With a deft stroke, Seline Al'Shamadi added a line on a complicated glyph she had been drawing. She bent over the small writing desk and blew gently across the sheet of jekis parchment to dry the ink, then sprinkled a pinch of fine white sand over the top. Jekis was made from a plant of the same name that only grew in her homeland across the sea and was very dear in the colonies, even for members of the High Robes. The soft grey parchment had an almost translucent quality and was a very good material for written glyphs and magical seals. Great fields of it used to grow in the south of the Olgothian Empire. Before the Arcan'had, what the Serentian's called the Great Mage Wars. Now the south of Olgothia was a blasted wasteland of blowing sand and plains of shining glass. Her great-grandmother had only been a little girl when those battles had raged; when the subjects of Olgothia rose up against their masters and fought for their freedom. Still, she remembered the stories passed through her family. The story that had haunted her thoughts the last two days was the one about Mir'Varim and his Court of Seven. Mir'Varim had been a powerful wizard and a major noble in Olgothia during the wars. As a method trying to hold back a possible invasion by troops from Bolivian to the north, he had attempted to summon a creature from the Outers. His plan worked, but at a dear price. The demon had killed him and his Court and through the portalis he had created led an army of evil against both Bolivian and Olgothia. Eventually the demon was defeated and his armies banished, but to this day, Bolivian was shrouded in mists and was a place of darkness.
A furious gust of wind outside her chambers rattled the windows. She glanced up at the black maelstrom outside, her dark-skinned face with its eerie milk-white eyes reflected back at her from the intricate glass. There had been a wind like this one the night Mir'Varim had attempted his summoning, or so the story went. Yang, the Farseer, believed that the storm was magic as well, which only intensified her worry. Yang was rarely wrong about such things. But even with his talents of augury and foretelling, even with all of Hadram's keenest wards and detectors, even with her own ability to pry into the workings of almost any spell and discover its meaning, The Three had been unable to find the source of the enchantment. The Illuminatis was likewise stymied, which bothered Hadram a great deal, she could tell. The Illuminatis was a very great wizard, the greatest in this guild, in fact. He was not a god, however, and Hadram's distress over his inability to discover what the three of them together could not was foolish.
Another howling claw of air rattled her windows again, and despite herself, she jumped at the sound. "How foolish is he, compared to a grown woman who has scared herself awake with old stories." she muttered to herself, setting her pen aside and deftly rising to her feet off the cushion she sat on while working. She wondered if Hadram would come to her tonight. She liked Hadram. More than liked she supposed. All her life she had been an outsider. First because she was a woman; a powerful woman, in a country that refused to acknowledge women as anything but cooks and child-rearers. Second because she was Olgothian; hated or at least mistrusted by anyone not Olgothian. Third because she was a wizard, and not just any wizard, but a leading member of the High Robes and part of West Hold's Supreme Magi. But to Hadram, she had always been just a woman. Even with her strange eyes, even with her station and power, she was just a woman, and a friend. Even before Hadram had been raised to The Three, when Jovias and Kyrene sat with her as Supreme Magi, he had never spoken to her as if she was something to be worshiped, or deferred to, or feared. That was what she liked about him, she had decided; not his looks, although they were fine, and not his power, although it was great, but simply for that fact that he had always treated her as an equal.
Seline gave a tug to the silk knot that held her night dress together, to make sure it hadn't loosened as she sat cross-legged, and walked across her room to stoke the fire. Most wizards would warm their chambers with a weave of heated air, or produce flame on their hearths with one of fire. She preferred the commoner's method of burning logs and tended to them herself. Something about it soothed her. Yang once told her in jest that members of the Hurex sect enjoyed burning things as well. When she had fallen for his joke and responded indignantly, he had cackled until he nearly cried. She often had to remind herself that he was only half her age, barely over one hundred years, and that he had been the Archmage of the Hurex before being raised after Kyrene's passing. His often dark and twisted sense of humor stemmed from that fact no doubt. He had been what amounted to a soldier, and such people tended to be crude with their fun; although how a battlemage had ever become as strong in divination as him was still a mystery to her.
There was a soft knock at her door. She was about to shift her perception and read the protective sigils around the frame when it opened and Hadram entered. He grinned at her as he swung the door shut behind him. She smiled back, in spite of her anxiety about the wind and what it might mean. She took note that Hadram was shirtless this evening. What a rogue he was sometimes!
"Good evening, Seline." He said was he walked towards her. "Lousy weather we're having."
Seline snorted in amusement. It wasn't like Hadram to make lame jokes of that sort, but it felt good to find something funny. "Yes, it's almost as bad as your sense of humor."
He reached out and drew her into a tight embrace. She sighed and placed the side of her face against his bare chest and shut her eyes. "It does worry me though, Hadram. Worries me a great deal."
"All will be well, love." he soothed, stroking her long black hair with one hand. "It will pass by morning."
She opened her eyes and looked up at him, quizzically. He had never used that endearment with her before. Very odd. "Are you just saying that to ease my mind, or have you found out something?" she asked.
He paused for a moment, considering her without expression, then smiled softly and said "What do you think?"
Now that was familiar, answering a question with a question. He claimed he did it merely to annoy her since she always did it to him. "Stop toying with me. I'm serious." she responded, but she smiled at him anyway.
He led her to a large cushion that sat before the fire, one big enough for three people if they were friendly. He sat and let himself sink back into it and she settled herself next to him on her side, resting her head in his lap as she watched the dancing flames on the wood in the hearth.
"I've been thinking..." she murmured, the firelight making strange reflections off her milky white eyes, "...if Yang is right about this wind being magic, then who could create such a thing. And why? Even with the entire sect of the Arcane standing point in the Great Hall we..."
"Shhhh..." he whispered, drawing a strong hand gently across her head, smoothing her hair back behind her ears. "Don't fuss over it, love." He said, softly.
Seline felt a twinge of incredulity at these words. Don't fuss? He had been the one that was so worried about the Illuminatis' silence on the matter, and she wasn't to fuss? And what was with this strange pet name all of a sudden? She was about to open her mouth to say something sharp to him, but then she felt his sending. Not words, but a slowly rising passion in the back of her mind. So, that was the game was it. She held her tongue and reached out to pinch his leg...hard, instead. Hadram had never been very good at blocking things from the telepathic link between The Three when he was aroused. She remembered one time early in their relationship when he and she had been making so much "noise" that Yang had sent an apprentice to her chambers with a request from "their fellow Supreme Magi" to "keep the ruckus down to a dull roar, if it would please them." Yet another of his surprisingly crude jests. The poor confused apprentice looked as if she was about to cry when Hadram, still half dressed and in a towering temper, had threatened to turn her into a beetle, then slammed the door on her face. Seline had been mortified, but later they would laugh about it. Even the Illuminatis, not given to joking of any sort, had commented that he would need telepathic blocks if intended to get any sleep that week.
He ran his other hand along her side and began fumbling with the knotted belt at her waist. She helped him undo the loops and her night dress fell open. Rolling so that she could look up at him, she felt the smooth silk slide away from her, revealing her naked body. All she wore beneath the night dress was a maiden's cloth; a silly garment worn by ladies in the Dutchy of Trent as an undergarment. It had no practical purpose what-so-ever, being little more than a thin silk triangle tied with strings that only covered her nethers, but the obvious enjoyment wearing such a ridiculous thing gave Hadram was worth the exorbitant price the scrap had cost her.
She reached up and stroked his face as she gazed into his beautiful blue eyes. She felt his passion growing incrementally in her mind as he slid his one of his own hands down her bare stomach while continuing to stroke her hair with the other.
His eyes never left hers as he gently grasped the hand touching his face and kissed the inside of her wrist. "Come up here." He said with a sly grin.
She decided to toy with him a bit more before giving in. "No, wizard, you come down here."
The smile vanished off of Hadram's face. He looked confused for a moment. Put off at her refusal? Surely not. They had been playing these games for years; such a childish jest would never put the great lover of women, Hadram Gerald, off his pace. Her own smile faded a bit. "What's troubling..." she began.
"...you." she finished as what she was sensing became apparent to her. She could still feel Hadram in her mind. He was so full of lust right now that if this man was really him, and she was almost certain now that he wasn't, they would almost certainly be well into lovemaking right now. Furious lovemaking at that! Whoever this was had glamered her and she had fallen for it. Years of long practice went to work in an instant. Seline shifted her vision, and the face above her changed. Long black hair fell around a feminine face with lovely features offset by skin that was far too pale. Large bat-like wings flexed behind it, stretching right through the poof that they were lying in. This image was overlaying a second female form, that of Melinda Hilmset, of the Nex'ital sect. Her skinny, pallid features seemed like a distorted reflection of the alien and seductive creature she was merged with. Both faces wore the same puzzled expression that Hadram's face had worn.
Seline did not pause to wonder why a ranking mage in the Nex'ital, and a woman at that, had tried to seduce her. Melinda, or whatever it was, opened its two mouths as if to say something. It never got a chance to finish. Seline spoke a word of command and her focus, a silver dagger with a violet gem set in the hilt, appeared from its extra-dimensional pocket into the hand that the thing wasn't holding. She slashed at the imposter and in its surprise it failed to draw back before she cut deeply into the arm that held her hand. The wound flashed, as if struck by lightning and the thing let out a pained shriek, releasing her.
Quickly rolling to the floor and into a crouch, Seline uttered an incantation that would activate one of her many magical protections. A shimmering barrier of force appeared in front of her like a shield. In her astral vision it glowed blue-white and partially obscured her sight, so she switched her perceptions back in order to see her opponent more clearly.
The skin of the thing-that-wasn't-Hadram bugled suddenly and grotesquely, as if inflated with air like a child's toy bladder then shrank again, shifting as it did into the pale features of Melinda.
"You wounded me!" howled the sorceress, clutching her profusely bleeding arm. "I am bleeding!"
The woman's ironic indignation at being attacked, after impersonating her lover to try and seduce her, slid right over Seline. "Prepare to be more than hurt, whatever you are." she replied coolly. She stretched a hand behind her towards the fire and wove a funnel of air, creating the pattern for her attack spell in her mind almost instantly. The flame from the hearth roared up to her arm and gathered around her in an immolating blaze. With a thrusting motion, Seline shot the hand holding her dagger focus towards Melinda and the fire coursed off her and into a solid roaring, burning stream that struck the other woman square in the chest. The poof and the creature in it exploded into flames. Seline's heart was racing but her mind was calm. Focused. If whatever it was continued to fight...
An urgent sending pummeled into her mind, overriding even Hadram. It was Yang. The Farseer was screaming. Seline's blood ran cold. The scream faded leaving only Hadram's continues throes of lust. That man. That woman crazy, ridiculous man! While his fellows were being attacked, he was fornicating with some tart in his chambers. In such a fashion to boot!
She recognized the unreasonable jealous impulse at once and quashed it with an effort. Of course he wasn't being idle. Or frivolous. She had been tricked. Yang had been attacked. This wasn't coincidence. He must have been glamered as well. He might even think he was making love to her. A second more earnest thought filled her: "Please let him be alright."
The immolated form on the decimated poof began to move. Seline tensed and began preparing the pattern for a second attack in her mind. The spell she intended to use this time would scatter the thing's materiel form to the four winds in an instant if she struck true and she intended not to miss.
The flames vanished in a swirl and the once-burning woman stood up. The sorceress was completely naked now, the cloth pants she had been wearing in her glamered shape had been burned away by the flames, but she appeared otherwise untouched. "You will pay!" she hissed furiously.
Seline didn't bother responding. She completed the last threads of the pattern in her mind and a line of crackling green light shot from her focus and struck the shapeshifter in her navel. The other woman gasped, her eyes widening for a moment in shock, but rather than disintegrating into dust she merely looked stunned for a moment. Why hadn't it worked? A thin strain of panic slipped into her mind. She began to weave another attack, but the last one had been the best she knew. Only Yang, and possibly the Illuminatis could conjure magic more deadly than what she had just used. Her specialty had never been combat, after all.
Melinda snarled and strode towards her. "A fair attempt." She said through gritted teeth. Seline brandished her dagger before her in an attempt to ward the creature off long enough to finish her next spell, but she...it, was inhumanly fast. It grabbed the arm holding her dagger in an incredibly firm grip, completely bypassing the shield-ward as if it didn't exist. Its other hand grabbed her around the neck, and in one smooth motion it lifted her from the ground and flung her across the room. She cried out in alarm, both aloud and through the link she shared with The Three.
She crashed into her writing desk, crushing it beneath her. Sharp splinters of wood pierced her back and a terrible pain burned in her spine, neck and head. Being thrown by her neck had hurt her terribly, she knew, but she was unable to feel...anything, besides the hot flashes of pain. Melinda appeared above her, glaring down at her crumbled form.
"What's the matter, clever girl?" she sneered, "Did I break you?" It crouched lower down to her and dug a powerful hand into her throat, choking off her air. Seline had dropped her focus. That arm was useless to her now, but the other one flopped and twitched as she gasped for breath.
The creature was so strong! There was no way that Melinda possessed this much strength. Whatever had control of her was extremely powerful. Seline fought the blackness but knew it was no good. She was going to die. A red haze had formed at the edges of her vision. Through it she looked down at her broken body, bits of her desk poking trough it like a demon's spines. Then se saw it. Near her wildly flopping arm. The jekis she had been drawing on before the monster came to call. The glyph on it. Why had she been drawing that glyph? She had been lost in her memories. Old stories. Stories of demons. She drew the symbol to ward off her fears, but now...
Gathering all of her remaining will, Seline gasped one final breath through the strangling grasp of her attacker and regained control of her flailing arm. She grabbed the slip of delicate parchment and with every ounce of remaining force in her ruined body she slammed it into the demon-woman's chest, directly between her tiny breasts.
The glyph flashed white, then blue, then red. The demon, for she now knew that's only what it could be, screamed in agony and tore with its stolen fingers at the paper glyph that was burning it, but the parchment would no more come off than its own skin. The monster rolled about on the floor in agony, clawing at its face and weeping.
Even though the frighteningly strong hand was no longer choking her, Seline found that she could no longer breathe. Her lungs had stopped. She knew her heart would go soon as well. She had been broken, she knew. She could no longer hear Hadram in her mind. The Illuminatis had been silent through it all. Yang had probably been killed as well. They were done. Treachery had been played against them and they were done.
The demon was no longer screaming, but it continued to writhe on the floor. It turned back towards her, its eyes filled with hate. It would finish her now, she knew. Her glyph had wounded it, but it was incomplete, and not strong enough. She always knew that she would die. Even life extending magic would not keep one alive forever, but she was not going to die like this. No. The demon would not have her. As her heart began to slow and her vision faded to blackness the groping hand of the demon filled her vision and she uttered the words of her final spell.