MegaCon 2009 Blackmoor Dispatch

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MegaCon 2009 Blackmoor Dispatch

Postby Ozymandius » Thu Jan 08, 2009 10:02 am

The Road to Golgotha
MegaCon Teaser, Chapter One

Chapter One
“King Uther’s compliments, and you are to report to Castle Blackmoor immediately,” announced the messenger.

Malanthias looked up from his cluttered work table and looked frantically around his study where several workers were finishing repairs to the battered upper levels of Ardenn Keep. The stone chamber was littered with research materials, each stack organized, but the overall impression was that of disorder. Large parchments hanging about the room explained various theories of Kargas Dolunt and Skelfer Ard, but tacked all about them were smaller scrolls written in Malanthias’ hand, in different colors of ink, some of the newest still dripping as they continued to dry. Banging could be heard in the distance as others worked to repair the devastated stronghold of the Wizards’ Cabal.

The scars of battle from nearly a year ago still showed everywhere, ugly reminders of how easily Wizard King Goss and his forces had beaten aside the best magical defenses that the North could muster. Malanthias looked at the colored stains that had soaked into his hands and forearms from the ink wells spread across his work table.

And I’ve only been awake an hour, he thought. With Blackstone missing and everything a mess…I can’t leave now! He turned to the messenger. “Right away?”

“Yes, the order was personally signed by Andahar himself.”

Malanthias rose from his seat and moved towards the chamber entrance.

The messenger coughed and glanced quickly to the stains on his skin. “We’ve time to get you more decent?”

“Of course!” Malanthias quickly retrieved his spell focus and waved his hands in a well practiced yet simple gesture. The stains on his hands and forearms faded quickly as his researcher’s uniform was smoothed and cleaned. When the cantrip finished its work he appeared as if he had just come from his morning wash.

With his clothes freshened he headed directly for the main antechamber where he recited a complex series of hand movements and incantations in an attempt to teleport himself and the messenger to Castle Blackmoor immediately. It was a dangerous practice as the spell was susceptible to the influences of the Egg of Coot, but it saved time. A bright light filled the area, blinding all nearby and when it finally diminished both he and the messenger had disappeared.

They both appeared on a teleportation platform just outside the impressive walls of Castle Blackmoor. Many of the buildings surrounding the castle were old, many built by the original Thonian settlers, Malanthias knew, with large sections demolished and replaced by more modern structures.

Citizens milled about the narrow streets while the only moving vehicles were those belonging to trade convoys of the Merchant’s Guild. Several people stood about idly, carefully eyeing the wizard while others moved in and out of the nearby shops. Several men-at-arms stood in polished armor to the entrance of Castle Blackmoor and snapped to attention as Malanthias, a representative of the Wizards’ Cabal, neared their position.

Malanthias was rushed up the stairs to the throne room of the castle. There wasn’t a single member of the Inquisition present, although most strategic locations bristled with them, and he found he did not miss them. He’d been in his study a long time. He informed the seneschal of his arrival and waited patiently in the antechamber of the throne room. He was not looking forward to the coming discussion and spent much of his time lost in thought on how best to counter the impending threat.

The seneschal motioned for him to come closer as the large iron double doors swung open to reveal the interior of the throne room as he called out, “Malanthias, researcher of the Wizards’ Cabal!”

King Uther Andahar, the Rectifier, also known as Black Uther to some, was standing before his throne dressed in the formal regalia of the Blackmoor military: black uniform, red sash, gold braid, epaulettes; all neatly pressed and starched. There was no sign of any royal advisors or members of the nobility, and for a moment Malanthias believed that King Uther was alone. Then he noticed a familiar face, that of Sildonis, his immediate supervisor as High Spellwise of Mystical Arts, standing near the iron doors that he had just entered through.

“I have your report here, Malanthias. You were entrusted with securing the tome. You lost the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification.”

“Yes, my lord.” He had lost two of his most promising Arcane Warriors in the attempt also.

“And just what were you thinking when Inquisitor Blackstone became involved in these events in your absence,” demanded King Uther. “Sildonis here gave you explicit orders to protect the tome from being recovered by Wizard King Goss. Did you have orders to send a member of the Arcane Inquisition to retrieve the Oscillion?”

“No, my lord.”

“I suppose you think that researcher’s of the Wizards’ Cabal are not subject to a clear chain of command?”

“Of course not, my lord.”

Andahar ignored him. “Then there’s this situation with a group of adventurers you summoned to help prevent Raddan Goss from obtaining the Oscillion. What were their names?” Uther glanced at the papers. “You gave them access to magic items that even the most experienced and trusted members of your organization are forbidden from creating without the express permission of the Crafting Council! Damn you, do you imagine that you have the authority to make these types of deals with adventurers? Do you hold some type of influence I’m not aware of Malanthias?”

“No, my lord.” Malanthias’ face was rigid, devoid of any emotion, but he wanted to shout at King Uther. To hell with protocol, he thought. We got the book out of there before Raddan claimed it.

“But you do have some explanation for these actions?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Well?”

Malanthias spoke quietly and softly. “Lord Andahar. While carrying out the High Spellwise of Mystical Arts’ orders, I realized that the attack on Ardenn was carried out by the Arcane Dominion of Raddai only to reclaim the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification. I immediately contacted several adventurers who had previously engaged the attacking forces and acquired their assistance in defending the tome. Inquisitor Blackstone and I agreed that the book must be kept safe and so we created a duplicate and placed it in the vault while he escaped into the Dwoemer Realm with the original. The adventurers were used to stall the Wizard King to give Blackstone enough time to get at least a head start before Goss realized our duplicity.”

“I see.” Andahar’s hands moved angrily about him. “All right. I have no use for secrets, even those that help us. But I’ll go along with your explanation, and that means I will have to give official council approval to your assistance from the adventurers and the involvement of the Inquisitor. I don’t have to like it, Malanthias, and I don’t. It was a stupid maneuver.”

But it worked didn’t it, he thought. He continued to stand tall before the throne but he felt much of the tension flow out of him.

“It turned out well,” Andahar said coldly. “You may have been right, maybe you weren’t. You pull another stunt like this and I’ll make sure that the Spellwise remove you from your position as researcher. Is that understood?” He lifted a bulky handwritten report of Malanthias’ achievements. “Are the researchers within the Wizards’ Cabal confident they could prepare some sort of defense against the ritual outlined in the tome?”

“My lord, the researchers understand the basic procedures and theories outlined in the text but I would not want to have them formulating a complex counter spell without first studying the original ritual in more detail.” The High Spellwise of Mystical Arts stood there with his back to Malanthias, obviously listening, but he had not said a word. Why didn’t King Uther ask him?

As Malanthias continued to think, Andahar made up his mind. “Well? Sildonis, you’re now the Regency Council’s magical advisor. Make your recommendation.”

Sildonis turned to face them and Malanthias was surprised. He no longer wore the traditional colors of the Wizards’ Cabal, instead the symbol of the Regency Council shone on his chest. “My lord, my recommendation: Malanthias is ready to take control as High Spellwise of Mystical Arts to help the other researchers develop a counter spell to the impending threat from the Wizard King’s ritual.”

Make him the new Spellwise of Mystical Arts? Malanthias could barely believe his fortune, but here was a chance to show Andahar and everyone else.

Andahar looked carefully at Sildonis. “Alright Malanthias, get your researchers together and disappear. You’ll have a lot to do as High Spellwise. Get to it.”

Chapter Two
Ustran Worraps entered the lower levels of the Tower of Mages only to find that everyone else had arrived to the meeting before he did. The tower itself was tall, taller than most of the mountains nestled within the Peaks of Booh, but it was crowded from wall to wall with people speaking in low murmurs and whispers. Everyone with an interest in the shift of power that had just occurred within the Regency Council had sent a representative, or a projection of themselves, if only to ensure that they were not left out of anything important.

Worraps found himself stuck along the fringe, for which he found himself quite irritated. He had wanted to speak with several of his contacts before the meeting could convene so he could prepare an effective response to the situation. Looking around unobtrusively many of the faces in the crowd were unknown to him. Some seemed quite awed by the capacity of the tower, though they were all doing their best not to show it.

He smiled slightly.

There were dozens of projections from every corner of the North, their images pulsating as the magic sustaining them was directed to the location from over countless miles of terrain. Many of the representatives had been drawn by the mere mention of Sildonis’ name. The legendary Spellwise was still a powerful symbol, even though his direct influence within the organization continued to decline. The man himself was surrounded by a crowd near the large conference table, smiling broadly, with a kind word for everyone as Malanthias, his aide, stood by his side.

Sildonis stood tall and proud amongst his peers with a withering glare to match anyone’s gaze. He’d been the best wizard within the Wizards’ Cabal, which took some doing, and most people were giving him even more room than the High Inquisitor. They were safe as illusionary projections but they had only to look upon him to recognize the power about him. He was of above average height, painfully thin, wearing the robes of the High Spellwise of Mystical Arts. He wore an amethyst arcane focus about his neck and a sword about his hips and no one had any doubts that he knew how to use either of them. His face was tanned and gaunt, with smoldering eyes and a fierce smile under closely cropped white hair.

And yet it had to be said a great many people were shocked at seeing Malanthias’ present condition. He was a short, slim man in his late eighties, who looked twenty years older still. He had a haggard, lined face topped by a ragged mane of gray hair that was pulled back into a braided plait that looked as though he had done it himself. He’d been muscular once, but the best you could call him now was sinewy. His hands showed liver spots on their backs and they trembled constantly. He did not look like an accomplished wizard and researcher anymore. He looked like an old man who was well past his prime.

Worraps moved unhurriedly through the crowd, smiling and bowing and greeting others while trying to sound as if he meant it; listening all the while to the surrounding conversations searching for any useful bits of information. He finally finished his rounds and headed for the small self-service bar that some adept had thoughtfully constructed in a corner. Worraps leaned against the bar and sighed. His cheeks ached; he hadn’t smiled so much in years.

“Do you recognize any of these people?”

Startled, Worraps turned to find a newly inducted Arcane Warrior standing behind him dressed in her formal attire. “I’d hate to think we were putting on this meeting for a bunch of unimpressive hedge wizards.”

“I know some of them. There are a handful of lesser wizards, representatives of several Inquisitors and Magisters, a few minor researchers. No one in Sildonis’ class, but it’s interesting that they are in attendance. It means that this is being taken seriously. Hello, look over there. You know who that is don’t you?”

“Damn right I do,” said the Arcane Warrior. “That’s Numerion of the Nine, from the Superstition Mountains. He’s only one of a handful major-league Archmages still alive after the conclusion of the Mage Wars; the most powerful of Raddan Goss’ lieutenants. He went rogue just before the Wizard King was destroyed by Skelfer, the Wizards’ Cabal sent an entire company of Arcane Warriors against him and they never returned. He practically dropped of the radar after that incident and no one ever bothered him again since he wasn’t interested in the outside world. I feel a bit intimidated.”

“Don’t,” said Worraps. “He came to us, remember?”

“Good point, but I’d better keep the more ambitious Inquisition Hunters away from him; just in case.”
As she moved away to prevent any unfortunate misunderstandings, Worraps set off through the crowd once again. Familiar faces surrounded him at every point as people nodded and smiled at him while he pretended not to notice. He was not in the mood to exchange pleasantries.

The meeting finally began with a series of fits and starts under the chairmanship of Sildonis, the High Spellwise of Mystical Arts. He stood on a small, raised stage so that everyone could see him; talking loudly and clearly. While he appeared impressive, his voice carried an equal imposing quality, his mastery of the spoken word unrivaled by any within the chamber. Voices across the chamber quickly died down to an expectant silence as Sildonis thanked them all for coming, introducing himself and the remaining High Spellwise, as well as the Profector General and High Inquisitor. He then opened the floor for discussion by those in attendance. Not surprisingly, the first to raise his voice was Ustran Worraps.

“Before we begin, my fellow comrades, might I take this occasion to point out that the Arcane Dominion of Raddai’s raid on Ardenn Keep turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the Wizards’ Cabal? Because of Spellwise Sildonis, researcher Malanthias and Inquisitor Blackstone the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification was left defenseless when the Wizard King arrived, and now the Regency Council blames us for allowing Goss to simply reclaim his stolen property! It’s going to be even harder now than it was before to gain popular support for our cause.”

“That’s not fair,” shouted Alleria Sill, a War Wizard of the Adamantine Band. ‘We had no way of knowing that Raddan Goss or his infernal forces were coming. We did everything we were asked to, defend Ardenn Keep and its secrets, at great risk to ourselves, I might add, and achieved everything that was required of us. How were we supposed to negate the advantages that the infamous Wizard King would bring to the conflict; how does one stop a sphere of annihilation when the control rod is clearly in the hands of the enemy? If you don’t think we did well enough, feel free to lead the next defensive campaign yourself!”

“Right,” said Inquisitor Col. “Look at it this way. Our organization’s offensive capabilities and resources were a complete mess after that siege and all of our arcane foci were shattered when one of our own, supposedly secret spells, was unleashed within the heart of our territory. Without the help of Malanthias, and the adventurers he approached, we would not have the shard which has provided us with an unlimited source of high-quality arcane foci; flawless and of higher caliber than those we had previously crafted. Whatever happens next, he and those adventurers made it possible, and don’t you forget it, you ungrateful little toad.”

“Gentlemen, let’s keep the name-calling to a minimum, shall we?” Sildonis quickly gestured for them to step back. “Otherwise this meeting will never get started, never mind finished. I think we can all agree that the defense of Ardenn Keep was of mixed results, in that we were able to maintain our stockpile of arcane foci in spite of the Wizard King’s attempt to strike us a critical blow. We’ll just have to plan things a little more carefully in the future, to allow for…unexpected complications.

“For now, we have a dedicated source of foci that are already being distributed to those affected. Those foci are also of higher quality, and if my memory serves me correctly, that means that the spells cast through them will also be augmented by this fortunate discovery; another advantage that the Arcane Dominion of Raddai has yet to learn. We can also sell these foci through our distributors in the major cities to raise additional funds to restock our mundane supplies, purchase needed metals and quite possibly pay further adventurers to assist us in future situations.

“I know that must irritate some of you, but the fact remains that we’re going to need an army to face off against Raddan’s forces. The Army of Blackmoor has very kindly promised their support, but I think we’d all feel happier not being reliant on their goodwill. Don’t forget it takes time and expertise to turn recruits into trained Arcane Warriors. I know what it takes; I’ve trained many of them before many times.

“The adventurers…are an unknown factor. We’ll deal with them as the various situations arise. We’ll have to concentrate on training our forces to fight this ancient enemy. We’re not exactly without advantages of our own; two scouts have come to us as representatives of the Brothers of the Greenwood. They speak for an army of battle-hardened men and women, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Numerion of the Nine is here as well and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who he is or remind you of his magical prowess. He’s an army in himself and a source of vital intelligence as long as we can keep his mind on the task at hand.”

A few muffled chuckles could be heard amongst the participants at the mention of the Brothers of the Greenwood while others seemed shocked that a fugitive of the Wizards’ Cabal would be welcomed as a prospective ally. Many quickly hid their surprised looks as Numerion gazed icily about him.

Sildonis cleared his throat, and Worraps noted regrettably that the crowd was hanging on Sildonis’ every word. The memory of his power and influence was returning to the minds of the assembled as he warmed to his task, and he was looking and sounding more like the High Spellwise that he was supposed to be. His old friend, Malanthias was standing close by, nodding in agreement with everything he had said.

Moving quickly to cap any further momentum Worraps spoke up again, “This all sounds very fine.” Moving through the crowd towards Sildonis he fixed him with an implacable glare. “But we still haven’t discussed exactly who is going to run things with you leaving your position as High Spellwise in order to work more closely with the Regency Council. We’ve all come here with separate needs and differing agendas, and while we all want the same thing in the end, someone is going to have to decide who will replace you and how to proceed against the threat of Raddan Goss. My associates and I have been developing ways to combat the threat he presents for nearly two years now, and we are not about to take a backseat to a bunch of researchers, just because they’ve had a few flashy successes. In particular we are not willing to be led by an old man whose best days are behind him. You’re the past, Malanthias, and we have to look to the future. For all your knowledge and accomplishments, the fact is that time and time again you have failed to prevent Goss’ return and rise to power. The Wizards’ Cabal needs more from the High Spellwise of Mystical Arts than an old man with failing charisma.”

Malanthias looked calmly back at the young man, unmoved by any of the insults. “Hello, Worraps; it’s good to see you again, too. You’ve been planning in the shadows almost as long as I’ve been overseeing the actions against the Wizard King, but I don’t see that you’ve been any more successful than I. For all your careful planning and statistical calculations, Raddan still poses a threat to Blackmoor. I remember you as an adept, Worraps. What happened to you? You had such promise. I remember your father, too. A good and honorable man, it’s a good thing he’s dead, so he can’t see what his son has become.”

“Of course he’s dead,” said Worraps. “I killed him. That is the traditional way to deal with those who sympathize with the Eldritch Underground, after all. Traitors must be exposed and removed and the old must make way for the new. So get down off that platform and make way for a better man.”

“Certainly,” chided Malanthias. “Know any we could appoint?”

Chuckles rippled throughout the crowd, and Worraps’ face became flushed red with anger. “Clever words won’t save you this time, Malanthias. I represent a growing number of people who have their own ideas as to how this organization should be run. We’ve invested the best years of our lives in the struggle to destroy Raddan Goss once and for all, and we’re not prepared to waste any more time listening to an old relic with older ideas.”

He broke off as the Profector General rose from her chair and stepped forward to glare down at him. “You behave yourself, or you’re out of here.”

“And just how do you intend to remove me,” said Worraps, smiling smugly. “After all, it’s not as if I’m a projection you could dismiss like many of those here. Your well known inclination towards violence is no use to you here. I have a great deal more to say, and there’s nothing you or that old fool can do to stop me.”

“Want to bet,” said the Profector General. She produced a small device from within her armor, pointed it at Worraps, and smiled nastily as he was banished from the demi-plane in which the interior of the Tower of Mages sat. She scowled out over the crowd and they looked uneasily at her. “Handy little device, this is. I had Malanthias craft it for me. So pay attention, friends; keep a civil tongue in your head, if you want to be heard by the Spellwise.”

“Think of the Profector General as my sergeant-at-arms,” said Sildonis. “And be very grateful most of you are here as projections. She has a very effective way of dealing with people who annoy her and circumvent her control, and it takes ages to mop up the blood afterwards. Now then, where was I?”

“You were talking about how the Wizards’ Cabal is going to fight the threat of the Wizard King,” said the High Inquisitor from his seat amongst the Spellwise. Nobody was surprised that he was the first to speak after the incident with Worraps. “The answer seems obvious to me. According to you and Malanthias, Raddan Goss currently still does not possess the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification. So all we have to do is prove to him that we have the book, destroy it before him, and then tell him to back off or we’ll unleash our forces upon him. That way, he would be unable to complete his insidious ritual.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple,” said Sildonis. “Malanthias, would you explain, please?”

The aging researcher stepped up onto the platform beside Sildonis, and the crowd stirred and murmured as they got their first good look at the man who would lead them as the next High Spellwise of Mystical Arts.

“The adventurers who penetrated Goss’ extra-dimensional fortress learned that he was taught the complex ritual by an infernal being from the planes of the Abyss. All he would have to do, if we destroyed the tome, would be to rewrite the manual required for its implementation and then unleash the ritual at a later time; it would not serve us any good.”

It became very quiet in the hall as the High Inquisitor frowned. “We don’t have to actually destroy it, just threaten to.”

“Threats work only if you’re prepared to back them up,” said Sildonis. “Raddan would know that we were bluffing. We want to save Blackmoor, not engulf it in another magical war. Besides, just threatening to destroy it would push him to attack us again, and if you remember only one person could stop him the last time he unleashed his terrible powers and that person is no longer with us. The best we can do is make sure the Oscillion stays out of his hands and that we recover it so we can develop a counter spell to the ritual in order to prevent its disastrous effects from affecting the North.”

“Let’s not get distracted here,” Sildonis said firmly. “First we stop Raddan Goss from acquiring his tome, and then we can argue about how we are going to depose him again. There’s room enough in the battle for everyone willing to fight. For now, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or at least my ally. The overall purpose of this meeting is to create a unified force against to oppose the threat that the Arcane Dominion of Raddai poses. We can set aside political debate once we’ve ensured that there will still be a future to discuss it in. Now, let’s move on, please. We still have to settle the question of how we are going to–”

And then he broke off as a group of nine figures moved purposefully through the crowd towards him, their projections so strong that they cancelled out all those around them as they passed by. People cursed and spluttered, but they ignored them. They were extremely tall and thin, pale-skinned with light blonde hair and bloodred eyes. They wore long robes of swirling dark colors, and their ears were slightly pointed.

Everyone knew who they were, who they had to be.

These men were infamous in deed and legend. They were the lieutenants of the Arcane Dominion of Raddai, formerly known as the Nine and led by Numerion the most powerful of them all. They had been united by their leader Goss when he promised them life eternal if they agreed to follow his orders and act as his representatives throughout his dominion. As the end of the Mage Wars drew near, with the advent of Skelfer Ard and his forces, the Nine agreed to a dangerous proposal, of which Numerion refused, and became linked to each other by a dark and ancient ritual based on blood and suffering and the possession of others. They had been destroyed during the final battle outside Raddan’s stronghold but somehow they had returned from their eternal damnation by some unknown force. They came to a halt before Sildonis, who studied them thoughtfully.

“Wonderful,” he said finally. “More complications. What the hell are you doing here? You weren’t on the guest list. Hell, you people aren’t on anybody’s guest list. In case I’m not hinting strongly enough, get the hell out of here.”

“Harsh words from a tired old man,” said the leader of the Nine. Most gasped as they realized that their leader was a woman, and as she threw back the cowl of her hood they finally understood how the Nine had been resurrected. She was a powerful cleric, a Sunsinger, who had been abducted by the forces of the Arcane Dominion of Raddai several years earlier and no one had ever heard from her again. Apparently the Wizard King had corrupted her divine faith and transformed her into a powerful necrotic caster capable of returning his most faithful servants to him once more.

“I am Jania; I speak as the new leader of the Nine. We are a group of one leader, one purpose and one religion with roots far older than your revered Wizards’ Cabal. We have been sent by Raddan Goss, Wizard King of the Arcane Dominion of Raddai.”

Sildonis licked his lips. His mouth had gone dry. Jania’s voice was a harsh whisper, full of pain. Sildonis remembered some of the uncanny things he’d heard about the Nine from Numerion and suddenly they didn’t seem so unlikely.

“There is one other thing,” said Jania. “A matter of honor, a stain of debt lies on one of your people.” The Nine all turned their rotting and decomposing faces towards Numerion. Jania took one step towards him. “You are the only one of the Nine who failed to uphold your end of the pact with us and our master. Promises were made and help provided in return for future payment. As you are the only one who has not fulfilled the agreement, the debt is now singly yours, Numerion, and it is well past time for repayment.” Jania looked back towards Sildonis. “We require you to hand this man over to us.”

“Don’t waste your time,” said Numerion. “Whatever pact that you all agreed to with Raddan was something that I never felt comfortable with and was the reason why I went rogue at the end.”

“We don’t want you,” said Jania. “You made an agreement the same as the rest of us to serve Raddan Goss to the fullest of our arcane abilities. You agreed to share your power with the rest of us, you were the cornerstone of the pact and you failed to uphold it. We cannot overlook this debt. That would be dishonorable, and as we cannot simply add your power to ours we must have our pound of flesh instead. You will come with us, Numerion, and we will make good use of you; while you last.”

“Like hell you will,” said Malanthias, and his voice carried across the silent chamber with a slight edge of violence tinged in it. “Numerion is an ally of mine; no one threatens him while I’m here.”

“Thank you, Malanthias,” said Numerion, “but I can speak for myself.” He glared at the Nine. “Your deal was with Raddan Goss, you never made any deal with me, so I don’t owe you anything. You’re not getting your hands on me; I know what happens to those who are taken by the Nine, I used to be one of you. They end up begging for death and for the pain to stop.”

Jania stepped forward, her ice blue eyes fixed on Numerion’s. “Then we will take you. You cannot escape, Numerion. We have a teleportation fix upon you; come with us now and we will take such pleasure from your suffering and pain.

A silver shimmering appeared in the air around Numerion, spitting static. Numerion tried to counter the spell, but the magical energy field hemmed him in preventing him from completing the necessary gestures.

The Profector General tried using her device on the Nine, but it didn’t work. Numerion looked despairingly about him as the field closed in tighter and tighter. Malanthias rushed towards him and began pounding against the shimmering field with his fists.

There was nothing he could do, but he had to try something. Something. He turned back to Numerion, who was almost lost within the shimmering magical field, and suddenly the will and need to act slammed together in his mind as he recited the gestures necessary for a dispel magic spell. Power blazed up and out of him, crackling about the air like lightning as it bent to his will; he became more than just glorified wizard as he took an aspect about him. His presence was overwhelming as reality was magnified and concentrated about him. Everyone in the hall stared at him, unable to look away, their eyes held with the fascination of a moth to a flame, and Malanthias burned so very bright.

He stepped forward and gestured at the magical teleportation field and it collapsed instantly as Numerion staggered back towards him on unsteady legs. Malanthias wasn’t finished yet. He turned to face the Nine, his face cold and hard, as Jania stared back at him, contemptuous and defiant.

“You think you’re safe behind your projections don’t you? You’re miles away, safe on the other end of your magical connection…but I can reach you wherever you are.”

Malanthias reached out towards Jania in a way that was new to him and his anger fell upon her. She screamed as the eight figures about her exploded, spattering her with blood and shredded, decaying flesh. Malanthias smiled at her shocked and bloodied face, and then turned and stared grimly out amongst the crowd.

“You can get the hell out of here, like I told you,” said Sildonis. “We’re fighting this war to put an end to practices like yours.”

“I will have him,” said Jania. “If not now, later…”

“No you won’t,” said Malanthias. “If I ever lay eyes upon you again, the same fate will befall you. Now, go back to Raddan and tell him that we are prepared to deal with him as well, and don’t try a stunt like this again.”

Jania simply stared at him for a long moment, and then disappeared. There was a general sigh of relief from all present, followed by a low rumble of conversation in the crowd. The fact that the projections had pierced the defenses of Ardenn simply proved again that the powers of the members of the Arcane Dominion of Raddai surpassed even the strongest of the Wizards’ Cabal. A number of people looked admiringly at Malanthias, but he couldn’t help notice there were just as many who seemed scared by the power he had wielded. Malanthias understood, it scared him, too.

“I think we’ve had enough excitement for one day,” said Sildonis. “We can continue this meeting through regular sessions over the next few days. Unless there is still some urgent piece of business that absolutely must be dealt with now, I am calling a close to these meetings…”

Chapter Three
Reginald Blackstone, Inquisitor and agent of the Wizards’ Cabal, had been handsome once, but that was before he had been captured by Raddan Goss. His interrogators had started with a vicious beating, not because they expected him to talk, but just to soften him up. They did not even ask any questions. Two of them took it in turns holding him up, while the third worked him over in brutal, efficient ways, until every part of him moaned with pain. Then they hurt him some more.

He’d been left alone to consider his position and to worry about what was to come; Blackstone, who’d always thought he was an indomitable person, was ashamed to find he couldn’t stop crying. He was a young man, with a deep reservoir of courage and ideals, but he’d had the courage systematically beaten out of him. All he had left now were his ideals, and they didn’t seem as strong and convincing as they once had.

He was in a bare, featureless room, deep below the surface, in the dark cold bowels of Raddan’s extra-planar stronghold. The walls were carved directly from the rock, without windows or details, while distorted shadows of his shown upon them from the single bright light high above him. He could feel the heat from the magical fire upon the crown of his bald head; it was if his brains were on fire. The door was sold iron and his arcane sight was unable to penetrate such a thick barrier.

Reginald Blackstone simply sat, bloodied and beaten, with just a few shreds of his uniform remaining; stripped of everything that could possibly give him a psychological foundation on which to fortify his mind on. They’d even taken away his suicide option; a hollow tooth with poison in it. The technicians just ripped it right out of his jaw with their fingers. He had probed the spot with his tongue constantly after its removal in the hope that some poison might have spilled out. The pain in his mouth was just a dull ache compared to what they administered afterwards. The tooth had been his last hope.

He knew he had no one but himself to blame for his capture. He had always been too wild for the slow and steady Wizards’ Cabal, too bold and impetuous even for the likes of Malanthias. So he volunteered to take the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification away from Ardenn Keep and out of the hands of the Wizard King. He thought he was unbeatable, untouchable; he was wrong. Truth was he had just been lucky and his luck had finally run out.

He’d been the only one Malanthias could have trusted with the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification and he had to escape quickly when the Arcane Dominion of Raddai appeared at Ardenn Keep that day. Blackstone was an old hand at the great game of intrigue, after all, despite his young years. He ran for as long as he could, use all his physical strength and some magical enhancements as well. He’d got away, as he always did, leaving the Wizard King with nothing but the echo of his mocking laughter. He thought he was unbeatable, untouchable. He was wrong. Truth was he’d just been lucky. And his luck finally ran out when he made the misteak of trusting the wrong person; some humanoid lizard who referred to himself as Larry.

Chapter Four
It had been exactly one year to the day that Raddan Goss leveled Ardenn Keep and the new Spellwise of Mystical Arts, Malanthias, had only been on the job for a week since Sildonis joined King Uther on the Regency Council as his Arcane Advisor. He sat exhausted on the steps just outside the researcher’s offices, head hanging forward, with sweat dripping off his face. He’d been working hard since the light had first shown itself, distracting himself with the insurmountable task of developing a counter to the ritual detailed in Goss’ complex tome.

An adept approached him hesitantly; anonymous in the usual gray robes they wore. He offered Malanthias a cup of water, in a gloved hand that shook just a bit. Malanthias accepted it with a slight nod, and the adept backed quickly away, bowing respectfully. Those who had been in the Tower of Mages when Malanthias blew away the original members of the Nine as if they were simply leaves were awed and humbled by his power. They had seen him stand against eight of the mightiest wizards in Blackmoor, and refuse to retreat. He was their savior, and they were all very much in awe of him.

They didn’t know he was unsure of how to replicate the results of his earlier feat; he was just Malanthias once more. They didn’t know that he couldn’t save them with his newfound powers should the situation arise again.

Sudden screams jerked Malanthias’ head up, and he was up and on his feet in a moment casting the cup of water aside as he saw a large section of the newly erected exterior wall break free from its ties and lean forward over a dozen or so Arcane Warriors beneath it. The segment weighed several tons, and the safety ropes that should have stopped or slowed its fall were snapping one after another, like a series of tumbling dominoes. The Arcane Warriors turned to run but it was obvious they would not make it before the wall came down upon them like a hammer.

Malanthias raised his hands, subvocalized the incantations, and began gesturing towards the wall as magical energy coursed through his body once more. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as his magical talents kicked in. He used his powers to call forth an expansive telekinetic force to hold the wall upright as the Arcane Warriors ran out from beneath it.

Sweat poured down his face. His back was ablaze with the pain of an imaginary strain upon his body. He risked looking towards the wall once again and saw the last of the Arcane Warriors were clear then dismissed his spell as the wall crashed down to the ground.

Malanthias raised his pounding head, and his heart sank as he saw the Profector General bearing down on him. Her black robes flapping about him like a ship under full sail. He started to get up, but she waved him back with an imperious gesture and Malanthias’ muscles obeyed before he realized what he was doing.

“You know,” said the Profector General, “you no longer have to stand at attention when I walk by; you are a member of the High Spellwise.”

Malanthias chuckled, “It’s hard to break nearly eighty years of habit in just one week, isn’t it?”
Silence lingered between them.

“You know,” she said finally, “you really look like sh*t, Malanthias. I spend most of my days in the field hunting Sorcerers or enemies of the Throne and I know sh*t when I see it. Your weight is way down, more so than before, and your face shows more bone than anyone else. And your eyes are so deep set they look like piss holes in the snow. I’m worried about you, Malanthias. There are dying men here in Ardenn who look better than you.”

Malanthias smiled slightly. “Don’t hold back, Kyoryl. Tell me what you really think…”

The Profector General shook her head slowly. “You’re like a damned child, Malanthias; you know that? You don’t hear a damned thing you don’t want to. Still, you did look really impressive just then. Thanks for being the hero, one more time. Now why not take a few hours off? Get some rest.”

“I can’t rest,” said Malanthias.

“Do you sleep, at all?”

“Sometimes, I’m just overwhelmed with the task ahead of me.”

The Profector General changed her tack. “I have some good news for you, at last. Trophimus, from the Directory of Antiquities, just contacted me and is on his way here with some news for you. He came just to get you; it seems that somebody out there still believes in you. Try and hold yourself together until he arrives. I don’t want Vestfold to be remembered as the place where Malanthias moped himself to death.”

He smiled briefly. “I promise. I’ve been waiting for him.”

“Blackstone may already be dead,” she said quietly. “You have to consider the possibility, Malanthias.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Even if you find his body there is nothing left you could do; he would have the book.”

“There’s always revenge,” said Malanthias.

Something in his voice made the Profector General shiver despite herself. She nodded briefly, got to her feet with a grunt and walked away. There were things even the Profector General had no answer for. Malanthias watched her go, and behind his composed features his mind was churning. The arrival of Trophimus meant that there had been some word about Blackstone from the Dwoemer Realm. Once he was here he would finally have a chance to see the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification to make a proper analysis of the ritual and construct a counter to it. But if Blackstone was dead…

The door behind them crashed open, and an adept lurched in, their identity concealed behind his grey robes and pulled forward hood. The figure was over seven feet in height and moved as if some inner gyroscope had been jarred from its proper configuration. A hand with two missing fingers emerged from inside the robes and saluted the High Spellwise and Profector General, before quickly disappearing back inside again. When the figure began speaking, its voice was a curious mixture of rising and falling crescendos.

“Spellwise Malanthias the Great, there is person for you in main square. Most urgent and imperative, and critical too. Word is, I is to bring you to main square immediately, for details and shouting at. You come now, or I is turning you into small hoppity thing. Why you still stand there?”

Malanthias blinked a few times and then looked at the Profector General, who nodded calmly at the tall belligerent figure. “Thank you. Straight to the point, as always. Go with him or her Malanthias. I think Trophimus has just arrived and you are going to want to hear what he has to say.”

Walking out to the main square of Ardenn Keep, Malanthias decided he didn’t want to think of the terrible things that might lie ahead of him. His message must have been pretty damned important for Trophimus to relay it himself. As they exited out into the bright sunshine Trophimus turned to glare disdainfully about him, and then glared even more disdainfully at Malanthias.

“I bear news,” said Trophimus, in a harsh growly sort of voice. “It has come to the attention of the Directory of Antiquities, through their agents in the Dwoemer Realm, that Inquisitor Reginald Blackstone was captured by Wizard King Goss nearly a year ago during the exchange between the Arcane Dominion of Raddai and the Wizards’ Cabal.”

“Hold everything,” said Malanthias. “Blackstone has been captured and it’s been almost a year since it happened? What’s been happening in the Dwoemer Realm while I’ve stuck here in Ardenn? Tell me.”

“The forces of the Drakon’katha are winning on most fronts,” said Trophimus and for the first time Malanthias heard real gravity in his voice. “The dwarves are barely holding their own against the combined might of the Spherule Thearchy’s clockwork creations while they are assaulted on opposite fronts by the Drakon’katha. Clockwork Village has been maintaining a secure perimeter against the Garthropods but unfortunately they’ve lost all contact with the Solenoid Combine and Abyssal Confederation; Dark Water Falls is a ghost town.”

Malanthias shook his head, “So the Oscillion has been in the hands of Raddan for nearly a year? The ritual could almost be upon us and we would never know it until it was too late! What good is your Directory if you could not shelter Inquisitor Blackstone, instead allowing him to be captured and place all of our lives in jeopardy?”

Trophimus simply bowed his head and spoke softly, “I am sorry Malanthias, I learned of this information just recently; I had a unique opportunity to infiltrate the Arcane Dominion of Raddai’s stronghold and discovered Blackstone in one of the Wizard King’s underground cells. He told me what happened as he tried to evade the efforts of Goss but ultimately proved futile. He told me of Raddan’s plans, that he had begun the ritual and that you needed to be informed immediately.”

Malanthias stood there, silent and dumbfounded. Raddan had the Oscillion of Tellurian Transmogrification and in a matter of days the ritual would be unleashed. There was little time to complete the counter spell and assemble the needed casters for the effort.

The Wizard King was preparing to move on the North and only one hope to stop him.
- Philip Slama

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