Descent Into Darkness: Her Lord
Mid-Winter, 1304 AF
Glasten Port, the western coast of Orthanor
BA’TVIAN Delthanurk dragged the last of his bound captives into the back room of the basement he’d taken over for tonight’s work. A torch mounted on the wall illuminated his harvest. The prisoner wasn’t much of a sacrifice, as most of them weren’t. They were street people, vagrants, malnourished, too old or too young, and half of them had some illness or other. Killing them could be seen as a small mercy.
He wasn’t interested in mercy. Tonight was the full-moon. There was payment to be made.
A flicker of darkness at the light’s edge caught his attention. He turned away from the twelve people he’d collected to watch one of his Shadows slither across the floor to his side.
He comes. The soft words slid into his mind. Its dull white eyes gleamed as it swung its lizard-like head to point in the direction of the basement doors that let out into the alley above. We watch.
“Good.” He waited, ignoring the muffled groans and whines of his ‘currency’ in the heap behind him. That’s what they were, he thought. The currency with which he paid for information, as per the agreement he’d made months ago.
A moment later, he heard the rusty hinges of the doors creak. He strode forward to meet his guest, a pale man with golden eyes and hair the color of fresh blood. He was well-dressed in non-descript garments that were nevertheless finely made. A mage of means, with enough connections to be able to operate without much interference, he provided Ba’tvian with information in exchange for victims. Neither had given their names when they’d struck their agreement. Ba’tvian called him Red; Red called him Shadow Master.
The younger mage considered the title both an acknowledgement of his alliance with the creatures that now circled the room as well as a mockery of Ba’tvian’s ambition.
They exchanged nods of greeting, then went to the back where the captives were being held. Red raised an eyebrow as he surveyed them.
“I don’t believe I require more than one as payment,” he said mildly.
“Choose one then.” Ba’tvian stood, impassive, as Red studied each prisoner. In the end, he chose a scruffy child who looked to be the healthiest of the lot. With little effort, the child was hauled up and set apart from the rest.
“The Mancer Absol Omine is headed to Glasten, Shadow Master.” Red paused to see what his companion’s reaction was. When one wasn’t forthcoming, he continued. “He travels alone, on horseback. He is perhaps two days behind you, but could arrive earlier than that if he’s determined enough. At present, he is the only Mancer near enough to be of any concern.”
“What other news have you?”
Red gave a negligent shrug.
“The Port City of Menie has doubled the bounty on your head. The present lord there is very put out with you.”
Ba’tvian nodded. One day, he might pay the lord a visit.
“There is a rumor that Absol is caring for – or at least paying for the care of – a child he found in the ruins of the Spirlan Forest. I have not yet confirmed if this is true. If it is, the child is likely at Destiny’s Way, a place the Mancer seems to visit often. It is not a place I can obtain much information from.” Red tilted his head. “Confirming the rumor will take extra time and effort.”
Meaning, the younger man thought, a larger payment. He mulled it over, then shook his head.
“It can wait. I may ask for it at a later date, however.”
Red nodded, then gave a short report on the current political atmosphere. There wasn’t much of one. The cities were self-governing, the trade agreements solid, all active laws and policies more or less accepted from place to place. Orthanor was such a politically stable continent that the only unrest to surface was a dispute over a herd of cattle that had wandered between territories.
“Ah, yes. There was also a man over in Chalbrooke that had killed his family. At first, it was believed that you might have been responsible. They called in a local Mancer who determined that the murders were not committed by any blood mage, let alone you.” Red smiled. “Your infamy has spread to the eastern coast. There isn’t much else, Shadow Master. Unless you had something specific in mind?”
“Then I will trust you will take care of yourself.”
Ba’tvian watched as Red picked up his prize. The older mage carried the urchin out of the basement without another word. Ba’tvian didn’t move until he heard the basement doors slam shut. Then he kicked at the nearest captive, catching him in the ribs. As the old man wheezed into his gag, he took several deep breaths, seeking calm.
Infamy wasn’t what he wanted. It only made moving about more difficult. Now with Absol nipping at his heels, he had little time to do what he’d come to Glasten to do. He would succeed. He had to. Turning to his Shadows, he gestured them closer.
“Watch the wharves. We need a ship. You know what to look for.”
As they slithered away, he went to his pack for his knives. It was time to get to work.
The Red Tower of the Trinity
NERISSE se li Astorae ran down the steps to the corridor, then out the heavy doors that opened to the street in front of the College of Magery. Her white hair flashed in the sun, showing starkly against her slate blue skin as she moved. The skirt of her bleached woolen frock whipped about her legs, her booted feet slapped on the chilled pavement. She dodged passersby on the street, murmuring apologies as she cut around them, through them. She couldn’t afford to slow her pace; she was already late.
Dashing through the city that perched atop the natural column of stone that was the Red Tower, she wondered just who would be there. She still wasn’t comfortable with the crowded conditions here. There were so many people all piled on top of each other…she was still trying to get used to it. Back home, she hadn’t had to deal with this overwhelming populace; so few were there that she had been familiar with their faces, their names, their families. Here, that was impossible. Even among the student body, the number was too great to recognize them all. In truth, the sheer amount of people there was intimidating. Still, curiosity sometimes pushed her past the threshold of her natural bashfulness. She had made a few friends.
Today marked the end of her first six months at the Trinity, and the anniversary of the day of her birth. A few of her classmates were meeting her at the Dragon’s Head Tavern for a small celebration. She wasn’t the only one to have reason to commemorate the day, as one of them had just passed the first trials that were a prelude to becoming a Master Mage.
She was intrigued by his recent experience. Her own trials had been different from those held at the Trinity. Part of that difference was cultural, part of it was the nature of her magic. Her magery was specialized, with a primary focus on the magic of the mind and a secondary focus on that of earth. Kyle’s magery was more generalized, not leaning toward any one type of magic. Perhaps he would be open to discussing the particulars…
Turning the corner sharply, she saw the carved wooden dragon’s head that was the trademark of the tavern. The sight sent her stomach jumping with nerves. She forced herself to stop, taking a few bracing breathes. Self-conscious now, she smoothed her hair. Her nerves weren’t soothed. Ah, well…she couldn’t keep everyone waiting on her much longer.
Opening the door, she stepped inside.