It was midnight in Zadash, long hours past sundown. Mist hung low off the cobbled roads, and the only source of light came from a handful of guarded torches winding through distant alleys and streets. A few clouds drifted slow across the moon and somewhere in the night, a single raven gently shook its feathers.
In the candlelit interior of his own inn room, Caleb Widogast briefly set down his notebook. His hair was unkempt as always and his coat sat folded next to him, neatly on the bed. He had a rumpled quill between his fingers, and sported a thin smudge of ink at the corner of his mouth from where he would chew at the nib in frustration.
His gaze was glued to a peculiar cannonball-sized object resting on the covers before him. Its twelve-sided form glowed softly in the darkness, and every once in a while, he would see a tiny grey spark break from its surface, then vanish from reality. It undulated faintly with a strange and unknowable energy, and despite his best efforts, he still had barely any idea what it meant.
He glanced back down at his sparse notes. Over the course of the last few hours, he had only managed to rewrite what he already knew: this beacon was connected somehow to the Krynn, had presumably originated in Xhorhas, held some sort of sway over fate and all chance. Caleb himself had felt its power course through his veins a number of times now, and while its influence was immeasurable and its possibilities endless, there was something off-putting about accepting the gifts of an artifact so alien and strange.
He scratched his chin, and tapped the pages once more. Then he looked back up to run a few more tests, and saw.
He instantly lunged out, snatched the beacon into his arms, threw himself up off the bed and set both hands aflame.
And then he hesitated, because the intruder hadn’t even moved.
Sitting on the mattress of his simple low bed, leaning back and posture calm, was a strange young man in dark leather armor. His skin was so pale as to almost glow, and he had a thick cloak of midnight feathers draped across his shoulders. His long black hair was tied up behind his head, and upon further inspection, Caleb could see that the man’s ears were slightly pointed—the tell-tale sign of elven heritage.
He was also tossing a dagger into the air, watching it spiral a moment before catching it lazily. Even more worrying, was the broad smirk across his face. The way his eyes glinted with mischief in the moonlight.
Caleb made his fire burn brighter. To his disappointment, the man’s grin only widened.
“Easy there, friend. I’m not here for a fight.”
Caleb raised an eyebrow. His flames crackled on. “You broke into my room,” he said slowly. “You are armed.”
The young man flipped his dagger up one more time, winked grandly, and in mid-air, the weapon vanished into a thin wisp of shadow.
“Is that better?”
Caleb stared. He took a small step back.
“Somehow, that is worse.”
The young man sighed. “Look,” he said, and raised his palms in a calming gesture, “look, I really am not here to fight you. If I wanted to, y’know, fuck your shit up, I would’ve done it while you were busy with your pretty little ball. I mean, I got in here without you noticing, yes?”
Very guardedly, very gradually, Caleb nodded his head.
“Exactly,” the man said. “So, please, won’t you sit down? I just wanted to talk. You can even hold onto the beacon, if you’d like, though I imagine you’d rather put it back into its box, so no one can find it while we’re having our little conversation.”
A thousand more questions swam through Caleb’s mind. He gingerly retrieved the lead safe from under the bed and dropped the beacon inside. He leaned over, and put his book and inkwell onto the nightstand.
Then he sat down.
“There we go,” the stranger beamed. “Isn’t that better?”
“I am not so certain, yet,” he muttered. “That depends on who you are, and what you wish to speak of.”
The half-elf threw his hands into the air. “Right, right!” he said. “Of course you’d want an introduction. You can, er, you can call me ‘Vax.’”
“Er…ja, okay, I am Caleb Widogast. Though I somehow feel you may know that already.”
Vax grinned. “Too true, Mister Widogast. I know quite a bit about you. And one of those things, if my hunch is correct, is that you and your gang of friends have been messing with something you aren’t supposed to.”
Caleb raised an eyebrow. “Such as…?”
“Come on, come on,” Vax sighed. “I need you to work with me here. Isn’t it obvious?”
“Ja, well, if I am being honest, we have messed with many things over the years, and I am fairy certain a large majority of them were supposed to be off-limits.”
Vax chuckled at that. “Okay, fair.” He pointed at the ground. “I’m talking specifically about that fancy little dodecahedron. The Beacon. And what it represents.”
“What it represents?” Caleb echoed. “You mean Xhorhas?”
Vax sighed again. “No, Mister Widogast. What I represent. Or, should I say, who I represent: Fate, and the goddess of.”
Caleb stared at him. He opened his mouth. He closed it. He opened it again.
“You are a follower of the Raven Queen?”
The corners of Vax’s lips quirked upwards. “Sure,” he nodded. “Let’s go with that. She’s, er, she’s sent me on a bit of an errand, different than my usual duties, to poke into you lot. The long version’s a bit more complicated than that, but mostly I’m just here to ask questions.”
Caleb’s gaze was steady, firm. “And if…you do not like the answers?”
“Your goddess is also the patron of death,” he murmured. “Will you kill me?”
Vax blinked. For a long, long silence, Caleb got the impression that he was trying not to laugh.
Eventually, the half-elf shook his head and offered up a wry smile. “Death doesn’t kill people,” he said gently. “She doesn’t need to.”
“You know, you really make me anxious when you answer my questions that way.”
Vax’s grin widened. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve held a proper conversation.”
Before Caleb could comment on that, the man waved a hand around and gestured towards the lead box. “So what exactly are your intentions with that, anyways? Feel free to lie at first, if it makes you feel better, but I’ve got all the time in the world.”
Caleb remembered a shadow where there hadn’t been one before. He remembered a dagger than turned into smoke. He could feel, though he wasn’t entirely sure how, a tremendous amount of unknowable energy swirling throughout his bedroom.
He swallowed. He shrugged.
“If I am being entirely honest, Herr Vax, the truth is that we have no intentions. We stumbled across this object mostly by accident, and we have been carrying it around in a sparkly pink haversack ever since.”
There was a beat of silence.
“You had it in lead, though,” Vax said, slightly reproachfully. “You knew people were going to be looking for it. Took me bloody months to get a proper pin on you lot.”
“I get the feeling that you aren’t really sorry.”
Caleb couldn’t help but grin at that. “No, not really,” he said. “Can you blame me?”
Vax chuckled. “No, I can’t. But why keep it?” he asked. “If you say you didn’t want it in the first place, why hang on to something so dangerous?”
Caleb considered this, and then sighed. “We did not want it falling into the wrong hands. And I am not saying we are the right hands, but…we know where this object came from. And it…it was a point of heavy contention between our Empire and the…the neighboring one.”
“Your empire,” Vax noted. “But you didn’t give it to them?”
“Oh, no way,” Caleb said. “They are not trustworthy. Who knows what they could do with something this powerful?”
“And what do you want to do, with something this powerful?”
Caleb glanced at the box on the bedsheets before him.
“We are going to keep it safe.”
Vax shook his head, leaned in. “You misunderstand me. What do you want to do with it?”
Caleb’s eyebrows went up. “Me?” he asked. “Me?”
“Yes, you, like I’ve said, I’ve done my homework. I know a fair bit about who you are, and who you used to be.” Vax sat back and crossed his arms. “Tell me, Caleb Widogast, why are you keeping the Beacon?”
Caleb restrained himself from answering immediately. Then he sighed inwardly and shrugged.
“I want to change the past,” he said. “I want to shift reality back into a direction that it never took.”
Caleb glanced up. He met a pair of calm, steady eyes.
“Have you never felt regret, o Follower of the Raven Queen?”
Vax’s eyes glimmered in the candlelight. “More times than you can count,” he chuckled softly. “But I will say this: I never once thought about going back on fate.”
Caleb shrugged. “Then you are thinking too small.”
“Perhaps. But what makes you think you can do it?” Vax narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think that you’ll succeed, where nobody else has? What makes you think you’ve got even the slightest possibility of getting what you want?”
There was a second of silence, punctuated by the distant plodding footsteps of a night watchman far below.
“Will you kill me, tonight?” Caleb asked.
Vax shook his head.
“Then I still have a chance.”
The half-elf’s stare cracked, and a smile crept forward. “You’ve got balls, I’ll tell you that.”
“Thank you for reminding me.”
Vax rolled his eyes, and thrust a finger under Caleb’s nose. “I’m not going to kill you, that’s for certain,” he said. “And as far as we know, which is pretty damn much, you haven’t broken any laws regarding life and death. Your meddling with destiny hasn’t led you anywhere too dangerous yet, and it certainly isn’t worth staining my daggers. For now.”
He waved his finger around a little too sarcastically to be menacing. “I am here to give you a warning, though. It’s easy to get sucked into regret. If you aren’t careful, you’ll find your life slipping through your fingers faster than you can bring it back. We all die eventually, Mister Widogast, and we’ve got to use every second that we have.”
There was a beat of silence.
“What comes after this? After life, what is next?”
The half-elf gave him a very faint smile.
“I told you already,” he said. “I’m not here to kill you, tonight. In fact,” he added, standing up and stretching his arms, “I should probably head out now. I’ve got things to see and people to do, you know how it is.”
“I do not think that is how the saying goes.”
Vax grinned. “I like to improvise. I imagine you and your friends understand that, pretty well.”
“We think on our feet,” Caleb admitted with a shrug.
Vax grinned, nodded his head enthusiastically. “Good!” he declared. “That’s the right way to be. And this part isn’t really a message from my Lady, or anything like that, but…do me a favor, alright? Don’t worry about changing what’s already happened. Focus on keeping what you have now.”
“Your friends,” Vax said. “Hold them close. They’re the best kind of family you can have.”
Caleb’s gaze fell to the ground, and Vax chuckled softly. “Just think on it,” he said. “For me.”
And then, as Vax crossed the room, as he walked over to the window and reached a hand outside and pressed his foot to the sill and prepared to leap through the night, he paused.
He looked back.
“This is going to sound a little odd,” he said slowly, tone much less serious than it had been so far, “but…there is something very familiar about you.”
Caleb shrugged. “I am no stranger to death.”
Vax threw his head back and laughed. “Good answer, slick. Nobody is.”
And then he nodded one last time to the wizard wrapped in moonlight, turned back around and slid his shoulders past the frame, kicked up off the hardwood floors, and was gone.
A rush of feathers blew through the room and vanished just as quickly as they’d come. Caleb couldn’t help but rise from the bed, hurry over to the window, stick his face into the cool night air and scan the starry horizon for any sign of where his visitor had gone.
Nothing. Not even a shadow over the moon.
Eventually, he sank back into his mattress. He stared at the lead box. He brushed his fingers to the lid, considered opening it again and taking one last look.
And from somewhere in the night, somewhere high above the city, over moon-swept rooftops and the distant, shimmering sky, a raven called out to the breeze.
And flew home.