What Has Gone Before:
Raphael, accompanied by a cloaked figure, entered Dargon for the first time. He was stopped by a young shadow boy gathered his courage in hopes of making some money. Raphael hired the boy, Lylle, as a guide. Lylle showed Raphael to the places that he wanted to go, and in doing so, learned more about the cloaked figure. Her name was Megan and she was under a curse. Raphael was searching for a cure to end the curse.
Not finding a cure in Dargon, Raphael travelled south through the forest, not knowing where to go next. He stumbled upon a wolf cub whose mother had been killed. While deciding what to do about the cub, he turned to discover that Megan had moved and the wolf cub was at her feet. The decision had been made for him; he would take the cub with him. He named the cub, Anam.
Travelling on, he found a small cabin in a clearing. Inside was an old mage who, for a very short time, lifted the curse on Megan. The two were reunited for a few brief moments. The mage told Raphael that only by killing the one’s responsible for the curse, could he lift it. That meant killing Kell, Loth, or both. As Kell had been his best friend, he didn’t know if he could do that.
Raphael decided to return to Dargon where he could either take a boat home or a boat to Magnus. Home meant Kell and Loth, while Magnus may have held a cure. His decision was once again decided for him when he stumbled upon Kell and Loth. Loth tried to kill him and Kell saved his life with his own. Loth escaped while Kell died in his arms. Raphael returned to the inn where he had left Megan to find that she was still under the curse.
The enduring years of caring for her and searching for a cure had worn him down. The death of Kell in his arms had broken his resolve, and the still cursed Megan had crushed all hope inside him. His mind could not and did not withstand the tumult. The story begins here where Raphael teeters on the brink of insanity.
Voices cried in his mind. Whispers edged into his thoughts. The blackness gave way to an emerald glow. As the glow brightened, it took shape. A figure started to emerge from the glow. He watched as the figure took a feminine shape. Recognition shocked his senses.
“Megan!”, he cried and reached to touch her. His hand disrupted the emerald glow and scattered the light. As darkness closed in, laughter erupted around him.
“She was such a pretty thing,” a voice said.
“Loth! I’ll kill you!” Raphael vowed to the darkness. He struggled against the dark.
“… pretty thing,” the voice echoed. Rage overtook Raphael and he bolted awake. He was in their room at Spirit’s Haven. He noticed that the candle had burned low and he wondered how long he had been out. Megan lay on the bed, and Anam watched him intently.
“Megan,” he whispered, hoping that she would wake, but knowing that she would not. The curse still paralyzed her.
As he stood, blackness claimed him once again, but it wasn’t total. He saw May standing in front of him.
“Are you alright?” May asked.
“Megan?” he asked May. “Where’s Megan?”
“She’s in your room,” May answered. “Raphael, what’s wrong with you?”
“Got to find Loth,” he mumbled. May grabbed him and turned him so that he was facing her.
“You need some help,” she told him. “I’ll send for a healer.”
“No!” he said as he broke free of her arms. “No, I’ve got to find Loth. He’s the one. I …” Blackness closed in as he tried to ask May to care for Megan.
He felt something strike his foot and the world exploded into his eyesight in a myriad of colors. He looked around and found himself walking toward the main gates of Dargon City. “I must have tripped,” he thought. “What am I doing here?” As he tried to remember how he had gotten to where he was, thoughts of Megan, Kell, and Loth surfaced. Kell’s death replayed itself in his mind and was interrupted by visions of Megan on the bed — her grey eyes staring blankly at him. Throughout it all Loth laughed. The world reeled in front of him and blackness claimed him once more …
A jolt to his arm caught his attention and Raphael looked to his side. A Dargon guard had grabbed him.
“Are you sick?” the guard asked. “Who are you?”
Raphael tried to answer, but no sound came from his mouth. He didn’t remember his name; didn’t know who he was. Something stirred in the back of his mind as he tried to remember his name. A name finally came to him — Megan. He didn’t recognize it, and knew that it wasn’t his name.
“Megan?” he said aloud. The sound of her name triggered his memories. They rushed into his mind and he couldn’t hold them back. His hands went to his head and he screamed. Blackness was a welcome friend …
He was floating. Floating in a world of black. In the blackness, he knew there were doorways to other places. For now, he was content to float. It was a pleasant place this black world. He was floating calmly when his world changed. Small pinpoints of light started to suck his blackness away. The lights showed him the doorways in his once black world.
“No!” he screamed. “I don’t want to see! I don’t want to know! Go away!” The stars shone ever brighter. He heard a bird cry in the night and knew that he would have to choose a doorway soon. A small part of his sanity helped to clear his mind. Reality was fast approaching and if he didn’t choose, he felt that he would be lost forever. He saw the doorways and found that there were labels on the doors. He read the labels as he walked past the doors. Kell — that had been his best friend. Loth — no, he wouldn’t go through that door. Life — something told him that it wasn’t the right door either. He walked past many doors labeled with the names of family, friends, places, and events in his life. None felt right to him. He didn’t know how many doors he had passed or what he was looking for, but he searched on.
As he moved from door to door, he caught sight of something approaching him. It was a small animal and was running toward him. He didn’t know whether to run or stay. As the animal, a wolf as best he could tell, approached, it jogged a memory inside him. He knew this wolf.
“Anam?” he asked aloud when he remembered. “Anam?” he asked again when the wolf stopped in front of him. It was no small animal now, but rather a very large wolf. “Is that you, Anam?” he asked. The wolf’s ears twitched and its tail drooped as it licked Raphael in the face.
“Is this how you’re going to be when you grow up?” Raphael asked. Anam turned and started off. “Where are you going?” Raphael asked. Anam stopped, looked back for an instant, and then moved on again. Raphael followed and they made their way amongst the myriad of doorways.
Anam finally stopped and sat at a doorway. When Raphael caught up to him, he looked at the name on the doorway — Megan.
Megan — that was it! This was the door! He opened it and found nothing but blackness awaiting him. Stepping through the door, he braced himself for whatever would happen, except nothing happened. He was in a world of black, but turning around, he saw the doorway with Anam sitting in it.
“Where am I?” he asked aloud.
“In your mind,” came an answer behind him. He knew the voice and he spun around full of hope. Megan was standing there with her red hair cascading around her shoulders, and her eyes shining a bright vibrant green. Her red lips, red hair, and green eyes offset her slightly pale face. She wore a silk blouse that moved softly in a breeze he could not feel.
“I love you,” he said. She smiled and reached out a hand to caress his face. Her fingers brushed lightly across his cheek and then settled softly against his neck.
“And I love you,” she answered. “I have always loved you. But you’ve pushed and tormented yourself about me for too long. It wasn’t your fault. You can’t keep blaming yourself for what happened or for not finding a cure or for Kell’s death. The blame is not yours, but another’s.”
“I should have done *something* to stop it,” he said.
“You’ve done the best that you could do. Let it go. If you don’t, you won’t be any help to anyone, anymore,” she told him. She brought her other hand up to his face, leaned forward, and kissed him. Her lips touched his softly and he kissed her back. He could smell her perfume and feel her body against him as he drew her closer and hugged her tight. He had missed her far more than he would have guessed.
“Are you real?” he whispered in her ear. She pulled back from him and he saw that tears were streaming down her cheek.
“Are these real?” she asked. He reached out and wiped the tears from her face.
“Yes,” he said.
“I … I can’t stay much longer,” she said.
“Shhhh,” she said placing her fingers on his lips. “I just know that I must go soon.”
“I don’t want to lose you.”
“Have I not always been by your side?” she asked. “I am cursed from action, but I still see all that happens around me. I have watched as you have cared for me, protected me, and searched the kingdoms for a cure …” Megan’s tears started streaming down her face again. A light from somewhere reflected her bright green eyes through her tears, and facets of green washed over him.
“Please don’t lose hope,” she told him as she started to fade away. “And remember that I will always love you!”
“No!” he said as he reached out to grab her, but the blackness closed in and he fell through it to land solidly on something. Everything was still black and he realized that his eyes were closed. Opening them, he found himself in a cell.
He remembered most of everything that had happened in his life up to his return to Megan after Kell’s death. Things were still hazy after that. He suspected that he left Megan in May’s care at Spirit’s Haven; at least he hoped he did. Then there was the wandering in the town. He didn’t know how long he had roamed the streets, but his stomach told him it had been awhile. There was a fight with some of Dargon’s guards but he couldn’t remember what happened. Being in a cell, he hoped that it wasn’t serious. Relaxing, he let his stomach settle while he sorted his thoughts. Still trying to piece together what happened, he fell asleep.
“Do you think it’s him?” came a voice from somewhere. Raphael opened his eyes and saw two men standing near him.
“Well, he’s awake, let’s ask him,” said the other. “Are you Raphael Etrigan?”
“Who are you,” Raphael asked as he woke fully. “What do you want?”
“I’m Jandis Moor,” the older man said, “and this is Kyle Arving. We’re searching for a man by the name of Raphael Etrigan. You told the guards your name was Raphael. Are you Raphael Etrigan?”
“Guards?” Raphael thought. He vaguely remembered being stopped by a Dargon guard. Raphael looked up at the two men. Jandis was an older man with greying hair. He was shorter than his companion and a little heavier. Kyle was tall and skinny with dark hair and a beard.
“Yes,” he replied. Sitting up, he noticed that he was in a cell. “That guard must have arrested me,” he thought, wondering just how bad his situation was.
“Good! We’ve been looking for you for days. You’ve led us on a grand tour of Dargon, you know. Just what were you looking for?” Jandis asked. “It’s not important right now,” he continued abruptly. “We have been sent to stop a man by the name of Loth. A message was given to us with information and this.” Jandis held up a square wooden device that Raphael had never seen before. “This device will enable us to track Loth, or so I am told. It tracks one person, and once started, it must complete that task in a few days. The magic fades rather quickly.
“I’m blustering on again. The reason we were looking for you is that we were commanded to. The message they sent only gave us small bits of information, but one of those was that we were to find you. You, it would seem, are important to our mission of stopping Loth.”
“You can track Loth?” Raphael asked pushing aside all other questions and thinking of vengeance.
“We were told we could,” Kyle answered. “We were told to find you first.”
“You’ve found me,” Raphael said. “If you can get me out of here, I’ll help you with Loth. Why *am* I in here?”
“The town guard arrested you for being drunk and for disrupting people’s sleep,” Jandis told him. “If you’re sober, you’re free to go.”
Jandis called to the guard, who upon making sure Raphael was sober, let them out. As they were leaving, another guard gave Raphael a cane. He didn’t remember having it, but it was his cane, so he took it and the three of them left the guard house.
“Open the box, now,” Kyle told Jandis.
“Will you be patient?” Jandis replied.
“We have him, so let’s get this assignment over with. Open the box.”
“And if I want to wait until tomorrow? Most of the day is gone, you know,” Jandis said.
“I know, I know, but a few bells of searching is better than none at all.”
“Loth could be anywhere. He’s most likely left Dargon,” Jandis said.
“And he could be right around the corner,” Kyle replied back.
Raphael couldn’t explain why the sight of them arguing was so funny, but the laughter seemed to ease his soul. It had been a long time since he had laughed like this. Megan used to make him laugh. He thought about those times. Her green eyes would sparkle, her nose would turn up slightly as she laughed, and her smile was beautiful. As he thought about her and their times together, he realized that there was no pain in the remembrance. Standing there, he dragged out as many of his memories with her as he could. He would pick at a thread of memory and when it started to fade, he would grab at another. She was always the center of his thoughts. He watched her move and talk in his mind. She slowly faded away as voices replaced her. They were low, quiet masculine voices and he recognized them. Jandis and Kyle were whispering.
“… alright?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t know. He is acting a bit strange,” Jandis answered.
“I’m fine now,” Raphael told them, smiling.
Jandis opened the wooden device. It looked just like a small wooden box with a lid. Peering inside, Raphael saw runes written on the inside and a small stone in one corner.
“The stone is the key,” Jandis explained. “The runes are written for amplifying the stone. Whichever corner the stone is in, is the way we must go. Even if I move the box around, the stone stays in the direction where we need to go.”
Jandis watched the stone and then set off in the direction it pointed. Raphael and Kyle followed.
“The lovely town of Dargon,” Kyle said sarcastically. “We were sent to investigate an amulet in Kenna. A small job, really, and then back home to Magnus. Now there’s a city — ah, Magnus,” Kyle sighed. “Before we finished in Kenna, we were told to go to Dargon once everything in Kenna was done.
“‘Go to Dargon and find Loth’ was the message we received. So, we went to Dargon to find Loth, but when we got here we couldn’t find him. We searched and found nothing. Then another messenger came and gave us the box and the new orders to find you. What I’d like to know is why did we have to find you first?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I know Loth.”
“What?!” they both asked at the same time and then looked at each other. Raphael started to laugh again, but they turned and focused their attention on him.
“I know him. He was my best friend’s mentor.” Raphael stopped when they both gave him confused looks.
“Let me start at the beginning,” Raphael began.
“I only had one good friend as a child. His name was Kell and he was apprenticed to Loth. What free time we had was spent together as much as possible. Even though we were complete opposites — he was learning to be an alchemist and I was learning the art of fighting — we were the best of friends.
“Later, when we were older, Megan came into my life. She wanted as much of my time as Kell did, and I didn’t have enough for both of them. I was spending more and more time with Megan, and I didn’t realize how much this affected Kell. A couple of years of this went by and things got worse. I thought it was his jealousy and envy of Megan that was affecting him. I was wrong. It was the pain and loneliness of being shut out of our friendship that hurt him, but I didn’t see that at the time.
“Megan and I were married. Kell wasn’t there. I think that hurt as much as what happened later,” Raphael said. “The night of our marriage … it …
“I awoke the next day and turned to wake Megan. She didn’t respond to my playful pushes. I told her to wake up and she opened her eyes. They were a dull grey. Her once sparkling green eyes were a dull grey. She wouldn’t speak or move. I …
“Later, I searched for Kell. When I went to the alchemist shop, Loth told me Kell had left early in the morning in a hurry. I believed him. Megan was cursed, Kell had fled, and I didn’t know what to do. I left Megan in her parent’s care while I searched for Kell. When I couldn’t find him, I returned home. Megan was the same and Kell was still missing. I took Megan with me as I searched for him again because I knew that it would be a long time and I wanted her with me. After awhile of searching, I still didn’t find him so I searched for a cure and after that, I searched for anything to help Megan.”
“I’m sorry,” Jandis said softly.
“Not to sound like a stone,” Kyle said, “but what does this have to do with Loth?”
“I found out recently that Loth was behind the curse. I think he had Kell locked up in his shop all the time that I searched for him. All that time, I blamed Kell for Megan, and throughout it all, he searched for a cure. Knowing that I blamed him, he still helped me.
“I caught up to Kell in Dargon, but before I could do anything, Loth appeared. I wanted to kill both of them. Loth wanted to kill me, and Kell wanted to make things right. He never stopped being my friend, and I realized that too late …
“Loth tried to kill me with a poison dart, and Kell stepped in front of me. He took the dart meant for me. Loth left him there to die. It was a very potent poison, and he was suffering horribly. He asked me to save him from the pain …
“He died in my arms by my hand, and he still kept our friendship.”
“I’m sorry,” Kyle said. “That must have been a hard thing to do. You’ve been through quite a bit, and I’m surprised you’re still sane. I don’t think I could have handled all that very well. Still, even with your connection to Loth, I still don’t understand why we had to find you?”
“I really don’t know either,” Raphael replied, “unless it’s because I’m more familiar with Loth. Or maybe I know something about Loth that I don’t realize will help. Or maybe it’s because I want very badly to run my sword through his twisted heart. Whatever reason, we should get back to searching for him.” Raphael looked to Jandis and his magical box. When Jandis started walking, Raphael and Kyle followed.
“Who did you say commanded you to find me?” Raphael asked.
“We didn’t,” Kyle answered. “We can’t, actually.”
“But you are commanded to stop Loth?”
Raphael didn’t like trusting strangers, but his desire for revenge outweighed everything else. If they could track Loth, then he would accompany them to see where they would go. If things started to look bad, he thought he could deal with them. They weren’t trained fighters and carried no weapons, so he put his faith in their small box as they walked through Dargon.