boasted that their land covered all of this valley. As he got closer, he could tell some of the stonework needed attention and the roof looked like it could do with new shingles in places. Approaching the house, he found himself reminiscing fondly of his father, a man who’d built many homes, and took great pride in his craft. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms. Antios wanting to take after his grandfather, and become an adventurer, while his mother and father were masons to the core, like most of his father’s family. Still, eventually they had conceded to his wishes, even gifting Antios his grandfather’s sword. While growing up the fighter had learned more about stonework and building than most who plied the trade. This house was solid, well built, but had been neglected. He looked forward to bringing it back to its prime. Maybe inviting his folks to visit some time.
He slowly circled the building, spotting a large barn a short distance to the side of the main house. From inside he could hear someone sawing and banging, so he made straight for it. Time to see how Utig was getting on with his own repairs.
The barbarian was cutting the last piece of a window frame, the old frame lay to one side, a template for his work. He hadn’t heard Antios step into the barn, so the fighter coughed loudly. Utig turned and smiled as his friend approached to survey his work.
“Window frame? Nice work, how many do we need to replace?” He asked as he admired the straight cut and neat angles of the frame.
“Eventually all of them, but I’ve replaced two of the worst already, and this one will make the place watertight.” The barbarian beamed with pride over his work, brushing fresh shavings from the frame before placing it to one side.
“Good to see you up on your feet, want some water?” He pointed at a bucket to one side, covered with a cloth to prevent sawdust getting in. There was an empty water skin next to it with a few cups laid upon it. Antios grabbed a cup and dunked it into the cold water beneath the cloth. It was refreshing and cold.
“Our own spring, or do we have a well?” He asked tilting his head to one side, he hadn’t noticed how tired the walk had made him, and how much he needed the drink.
“We have a spring and a stream, Quink thinks she might have felt some kind of magic funnel thing to get water to the house, but it went over my head.” Utig laughed softly as Antios sat down on a pile of timbers. He scanned the barn, someone had recently drawn on the walls with chalk, marking heights and supporting walls. It didn’t take him long to work out what Utig had planned.
“You know, we could build you a dividing wall in line with that doorway.” He pointed off to the back of the barn. “Bring it out two thirds of the way, then you’d need less timber supports and the second floor could carry more weight.” Utig turned and looked where he was pointing, placing his saw down and walking about two thirds the way into the barn from the smaller, rear exit.
“Yeah? I was going to make a timber wall; do you think you’d be able to put a chimney in here as well? To heat the open area and maybe add a feature up to the roof?” the barbarian pointed a little further into the barns open space and then up to the apex of the roof. It was a lot of work, but with Utig to help move stone and square them off, it wouldn’t take that long.
“Sure, like a tavern chimney, open on two sides to spread the heat?”
They lost themselves for a while, discussing the details of converting the barn. Antios couldn’t help but feel happy at the prospect of the barbarian and the street mage living together. Just being here and discussing having an, almost, normal life with his friends was making him realise how much he missed his own family. His dad showing him how to select and square stones, mix mortar, and the basics of the family trade. A slither of sadness crept in; how long had it been seen he had seen his folks? He might have to do something about that.
They were deep in a conversation about where best to build an extra outhouse, and the possibility of a bath house, when Quink ran around the edge of the barn’s large main doors.
“You, huh, you need to see this.” She said, breathlessly, as she turned and started walking fast to the rear of the house.
Following without a word, Antios took the time to take in exactly how big their house was, easily three times the size of the healer’s home where he had spent the last few days. It was a mansion, with several dilapidated outbuildings, probably used for storage in the past. As he circled the main building even more of the property came into view, the valley below was a beautiful visage of lush greens and yellows. Running water could be heard in the distance, probably the river that ran down into the town further below the mountain range. The grounds were overgrown, but they soon approached an area south of the house where a large circle of growth had been cleared.
“I got bored cutting the weeds by hand, so I used a Wither spell on them.” The street mage pointed at the clearing before her. “I’ve never actually seen a better representation of area of effect before.” Quink stood at the edge of a large, perfect circle. Every living thing within a sixty-foot diameter had withered away and died. In the centre you could clearly see where the mage had cleared an area of dirt by hand, a few inches deep, to reveal flat smooth stone, black as night and surprisingly clean.
The stone was easily twenty foot in diameter, even recently uncovered it appeared pristine, as if the magics running through it were slowly reasserting themselves over the dirt that had accrued on its surface over the many years. Antios knelt to examine the edge of the dark stonework. No seams, cracks, or mortar had been used. This was one solid piece of stone. Staring into its surface you could just make out a difference in the ink-like darkness. Rippling, as if a current ran through its myriad shades of darkness, ebbing and flowing, like a sea, trapped beneath a clear piece of glass or ice.
“I think this is dragon stone.” He said in awe. “You can only be gifted this from ancient dragons.” Antios turned to look at the others, Quink was grinning from ear to ear, slowly hoping from one foot to the next.
“Check out the circle” she exclaimed like a toddler, proudly showing off something she had made. “Go on, in the middle.” She gestured for them to walk onto the stone.
At its centre, approximately ten feet in diameter, a large circle of silver markings was softly pulsing. It was elaborate, circles within circles filled with numerous geometric symbols and swirling words that were hard to focus on. Antios had seen teleportation circles before, they used a lot of magic, and thusly were expensive to use. It was much cheaper to ride for a week on a rented horse, than pay the extortionate prices mages charged to hurl you through the matrius to instantly appear at your destination. The one time he had used one the transition had been so abrupt that he’d thrown up on the other side. Paying several month’s earnings just to lose his breakfast for the experience.
Quink herded them nearer the circle, giddy with magical curiosity and pride.
“It’s insanely powerful. We could reach anywhere with this, possibly extra planar. I mean, we would need another spell caster, and a few mana stones as well to get enough mana to power it that far, but wow, the potential is insane.” She turned to Utig. “This is why I couldn’t use magic to clear the dirt, it just sucked it in. Draining it so fast I couldn’t move the dirt. Oh, also there’s that.” Quink pointed off to the edge of the clearing. A path curved away from the dragon stone circle, reaching the edge of the clearing, to what Antios had original thought were trees. They turned out to be ivy choked pillars in disrepair. At the foot of the broken pillars, a small pedestal stood on a dais, another piece of dragon stone. It was currently being used by a sparrow, observing the interlopers.
“Is that a font?” Antios asked, dumbstruck. No one outside of a guild hall had their own font. Having access to one in the dungeon was unheard of, having one in their own garden was insane, and possibly against Guild law.
“Yes, and no.” Quink replied, dancing over to it and shooing away the sparrow. The bird flew alarmingly close to Utig’s face in protest, before flitting up to rest on the top of one of the pillars and stare balefully at them.
“I tried to use it, but it won’t activate. It does give off the same aura as a font though. So, similar but not the same, I just haven’t figured out how it works yet?” She shrugged, but her demeanour told Antios the spell caster was beside herself with excitement. Who knew having an arcane puzzle to unlock would bring the coquettish mage so much joy.
Utig walked up to her and gave her a gentle squeeze.
“Glad you’re happy, Antios had some ideas for our barn. But it’s going to take a while to get the stone. We were thinking of taking the lumber cart back into town, and asking where to get quarried stone from, maybe drop into the tavern for the evening?” He held onto her hand waiting for her response, but she had a faraway look on her face. Suddenly she thumped him on the arm and yelled.
“Of course, Utig, you fucking genius. The stone.” Digging into her pocket she dug out the Nexus pebble from the dungeon. Its smooth black surface shone just like the dragon stone beneath their feet. Antios took longer than he was proud of to add two and two. The stone was always present, a weight in whatever pocket was available on your person. If you weren’t wearing anything it was within eyesight. Part of the pebbles inherent magic, ensuring it was never stolen from, or lost by, its owner. Of course, it was dragon stone, why hadn’t he realised that before?
Quink lifted hers up and placed it solemnly on the font. There was a low hum as the small pedestal began vibrating slightly. Then suddenly, the dirt and growth of several hundred years evaporated in an instant. The whole area now hummed with magic. Any dirt left on the path, or the large stone circle, had disappeared in a haze. Antios turned from Quink to the centre of the teleportation circle. He glimpsed, for the briefest of moments, the physical form of Meridath, as shown in numerous paintings across the world. The mage who defeated the chaos gods. The most powerful wielder of magics ever known. He had always been portrayed as a man in his middle years, but here his eyes had lost their shine, his hair hung grey and limp, his face thin and wrinkled. There was still no mistaking him. For the briefest of moments Antios saw the mage smiling.
“Took your time, didn’t you?” He heard the words, in his head, but the old man hadn’t spoken, his lips hadn’t moved. A flash of light filled the transport circle, Meridath faded away, but his eyes had lit up, Antios knew something exciting was about to kick off.
As the bright light dissipated, he looked around at the others to make sure they were ok.
The circle now looked new, fresh, the pillars were clean of ivy and disrepair. Five of them, upright and intact, each marked with a symbol of a chaos god. The font still before them, Quink and Utig standing next to it, blinking as their eyes adjusted. Antios turned back to the circle’s centre, to see a much younger version of Meridath, but transparent, ethereal. This was Dath.
“Oh, oh my, I had no idea this was possible.” The echo stood with tears in his eyes, staring up at the sky.
“It’s so blue!”