Deep in thought I spun the last bit of wine in my glass around before bringing it up to my lips. I set the glass down on the table and could not help but form a distorted smile across my face as I recounted the moments of my near-death experience and the days that followed.
I was so fixated by the peculiar face on the door jeering at us, along with all the gold, silver and bronze adorning it, that I didn’t even consider stepping back while Oswald was fiddling with the mouth. Time stopped as I heard the hiss of gas under pressure being released. I glanced over just in time to see a blast of brown gas billowing from the face’s maw. I only had time to close my eyes, as I felt the skin on my face burn. The pain was intense. Everything went dark. Then I heard screams followed by silence.
Suddenly, I awoke. Osric was hovering over me, calling to me, “Zephyros, wake up! You’re going to be alright. It’s not your time to meet the Maker!”
I was writhing, heaving due to the intense pain on my face. Darkness followed once again: the pain was too great to bear.
I woke up again to Osric completing a prayer over me. It was calm. We were outside now. I saw the grey sky beyond his head. His face could not hide his look of despair. “May the Maker have mercy on you, Zephyros,” he whispered. I reached up to feel my face only to be rewarded with the sensation of wax covering my skin. I felt a pit in my stomach like none that I had ever felt before.
“How bad?” I asked.
He replied, “My friend, you’re lucky to be alive. I’m sure the Maker has a purpose for this.”
I exclaimed, “What? A purpose for what?”
As I sat up, I saw Maurice staring at me, and he said, “We’ll find a way to remove the scars from your face, Zephyros. I promise we will.”
The reconfirmation of my greatest fear coming true was too great for me to take. “No! No! No! Stop it!” was all I could say as I scrambled to my feet, pushing Osric aside. I made it a few steps before crashing to my knees, holding my unfamiliar face in my hands as I sobbed.
Osric kneeled beside me, put his hand on my back, and whispered, “You have been through a lot today, my friend, and you will go through much more over the next few days. The Maker reveals Himself in mysterious ways, and I know you will discover His purpose in time.”
I went numb after that. I wanted to be alone. I pulled the hood of my cloak over my head and sat with my knees pulled close to my face.
My mind was a fog as the party insisted that I pilot them to Froxhall, as our navigator Taeting apparently had better things to do than follow us. Frankly, I’m surprised we even made it, as I was in no condition to lead us anywhere. My senses were dead; the only sensation to register was the empty pit in my stomach. I recall thinking, “This was all a bad dream that I would wake up from at any moment, right?” I don’t remember much else from that day aside from being led around by my companions and sitting in a boat on our way to Hewflore. It was mostly a blur save for one moment of clarity: when the pit in my stomach transformed to be replaced with rage.
I recall also that Maurice asked me to try to convince some guard into allowing us to meet with the local reeve in some dead-end town on our way to Hewflore. “Zephyros, try and talk some sense into this guy,” he whispered.
As soon as I made eye contact with this man I knew I had lost ‘it’, as normally folks were excited to see and talk with me.
Not this time. It was like he was looking at a corpse.
I don’t even remember what I said, but it didn’t matter as the conversation was over before it started. I’ll never forget the look of disdain on that man’s face. It made me angry, very angry. So angry, in fact, that I found myself starting to form the words of my spell of charming, but my conscience wouldn’t let me. My new purpose had not yet revealed itself to me. I cloaked my disfigured face, turned around, and walked back to the boat.
As we resumed our trip to Hewflore, I asked Osric, “Can you heal me completely when we reach Hewflore?”
Osric replied, “Zephyros, my friend, I have done all I can for you.”
I retorted back, “Surely there is a powerful cleric of the Maker that can make me look as I once did!”
And with that, Osric quietly said, “Zephyros, you know we do not have the resources for such a request, not to mention such prayers can take a great toll on you. I know you are in a dark place right now, my friend. We will get through this together, and I assure you that once you have come to terms with what has happened, you will go on to do great things, as the Maker intends for you. This is a blessing in disguise. You are close to solving His riddle, Zephyros. You will figure it out.”
I remember thinking, “This isn’t what I want to hear. Why was I so stupid to sit in front of such an obvious trap? Why didn’t I just die? Why is the Maker toying with me?” The questions soon ended and were replaced with depression, as I saw my new face in the reflection of the water as we arrived in Hewflore. “I’ve become a monster,” I thought to myself. I pulled my cloak close around my head to hide my gruesome visage as thoughts raced through my head. “Perfect! We’re in a town full of people ready to taunt and jeer at me. This is the last place I want to be. I don’t belong here. I need to be in some mage’s dungeon, luring poor adventurers to their deaths.”
The days passed as I elected to stay in the inn while the rest of the party attended to the business that brought us to Hewflore. I developed quite a taste for wine during that time. It gave me that sense of confidence that my charm once did, however temporal it that could be. Nevertheless, I was edging closer to accepting my fate. Perhaps the Maker knew this, or maybe it was my inner mind.
Anyway, that was how ‘it’ happened. I was sitting in the tavern, drinking my wine with my cloak pulled over my head and feeling sorry for myself when a burly local barged into the room. I glanced up to hear him yell at the barkeep, “The usual drink, at my usual table!” even as he strolled over to the table where I was sitting. “You’re in my spot,” he said.
I thought to myself, “The old Zephyros would have got up, apologized and moved on." But, the old Zephyros was nowhere to be found.
With a snort, the man continued, “Now, listen here, I don’t know who you think you are, but get the Hell out of my spot, or I’ll rearrange your face!”
I began to laugh, quietly at first and then louder as I stood up and pulled my hood out from around my face to reveal to him my ghastly countenance. I beamed, “It would appear that someone has already beaten you to it.” My gaze locked onto his, and I knew I had him: my terrible features combined with my gift of command was too much for his weak soul to withstand. “This is my table now. You will apologize to me, and you will buy everyone in this fine establishment a round.”
The man immediately prostrated himself on the floor, “Forgive me! Make yourself comfortable, my friend! I was only kidding! Barkeep, the next round is on me!” Making sure to keep facing me, he shuffled backwards to the bar and whimpered to the barkeep, “Get him whatever he wants! Put it on my tab!”
I nodded to him and winked at the barkeep. Needless to say, the burly gentleman didn’t stick around too long after that, but as I reflected back on the moment, I realized the wisdom of Osric’s words to me, “I’m sure the Maker has a purpose for this.” I thought to myself, “The purpose was clear now. The Mornlands’ oppressors aren’t going to succumb to diplomacy. No, as they do not value life or law, they must be coerced. This is why the Maker spared me and gave me a scar to remind me, as well as my enemies.”
After staring at my empty wine glass for some time, my recounting of my last few days was interrupted as Oswald walked through the door of the inn. I waved to greet him, “Oswald, I’m glad to see that you are well. Where are the others? We need to gather and make plans for returning to the Sunken City. We have much to accomplish there!”