in his 20s, dark hair and dark eyes, steel nose ring, carries a staff
“I think they’re gone,” Marta whispered to herself.
Still trembling, she slid out from the back of the old oak desk she had been hiding behind and risked a glance into the darkness around the room. How long had it been? She could not remember. Tilting her head slightly, she listened again to the stillness. It seemed eerily quiet, now that the screams of terror and hideous bellows outside had all stopped.
Her shoulders ached. Slowly, she uncurled from around the bundle she had been clutching to her chest for so long. Feeling a bit stiff, Marta relaxed her arms and began to loosen the blankets a little from around the baby she had been protecting. She sighed softly in relief to see her infant son, Waldor, sleeping soundly.
It was difficult to see clearly in the dimness, but the ring she had fastened into the baby’s nose was still there. Feeling gently around the edge, she couldn’t feel any evidence of the inscribed runes that had glowed so brightly when she first closed the loop. There was no light there now, just the cold steel.
Marta stared at the ring and cursed quietly. Even though she was certain that it had saved them, she hated the thing. Her poor boy would never be the same. Perfect little toes, perfect little hands, and an otherwise perfect little face, now marred by the grey ring she had placed there.
She sobbed softly and thought of his father. “Waldor,” she whispered. “I never wanted this for you. But your father knew. He was right. You’re your father’s son.”
Gerod Gebauer had left them only a few days after Waldor was born claiming he was needed in the coming war against the dark forces. “Blasted wizard,” she muttered. She still held a certain fondness for the mysterious man who had turned her life upside down and then just disappeared, but today she was feeling a little bitter.
She remembered his words on the day he left. “Waldor is special,” he said. “He will someday inherit my same gift for magic arts.”
Again, she touched the cold ring.
“Keep this ring safe,” he had said. “It is an ancient relic of my order. It has no power of itself, but will awaken the magic within him. Attach this relic to Waldor when he is old enough to deal with his destiny. Nevertheless, know that it will mark him forever after, in ways far more significant than his nose.”
“Four months! Oh, forgive me.” she thought bitterly. “The monsters… they were so close and I didn’t know what else to do. I was desperate!”
Wiping away tears from her eyes, she looked around the room. Although the danger from the horrible mutants had passed, she still had a problem.
She shuddered slightly at the memory. Powerful magic had been unleashed in their home at the moment she closed the clasp to seal the ring onto Waldor. She remembered the light from the runes and the shadows that played out from Waldor’s tiny form to dance upon the walls of their home. It had changed the room around them. The walls were shifted at curious angles and seemed to slide away from her view, even as she stared at them.
Marta’s voice wavered in the darkness, “Blessed name of Sigmar, wh… what have I done?” The silence seemed deafening.
But then, suddenly, an unfamiliar but kindly voice rang out through the stillness in an unexpected response. “Ahem… Please, pardon my intrusion, madam, but I believe we should talk. May I come in?”
Rigo Gaffwig finished writing and set down his quill with a sigh. He placed the stiff parchment containing his message in the center of his desk and just stared at it for a few seconds before he finally rolled it up, ready to seal. Muttering an incantation under his breath, he placed a gray ribbon around the missive and pressed his signet deep into the soft red wax. Rigo knew it wasn’t really necessary to magically shield his message from prying eyes, but old habits were hard to break.
The message in gray was of no importance, of course. Certainly not nearly as important as the gold leafed envelope that Lord Riese of the Celestial Order had handed him personally earlier this morning. Rigo held the shiny envelope in his hands again. He didn’t know the specific contents of the envelope, but he felt the weight of the world. He knew the signs. He felt the lines of destiny that seemed to intersect directly in his hand. It was time.
Rigo looked up. There, leaning back against the doorway, stood a slightly overweight but otherwise unassuming young man. At 5’7” he was hardly an imposing figure, but not quite the opposite either, just average. Although the youth seemed inattentive, with his dark eyes focused on the oak wood floor in front of him, Rigo knew better. Aware that he had been noticed, the young man ran a hand through his brown hair. Rigo chuckled softly at the familiar gesture.
“Are you going to stand there all day, Waldor?” Rigo said casually.
To himself, Rigo quietly wondered how long Waldor has been standing there. In truth, he was a bit startled, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to show the young man that he hadn’t noticed. “Come over and have a seat. I’m ready for you now.”
Waldor leaned away from the door and eased in to the big chair. Rigo looked at Waldor quietly for a few moments, reminiscing. His eyes briefly settled on the tiny steel ring on his nose. He was reminded of that fateful day about twenty years ago, when he had met Waldor.
Rigo had been sent that day by the Grey Council to investigate a small village in Breder called Hochland. Although he had little information on what he was looking for, Rigo knew it would be obvious when he found it. Ominously, a marauding pack of mutants had descended from the mountains just before he arrived and, it was believed, massacred all the inhabitants. Still, the signs in the heaven were clear. There was something of great import to the God of Shadows among the ruins.
Rigo had set forth, with grim determination, hoping to find some talisman or book of lore from forgotten ages overlooking by the horde but expecting to find only a destroyed artifact. He certainly did not expect to hear Marta’s crying or the concealed house in which he found Waldor and his mother huddled in the corner.
How the building had been so expertly concealed was a mystery. Marta was clearly no practitioner of magic and had no gift for shadow magic, let alone an enchantment of such sophistication. In Waldor, however, Rigo could sense the power. But he was far too young and inexperienced to have cast the charm. The concealment spell on the house was masterful. In fact, if not for his many years of training, Rigo might have circled the area for days before he found the building.
Rigo had two clues.
The first clue was the nose ring. Marta believed it was a talisman of some sort given to her by a mysterious wizard named Gerod who fathered the boy. Despite years of research, Rigo could find no evidence of power or any markings on the loop to indicate it was any more than an ugly steel band. And despite his extensive contacts throughout the wizarding community, he had found no man who had known of a wandering master named Gerod.
When Marta died, Waldor insisted on wearing the ring again out of love for his mother and respect for the mysterious man who was his father. Although Rigo believed it would only make Waldor more noteworthy, a trait very discouraged among Shadow wizards who sought to be generally inconspicuous, Waldor had an uncanny knack for generally staying unnoticed and believed it to would be no great hindrance to his profession.
The second clue was more subtle but potentially more dangerous. Waldor’s shadow was just a tiny bit larger than it should be. Rigo had discovered that it actually changed in size according to the phase of the moon. During a full moon, it was only slightly larger, just under a half inch taller in most light. But during a new moon cycle, Waldor’s shadow was two inches wider and taller than it should have been given his size.
To the unlearned, this was barely noticeable and easily disregarded by imagining they must be mistaken. But Waldor had been marked by the God of Shadows. Such a blessing was rare and portentous, but it posed a serious problem because he could be identified at a glance by scholars and wizards familiar with the histories of Aelam the Wanderer.
As a protection, Rigo granted Waldor his Cloak of Insignificance years ago. Although it pained him to part with such a valued possession, Rigo knew it would distract a powerful being that might see past the enchanted cloak from recognizing the truth of Waldor’s truly significant role in the cosmos. As far as he knew, Rigo was the only man alive who knew of Waldor’s secret blessing. He hoped the cloak would keep it that way.
Waldor ran his hand through his brown hair again, pulling Rigo back to the situation at hand. “Waldor, I have another errand for you. Please deliver this message to a watchman named Elan Troste in Middenheim and tell him he must give the message to Commander Schulzmann immediately. The watchman is not one of us and will have no knowledge of you or our Order, but you may know it is him by an emerald colored sash around his left arm.”
Waldor’s eyes flashed briefly at the sight of the gilded envelope. “Yes, sir, I understand. I’ll be back shortly.”
“No, Waldor.” Rigo’s face fell slightly. “I don’t expect you’ll be returning soon.” Waldor met Rigo’s eyes and an understanding seemed to pass between them. “Yes, sir. Later, then.”
“Yes.” Rigo paused. “Waldor, your cover will be a circle of Celestial Order mages fighting an attack by Chaos that will begin two days from now. Travel light, but be sure to bring your cloak.”
Waldor took the sealed letter from Lord Riese and gingerly stashed it in a pocket Rigo hadn’t noticed. Bowing slightly, Waldor turned and gathered his cloak around him before he strode out the door.