Styln Greycloak shifted uneasily in his seat. The ride had been three weeks of bumping and jarring over desolate and dusty roads. Pulling his robes tighter he tried to maintain a quiet dignity despite his disgust. This was no way for a man of his standing to travel. With a mere thought he could have brought himself and his escort to the necessary location in a matter of moments. But the circumstances involved were delicate and required less ostentatious means. Magic was not welcome where he was going. The Danarii people thought magic was a taint, corrupting all those it touched. They went to great lengths to Ďpurgeí and Ďpurifyí those they deemed unclean. Styln shuddered slightly. His empire had been at war with the Danarii for well over fifty years. The Danarii seemed to have an endless supply of troops and strange mechanical devices. Only in the last twenty years had they slowed their attacks. In the last decade it had seemed that the Danarii had given up entirely, having withdrawn their armies past the black mountains to their homeland. Closing their borders to even common traders. His lord, Emperor Magnus the III had been very suspicious. Having known nothing but war his entire life, the young Emperor had only inherited the Empire a few years ago. Then without warning the Danarii had returned. Only this time it wasnít with armies or their strange devices. It was a lone messenger. The letter was mysterious as it was vague.
Servant under God,
In pursuit of unity and peace. The Danarii Empire wishes to cease all hostilities. As a show of our good faith we wish to return those prisoners of war still detained by the Empire. In one months time we will have an envoy waiting at the foot of the Black mountains at the site of the first and last conflict between our nations.
Potentate Heimdall XIVí
At first Magnus had discarded the very notion as an elaborate ruse, or even a hoax. It was not until the envoy produced indisputable evidence that the Emperor had even considered it, finally consenting to send a small envoy to meet in neutral parlay.
And now he was here. Styln fingered the heavy ring in his hand. It was a Magus ring, nearly identical to the one he wore now. It was awarded to all wizards within the Emperorís service upon reaching the status of ĎMasterí. Only a dozen wizards were currently of such lofty station. Nearly twice that number had been lost in the war. One of the magics inherent in the ring was that as long as its possessor lived, the ruby glowed with a faint pulse. Mimicking the beating of the owners heart. He glanced down at the ring, his stomach feeling as if it were lead as he watched the ring wink accusingly at him. The idea of prisoners of war was an unthinkable one where the Danarii were concerned. Anyone unfortunate to be captured was usually brutally tortured before their bodies were sent in carts to the commanders of the Emperorís army. To make matters worse in all the decades of battle the Empire had failed to ever capture a single Danarii alive. Each and every attempt had failed miserably. Every Danarii they encountered would willingly die, sacrificing themselves and the lives of their companions before submitting to surrender. The few they did manage to capture always managed to end their lives moment later either with some strange device or by other unknown means.
" Master Greycloak. There is something up ahead."
Styln glanced up, noting the guards worried tone. "What is it?" He asked, looking in the direction the guard pointed. Almost immediately he spotted it. Two lone figures standing between a white flag. On the flag he could make out the stylized sun picked out in silver. The Danarii version of a flag of truce. It was usually the last thing a surrendering town saw before they were annihilated.
Drawing himself up he scanned the desolate plains around him. Here and there he could pick out bleached bones and discarded and dilapidated equipment. But aside from the two figures, there was no other sign of life. "Keep going. But stay alert." The guard nodded and began issuing out orders to his squad. The driver picked up his pace slightly, eager to leave this place.
" Greetings!" Styln called out, his voice echoing hollowly across the space between them. Now he could see both individuals quite clearly. The one holding the flag was decked out in a plain but sturdy looking robes. No weapons were evident. At his neck hung the all too familiar sun symbol. Styln recognized him as a priest of the Danarii faith. Next to him a man stood in faded but clean robes. Heavy manacles at his wrists, feet and neck seemed to weigh him down. His features were obscured by the deep hood.
The priest bowed, his face an impassive mask. "Greetings. You have come for the prisoner?"
Styln lowered himself from the cart, walking to stand within arms reach of the priest. "Yes, I represent the wishes of Emperor Magnus. I am here to see to the release of prisoners."
The priest bowed slightly. "The Potentate sends his greetings and Expresses his devout wish for there to be peace and unity between our two nations. As a display of our sincerity, we return what is yours."
Styln glanced at the hooded man. "He is the only prisoner?"
" Yes." The priest stated flatly.
Styln nodded unsurprised but felt the need to know more. "No other of the empires people remain?"
" No." The priest intoned, seemingly unwilling to add any further details. "Good day to you." He stated as he turned to leave.
" Wait!" Styln called out. "Is that it? Isnít there anything else?"
" No." The priest replied without looking back. "The prisoner will convey the Potentates wishes when you bring him to your Emperor."
Styln watched the priest stride purposefully away until he was out of sight. Still confused he turned to the chained and hooded man standing next to the banner. "You there, what might your name be?"
The prisoner shifted slightly but did not reply.
Irritated Styln reached up and pushed the hood back roughly. Only to stagger back in sheer horror, the ring dropping from his nerveless fingers. "You!"
Kiirgon Vanguaard blinked in the sudden brightness and fixed Styln with his steely gaze. "Greetings, Apprentice."
" Yes Emperor. I understand completely. It will be done." With a deep sigh, Styln rubbed his temples and broke the link with Magnus. This was not good. He looked back to where Kiirgon still stood. For good measure he had thrown a simple barrier spell of silence around him to prevent any of the guards from overhearing anything that might be said. This was not good.
Behind him, Kiirgon kneeled down to retrieve his ring.
Swearing, Styln made a gesture and the ring leaped forward, just out of the chained mages grasp. "I am sorry, sir." He stated with authority. "But prisoners are allowed no personal effects."
Kiirgon fixed him with a hard stare and slowly drew himself to his feet. "Prisoner?" He held his manacled arms out, hands clenched in white knuckled fists. "Then I am not to be released?"
Styln stepped forward and retrieved the ring, turning his back so that Kiirgon could not see his shaking hands. "No sir. You are to be escorted to the capital to stand trial immediately upon your return."
Kiirgon arched an eyebrow and crossed his arms slowly. His chains clinking faintly. "Trial? Might I know the charges, or will charges be fabricated when I return?"
Styln bit back his ire. "You are to stand trial for treason against the Empire, where if found guilty you will be executed"
Kiirgon shrugged. "Have it your own way."
" I see you fancy yourself a Master now." Kiirgon stated absently. Not bothering to open his eyes.
Styln glared at the reclined prisoner. Ever since he had been loaded onto the cart he had lain out on one of the bench-like seats. Not moving, not speaking. The guards periodically checked his pulse to be sure he still lived. Styln had taken up vigil opposite. Becoming almost like a statue himself. His unblinking gaze never wavering. The chains prevented Kirrgon from using any of his considerable magic, as they were forged of cold iron. A study of the manacles had revealed that them to be seamless. Almost as if they had just been formed over his wrists, ankles and neck. The heavy chains had proven to be resistant to all attempts to break or even scratch them. Despite his best efforts, Stylin could detect no noticeable aura of magic around them. It seemed almost the opposite. Cold iron in and of itself was dangerous to any wielder of magic. Its touch would drain their power slowly. A mage chained as Kiirgon was, would be helpless.
" It has been over ten years since you disappeared. I have learned much since then."
Kiirgon half opened his eyes, seeming to stare at the sky above. "And who tested you? There were only a handful of us left. If memory serves they were all with me."
" I underwent the testing myself." Styln stated hesitantly. "There was no one else of rank to see to it."
Kiirgon nodded almost imperceptibly. "Pity. It seems you were too effective for your own good then."
Stylnís head snapped up in alarm. Reflexively he dripped a barrier of silence around the two of them to keep their words from reaching any unwanted ears. "What do you mean by that?"
" One of the advantages of being imprisoned is the amount of time you have to think about things. After the first year of torture I entertained the idea that I might someday be able to escape. Most of the others were dead by then and we were kept separated for the most part, so I had no one to speak with. So I began to re-assemble the events, in my mind, that led up to that fateful day. After a time I came to one inevitable conclusion. We had been betrayed."
Styln steepled his finders in front of his face. His eyes narrowing. "And how did you come to this conclusion, if I might ask?"
Kiirgon sat up. "As if you did not know" you betrayed us."
Stylnís eyes widened in surprise. "Me? How could you think that? I was nothing if not loyal to the council!"
" Yes, the council"" Kiirgon looked thoughtful for a moment. "convenient that the remaining heads of the council, including myself were the ones involved in the attack that day?í
Styln paled slightly. "It was not my doing, the Emperor gave his orders""
" Emperor Magnus had a very clear and decisive way he carried out his plans. The events that led up to the battle went opposite of his plans. He kept the masters separate so that one single ill fated battle could not destroy us all. Which it did. Oddly enough at this time Magnus was away in a diplomatic conference. Leaving his son, to coordinate the war in his stead."
Styln shrugged and looked away from Kiirgonís piercing gaze. "That is just hearsay. There is no conclusive proof."
" Proof?" Kiirgon growled, his eyes glittering dangerously. "Just that the emperorís son was opposed to the council? Everyone knew his hatred of the council. The fact that he once was an apprentice until his own ambition cost him his gift, ever since he lost his magic he hated the wizards. He blame the council, blamed me for his own mistakes. How many occasions did he try and get the council dissolved?"
" People can change." Styln muttered, still not meeting his masterís gaze. "The council was reformed after the Danarii withdrew. Shortly after the battle where you went" Missing. The council has been reformed."
" I see." Kiirgon muttered. "Who heads the council now? You?"
Styln nodded. "After I attained master, I sought to reform the council. In case the Danarii ever returned."
Kiirgon grinned humorlessly. "Magnus is dead isnít he? His son rules the Empire now?"
Styln looked up, meeting Kiirgonís gaze. "Yes. He approves of the council and was most eager to seek peace with the Danarii when the envoy came."
Kiirgon laid back and closed his eyes once again. "Yet when he found out that I was the one to return, he suddenly wants to put me on trial. For treason."
Styln looked uncomfortable. "Well. It is understandable. In all the years we fought the Danarii, no one has ever survived capture. They have all been put to death, executed by their captors."
Kiirgon sighed deeply, painful memories flooding his mind. "Execution? Is that what you believe? Torture is more like it."
Styln looked indifferent. "That is generally what happens to prisoners of war."
Kiirgon smiled faintly. "Sometimes, maybe for the common soldiers. Torture and execution for their Ďcrimesí against their god for tolerating the foul taint of magic. But when the Danarii capture a mage it is different. Torture is only the beginning." He rattled his chains for emphasis. "First they chain you. So that your magic is siphoned from you. Then when you are helpless they drag you through the cities so that their people can mock you and beat you. For miles they drag you until you reach their capital city. Those that make it that far anyway. You remember Daenara? She didnít make the trek. When she could walk no more, our captors tossed her to the Danarii soldiers. She screamed for hours before someone finally cut her throat. When we arrived to the dungeons and met the inquisitors, we thought her fortunate."
Styln leaned forward, Kiirgon had gone so still that the mage feared his prisoner had suddenly died. Finally, Kiirgon drew a deep shuddering breath. "The Inquisitors do to your mind what has been done thus far to your body. Malik went mad the first day. They threw him in a cell close to ours so we could hear him. His ramblings gnawed at us for the remaining days he lived. When the inquisitors could get no more from us. They called the confessors. As long as I live I shall never be able to purge their faces from my mind."
Styln frowned slightly. "Confessors? Arenít they the same as an Inquisitor? Just another breed of torturer?"
Kiirgon smiled faintly. "No" Confessors are much, much worse. They can rip the magic from a wizard. But it is not a quick or painless process. It is slow, taking months or even years. Words can not describe the feeling. The closest I can come is having your skin peel off a fraction at a time from the inside with shards of broken glass while ants crawl over your body, stinging and biting. It is like having your soul slowly gnawed upon by rats, you feel bits of yourself being torn away until one day there is nothing left. Unfortunately that is not the end of it. Only two survived that, myself and Garient. He managed to escape them by withdrawing into his mind completely. Only I remained afterwards. What was left behind after the pain nearly killed me. The indescribable void within my being. The draining emptiness and despair. How I lived I do not know."
" Yet you did survive." Styln replied. "You survived all this and now you are here." His eyes narrowed. "You say they Ďrippedí your magic from you. But that can not be""
Kiirgon shrugged, his chains clinking quietly. "O it is quite possible, I assure you. "
" Do you have anything you wish to say in your defense?"
Kiirgon blinked and looked around him as if he had just woken up. Fixing Styln with a pitying glance he addressed the Emperor. "The crimes I have been charged with are irrelevant. My sole purpose is to deliver a message for the Danarii."
Magnus the third frowned. "We do not wish to hear anything a spy such as yourself might have to say." He looked at the surrounding council of nobles and mages. "If no one else has anything to say in the accused defense, then I deem him guilty of all crimes."
An ominous silence filled the hall. Kiirgon nodded, smiling faintly as if he were unsurprised. "Very well. The Danarii wish for a peaceful co-existence between our two nations."
Magnus stood abruptly. "The prisoner will be silent!"
Kiirgon glanced up at the Emperor the way one would look at a small child, then continued. "In order for this to happen, the Empire must cease the use of all magics, demon worship and false religions. Swearing loyalty to the one true God."
The Emperorís face turned red. "Heís gone mad. Guards. Silence him!"
The mages standing to either side of the prisoner nodded in unison and stepped forward. As they touched the prisoner both screamed and fell back, clutching their hands in pain.
Styln swayed as his vison turned gray. Steeling himself he leaned on his staff for support. What was happening to him?
Kiirgon barely even paused. "All practitioners of the dark arts must be turned over to the church so that an attempt may be made to save their wayward souls. All nations who swear loyalty to the one true god, forsaking magic will have the protection of the Danarii against all evils and an eternal place in heaven with the one true god. All those who continue to practice the dark arts will bear the wrath of the one true god and be destroyed. Their souls rotting in eternal torment. So it is said in the Book of the One true God. So it shall be done."
The assembled wizards looked to each other in panic. Styln stepped forward and pointed at the chained wizard. "Destroy him!"
Kiirgon smiled as the wizards fanned out around him. The two at his feet scrambling to get out of the way. "There can never be peace with Danarii. They see only one future. Their future, we can never fit into their ways. The only way they can have peace is through the subjugation and destruction of those who differ from them. I have been sent as a warning."
The mages around him paused their spells and glanced uneasily at one another. They all knew that the iron binding him prevented him from using spells. He should be terrified, yet he stood fast with a cold certainty that was unnerving.
Kiirgon shifted his gaze from the council to the emperor. "You do not have to do this" I know you betrayed the council so many years ago. I forgive you because you were an angry young man, and were not thinking clearly. For your own sake, and the sake of the Empire, release me now, or face the consequences of your decision."
Magnus the IIIís face turned purple with hatred. "You destroyed the council, betray the empire, make threats and slander against me and now you want mercy?"
He looked around the room, his face set. "Kill him."
Kiirgon nodded sadly. "Even after all this time" You still havenít gotten over your own foolishness." He turned his back on the Emperor to face the wizards. "very well, we shall do this your way." Kiirgon took a deep breath and steadied himself. Slowly he raised his arms, as he did the first two wizards began to writhe and scream. Just when their shrieks became earsplitting, blood poured from their eyes, ears and nose. Finally they expired, their last bloody breath violently expelled from their body.
Nobles and guards alike panicked, the former running for the doors while the latter drew swords and charged.
Kiirgonís eyes snapped open and he made a gesture. The wizards watched in stunned disbelief as the Guards armor and weapons began to glow cherry red, then white hot. A dozen men fell screaming as their armor cooked them alive.
Magnus the III scrambled back in terror, desperately he clutched at Stylnís robes.. "What are you all waiting for? KILL HIM!"
Styln opened his mouth to reply, but everything had taken on a surreal quality. He felt as if he were moving through water.
Behind him, the wizards exploded into action. Not since the wars had a magical battle of this magnitude been fought. Balls of lightening, fire and ice screamed at the prisoner, only to veer aside or bounce harmlessly as they were turned away by some invisible force. Desperate, one panicked mage summoned a pack of demons, each one looking like hellish kobolds with wicked swords. The diminutive horde blinked at their surroundings and turned as one on their summoner. The unfortunate and foolish mage died shrieking under a flurry of jagged swords.
Another mage gestured at the weapons laying about and formed a whirlwind of flashing blades. The deadly tornado sped forward, slicing its way through dead bodies and demon-spawn to Kiirgon.
To the wizards shock Kiirgon stepped forward passing through the blades as if they were leaves in the wind. At the eye of the steel storm he advanced, turning the wizards weapons against him. The wizard screamed as the blades reduced him to bits of flesh. As the blades clattered to the floor, Kiirgon turned to face the remaining wizards. "This is not your battle." He gestured at the mangled bodies laying in growing pools of blood. "Run now or suffer their fate."
One wizard, shaken with fear turned to run only to be cut down by the remaining two hell-spawned beast.
The last three wizards looked at each other, each one searching for a way to stop their terrible foe.
The youngest, a female wizard gestured and spoke the words to her most powerful spell. A lance of sickly green energy shot out, engulfing Kiirgan. When the glow faded nothing was left of the chained wizard.
"I got him!" She exclaimed with relief and excitement. "I killed-" her words were cut off as Kiirgan reached up from behind her and gripped either side of her head.
"Iím sorry." He whispered, snapping her neck.
The remaining two wizards backed away in terror. One tired to encase Kiirgon in a cage of magic, only to have the chained wizard step through it. "Thatís impossible!" He shouted, falling to his knees.
Kiirgon placed one hand on the wizards forehead and flames erupted from the doomed mages eyes. Letting the charred husk drop the ground he turned to the last wizard.
Knowing he had no chance the wizard raised his hands and muttered a swift spell, seeking to escape. He was a fraction of an instant too slow, his body exploding messily in a shower of blood and gore.
Kiirgon wiped the blood from his hands and turned back towards the emperor, the only thing between them being the hell-spawn. As he strode forward the demons cowered in fear, scooting away like whipped dogs. He dispelled them with a gesture and picked up a jagged dropped by one of the fallen hordelings.
Magnus the third quivered in absolute fear as Kiirgon raised the sword. "Mercy" Please"" He begged pitifully.
Kiirgon lowered his blade. "Mercy? Because of you, ten of my closest friends were tortured in ways I would not wish upon anyone. As each of them died, their soul and their pain transferred to me. I died each of their deaths. Every scream they made was mine to keep. Every plea for mercy echoes in my dreams. For ten years I lived in hell. I lived so that they would not die unavenged. You lost your gift through your own foolishness, mine was ripped from me over five agonizing years. After which I was thrown in a pit and left to die. When I did not die, the Danarii took it as a sign and sent me back here to be their herald. The wizard you betrayed is dead. All that is left now is vengeance." With a vicious growl he rammed the sword through Magnusís chest. "I condemn you to rot in agony in this dying body for all eternity. With only the pain of those you betrayed to keep you company until the end of time."
With a grimace of disgust he pushed the cursed man back to twitch and writhe in agony. With resignation he turned to the barely conscious form of Styln.
"Apprentice"" He rolled Styln over with his foot and stood on his chest. The fallen mage coughed weakly and rolled his head to look up at Kiirgon.
"How" You are chained with iron. You said your magic was ripped from you" How?"
Kiirgon nodded sadly. "I am, and it was. One thing I came to learn. Magic is a power that is shaped by our will. Think of it as a fire carried within you. It is under your control. I learned to control the fire within others. I didnít use my magic to destroy them. I used yours."
Stylnís eyes went wide with horror as he realized the truth of his former masterís words. "Now what?"
Kiirgon smiled grimly. "Now I strip you of your power, as was done to me. Then I shall do to you what I did to the traitor." He gestured to the still twitching Magnus. " I shall destroy your body so that you are nothing more than a tormented soul trapped in a rotting body, forever."
Stylnís head leaned back in resignation. "Not today, master." Twisting a ring on his thumb he vanished.
Kiirgon let his foot fall onto the floor and nodded with approval. "You have learned well, my student. But you can not run forever. I will find you."
By: Jason Haley