The Mural on the Wall
A Difficult Lesson
“No and No,” Phyxdoral sneered at his brther’s mangled chanting. “Even Z’larrhim’s slave Hukar would’ve stumbled upon it by now. Would I had him for an apprentice.”
“It’s not too late,” Yrd returned, having failed another attempt, “While you’re at it, perhaps you can stop him from shitting on the floor.” Yrd tensed and gritted his teeth in preperation. Tendrils of cold lanced through his arms and abdomen, doubling him over in pain as his chair turned a pale blue.
“Heat?” Phyxdoral lazily inquired from across the study. He’d spent two hours starring at some moldering tome and hadn’t bother to lift his gaze.
“Aren’t you lucky,” the older drow sighed. He was loosing the bet.
Vl’esth Deour (Eager Pupil) had been Phyxdoral’s most entertaining creation before the mage had grown tired of it. Taking a break from crafting wands for Noquare’s First Boy and Archmage Szor’talleon, Phyxdoral had fashioned the chair as a scholastic aid. Carved of a single piece of dull gray stone, it stood undecorated; yet a single command glued flesh against its surface, while another command would send random sensations into into the bound subject. Loud, sharp, shock, tear, cut, cold, or fear. The two wagered which effect Yrd would be subjected to most; the younger drow was up 3:1 against his brother’s heat. Though excruciating, Vl’esth Deour had yet to curb Yrd’s biting tongue.
Silently, Noquare’s Fourth boy agreed with his brothers. His hands could handle the complex arrangements, but he had no head for casting. The simplest of cantrips would flee his mind after a few minutes sleep. Repetition did nothing. Neither did torture bare results.
Yrd glanced down at the vellum scroll placed on the desk squared in front of him. Magic, prestige, women, his brother was accomplished in many things; however, transcription wasn’t one of them. His brother’s trademark perfectionism and attention to detail had yet to infect his writing; Yrd had taken a fortnight to realize the cramped, no non-sense scrawling were instructions in simple undercommon and not the mysterious sigils he’d taken them for originally.
“No one would mistake your house, Dear Brother,” Yrd commented in frustrated, “You write like a rothe herder.”
Phyxdoral calmly marked his place with the tip of his finger as Yrd began to scream. Fear. Yrd hated this one. He found himself standing on an endless plain of white, gazing on as brushes of orange and yellow began to streak a violet sky. Dawn. The anticipation threatened to drive him towards madness. In seconds the cresting sun would flay skin from muscle in a corona of fire, leaving him charred and blind. He wanted to pick a direction, to run in a stark panic, but there was no shelter, nowhere to hide. Nothing but the impeding sun. Yrd could only stand and empty his lungs.
“Sorry,” Phyxdoral asked after his brother had stopped screaming, “Did you say something.”
Bathed in a sheen of sweat, Yrd shook quietly in Vl’esth Deour as he gasped for breath. Having retreated, the dream left him wondering. Did the sun really burn like fire? Probably not, he doubted In his time he’d seen more than a thousand slaves hailing from the lands above with skins as pink as young moles. Surely they could not survive such intensity. Yet, it mattered little. The cursed chair would wring the screams from him till his throat turned raw. Still, he couldn’t help but feel the phobia had originated from somewhere; perhaps from Vl’esth Deour’s creator. One day, he’d gather the courage to ask.
“Did I let you in on the epiphany that stuck me the other night?” Yrd asked, pausing to reign in his haggard breaths.
“Careful,” his brother warned.
Yrd continued, “All this quality time made me realize. There’s no such thing as a bad student; only a bad teacher. And the plus side to all this, this little venture of ours, is I’m expected to fail, but you…” Yrd trailed off as his lips upturned into a sardonic smile.
Phyxdoral’s eyes left his tattered pages and set upon his younger brother. Noquare’s Fourth boy waited for Vl’esth Deour to activate, but the moments passed in silence. Phyxdoral stared at him like a well-dress gargoyle. Yrd knew his last barb hit home. Their Mother commanded his older brother to turn Yrd into a caster, and for the first time Phyxdoral would stand before her empty handed. She wasn’t one to handle disappointment well. Not at all.
Yrd watched dust drift from the ceiling above and land on the unfurled scroll. Phyxdoral finally stood and removed a sash of violet from his web laced robe, taking his time to place the silk cloth between the tome’s ancient leaves. Satisfied, he closed the volume and headed to a desk in the back of the library. Yrd heard the chink of glassware and fought the urge to swallow hard. This time he knew his fear was legitimate.
Phyxdoral turned a step to the side, allowing Yrd to take note of actions. The older drow raised a vial of milky-white liquid to the light and swirled the contents slowly, almost painstakingly so. Waiting for the contents to settle, he was measuring. A sinsinster will and obsession to detail made a foul concoction, Yrd thought with a curse. Whatever Phyxdoral planned, he knew it would come to pass; Yrd would sooner stop the sun than dissuade his brother once set upon the path.
“What is it?” Yrd asked, unable to hold back his morbid curiosity as a few drops from another vial turned the contents the color of yellow bile.
“Neqsyr Sywe (Tears of Sand),” Phyxdoral answered in an off-hand manner as if being pestered with trifles, “I thought we might try chemical burns.”
“Good idea,” Yrd replied with false bravado, “I was about to doze off.”
“You know why I let you keep that tongue of yours?” Phyxdoral asked before moving back across the room towards Vl’esth Deour.
“No, removing you tongue, or any other appendage, would only marginally affect your casting. By now, Mother has seen through this farce and knows reality for what it is. She’d forget… or wouldn’t care… I’m not quite sure. Regardless, the storm would pass.”
“Then educate me.”
“Never treat a symptom when you can kill a disease. You may not be a mage, but in three days you’ll have something of far more value to offer Mother… servitude. Absolute in every way. I’ll break that foolish pride of yours.”
“You’ll try,” Yrd spat, his courage inflamed with hatred. His brothers, his mother, his sisters, he hated them all. Family was the rock he slept upon, and no pain could sate the fires of his wrath till he’d see their bodies tossed like logs upon the flame.
“You forget yourself, dear brother,” Phyxdoral replied soothingly as he placed his empty hand atop the cold stone back of Vl’esth Deour, “I’m not in the habit of lying. I won’t fail you again.”
Seventy-four hours after the first drops began their descent, Yrd raised his hand. “Y’ulr Belar,” he muttered, or, as it’s more commonly heard in the slave language above, “I yield.”