There was a low buzzing hum filling the air of the cavates beneath West Hold where Garret Cain and his cabal worked their magic. Eight voices echoed through the electrified air of the round chamber, bouncing off the walls in a sort of warped round of the originals. Cain stood near the edge of the inner square of the Xe'Tetran, holding his focus before him. His eyes were open, but his brow furrowed in concentration as he felt the power of the ritual slowly building. One by one, the glyphs on the floor began to glow with an eerie red light. The wizard muttered an incantation and closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again he could see the lines of power in the room, pulsing like the veins of some invisible beast. They stretched between the points of the sigil on the floor. Some flickered and arched like the strands of electricity in an alchemist's sphere. Others stood ridge, like bridges of crimson light. Where the beams touched each other small arcs of blue flashed and the air in those places seemed to waiver, just like the horizon waivers at a distance on a hot day. Reaching out his will, Garret Cain grasped for the nearest shaft of energy. With fingers of thought as strong as bands of steel but as invisible as breath, he grabbed hold of a glowing strand. A vibration that rattled the teeth in his skull filled him. He was sure that if he had hair, it would be standing on end. With a second focus of his will, he subdued another beam. The power steadied and the vibration ceased. He could feel the power of the red light flowing through him now. He was a part of the circle. He was one with the magic. He was the magic. For a brief moment he shifted his perception back to the room. The red lines winked out.
"Begin the second verzosa, now!" he commanded. The chanting from four of the wizards changed slightly. Like a discordant chorus the two different spells seemed to clash and jar against each other, each trying to override its twin. Both wanted to be the sole force; the only true power. He shifted back again.
Half the lines had taken on a green tint now. The red and green spun together in bridges and arcs, filling the room with a pale, distorted glow that was neither color. Garret Cain focused his will on the two lines he held and slowly, as if shoving a boulder across ice with the tip of a long stick, he began to move the lines. He shaped their energies with his will, even as the power coursed through his body, threatening to overwhelm him. Finally, when the beams were where he wanted, shaped to his desires, he let them go and began the process anew with another two lines.
Very few could shape ley energy with his skill. Most wizards could only shape one line at a time, and then with great care and difficulty. It was this talent that had helped him achieve his position as head of the Jihoden. It was for this reason that the Three feared him. They kept him at bay with their petty bureaucracy; their childish punishments. They were jealous of his skill and at the same time were afraid of his potential. They always had been. Now he would help them realize their fears. He would show them that their attempts to hold him down, to keep him back, were a failure. He was stronger than any of them. He would erase their snide condescending faces from the face of Egoth and claim his birthright.
Then there was the Illuninatus. He did not fear Garret Cain. No, he was indeed powerful. He understood power. He knew that Cain was up to something, in fact. But it was too late for him. Overconfidence had ever been his bane and tonight would prove his undoing. If he had truly predicted what Cain might try then he should have struck him down when he knew. But, no, he had gone along with the petty punishment his Three had concocted. He had allowed him free reign to continue his plot, knowing full well that Cain intended to kill him. The fool.
The bands of energy had now been half formed into their final arrangement. Garret Cain had studied many old tomes and searched far and wide to find the exact pattern that would be required for this task. He had conferred with a good many wizards and other...things. The whispers of power were true, he was sure of it. When the spell here was done and he opened the rift, the being that entered would exact its price; and Cain would pay it. What he stood to gain in return was far greater than anything a mere demon could possibly demand. The wards of this sigil would ensure its obedience and compliance and with the power it granted him in exchange for blood, he would topple the Supreme Magi and become the most powerful man on this world.
The outer pattern was complete now and a sort of resonance had begun to take shape in the center of the pattern. A concentration of that shimmering air hovered in the space between the lines of power. There the world was thin. Reality was like a Rasheen paper door in that wavering cloud. If Cain were to throw a small stone, a nodule of force, it would tear and spill the reality on the other side into this one like a slit pig at the butcher's hut spilled its guts upon the floor. That wouldn't do, however. Turning this cavates into a portalis would only kill him and his...helpers. No, he intended, like a surgeon, to make a small incision and with a cage of force, hold the thin stretch of reality's fabric together while he drew through only the one he named. Only that one. He began building that cage now. Slowly. Delicately. He edged the sides of the cage close to the thin area, barley brushing against it; careful not to rip it by accident. As he worked, beads of perspiration formed on his brow but immediately dried as the heat of the room began to rise...
Kyle stood in the black wind, his back to a tree and his cloak pulled tight around him, gazing up at the magically lit walls of West Hold. The wind had long since blown out all of the torches and lanterns that the guards used on their patrols of the great stone bastions. No doubt Hurex mages had been summoned to create fey-lights in the empty lantern brackets. Supposedly, such magic was impervious to the wind, but it seemed to him that even they seemed to struggle and flicker against the howling torrent. He would need to seek shelter soon, for the mage had said that tonight would be when he finally set his plan in motion. For years he had suffered the company of Sivand and his troupe of arse-kissing friends, but he had a purpose they didn't know of. The wizard had set him amongst them as a watchdog. He was the mage's eyes. He was his assassin. The nobleman's son, Ledrin, in their second year. Their old bunkmate before Edgar signed his papers. They all thought he had died in a freak swimming accident. Trapped beneath a sunken log and drowned. Poor lad. What a shame. A loss to the company. The "poor lad" had seen Kyle talking with one of the wizard's messengers and tried to confront him about it in the halls one day. The mage's response to this discovery had been simple: "Silence him." And so he had, that same afternoon. No one even thought to question why he was swimming with his boots on, stupid sheep. He had been used in similar capacities since then. He had framed students for stealing weapons, short blades mostly, to discreetly make sure that certain families were kept out of the potential chain of command. He had even killed a superior once. Oh yes, that was a good one. The man was a veteran Blade Leader named Redrick and was a confidant of both General Harbind and his sons. He had poisoned the man's drink, for he was a great lover of ale and often took it to excess. Even as he lay panting for breath on the barroom floor, his swollen purple tongue choking him to death, he probably did not realize why he was dying. The bartender had taken the blame for that one. He had been an Olgothian, and had a reputation for shady dealings. He himself had made the accusation right there in the bar where he had been drinking with the Blade Leader. The two other trainees with him had not seen him slip the powder into Redrick's mug and he had chosen their company specifically because of their prejudice against Olgothians. They had stood witness against the barkeep and their testimony that they had seen the man trying to hide the poison helped seal the fool's fate. He hadn't been trying to hide anything actually. He had simply picked up the small pouch Kyle had left lying near the choking man's mug and as he studied it, Kyle had made his damning proclamation. So easy to fool, these people. So trusting. But that wasn't even the best one. The best had been Jalina. Alaster's woman. Oh yes. He and Alaster had always gotten along better than he and Sivand. Maybe he had felt sorry for Kyle, always being shown up and belittled by his brutish foster brother. That sympathy was a weakness; like a chink in hard armor or a crease in chain mail. He had begun hinting that Jalinda might fancy the great bellowing ox rather than Alaster, which was absurd, naturally, but love has a way of meddling with one's common sense that even the most complex poisons can't imitate. Jalina was the daughter of one of the steel merchants that did business with the guild. She had known both of the sons of Harbind since she had been a tot herself, or so he had been told, and was especially close to Alaster. It was rumored they might marry after his commission. Or it had been. The wizard, for whatever reason, wanted the sons of Harbind to be at odds. Part of Kyle's job had been to find possible ways of doing this and let the wizard know of them. The old bat had known of the boys' friendship with the young lady, true, but when Kyle mentioned the whispered rumors of marriage to him one afternoon, after he had left council with the General, the old man positively quivered with excitement. He had told Kyle to remain silent for the next week, but to track to movements of that young woman and wait for his next missive. For days Kyle had watched quietly from the shadows, marking where the steel-monger's daughter went on their daily trips to the guild compound. After assisting her father with bookkeeping she always walked across the compound, past the storage sheds to the sword-rings that the trainees used for sparring, to meet with the sons of Harbind. She would watch them practice and make small talk with the pair of them afterwards. However, on Stoneday, Sivand was teaching Master Gadden's archery lesson for him, and she would only meet with Alaster. Oh ho, was that a show! Quite forward when alone with her man, that one. They never did more than kiss, but one could tell that if given half the chance there would be much more going on.
He reported his findings to the wizard, and at the beginning of the next week, the wily old fox had made a plan that he guaranteed would created a rift between the two brothers that would never be forged. It began with Kyle sowing the seeds of mistrust by hinting that Jalina might be playing Alaster for a fool. He did this with great relish, having to suppress a smirk as he saw the troubled expression that stole over Alaster's face as he spoke. For three days he subtly pressed the issue, and then, as per the wizard's instructions: "let it stew". He watched as the great fool confronted his love about the matter at their next meeting. Oh my, was she ever indignant! No kissing that day, for certain. Lucky not to have been emasculated, poor Alaster was. From his hiding place nearby, Kyle had to shove a fist into his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Oh, but the next week would be better. In a casual conversation with Alaster, Kyle brought up the subject of his lady-love. Oh, how upset he was over it! He was so sure that her angry outburst at his reaction had been because it might be true. Kyle offered his false sympathy and reinforced this notion. Oh yes, this was going perfectly. He watched as Alaster's frustration had mounted and when the next Stoneday arrived, he put the second part of the mage's scheme into action. The wizard had given him a glamer. It was a potion that the old man claimed would make him into the image of anyone he had ever seen. "You see to his woman, as I have suggested, and I will see to the father. Then, when his fire is stoked, I will release young Harbind from his chain in the direction of my choosing and he will run my course, even to his death." The wizard had laughed then, something that Kyle had never heard from him before. This must be very important indeed if he was this happy over the whole thing. That afternoon, before Jalina had left her father's employ for the day, Kyle secreted himself in one of the storage sheds and drank the glamer. He felt dizzy for a moment, then slightly queasy. His skin felt like it would flow off him into a puddle. Like it was held there only by the force of his will. He did as the wizard instructed and visualized himself as someone he knew...someone he knew very well. His hair lengthened and became the color of sun. His muscles bulged and he grew in height almost two heads. His tunic threatened to burst and he hastily removed it. It wouldn't do if it tore; he would need it for later. Then he waited. Peeking out of the door, he saw Jalina approaching on her usual path to the sword-circles. Opening the door slightly he beckoned to her. He spoke in that familiar deep voice, the one he hated so much, and saw the look of recognition light up on the girl's face as she gazed his direction. "Sivand! I thought you were teaching archery today?" she asked, smiling at him. "I am a little late." Kyle said in his stolen voice, shrugging, "Come in here a minute, I have something I want to show you." Her smile brightened even more if that was possible, and she stepped forward. "What is it?" she asked.
"It's a surprise. I've been working on it for weeks." Kyle said, in a twisted truth that made him laugh inwardly. "Well, ok." She replied cheerily "But make it fast, I am supposed to meet Alaster." She added.
"This won't take long." Kyle assured her, "You'll like this." he said as he closed the door behind them, shutting out the light. She hadn't liked it. Not a bit.
Kyle slipped out of his reverie for a moment, savoring the memory. Oh yes, he had done a good trick on the lot of them. In the night one of the fey-lights finally succumbed to the infernal wind and winked out. Kyle was sure that if he could hear over the wind there would be surprised cries of disbelief and shouts for a battlemage coming from the walls, but he could hear nothing now but the rushing hiss of the unnatural storm that wailed around him.
He had left poor, sweet Jalina in tears on the floor of the storage shed. In the darkness he had felt the glamer wear off shortly after he had finished with her, and he quickly put his discarded tunic back on in the dark and slipped out of the shed and away before the girl's eyes could adjust to the bright light and recognize there had been a change. She hadn't been looking anyhow. "Why!?" he heard her wail through her sobs as he strode away from the door and back across the green towards sword-rings. He arrived as Alaster was finishing a form with a wooden blade. Sweat glistened on his bare chest from the effort of his exercises. He claimed he had to work twice as hard when Sivand wasn't there to spar, or he would fall behind. Kyle hailed him and received one in return. They began a conversation. Something silly about the weather, or one of the trainers, Kyle couldn't remember. His only thought was: "Any moment now..."
Then she arrived holding up the ripped remains of her merchant's dress, hair askew and red in the face. Tears streamed down her cheeks and a small rivulet of blood trickled from the corner of her mouth. Alaster sucked in a breath as if he had just been struck by a fist and dropped his wooden sword. He rushed to her side and she immediately threw her arms around him sobbing uncontrollably. "Who did this to you?" Alaster demanded, the anger trembling in his voice. Kyle stepped forward, outward concern on his face. "She's been attacked!" he said, voice filled with false shock.
For a moment she said nothing, and Kyle thought that maybe she wouldn't say it. Couldn't say it. That maybe the mage had miscalculated and she would not speak the words that would set everything in motion. Finally, though choked sobs she said, "S...Sivand. It was your brother."
Alaster froze stiff. Gently, he separated her from him and stared into her red-rimmed eyes, disbelieving. "My broth-...Sivand did this to you?" he asked, stunned.
Jalina nodded and broke into sobs once more, but managed to choke out most of the story about how she had met his brother near the storage shed and that he had lured her inside. She couldn't continue after that, however and resumed crying.
Kyle watched Alaster holding Jalina at arm's length wondering what he would do next, but all he seemed to be able to do was stare at the young woman and gape. His jaw worked for a moment, like a dying fish gasping for air. He decided to prod things along. "Alaster..." he began, and the boy jumped like he had been goosed. In the moment, he had forgotten that Kyle was there. "We should report this." Kyle finished gravely, indicating the sobbing girl he held.
Alaster seemed to come to his senses at once. "Report this? To the guards?" he asked. His voice beginning to steady as he spoke, "Perhaps, but before I see my brother clapped in irons, I want to confront him myself. I want to know why." he said. "I need you to take her back to her father. He should still be in the adjunct's office doing his records for the week." He spoke more fast now, and releasing Jalina for a moment, he quickly stepped over and retrieved his cloak from his pile of things and swept it around her gently. "I am going to go find Sivand. Not a word of this until her father has been told and I have spoken with Sivand. Understand?" he said, a dangerous tone filling his voice.
Kyle nodded seriously and grasped Jalina gently by the shoulders to turn her back towards the hall. She gasped and became very still at his touch.
"Jalina, it's just Kyle. He's going to take you to your father." He caressed her cheek. "After I have dealt with Sivand I will come to you." And with that he grabbed the remainder of his belongings and strode purposefully away from them towards the training fields on the far side of the guild grounds.
Kyle led the now silent and stricken girl back towards the hall and the adjunct's office. Upon arriving he knocked, and opened the door when a voice bade him enter. Inside, Jalina's father sat at a simple wooden desk. He was speaking with...the wizard. The mage turned his bald head to the pair of them and a look of concern covered his face. "Oh my! What has happened to you, my dear?"
The merchant turned his head to them and also gasped, but something about the reaction seemed off to Kyle. The man's eyes were slightly glazed over, as if he was daydreaming. He said nothing else, but just gaped.
"Thank you, trainee, Kyle. You may leave her with us and go report to the Guildmaster what has happened." the wizard said, a small trace of a smile on one half of his mouth. Kyle understood that smile. It said: "Very good." and "Of course you won't" in its conspiratorial curve. He released the girl, who was now looking frantically from her father to the wizard and shaking slightly.
Kyle nodded, then left the room and shut the door behind him with a soft thunk, like a nail in a coffin. He wasn't exactly sure how things transpired after that, but the merchant continued to come to the guild on business, minus his daughter, and the rumors were she had had some kind of accident and was convalescing at her family's home. He hadn't been able to witness the confrontation between Alaster and Sivand either, for which he was sorry, that surely would have been a fight worth seeing, but only a week later he had gotten his wish anyway when Alaster had challenged Sivand to that duel on the testing platform. Oh, that had been spectacular! And the subsequent adventures in Ret Hold had been something as well. He wondered if the mage knew about the attack on the hold. He mostly likely did. He had probably orchestrated it in fact, just like he had orchestrated the flight of the West Hold Sunblade guild's heir on the eve of a major battle to the south. He had been a powerful master, and Kyle fully believed he would keep his promises of power if he continued to serve him faithfully. He wouldn't cry if Kyle got him self killed though, he was sure, and so he would have to be careful. He was certain that Sivand wouldn't have wept either if it had been him rather than Jadet who had taken that Unclean's blade to the back. But unlike, Jadet, Kyle always watched his back. Always.
As the storm reached a shrieking crescendo, he was considering seeking cover before being literally blown away by the freakish storm. However, just then, he saw it. A bright red jet like a column of fire leapt into the sky from somewhere inside the city walls. The phantom firelight cast a glow for miles in every direction, illuminating the camp of Paderishal's army and backlighting the guards on the hold's high stone walls. That would be the mage's signal. It was time now to fade into Paderishal's ranks and play his part for the wizard, and when morning came go with the General's men to arrest his old comrades. The fall of West Hold had begun.