Games Wizards Play
Written by Tas "Vince" Burfoot
Previously on Dark Ages....
Ian, holding Lyre, shrinking back from Grendel, Reynard, and Janus, all newly-summoned, in the castle library.
ARCHMAGE: You're fired.
ARCHMAGE: You are dismissed.
ARCHMAGE: I must apologize, it seems. By now, you've found that the boy responsible for the theft of your instrument was my apprentice. I knew that he was an ungrateful wretch, but I never dreamed that he'd turn to thievery.
RHODRI: Did ye, now?
From the Journals of Brother Edmund
"I was once told that I am an excellent judge of character. Though I do not believe this to be the case, my observations of people seems to be accurate. When I first entered Castle Wyvern, I had a strange feeling about The Archmage. To me, he did not seem to be a trustworthy character. Little did I know that my judgement of his character was correct all along."
The sun lazily sank under the horizon of the sea of Scotland. It cast weird, eerie shadows over the gleaming waters and over Castle Wyvern which was built on some crags overlooking the sea. Everyone here appreciated the beauty of Scotland this night--all, that is, except for the Archmage.
He was storming about in his tower as usual. If a casual onlooker had come upon the scene he would have found everything normal. But everything was far from normal this night. Spell books that were usually kept locked away by the Archmage were displayed upon a workbench. The workbench itself was covered in numerous projects; there were vials scattered all over and several impressive concoctions brewed and bubbled ominously within them. Even a fire burned warmly at the hearth.
But the most intriguing figure of all in the tower was the Archmage himself. This night he was dressed in a most interesting outfit. He had finally taken out what he called "a true Mage's robe." He donned the robe only when performing special rites or spells since it was made of the some of the most expensive materials; the collar was silk, the bulk of the robe was an ivory white satin, the trim on the front was of a pure golden color and not even the Archmage could guess what material it was made from.
"Ian!" the Archmage yelled for his apprentice, Ian, impatiently. "Where in heavens are you when I need you?!" Then he remembered that he had dismissed the lazy boy from his employ. He silently cursed himself for not remembering to get a new apprentice. Still cursing, the Archmage moved over to a cupboard where he stored his logical puzzles and games. He pulled out a superbly crafted oak box and then opened it to reveal some rather expensive-looking chess pieces. The pieces were made from marble; Prince Malcolm had given it to him as a token of gratitude for some small service he completed for the castle. He removed a board as well, which was sitting at the bottom of the red and white playing pieces.
Ah, the old game of playing dice with the lives of men, the Archmage thought wistfully while plunking the white pieces down in their appropriate places.
Before the Archmage could get too far setting up the chess board, he remembered something, and cursed his apprentice's absence again. With a harsh thrash of robes, he went over to another cupboard and pulled out some elegant dining utensils. He had received them quite a while ago as payment from another fellow mage who owed him a favor. Each individual piece was hammered and cast by the some of the best gold and silversmiths in this part of the country. In the set there were dragons, kings, queens, gargoyles, and many other creatures of legend and power carved into the handles. Each odd piece was made up of gold and each even piece was made up of silver. The Archmage was very fond of this set even though he refused to admit it to the other mages that came to dinner and complimented it.
Being very careful, the Archmage got a serving tray out from the cupboard and placed a couple of forks and knifes on it. After he was finished with the serving platter he resumed setting up the chess board. Without one second to spare the Archmage stepped back to admire his work--and immediately following there was a knock on the door to his chambers.
"Ah, right on time," the Archmage observed grudgingly. He walked over to the door and opened it. "Enter, Lord Sorcerer." A man with blonde and alternating streaks of white hair entered the normally dim-lit chambers. The man wore a robe similar to the Archmage's but his was of a blood red satin in color. It seemed to shimmer off his body in the light of the torches and the hem never touched the ground for some reason. A staff was firmly gripped in his hand with several creatures crafted into the fine wood.
"Thank you," the Lord Sorcerer nodded to the Archmage. His blue eyes seemed to perceive more in the room than normal eyes could have seen. "It seems you have some interesting project going on there," the Lord Sorcerer commented, pointing to the boiling experiments on the workbench. The Archmage nodded almost too fast.
"Yes. I'm sure you do as well, Lord Sorcerer."
"I have been working on some minor experiments," the Lord Sorcerer said nonchalantly.
"Would you like some refreshments?" the Archmage asked, tension stringing his words out. The Archmage was never this nice and right now he felt very out of character. This was not a play, and in intrigue one had to be resourceful and cunning. The Lord Sorcerer probably already knew of what he was attempting to do....
"If you have some mead...." the Lord Sorcerer trailed off, resting his staff against the mantle of the fire. A second later he heard a gulg of liquid in a cup. The Archmage brought over two flagons of the pure, refreshing beverage and set them down on the serving platter that he'd gotten out earlier.
"Did you hear about that thief in your royal treasury recently?"
"What?" the Archmage was caught off-guard by the Lord Sorcerer's question. "That is, I...no, I hadn't."
"I guess that proves that it's good to have contacts in high places." The Archmage distinctly thought he heard the Lord Sorcerer snicker after his snide remark. He fumed internally, not wanting to get angry at the Lord Sorcerer openly.
"And I suppose you've heard what happened to Lady Donnchaid?" the Archmage asked his own question, cocking an eyebrow.
"Actually, yes, I did," the Lord Sorcerer said, his eyebrows returning the gesture. Before the Archmage could continue, the Lord Sorcerer asked, "So where is your apprentice? What was his name..." The Lord Sorcerer put his lips to the flagon after his question was asked.
"His name is Ian, he is my ex-apprentice, and he is a nuisance!" the Archmage retorted loudly.
"Ah, but apprentices are more annoying than anything else in the magical arts. I should hope you considered that before you disregarded the boy's talents."
"Of course I knew that you--" the Archmage quickly caught himself. "Yes, I did know that. But the boy was getting out of hand. You do remember that incident with the lyre?"
"As I recall from a conversation I had with a royal guard, that was when you accused the boy of stealing a magical lyre and releasing some menaces from the library to cover his escape," the Lord Sorcerer said. The Archmage successfully hid his surprise at the Lord Sorcerer's statement.
How does he know about that? I thought that cursed minstrel said he was going to keep it a secret! The Archmage hastily nodded in confirmation.
"I also heard that the boy made you out to be the thief," the Lord Sorcerer's facial expression crinkled slightly, ready to crack a smile at any second. "And you called him a liar!" the Lord Sorcerer's last sentence sounded like he was going to burst into unrelenting laughter at any second.
The Archmage's features twisted in anger and his face turned red as well. So it was Ian who has been spreading this around. He will pay for this! the Archmage vowed. But first I must deal with the Lord Sorcerer.
"That is why I threw him OUT!" he yelled loudly. The Lord Sorcerer looked at him with a tinge of remorse, but not too much. After all, the game was just beginning. The tension was becoming so thick that the Lord Sorcerer decided that he must break it if the game of chess was to be played.
"I am sorry if I offended you," he stated.
"Let's just get this over with!" the Archmage muttered.
The Lord Sorcerer and the Archmage each took a chair and pulled it up to the game battlefield. The Archmage was the white pieces and the Lord Sorcerer red--oddly appropriate considering the color of their respective robes. The board was already set up so they immediately started playing. The Lord Sorcerer moved first, since he was the guest and had the red pieces.
As his first move the Lord Sorcerer put one of his knights out in front. Then the Archmage moved, but he had a much different strategy. He moved the last pawn to the far right two squares forward. The two sorcerers continued to strategically maneuver their pieces until the Archmage made the first capture of the game, swiping the Lord Sorcerer's knight off the board with his pawn. He grinned viciously. The game had begun....
The guards sitting atop the battlements of Castle Wyvern always got bored at about this time of night. There was nothing to do: Prince Malcolm forbade dice games and other such diversions during the un-godly hours of the night. They yawned miserably, having nothing to do but look at the constellations and imagine that they were doing something fun.
"I don't why they even put us up here. There's nobody that's going to try to attack Wyvern," the guard named Ailean said while examining his fingernails.
"I think those lads do it just so they can keep us out of their hair!" the other guard Seocan commented lazily, trying to get comfortable on the cold stone. Just as Seocan started to get comfortable on the rocky battlements a cry came up from the courtyard. The two guards, anxious for excitement, nearly leaped down the ladder that lead up to their posts. There were many fires burning around the courtyard and their eyes had just enough light to focus on what was going on.
One of the king's royal guards was fighting someone or something. The thing was huge, probably at least seven or eight feet, with lavender skin and a heavily muscled body.
"Well stone me! It's one of those stinkin' gargoyles!" Ailean exclaimed. A crowd had begun to form about the two adversaries. The guards were interested at first, not having this much entertainment in many nights. The fevered shouts of the crowd for blood and bets were so loud that they deafened any words that Ailean or Seocan said.
With a flurry of wings and claws, the leader of the gargoyle clan, a brown and battle-hardened gargoyle, landed in the courtyard. The crowd drew back so that he could pass. He immediately pulled the struggling, fighting, lavender gargoyle away. The leader was scolding the young gargoyle for what he had caused, but the lavender gargoyle was not paying attention to his elder. Instead, he was carefully eyeing his adversary.
Ailean and Seocan looked on as the man ran for the lavender gargoyle again. They realized that he was serious about hurting the gargoyle, so they pulled him away as well.
"What do you suppose they were fighting about?" Seocan asked, wrenching the man's arm to keep it from hitting him. Several of the crowd murmured about what could have happened; some feared that the fight would cause tensions between gargoyles and humans. As if there weren't enough already!
"I don't know what it could have been--"
The board was dotted all over with the chess pieces of white and red. Neither player had the advantage now--it was too early in the game. The Archmage moved his bishop up to where his rook stood vigil on the queen. In a swift motion the Lord Sorcerer swatted the rook aside with his knight. The Archmage looked up expecting to see a smile of triumph, but the Lord Sorcerer had kept his face carefully blank.
Blast that boy! the Archmage silently cursed his luck and his apprentice, preparing to move again. Why isn't he ever hear when I need him?!
Before Ailean could finish his thought he was pushed backward by the surging crowd.
"What in the name of... OOF!" Seocan was elbowed in the stomach by his captive. Ailean tried to hold on to the escaping prisoner, but with one arm loose the man began to hit him. The man's arms and legs kicked and failed wildly in an attempt to free himself of his captor. The man fought like a wild badger that was cornered in her nest; he wouldn't back down. Ailean held on for as long as he could until the man kneed him in the chest and knocked him to the freezing courtyard cobblestones.
Seocan picked himself up and started to give chase. The man was running down the center of the courtyard preparing to attack the gargoyle that he had been fighting with before. The lavender gargoyle turned and saw his attacker running toward him. Instantly, he made a break from his arrestor.
But these events were very fast, only a bat of an eye in the great scheme of things to come. Seocan finally saw what they crowd had parted for: it was another of the Prince's elite battalion but this one was decked out for battle. The shining armor of an honored warrior covered his large frame and a decorative sword hung at his side. A shield was strapped to his back with Prince Malcolm's emblem printed on his chest, proving the fact that he was a royal knight. But why would this particular warrior move a crowd? Most of the people that hung around the castle would barely move for the Prince himself!
The warrior pulled his sword from the sheath at his side with a harsh scraping sound. In one swift motion he pulled his shield from his back to a battle-ready position. His head guard was put in place with a quick hand motion and a clank of metal-against-metal. Seocan's attention got drawn away from the warrior to yet another gargoyle. The gargoyle landed parallel to the guard, making quite an entrance. The leader of the clan looked upset as if he didn't know what to do. Seocan knew he sure didn't...
They all stood there helpless to stop what was inevitable. Now the lavender gargoyle had knocked the guard out, who lay still in the mud. Ailean was just beginning to stir from his muddy locale. The armored warrior suddenly charged the blue gargoyle without warning. In response the blue gargoyle flipped the man over his shoulder and into the mud. The warrior staggered to his feet and, ignoring the mud, charged again....
The young female gargoyle pounded on her newest invention in frustration.
"I just can't get it to work properly! I know the gears work! They have to work! Why won't they work?!" Asrial exclaimed loudly to herself in her private laboratory. The dim lights of her lab sparkled on her long, blonde hair and burnt orange skin. This night she wore her traditional ponytail tight because of her experiments. Her many pouches of gadgets on her gray-blue colored tunic jingled slightly with her every movement.
She picked up the elaborate mess of tangled metal appendages and then threw them down on the experimentation table again. She plodded over to her diagram of how the invention would work. To an outsider (who was everyone but Asrial) the invention was just a collection of mangled gears and metal components. In reality, Asrial herself didn't know what the invention would actually do when it was completed. She made a mental note to ask the leader of the clan to present it to Prince Malcolm when it was completed.
Suddenly the door to her lab slammed open, causing Asrial to cover her eyes because of the intensity of the light outside compared to the relative dimness of her room. As Asrial's eyes became used to the outside light, she noticed a figure standing in the door frame silhouetted by the moonlight.
"Who's there?" she asked stupidly. "What do you want?" Asrial vaguely heard the muffled sound of steel scraping against steel. She saw the figure pulling out a shining sword from it's scabbard. The figure stepped into the lights of the lab and from what little she saw of his face and clothing, Asrial instantly knew that this rude visitor was one of Prince Malcolm's royal guards.
She grabbed her newest invention to defend herself against this un-announced intruder, but she felt a strange sensation. Suddenly she felt the urge to attack the guard for no reason at all. Pulling her magnifying glasses from her forehead to her eyes, she clicked her tongue against her cheek and yelled, making a frightening battle cry. The royal guard unabashedly advanced toward the heavily armed and dangerous Asrial.
Asrial pounced on the surprised guard from across the table. Human and gargoyle tumbled out of the lab and onto the battlements where Asrial's invention squeaked and groaned under the impact of the two fighting bodies. More times than a few, Asrial's raking claws came close to killing the man. More times than Asrial would care to count the royal guard's sword nearly had the fatal blow. Something was preventing them from killing each other...
On the battlements opposite the struggling bodies of the royal guard and Asrial, a very different battle was taking place. A young, blue, red-headed female gargoyle fought a guard, but this one was of lower ranks. She held a mace and the guard held a shield and sword. The sword was raised time and time again for a thrust, but the gargoyle's mace repeatedly brought it down.
"Come on, monster, let's see if you're any
good in a fair fight!" The female gargoyle responded with a
snarl of anger, side-swept the incompetent human off of his feet
by a swish of her tail, and he tumbled into the chaos of the
courtyard below. She glided down with mace in tow and the guard
got up again, ready to fight. Sword and mace clanged together
once again as the battle dragged on...
The Lord Sorcerer could hardly contain himself as he knocked the Archmage's queen to the squares of the board. The Archmage was too bent on the game to swear or curse Ian again. He always had a few tricks up his sleeve after all.... With a motion almost too quick for the eye to follow the Archmage moved his bishop diagonally across the entire length of the board. In process, he also smacked the Lord Sorcerer's only remaining knight into his growing collection of red pieces.
By now the courtyard was in total chaos. There were several groups of humans and gargoyles fighting and several bodies were unconscious in the mud. Those who had not been possessed by the urge to fight the nearest gargoyle ran away from the terrifying scene. Fortunately the fights seemed to be knock-outs instead of fatal.
Seocan was the only sane one who had stayed behind, particularly because he was the only guard on duty in this area, but also because his friend was laying semi-conscious in the courtyard. Seocan tugged and pulled at Ailean's arm but to no avail; the man had to get up by himself or stay there because of his sheer weight.
"C'mon, we've gotta go!" Seocan said hurriedly to the struggling Ailean.
"We don't have time for that! Come on!" Seocan hooked his arm under Ailean's so that he could support Ailean as he shakily climbed to his feet. The pair shuffled out of the courtyard chaos, trying without success to cross the courtyard without getting bumped into by the scores of fighting groups.
"Someone needs to tell Prince Malcolm about this," Ailean said, his pupils wagging side to side according to his movements.
"D'you think he doesn't already know, sod?!" Seocan said caustically, pulling Ailean up a bit higher on his shoulder and motioning to where yet another couple was fighting on the mud-soaked battlefield. Despite the throbbing pain in his head, Ailean gasped. One of the forms was barely recognizable beneath the layers of mud and debris covering his once-royal clothing. Prince Malcolm had apparently been laying in the mud for quite some time: his robes had been torn in several places and his clothes underneath were heavily soaked with water and mud.
"That's-- But what's he--" Ailean's head clouded over again and he decided to skip his question.
The moves were all becoming crucial now....down to the last pawn. There were a few of the main pieces left. The Archmage had recovered his queen by moving his pawn to the edge of the board. Now they were about equal and it was hard to tell who was ahead. But it didn't really matter since the game was nearing its end. The Archmage leaned on his elbows, all the while testing every move in his mind. He decided he needed to make more offensive moves than he had been doing previously.
He testily picked up his rook and moved it seven squares vertically to the north. He put his piece down with an air of certainty. The Lord Sorcerer put his hand to his chin to think (it was becoming a habit now) and reacted to the Archmage's move with a sideswipe of his queen who had recently become quite an integral part of the Lord Sorcerer's plans in the chess game. The Archmage laid off on the curses this time; the Lord Sorcerer had moved just as he had expected. With an unexpected bump by the bishop, the Lord Sorcerer's queen toppled to the board.
The Archmage tried successfully to hide the smirk on his face when he saw how the Lord Sorcerer squirmed in discomfort. It was obvious that the tables were turning. The Lord Sorcerer decisively moved his king back into a defensive position behind his remaining bishop. Checkmate was at hand....
Asrial gave her battle cry again as she finished off the latest gargoyle she had been fighting. Her invention made it hard to glide down to the courtyard floor, but she was dying to see what was going on down there...
Demona had just finished off the human she had been fighting during the whole battle in the courtyard. She heard the familiar sound of wings against air and turned just in time to see an orange-colored gargoyle swoop down beside her. They both saw each other and raised their respective weapons at the same time. Asrial gave her ferocious battle-cry and Demona swung her mace directly at Asrial's invention, shattering many parts of it. Asrial's eyes lit up in anger and the two female gargoyles went down in the mud.
The fights in the courtyard had stopped growing in size and most of the combatants were laying on the ground in a haphazard fashion. The two guards had made it to the heavy door that lay partially open to a hallway leading to the throne room of Prince Malcolm. Just as Seocan reached the door with Ailean on his shoulder they were knocked to the mud by two fighting bodies. As Seocan drifted off into the lovely sleep of unconsciousness he thought about how good the darkness felt in comparison to the enormous pounding in his head.
The Archmage was getting closer and closer to the Lord Sorcerer's king. The Lord Sorcerer had done everything he could to prevent the inevitable but someone would declare checkmate sooner or later. Already the Archmage had collected back several pieces he had lost to the Lord Sorcerer's forces earlier in the game. Now they were all converging on the king. In the next few moves the players' hands were almost a blur.
The Archmage's knight touched down in the adjacent square to the Lord Sorcerer's protecting bishop. The Lord Sorcerer moved his other protecting bishop towards the Archmage's queen. The Archmage moved his knight over the protecting bishop and put the king in check. The Lord Sorcerer moved his king accordingly, and the Archmage took the bishop with his queen. The Lord Sorcerer pulled his last piece up sharply to protect his king. The Archmage reacted with a swift strike of his two knights, moving one so that the king was in check once again and also so that the bishop could not move. The Lord Sorcerer quickly moved his king out of harm's way, but to no avail; the Archmage moved his other knight into position.
The Lord Sorcerer looked frantically for another move to make but there were none. He had lost. The Archmage could not contain his glee at this moment and he smiled wildly.
"Checkmate," he stated happily. The Lord Sorcerer grumbled and sat for several minutes looking at the board and sulking. Still happy from the defeat, the Archmage took the pieces up in his hands and placed them back in the box along with the board.
Prince Malcolm felt that strange sensation again. He had already knocked down two gargoyles in succession and now was fighting one of his own. In this particular altercation, Prince Malcolm had attacked Castle Wyvern's Captain of the Guard. The two humans were wrestling in the mud, clawing and punching and kicking to get the upper hand. The prince felt the knuckles of his combatant hit the side of his face and everything went black. He wondered for a few seconds why he wasn't getting up again, but in the end he gave his consciousness up to oblivion. Beside him he also saw the Captain of the Guard fall dead on his feet from a blow by a gargoyle foe and land into the mud beside him. As Prince Malcolm drifted off to sleep he wondered what he had been fighting for...
Seocan wiped the mud off of his face and opened his eyes. He awoke from a terrible dream and found himself caked in mud and a tiny bit of blood. He turned to see his friend Ailean also wipe some mud out of his eyes. They exchanged looks of confusion and bewilderment.
"I just had the strangest--" Both Ailean and Seocan started.
"You had that weird dream too lad?" Ailean asked.
"Aye, the one about everyone fighting in the--hey! Where in blazes are we anyway?" Seocan blurted aloud. "Our posts are way up there!" The two guards scratched their heads in wonder as they found themselves over twenty feet away from their assigned posts and wallowing like swine in the mud.
Prince Malcolm slowly picked himself up out of the mud. He put his hand to his jaw and touched it gingerly. It was beginning to swell. His chin was the least of his problems; his royal robes were so soiled, that were not recognizable any more. Beside him he saw his Captain of Guard in a similar condition. The scene was a familiar one all over the courtyard.
Close to where Prince Malcolm had laid, a young boy also awoke. He smelled something strange and dared to open his eyes. A huge pink snout greeted him and he screamed. Ian jumped to his feet and for the first time realized that he was in the pigsty in the courtyard of Castle Wyvern! How did I get here?! Ian asked himself in bewilderment.
Demona's eyes fluttered open and instantly she regretted it.
"Um, do you mind getting off of me rookery brother?!" she asked as Goliath's unconscious muscular form pressed on her legs painfully. Goliath was just awakening and his face turned slightly purple as he stood up. "What the--?" Demona cried, looking at the layers of mud all over her garments, arms, and legs. Goliath was in the same predicament. A few feet away, Asrial also stirred. She rubbed away the sleep in her eyes and then realized something.
"My invention!" she screamed, getting up quicker than the eye could follow. "Who did this?!" Asrial yelled, pointing to the mud-caked, bent, and broken appendages on her invention. She didn't even pay attention as to how she was going to have to get a new tunic or how her beautiful ivory horns were now a dark brown from the layers of mud she had acquired from the courtyard. All the gargoyles and humans within five feet nervously shook their heads, the memory of her fearsome battle cry worming its way through their minds.
Across the courtyard, people shook their heads in pain and bewilderment as they staggered to their feet like drunkards. The situation was the same for everyone that was caught in the battle; they found themselves clear across the castle in a location that they didn't remember going to. The king's guards wiped the mud from their armor and retrieved their weapons from the mud. Voices cried out in pain and confusion, complaining of wounds and other hurts. Overall everyone was okay, although pride had never seen a worse day. And no one could explain how they had come upon these circumstances in the first place...
After the Archmage had put away the chess game, he turned to the sulking Lord Sorcerer and smugly asked, "Same time next year?"
The Lord Sorcerer pulled his chair out from the table and briskly took his staff from where it was resting on the mantle.
"No matter," the Lord Sorcerer's face remained in its passive state while his shoulders shrugged off the defeat airly. He had visibly lost his previous composure, though. "Soon I will have it all and you will be sorry that you ever challenged me, old *friend*!" the Lord Sorcerer hissed through his teeth and quickly exited through the solitary door to the Archmage's chambers, slamming it loudly. The Archmage chuckled as soon as his fellow mage left. He almost immediately went back to his angry mood, thinking back to what the Lord Sorcerer had said.
"What does he mean 'Soon I will have it all'?" he asked himself out loud. "What kind of a fool does he take me for? Does he actually think he has more power than me?!" The Archmage anxiously moved over to the mirror that he had put on the wall many years ago. He had placed a spell on it when it was forged that allowed him to see any part of the surrounding area that he wanted.
He took his book of spells from a nearby desk and checked the reflection in the mirror. It was his own. He started chanting the magic incantation and the reflection shifted and distorted. Within a few seconds the new reflection was complete. The Archmage had been hoping to see the inside of the Lord Sorcerer's quarters and perhaps see what he was up to, but there was nothing but darkness. The Archmage was infuriated. Either he had said the incantation wrong or there was some kind of strong magical interference.
"Blast!" he spat, pacing around the
room once again to find some means of spying on his
"competition." He overturned all of his magical
concoctions and opened several drawers of his desk, spewing their
contents all about the room. "Where is it?!" the
Archmage cried, looking through some scattered papers on his
desk. "Aha!" he crowed, plucking up a crystal ball that
had been lying under the desk.
He spoke the words that spell required:
"Spiritos, Meinos. Tiny spirit of fire and light, find the one I seek tonight."
The spherical object began to pulsate with life. A tiny light began to center inside of the crystal globe, spinning around and around it's miniature prison Finally it stopped, and zipped trough the crystal ball as if it were mere smoke.
The Archmage watched the Will O' Wisp disappear into the night sky and walked once again to his enchanted mirror. A few seconds later the reflection changed to the vision of the spirit. At first the vision seemed blurry at best with the Will O' Wisp flying erratically around and around the countryside where the Lord Sorcerer's castle was. Suddenly Castle Rivencroft came into view, it's spires reaching for the stars. The spirit slowly circled down, ready to enter the window frame.
Suddenly the vision became blurry again just as the Will O' Wisp began to pass through the window. The Archmage vaguely saw the world spinning around and around, the stars whirling madly in the spirit's vision. Then with a swish of magic the vision was gone.
"Curse that fool!" the Archmage swore, mentally punishing himself for not thinking of the possibility of a magical barrier. Now his favorite familiar was dead from some simple moronic spell! It would be hard to replace a Will O' Wisp! Now he knew for sure that the Lord Sorcerer was up to something; why else would he take such precautions? What he needed now was something that could penetrate a barrier such as this--something powerful. The Archmage grinned wickedly with the realization of the perfect spell for such a predicament.
Stealthily and silently, the Archmage moved over to his desk once again and pulled a small copper key from his pocket. It looked clean, new, and had apparently been used quite recently. The Archmage brought the key closer to the desk and something began to form, something that had been previously hidden by a spell. Another drawer appeared in the desk, one that the Archmage had kept a secret for decades. He placed the key very gently in the lock and twisted it ever so slightly. The lock gave a tiny plink and the drawer slid open, revealing one piece of parchment carefully folded and sealed with a red wax.
The Archmage removed the parchment quickly and hid it in the folds of his robes, all the while closing the drawer which magically recoiled itself in the recesses of the desk. The Archmage sat down by the light of the fire and gently tore open the seal. He began to read the preparations for yet another summoning spell. But this particular one was much more powerful.
"I have to be careful when controlling it," the Archmage mused to himself, half-smiling. "But I love a challenge."
Two Days later....
The Archmage laid the last candle around the circle that had been carved into the stonework of the floor. The room was very dark now, save for the ten candles' sparse light. The fire had been put out and the Archmage now sat back in his chair admiring his work before the critical moment came. Dressed in a different robe, the Archmage stood. It was plain black with a few decorations indicating his power and rank amongst his fellow mages. This particular robe was one that every good mage had as it was widely used for casting critical spells or enchantments.
When this tower had first been built there had been another mage in residence. He had had the artisans include a magical circle for summoning beings from other realms. The ceremonial figure consisted of a large circle with a triangle in the middle and letters of a mysterious language on the outside of the circle. Around the triangle the Archmage had set ten candles in accordance with the instructions on the spell. Amid the howling of the wind outside, twelve cats could be heard just out of reach of the candles and triangle. They had been put into separate cages according to the spell. Their meows and hisses were sincere and ignored by the Archmage. It had taken him a full day and a half to collect the necessary specimens from the countryside. Luckily, it took the Lord Sorcerer about as much time to reach his home at Castle Rivencroft.
The Archmage laid the fragile spell parchment out and placed it beneath his feet with two small rocks. The Archmage looked to his window for reassurance of the timing and then began chanting the words on the parchment, raising his arms over the triangle. Some of the candles nearly blew over but the Archmage was too far into his spell to worry about that now. Moonlight streamed through the windows and onto the triangle. As the spell finished off a green glow began to emanate from the center of the triangle. Gradually the indistinct green glow formed itself into a roughly humanoid figure. The Archmage was visibly afraid of this creature and stayed as far away from the triangle as possible. He knew he was safe beyond the candles since no creature summoned from another world could strike beyond the protective triangle. The creature looked at him with a burning lust for vengeance in it's emerald green eyes.
The Archmage recoiled backwards at the sight of the creature's piercing eyes. The demon cat was definitely male; you could always tell by the ears. This specimen's ears were particular large. Brown fur covered his body and a long, muscular tail swished violently from side to side, trying in vain to breach its prison. The creature hissed violently at the sight of it's fellow cats caged like--
"They are my hostages," the Archmage stated nonchalantly to the demon cat. "And they shall be destroyed unless you do as I direct." The demon cat hissed once more, then became calmer, and came to a sitting position in the triangle.
"What do you wish of me mage?" he asked in a menacing manner.
"Power," the Archmage answered. "I want to know what the Lord Sorcerer is planning and how I may attain it."
The sinister cat grinned, showing it's sharp teeth. They twinkled in the shaft of moonlight. The Archmage didn't like that smile directed at him. He was unnerved for a second but quickly snapped back.
"Wipe that grin off your face!" The demon cat snickered disdainfully at the Archmage's stuttered comment. The Archmage thought for a moment about his predicament. He knew he had to release the demon cat to do his bidding, but he couldn't control it after that. The creature had made it apparent that he didn't like him. But the Archmage always had a backup plan. The Archmage went over to a cabinet where he stored magical items and pulled out a regular looking leash.
The demon cat hissed in a fit of laughter.
"Are you planning to put that around MY neck?!" the devil cat laughed again, this time the Archmage's face turned red with embarrassment. Fiercely the Archmage ripped open the cages where the twelve cats were being held captive. He tied the cats together with the leash as fast as his hands could tie. Finally he finished securing the last of the dozen cats onto the leash. The demon cat had a scowl on his features that made it look like he could leap out of the circle of protection and slash the Archmage's throat.
"They are safe as long as you keep your end of the bargain." the Archmage stated. "And what makes you think I will?" the demon hissed through it's clenched teeth while it's emerald eyes narrowed.
The Archmage visibly straightened at this statement, trying his best not to look scared in front of this other-worldly creature. The demon cat looked a little calmer and in another minute the circle of protection dissolved, allowing the feline to jump out of an open window and go about it's business. The Archmage smiled. If he had pulled off the dealing with the demon cat he probably had the rest already within his vise. That is if the demon cat could penetrate the Lord Sorcerer's magical barriers....
The figure hissed silently to himself, wishing that he could tear out the Archmage's throat. Someday when he was freed from the servitude that bound him, he would pay the Archmage a visit. He purred loudly at the thought as he sped through the countryside at unbelievable speeds that were undetectable by prying eyes. The demon cat found most mortals tedious, but mages especially so.
"Greedy, disgusting creatures," the demon cat hissed to himself while he sped along the road he knew led to his query's castle. One could see why any mage coveted such a servant as the demon cat; he had incredible speed.
Finally the demon cat reached his destination. He snickered as he saw the tiny tower that the supposed "Lord Sorcerer" lived in. It was small and dingy by the demon's standards--he, after all, had seen everything time and space had to offer.
The feline lithely scaled the stone battlements with it's large claws and went up over the top. He slunk on all fours, staying to the shadows of a wall, and settled under a small window in the door to the Lord Sorcerer's study. The shadows danced and flickered here, indicating a fire was burning within. The demon, like most mortals cats do, had a very keen sense of hearing and could listen to a conversation going on between two whispering people with several walls between him and them. But as soon as the demon cat had put his ear up to the wall he recoiled with a sharp meow. He could perceive the magically concealed barrier as it powered up again. It was almost like a force field; when something came into contact with it, it recharged and could barely be seen. Almost immediately all signs that the barrier was ever there disappeared.
The demon cat had to think about how to get around the barrier....he thought of the obviously superior felines that the insolent mage had held hostage.... That was it! If he used a mortal cat he could get past the barrier, which was meant to keep out anything magical--not ordinary objects. With a thought the demon cat summoned a simple, orange-colored, mortal cat. He put the cat silently through the open window and into the Lord Sorcerer's home.
The demon cat allowed himself to merge with the mortal cat, and instantly shared the feline's view of the wizard's chambers. The cat scanned the single room intently, making sure not to make a noise as he crept stealthily across the floor to some shadows away from the fire. The cat's hazel eyes caught the sight of a desk to the east of the roaring fire. The red and white tiled floor cast eerie shadows along the lengths of the room. Various pieces from many different logical puzzles and games were scattered everywhere as if the gods themselves had played their own tournament in the Lord Sorcerer's quarters recently. There was a bookshelf near the desk that had many game boxes piled nearly to the ceiling with overflowing contents spilling out of the sides.
The Lord Sorcerer was busily doodling away with a quill on stack of papers and had not yet noticed the innocent feline that had penetrated his home. The demon cat projected a thought at the papers on the desk and he immediately knew what the Lord Sorcerer was planning.
Lithely, the cat (by the demon cat's will) jumped onto the Lord Sorcerer's desk, scattering papers and frightening the wits out of the mage.
"Shoo! Get away you blasted cat!" the Lord Sorcerer squealed, darting out of the cat's way. The Lord Sorcerer then promptly tried to pick the cat up and the cat proceeded to bite the mage. Before he could be seen, the cat jumped out of the window and landed in the demon cat's arms. The demon cat released it from his service, sending it back to where it had come from.
Then the evil feline ran back from the way it had come, yowling to the moon. All the cats within five miles started to meow and hiss to the moon in chorus with the demon cat's song of triumph.
The small meows of the five cats that Mael held in a hand basket by his side were loud in the quiet night. The farmer hushed the five kittens and continued on the dirt road that led him over a bridge. In the middle of the bridge Mael stopped, looked around cautiously, and pulled the first kitten out of the basket. The kitten is so tiny, he thought. Pity I can't take care of it properly. I suppose this is the only way.
Mael took the young, white kitten by the scruff of it's neck and hung over the rushing waters below. The kitten meowed innocently, not knowing what was going to happen next. Just as the farmer was about to release the young feline, his neck was suddenly gripped by something tremendously strong. He squealed pitifully as his feet lifted inches off the ground.
"Drop the feline, human!" Mael's grip on the kitten slacked off and the kitten dropped safely to the bridge railing where it slunk off into the night. Mael turned to see who his assailant was. Twin emerald eyes gleamed back at him in the sunlight of early morning. Claws gripped his shirt and brown hair ran down the length of it's arms. The creature hissed strangely like the kittens had, sharp teeth forming it's next words. "If you ever touch another cat again I shall come back and seek revenge!" With that sentiment, the demon cat threw the scared farmer into the river below. He sped away once again, laughter echoing in the distance of the lonely countryside.
Mael pulled himself out of the river, a little bruised and thoroughly wet, but otherwise none the worse for wear. What was that thing? Mael asked himself. He crawled up the riverbank and ambled across the bridge, making sure that the creature had gone. He immediately noticed that the basket that held his kittens was gone. At least he got rid of the kittens. The old farmer scratched his head in wonderment, and then shuffled down the dirt path that led back to his home.
"...And stay out!" the old woman yelled, kicking the black cat out of the door jamb and slamming the door loudly. The cat slowly treaded water at the steps, looked back towards the light flooding from the house, and saw that there was no turning back. She jumped off of the steps and into the streets. She did not get very far before a speeding cart nearly crushed her fragile frame.
A blurry brownish form whizzed in front of the cart, scaring driver and horse, and plucked the cat from where she sat in the middle of the street. The black cat seemed to hover in mid-air for several minutes, and then the brownish form that was holding her condensed. The demon cat stepped forward with the content cat in his arms. While he softly petted the cat, the demon hissed, showing it's sharp teeth at the horse who whinnied in terror. The driver struggled to control his frightened steed, but it was too late. The cart rocketed down the road at breakneck speed and slammed into a pothole. The driver was flung like a ragdoll into a bale of hay on the side of the road.
The demon cat strolled over to the bale of hay where the driver was struggling to pull some straws free of his tunic. A huge brown paw hit the side of the man's face and he slumped back into the hay, unconscious.
"Sweet dreams, human fool," the feline demon hissed, letting the black cat go. "Be free, little one." The demon cat gave one last hiss of accomplishment, realized that it had an appointment to keep, and dissipated in a puff of brown smoke. The black cat sniffed at the air tentatively, and then plodded down the darkened road in search of more adventure.
The Lord Sorcerer sat pondering the incident for awhile. What did it mean? He knew that it certainly meant more than a mere cat jumping into his home and messing everything on his desk for no reason. And it's bite--it was like no other bite that the mage had felt before. It stung like a thousand nettle's stingers had penetrated that point on his skin.
He rubbed the two thin bite marks again, putting some ointment from a tiny jar on it. They must have been deep; they stung like the Furies. The Lord Sorcerer winced and put some more of the cool, white ointment on his wound.
"This must have something to do with that cursed Archmage!" the Lord Sorcerer murmured aloud. This is just the kind of deviousness I would have expected from him. A simple cat defeated my barriers! But how will the Archmage get the information of my plans from a cat?"
"Where have you been? I was getting worried!" the Archmage intoned angrily to the demon cat who had just returned. The sun's first light was pervading over the horizon of the sea and into the Archmage's windows.
"I told you not to wait up...." the demon cat snickered. In a flash the regular mortal cat returned once again to it's massive feline form. It looked to the Archmage expectantly.
"Well? What in blazes did you learn?!" the Archmage asked impatiently.
"Tsk, tsk," the demon cat wagged a finger at the smoldering mage. "Temper, temper."
"Tell me now or--" The Archmage pulled the string of twelve hissing cats over to his side once again.
"Or what?" the demon cat's eyes blazed with fury. The Archmage hastily let the cats go. The demon cat told him what he needed to know in a scarcely veiled tone of contempt.
"The mage seeks the Phoenix Gate. He has found it amongst the nobles of the Ducal House of Normandy. An allegiance with their court will bring the Gate as his prize." The demon cat grinned again, watching the Archmage squirm as he tried to find a way around this predicament. After a few minutes, the demon cat became tired of watching the Archmage run the question of how to get the Phoenix Gate over and over in his mind. "That is unless you can arrange to get it first...." The Archmage's face dawned in realization.
Sunlight began to stream in the window. In a cloud that smelled like a cross between electricity and coal, the demon cat left. The dozen cats also disappeared, apparently transported by the demon cat back to the wild. The Archmage thought about the demon cat's words for a minute.
"As soon as I have the Phoenix Gate I will be able to attain the Eye of Odin and I already have the Grimorum-Arcanorum! We shall see who has the last laugh," he thought aloud, notions of his arch-rival's hideous demise running through his mind as he left his tower.
Outside the Audience Hall of Prince Malcolm
The two pages stood guard over the two solidly constructed doors leading to the audience hall of the prince. But when they saw the Archmage approaching them with such swiftness, they thought for sure they were about to get punished. One of the pages rushed over to a small table that was near the door to make sure all appointments with the Prince were gone.
"I wish to have an audience with the Prince. Immediately." The two pages scrambled into the audience chamber to arrange his appointment. The Archmage laughed again.
"I'll show that old oaf who the true mage is!" He laughed again, this time much louder and longer.