Choose Your Own Adventure 26: The Open Road
Your choice (by coin-flip) was to take the road into the interior of the Ishkaev Empire.
The road is quiet enough. The few farmers and other travelers you pass as you go give you and your purloined uniform a wide berth.
But there are no towns or inns near your stopping place for the night, and you do not know where to find them. Instead, you camp a safe distance from the road. You set up camp following old habits whose origins you cannot recall. Tying off your horse safely, after finding a small stream for it to drink from and for refilling your canteen. Because the nights were still cool, collecting dry wood, the bits of kindling, clearing a small pit, the spell to light the fire…
The spell to light the fire. The precise words and gestures are complete, the warm glow starting to consume the wood, before you realize their implications.
You know how to use magic.
Pieces of memory fall back into place. Magic can be learned by anyone. Almost everyone knows a spell or two, for lighting fires, or cleaning water, or healing small injuries. But greater spells are progressively more complex, requiring greater precision in the incantation, the gestures or runes to finish the spell. The greatest wizards spent their entire lives studying the subject, and the education necessary for more significant tasks is unavailable to most people. In part, by design. The emperor did not want his empire burned down by a million novice wizards trying to make fireballs.
The fire spell is simple, but you realize immediately that you know more than that. Spells of warding, of hiding, invisibility. You place a simple ward around your camp, to avoid unexpected interruptions, marking the circle and the closing rune with the exactness of long practice. You know spells of healing, great enough to restore a person after massive injuries… or sufficient to repair the aggravated cuts to the bottoms of your feet. You know a few spells for luring in creatures of the wild, and encouraging them to hold still long enough for your to take them down, and make them into your dinner.
And you know spells that can also mesmerize the minds of others. Spells that boil blood, that make an arrow fly true and sure and further than any bow could send it naturally. Spells that instantly sharpen a sword, that trip an opponent, that guard an ally against a hostile strike.
Judging from your knowledge of magic, you wonder if your stolen uniform is more appropriate than you know.
Your sleep is restless, disturbed only by your dreams.
The dreams themselves are disturbing enough. They echo some of the flashback you had earlier, but also reflect other lost memories…
You are standing in a small room, furnished with a thick red carpet and several deep, comfortable chairs. You are alone here, save for the presence of a tall man in a crimson, trimmed with silver, hands clasped behind his back. ”What I ask of you is a difficult thing. I require both your unfettered advice and your unquestioning obedience. Can you do that?”
You bow in your memory, arms held behind your back. ”My Emperor, I have trained for this all my life. I will honor the oath I made when I started on that path.”
“Good. There is much to be done. The mayor of Verinsaw is becoming a danger to the Empire…”
The dream slips, to the feel and smell of blood on your hands, pouring from a fountain…
It skips again, and again you speak with the emperor. This time, he wears mail over his crimson clothes, and some grey shows in his black hair. “My Emperor, you once said that I must give you my unfettered advice. I speak only the truth when I say that this course of action seems unwise, with uncertain consequences for your empire.”
“That’s enough,” he answers. “I know this is for the good of the Empire. I understand this better than I think you do, and I see what will happen. Now is the time for your obedience, and not your endless questions.”
“I honor my oath,” you say, and you bow again.
“My oath,” you say, now standing before a small crowd of others bearing arms, the younger emperor standing before you with his silver scepter. “My oath is to the Empire, may it last forever. I shall guide and brace it, and betray it, never. My oath is to my Emperor, may he rule long and well. I shall guide him truly, and follow into hell. My oath is to my people…”
Darkness. Fleeing into darkness, from the darkness. Fear, fear, the monster behind must be stopped, turning to see… darkness…
You wake with a start. The fire has faded out, and it is almost dawn. You cover the ashes and break your ward, leaving camp.
Once the sun is up, you notice a sign by the road. It reads, “Alederik, 150 mi; Urden, 15 mi”.
Alederik, you now remember, is the name of the capital of Ishkaev. At that distance, it will probably take you between one and two weeks to get there, depending on the weather and the condition of the road. You’re low on supplies, so stopping in the town of Urden along the way would be prudent.
Option 28: Don’t stop in Urden, and keep on to Alederik. Your memories speak to some urgency in your situation.
Option 29: Stop in Urden long enough to steal some supplies, and keep going.
Option 30: Try to do some work or legitimate trading for supplies in Urden… and try to get some information while you’re at it.