I stepped into the highest room in the tower; it took up the whole floor and some. Almost half of the space was balcony that wrapped around the top of the building. It created a wonderful effect of being open to the elements, which was ruined by the three men here.
Iason Aleres looked much the same, slightly more bedraggled but overall the same. His smug look made me tighten my grip on my sword.
Lessor nodded at me respectfully, he didn’t seem to be carrying a grudge about Vance.
Brak was in the centre of the room, the two other men apart from him, dark smoke flowed from his arms all the time he just stood there looking at me with a small smile on his face.
Memories of my imprisonment tried to show themselves but I shook my head and focused on the here and now.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“You tell me Tristan, you knew we were here, correct?” Brak said. He sounded so much like Jase, in his lecture mode that I almost told him how I had worked it out.
“I don’t think that’s how it works. I’m not your student. I’m not your friend. You have been declared rogue. The wizards are hunting you.”
“The twins will be hunting me,” he corrected gently. “I doubt Velar would have sent anyone else. He won’t have publicly declared me rogue. He trusts me, as well he should.”
“How can anyone trust you? You have killed and destroyed for…” I trailed off. I still had no idea why he had done any of it.
“He trusts me because I’ve earned it. We have been friends for a long time.”
“So why do any of this?”
“You haven’t figured it out? I’m disappointed; I had such hopes for you.”
“I think I have but the foundry doesn’t make sense.”
“That was never part my plan.” he looked pointedly at Iason. “It was a price I had to pay.”
“But why? People died. That doesn’t benefit anyone.”
“Ask Iason why if you must but this spell has to happen. I had help the last time we cast it, this time I have to do it alone.”
The smoke, sigils, flowed from Brak’s body and drifted out to join the rest of the spell. The strain of casting so many had started to show, he looked drawn and pale.
“Iason, care to tell me why so many people had to die for you? Or how you could compel a wizard to do your bidding.”
“I don’t owe you answers.” Iason relied haughtily. “Count yourself lucky you still breathe.”
“Don’t be such a prick Ias, the boy deserves answers. He has been caught up in our plans far too often to not give him an explanation,” Lessor said.
“He saved my father, he deserves an early grave.”
“Boys this is delicate, I could do without an argument.”
“Then forget the foundry for now. Why are you here and what are you doing? Commanding an army of monsters against helpless people, that isn’t what wizards should be doing.”
“I’m doing what needs to be done. You have figured out that a wizard would be here. But you have an education, the common people don’t. They don’t need to know. They will welcome the council with open arms. You and your friends down there will be hailed as heroes for coming to their defence in their time of need. Nelar secure, the trade route open and free to use. The manpower to fight this war as it needs to be fought. Everything we need.”
“This isn’t the way.”
“It’s the only way, don’t be so naive. Velar thought peace was the way too, but I’m showing him this war is unavoidable, we didn’t start it but we will finish it.” The affable veneer started to crack as his exhaustion got to him.
“What man power? There is no one here.”
“Did you hear that boys, no one here. What do you think they trade for food? Dust? They have men, soldiers that hire out, sleepers but they have seen combat,” Brak said.
“I was born here,” Lessor said. “I know how it works, the king’s guard. Not that idiot downstairs but the mage king, Nelar was his home too. The very start of our way of life began here. We serve in the merc corps; every man over the age of blooming does his time to pay his way. That is an army that is needed. This will bring them out and strike a blow at the empire.”
“So why the foundry? Why hurt the duchies? Your own people?”
“To stir things up, to generate the emotion needed to fight a war. The foundry was Iason’s idea, his price for his help. Westhaven should never have been a target. It got out of hand and for that I apologise,” Brak said sincerely.
Lessor nodded at that but Iason looked unhappy.
“Don’t give him anything. No apologies’ no nothing. Jase deserved it.”
“Pull out the monsters, the civilians shouldn’t pay the price for this.”
“You don’t know the half of the prices the people have paid. It might not be fair but that’s how it is. The last war cost us badly, the nobles needed to be taken out,” he stopped a hitch in his voice. “We broke the world to save it. We did what we had to,” Brak said intently, it felt like he was trying to justify his actions to himself, more than to me.
“What are you talking about?”
“He means the waves Tristan, they were the first strike against the nobles,” lessor answered.
“The waves were natural. There have always been waves.”
“No they weren’t and there haven’t been waves on that scale, ever.”
“But how? Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand, its wizard magic,” Iason spat.
“Shush Ias. I’m sick of your attitude. You have been nothing but a hindrance to my mission all along. You have no understanding or care of what we are doing. I made a mistake with you. All you care about is some petty revenge against your father for something that wasn’t his fault. Let it go and if you can’t do that, just shut up.” Brak snapped at Iason before turning back to me. “Magic is a thing separate yet part of our world, it has its own rules, and it even has mass. It can act in all sorts of ways if you have the knowledge and insight to see. I researched a spell many years ago, this one, which makes a massive change in pressure, causing magic to flow from one place to another. It’s much more dramatic than that, once the event has been set off it builds until it creates waves, very much like on the ocean, peaks and troughs, once one has grown either high or low enough it touches on this world, affecting everything. It can destroy and warp, the results aren’t always predictable. They have been settling for years but it’s the perfect weapon to launch at the empire, they should be too damaged to retaliate.”
“You caused hundreds of thousands of peoples deaths in the first waves and now you want to do it again? It’s madness.”
“It needs to be done, we can’t fight the empire fairly, we are just too small.”
“We have wizards and mages, even sleepers can fight, we don’t need to do this.”
“Tristan you are too young to understand but sometimes the hard choices have to be made.”
“I know about hard choices, I’ve made my own. Please don’t do this. There is always another way.”
“I have to. And so do you. As a mage you swore to obey the council, I speak with the council’s voice.”
“I swore to serve the council; I will have no part in this. This is against the values of the council.”
“You have no choice. I call your oath due. You will follow my orders to the letter.” A sliver of light slipped from his lips with his words, it floated into the air before twisting into chains of darkening light, it struck at me.
I stumbled back, but it caught on my wrist. The chains slithered up my body, wrapping around me.
I could feel the rising pressure in my head as the oath tightened around my links, compelling me to obey. I took a step forwards, each movement slow and sluggish.
I knew what needed to be done I just had to get there fast enough.
“Tristan Sodden, Mage, oath-bound servant, your master’s call. Obey and submit.” Every word that Brak spoke bound me tighter, the chains growing heavier and tighter.
“Give up Tristan, it will go easier on you,” Lessor said, compassion on his face.
Pain started to dig its claws into my mind. I took another step. Magic wasn’t an option now; my links were being choked by my oath.
“Do your duty mage.” The wizard finished the final line, and the oath snapped taut.
I smiled as felt my mind still: No thoughts, no pain, nothing, just emptiness. I no longer fought, my duty was clear.
I crossed the remaining distance, barely a few steps and slid my blade into Brak’s side.
“How?” A befuddled look passed over Brak’s face, the rainbow eyes clearing for just a moment, and then the spell that he cast was complete. The final sigil floated away to join the rest.
It didn’t go off dramatically. The sphere flickered into more than its parts, a solid ball of swirling colours then it flew away rapidly without sound, north. To the empire
Brak still lived, the wound wouldn’t be life threatening, he slid off my blade with a pained moan just as a step sounded from behind me. I turned my head to see the twins entering the hall.
They knelt next to him, one on either side. One touched his wound. The other whispered in his ear.
Brak smiled and sigils started floating away from him, they hovered in a ring around them.
Iason and Lessor stepped into the ring, their shock at me stabbing their boss short-lived but welcome.
“Be seeing you Tristan,” one of the twins said, I couldn’t tell them apart.
The ring activated leaving nothing behind. They were all gone, portaled away beyond my reach.
I was left alone at the top of the tower, bloody sword in hand, feeling empty and confused.
In the distance, I could hear the bell tolling the all clear.
The nights activities seemed to catch up with me then, I sank to my knees, all my strength gone. I’d been too late to stop everything; the waves were coming again if Brak was to be believed. The monster army was free, no longer under command; it should be easier to mop up. But not right now. Right now, all I wanted was to go home, to hug Sophia and Lyphia. The waves were coming and everything was about to get worse.
I raised my head to look out at the sky. Flames covered the clouds, flickering light falling down on the city. Each building seemed to be shadows painted against the sky
The bell stopped ringing as the sky exploded with lights. Green and blue threads of magic were suddenly visible without othersense. They covered the sky the earth everything, these were the forces behind the world brought into sight by Brak’s spell. The earlier pressure of the oath came back, but this time it felt as if the air was heavy, like a storm.
The threads throbbed with power like rivers in flood. I could feel something building in the magic. The voice I heard at times, always there but not always audible, was screaming now in tortured agony. The ribbons of power twisted with a pulse then splintered into fragments. It looked like it was raining light, beautiful if you didn’t know that it was the end of the world, again.
I remembered, I’d been a child, but that hadn’t changed anything. The waves killed indiscriminately. They had destroyed so much; parts of Westhaven still hadn’t recovered. So many people lost. We had never been a large nation; we couldn’t handle the losses well. Nearly everyone had lost someone in the waves. Refugees fled the wreckage of their homes, their lives. Monsters had vanished from the world in the wake of the waves, but so had the best magical creatures, the fair folk, creatures that helped, that benefited the magic. Their magic was different to ours but close enough that we could each learn from each other. It was said that all wizards studied with one to gain their status. Now it looked like it had been our own that had caused the waves, my oath made the protection of magic my priority, I had to stop further harm.
I was way out of my league. All I wanted was to go home. But I had a job to do. I needed to fix this city and bring it under the council’s control. If everything I had heard was right, we had a war to fight against the empire.
I walked to the edge of the balcony and stood a moment looking at the start of the end. It was beautiful. Each fragment of light fell on the city, touching monsters and buildings alike. The monsters screamed and tore at the pure energies that hit them, before they dissolved slowly. A ragged cheer went up from the few mages and civilians fighting.
From up here everything looked so small. It was easy to see how people could feel removed from it all: those that manipulated others or devalued the fact that each person, each life was important. To see how they could view everyone as pieces on a game board, to be moved. Life wasn’t like that. But I could see how the greater good could be used as a justification for great evils.
I closed my eyes and listen to the cheers, each voice was a person, the emotion, the desperation of a battle that felt lost and turning into joy at the change of fortune.
I felt a smile stretch my face. In the face of it all, the futility, these people fought. They were my kind of people.
I turned on my heel and walked to the stairs. It was time to get down there and finish the job.