This was it.
One whole year in the making, and he was finally seeing the end of it.
One whole year after that little bounty slip up. He’d been cocky, had underestimated his target, got caught. His staff: smashed. An ebony shaft with a mithril head with rune-carved moon crescents, and dangles of pure silver. He loved that staff. And if it wasn’t for Nikki’s very opportune happenstance arrival at the camp, he would most likely be dead too. Again. And for good, this time.
Since then, he had been on the search for a new staff.
He thought about buying one, at first. But magical conduits built by another hand felt too… impersonal to him. Like wearing somebody else’s clothes. No, he wanted something he made. An extension of himself.
He remembered about the old scrolls pertaining to magical weapons at the Priory, and managed to bargain with his magister the right to make a copy of the one about the creation process of a mythical staff called “Nevermore”, made by some old mage whose name was lost to time –and Fiel’s indifference.
The process was long and frustrating, and the texts somewhat misleading. It was all part prose about the state of the world and the elements, part listing of vague ingredients — Fangs? Scales? Clovers??— and part self-grandifying poetry.
The recipe took him on a trip that lasted for months. From running from irritable jotuns in the Shiverpeaks, to splashing around in the mineral waters of the karka-riddled shores of Southsun Cove.
He carved several prototypes of the staff, each one unable to withstand the enchantment process, until he finally understood one cryptic rhyme of the magus’ scriptures: each attempt at creating a living weapon had imbued in them a shard of energy, a spirit of sort, and more than the carving technique or the materials employed, it was that spirit that needed to be refined.
So Fiel destroyed his failed attempts, extracted from them those spiritual slivers to imbue them into another staff, over, and over, until he finally managed to make the spell stick.
He had now a precursor to the fabled staff Nevermore, a vessel ready to collect one last ingredient to make it whole.
That part was the part Fiel was the most reluctant about.
He left his work table to walk to the potted tree near his bed. The old bird was up there, napping.
Eloise was probably the oldest bird he’d ever seen, and nothing short of a friend to him. She was his mentor’s pet long before he drunkenly stumbled his way into the Godslost Swamp. Well, not exactly a pet; more like an old wild animal who had gotten accustomed to the two norn’s presence in her swamp, and tolerated them coaxing her closer with bits of meat of dried fruits.
She was also the only memento Fiel had left of him, apart from his blade. After he left the lonely shack in the woods to whomever might need it and transferred all his belonging in the Gilded Hollow, he couldn’t bear leaving the old raven behind.
Getting her to travel with him was not quite the ordeal he thought it would be. Eloise was old. She didn’t have much fight in her anymore. Her plumage was getting dull, her wings heavy. She mostly napped all day and fed on the scraps Fiel would bring to her, watching over the rambunctious griffon below with a matronly glare.
With an arm that felt heavy as lead, the necromancer reached out to her and she slowly grasped his fingers with her blunt talons.
In the scroll, the mage detailed the process of collecting a raven’s egg, bathing it in all sorts of magical waters, raising the chick and essentially grooming it to become the weapon’s final piece.
Fiel had instead a raven that had been exposed to all sorts of magical emanations long before his teenage-self decided to become a necromancer. He felt she would be most suitable for the sacrifice.
The scrolls didn’t mention it that way, but deep down, he knew that’s what it was.
“Eloise…” he whispered softly, scratching her gently beneath her beak. “I want to use you to become my staff’s spirit…. do you understand? Do you… do you object?”
He had no idea if the bird could understand him. He stared intensely into her deep, dark eyes, hoping she would get his intent somehow, via some magical aura perhaps. She only stared back, letting out a weak caw.
Everything will be fine, Fiel thought. The scroll specifically says that the process does not kill the bird. It just… transmutes it, ties it body and soul to the wood. As long as the staff lives, the bird lives.
And with that thought he strengthened his resolve.
Through this, Eloise would live for centuries.
He stepped over to the circle he had previously prepared, the one that would enchant staff and bird, and combine them into one, and gently made Eloise perch on one of the staff’s decorative branch.
Raven, guide my hand.
The words were uttered, the runes glowed, the circle vibrated with power. Eloise remained, unperturbed. Maybe she was scared?
Fiel pushed those doubts away. It would work. It had to.
The spell was long. It wove ribbons of energy around him, through him, through the bird. It pierced them all and fused them all together, layer after layer. Sweat was rolling down the norn’s face. His arms was shaky from strain, his voice hoarse from the hours of reciting the spell.
Finally, the last verse, the last word, the last vowel, and the last flash.
Cyan stars erupted in Fiel’s eyes, forcing him to look away. When his vision focused, the staff was there, standing gloriously with a pale crown of light in its bough, three radiant fruits hanging from its branches, and for a long moment the norn could only stand there, mouth agape, basking into the beauty of his own creation.
But if the staff was there, Eloise was not.
Fiel’s heart plummeted from its glorious heights. It crashed upon the cold, gilded, uncaring metal floor at his feet.
He didn’t feel himself stepping closer to the fantastical artifact now brimming with power, but also now devoid of life.
He barely felt the tears swelling in his eyes.
Until a swoop of black feathers caused him to jump back.
A vibrant caw greeted him as Eloise, rejuvenated, landed amongst the carved branches. Her eyes were now glowing pools of light, two more tiny fruits suspended into the artificial limbs of the magical tree that was this staff. This Nevermore.
“Spirits… “ Fiel sighed, laughing the fear and the fatigue away. “Never again, do you hear? Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
He decided that his staff would not be called “Nevermore”. It didn’t follow the original crafting process to the letter anyway, and besides that name was already taken.
Instead, he opted to a simpler, more obvious one.