Iraem Raveneye Etonaris, Seventh Level Master of the Guild of Wizards and Magi and Tenth Level Advanced Master of the Thousand Forests School of Divinatory Arts, scratched at the root of the antler above his left brow. The itch was like to drive him mad, and if he could have wrenched the prongs from his head and flung them out the tower window, he would have done so for a moment’s peace from the relentless torment.
But even if such would be a pointless gesture with this storm pounding the roof over his head and swaying the floor beneath his feet.
It was hard enough to maintain the spiritual serenity required to suppress the influence of the Daemon Arcana without all this uproar. No stillness was ever still enough that he did not feel their promises nibbling at his brain and their wiles crawling over his skin. Worms on the outside and rats within, forever hungry. With these distractions, it was almost more than he could bear.
The cards on the table trembled within the crystalline ward. He’d built their prison strong to control the aura resonance between the Arcana and the other thing kept secure in this room. That thing squirmed like a maggot of chaos within its own crystal sphere, suspended in a multi-layered column of aura barriers. Here in the highest chamber of the tallest tower of the Cloister of Truth – the Guild’s complex of research laboratories – rested the strangest of all strange powers in Aeldreth.
And here Raveneye of the black visions, who should properly be called Demonseer — who might yet be called Doomseer if he could not make his colleagues listen to him — sat as well. He had brought the foul mother together with her evil children, but he would not let them embrace. It was through their yearning that he sought their secrets.
He held his palm out towards the cards.
“Tva Baro agou Ako Toaeut.”*
He watched the slips of paper flutter and cascade over each other, into another level of one of the standard patterns. The ward strained against the pressure of the demons struggling to emerge. The measuring devices arranged around the table spun on their dials as images danced across the seer’s eyes. He took up pen to record the results and then cast the spell again with a slight variation.
The breakthrough was nearly within his grasp. Each turn of the cards hinted at the structure of the spell that infused the images with spirit. At any moment, he would see it clearly, and when he had that secret, the power would be his. Just one more move, one more game, and the pieces would all fall into place —
A series of blasts rocked the tower. Ink spilled across Raveneye’s papers. One of his instruments slipped off its base.
Raveneye threw down his pen and scratched at both antlers with a furious scream. He threw open one of the surrounding windows.
“Curse you, be silent!” he shouted into the storm. “I’m trying to think!”
Naturally, the storm did not obey, and as he peered into the clouds, he realized it never would, even if he were a weather magus. He saw the illusion of ships descending from the storm clouds, and he also saw the reality of the situation among them.
“Nightwise.” He slammed the window shut again as alarm bells began to ring. “You rot-spotted witch. So, you want them back, do you?” His gaze fell on the cards. He clenched his fists as the worms wriggled and the rats gnawed. “Never!”
— — —
In the main courtyard, Annig Bloodlance Lamila, First Level Master of the Guild of Wizards and Magi and Eight Level Advanced Master of the Noble Path School of Divine Transmogrification crushed a red-shirted man’s rib cage between his hands.
“Who are they?” shouted the smuggler Tagurs against the wind and rain.
“What does it matter?” replied Bloodlance. He dropped the body into the mud.
Tagurs’ mountain-bandit fighters – now mostly Bloodlance’s fighters out of a mixture of fear and ambition – were engaged with a surprisingly aggressive force near the main gate. The invaders had set fire to the gate and were now running like rats into the castle complex, attacking all before them.
“Of course it matters,” said Tagurs. “They’re not the army, so who did we anger in Sesus then? Lyr’s blood, I told you not to be so high-handed. This is your doing. We had a good trade going, but you couldn’t be content as a thief. You had to play the revolutionary.”
Bloodlance turned on Tagurs, and the smaller man shrank from the imposing dark elf with the flowing gray hair and the black and red cloak of a Master of Bone and Blood. “Have a care, Eorman,” Bloodlance snarled. “I need you no more than I need that gate or any stone of this place. If you want to keep your blood inside you, then spill theirs out — and stay away from me.”
He strode away across the yard. He already knew who was leading this assault. Raveneye had seen them coming – the sons of House Ereon, the so-called heroes. Bah! Wild elves. Filth washed up from the sea, barely civilized enough for piracy. What threat could such low-lifes pose to the one who controlled the stronghold of Isolla?
Calling for fighters to follow him, he made his way to the Cloister of Truth. It was time for Raveneye to stop playing about and let their greatest weapon be put to proper use.