Legend of Aesthene's Close (book)

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The Legend of Aesthene's Close

- Lorethew Brevanish Cander, Chronicler

When the ruins atop the Siergelde were not yet ruined, and the land surrounding The Crossing was yet fertile and abundant, an outlawed alchemist by the name of Aesthene came to settle within the new town which had sprung along the delta of the river Segoltha.

Rich, eccentric, and acutely asthmatic, Aesthene found the mild climate of The Crossing to his liking. His arrival in the fledgling town was announced by a massive caravan numbering 1,000 beasts of burden, 50 trackers and guides, 276 indentured servants (though where he found so many toothless laborers is still a mystery), 16 chickens, 26 musk hogs, 134 oxen and a puma named Al.

His first official 'residence' was Gaethrend's Court, where he took for himself an entire suite of rooms. As he settled in for the smooth Segolthan winter, his servants proceeded to build for him a magnificent mansion of grand halls, ornate cubiculums and snaking tunnels. One room, referred to by Aesthene as his 'travel' room, would run the entire length of the upper story of this magnificent residence, but to the builders' dismay, was required to have no windows and no exits. Aesthene would, he promised them, richly reward those workers who would hole them- selves up within this room and complete it, without any contact whatsoever with any of the other workers involved in the building process.

Though it took roughly sixteen months longer than planned, Aesthene's Close was finally ready for residence. Aesthene and his flock of followers arrived at the mansion's doors early one morning, and huddled around the gigantic archway which led from the dusty street to the incredibly lush gardens surrounding the mansion. There, Aesthene placed his blessing upon the home, put up a magical barrier to seal it from prying eyes, and announced he was to embark on a journey of epic proportions. Immediately. Everyone pack.

Befuddled, to say the least, his team of trackers and guides and his indentured servants hastily prepared to travel yet again into the wilds of the Northern Territory. As they packed and boxed, crated and sealed, Aesthene presented his gracious host Gaethrend with two very special potions, which for as long as were potent, would afford Gaethrend tremendous financial success. Aesthene, however, was an outlawed alchemist, and therefore, did things just a wee shy of perfection. As Gaethrend's Court flourished, his personal life fell to pieces -- but that is yet another story. Suffice it to say that once the gift of the potions was made, the bevy of travelers was on their way out the western gate of The Crossing.

No record of Aesthene's travels in that time have been documented, except for certain town records illustrating a massive search for several workers reported missing shortly after his departure. The next entry in the town journal thereafter was of Aesthene's return, nearly twenty years later, and described a tremendous haggling over land taxes due on his property. 'We know he built a massive residence,' the tax seer wrote, 'but we have yet to find it.' Beneath this is another entry: 'Aesthene Allevew paid 12 chickens and 4 oxen in past due land tax.'

Aesthene locked himself away in a far chamber on the second floor of his mansion, working feverishly through an entire summer on a project no other eyes would behold. Residents of the town, from time to time, reported strange glowing lights flashing from windows near the room, but other than this, nothing out of the ordinary seemed to occur -- until the night when, under cover of a moonless dark sky, Aesthene's servants hauled a massive iron crate into the front yard.

That same evening, so the story goes, residents in the surrounding area felt the utter chaos of Aesthene's presence. Bolts of lightning cut heatedly through an otherwise calm night, and a vaporous cloud undulated eerily above the mansion. Multi-colored streaks of essence crackled everywhere, darting around, through and in between every home on the street. A sound like that of rattling chains woke people in their beds, and the ground shook as if jostled by a massive quake, yet nothing was found out of place.

The next morning, curious onlookers found the massive iron crate opened and abandoned at the side of the street, probably waiting for the charity cart to roll by and remove it for recycling.

Nothing out of the ordinary occured again at Aesthene's Close, at least not for many, many years. Visitors came and went, Aesthene became well-known for his bizarre collection of striped pink donkeys and mooing chickens, and on occasion a streak of multi- colored lights could be seen pulsing about the street-facing archway. The townsfolk came to grudgingly accept their most eccentric neighbor, whose house never quite seemed to be where it should, and whose absolute worst compulsion was to drop handfuls of coins on the roads whenever he was angry.

Destiny, however, intervened in the quiet lifestyle of The Crossing. At dawn on a sleepy spring day, a tremendous rumbling quaked through its streets and upset its foundations, killing dozens and turning nearly a half of the town into rubble. A handful of crazed servants scrambled to vacate Aesthene's Close as it sank in ruins into the ground. Together with surviving victims of the quake, they watched the tortured remnant of the Close disappear as if it had never been.

Many, many years later, upon his deathbed, one of these servants finally confessed to the strange happenings of that sorry morning. Calling for me as chronicler of The Crossing, he related to me a succinct and bizarre tale, which I now set down for those of you willing to understand. Perhaps someday, the mystery of that morning will be solved, and all who remain alive will benefit from Aesthene and his adventure. But it is not my place to judge, it is only my place to relate to you what was told to me. Herewith, then, is the story told me:

'My conscious will be clear,' he prayed, 'if I tell thee of the events of that morn, which I have sworn upon my sword I would not tell another living soul what I had seen. Yet I see the goodness in those who have spent their lives in the rebuilding of this town, and their progress overcomes my loyalty to my late master Aesthene and all his works.

'It was I whom attended my master through that night with a most curious experiment,' he continued, 'in the cubiculum of the mirrors, and it involved a strange and wonderous crystal.

'Was Aesthene's habit to affect various experiments upon this crystal, which involved some sort of time travel. I, of course, cared little for such things, but Aesthene was obsessed with the notion of traveling between time and space through a gateway created by this object.

'Its power was awesome, and I daresay, unharnessable. It frightened me no end that Aesthene trusted only me to assist in his experiments. Night after night I sat and attended to Aesthene as he worked with that thing. He chanted, he cursed, he weaved dark signs in the air...and all it did was hang suspended there, glittering back at him in defiance.

'Until the night,' he said softly, 'that Aesthene called on the dark power in frustration, to show him the power of the crystal.

'That is when I first saw Aesthene disappear.

'I was frantic. I had no idea what to do. The cubiculum had no exits or windows, and without Aesthene's conjuring, I was trapped there. The crystal shook and hummed, feeding a dense prismatic light to the air. My hair stood on end, my skin crawled. And as I frantically clawed at the floor, it coughed and sputtered, and Aesthene reappeared!

'His face was on fire and his hair was streaked with white, but the look in his eyes was of burning coals and the smile on his face was remarkable. He told me he had been to a most curious locale, and kept chanting 'incredible, simply incredible!' without benefit of further information. Though it feared me greatly to stay with him I did so, for I had a family to support and, quite frankly, no way to get out of that room without Aesthene's permission.

'For many nights, he worked like this, disappearing and reappearing from who knows where. He made copious notes in his journal, in symbols and signs which made no sense to me. He would mutter to himself and cackle occasionally, he would rub his hands in a kind of sick glee. It was nearly too much to bear, except that Al, his pet puma, kept me company and we became friends.

'But come that awful, awful morning,' he shook his head sadly, 'and our lives were forever changed, were they not?' The servant sighed miserably as he recounted the events that led to the quake.

'We were, as usual, locked away in the cubiculum, Aesthene at his desk busily writing in his journal, Al resting disinterestedly in a corner of the room, myself huddled near Aesthene's chair awaiting his commands, and that awful, hateful crystal whirring and humming and flashing like mad.

'Aesthene turned to me, and for the first time in a long time, looked downright normal. 'Tonight I embark on my greatest adventure,' he smiled. 'You shall leave me now, but I will give you a vision of what happens here. Tell no one of what you see, except myself upon my return.'

'He placed me down upon the tiled floor of the room with the magic portal. From there, I was safe from the crystal, but in my mind I could see all that occured.

'From beneath his cloak, he pulled a blackened, twisted staff crowned with a gleaming emerald. Holding this aloft, he uttered a strange but impressive incantation. I cannot tell you how it went, for about halfway through it, Aesthene's eyes began to bulge, and I could see immediately he was in the midst of a full-blown asthma attack.

'Whatever was left unfinished in that incantation must have angered the power of the crystal, for it shuddered violently and tilted a little, and a thick bolt of lightning struck at Aesthene and swallowed him whole!

'The poor puma, Al, was the next to disappear. And quite inexplicably, the crystal went dark. That was all I saw before the visions died, and I was alone in the quiet darkness of the tiled room.

'For agonizing moments I pondered what could have happened, and hoped that wherever Aesthene went, someone could help him with his wheezing. Only when the wall behind me suddenly collapsed did I have any idea of what other things were happening at the moment I saw Aesthene disappear.

'When I had clawed my way from the safety of that magical room, everything around me was in ruin. Whole passages were blocked by rubble, rooms were gone, and people were screaming. I scrambled with those I found for the front door of the Close, and thankfully the gods spared us the fate of many of our fellow servants. But out in the streets of The Crossing, that same chaos continued to spread. Roads buckled and cracked, whole houses were torn asunder. Trees were uprooted, oxcarts were overturned, buildings were crumbling...it was absolute chaos.

'I have waited a lifetime for my master's return, and now, as I see my own slipping away, I felt it was my duty to pass on what I know. Perhaps someday, Aesthene will return. And he will want to know what happened that morn.

'Tell him, for me. And when you do, tell him also that I have heard reports of strange lights in the air surrounding the warehouse where his mansion once stood, and I myself have heard the strange, familiar hum of the crystal on clear summer nights. But most of all, please tell him to remember to drink his water warm to help the wheezing!'

Lorethew Brevanish Cander