Authors: David Wells
Tags: #Epic, #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction
Phane smiled, “A threat, you say? Tell me more.” His smile took on a slight menace that even Jataan P’Tal found somewhat unsettling. Prince Phane had boyish good looks and big brown eyes that glittered with the telltale gold flecks of the Reishi line. Jataan reminded himself to be on guard.
“The Old Rebel Mage cursed an ancient bloodline to rise on this day to oppose your claim as Sovereign of the Seven Isles. The legend says the curse will be triggered by the warning spell released when you awoke.”
Phane held up his hand, “You refer to the magic circle that surrounded my obelisk, yes?”
“What exactly did the circle do when I was released?” Phane leaned forward with intense interest.
Jataan P’Tal frowned. “A great wave of magical force expanded outward from the circle. It knocked me from my feet and stunned many of my men. All felt it. I believe it may have been felt on all of the Seven Isles. Your arrival has been announced, My Prince.”
Phane picked up his flagon of wine and looked intently into it for a moment. Jataan was silent. Phane very deliberately took another long pull from the oversized cup.
“The Old Mage is a nuisance even two millennia after his death,” Phane shook his head. He stared into the cup again as if the wine might provide a solution to his troubles.
“Tell me of the threat sent by the Old Mage.” Phane spoke deliberately.
For the first time in a very long time, Jataan P’Tal actually felt a little flutter of nervousness. A drunken arch mage was dangerous.
Jataan straightened and began his report anew. “The spell takes the form of a curse on the eldest son of the chosen line. He will be marked. This mark will allow him to access hidden storehouses of magic. The legend says he will defeat you with the ancient magic he will find. The story has been corroborated by two master-level prophet wizards over the past two thousand years.”
“Does this story say what magic this brave champion will find?” Phane asked almost disinterestedly.
“The only item mentioned is the Thinblade of the House of Ruatha,” Jataan answered.
Phane looked up sharply and smiled, “Go on, General Commander.”
“The Protectorate has discovered the last remnants of this ancient bloodline. They are concealed as a secondary noble house on the Isle of Ruatha under the name of Valentine. When your obelisk came to life a month ago, I dispatched an assassin to kill the eldest son of the family. My assassin is reliable,” Jataan P’Tal concluded, and having finished his report, stood silently.
Phane sat quietly for a moment, nodded and said, “General Commander, let’s find out how reliable your man really is.” Phane stood and held out his hand toward the tent wall. His eyes lost focus and he relaxed as he touched the firmament with his mind. He released the magic through his will and commanded the door of his Wizard’s Den to open.
After a moment, the air in front of the ancient arch mage began to shimmer. Then, quite suddenly, an area of space coalesced into an open doorway leading to a place beyond and apart from the real world.
Jataan had heard stories about the Wizard’s Den spell before, but he’d never actually seen one. It took an arch mage to cast such a powerful constructed spell and it had been two thousand years since an arch mage had walked the Seven Isles.
The door to the Wizard’s Den was a simple open archway. Jataan leaned slightly to see behind the magical portal. It vanished from sight when he did.
“Huh.” Jataan P’Tal was a man of few words.
Phane smiled slightly at his General Commander and walked casually though the door, whistling a tune as he went. Jataan followed. He found himself in a stone room with a vaulted ceiling. A hearth occupied the wall opposite the door; a fire was burning brightly. Lamps spaced out along the walls provided ample illumination. A comfortable-looking bed was pushed into one corner of the room with a trunk at the foot. Along the same wall in the opposite corner stood a finely crafted armoire. A large table occupied most of the wall opposite the bed with a bookshelf taking up the rest. A simple, cushioned wooden chair was pushed in under the table and a more comfortable-looking chair faced the fireplace. The place looked almost homey.
On the table was strewn all manner of books, maps, scrolls, and other odd scraps of parchment with arcane writing in ancient and long-dead languages. There was also a finely crafted mirror in an ornate gold and silver frame resting in the middle of the table. It was oval, about two and a half feet tall and a foot and a half wide.
Phane stopped in the middle of the room and looked around as if he expected something to be out of place. He nodded his satisfaction and took a seat at the table in front of the mirror.
Jataan stood just inside the doorway looking around casually.
When Phane touched the mirror, it began to shimmer. “Show me the Seven Isles,” he commanded.
The surface of the mirror seemed to ripple. As the ripples calmed, an image began to appear. It looked like a map of the Seven Isles, except there were clouds. Jataan realized with a shock that he was seeing the entire known world from impossibly high in the sky.
“This threat you speak of is on Ruatha?” he asked Jataan.
“Yes, My Prince, House Valentine, just south of the Great Forest, between Highlands Reach and Southport.” Jataan’s eyes didn’t leave the mirror as he spoke.
Phane nodded and touched the glass where Ruatha was and the island grew to fill the whole mirror. He touched it again just south of the Great Forest and the image grew impossibly fast. Jataan felt a flutter in his stomach like he was falling. Phane searched about until he found the house he wanted. He placed his finger on the mirror frame and the image began to move toward the house, only more slowly.
Jataan P’Tal was not easily impressed, but the power of this mirror set his mind racing.
Phane guided the image through doors and into the manor. He searched methodically until he found what he was looking for. He watched as Alexander sat at a large table and listened to his father explain the curse on their bloodline. He could hear every word of the conversation through some magical effect of the mirror as if it were taking place right in front of him.
Phane smiled, “It would seem that your assassin has succeeded and failed all at once. He killed the elder brother but he killed him before the mark was made.”
“So it would seem, My Prince. I will send a squad at once.” Jataan looked to Phane for confirmation of the offer but the Reishi Prince was deep in thought.
Phane looked up abruptly. “Ah … no, that won’t be necessary. I have another idea.” Phane stood and gestured toward the door.
They exited the Wizard’s Den and Phane waved his hand toward the door. It snapped shut with a high-pitched popping sound and vanished in an instant.
“Go get me your worst soldier,” Phane commanded offhandedly as he found a tray of food on a side table and placed it carefully on the table in front of his chair.
Jataan frowned inwardly but said, “Yes, My Prince,” and left the tent. As he walked down the small hill toward the encampment, he wondered what the Reishi Prince had in mind. No matter, he thought, he had his orders. He was the General Commander of the Reishi Protectorate. He had been raised from birth for this moment. He would do his duty, come what may.
When he came into the small sea of tents that housed his forces, a sentry saluted. Jataan returned the salute with practiced precision. He called out into the open night, “Lieutenant,” then stopped and waited with his hands clasped behind his back.
Moments later, the officer on duty appeared out of the shadows, came to an abrupt halt and saluted. “Yes, General Commander?”
“Lieutenant, go get your worst soldier and have him report to me immediately.” Jataan was becoming uneasy but he wasn’t sure why. He stood silently, hands clasped behind his back, and surveyed the encampment. The sentry on duty fidgeted nervously in the presence of his General Commander. Not five minutes passed before the Lieutenant returned with a soldier in tow.
It was clear that the soldier had been sleeping. He was still buckling his poorly kept breastplate and he’d forgotten his shield. He ambled up to the General Commander and came to attention. Almost as an afterthought he added a sloppy salute.
Clearly this man was not cut out for the life of a soldier. Jataan P’Tal looked him up and down. He nodded to the Lieutenant, said, “Come with me” to the soldier, turned on his heel and started for the command tent on the top of the small hill. He could hear the soldier shuffling along behind him.
He wondered again what Prince Phane had in mind for this young, poor excuse for a soldier, before he entered the dimly lit tent.
“I have the soldi…” Jataan P’Tal stopped mid-word at the threshold of the tent. The unkempt soldier stumbled into him from behind, then recovered quickly and backed off a step while trying to peer around the short, portly General Commander.
Prince Phane stood with his back to the entrance facing a circle drawn on the ground in blood. His left hand was slick with it from a cut on his wrist that looked self-inflicted. Drops of the thick red liquid were still dribbling from the wound but Phane didn’t seem to notice.
Inside the circle was a creature of shadow and malice. Jataan couldn’t quite discern where the creature ended and the darkness around it began. It was as if the beast was not quite solid, more a shadow, yet deadly real nonetheless.
When it saw the General Commander, it lunged for him and abruptly crashed into the invisible barrier of the magic circle surrounding it. The noise it made was like nothing Jataan P’Tal had ever heard. The combination of a dying pig’s squeal and metal scraping against metal. Phane looked over his shoulder and laughed with a mixture of glee and menace. Every hair on Jataan P’Tal’s body stood on end.
Jataan P’Tal was a battle mage. He understood magic in a limited way. His connection to the firmament was strong but could only be established when he was in a fight. This magic was something else altogether.
This was necromancy. The magic of the dead. The magic of the netherworlds. The magic of evil. He didn’t know Phane was a necromancer. None of the old writings in the archive of the Reishi Protectorate spoke of this. Jataan P’Tal’s inward frown deepened but he showed nothing.
“My Prince, I have the soldier you requested,” he said as he entered the tent and drew the now terrified soldier into the dimly lit, cloth-walled chamber of horrors.
Phane turned and spoke jovially, “Ah, there you are, my boy. Come in, come in.” Phane’s boyish good looks and friendly demeanor stood in jarring contrast to the monster in the magical cage behind him. Jataan P’Tal thought idly that he would never turn his back on such a beast.
Phane didn’t even acknowledge Jataan. He walked to the soldier and smiled warmly. “Would you like some wine? Perhaps you’re hungry?”
The soldier stood at rigid attention, his face pale and his knees trembling, as he tried to fix his attention on his newly awakened Prince. Try as he might, his eyes kept slipping back to the horror in the circle of blood. The horror looked back with insatiable hunger.
“No, thank you, My Prince,” the soldier said as he went to a knee and bowed his head.
“Stand,” Phane commanded. The soldier complied but couldn’t help looking at the thing in the circle again. It was still staring at him with a mixture of anticipation and madness.
Jataan P’Tal stood to the side and took it all in. He took a mental inventory of everything in the room he might use as a weapon. As was his custom, Jataan P’Tal was armed with only a pair of concealed knives. He rarely required more and when he did, there were usually plenty of weapons lying around for him to choose from.
“Nonsense,” Phane said as he patted the soldier on the cheek with his bloody left hand, leaving a lurid red handprint smeared across the terrified young man’s face. “I insist.” The edge in his voice only served to punctuate the command and heighten the young soldier’s fear.
Phane guided him to the table, sat him down in a chair that faced away from the beast, and poured him a flagon of dark red wine. He took a seat to the soldier’s left and pushed his platter of meat, cheese, and vegetables over. “Surely you wouldn’t refuse the hospitality of your Prince,” he said with a genuine smile and a graciousness that only served to elevate the tension in the air. Phane seemed to revel in it.
The soldier took a piece of meat from the platter with trembling hands, all the while looking to Phane for permission. Phane smiled. “Eat … have some wine.” He pushed the flagon closer to the soldier, causing some of the wine to slosh out onto the table.
“Thank you, My Prince.” The soldier lifted the flagon with shaking hands and took a long drink. Wine dribbled out the sides of the cup, down his face, and onto his breastplate.
Phane sat back and smiled warmly. “Good. I have a very important mission for you.” The soldier set the flagon down with about two fingers of wine left in it. He was clearly eager to have his orders and be on with his duties.
Jataan P’Tal stood passively beside the entrance and watched. The beast in the circle of blood stared intently at the soldier.
“It seems that there is an assassin intent on killing me,” Phane said with exaggerated sadness while he wrapped a cloth around his bloody wrist. “I’ve been trapped in a rock for thousands of years and I’m released from my prison after all this time only to find that people still want to kill me.” Phane shook his head sadly.