Searchers of the Invisible

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Summary

In Acrion, a world shared by Dwarves, Elves, Pixies, and Humans, a terrifying discovery has been made. An Elf, following the dying wishes of his slain father, will set forth to remove an existential threat from the world. Along the way, he will be joined by a charming smuggler, a zealous werewolf, a timid vampire, a repentant Dwarf, an adventure-seeking Pixie, and a mysterious stranger that will follow them from the shadows all along the way. Looking to thwart their plans, however, is the powerful Church of Natural Order. The Church seeks to rid the world of anything it considers to be supernatural: the use of magic, werewolves, vampires, and even non-Human races. Searchers of the Invisible is a story about redemption, diversity, and empathy. "Forgiveness is not ours to deny, nor ours to demand."

Genre:
Fantasy / Adventure
Author:
ryan
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

On Deaf Ears

Agalor’s heart thumped in his chest. He struggled to keep his hands steady and his hips from swaying where he stood. He felt dozens of eyes locked on him as he judiciously scanned his thick scroll once more before turning to the Speaker. The Speaker stared blankly at Agalor, offered a solemn nod, and barked, “The Senate shall now hear Senator Agalor, son of Balius!” Agalor cleared his throat with a dry cough.

“Fellow members of the Senate,” Agalor began, “it is with great determination and tenacity that I resubmit my proposal to the floor. I have made very few amendments to the original document.”

Agalor lowered his scroll and glanced around at the unmistakable signs of inquietude among his colleagues. The crowded chamber of Elves stared dully at their tables in front of them, toying mindlessly with their quills. A group of men with red stripes sewn into the shoulder of their silky white robes were huddled together, talking quietly and, Agalor assumed, disapprovingly about his proposal. In the back of the chamber, sitting with his back to the marble wall was Agalor’s father. Agalor met his father’s steadfast gaze and raised his scroll again.

“I, Agalor, son of Balius, submit a proposal of reconnection and reconciliation with the Southern, Eastern, and Western realms of Acrion. The terms of this proposal include the appointment of ambassadors and embassies among the nations of our neighbors, as well as the reinstallment of trade, aid, and travel to non-hostile kingdoms. This includes, but is not limited to, the kingdoms and realms in the continents of Acrion and Wrestenland. Among those considered for the installation of embassies are Oldforrest, Gillington, Vol Darum, Vol Seppa, Toknan, Oleput, Krast, and Meltwater.”

Agalor lifted his eyes from the trembling scroll to survey the chamber. His colleagues were buzzing amongst themselves, exchanging hushed remarks and glances between their factions and parties. Finally, the Speaker, plainly old in years but surprisingly spry for his age, let out a bellowing “Silence!” to the murmuring legislators. Agalor felt his underarms become wet and damp, and his head sitting atop his neck become as light as a butterfly on a daisy. With trembling fingers, he tucked the scroll into his robes.

“Members of the Senate,” Agalor continued,” I implore you to consider my proposal. For hundreds of years, we have deprived ourselves of the company of Men, Dwarves, Pixies, and the Elvish tribes of the East. We have ignored the cries of the persecuted Werewolf and Vampire. The horrors of our past cannot and should not be forgotten, but we and our children shall surely pay for our ignorance if we continue to neglect the horrors that those outside of our realm face. Daily, poor souls are collected and tortured for nothing more than the circumstances of their birth. Our scholars report that the Dwarven and Pixish populations are declining rapidly. The few lucky Elves that survive the exodus from Oxdale are marked for persecution the very instant their feet fall outside of our borders. I would be remiss if not to bestow this great burden on our kingdom. We live in abundance, hoarding our wealth and turning a blind eye to injustice in other realms. Should we be satisfied with such laziness? Our Senate has become a mockery of its former glory. We have become lethargic, apathetic, and... ”

Agalor trailed off. He noticed that his voice had risen to a near-yell. He looked to this father knowing that he must be seething on the inside, though his face showed not even the slightest indication of expression. Agalor took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders, allowing his long, auburn hair to roll carelessly from behind his tall, pointed ears.

“I’ve lost control of my emotions. Forgive me, Speaker Paxon,” Agalor said softly. “I wish to say nothing further.” He surveyed the Senate chambers once more before closing his scroll, handing it to the Speaker, and returning to his seat in the back of the chamber beside his father. Agalor refused to look at his father directly, choosing instead to count the marble tiles on his journey from the podium to his seat. There were thirty-two. He heard his father whispering to a senator seated next to him as he sank into his stone seat.

A short, stout Elf rose from his seat and made his way to the podium. He adjusted his bifocals as he waited for the chamber to become quiet. Several uncomfortably quiet moments passed before the squatty elf began his speech.

“I have been a senator for a long time.” he croaked. “A long time indeed. Long enough to have heard all manner of proposals, seen all manner of councils created and disbanded, and felt the passing of scroll after scroll of legislation pass through my hands. Yes, a rather long time indeed.”

The squatty elf let an unusually long time pass before the Speaker finally asked, “Is that all, Senator Hylarus?”

“My apologies, Speaker Paxon,” Hylarus replied coolly. “I was reflecting on an old colleague of mine, Senator Williamson. Williamson served in the Senate many years ago, maybe two hundred or so, the exact date escapes me. This was before the Elvish migration to Oxdale when I lived on the beautiful coast of Sadura and all races were represented in the Senate, even the elusive Pixies. Senator Williamson was a fine man, in most regards. A bit of a religious zealot, but charming nonetheless..”

Hylarus pulled his oversized robe over his wrinkled shoulder from where it had slipped. He walked, each step pronounced, and carefully paced to the Speaker’s desk and casually lifted Agalor’s proposal. He grabbed the wooden spool of the scroll and rolled it down and up rhythmically as he walked, slowly as ever, back to the podium. With great effort, he mustered a sly smile.

“Colleagues, I am torn.” he began. “Torn between my allegiance as a representative of my realm and my conscience as a compassionate being. Our young Senator Agalor has the passion and noble intentions of the Elvish knights of old. There is no doubt about this and I will not entertain a notion that suggests otherwise. However…” He let his word hang in the air like a stormcloud before dramatically brushing his bone-white and thin hair behind his disfigured ear. The top of his ear was maimed, leaving only a portion of mangled skin above his earhole.

“I am not so quick to unlearn the lessons of my youth.” he finally said with the last of the breath in his lungs. He sucked in a quick gulp of air between his teeth and rubbed his temple with his index finger.

“My once dear friend, Senator Williamson, a Man from the charming village of Wheeler’s Bay, took my Elvish pride from me when his allegiance to his religion took precedent to his allegiance with Elfkind. This great friend of mine, who ate in my hall, trained horses with my children, dressed my wounds in battle, took his blade to my ear, and the ears of my children when his religion demanded it.” A single, dense tear fell from Hylarus’ wrinkled eye and splattered on the marble floor.

“When the Church of Natural Order called for a crusade on non-humans, long before many of you were born, our purpose was stolen from us. Our benevolence was robbed. Our charity uprooted. We were forced into a state of primitive survival, and now that we are capable of reaping the benefits of our self-sufficiency, we are asked to distribute it among the masses? No!”

Hylarus wiped a thick glob of sweat from his brow.

“Senator Agalor is like many an Elf in our lengthy youth,” he said with a scowl forming on his sagging face. “He sees only the best in all creatures, ignoring their flaws. Seeing only the boundless peaks of their potential while ignoring the all too common truth about their vile nature. Perhaps his optimism will serve him well in his future as a Senator of this chamber. His views are drawing more and more sympathy each quarter, it seems. However, his proposal will not serve the Elves of Oxdale well. No, not at all.”

Several heads nodded among the listeners, all of which were transfixed on the orator at the podium.

“No,” he continued. “No, no. The Elves of Oxdale should not benefit from this wretched proposal. Elves are not welcome among the other realms any longer, that much is clear. Senator Agalor speaks of our duty to the other races? Where was their duty to our race? Our exodus from the greater lands of Acrion was no great secret. Many a King and Queen, Bishop and Senator, emperor and pauper, whether Human, Pixie, or Dwarf watched as we were forced from our homes. And now that the same fate has arrived for them, we are expected to risk the safety of our people? To abandon the one desolate region of the world that we have left?”

Hylarus paused and sighed. His shoulders sagged and he made no attempt to pull his robe over his shoulder, letting it hang freely from his thick neck.

“Elves of the Senate, have we not suffered greatly in our isolation? Do we not toil in the miserable cold that protects us from invaders and persecutors? The proposal from Senator Agalor speaks of benevolence and goodwill toward all races, though every race would surely not benefit from this legislation. No, I say! Our efforts should be focused on the beneficence of Elfkind. We must not look South for the future of our race, we must look within ourselves. We know what we must do if we are to survive. The most desirable future for Acrion is clear: we must separate ourselves from the other kingdoms and races. Let them war amongst themselves, but leave us be. Let them marry and cross-breed and sing songs of harmony, but let us be. Let them scar and maim each other for their differences, but leave...us...be...”

Several of the men with red striped robes stood and applauded the stout old man. They whistled and chanted in ancient Elvish ‘Truth, he speaks.’ Other Senators looked nervously back at Agalor, hoping for any sign of a rebuttal. Agalor took note of their glances and waved his hand dismissively. The Speaker shouted for silence in the chamber and stood with his chisel ready in hand to tally votes.

“All who vote ‘yes’ on Senator Agalor’s proposal?” the Speaker shouted. He took a count and etched the total in the stone tablet beside the podium. Agalor’s eyes widened with shock.

“That’s four more than last time,” he whispered in his father’s ear.

“Indeed,” his father replied airily. Agalor noticed that his father had been writing something on a torn piece of paper between his legs. Feeling his son’s eyes on the paper, Balius slid the paper under his thigh.

“All those who vote ‘no’ on the proposal?” the Speaker asked in his roaring voice. He took count once more, but there was no need to count because there were at least twice as many dissenters.

“Come,” Agalor’s father whispered. Agalor, with a slight grin forming, followed his father from the Senate Chamber and into the snow-filled streets of Oxdale.

“Theatrics,” Balius whispered through gritted teeth. “Hylarus, the old fool. I should have expected an appeal to emotion, but his reliance on that cursed ear of his will only play for so long.” Balius turned to Agalor as if he had just remembered he was there.

“Every Elf in that chamber could sense your nervousness,” Balius said to his son. “You must concentrate on your inner being. Center yourself in the present moment, Agalor. Where are you now?”

Agalor looked curiously at his father.

“The market?” he replied.

“Where is your mind?”

“Oh, right,” he replied. He looked aimlessly into the white sky while he thought of a diplomatic answer to give his father. “I am considering Hylarus’ arguments,” he said. “ His basis for dissent is anecdotal and relies on speculation, I should hope I can attack these weaknesses in the public forum.” Balius’ rigid lips twinged slightly at the corners. It was the closest thing to a smile he could offer.

“Good. Now,” Balius said, “I should like for you to fetch your brother before dinner. I have something to show both of you in my study.”

Agalor gave his father a peculiar look but knew better than to ask a question. He nodded and made his way toward his horse, Dustil, who was black as starless midnight. As he walked away from his father, he sensed that something was wrong. He shook the idea from his mind and swung his long legs over Dustil’s saddle and set course for Longhaven Manor, his family’s estate. Agalor rode Dustil through the cobblestone streets of Oxdale, through dense crowds of bundled Elves scurrying through its cold streets. Lavish wooden lodges and tall concrete towers stood in contrast to the snowy white mountains to the North of Oxdale. Colorful banners, each representing various Elvish factions, stirred and rippled from window sills down almost every street. Enormous Clydesdales pulled massive covered carriages through the snow-covered cobblestone roads as Elf children ducked and juked their way through the crowded city.

Through the window of a tavern, Agalor saw Hylarus bundled in a bearskin coat drinking mead with the red-striped elves from the Senate. Agalor groaned at the sight of Hylarus’ companions. They were known as ‘Sovreignists’, a political faction determined to preserve the isolation of Elves from other races. Hylarus met Agalor’s eyes and raised a mocking toast before throwing back his head in laughter with his company. Agalor smiled politely back and steered Dustil onward to the dirt path leading out of Oxdale. After half an hour of riding, Agalor came upon the steep mountain path to Longhaven Manor. Agalor curled his legs onto Dustil’s broad hindquarters as Dustil lifted his hooves high into the air to avoid the thick snow covering the path. They reached the crest of the path, and before them, the massive iron gate of Longhaven swung open. Agalor tossed a copper coin to the servant holding the gate and hopped down from Dustil’s mount. Longhaven Manor was shimmering in the twilight, its white stone walls dazzling as the last wave of sunlight washed over the castle. Towers stood high above the castle walls in each corner, with red wooden windows closed nearly shut, with a small trail of smoke escaping from each window.

Agalor led Dustil by the reins towards the stables that were built into the Northern wall of the castle. As he walked closer, he saw his brother, Hagmar, leading a blonde-maned foal by the reins to a trough filled with discarded fruit and vegetables. Hagmar ran his pale fingers through the foal’s golden mane, whispering unintelligibly to the foal.

“Well, brother,” Hagmar called, “how poorly was your proposal received this quarter?” He turned and smiled at Agalor, his wide green eyes were almost hidden behind his smiling cheeks.

“Not too bad, on most accounts,” Agalor replied. “Four more pledges than last time.”

“Aye? That is most encouraging, Ag. If I had submitted that proposal in my first term, I’d have been censured for treason.”

“I’m not entirely convinced I won’t be. Hylarus managed to placate the Sovreignists with a cheeky speech. They were chanting like school children. Even took him for a pint after the vote.”

“That old dog!” Hagmar laughed. “Did he show the Chamber his ear again? He once used it as evidence that Man-made butter had no place on the tables of Elves.”

Agalor nodded, grinning. “I’m going to draft a defense for the public forum, would you mind giving it a once over when I’m finished?” he asked.

“Of course, little Ag,” Hagmar answered with his beaming smile still plastered on his handsome face. Agalor had always wondered how Hagmar’s cheeks could stand the constant tension of his strenuous grins.

“There’s something else,” Agalor said. “Father wishes to talk with us in his study.”

“What about?”

“I’m not sure. You know Father couldn’t be bothered to labor over things like common courtesy.”

“You’re too hard on him. He has a lot of things on his mind these days.” Hagmar led the foal back into the stable and rinsed his hands in a stone basin.

#

“Not a word,” Balius said softly, “of what we discuss is permitted to leave our company. Am I understood?” His two sons nodded cautiously. “Very well. Hmm, where shall I begin?” Balius sank into his leather chair, with his index finger curled around his chin as he considered how to tell his sons the most important piece of information in the world. Finally, he arrived at a sufficient explanation and cleared his throat.

“What I am about to tell you,” Balius continued, “is more important than any statecraft that can be achieved in the Senate. Therefore, Agalor, I expect you to resign in the morning, effective immediately. You will say that you are relinquishing your post to care for your sick father. Hagmar, you shall also see that your shop is managed by someone else for the foreseeable future. Am I understood?”

Agalor and Hagmar stared curiously first at their father and then at each other. Agalor seemed more shaken of the two, but neither spoke. Both nodded.

“Good. I confess that I wish I could keep the information I am about to tell you to myself, but it cannot be so. It would not surprise me to learn that this information has reached high places in every realm. Yet, I should like you to hear the unabated truth of the matter.”

Balius took a deep breath, glancing at the framed picture of his late wife and his sons’ mother above the mantel behind his sons. The skin around his wrinkled eyes lifted ever so slightly before returning to their near-permanent squint.

“The scholars have recently discovered that a theory they’d developed many years ago has been proven to be true,” he said. “I doubt that either of you have heard of this theory, as its publication was decided to be kept confidential by the Senate long before either of you were born. Its very existence poses an unimaginable danger. Its confirmation has already turned the wheels of chaos throughout the world.”

Agalor’s heart was fluttering. His father’s words were piercing through the silent air of the study room and ringing around in his head like a bell, each word seemingly more important than the last.

“There exists, in the Northernmost region of this world, a mass of pure, irrepressible energy that cannot be seen. Those who wander too close to it are torn asunder, scorched, and burned away like ashes in the wind. The scholars have developed instruments that measure its power. Their estimates suggest that, should it become unstable, its destruction would be nearly incalculable, as if the Sun were to collide with the Earth. No race or civilization would be able to survive its devastation.”

Agalor and Hagmar were dumbstruck. Hagmar dropped his head into his hands, rubbing his temples. Agalor reclined in his chair and crossed his leg over the other, staring helplessly at his father.

“‘Northernmost region’ meaning Wrestenland, then?” Hagmar asked.

“Yes,” Balius said with a nod. “I have decided to tell you this because I believe I have developed a solution to this threat. It is simple in theory, yet tremendously complex in execution. It will also be met with great opposition. Nations will soon go to war over this discovery. I should not like my solution to become a symbol of oppression or martyrdom. Thus, I am entrusting it to the two of you, my sons, to execute my plan.”

Hagmar seemed deep in thought, considering every word spoken by his father, his worry evident in his horrified expression. Agalor did not know how he should feel. He felt anxious, excited, and terrified all at once. He even felt a little prideful that he was being told such an interesting secret.

“Father?” Hagmar said in a hollow, breathless voice. “W-why are we to execute your plan? Why not someone else? Or yourself even. You talk as if…”

“I shall be dead soon,” Balius interrupted. “I do not know when but I know that it shall happen. I have considered making the arrangements for it myself, but I’m afraid I cannot muster the strength to do so.”

“But why?” Agalor asked quickly.

“Because I have marked myself for death. I knew that one day it should come to this. I knew that I was guaranteeing my murder all those years ago. Yet, I couldn’t help myself. I hope that you two can forgive me.”

Both of the sons were staring in disbelief at their father’s words.

“It seems you want more clarification,” he said. “Very well. You see, once the scholar’s publication on this theory was determined to remain confidential, I tried with all of the political power I possessed to secure an appointment on the council that was formed to oversee the research. I was not successful. And so, I chose to spy. I stole records. I interrogated researchers, employed cruel methods on them to extract information. Things that I am not proud of.” Balius looked up again at his late wife’s portrait and then hid his eyes away.

“I even replicated some experiments in this very chamber, risking both of your lives.” he continued. “ I was obsessed with the Anomaly. I became desperate. I was found in the laboratory, trying to steal one of the instruments used to measure the Anomaly. I cannot be prosecuted, because to do so would mean that the Senate would have to acknowledge that its most reputable alum is no more than a sneak thief and that a confidential study has been proceeding for nearly 120 years without proper supervision from the Senate. There remain only four Elves who served in the Senate when the study was proposed, I am one of them. The other three would not dare to admit that they have failed to notify the Senate of the study’s progress. They would also like nothing more than to seize the opportunities presented by the anomaly for themselves. So they will surely conspire to see that I am murdered.”

“Hylarus and Speaker Paxon,” Hagmar said. “Of course. But who is the third?”

“But why do you have to die?” Agalor blurted out furiously.

Balius thought carefully about how to answer his son. His rigid face snapped into a sorrowful frown. The unusual amount of emotion shown in his father’s face repulsed Agalor. He had never seen him look so defeated.

“It’s because of you, Ag,” Hagmar interjected, with tears pooling in his eyes.

“No!” Balius shouted.

“Well of course it is! It’s obvious isn’t it?” Hagmar yelled breathlessly.

“What’s obvious?” Agalor demanded.

“Your politics, Ag!” Hagmar replied. “Your ideas about Men and Dwarves and Pixies and Vampires and Werewolves and magic-users! You’ve gone on the public record with your positions, and they’re going to suspect that Father agrees with you.”

“No, they wouldn’t!” Agalor yelled defiantly. “Father has never co-authored a proposal, or defended me in the forums, or…”

“I’ve never disputed you either, my boy,” Balius said quietly.

Agalor and Hagmar looked at their father with reverence, each feeling guilty for fighting in front of him.

“Hagmar is partially correct,” Balius began, “but it is not your fault, Agalor. I have raised you to respect all races, to pursue higher understanding and compassion for all manner of creatures. It is no secret that your passion has been watered and tended to like a luscious garden under my roof for all of these years. I regret that after all this time, I have cowered from using my political influence for that which is right and good. I am so proud of you, my sons, for doing what I could not.”

Agalor and Hagmar stared soberly at the ground in front of them, each crying silently.

“I will be killed,” Balius said after several moments of silence broken only by his sniffling sons, “because the plan that I have concocted is vastly different from the countless others that have been drawn up or are being devised as we speak. In foolish optimism, I discussed my wishes for the Anomaly with the Senators who were aware of the study. Their aims were for control and fear. They cast my plan aside immediately and began scheming their own. But what is my plan? Better yet, what are the solutions offered by others? If I were to guess, I would imagine that several nations will go to war to try to claim the anomaly as a weapon, deterrent, or religious treasure. The Church will no doubt send an expedition to investigate the Anamoly. Hylarus wishes to attempt to harness the energy from the Anomaly to create a weapon of some sort. I believe Speaker Paxon wishes to create resources that would advance Elfkind beyond the other races. I admit that in my youth I might have agreed with such propositions. However, I have been blessed with the wisdom of age and many unpleasant experiences. I believe there is but one solution to our great problem. I suspect Hagmar has worked it out by now?”

“I haven’t, actually,” Hagmar replied evenly.

“Father, I think I have,” Agalor said confidently. He was sure that he knew but was prepared for his father to contradict him politely, which usually made him angry.

“Splendid,” Balius replied. “Let’s hear it then, my son.”

“Well,” Agalor began, nervous as though he were standing at the Senate podium again. “If the Anomaly poses a threat to the world, then we must remove it from the world, no? Into the stars?”

Balius beamed. “My dear boy,” he said, “your cleverness would make your mother very, very proud. Yes, indeed. With this being said…”

Balius stood up and began stacking papers and books atop each other, before binding them together with a leather strap and plopping the great tower of literature at his son’s feet.

“Here is all of the material I’ve gathered to execute my grand scheme. I will trust you both to work collaboratively on this project. If I had more time, I could walk you both through each required step. But alas, the sands of time are slipping from my fingers even as we speak.”

Hagmar began thumbing through the pages of each book and stack of papers. His eyes searched wildly around each page. Agalor followed suit, falling to his knees on the floor to get a better view of his father’s notes.

“Essentially,” Balius said as both sons stopped their reading to look at their father, “you will use an industriameter to locate the anomaly, confine it to a container, as shown in this diagram here, and expel the anomaly beyond our world and into the stars.”

“Industiameter?” Hagmar asked. “I’ve never heard of such an instrument. Is this what you were trying to steal from the laboratory?”

“Yes,” Balius replied seriously. “But his one I made myself. I’ve found it to be much more reliable.” He pulled the device from his breast pocket. It was easily held between his long fingers, its black handle was beautifully carved from an Ebony tree and three strips of flat steel were clamped onto the thinner end of the gadget. Hagmar took the Industriameter from his father, examined it, and then passed it to Agalor who took a glance at the strange object before tucking it into his breast pocket.

“I don’t understand,” Agalor said. “How are we to send the anomaly into space?”

“I have not worked out every detail,” Balius answered, “but I believe between the two of you, you can finish my work. I wrote extensively in that green book there about containing the anomaly. I believe that the power of the anomaly, when confined to the container I’ve designed, will allow for enough energy to be released to thrust it indefinitely upwards.”

“Father, this is mad!” Hagmar shouted. “Where are we to acquire these materials? This note says that we shall require a chalice nearly as large as a boat, composed of...well I’ve never heard of this material before!”

“Oh, you will not find these materials in Oxdale, my son. I do not expect you two to stay in this kingdom after sunset tomorrow..”

“Where are we supposed to go first? Are you going to at least attempt to go with us?” Agalor asked. He felt a sudden rush of excitement and guilt. He was utterly confused by his father’s revelations but determined to see his father’s plan through if it were the last thing he ever did.

“Come now, son. I cannot lead you by the hand, as much as I want to. Already I have kept you both half an hour longer than I should have liked. I would be surprised to find myself awake and not very much dead by tomorrow evening.” “Who the blazes is Carth Maeson?” Hagmar asked suddenly as he squinted at his father’s notes scribbled next to his complicated diagrams. Agalor felt a shock of fear rush from his head to his toes. How does he know?

“He’s a Man from Brynewood, a trader of goods,” Balius answered. “A bit misguided, but a good fellow in heart. He has been smuggling goods to your brother for many years.”

Agalor flushed red. His most private secret was just spoken as if it were as trivial as common gossip.

“Father,” Agalor began through quivering lips, “I tried to be careful, I met him outside the city gates. I paid only in our currency. I did nothing that would endanger us!”

“Oh I know, my boy,” his father answered reassuringly. “I knew Agalor’s father many years ago. I arranged for you two to meet in the first place. I would not have allowed my son to enter any business arrangements with someone of poor repute.”

“Father, I hear something outside at the gate!” Hagmar exclaimed. Agslor’s pointed ear curled ever so slightly as he focused his hearing out of the manor and into the courtyard. He heard the soft trodding of several horses’ feet blended with the whispering of mounted Elves plotting amongst themselves.

“Ahh, it has happened sooner than I would have liked,” Balius said indifferently. “Come, my sons, I will escort you to an escape route. I have paid our servants very well over the last several months to construct a tunnel underneath the manor that leads right underneath Athacour Lake. We shall soon see if their loyalty to our family is worth more than the coin they are being offered at the gates for our capture.”

Balius rose from his leather chair as if he had sat on a nail. He flung open the wooden door to the private study and began jogging down the spiral stone stairwell into the dungeons of Longhaven Manor with his sons carrying large stacks of books just behind him. His pointed Elf ears were flexing rapidly, listening for talking and movement outside of the castle walls. Finally, he arrived at the landing of the stairwell and unlocked a large iron padlock with his ring of keys, ushering the boys inside. To both sons’ amazement, Balius reached into a chestnut cabinet tucked into the corner of the dungeon and withdrew a long wooden staff with a translucent orb fashioned into its tip. Agalor saw a faint red light glow from within his robe as the Industriameter warmed his chest.

“Stand back!” Balius shouted as his sons recoiled in bewilderment. He raised the staff high above his head and slammed it on its bottom end, sending a wave of dust and air around the dungeon floor as the foundation of the dungeon fell through.

“The tunnel was constructed with only one entry point near Athacour Lake,” Balius shouted as he squatted and traced the stone floor with his finger. “I will have to break through the floors until I find the tunnel. Stand back!” He bounced the bottom of the staff off of the stone floor with a twist of his wrist as if he were churning butter. Finally, after several tries and as only a few islands of the original floor remained, Balius’ staff bounced up from the floor with a great thud as a small tunnel appeared beneath them.

Balius grabbed an unlit torch from a stack of opened crates and pointed the end of the staff at it, giving a circular flick as the torch instantly caught fire. Balius tossed the torch to Hagmar who caught it and quickly held it as far away from his body as he could without dropping his enormous stack of books.

“Father!” Hagmar exclaimed. “That’s...why that’s War magic you just performed! Where the devil-”

“Take the staff!” Balius interrupted with a deafening yell as he tossed the staff to Agalor. “Find Carth Maeson in Brynewood, he will have received my letter by the time you arrive. Dispose of the Anomaly! Flee!”

“Come with us, Father!” Agalor yelled, teary-eyed. Suddenly, all three of the Elves turned and listened intently as the door to the manor fell hard to the ground and heavy footsteps echoed through the stairwell. Balius marched toward the door of the dungeon. He jiggled the iron bar and padlock keeping the door closed inquisitively and began moving crates and furniture in front of the door. The footsteps grew nearer as metal armor plates and chainmail rattled down the empty stairwell. Then, a familiar voice called from the other side of the door.

“Balius, we do not wish to harm you,” Speaker Paxon called. “Come peacefully and see your day in court. There is no need for bloodshed amongst Elves. I can hear your sons breathing in there with you, let them talk sense into you old friend.”

“Go!” Balius roared madly as he continued to board the door. Agalor turned to Hagmar who curled his face in confusion and anxiousness. Agalor took a last look at his father frantically scurrying to slide more crates of vegetables in front of the door. Reluctantly, he squeezed the stack of books and staff tightly to his chest and dropped down into the dark tunnel. Once he landed, he could see only a small window of light above him where Hagmar held his torch.

“Hagmar, come!” he yelled. His brother ignored him, standing defiantly beside his father.

“You cannot play the fool any longer, Balius.” called the high-pitched voice of Hylarus from outside of the dungeon door. “You have pried into the Council’s matters for too long. You swam into deeper waters than you knew. Soon, Elves will no longer quiver in the snowy mountains, but rule from every mountain and every valley over Men and Dwarves. It is the only hope for our survival. Surely you see that?”

“Quiet, Hylarus!” Speaker Paxon boomed. “Master Derwyn, you are permitted to use War magic to open this door.”

“Hagmar, flee!” Balius pleaded. Hagmar stared back at his father, his eyes wet with tears.

“I can’t,” Hagmar replied. “I can’t lose you. Not you, too!”

A loud crack erupted from the door as furniture and crates were sent flying around the room. Balius fell hard to the floor as a trunk struck him squarely in his chest. Hagmar had taken to the ground, protecting the books and dropping the torch as it rolled into the tunnel below, illuminating the tunnel. A chorus of plucking bowstrings preceded the deep thud of arrows that met Hagmar and Balius in their chests.

“No!” Agalor screamed. He dropped his books and staff and attempted to jump and grab the ledge of the dungeon floor above him, but it was beyond his reach. He was helpless, listening to the scene unfold above him.

“They’re dead,” Hylarus announced as he knelt by the two bodies, listening for a heartbeat with his uncut ear. “Search them, find the instrument that he stole. I want every page of every book in this castle seized.”

“Hylarus!” Speaker Paxon boomed. “You have spilled Elvish blood! Why? You promised me that we were only to question him, not kill him! And his son!”

“Master Derwyn,” Hylarus rumbled, ignoring Speaker Paxon. “Is it possible that your staff caused the floors to crumble when you opened the door?”

“Surely not, sir,” Derwyn answered, his fists clenching his enormous staff tightly.

“And where is the other son? Senator Agalor?”

“Hylarus!” Speaker Paxon screamed, terrified.

“The other son!” Hylarus screamed. “Find him!”

“No, I’ll not let this continue!” Speaker Paxon yelled. “Seize him!”

Agalor grabbed the torch and staff in one arm and as many of his father’s books as he could carry in the other and sprinted down the tunnel as loose pieces of paper slipped from the books and fluttered behind him. As he ran through the damp passageway, he heard arguing and shouting amongst the Elves in the dungeon. Again, he heard the plucks of bowstrings and the unmistakable sound of spears piercing flesh. He felt a gush of hot air at the back of his neck as the tunnel behind him was illuminated by a flickering fire. Voices shrieked out in pain and soft thuds echoed through the dark tunnel. Agalor ran until he couldn’t hear any sounds from the dungeon.

END

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