The Eroding Empire
Wood Elf Druid
It was morning. Dusty sunlight forced its way into the little room through a narrow gap in the ill-fitted wooden shutters. The narrow gap had forged the light into a thin blade and this blade slowly crept along a low workbench illuminating bottles and beakers and lumpy masses of sparkling metal.
Above the workbench, a body lay sleeping, suspended in a gently swaying hammock like a giant sideways chrysalis. The only sounds were those of birds playing in the trees outside the cabin, and the muted creaking of the hammock ropes as they strained against the bent-over nails to which they had been knotted.
Still asleep in his hammock, Lithvard dreamt.
He saw the gentle Estwin river, a child of the mighty Grandfather river, flowing serenely past the front of his master’s cabin. His small rowboat barely moved against the dock at the water’s soft touch. A feeling of peace swept over him as he gazed out over the calm water.
Then, suddenly, like a wash basin being unstoppered and drained after a day’s laundry, the water of the Estwin began to recede. Within seconds, nothing remained but an empty trench, carved deeply into the earth and rock, completely, utterly, dry.
Startled by the vision, Lithvard awoke. Clearly, something was amiss.
For one thing, the sun was much higher in the sky than it should have been. The only time he’d ever slept so late was the morning after he’d snuck out into town in the wee hours of the night and experimented with the local brewer’s interpretation of an Axian mead.
For another, his body felt itchy all over, like something was buzzing under his skin.
Why hadn’t Meister Rattnab awakened him?
Lithvard alighted from his hammock with the surefooted grace possessed of every Wood Elf, quickly crossed the room, and threw open the shutters.
He squinted as the room flooded with light. After his eyes adjusted, he surveyed the small room. Meister Rattnab was not at his usual work station. This, alone, wasn’t all that remarkable. It wasn’t so very strange for the meister to take a lunchtime stroll down by the river to ponder the “dynamic potentiality of Nature’s gilded transmutations”, his way of referring to sun sparkles on the water surface. But why would he let his apprentice lounge about in bed all day when there was wood that needed chopping, water that needed fetching, and crucibles that needed scraping? Oh, the crucibles! The meister’s ceaseless elemental “shuffling” , as he put it, produced such a quantity of stained and crusted, foul-smelling pottery, that it often made him long for his days in the well-kept temple library.
Today, however, there were no crucibles to be seen. The crate on the floor next to the work bench should have been half-full of the disgusting things by this time of day. It was empty. That meant the meister had not done any experiments yet today. And that was troubling. Very troubling.
Lithvard puzzled on the matter a moment longer, then opened the door to the cabin and stepped out into the sunlight.
Straining his keen elvish senses he waited for some sign of his master. There was nothing but sunlight, birds, and the persistent buzzing feeling under his skin.
He looked down at the left forearm he had been absent-mindedly scratching… and noticed the marks.