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|Prolog part 1: Introduction to the world of Netherholme.||
Sitting back in the dark corner of a tavern called The Guard’s Rest in the small northern town of Breost; the stranger watched the room with rapt attention. The large hat he wore covered most of his face in shadow and revealed nothing of his eyes. A large pewter mug of ale sat before him on the table, accompanied by the coin to pay for it.
The stranger appeared to be enjoying the smoke wafting from the long-stemmed clay pipe he held in one hand, the bit resting gently between his lips. As small tendrils of smoke rose from the pipe, accompanied by the larger puffs and rings from between his pursed lips, the smoke lingered, gathering above him like the grey clouds of an impending storm. Raisce, oblivious to any possibility of an omen, recalled the history his master had taught him of Breost.
Breost was a small town, a garrison town. The man responsible for its creation was Captain Breost, Watch Captain of the Abhainn Stair Freiceadan--the River Walk Guard. The Guardian of Demesnemer later granted Captain Breost a Lordship over the town and the surrounding lands, and to honor him for his endeavors, the town was given his family’s name. The garrison fortification itself, a river spanning bridge-keep, lay across the Hanokimahi River less than a half-mile northeast of the town, providing a sense of comfort and security to both the town’s inhabitants and those who traveled to the region to conduct business of various sorts.
The guards stationed here were on permanent assignment for the most part, and so their families were here with them, living in homes the soldiers themselves had built--the early beginnings of the original village. Realizing the potential of a new village under the protection of a border garrison, people had traveled north to seek their fortunes. The village had grown quickly into a small town, thought still largely populated by the Boarder Guard and their families. The land proved abundantly fertile, and readily produced large crops of tambaccanum (called Tambac or Tam’s Weed) and cotton, which were shipped down the river by boat. Coal deposits were also found around the river, drawing the Miner’s Guild, under the approval of the Guardian.
Breost afforded a unique opportunity to observe various human interactions and social conventions--the early development of an Aduine settlement. With the constant and short-lived appearances made by various furriers, hunters, and seekers of fortune to this small border town, the stranger did not have to worry about anyone being particularly curious about his semi-frequent presence there. Most of the villagers kept an eye on strangers, but they did not hound them. Besides, he was considered something of a local now; no one knew where he came from or went when he was not in town, but he came often enough that most people knew him by site. And yet, they did not know his name or business. No-one seemed to question it though, the stranger’s dark and mysterious habits were similar to many who passed through.
Suddenly, a chime rang out clearly in the strangers head, breaking his reverie. The slight grin faded from his face as he glanced around the room, as if checking to see if anyone else had heard. He calmly but swiftly reached out his index finger to his mug and the ale within suddenly drained away. He then placed a couple extra coins on the table under the mug for the serving girl and rose to leave. As he broke the tip from the clay pipe and replaced it with its brethren on a rack on the wall by the bar, several nondescript townsfolk who had shared the short time he had spent in the tavern glanced up at his towering form as he left. They offered acknowledgement with a nod of their heads. Raisce, locked in thought, did not even notice.
His mind was occupied with the sound of the chime, whose echo still slowly resonated, yet even now was fading from his mind. He pondered the implications. The double chime signaled a breech of the inner grounds of his charge. That particular tone signified that the intruder was someone he knew, someone who was welcomed there. However, there were no visitors scheduled; neither his master nor his master’s apprentice was due back to the tower until late in the next quarter. Both were on business they had said they would not delay except for a dire emergency. If that were the case, the second sound heard in Raisce’s head should have been a summons.
That summons never came. Even as Raisce realized this, he noted that there had been no earlier warning. The wards placed around the outer grounds of his protectorate should have given him similar warning far in advance of any being breaching through to the inner grounds; a single chime of the same tone would have sounded.
There was the distinct possibility that whoever it was had flown in. Yet even if an intruder had come in from the air, as Raisce himself most often did, the outer wards extended high above the peak of the main tower in a dome-like fashion. The only other thought that sprang to the fore of his mind was that they had Gated in. However, with what Master Orûn had told him of the wards placed over grounds and structures alike, that was nigh impossible except for the old mage himself. Combined with what he had overheard about the current troubles with Gating and other transporting magics, it was still an unlikely hypothesis; the possibility was good that such means were still greatly affected by the backlash from the War of the Ancients. It would take great effort indeed to penetrate the grounds of his charge without triggering any of the watch-wards other than those of the innermost grounds.
These thoughts troubled him deeply and yet he had not the wit or wisdom at this point in his young life to follow them to their rightful conclusions. Therefore, he stored them in the back of his mind for later perusal, and moved on.
Standing silently for a moment within the shadows of the alley next to the tavern, between it and the general store, Raisce began pouring over the lists in his mind. Not many would be recognized by the wards in this manner. Moreover, as the guardian of the grounds, well, he simply knew everyone. Yet which among them could it be? He shook off his musings as he paced further down the alley. He looked up and down the narrow passage once more. Still, no one was present.
Adjusting his hat, as was his habit by now – though it would stay affixed until he removed it, Raisce shrugged his cloak from his shoulders so that it hung down the middle of his back. With his cloak out of the way, he turned to the inn wall, which he had used repeatedly for this purpose, and stepped toward it. While continuously glancing around and periodically freezing dead still in his progress to make sure no one watched, Raisce began to climb.
Being careful not to damage the rough, un-worked timbers that made up the walls of the structure, he sank his claws into the spaces between them, into hand-holds he had made on previous occasions; hands over feet as if climbing a ladder. If anyone had seen him, it would appear as if this rather tall man was sinking his fingertips and booted feet right into the wall--as if the appendages, or the wall itself, did not really exist.
He took a lingering look around again as he gained the rooftop, only to see no-one watching. He continued across the rooftops of this small village, gliding from one to the other cautiously, until he had to climb once more to the top of one of the only structures without a thatch roof--the Judicature. Normally, he would pause here for a time to enjoy the feeling of the cool damp still clinging to the slate tiles of the roof beneath his feet. This morning unfortunately, he did not have that luxury.
More to reassure him of its continued presence, since touch was not actually required to activate the device, Raisce reached into his cloak and grasped the medallion around his neck. Speaking one of the words that released its magic, he suddenly found himself in the air one-hundred fifty feet above Master Orûn’s tower. He had done this countless times before and had directed the magic to place him there with his thoughts; so he was not shocked in the least. Instead, Raisce calmly removed his hat and stuffed it into the small pouch that remained at his side. The false man-image draped over him dissipated with the removal of the hat; he spread his wings and began beating them forcefully to keep himself aloft--it was a long way down.
The first thing he did once he situated himself was to take a visual survey of the grounds from his current position above the tower. Finding nothing amiss, and seeing no movement other than the normal small mammals and birds associated with that time of the morning, Raisce began to glide downward in a spiraling pattern, out away from the tower. He wanted to make a more detailed inspection of the structure itself as well as the inner grounds.
Raisce was still rather young, the first Gargoyle in recorded existence thus far. He was a foundling; his master, the Arch Mage Orûn, had come across him in the lowland passes of the Draknaspina Mountains. He had apparently been abandoned because there was no sign of others in the area, no sign that anyone would return for him. As far as Raisce, or anyone else new, there were no other Gargoyles in existence beside himself. Yet as he flew around the tower, he noted several vaguely humanoid shapes perched in various places around it. They bore the same rocky, mottled skin Raisce himself possessed. Their skin was darker than Raisce’s grey, looking weathered, an almost sickly black in color. In addition, they appeared to be slightly smaller in stature and far crueler of visage. These things also appeared to have wings as he did. However, they did not appear to be affected by the sun as he himself was; yet Raisce could not help but wonder if they were somehow akin to him.
Raisce cautiously winged closer to one of these mute, unmoving figures. As he came closer, his keen eyes became aware of two things. These figures did not move in the slightest and they did not even appear to be breathing, but their eyes followed him with rapt attention. In addition, they bore strange and tarnished rings of brass through their noses, and two had cruel seeming weapons clenched in their misshapen fists.
Though he was extremely wary of these potential foes, he longed for companionship. He mindspoke the closest figure as his master had taught him. Getting no response, he called out to it, as he himself came within a stones throw of were it rested.
“Greetings and well met! Who are you and why are you here? I am Raisce, guardian of this place. Are you friend or foe?”
If he could not clearly discern how deformed and exaggerated the bodies of these creatures were while they were at rest, he certainly could once they burst into motion. The one closest to him rose, hurled its cruel–looking spear at Raisce, and launched itself aloft.
Raisce was glad he had readied a spell when he first spotted these creatures. A simple spell, and normally not very effective in combat, but if these creatures were even remotely like himself they would be blinded and disabled.
He brought his wings forward in a single powerful stroke that sent him backwards several feet, arching his back and closing his wings as he went. He began his backward arc toward the ground, wrapping his wings around himself. As he did so, Raisce watched the spear the ugly, ill born creature had hurled go screaming by just above where his chest now was--where it had been moments before. Judging by the speed with which the spear flew, these creatures seemed to be as strong as Raisce himself. If that spear had struck home, it would have brutally impaled him through his broad chest. It would have, that is, if the vile weapon had not simply passed all the way through. He unleashed his waiting spell using the spear hurtling by just above him as his focus, and closed his eyes. Tucking his knees up to his chest he spun, tumbling backwards and down.
A loud, keening scream and yowling groans pierced his backwards-rolling descent, just after a bright flash lit up the sky outside his closed eyelids. Raisce opened his eyes to the world once more moments later. As he brought his roll to completion, he snapped his wings back open to right himself, only to greet searing pain in the shoulder, back, and chest muscles that controlled his great wings. As he looked around, he saw that all of the creatures were struggling to stay aloft and battling with their own eyes.
One of the creatures was completing the long fall to the ground shrieking, with a spear protruding from its chest and a crude, curved long knife dropping from its lifeless grasp. Raisce recognized this creature as the one that had been perched on a ledge below him. He had been aware of the creature, perched to his left and slightly behind him as he had approached the one with the spear, but since it had not moved, he had proceeded anyway. Raisce surmised that this second creature must have launched itself at an angle away from him to conceal its presence, and then approach him from behind and below. It had been surprised at Raisce’s aerial agility and caught the spear meant for Raisce in a wholly unexpected manner.
His spell had indeed had the desired effect however. The creatures seemed as if they were dazed, their flight hindered slightly by their lack of vision. Raisce fingered his medallion once more thoughtfully before springing back into action. These creatures were akin to him in some way, and they must be wearing something that protected them from the rays of the sun as Raisce himself was. Yet these beings were clearly hostile, and even though he longed for companionship from those like him, he would not allow them to gain that as an advantage. He would kill them if he must. It had been their choice; they had chosen their fates for themselves.
Raisce launched himself forward without further delay. Four of the creatures remained. He readied the energy for a succession of spells and wove them, though for now he held them in check and at the ready, as he rushed forward. If they failed, Raisce would have to resort to his combat training and wits, for his ability to draw the energy needed for spells would be too greatly fatigued.
He headed straight for the now weaponless, struggling form of the first creature that attacked him. Just as Raisce reached it, the creature appeared, finally, to brush off the stunning affects of Raisce’s original sunburst spell. The creature only had time to register its surprise as Raisce touched it square on the chest, releasing one of his waiting spells. The creature writhed in pain as a dull red light emanated from Raisce’s hand, and he pulled it away. The pained creature now had a smoking red handprint on its chest.
Swifter than thought, Raisce drew forth the knife resting in its sheath at his waist with his left hand. With a backhanded swing, the knife bit deeply into, and passed swiftly through, the flesh of the creature’s throat – jarring his hand as it cut through bone. Warm blood sprayed across Raisce’s face, its salty taste of iron was bitter and vile. After that initial taste, it bubbled and tingled on his tongue, the taste of blood changed to that of bile.
Raisce spat the foul, blackened blood from his mouth and smiled. Raisce was immune to fire and burning heat, but these creatures were not. “So”, he thought to himself, “these creatures do not appear to be akin to me after all, though they do seem similar. I wonder whom they serve; where did they come from?”
As the form of the now defeated creature plummeted bonelessly to the ground, Raisce unleashed his next spell. A small, marble sized ball of crackling energy leapt forth from his pointed finger and tracked toward the first of the three remaining creatures. With any luck, the three of them would be close enough together. However, this was the first real combat situation Raisce had found himself in since he had begun his training with master Orûn. He was not trusting to luck.
He shot forward again as the tiny sphere tracked slightly and struck the targeted creature high on its shoulder, even as it made a desperate attempt to sideslip down and out of the way. As it began to writhe in agony with arcs of blue energy crawling around its body, the tarnished brass ring through the septum of the creature’s nose flashed briefly with a dimly glowing light, began to smoke, and crumbled to dust.
Moments later, the creature’s already fervent shrieks rose to ear-splitting levels for scant moments and then abruptly stopped. The creature’s skin had blistered; turning an ashy white as it slowly cracked, split, and began to smoke. As it began falling to the ground, its flesh deteriorated further, seeming to boil away along with the muscle and organs beneath it. However, before the creature began to fall, the arcs of lightning which had surrounded it pooled back together in a solid stream which then arced swiftly toward the next closest of the remaining creatures.
Desperately, the creature raised its arms out to his sides and brought them toward each other and across his chest, forming an X, clenching its fists in the process. As it did so, dark blotches began forming; coalescing behind and wrapping around the creature, forming a large globe of impenetrable night. The other remaining creature was close enough that the globe encompassed both, concealing them from view. Nonetheless, shrieking screams came from within the globe shortly thereafter and lasted for several seconds as the chain of lightning created by the spell scoured the first, and then the second creature in turn. Raisce could not see this through the inky blackness of the creature’s sphere, but he knew how the spell worked, and he had witnessed its effects on the creature it had already defeated.
Raisce realized that unless these creatures were extremely weak, they were still alive within the spheres; the magical darkness had neither dissipated, nor fallen to the ground along with their bodies. His chain lightning should not have destroyed the first creature it struck in the manner it had. But Raisce had noticed how the ring the creature wore in its nose had glowed briefly and then turned to ash--not melted--just before the creature’s flesh had begun to deteriorate. He decided that since all five of the creatures had borne these devices, these brass rings must be some form of protection from the sun’s rays. The other creature had seemed to burn, its flesh melting away as if from a great fire, after the ring had crumbled. Once his chain lightning completed its work, the creatures should be destroyed.
But Raisce did not see a horribly burned, melting body fall from within the inky darkness as he had expected. He guessed that though he had never seen the like of these magically dark globes before, they must be some form of sorcery or natural ability that prevented the penetration of light. In fact, the sphere appeared to absorb it; the natural daylight immediately around the globe seemingly diminished.
They must have realized what had befallen their comrade once Raisce had destroyed its protective ring; they had created another form of protection--in advance no less--to replace the one they were about to lose. These vile creatures must be much more intelligent than Raisce had given them credit for; he had underestimated them. He would not make that mistake again.
The single sphere seemed to split into two, which were capable of independent movement. The second creature must have created a sphere for himself within the protection of the first, once again proving their intelligence. The two spheres moved away from each other a sufficient distance as if to prevent the use of anything similar to the chain lightning. Suddenly, in unison, the two spheres began to move with frightening speed and aerial dexterity toward the tower. They moved with surprising evasiveness to prevent Raise from calling forth magics with which to target them at a distance. Dodging from side to side, spiraling around each other they flew with haste, as if expecting Raisce to unleash further attacks at any moment.
Raisce froze, his mouth dropping open in alarm. If the creatures reached the tower and could find their way inside, they could wreak havoc of a devastating sort until subdued. Moreover, all initial signs indicated that for some reason, the tower’s outer defenses registered these beings as if they belonged there. They should have no problem gaining the entry they sought.
Raisce was frustrated, for his remaining spell could not help to dissipate the magical darkness, nor slow the creatures. He had trained and exercised his ability to draw energies from the Source on many occasions--he had done so both to practice using his Gifts, and to practice the weaving of different energies into spells he had learned. Each time he had done so, it increased the amount he could tap into and draw from the Source. Yet evidently, it had not been enough, and at this moment, he needed more energy to defeat the intruders. They were too far away to catch without using spells to slow them down. To stop them from gaining entry or causing harm was his duty, something he fully intended to do; he would not allow them to dishonor him.
Raisce grudgingly dispersed the energies of his final waiting spell with a rumbling growl, clenched his jaw, and began drawing energy from within his own being. He knew this would weaken him severely, as it did every time; yet he no longer had the capacity to draw magical energies from the world around. If he tried to draw more at this point, He would run a very high risk of ‘burning out’; effectively, and permanently, destroying that which allowed him to draw Source energies. However, he could still draw energy from within himself to the same end, without the threat of burning out; and yet in doing so, he risked physical harm instead.
Though he did not really know it, Raisce was a magical creature, a mutation of those who had birthed him, brought about by the devastating backlash of the War of the Ancients. This backlash was the very thing that had caused the energies of the Source to go wild. Orûn had wanted to know more about Raisce’s origins before he broached the subject; as far as Raisce knew, he was simply a foundling who had been lost in the Wilds.
But Orûn had taught him of his abilities, as they emerged, so that he would better understand himself and the forces of the world around him. Thus, he understood that he could still form weaves and cast them by draining some of the magical energies that imbued him and had made him what he was--his very life force and essence. The greater the spell cast in this fashion however, the greater chance of physical harm; and the weaker Raisce would be after, needing time to rest and recover. This spell was one of the most energy consuming the Gargoyle knew, for it required constant vigilance and strength of will to control.
As he siphoned the energy from himself, using movements of his hands as the embodiment of his will, he interwove and intertwined it to form the desired effect. With sideways twisting, hand-over-hand spirals and flicks of his wrists, he gathered and moved the energy he wove and released it, spinning toward its target. A swirling and swiftly darkening whirlwind appeared in the air before Raisce. It quickly formed itself into a funnel shaped column of swiftly moving air; its bottom did not touch the ground as natural winds of its type would. Instead, it moved along a course at the same level as Raisce, over one hundred feet in the air--yet it moved as if along solid ground.
The growing tornado smashed into first one, then the other of the black spheres. However, it did not knock the creatures out of the darkness protecting them as Raisce had hoped. So instead, he shifted the path of the tornado, which was still clutching and tumbling the black spheres within its heart, out and away from the tower and high over the peaceful, undisturbed grounds. As he did so, he rose even higher in altitude with masterful strokes of his weakening wings. He needed a better vantage.
Before the tornado had gone more than one hundred paces, Raisce forced himself to relinquish his control over the energy of the spell--dispersing both the woven energy, and the tornado they had formed. The energy drain on Raisce had been tremendous. He could not sustain it any longer and remain physically able to defend the tower. As it was, his flight had become slightly ragged and he knew he must soon land to rest, if only for a moment. He looked up at the lone star that shone by day, seeking inspiration.
Then his gaze swept back down. Through his weariness, he saw that the black spheres had managed to steady themselves and were once again making forward progress toward the tower. Raisce grimaced, turning himself in the direction of the tower. In his present state, he had no hope of taking both of the creatures down in the style he was accustomed to; the swift and sure, strike and grapple methods the great birds of prey employed. He would have to resort to pitched aerial combat.
He had to reach the space between the creatures and the tower if he was still to defend it, and the creatures were now almost directly below him. He flew as swiftly as possible; once he got a good start, he stopped thrusting with his wings and instead folded them--nearly closed--trading altitude for speed. His momentum carried him forward, his folded wings, as well as his angle of decent hurtled him forward and down toward the spot he had chosen to make his stand. He did not need the position of height, after all, if he was not going to stoop on them.
When he reached the end of his planned descent, he moved himself into their path; he had to intercept them before they reached the tower. He thought he would be able to see the creatures within their dark protection, as he could see in total darkness, but in his weary state, he did not hold much hope for surviving if the two creatures came for him together. He steeled himself, drew his knife from his belt once more, and braced himself for battle; its silvery blade seeming dull and lifeless despite the morning sunlight.
Just before the creatures arrived in their armor of darkness however, the globe surrounding one of the creatures began to fail and dissipated. The creature faltered in mid-flight, its skin blistering, cracking, and melting away even as it started its plummeting arc toward the ground. The second globe stopped its forward progress and then--moments later--it too collapsed leaving its occupant staring in abject horror around itself, as if seeking some means of survival. It joined its comrades decent, in molten flesh and burning death.
Raisce had turned, and started for a terrace in the side of the tower when a thought struck him so forcefully he stopped in mid-flight and peered toward the ground. He soon found what he was looking for--the bodies of the first two creatures he had dispatched. One of them was almost whole with a spear slammed through its chest, the other with its head lying several feet away.
Reluctantly Raisce glided to an unsteady landing next to the gory head of the decapitated corpse. After making a delicate cut with his blade, Raisce rose from his crouch in triumph, holding his prize before him--the creature’s brass ring. Now that he could examine it more closely, he reflexively shifted his vision, making it sensitive to Source energies. It was more of a mental twist really, allowing him to see and focus normally, but also showing him the radiant glow of Source energies wherever he looked. Focusing through the ambient presence of the Source in all things, he could now see the faint, fading aura of magic hidden within it. This aura had been diminished, hidden skillfully within the presence of ‘background’ energies that were always present. It was an excellent attempt at obfuscating the device’s magical nature. Raisce had practiced extensively to detect such trickery, and even so, it had been rather elusive for him to find, at first.
Now however, the object had been rendered inactive; yet Raisce could still see the telltale traces of the energies that had been stored within. They were too complex and foreign for Raisce to fathom, but Master Orûn might make some sense of it. Raisce slipped it into his belt pouch and turning, walked slowly over to the second body. As he reached the corpse of the impaled creature, he sheathed his blade, bent down and picked it up with a groan. These creatures were not heavy, but they were bulky, and with the weight distributed unevenly, he had a hard time managing it. Speaking another of his medallion’s commands, he began to rise up along the side of the tower guided by his now faltering will. Occasionally he steadied his ascent with a guiding touch of his clawed toes to the wall; not once did his folded wings stir.
When he reached the balcony of the terrace, he knelt down and carefully placed the body of the creature on the stone floor. In his weakened and weary state, he continued to kneel by the body for a few moments. Drawing his breath in a measured manner, he calmed himself, attempting to regain some of his strength. Raisce believed that someone or something far greater than the creatures themselves had directed this attack. And if that was in fact the case, more hostilities could be forthcoming.
His body ached with fatigue, even more so since he had used part of his own essence to protect the tower. Yet he knew there might not be time. Eventually he rose, used his medallion to fly up to his personal terrace, and went inside. Once within its sanctuary, he strode across the main room to a pedestal at its center, reaching out to place his hand on the adamantine sphere that rested there. But something was wrong.
He would have realized sooner had he not been fatigued and weakened. He stopped with his hand just above the crystal sphere and did not move a muscle. The leaden cloth that usually lay draped over the sphere was missing. He wondered where it had gone, and how. There was no wind--nor even a steady breeze--with enough strength to dislodge that protective covering. Something was going on, something on a greater scale than the creature’s attack.
Normally this sphere and its pedestal would not even be in his sanctuary. However, the pedestal rested on a column-lift designed to rise or descend through the center of several different rooms on command. When Master Orûn went away on business of his own affairs, he raised the viewing sphere up to Raisce’s sanctuary not only for its protection, but also so Raisce could find and contact him at need. Master Orûn had explicitly instructed him that the leaden cloth was always to remain in place when the orb was not in use.
Though Orûn possessed all the fragments of the adamantine crystal nodule the sphere had come from, there was always the chance someone could figure out how to tap into it. The leaden cloth prevented anyone from being able to look through it in such a way. Raisce had always heeded the old mage even when he did not understand the reasoning behind his instructions. He respected the man as a father and teacher, and honored him with loyalty and obedience. He had not removed the leaden cloth this time, nor at any other moment since the old mage had left.
Raisce withdrew his hand and turned partially to look back toward the door as if remembering something, trying to conceal his motives. Meanwhile, he was casually taking full measure of the room without seeming to. He needed to discover if anything else was amiss, and to see if he could locate the missing leaden shroud. The shroud was nowhere in sight and he could discern nothing else as out of place or out of the ordinary, but he had an uneasy sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger--he did not feel hunger as other living creatures do. He could not recall having this feeling before; an almost instinctual sense that something bad had happened or was going to happen. He looked over his shoulder one last time at the crystalline sphere sitting upon its receptacle, and with a weary sigh, headed for the door.
Not fully understanding why, he looked over the balcony’s edge and leaned out--about--that far. He should have been able to see where he had laid the body of the fallen creature a few minutes before. It was not there. Raisce stepped up onto the balcony railing and then stepped off again wearily, opening his wings and gliding gracelessly to the main terrace below. He landed heavily on the stone terrace floor near where the body had lain.
Nothing remained of the corpse except the spear that had impaled it, and a large pile of ash swiftly scattering in the wind. After sifting the ashes for a few moments, Raisce determined that the brass ring was not among them. Yet where then had it gone? Had the magic that had infused it been expelled or drained? On the other hand, perhaps the individual who had created it for the creature knew of the creature’s death and had disposed of the device from afar, thereby leaving no evidence that either had existed. After all, one could not examine or identify something that was not there.
Once again, Raisce’s lack of experience and wisdom vexed him. Raisce simply did not know which supposition was the correct one, if either, and he was too weary to question it at this point. The thing he had to determine was what exactly was going on. Was the adamantine sphere was safe to use, and if so could he reach his master?
As the Gargoyle knelt there pondering the meaning of this riddle, and trying to determine his next course of action, a shadow separated itself unseen from the doorway leading from the terrace into the tower. It came up behind the Gargoyle without even the slightest of whispers. Its robes shifted as a hand reached out to grip the contemplative Gargoyle’s shoulder in a firm, but almost comforting manner. The shadow watched in amusement as the bone-numbing frigidity of the spell issuing from its grasping hand took affect.
The Gargoyle’s body shook and shuddered as it was wracked with chilling pain for a brief moment and a portion of its life essence drained away into the shadow’s hand. It had already lost a fair amount of its life’s energies in its earlier display of heroic weakness, using it to cast a spell it would not have had the strength for otherwise. Its honor, loyalty, and sense of duty would now cause its demise and prove the point the shadow had long held true.
“It truly is a shame you dispatched my master’s thralls so easily,” said the shadow with an air of boredom, “they showed so much more intelligence and promise than I had ever imagined possible in such primitive creatures.”
In the few seconds that it remained stunned by the spell, the shadow reached for the Gargoyle’s neck with its other hand. It grasped the chain that held the Gargoyle’s precious protective amulet, removed it from around its neck by jerking it over the creatures head, and took several hasty steps backwards. All the while, the only sound that emanated from the shadow was the sound of its voice.
“And yet, at the same time, their failing has allowed me to savor my victory over you personally. I would not have otherwise known the pleasure of feeding off your essence.”
The Gargoyle lurched upright into a standing position as if to fight off its doom, but as it struggled merely to stumble around and face its attacker, a change started to take effect. It began to freeze in place as the sun’s rays naturally forced it to revert to stone.
“Na-lor!” it roared, its last bestial defiance used up on his name. It tried to speak no clever spells, no cry of bewilderment, no naïve but-whys, just pure resentment and rage pouring out futilely as his name. It was a more delicious moment than Nalor had hoped.
“You shall die at last you filthy creature,” spat Nalor, knowing that the beast could still hear him for a few moments yet. “Mayhap now your master will learn he should not waist time on such crude aberrations of nature. Time perchance that would have been better spent elsewhere on others, and in other manners? Know that even as you die, the essence I have stolen from your wretched body will strengthen me in my battle with that despicable old man!”
To Nalor’s dismay, he realized he had not had the foresight to remove the Gargoyle’s pouch and long knife from its belt. He reached for them and then jerked back his hand, just in time to pull it away as a shell of stone encased both objects. He understood enough of how this effect worked to know that the stone would cover and then penetrate into anything the Gargoyle wore on its person at the time of the transformation, to keep them safe and secure while the creature rested. It would remain thus until the Gargoyle shifted back at sunset.
It did not really matter however. The magical blade would have been nice to possess, and the pouch probably contained nothing of consequence anyway, but it was still a vexing oversight. Nalor chuckled as he gazed in triumph at the horror and rage on the creature’s face at seeing the identity of its attacker just before it was immobilized. Nalor was a name it most surely knew.
“Another stumbling block removed thanks to the aide and teachings of my new Master,” quipped Nalor to the unhearing gargoyle, “but here’s a little added incentive to keep you from causing me additional problems come nightfall.”
Nalor spoke several words and made a couple slight hand movements. Immediately, he reached out to touch the stony form of the Gargoyle on its chest, stepping back once more. As the Shatterstone spell took effect, the stone-encased form fractured into large, irregular chunks that then swiftly blew apart, scattering in all directions. Some rebounded off the surface of the shield of force Nalor had swiftly raised before him.
He waved his hand idly, and the fragments of stone stopped their flight abruptly. Nalor triggered a short, waiting spell and an open, steel bound chest appeared on the terrace beside him. Nalor gestured again and all of the pieces of stone began to gather, swirling together and forming a miniature cyclonic cylinder. After every single piece of the shattered Gargoyle gathered to form the swiftly spinning mass, Nalor directed it to the chest, where all the pieces swiftly deposited themselves.
Nalor knelt in front of the chest and removed something from a pouch at its side. Reaching into the still open chest, he sifted around for a moment, and then raised his hand to the sunlight with glee; he had removed a specific chunk of the stone. The pure wickedness of this part of the plan issued forth from his lips in a hideous cackle. He was not even certain when he had planned all of this that he would find the necessary piece in tact. Yet find it he had. Uttering yet another spell, Nalor touched the rough, fist-sized piece of stone with a finger of its other hand. The lump of stone turned a darker shade of grey and appeared to soften slightly around its edges.
Nalor flicked his wrist with a deftness most would never see in their lifetimes, producing a scoop-like device. Using this device, in another great display of dexterity, he began to cut away at the oddly shaped lump of clay with surgical precision, freeing a round section of it from the rest. It was slightly larger than a beater for a children’s game of stones--roughly the size of a human eye. Nalor then proceeded to enspell them once more, returning both pieces to rocky hardness. He placed the round section into the small silken pouch he had pulled from within his robes for the purpose; the remaining lump of stone he then tossed into the chest.
Removing a plate made of gold from his pouch, Nalor examined it closely. With his Master’s aid, under his strict supervision and instruction, he had created it from a gold bar. He had heated and flatted the bar into a square plate roughly one hand-span in diameter and about half a thumbs-length thick. He had carved an intricate crest of runes into it that was still present in its shining surface. A surprising amount of magical energies had gone into it during its creation, both his and his Master’s; it was now a formidable seal. He placed the medallion the Gargoyle had worn over it so that it covered the seal of runes and began weaving a spell.
Nalor’s hand glowed with a brilliant scarlet light that also seemed to encompass medallion and plate alike. It faded away as the casting was finished and a brilliant flare of light flashed briefly between the two devices fusing them together. Nalor then closed the chest, placed the plate against the locking clasp, and spoke a single word. Bright blue light flared from the plate, traveled along the minute crack between the lid and base, and seemed to slowly seep inward into the inner chamber of the chest and disappear. It reappeared a breath later as a blinding flare of white light that fanned outward from the seam in all directions.
“Now, even if anyone manages to find this chest, they will not be able to open it in the daylight when its contents would remain safely stone”, thought Nalor as he smiled wickedly. “And if they manage to break the seal and open it at night, the spell on the stone within will be broken and it will return to flesh killing the Gargoyle instantly”.
Nalor allowed himself a moment to chuckle at the ingeniousness of the Gargoyle’s prison, and then moved the chest through the air and out over the grounds with his will alone, until it floated above the Fishing Creek. Into the deep, slowly moving waters the chest plummeted as Nalor released it, hopefully never to be seen again. He smiled with satisfaction; the chest was now bound with powerful magics and its contents would be kept in stasis until opened. This would prevent the Gargoyle from coming back together and reforming at sunset, if it was now even capable of doing so. However, Nalor’s new Master had seen no reason to take unnecessary risks. For the moment, everything had gone according to plan.
Satisfied all here was in place, Nalor lifted both of his hands slightly upwards, at about mid-chest level with his palms upturned, and began to rise toward the Gargoyle’s rooms. Setting one foot on the balcony, Nalor stepped down onto the terrace. Seeing his own victory on the horizon and an increase to his own personal power, he smiled once more. There was still much to prepare and set in place--much to do. Yet after so long a time drudging around for scraps from this or that dotard of an old mage, often being forgotten for some pressing concern or more promising student, he was getting his due. No more scrambling around in secret to obtain forbidden knowledge from these old fools--he was at last tasting true power.
Nalor wondered--and not for the first time--whether this newfound power and freedom would be enough. Even with his growing knowledge and skills, would he be able to defeat this particular wily old wizard? Orûn would be a formidable opponent indeed. Destroying him was not part of the plan, immobilization was, but he hungered for more. What he saw as failure caused by others was seeping through; all his pent up impatience, anger, and rage was building, whipped into a fervor by his lust for power and his success thus far. He could have been more--should have been more--if these damnable old men who called themselves mages had taught him what he wanted to know. And swiftly at that!
He would kill the old man and take his tower and all within it for himself. Surely, his master would not begrudge him this small reward after all the unspeakable things he had done, the sacrifices he had made, in his name. After the effort and the risk he had gone through to please his master, he deserved that much did he not? He gave a last passing glance to the surrounding landscape and turned toward the tower.
As he re-entered the room, Nalor did not notice that the adamantine sphere--glowing moments before--stopped glowing just as he neared the doorway. Nor did he notice the small dark sphere that floated into the room behind him, rising up near the ceiling still watching him, and wink out without a trace.
* * * *
|Invincible Interludes - Undying Love||Invincible Resurrection - Path of Honor (part 2)|
|Invincible Resurrection - Path of Honor (part 1)||Invincible Resurrection - Paths Reforged|
|Prolog Part 2 - Pursuit|