By way of explanation
Malthus was tired. He had just returned from fighting in the strange
lands of Prehistoria, far to the east of Xantheus. He needed time to
allow his wounds to heal. He needed time to recover his magical energies.
He needed a drink.
Reaching into the burlap sack he carried, he withdrew
a bottle of cheap whiskey and removed the cork. After glancing around
to see that no one was watching, he took a healthy slug of the rough liquid,
grimacing as it burned its way through his insides.
Malthus recorked the bottle and replaced it in his sack. He had
learned the hard way that a little whiskey was enough. It was far more
potent than the delicate wines he had grown up drinking. Even after
one drink he was light-headed. No matter -- that was the condition he desired.
Before Malthus stretched out to sleep, he remembered to cast a spell of
invisibility about himself. It took him a moment, as he fumbled through the
words the first time. Invisibility was generally easy enough for him to
achieve, so he was a bit surprised that it took him two more attempts
to properly complete the casting. With the spell in place, he made himself
comfortable upon the floor and was soon dozing peacefully.
Malthus awoke several hours later to the sounds of conversation
in the room. It took him a moment to recognize the voices, but he soon
made out the melodious tones of Tirre and Magyana. The two were debating
some point of vampiric ethics with the room's other occupant, BloodWart.
Whereas the voices of Tirre and Magyana were soothing, the voice of the
half-troll was like the scraping of stones one upon the other.
Malthus quickly stood and walked across the room. None of the three took
note of him, so he took this as sign that none were utilizing enhanced vision
at the moment. That was one of the troubles with vampires -- when they
wanted to, they could see right through most weaker concealment spells.
Malthus longed for the days when he would be further along in his studies,
a time when he would feel able to defend himself against such creatures
should the need arise. Just standing in the room with them made him uneasy.
"At least," he thought, "There is a code of conduct that keeps me safe
from them." Although all three of the vampires had pledged themselves as
Deadly, Malthus had nothing to fear. As long as he kept away from that
path, none would be allowed to harm him. The code was very clear on this.
Deadlies could do whatever they wanted to one another, following certain
provisions concering stature, but they could do no harm to him or any
other non-Deadly. Malthus considered the path he had chosen upon
entering the lands of Arathnos and decided that he had chosen wisely. He
had no desire to kill another adventurer, and he certainly had no desire to
be killed by another. Let the Deadlies carry on with their affairs; he would
keep to himself.
Malthus made his way through Xantheus, leaving the sounds of the
vampires' discussion behind him. As he made his way east, he tried to shake
the irritating sound of BloodWart's voice out of his head. Something about it
just stuck with him, rattling around the inside of his head like the aftermath
of an avalanche.
He reached the east gate of Xantheus only to find it barred shut.
Malthus took a quick look at the sky and realized that it was still a
couple of hours before dawn, and the gate would not be opened for at least
another hour. He was frustrated at the thought of missed sleep. "Damned
arguing vampires," he thought. He considered forcing the guard to open
the gate but thought better of it. The man could have thrown Malthus about
like a toy without breaking a sweat.
"At least I can wait in comfort," he thought. He reached into his sack
and withdrew the whiskey. He knew that he really shouldn't have more until
thought, he quickly uncorked the bottle and downed a hefty mouthful.
The guard was no longer smiling at his discomfort. He was smiling at
Malthus' brilliance as an adventurer. Surely he musthave recognized the
mage. Who else meandered about Xantheus completely enshrouded in
a hooded blue robe, with naught but the point of his chin showing? As he
watched, the guard opened the gate for him. "That's more like it," he muttered.
"Nice to have a little respect."
As he walked away from Xantheus, Malthus could hear the guard
telling a townsperson about his encounter with the illustrious mage. Malthus
beamed. He didn't know what was so funny to them about his hiccups, though.
After a long walk, Malthus came to the lands of Prehistoria. Tribesmen
eyed him suspiciously as he wandered through their lands. "Don't mind
me," he thought. "I'm just here to fight a few of you for the chance to improve
my stature back in Xantheus. But one at a time."
He moved further into the lands, looking for a lone tribesman or some
other creature that wouldn't stand much of a chance against him.
A reptilian bird flew by overhead, screeching as it passed. Perfect.
Keeping one eye on the bird, Malthus prepared one of his combat spells.
He quickly wove his hands through the necessary motions and began to recite
the arcane words that would release the power he had summoned to him. It
took him a few moments to remember all of them and speak the proper syllables
in the proper order. He finished the last of them and waited. Nothing happened.
He had forgotten something. One key "something" had been left out, and he
couldn't remember what it was.
As he pondered, he was startled by the parting of the brush to his left. A
young woman of nondescript features emerged. Malthus knew her from
somewhere, but he couldn't remember exactly . . . the name . . .
of course . . . that was the missing bit . . . Taliesia.
Malthus sensed that something terribly wrong was about to happen
about a half-second before it did. In an instant that seemed to stretch too
long -- yet not long enough to allow him to stop -- Malthus' hands were
lifted by the powers he was releasing, and bright shards of color sprang
from them and slammed into Taliesia, wounding her terribly. She
responded almost instantly with an attack of her own, and Malthus
almost didn't get his own blade up in time to beat hers aside.
As he fought back, Malthus tried desperately to recite the words that
would recall him to the center of Xantheus. The confusion of the battle
and the slowness of his thoughts combined to keep him from properly
reciting the words on his first attempt. Meanwhile, he ducked and parried
and tried to keep his combat reflexes from pushing him to further injure
Taliesia. She was fighting under no such restrictions, and it was all Malthus
could do to avoid her blade as he tried to recite the words again.
This time it worked and, in a bright flash of light, Malthus was back in
Xantheus, standing before the figure of Mirza. He tried to collect his
thoughts, think of how he was going to explain his attack. Already,
he knew that his name and hers had been sullied. He paused for a
moment to let his mind drift and focus on the names of those actively
adventuring in the lands of Arathnos. Yes. Both names bore the mark of
Attacker, indicating one who has broken the code of conduct between
those Deadly and those non-Deadly.
"It wash a mistake," he began.
"Yeah, right," she almost shouted.
"No, really," he said. "Jusht calm down and I can eksplain."
Taliesia did not calm down, but she indicated with a flip of her hand
that Malthus should try to explain.
Malthus idly wondered whether the only thing keeping him alive
was the strictly enforced rule forbidding combat between adventurers within
the city limits of Xantheus. He decided he'd rather not know.
"When you arrived, I wash working on a spell," he said. "Somehow,
I got mixed up and w-wove your name into the cashting."
"Your voice is slurred," Taliesia observed.
"I don't know what you're talking about . . ."  Malthus' voice trailed off
as he stared at the floor.
"Okay," she said. "Say, you didn't mean to attack me. Why is it that
both of us have been branded Attackers?"
"Maybe becoss you returned my attack?" he suggested.
"I was defending myself!"
"I know," he said. "Still, the code ish very strict in theesh matters."
"I'll take it up with one of the immortals," Taliesia said.
Malthus sighed. Although recent events had led to the estrangement
of gods and adventurers, there was still sometimes a need to call
upon them. Malthus concentrated for a moment, and tried to ascertain the
presence of any of the immortal gods within Arathnos. There was one --
Taliesia called upon Daoushiinan and, after some convincing, he agreed
to review the matter. Taliesia's name was cleared, after she explained
what had happened and Malthus verified that it was his mistake that
had led to their fight.
As for Malthus, Daoushiinan made no clear decision. After a time, Malthus
asked what he should do, and the immortal suggested that perhaps he
could live with the mark for a time. Then the god vanished in a swirl of
light and color.
Taliesia soon left the lands, and Malthus was once again alone in the
center of Xantheus. He reached into his sack and withdrew the whiskey
again. The bottle was nearly empty. Enough was left for maybe one good
swallow. He considered dropping it and consuming it in the fires of a
sacrifice to the high immortal, Gareth. Of course, it was just the one
drink left. . . .
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