The Raving Otaku At Large (railstar) wrote in beregoth,
The Raving Otaku At Large
railstar
beregoth

West Hold: Ji Yang the Farseer




The small hollow bones clattered onto the carved wooden board in front of Ji Yang, the Farseer. He contemplated the pattern they made carefully against the grain of the finely sanded cedar. The thigh bone was making a distinct right angle to the upper wing bone against the lines in the polished and lacquered surface. This was a warning, of that he was sure, but the remaining bones had made no noticeable sigils and it might as well be a warning to look where he stepped, or to watch what he ate than anything dire. Without context, the bones were fairly useless. He blinked as a motion to one side distracted him and raised his head to see Apprentice Yu Li, a pretty young girl with the sharp angled cheeks, dark eyes, and flowing black hair of the Rasheen. She was attempting to shuffle closer while holding a tray. Li was an advanced student, one of the Bajex sect's brightest, and nearly of age. Although The Supreme Magi did not have assigned apprentices, the Archmage of Bajex, whose primary arts revolved around divination, had asked that she be allowed to study with Yang until her testing. He had agreed, mainly out of a sense of pride in his homeland than any particular love for the Bajex. Rasheen wizards were rare on this side of the ocean, Yang and Li were two of less than a dozen in the West Hold guild, and it did his heart good to have someone close by that still remembered the islands with clarity.

Li, who had apparently been trying not to be noticed, went slightly crimson. "Forgive the interruption, Master." she apologized "The tea is done, and I have brought you some."

Yang realized he had been frowning at her, his annoyance at the bones misdirected. He quickly smiled and made a beckoning gesture. "Nonsense, you have not interrupted me. Bring the tea." he said in a grandfatherly tone.

She stepped over briskly and set the tray down beside him and then flipped over a pair of enameled pottery cups with a twirl of a finger, the simple spell done with an efficiency borne of long practice. Lifting the clay teapot with one hand she poured two cups of the steaming liquid. Normally, it would be considered presumptuous for an apprentice to pour themselves a drink while serving a wizard, especially one of The Three, but Yang had made it clear very early on that he felt tea was best drank in company and that if she wished to serve him some, then she must also have a cup. She did, however, hand him his drink first, and waited until he had tasted and approved of the brew before gathering up her own. She made very good tea.

"What do the bones show you, Master?" she asked, gazing at the cedar augury board between sips.

Yang peered at her for a moment and narrowed his eyes slightly. What a silly question. She knew very well just by looking he was sure. "What do you see, Apprentice." he replied in a quavering voice.

Li pursed her lips and frowned slightly at the scattered remains of the seahawk. Finally she answered, confidently, "I believe it is warning you not to drink your tea too fast or you may burn your mouth."

The old wizard laughed, his reedy voice coming out in a mirthful cackle. "Indeed," he said, his long white beard quivering "it's a warning for fools to avoid being foolish."

"A useless augury then," Li commented, "For fools are only so named because they do not realize they are foolish."

Yang cackled again. It was nice to speak with someone who remembered the old common wisdoms. He enjoyed her wit endlessly. That prig, Archmage Fredrik, would have his hands full when she achieved her full status. He had no doubt she would surpass him someday. Yang had never really gotten on well with the membership of the Bajex; especially since he had been raised from the Hurex to Farseer, the first time in two centuries that the guild's head diviner had not come from Fredrik's sect. During his time as a battlemage, and later as the Archmage for his sect, Yang had used his powers of divination to weed out knots of roaming Unclean, learn the location of bandit camps and sometimes even to spy on other sects within the guild. The Bajex, primarily concerned with foretelling the future and peering into other planes of existence, had always disliked his use of what they felt were "their" arts. Fredrik had even called him a common mercenary once. Many sects disapproved of the Hurex's affiliation with the Sunblades, but none were as outspoken about it than the Bajex. Yang had commented, on the day of his ascension to Farseer and in the presence of the full conclave of the Arcane that he felt the primary problem with those who practiced the arts of divination was trouble with context. "The greatest trap of any prophet or sage is to see only what they want to see." he had said while looking directly at Archmage Fredrik. "Prophesy without context is like a lone word on a strip of blank parchment. Only when paired with the text around it does that single word have any real meaning." Archmage Fredrik had not been amused.

The wind outside howled and Yu Li started as a shutter slapped against the hard stone walls of the Highrobe's keep. "This wind frightens me." she said in a small voice, glancing sideways at the ornate glass window near Yang's hearth.

The Farseer nodded and took another sip of tea. "It frightens me as well." he said simply.

Now Li looked incredulous, but Yang persisted. "It's is human nature to be disturbed by what we do not understand." he said, gesturing to the window and then to the board in front of him. "I have used every technique at my disposal to try and determine the cause of this storm, but only its nature has revealed itself to me. Its origin and purpose remain clouded."

"So you are afraid of what you don't know as opposed to what you do know. The nature of the storm doesn't frighten you?" she asked, her tea forgotten as she studied him seriously.

Yang saw the logical trap here and chose his next words carefully. He sometimes forgot, because he enjoyed her company so much, that she was still loyal, first and foremost, to his rival and not to him; despite their shared ancestry. It did keep his wits sharp, however. "I do not fear the storm's nature because that can be understood." he began, setting down his half empty cup of tea. "It is a thing of magic, and as wizards we understand what that means." he added the "we" in her presence as a gesture of politeness, but at the same time knew he might sound condescending. If she took it that way, it didn't matter much to him, she had started this little sparring session after all.

"What troubles me, and causes my fear, is that I do not know how such a large storm could be conjured. Even with the Illuminatus leading the ritual and using the Xe'Tetran in the Great Hall, the full conclave of the Arcane could not produce a storm of this magnitude that reaches so far beyond the borders of West Hold. I have seen the surrounding lands in my Crystal. This turbulence rages as far east as the Darrius mountains."

Li's eyes widened a bit at that. Good, he had made the impression he had wanted, but now that her wall of incredulity had been broken, it was time to drive the point home. "That is not the worst of it, however. The true fear lies in not knowing what the purpose of the storm is. It is magic, therefore it was created. So the real questions are "by whom?" and "for what purpose?"

Understanding lit Yu Li's eyes. He knew that she saw it from his perspective now, the perspective of a soldier. Using his powers within the Hurex, completeness of information had been everything. Context was essential. Sending fellow battlemages or members of the Sunblades into an Unclean infested area without understanding the context of his scryings could prove fatal. This was the Bajex's greatest failing, he felt. They were so caught up in the symbolism, so enamored of the why, that they often overlooked the other questions one must ask to fully comprehend a prophesy. Fredrik was a shrewd man. He had intended to have this girl spy on him, and she probably did, but Yang would make sure that he imparted his wisdom on her. One way or another he would see to it that when she was ready to replace him in the years to come, and he was certain she would, that she would not be blinded by the stuffy misconceptions and prejudices of her sect.

"But if it's magic as strong as you say, Master," Yu Li began, her former deference returning, "then should there not be traces that can be followed?"

Yang nodded once again. Reaching down he swept the seahawk bones into a small wooden dish and then moved both the dish and the board aside, leaving the space between the two of them clear. "You know the spell for tracing." he said. "Complete the pattern with me now."

They both folded their hands and closed their eyes. Yang formed the pattern for the tracing spell in his mind and opened the channels needed to weave it into existence. After his spell was completed he waited patiently for Li to finish.

"I am ready, Master." she said finally. He opened his eyes and shifted his perceptions so that he could see the ley energy that she had woven. Her spell perfectly mimicked the one that floated before him; every line was where it should be.

"Very good, Li." he said. "Now, feel for the aura of the storm." he smirked, "You can't miss it."

Li had also opened her eyes and now he watched as she reached out into the astral with a pair of woven lines of air, seeking the essence of the magical wind outside. Almost instantly she gasped and one of the lines of air snapped back and winked out as if cut.

"Careful now," Yang said as he spun his own feelers and sent them out into the ether. "It's quite powerful, isn't it?"

The apprentice nodded, her astral aura bobbing in a faint echo of her physical movement. "How do I touch it, Master?" she asked nervously. "It's like trying to grasp an ocean between my fingers."

"Gently," Yang replied. "This is not like the astral auras of common magical patterns. Do not try to grasp it, but rather, ride along it. Like a junkan on the bay during a typhoon."
She breathed deep and stretched out her cords of air again. Yang followed this time. Together they let their tendrils of magic touch the swirling maelstrom of astral energy. The flows of air seemed to vanish almost instantly, but did not snap.

"Now," continued the Farseer, "attach it to your weave." He demonstrated with the remaining ends of his own threads, connecting them to the glowing pattern of the tracing spell.
Yu Li did the same and both of their divinations began to glow brighter. Images swirled in the middle of the weave. Random colors, like bits of shattered rainbow, began to dance along the ley lines. She frowned at the cacophony of color and light and then shook her head. "It's meaningless. Like the bones. There is a trace...the whole storm is a trace, but it leads nowhere. It's almost as if..." she trailed off, sounding frustrated.

"As if it loops back upon itself; as if it feeds upon itself." Yang finished for her.

"Yes." she said, unhappily, "It's so random. There is no order to it at all."

"Have you performed an astral sending yet?" Yang asked, although he thought he already knew the answer.

"No, Master." she replied. "Archmage Fredrik believes my Anchor is not yet strong enough. I am to make an attempt next month though if I improve."

Now that surprised Yang. He had expected her not to have attempted a sending yet, but to be allowed a chance so soon was rare. The forming of the Astral Anchor was one of the last weaves an apprentice mastered before their testing.

"What you are sensing in that wind outside is very much like an Astral Storm. I am assuming you do know what those are, being close to mastering your Anchor." he said.

The apprentice gasped. Oh yes, she knew then. Astral Storms were one of the most dangerous things someone sending their spirit through that plane could encounter; wizards much older and stronger than he had lost their lives, and possibly their souls, to the terribly destructive power of those storms. "Is it safe to be touching it?" she asked, a note of fear creeping back into her voice.

"So long as you only touch it with a spell weave and not your astral sending." Yang replied.

"If it is an Astral Storm, then how..." she began.

"Ah, I said it was very much like an Astral Storm." the Farseer corrected. "Disturbances on the Astral Plane do not cause physical analogs in the materiel. I believe that Astral Space in the area of this storm is definitely unsafe, but even by the standards of that plane, this wind is not normal."

Yu Li made a singularly frustrated noise and let the tracing spell dissipate. Yang admired that spirit she had. She didn't like losing, and that kind of fire would serve her well in the years to come. He let his own spell vanish as well. "Do not fret over this, apprentice." he said soothingly, reaching out to pat her young hands with his old gnarled one. "No wizard alive, to my knowledge, could possibly trace a magical disturbance of this magnitude. But you understand the reasons for my unease now, yes?" he added.

She nodded sullenly and looked away. The hour was late, but Yang hoped that Yu Li would stay a while longer; perhaps to share some stories of the homeland or play a game of stones. More of her wonderful tea would be welcomed as well.

Yang began to reach down for his tea but suddenly drew short. The ivory and obsidian bracelet he wore on his right wrist had begun to hum faintly. It hadn't done that in well over three decades. Among other things, the bracelet was a sort of detector. It resonated with the energy of the Outers, those places that lay beyond the materiel world. Its primary function was as a ward against demons. While he wore it, no demon could invade his body. Over thirty years ago, however, while investigating a disturbance in the outlying farmlands of West Hold with a company of Sunblades, he had discovered a second ability. A rogue Highrobe and a small cabal of foolish hedge wizards and witches had tried to summon a celestial being to enhance the local crops. Their summoning had gone awry and the group instead created a portalis. The glowing oval rift was sitting in a copse of trees, and...things from the Outer to which it led had killed the entire cabal. He had been over a mile away from the portalis when his trinket first started to hum, and by the time he saw the rift he was sure it would shake his hand off his wrist.

He and the company of Sunblades managed to defeat the horrible things that had entered through the tear in reality and, with the help of The Three, the portalis had been closed and the area made safe once again.

Now, the bracelet was once again warning him of the existence of a portalis and it was very close. Withdrawing his hand and ignoring Yu Li's questioning glance, he sent a message urgently to the Illuminatis: "Master, I have detected the presence of a portal to the Outers somewhere nearby."

The response was immediate. The Illuminatis had not been sleeping then. "I too sensed it, Farseer. There is evil loose in the keep. Be on guard. I will..."

But what the Illuminatis intended to do never came to Yang. It was as if some kind of door had been slammed in his mind, blocking the words in mid-sentence. He tried sending to the Illuminatis again. Nothing. He tried to shout a warning to Hadram and Seline. Nothing. He had been cut off.

"When laying siege to a fortress..." Yang said, slowly rising to his feet, "...the first stage of the attack should include killing the runners, to prevent reinforcements."

Yu Li frowned up at him, obviously puzzled. "Master, what is..." she began.

"I would tell you to leave me now, but there isn't time, so instead be silent and listen." Yang said sharply, making a slashing gesture with his hand. Li looked stung, but remained quiet. "Any moment now, I am likely to be attacked; perhaps by wizards, perhaps by something worse. This room will become extremely unsafe. You are not Hurex, so you will only get in my way if you attempt to assist me." he continued quickly, shifting his perceptions and beginning to spellweave.

The apprentice opened her mouth to protest, but the Farseer rode right over her. "In the chest beside my bed is a regulus. You will take it and use it to defend yourself and stay as far back from me as possible. Understood?" he asked.

"Master, who could possibly want to attack you, what are you talking about?" Yu Li cried. It was obvious she was frightened, but Yang had no time to baby her. He snapped three ley lines into a weave he was making on the rug in front of the door and then turned his head to her. His slate black eyes were alive with power.

"I asked..." he boomed, his old man's doddering squeakiness gone; replaced by a voice that reverberated with authority, "...if you understood, child."

Li didn't ask again. She nodded fearfully at the look in the Farseer's gaze and scurried quickly over to his bed and began rummaging through the chest he had told her of. After a moment she pulled out a thick wooden dowel, carved with runes and sanded to smoothness at the ends. She began to chant softly and the runes began to glow. Yang noted with satisfaction that all of the wards and guards on the regulus immediately sprang into being around the girl. That was a fine piece of work, one of Hadram's best.

He returned his attention to the trap he was laying at the doorway. Once he was satisfied with its construction he muttered several magical incantations. Spells that had been lying dormant on his person sprang to life, energized by his will. A shimmering blue hemisphere appeared in front of him and a faint luminance surrounded his skin which was already turning a faint grey color as another ward magically hardened it. A dance of glowing symbols, celestial script of golden light, flashed briefly around his brow then dissipated into a fine golden mist that sank gently into his hair and beard. A faint wind seemed to stir around him, rustling his robes. It seemed to whisper of a coming storm, soon to be unleashed. His focus appeared on his right hand. It was a Rasheen kegi, what the Sunblades referred to as a hand-claw. Three razor-sharp tines sprung from the brace-bar attached to the fingerless, soft-leather glove. Sewn into the back was a vibrant red-yellow garnet.

Reaching into his robes with his left hand, Yang removed a second regulus. This one was different than the one Li was holding, however. He had created this piece of artifice. The runes inscribed on its sides would not protect him, but those whom he directed its powers at would surely wish they had protection.

The Farseer listened carefully for the thump of running feet, although he expected to hear none. The only sounds were he and Li's soft breathing and the howling whine of the dark storm outside. A minute passed in silence; Yang's eyes never leaving the door.

The apprentice spoke from behind him in a whisper, "Master, who..."

"Shhhh," Yang hissed, not turning to look at the girl. He understood what she was trying to say, however. Who was coming? Yang decided to chance a moment off his guard to weave another spell.

Making gestures with his right hand, he quickly wove the lines that would finish the enchantment. A pattern similar to the tracing spell filled his vision. Looking through its center, his sight shifted to view the astral, he could see through the walls of the keep. They faded before the window to become like smoky glass. He examined the walls of the tower outside with his extended sight, then the hallway beyond his room.

Four men, wizards in ceremonial robes, had gathered near his chamber in the corridor. He knew all of them: Lisben Krell of the Mihoden, Ocslet Stonewall of the Kisen'Tet, Jahamn Fasheed of the Tehoden and last, Carl Jenkins of the Hurex. Jenkins had recently been relieved of Outrider duties and put on the Wall Patrols, he knew. Although he was no longer Hurex in name, old camaraderie ran deep, and Yang often kept tabs on the happenings of his old sect. What was he doing here, skulking near his door without being announced?

The Farseer then took notice of wizard Stonewall. His head was bent, with his hands to his temples as if to rub a headache, but his fingers did not move. Yang quickly wove a second pattern into the one he was currently using and the man's spellweaving came to life around him. So, these were his enemies then. The telepathic block was being erected by Stonewall. Despite what such an intrusion meant for him, Yang couldn't help but be slightly impressed. The link between the Supreme Magi was strong and few but an Archmage could but briefly interrupt it.

The other three men moved across the hallway and two of them, the Olgothian wizard, Fasheed and the Serentian, Krell, took positions on either side of the door. Jenkins stood before the portal and turned briefly to say something to Fasheed. So, they intended to use him as the point for their ambush. A wise strategy since wizard Jenkins was someone that Yang knew. They hoped to take him off his guard by using someone familiar to lead the attack.

A small cautionary voice in the back of Yang's mind chimed in. Was he sure they were linked to the portalis? It seemed too much of a coincidence if they weren't, and they certainly were not coming to speak with him about the weather, but still, something about what was happening bothered him even beyond the fact that he was about to be attacked by three men that he knew. If a summoning had gone wrong, what had come through the portalis? Had anything come through? Was it celestial or demonic? Either one could be dangerous, especially if torn unwillingly from its home.

Yang let the unsettled questions slide away. His years of training as a battlemage of the Hurex took over. There would be time enough to find answers after the fighting was done. Fighting, and surviving, were what mattered now.

On the other side, in the hallway, Jenkins reached for the door handle and the Farseer grinned. "Come in, wizard Jenkins." he called, "there's no need to stand in the corridor, battlemage." Jenkins stopped and blinked. Yang heard Li sigh in relief behind him, then suck in her breath again a moment later when she realized he had not let down his guard.

Jenkins reached out again and swung the door open, stepping into the entry. He began to speak, "Master Yang, I was..." but his voice trailed off and his eyes narrowed as he noticed the array of magic that covered the old wizard and the regulus in his hand. He made a motion as if he were about to jump to one side, or maybe draw something from his robes, or both, but Yang did not afford him the chance. With a word from the Farseer, the trap he had laid on the rug erupted. A shimmering dome of air pulsed outward from the floor around the rug with such force that it shredded the thick woven carpet and blew Jenkins off his feet and back through the doorway. The frame of the door bent and the hinges popped as the heavy wooden slab fell to the floor with a crash. A muffled sound, like cold steel being drawn against a spinning grind wheel echoed briefly in Yang's ears. Inside that brief, but destructive bubble, that sound had been a thousand times louder and harsher. It could easily pulverize bones and liquefy internal organs with its force and even those who were only grazed by it would bleed from the ears and never be able to hear again.

Jenkins stood up. Yang couldn't believe it. That was a killing ward, one of the most powerful known to the Hurex and Jenkins appeared unhurt, perhaps ruffled, but otherwise untouched. With a snarl as he stood, the wizard made a sweeping gesture with one hand. "Just kill him!" he roared. "He knew we were coming!"

The prodding was unnecessary, however. The other two wizards were already dashing around the corners of the doorway and into the room. Neither of them seemed to have been affected by the ward either, despite being well within its area.

Yang, without wasting another second, spun the regulus in his left hand in a clockwise circle and spoke another word. A wall of white flames erupted around Fasheed, engulfing him. Krell dropped to one knee and slapped the floor. A spray of splinters and chips flew up from the spot he touched and then, as if an invisible knife were being drawn across the planks, the gash in the floor extended towards the Farseer. Gesturing with his focus, Yang wove a defensive spell that created a wall of air, thinner than paper, but stronger than ten-foot thick iron and placed it before the onrushing, invisible blade. The other wizard's spell collided with his barrier and the floor there exploded as if hit with a giant hammer, planks tilting up to reveal the crossbeams below.

The Farseer spun the regulus over in his hand and thrust one end at Krell, speaking another word as he did so. A lance of white-hot fire shot from the rod and struck the wizard squarely in the chest, driving him back into a tall bookcase that scattered its contents in every direction with the force of the mage's landing.

Jenkins re-entered the room and flung his hangs out towards the Farseer. A ball of orange-blue flame roared across the room at him. Yang threw up his right hand to shield his eyes as the ghostfire impacted against the blue hemisphere in front of him. He felt his guard reverberate with the force of the spell; sensed the heat of it being siphoned around him by the protective shield. He hoped that it was lessened enough that it did not harm Li or weaken her own guards.

As the flash of fire cleared he saw that Jenkins had moved to within arm's length and was reaching for him. Without thought, Yang jabbed the groping arm with his regulus. Smoke poured from the spot on Jenkins' arm where it touched, but the other wizard merely swatted his rod away as if it were an annoyance. Reacting more out of a sudden desperation than any thought of actually wounding his opponent, Yang slashed at the man with his kegi. Jenkins screamed and stumbled backwards as the blades scored the side of his face, leaving three crimson gashes from temple to chin.

Something became apparent to Yang then, as Jenkins writhed in pain from the wound. Through his magic window he could now clearly see the other wizard's aura. It was...changed. There was something else inside his body; something not human. The portalis; he understood the connection now. Something had come through from the Outers and it was inside these men.

As if in response to his revelation Fasheed stepped out of the raging inferno he had been trapped inside and it winked out behind him. His clothes had been burned off, but he was otherwise untouched. Krell likewise clambered up from the remains of the shattered bookcase, a hole burned in the front of his robes. The skin beneath was unmarred. Yang felt his heart sink, but did not give into despair. Allowing yourself to think you were defeated was the first step to actual defeat, but things were not looking good. He needed to warn the others. He needed to tell the Illuminatis what had come through the portalis, if he did not already know.

With yet another word, white flames, like the inferno and bolt before, leapt from the end of the regulus and took the shape of a curved Rasheen sword. He swung the blade in an arc before him and Fasheed stopped his advance, eyeing the weapon carefully. Krell, likewise, held his place in the corner of the room. Both shot nervous looking glances at the toppled form of Jenkins, who was still screaming.

With the time bought in this manner, Yang began to weave another spell. This one was much larger than the weapons he had used against the...demons, he supposed, so far. It was a spell meant for sieges and attacking fortifications. It wouldn't directly affect anything alive, but the Farseer had another purpose for it in mind. As the last line snapped into place to complete the pattern in his mind he cried out, a wordless feral yell like those uttered by soldiers in the heat of battle. The force of his spell struck and the wall next to the door tore apart like a Rasheen paper screen hit by a boulder. Fragments of heavy stone and shards of wooden supports flew outwards from the room. There was a cry of surprise and then of pain as the flying debris struck wizard Stonewall like a flood. A dark humor overtook Yang at the irony of this.

Krell, who had been shielding himself from the explosion, yelled at his comrades. "Brothers, he has destroyed his vessel! The block will be gone!"

Indeed, that was true. Yang sensed, as he had hoped, that the telepathic block had been lifted with the demise of wizard Stonewall. Before he could try to make contact with the others, however, Fasheed was upon him. Gods, he moved with inhuman speed, the Farseer thought as he brought his burning sword up to defend himself. He swung the fiery blade but it merely passed right through the attacking wizard's body, not even leaving a mark. The demon-possessed man grabbed for Yang, completely bypassing the blue, glowing guard in front of him and clutched his neck with one hand while twisting his left arm with the other. The regulus was twisted from his grasp and clattered to the floor, its golden blade still ignited. The demon's stolen hands, however inhumanly strong they might be, were unable to break through the stone-like skin created by Yang's other protections. The old wizard swung his kegi at the thing grappling him, but having seen what those blades had done to Jenkins, it released its grip on his neck and instead caught the arm wielding the wickedly clawed glove, holding it at bay.

Although he outwardly appeared old, Yang was far from feeble. Rasheen wizards did not alter their appearance with age, that was conceit, but he did partake in rejuvenation rituals that kept his old body as strong as it had ever been. Shifting his weight, the Farseer brought a sandaled foot up into the naked mans groin. There was a satisfying sound of something soft being crushed and, as he had hoped, the half-human monster released him and crumbled to the floor, whimpering.

Yang then turned to face Krell who was nearly on him as well. With a gesture of his focus, he pointed a finger at the charging man and a beam of green light shot forth from the tip, striking him directly in the center of the circle where the lance of fire had hit before. A faint green aura briefly surrounded wizard Krell, but instead of being reduced to dust, as he should have been, he simply slumped to his knees, and looked stunned. Magic seemed to work differently on these monsters, yang thought with irritation. He would have to try something else; still it seemed to have stunned him for a moment.

With all three of his attackers at least momentarily occupied, the Farseer took a step back and opened his mind to the rest of The Three. Immediately he was buffeted by a sending from Hadram of...lust? Gods, of all the times for the man to be frolicking with a woman! Swearing under his breath, Yang prepared to try and send to Seline and Hadram both anyhow, they were probably together in this case. Before he could begin his first thought, however, a red mist filled his eyes and a stink, like something dead and burning filled his nostrils. A shadowy form appeared in the air in front of him. It was male in shape, but had large wings, like a bat's, sprouting from its back. He felt a voice in his mind and knew it must belong to the creature: "You destroyed my vessel, so I shall have your body as repayment. Relinquish your soul and flesh to me!"

The shadow's clawed hands reached for the Farseer and clasped around his head. Yang felt as if every drop of heat was being drained from his body. He knew what it was going to try and do and attempted to pull away, but it was too late. A terrible pain tore at his soul and Yang screamed, both aloud and in his mind. He felt a sending coming from...Seline? But it was faint now, and he couldn't make it out. The bracelet of his wrist began to vibrate violently and his own scream, purely vocal now, was joined by that of the demon that was trying to invade him. The room seemed to quake around him as the shadow writhed and twitched. He sensed it wanted to let go, but had already passed some critical point and was trapped. The vibration of the bracelet stung his wrist and sent tremors up his entire arm. Finally with a shatter that sounded like something between cracking stone and breaking glass the trinket blew apart into hundreds of tiny pieces. At the same time the demon likewise vaporized, vanishing into the air with a slowly fading shriek of agony.

Yang collapsed to the floor with a gasp, his legs and arms reduced to uselessness. His breathing came in labored gasps and he doubted he even had the strength to climb to his knees.

A hand roughly grabbed the hair of his beard and yanked him partway up. Through blurred eyes he could see the face of Jenkins, one half of it anyway. The claw-marks on the side of his face had swollen and expanded. One of his eyes was ruined, and the wounds trickled black ichor mixed with red blood. He brought up his other hand. In it he held Yang's regulus, the blade still burning from its end.

"You are very strong," Jenkins said through a savage grimace of pain, "And for that you will die as the master wishes, rather than feed us. Consider yourself lucky, manling."

The blade swept from view and suddenly, with a sharp pain, Yang's vision tumbled upside down. The room spun around him and he couldn't breathe. "My head...they cut off..." but he was unable even to finish the thought as blackness took him. His last vision was of Yu Li, cowering against the bed, holding Hadram's regulus as the shadow of the demon, Jenkins, loomed over her.
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