‘Where is he now, Guardian?’
The Arch Magister’s words echo loudly across the halls and through the wings of the now almost entirely vacant Citadel. All mages, merchants, scholars and any whose rank does not read Guardian or Magister have been confined to their quarters, for their own protection.
‘He’s been taken down below, by order of the Commander.’
‘And is he secure?’
‘Yes, Arch Magister. The captive mage’s hands have been bound in iron, he’s blindfolded, his mouth gagged shut and there are two Guardians down there with him now.’
‘Take me to him, now’ demands the Arch Magister, unblinking and determined.
The unwilling Guardian hesitates where he stands and bows his head slightly.
‘Is there a problem?’
‘I’m sorry, Arch Magister, the Guardian Commander has given strict instruction to not let anyone else below without his say so.’
The Guardian bows his head a little lower as the intimidating presence of the Arch Magister looms over him with a glare that would petrify even an Ogre of the Highlands.
‘That man has come here, broken into this institution, our home, to steal from our Reliquary and has killed four of our own people in the process before he was finally apprehended by two Senior Magisters. My people, dear friends, who lie bleeding and with their minds broken with unknowable torment for their efforts.’
The Arch Magister is now so close to the frightened Guardian that his breath can be seen steaming his armour with vapours of unbridled resolve.
‘By the Kings edict, it is the duty of the Arch Magisters of the Aeon Citadel to pass judgement on all matters of magick as well as this murderer’s ability to do us any more harm. So, move Guardian, or I swear by almighty Mithron that the fire coursing through my veins will burn your very tongue into ashes so that I might never have to hear the utter wolf shit coming out of your mouth again.’
‘Yes, yes…. of course, Arch Magister, but the Commander will…….’
‘Just leave the Commander to me Guardian. I’ll deal with him in due time.’
The Arch Magister of the Citadel, esteemed pyromancer and former counsel to King Valorayne, barges past the poor fellow who just weeks ago earned his position amongst his peers and marches down into the bowels of the ancient tower to confront the one responsible for this bold act of merciless death. An act so bloody and brutal to be worthy of a Dothylfar war band and yet it was perpetrated by a single individual.
The memory of what has become of the unfortunate four, two mages, a scholar and a single Guardian, will be with him until his final days. Their bodies were mutilated and torn down to the bone as they were discovered covered in a thick, black coat of shadow mist and blood. A dark deed done only to acquire a single artefact housed in a floor deemed inaccessible to all but a few. For who it is for and why, he doesn’t care. It is an old argument as to whether this place should act as a beacon to would be thieves and trespassers for all the artefacts and treasures stored within and yet every Valorayne King and Queen for a thousand years has deemed it the safest place to do so. The Citadel has been breached before and it will be again. But rarely is it done with so callous an approach, with so little respect for those who live and breathe within this community of mage folk.
As he proceeds into the depths of the tower he eventually realises that it is too quiet. The orders of the Commander have either been carried out flawlessly or have failed entirely. His pace quickens with the realisation until he reaches his destination a hundred feet below the Citadel grounds.
Ferociously and without hesitance, he bangs opens the door with such a clatter that the gust from the impact almost blows out the torch light blazing on the stone walls. The horrifying stench of burnt flesh invades his senses. His eyes scour the room for their captive but instead he see’s nothing but blood, caked in black ashes, of the dead Guardians tasked with standing watch over the wielder of shadow. No bodies, nothing that resembles what they once were. Just empty armour covered in a pool of dark red blood corrupted by the black of the shadow magicks used to claim their lives.
Footsteps echo down the staircase behind him until the Guardian he spoke to and his Commander enter the room to see what has happened.
‘Why did you leave the torches alight Commander?’ shouts the Arch Magister with a bellow loud enough to cause the question to be demanded several times over as his voice relentlessly repeats his torment with the echoes from the walls.
The Guardian Commander is stunned by the question. Not only is he not used to being addressed in such a severe manner, since only the Arch Magisters have the power to match his own standing, he also fails to understand the significance of the inquiry.
‘Did you really expect me to leave my people here with that man in complete darkness? What does it matter anyhow?’
‘From what I have learned in my time of such magicks it will take someone decades, if not a lifetime or more, of study to wield shadowmancy with such mastery as to conjure the very shadows from practically nothing. The one responsible for these black deeds was a small man, likely an exile from Hammarkand, no older than twenty some years. It should be blatantly obvious to someone in your position of authority that you must not leave one such a that in a room where the light of the fire from those torches can bring forth shadows. Shadows that can be used to twist and corrupt the flames into something unrecognisable. Shadows he was evidently able to wield to end the lives and destroy the bodies of your men. Now he flees to Maellor knows where.’
A moment of hurried contemplation passes as the Arch Magister awaits a response.
‘I’ll order my men to scour the Citadel grounds and the Wraithwind Woods until the shadow wielder is again apprehended.’
‘You’ll do no such thing Commander.’
The Arch Magister turns to the Guardian standing meekly in the entry to bark his next order.
‘You there, in the doorway. Listen carefully to my words boy.’
‘Yes, Arch Magister’ he replies standing to attention.
‘Summon the other Arch Magisters, Xaros and Alden, to meet me in the hall. And send word to Guardian Vanorath that he is to lead his contingent into the woodland to begin the search.’
‘Tell them to look for a trail of withered leaves and for fucks sake absolutely no fire! I don’t care if they’re struggling to see. They’ll have to make do with the light of the moons and they can thank me later.’
The Guardian races back to the tower above leaving the Commander behind who is becoming frustrated with this mages desire to command his forces. He has never been one to hold his tongue.
‘Arch Magister, I protest. Thomyr Vanorath is new to the Citadel and completely unprepared for such a task. He is unknown to me, I don’t trust him. He is an outsider.’
‘No Commander, he is your replacement.’
‘I’ll remind you mage, only the Baroness of Amberfall or the King himself are permitted to remove me from command. You haven’t the power to order me to do anything!’ states the Commander with surprise.
The Arch Magister finally turns his head away from the atrocity at their feet to stare directly into the Commander’s eyes.
‘Did you really believe my position here would prevent me acting out my former duties to our King? Who do you think has the true power to command the Guardians while I still breathe? I have his ear and his trust and I’ll tell you now, you incompetent son of whore, it’s not you.’
The Commander sighs as he relents, defeated by his failure and the will of the Arch Magister before him.
‘Will they be able to find him?’
‘For your sake and for the wellbeing of Ayrlaston, I hope so.’
The Arch Magister turns back to look upon the vacant armour of the deceased as his voices calms.
‘For their safety and what I fear he is capable of, I hope not.’