<b> "The Greater Fortune"|
The man lay upon the warm bed secluded deeply within the House of Healing -- a room twice removed from the nearest window and black as pitch save for the light of a single candle. He lay there for several weeks now, and while the faint scent of smoke from that candle comforted him he found the darkness offered him little respite. Shadows dancing on the walls teased his aching mind which longed desperately for colors beyond golden candlelight and shadow. He longed for a day in the sun or a night under the full moon where he just might catch a glimpse of something beyond stone walls. The colorfully-dressed shaman only visited him once a day.
He liked the shaman. The elderly lady held a sympathetic smile whenever she entered the room, but unbeknownst to her he'd caught the worried grimace that claimed her face whenever she left. She'd thought the candle's dimness hid her dismay, and it had; however, his eyes had adjusted well enough that he could read her body language. A person carried oneself differently in high spirits -- feigned or otherwise -- than when admitting defeat. He hated that he had no hope in his ongoing battle, but he also felt sympathy for his healer's helplessness. A patient feeling sympathy for his healer? How... odd.
Lately, the shaman had taken to asking him questions. He'd told her the truth, that he and his friends formed a treasure hunting party in order to recover a lost artifact of great value. He spoke of the ancient temple far north of Buya without hiding his regret. His own desires compelled him, and although his friends needed little convincing he felt responsible for their fates.
One by one, his friends had fallen to traps within the temple. In the end, he alone had claimed the relic only to find that upon it lay a very potent curse which had plunged him into darkness for as long as he'd live. No amount of wealth would have brought him solace from that punishment.
Any light that graced his skin caused him great pain, and it brought little relief when he had discovered he could tolerate that blasted candle. The moon's light had seared badly him upon exiting the temple. When another adventurer finally discovered him, transportation to the nearest House of Healing had very nearly killed him.
As if to compound his woes, the candle finally drowned within its own molten wax. Now in complete darkness, his heart pounded madly against his sternum. He carefully peeled the light sheet from what remained of his skin and stood from his bed. He could bear it no longer. No matter the price, he must free himself from this prison!
* * *
From her chair the shaman stared in shock as the door to her former study-turned-Sanctuary opened. She immediately snuffed out each of her candles save one and turned to face that door. "You fool! What are you doing?!" she hissed harshly, cursing as she stumbled over her own chair in an effort to reach her patient.
"Is it daytime?" he asked, deathly fatigued. "Please, I must see the sun one last time."
She sighed and acquiesced, "Indeed it is, friend. Indeed, it is." She helped him amble weakly across her abode and into the one room which had windows, although she'd kept them shuttered. They paused at the door, however, and she asked, "May I at least give you something for the pain?"
"No," the man answered, "I survived the temple at the cost of my friends. Only death relieved their pain. So shall it be for me."
Defeated, she opened the door and together they strode into the midday sunlight. The man screamed in agony after the barest moment, startling the shaman enough that she let him go. As he fell, the man's body crumbled to dust beneath the sun. Before the wind carried the last of the dust away, she collected a small bit of it by which to remember her most unfortunate patient.
Sometimes, those who *don't* survive a treasure hunt have the greater fortune.