He had been called, and so he came.
Farrin knew something was wrong. Fiel had never, not once in his life, asked for his help. Not in that manner.
His letter was vague. Brisk. More like a telegram. “Please come,” it said. So he hurried.
When the skaald reached his son’s nest he found him sitting on the floor, his head resting against his griffon like a pillow. The covers of his bed had been pulled to the ground over the plush rug and they both laid there, in a cocoon of blankets, sheets and cushions.
Farrin frowned. His son had never been the picture of sharpness in his presentation. Like his mother, he focused on the practical aspect of things before their aesthetics. Still, at least he shaved, combed that curly mop he called hair every now and then, and bathed often. But that man in front of him was… unkempt.
A pair of tired, bloodshot eyes turned to him from under a curtain of greasy matted hair. Fiel, was filthy. Laying in a pile of trash and comfy things. He reeked of sweat and booze, and was beginning the growth of a beard the Farrin might had called decent if the man growing it was not an assault on the senses.
A painful image for the bard. One that reminded him of that time, about ten years prior, when his son came home from the bitter North. Alone.
Farrin pulled up a chair and sat down silently, waiting for his son to talk. Fiel straightened up, slowly, like he had been in that position for way too long and was all cramped up –because he probably had, and was.
“Father….” he croaked softly. He sounded miserable, and that made his father miserable in turn. “I don’t… know how to grieve.”
Farrin silently nodded, the corner of his lips twisting into the pained parody of a smile. He suspected something like this might have happened.
“Who did you lose, son?” he asked.
Fiel willed the reply out of his lips with some difficulty. He held on to the words like a sick man afraid to lose his lunch. “My mentor.”
Farrin didn’t know much about Aabel. In fact, he only learned about the man only fairly recently, after he and his son finally reunited after long years of oppressive silence. He only knew that he took care of Fiel during that time. The skaald reached out to place a warm, comforting hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Tell me what happened.”
And so Fiel did. He recounted how, when scouting the Shiverpeaks for more clues about the frequent rifts and extraplanar tears that were appearing across the world, one of them suddenly opened in the snow in front of him. A small one, barely a window. A crackling hole that filled the area with the smell of ozone and petrichor. And there, he saw him.
Aabel. The norn that had rescued him, taught him, and indirectly gave his life a new purpose.
He could see barely more than his head through the gate. That, and the insane maelstrom of purple energy Fiel and most of Tyria knew all too well by now.
Aabel was standing on a crumbling landscape, his body relaxed and his features strangely at peace as everything around him slowly dissipated into the chaos behind him. The necromancer could feel the air around him being sucked in, rushing like water into the maw of a gargantuan fish.
Fiel had called his name, tried to run to him, to jump into the pinprick hole and join him. But the old norn raised his hand, and a force stopped him, pushed him back. He saw him as Aabel soundlessly chuckled, shaking his head no. He looked a little sad then. He never looked sad.
Then the roar came. So powerful, it shook the snow off all the nearby trees. Fiel sunk to his knees then, hands clutching his ears. It was so loud he couldn’t even hear himself scream. Aabel stood there, watching him silently, before closing his eyes. And that was when the portal vanished.
Fiel knew then that his mentor had been consumed.
He told his father how powerless he had felt. Just as powerless as when he had been with his cousins the day they died. As powerless as when Kendrall had him in his grasp.
He told him what he had realized then: he had not moved on. He had not healed.
“Father…” he said through tears and a cracked voice. “How do you grieve? How do you get over this? How did you and Mother got over this? This pain, this…”
Guilt. He couldn’t say the word.
Farrin could only shake his head and sigh dolefully. “We barely did, son. We had each other. But even then, only a miracle held us together. We were surrounded by friends, family. Later on, we took on a common goal: fighting with the Vigil. It gave us purpose, a distraction. And some sense of revenge.”
“But I have goals! I have a purpose! I–” Fiel looked around him. He was in a temple of gold, surrounded by waterfalls, rainbow-colored flowers, precious gems, books and artifacts. Trophies. Statues. Collections and symbols of all he had done, places he had been. His accomplishments. And yet. And yet, why did they not bring any comfort?
“Why can’t I feel peace? Kendrall is dead. The pact destroyed the minion of Jormag that killed my cousins. My mentor taught me that pain, and loss, is only temporary. And I believe it, I do, in my heart and soul. So why can’t I…?” His head sank in his hands. It was too much.
The never ending rumble of the waterfalls filled the silence between them for a while.
“I don’t know, son. I simply don’t.” Fiel turned to him eyes filled with sorrow and despair. Never before had he seen his son like this. “But… maybe we could do something.”
* * *
First, they went to Frostgorge Sound. To the place Fiel had avoided time and time again.
The landscape had changed a little since, but not by much. He could still recognize the trees, the sharp profiles of certain clifftops, glistening like teeth under the sunlight.
He knew that the dragon minion had been destroyed since, and that the Svanirs had retreated while their master was dormant. Still, the memories…
They were oppressing him. Making him wanting to turn around and run. The difference was, now, his father was at his side, his hand on his shoulder, and his strong, comforting voice in his ear.
“Is this where it happened?” His son nodded yes. Farrin took a moment to take in the vista that surrounded them, the vast immaculate majesty that their ancestors had once trod. Despite everything, the place was beautiful. “Such a peaceful place.”
The skaald then knelt down in the thick snow, and his son joined him, kneeling in front of him.
The norn were a culturally boastful people. They were loud and joyful at parties, at war, and even at funerals. But sometimes, there were occasions that called for quiet reverence.
They did not have anything specific prepared. No rites or prayers they were willing to uphold. Farrin simply placed a lantern between the two of them, pulled out his lute, and started playing. It was a song Fiel was surprised to realize he had not heard in years, and he instantly knew why: it was one of his cousin’s favorite.
How long has it been since his father sang those melodies?
Time trickled away as the notes were carried off in the frigid breeze, to be scattered in the great, white expense. Yet, they did not feel lost. Not to Fiel. Somehow, they stuck. And they felt as warm as the flame dancing between them.
Then the music died out, and Farrin spoke.
“I remember… when Erland was a young tyke –you were not born yet– he kept asking: ‘Uncle Farrin, sing me the song about the norn and the giant fish!’, and so I did, and he always said in the end: ‘When I grow up, I’ll catch a fish even bigger than that, and then you’ll have to write a song about me!’” He chuckled. “Turned out, he never loved fishing. Or fish, for that matter.”
A silence heavy with bittersweet sorrow fell over them. Fiel knew what his father expected of him. He knew the purpose of it, and saw the wisdom in the act. But it didn’t make it any easier.
“I.. remember…” his voice was weak. “Arnlaug. He…” he almost choked saying the name. “When we were younger. He tricked me into stealing smoked meat from the neighbors. Their wolf nearly ate my face off.” He smirked. “I tricked him into sticking his hand in a tree stump that had bees in it the next day.” Arnlaug. That little prick. The memory of him felt like a sad embrace.
They remained like this for a long while, exchanging stories, laughing fondly, weeping silently. When they were out of stories to tell, Farrin placed his hands over the snow.
“We will miss you, Arnlaug, Erland, Geirholf…” he said softly, brushing the powder as if he was stroking the back of a giant, white beast. “You are gone, but not forgotten.” And as if to emphasize his words, Eloise, the magical raven perched on Fiel’s staff, let out an echoing crow.
And that was it. They stood up, shook the snow off their legs, and went on to the next step of their journey.
Fiel’s thoughts were dark. His heart felt heavy in his chest. And yet, as they walked away, it was not quite as heavy as it was before.
* * *
Then, they went to a cave. The trip was short, and they arrived before nightfall.
The cavern was how Fiel had left it the last time he went there with Ironwood. Cold. Silent, like a grave.
And it was. As Farrin and his son entered, the butchered corpses of the dead Svanirs, preserved by the cold, were somehow still there, undisturbed. A thin layer of ice and snow were covering them, but the necromancer recognized them for what they were.
Fiel stopped, hesitating.
Farrin came to him, putting both his hands on his shoulders, squeezing a little.
“You have been running for too long. It is now time for you to stop, and face the things chasing you.” He released him then. “But I will not force you to do it. You must make this decision on your own.”
Fiel turned his head towards the dark, icy confines of the cave. He knew what he would find in there. So why was he so afraid?
The cavern still felt like the gaping throat of a dead monster, and each step pushing further through its twisting bowels of ice and stone were still as agonizing as the first time he had trod there. Farrin held his lantern high and the light danced over the smooth walls, making them look glistening and wet, only accentuating the oppressive illusion.
Finally, they found it: the place of the final battle. Fiel could still see the broken bones scattered on the floor –his former minions, the scorch marks on the walls and ground, now preserved by a varnish of ice… and the body.
The headless corpse of Willhem S. Kendrall was still slumped against the cold wall on top of the raised platform, encased in icy diamonds like the enchanted princess of that one fairy tale. But instead of a circlet of emeralds, rubies were crowning the spot where his head had been last, and in the middle, instead of a priceless sapphire, one single jewel of iron.
The pirate’s shot was still in there, buried into the stone, coated in a coward’s blood. Fiel gazed into the wound it had made in the earth. He stared at it, refusing to look down, to turn his eyes to something else. It had dug deep, the spiderweb fissures sprawling out of it forming a strange crimson iris, and the bullet, a cruel pupil. A dead eye, forever unblinking.
Had it been waiting for him? For his return? A dark vigil over the forsaken dead?
“Is that him?”
Fiel shuddered, sucking air briskly through his teeth. He pried his eyes off his dark fantasy and turned to his father. He was looking down at the human corpse, the coldness in eyes rivaling with the coldness of the place.
“Yes…” his son gasped. “This is him.”
Another silent nod. Farrin gave his son the lantern, pulled out his knife and dug the body out of its prison. To Fiel’s surprise, Eloise actually flew off his shoulder, and, as if she was privy to Farrin’s intent, helped him chip off the ice with her mighty beak. “Good bird”, he heard his father mutter.
There was no respect or gentleness in the way he pried it off wall and pushed it down, peeling it away with the same sickening crunch one would get while pulling apart the shell of a giant Risen crustacean.
“Put the lantern down, son,” Farrin said as he poured a bag of rock salt over the body –the fact that he even thought about bringing some in the first place despite never having been there before amazed Fiel– to melt the ice off while he set up a small metal container over the lamp and dumped a few sticky black blobs in it. Pitch.
Some time later the body was fairly defrosted and the black tar was beginning to bubble. Farrin quickly pulled it out of the fire by using a pair of old bones as tongs and poured it unceremoniously over the remains of the former magister. He scooped some pitch with the tip of a bone and stuck it in the lantern to set it ablaze.
The skaald stood over the corpse, holding the lit bone over it as if to propose a toast.
“You hurt my boy. I have no kind words for you. Wherever you are, I hope you burn.”
Then he dropped the fuse. The body didn’t catch on fire as dramatically as Fiel would have imagined, but it did catch. And it did burn. Father and son stood side by side in silence as the corpse of the elementalist was consumed by his most favorite element.
Was this all really necessary? No. It wouldn’t undo what had been done to him. And the mage was dead already. He already had his revenge.
And yet. Watching what was left of the human waste at their feet burn away, hearing his disgusting remains sizzle and smelling the horrid stench of him fill the belly of the cave… somehow, it did something.
It was so very fucked up. But watching him burn… it felt like it helped. Like cauterizing a wound. Painful. Horrible. Disgusting. Yet, relieving, once the deed was done. It was as if the memory of that isolated room, of the pain he had felt there, was slowly turning to ash, along with the dead flesh at his feet.
And maybe Farrin knew that. Maybe that’s why he insisted on coming here.
Maybe he did it for himself, too.
* * *
The last trip brought them to Gendarran Fields, past the Beetletun farmlands and past the monastery.
Fiel knew the way. He still remembered the shortcuts, the less traveled dirt paths that allowed them to keep their feet dry. Mostly dry. There was no avoiding a fair bit of muck on your shoes when you traveled to the heart of the Godslost swamp.
The necromancer was… apprehensive. He didn’t know what he would find. He had abandoned the place several years prior and never went back, leaving the shack open for those who might need it. But Farrin insisted, saying he needed to go back, and Fiel agreed. Unlike the other two places they went to before that, the lost cabin in the middle of the lost swamp held good memories, at least.
There was a slap and a grunt, and Fiel glanced back. His father had removed his long, fur-lined white coat and shirt and tucked them under his arm, which, of course, attracted all the thirsty bugs of the marsh to him. He was turning a bit rosy in this warmer climate –though Fiel was certain some of the blushing patches on his skin were due to mosquito bites.
“Bones and ash!” he older norn spat, wiping another squashed insect on his pants, “how do you stand those… those little monsters!!”
“By not exposing your skin, for one.”
“Son, don’t be smart with me. It’s hot and those bugs are as big as my hand. Their little…” –he made jabbing motions with is finger– “things would stab right through the leather anyway.”
Fiel shrugged. “They are attracted to the smell of your sweat. Put your shirt back on.” Of course, what he had neglected to mention was that during the years of apprenticeship he had spent there, he had learned of a simple spell that repelled blood-sucking critters, and had been taking care of sewing it in each of his outfit since.
“Anyway,” he added, “you won’t have to suffer for long. We arrived.”
There it stood, in all its bleak, mossy glory: a wooden shack, a hut built on stilts, barely big enough for two norn, nestled in the center of the tall, shattered fragments of a lone hill. There was no ravens to be seen, not anymore. Except for Eloise, of course, whom upon reaching the place flew off Fiel’s staff to go perch on her old, usual spot: a dry root jutting out of a muddy hillside.
A wave of conflicting emotions washed over the necromancer. Being back there… it only reminded him of that time in the Shiverpeaks. The portal, the vision, the roar… and the loss. But also…
Nostalgia. Looking at the boardwalk landing leading to the shack’s porch, it reminded him of his time there. He could see himself, kneeling on the planks, trying to remain immobile and meditate as clouds of insects assaulted him, while Aabel was silently sitting in his rocking chair, smirking and smoking his pipe. He knelt there, twitching and wincing, until his mentor reminded him that, while he asked him to stay there and meditate, he did not tell him to not use his acquired skills to protect himself against the mosquitoes, effectively making Fiel feel like an idiot.
He actually smiled at that memory. A short lived smile.
They reached the door and Farrin waited for his son to open it. It was closed, but not locked –a hardy push would force it open– yet Fiel was curious: there had been several layers of spells and charms protecting the shack against the ghosts, demons, and aggressive wildlife of the area, and without someone to renew them, some might have lost their power.
He pulled out a piece of bone out of his pocket. It was the broken rib of a skelk, inscribed with runes, and tied to a long leather cord. He used to wear that thing around his neck, up until he relocated to the Priory. He knocked on the wooden door twice with it, and it slowly creaked open on its own.
“Oh… so that still works.” He felt… happy about it.
The inside was exactly how Fiel had left it. The bed, the desk, the shelves, and anything that would have been too cumbersome for him to drag along were still there, undisturbed, with only a thin layer of dust to bear witness to the passage of time.
The necromancer stood at the entrance for a moment.
He could see the bloody man he had dragged from the shores outside of Lion’s Arch in that old bed. See the mangled hand, the bandages, the blood stains on the floor. See the ghost of him pacing back and forth in the claustrophobic space, dejectedly staring at the stump on his left arm, spitting abuses at him every now and then. He could see the fledgling griffon, no bigger than a housecat, crawling on that desk, chasing after ink bottles and stray bits of parchments. He could see the old norn in that corner, staring in the fire, his eyes glazed over in a mysterious trance.
Fiel jumped. For a moment he had forgotten.
“I’m alright,” he said as he stepped in.
They settled in, sweeping the place, dusting off the furniture, putting wood in the chimney, Fiel instantly slipping back into his old habits. Bar the bareness of the place, it was as if he had never left.
The night rolled in, a quiet night filled by the distant melodies of the swamp critters, the same chorus of chirps and croaks that had lulled Fiel to sleep for many years. He had missed this. He didn’t realize just how much until he was back.
Farrin was sitting on the bed. He had waited for his son to recover his marks, and now that they were quietly enjoying the warmth of the crackling fire, he spoke up:
“Tell me about him, son.”
It was not as difficult as he would have expected. Fiel told his father about the type of man Aabel was, his methods, his no-nonsense attitude. The clash of characters that they would have, at times. How Fiel would shout and argue with him at times before running off, only to come back a couple days later, when they would continue their argument on a much calm and collected tone. How he had kept him grounded, stirred him through the turmoils of his grief, gave him something to focus on. Aabel was not a perfect man, he had his own –sometimes infuriating– habits and opinions, but he was never selfish or cruel to him, always trying to better himself and his craft. He recounted the last times he ever saw his master.
“And that’s when he gave me this.” Fiel raised his hand and in it, a swirling drop of shadow grew, expanding upwards and solidifying into the shape of a jagged sword. The entire weapon was of a dark grey hue and was taller than its wielder. It looked as if it had been forged from one solid slab of iron, blade, hilt and all. The edges looked dull, but felt much sharper than they seemed: a magic weapon.
“Before he… left. He told me he wanted me to have this. Told me to train with it, to attune to it, to ‘wake its potential’.” The norn traced the rough texture of the flat of its blade with his fingers. It felt as heavy and unwieldy as it always had in his hand. “He never told me how to do it. Or what he intended to do. He only ever told me that his journey wasn’t done, that he only stayed so he could teach me all he knew…” Fiel frowned. He squeezed his fist and the greatsword melted in a cloud of shadows that drifted to the floor before disappearing. “I didn’t know what he meant until he just… disappeared. I woke up early one morning only to catch a glimpse of him stepping into a portal he had created. And a note, saying he left me the shack and everything in it. That’s it. Not even a goodbye.”
He could feel the anger in him rising. He had never quite forgiven his mentor for his lack of tact.
“Maybe he was not very good with goodbyes,” Farrin commented. He had been listening quietly up to that point. His son huffed, ready to make a snarky remark, but his father added: “And neither are you.”
This rendered Fiel speechless. The look in his father’s eyes was less accusatory and more rhetorical.
He had been rather tactless on that front as well, hadn’t he? When his cousins died and he fled West to Kryta, he had done so without warning, preparations… or goodbyes. He had left without a word.
He knew it. He knew his parents must have felt about it how he had felt the day his mentor went away. And he knew he was feeling guilty about this still.
“It’s alright.” His father stood up and gave him an affectionate slap on the arm. “You’re an ass, son. But you’re still a good man. This, I believe.”
The mood turned somber as he kept talking.
“Fiel.. what is done, is done. I believe that when you saw him, that day in the Shiverpeaks, he was trying to reach out to you to say goodbye.” Fiel did not say anything. He believed it too. “We can’t do much about it, except maybe, let you say goodbye.” The necromancer looked at him, puzzled. “Not just to him. But to yourself. To that part in you still tied to him, to this place. I am not telling you to forget him, am I telling you to allow yourself to move on.”
Fiel turned his gaze to the walls of the shack. Memories oozed from them. Some good, some bad. He didn’t want to let go of any of them.
But his father was right.
His mentor’s teaching would still remain with him for how long as he would live. His memory, too. But in the end, Fiel’s life was his own, and he had to carry on no matter what.
“I will try.”
The next morning Farrin woke up to find his son outside, standing in front of a mirror he had placed against a wall. When he came back in, Fiel’s head was completely shaven, and he was holding a mass of curly dark strands in his hand.
Farrin solemnly nodded, and went to revitalize the dying fire in the chimney.
No words were uttered when Fiel tossed his cut hair into the flames, or when he took one last long tour of the hut, placing his hand on every plank, every low-hanging rafter, every bent nail and memory-charged stain and brick of the place in a silent goodbye. He then took the broken bone, the magical key to the door, and hanged it next to the entrance.
When they left, Farrin lagged behind. He waited until his son was farther away to turn and whisper “thank you for saving my son” to the shack, the shadows, the imprint of the man that had lived here.
The road was long, the future uncertain. Only one thing was clear: life goes on, so so should they.