The inside of the mages hall was spacious. A large fireplace filled an entire wall of the room, running up the side and replacing the western wall. A few chairs were in the room, but mostly the eastern wall was full of bookshelves. On the far wall from the door, three large tapestries with the same symbol hung. The symbol had a large sun on it, the right half of which was black while the left was red. Tendrils coming out from the sun were all red.
“What symbol is this, Timothy?” Inge asked bluntly.
“Why, the symbol of the true mage. Do you southerners know what happened after your squashed uprising?” Timothy had a way with words. “Do you know what the fool king Gerod did?”
“Vaguely. I visited Skyhull once before the rebellion – I don’t remember it being so destitute.”
“You think this city is destitute? You feel my home is a ruin? I fear you may be a fool, my mage friend. Skyhull is a sanctuary.”
“Yes, you’ve mentioned that.” Inge’s mages stood silently behind him. Elyse was pacing around the room, seeing everything that it held. Timothy wore tattered grey robes, likely older than the young mage was. He was bald with dull, gray eyes.
“I’m sure you noticed, Inge, there were no seekers in this city. Even the righteous, progressive city of Rainhome has seekers, does it not? I would take a ruined, unfunded city over the false promise of freedom in a distrusting city like your own.”
Inge understood the mage’s view. He respected it. “I wonder - though how does Skyhull handle its duties? Surely there are many things that must be done within the city to keep it afloat.”
“We are all fire mages in Skyhull, Inge. The flames in the wall are maintained by a few shifts of young mages who are learning still – they take turns burning, and when they’re done burning they take turns reading the books of the Disciples of Alexander.”
Inge had heard of this group – an archaic group that spoke of the superiority of fire magic. Dawn will be reborn. It must be a bastardization of their dogma.
“And food? What source do you have for food in this city?”
“The king sends a shipment of meat and potatoes every month. We have an agreement with him, you know. Haven’t you wondered how we can live without seekers?”
Inge asked a question he already knew the answer to. “What happened to the seekers in Skyhull.”
“They weren’t receptive to fire,” a twisted smile revealed the bald mage’s golden tooth again. “We burned them, all except one. We sent that one to the king – made a messenger of him. Scott, his name was before the negotiations were complete and we burnt him. We sent him with our demands, and the king has never failed to meet them. He’s a man, you know. Magic seems to have skipped over him.”
“Yes, I know. I’ve seen him on the battlefield. I saw him slay his brother mercifully.” He made a subtle reference to maintaining control in magic.
Inge stood up and began to rifle through the bookshelves lining the room. The books all held titles that reflected fire magic. Books by the disciples, surely. None were focused on magical practice, and instead seemed to focus on the nature of the wars between magic’s.
“Inge – do you know what my cause is?” Timothy asked, now standing beside Inge. “Do you want to know why there are only mages of fire in Skyhull.”
“I know why. I don’t agree with your cause, I don’t agree with Dawn being reborn or whatever words you’re using to get people to side with you.”
He caressed Inge’s face and brought his gaze away from the bookshelves, and into the eyes of the rogue leader of Skyhull.
“It isn’t about my cause. I believe in the cause, not because of what I’ve read in these books, but from what I’ve heard in my dreams. The voice speaks to me, Inge. In all of my dreams, the voice of Alexander speaks to me.”
“Fire consumes and destroys, the kingdom will not be united behind flames – if it is, there will be no continent remaining to live in the new world it brings.”
“Mine is a friendly fire. Our fire will cauterize the wounds of this world. Men have kept mages enslaved for many years –“
“And mages have enslaved men. The balance of this world is complicated. I had believed I could fix it – my brother and I, a man and a mage, ruling Olander together – but your men saw fit to burn him alive. Is that cauterizing the wound?”
“Yes, I fear. The balance of Olander now rests on the belief of men that the king is a mage, and the modesty of mages to not reveal the truth about the king. Truth is the only way to rule – and truth will only be found when either mages or men unanimously live on this continent. If we don’t strike first, the men will soon battle against us – I have heard these words from the voice in my dreams many times.”
Inge didn’t agree with the flawed mage’s view. His party remained silent, as per his command earlier in the day. They mustn’t interfere in my negotiations. They don’t know my motives. The party seemed unpleased by the actions of Inge within Skyhull. Elyse had a look of disgust on her face for what Inge had said.
“I ask for your help, Timothy. Have you an interest in sharing your army for the common goal we have? If you work with me, we can figure out what comes next. Have you a few beds here for us to stay the night? We can negotiate in the morning.” Inge asked. It was nearly nightfall, and the group had woken very early.
“Yes. Let me show you the hall first, though.”
As they began to walk, Inge fell back and mumbled to Elyse, “Study the rooms.” Her look of disdain for Inge faded into a faint dutiful smile.
Timothy showed off the halls of the great building. He seemed to take a lot of pride in the layout of his rooms, the way the tapestries were hung on each wall.
“This is our negotiation room,” Timothy said. “I’m sure we’ll spend much time in it tomorrow figuring things out.”
The room was small – big enough for only a few people. There was a small table in the center of the room and two small stools. It was hardly a room for diplomatic negotiations.
There was a painting on the wall – an image of a fire, burning a forest. The perfect icon for Elyse. There was a small supply of books in the room as well.
They moved on to the kitchen – a dark room with a large pile of potatoes. There was a few large buckets filled with water and a door to the outdoors.
“Outside we keep our meat cold – we mages agreed that meat should be freshly seared, never salted and kept chewy and dry. We have a taste for the finer life, Inge. The superior mages, truly, must have the nicest meats, wouldn’t you agree?” Once again his gold tooth revealed itself to Inge.
Timothy showed the group of a few more rooms, before stopping at a small hallway of bedrooms. The group receded into the rooms, and Inge awaited Elyse’s inevitable visit.
The room was small – only enough room for a bed and a small dresser. Within fifteen minutes of being in the room, a knock was heard at the door. Elyse usually lets herself in.
Inge opened the door without hesitation. A girl no older than Clarice stood before him. Her hair was short, not long enough to reach her shoulders, and brown. Her face held three veins, bluer than the deep eyes that lay above them. Two moved down from her eyes like tear tracks, while another crossed down from her lips to her chin. Behind her veins she was beautiful. She wore a dress that was torn at the sides and a pair of gloves that were unfittingly large.
“A-are you the hero?” She asked him, rushing into his room and slamming the door. “Are you the one t-to stop them?” She was stuttering, and it was unclear if this was due to the cold weather or a disability within her.
“I was told there were only fire mages in Skyhull.”
“Yes, that is what Timothy wants the visitors to believe. We get so few visitors and we can hear all of their talk. We only move by the shadow of night – usually just me. There are others in Skyhull, Inge. There are eyes in the walls and we know what your cause is.”
“How many of you?” Inge asked. “What’s your name, girl. You know mine, but I don’t know yours.”
“I am Yve. There are many of us – fifty water mages, strong like yourself. Half that many death mages. We live beneath the buildings, and in the smaller buildings. The fire mages throw us food from time to time, but we’re mostly alone.”
The door swung open and Elyse walked in. “Is the plan what I –" she cut herself off before finishing the thought. “Who is this?”
“Elyse, the plan is very much what you expect. We will take action tomorrow, but we must be controlled – there are lives to save in Skyhull.” Inge assured her.
“Ever since dawn has been reborn – ever since Timothy began to hear the voice, water mages and death mages have been thrown aside. He treats us terribly – some of the fire mages visit us more frequently, but it’s never a kind visit… I hope you understand.”
“Yve, stay with us and listen to our plan – I trust that if we rescues your people from the grips of this cult that you will help us in our conquest?” Inge said.
“Ay. Of course, Inge. We will all bow down to you as king. We will all support you.”
“Elyse, did you get a good view of the negotiation room? I will need you to stand outside. I will need you to focus as hard as you can on the picture in that room, and burn Timothy and myself until there is no chance of life remaining in that room.”
“You would kill yourself?”
“No – but I will bring myself one step closer to magic depletion. My face – I still have two veins, yes?”
“Yes, my king.”
“And you, Elyse. You still have four. Will you be willing to exhaust one tomorrow if it is necessary? More importantly, will you be able to control yourself in that moment?”
“Yes, my king.”
“Good. Now, tell the others about our plan, and we will reconvene in the morning.” Inge said.
Elyse quickly fled the room. Yve, however, didn’t. The girl remained in his room, sitting on the bed. “It’s… it’s been so long,” the girl murmured. Her eyes were welling up with tears. “It’s been so long since we’ve had hope. Inge… when we are successful tomorrow, you will have the full support of every mage in Skyhull.”
“Yve, I thank you. I am sorry for the terrors you have suffered. I have a task to ask of you and your people. You have fifty water mages, I need you to make sure they are ready to flood the main hall if Elyse loses control. I don’t think she will, but safety and caution are always advised in difficult times. Your death mages, are they reliable?”
“We have a strong alliance with them. Death mages aren’t really evil, you know. The few that live with us have the same goal as we do, they will do whatever you command.”
“Well, I fear I may be asking for them to be evil.” Inge said with a hint of sorrow in his voice. “It is never a good sight when mages fight each other, but I fear it is necessary now. I ask that you tell your death mages to infect as many enemy fire mages as possible. The fewer that fight against us after Timothy’s death, the better – unless, of course, you think the mages who follow Timothy will default afterward.”
“No, they have all read the books in the hall. They are all firm in their belief of fire superiority.”
“Of course. Go now, Yve, and tell our people of the plan. We must do what must be done.”
The girl climbed out the window of Inge’s small bedroom, and he saw her scamper off into one of the small buildings. Inge pulled the uncomfortable sword out of his tunic and lay it on the dresser. It hung over and when he lay on his bed, he could feel his feet touching the hilt.
Sleep came quickly to him, the likely side effect of a comfortable bed. He slept seemingly dreamlessly. There was no image in his mind, only voices. The same voice from last night.
“ARE ALL MAGES STILL GOOD, INGE?” it spoke to him. “DO YOU STILL BELIEVE YOUR QUEST TO BE NOBLE?”
Death is death, he thought. The death of a mage is no different from the death of a man.
“THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS IN THE SIDE YOU SUPPORT. MAGES ARE EVIL, INGE. THEY ARE TAINTED BY THE POWER THAT FILLS THEM.”
No, no. The power that taints us is no different than that which taints the king. Power is evil, not mages.
POWER IS NEITHER EVIL NOR GOOD. THOSE WHO ARE CORRUPT ARE EVIL. DO YOU FEAR, LITTLE MAGE? DO YOU FEAR FOR THE NEW POWER YOU WILL HAVE IF YOU WIN? DO YOU WORRY IF YOUR DISCIPLINE WILL FADE AWAY?
HOW MANY MORE TIMES, INGE. HOW MANY MORE TIMES CAN YOU EXHAUST? WOULDN’T IT BE MORE PEACEFUL TO LET THE FLAMES CONSUME YOU TOMORROW?
That’s cowardice. Death will not grasp me yet.
DEATH GRASPS ALL, FOOL. DEATH GRASPS YOU NOW, ONLY THE FOOL'S TRICK OF LIFE KEEPS YOU FROM THIS UNDERSTANDING. DEATH IS DEATH. DEATH IS CONSTANT. LIFE IS A LIE.
The light of morning illuminated the room Inge slept in. He heard a chorus of voices outside, chanting something. He peered out his window and couldn’t see the source of the noise.He decided to walk outside to see what was happening.
As he walked through the wooden building in Skyhull, the voices became louder and louder. He cautiously pushed open one of the doors in the front of the building to see what was happening. Timothy stood just outside the steps, while a concourse of mages stood before him, facing away from him.
“LET DAWN BE REBORN, SO THE DAY CAN RISE AGAIN,” Timothy shouted. The horde of mages followed in suit.
“LET THE DAY BURN AS BRIGHT AS FIRE,” he cried out. The mages followed him.
“LET THE SUN CLEANSE THE WORLD OF ITS FLAWS.” The mages followed him. After this line, Timothy turned and looked at Inge. “Good morning, water mage. Shall your group be eating in our halls? We have a delicious breakfast to prepare for you.”
Timothy licked his chapped lips as he said this, then grinned and showed off his golden tooth.
“Yes, I believe we will. Have you any water in this city? I feel we mages may be thirsty as well,” he knew the answer to this. He knew where the water was coming from, but Inge wanted to hear what Timothy said. He wanted to see if there was any chance of redemption for the monstrous mage.
“Ah yes, we do. We have much water, there is a natural spring running down the mountain that we’ve managed to bring into the city,” Timothy lied to him. Inge knew there was a group of water mages being forced to channel a supply for the bastard.
“Wonderful. I will wake the others and we will be out to eat shortly.” Inge forced a smile toward the man. He walked back through the hall. He felt the tapestries on the wall staring into him. He kept moving, ignoring any suspicions he may have had about the exchange.
“Elyse! Oswald, Terrance, Beverly, Patrick! Come, we must eat with the mages.” As Inge called out to them, he noticed that he’d left his brothers sword in his room. Inge went back into his bedroom, and slung the sword through his shirt. By the time he emerged from his room again, the rest of his allies were waiting for him. They went into the dining hall and saw that Timothy had already sat down at the head of the table. Inge took the seat opposite the ruler.
“So, Inge. Are you in a good mood for negotiation today? I do hope that we can find a common ground – I would love to march on Dawnsend. You saw the strength and loyalty of my army this morning, did you not? We have the numbers to make your forces strong.”
“Yes, I saw.” Inge replied. A servant came by with a few plates of food. Some sausages we on each plate, as well as a diced potato on each one. The servant was a fire mage. I guess they only use the true servants when there aren’t guests.
The food was delicious. “It’s not mountain goat, but it’s far better than soup.” Elyse said. She had a pleased look on her face, despite her knowledge of the horror that would ensue within a few hours in the city.
There were four guards standing in the room, one in each corner. Each Glenn kept their eyes fixed on one of them, while the rest of the group ate.
“Come now, eat my friends!” Timothy said. “The guards are to protect me! I would never strike out at a friend during breakfast.” Despite his comments, the Glenn’s continued to watch.
“Timothy, why were mages from Skyhull moving south on the road?”
“Ah yes, I sent those mages out a fortnight ago. They wished to see the world, to spread the word about me to the people in the less free areas so, naturally, I encouraged it! They move under the guise of slave mages, held in place by crooked seekers.”
“What do you know of the Iron Hall, Timothy?”
“Very little, I’m afraid. It’s the place where men train in combat, yes? That’s all I’ve heard, truly. Though, some mages here have been heard to mention how much of the Bastard’s Magic is used within the hall. It seems like an unsavoury place – impure for sure.” The Glenns could be heard grumbling quietly irately.
“Interesting. May we have some water? Sorry, it may be a convention of Rainhome but we tend to drink while we eat.” A servant swiftly returned into the dining hall with wooden goblets of water. As Inge drank it, he found himself remaining thirsty. Yes, fake. The water of a mage, Loses all substance when consumed. They show us no hospitality. “Thank you, friend. Shall we begin negotiations?”
Timothy and his guards began walking down the hall. A few steps behind them, Inge and his gang followed. Timothy and all of his guards walked into the negotiation room. Is this a ruse? Why should he have all of his guards with him?
“Listen for the right time, I will cough before you should act.” Inge told her. He had never spoken with such authority, but he was beginning to get used to his power.
Inge walked into the room with the enemy. He sat across from him, while the four guards of Timothy stood cramped around the room. They take to the corners, he noticed. The room was hardly big enough to fit all six people.
“Now Inge. You wish for my mages, I wish for a world of only mages. Where can we meet within these desires?”
“I need the support of as many mages as you can afford to take the city. A storm of fire would be quicker to conquer Dawnsend than a fleet of soldiers – I learned that twelve years ago.”
“Yes, I’m sure fire would be stronger. It always is, as I'm sure you realize is how I feel. But what do I have to gain from you using my people - beside the risk of their demise?”
“You will gain a king with a sense for mages. A king with an understanding of the value of magic, and the value of discipline. I have been a mage my whole life – only once have I exhausted a vein. I know the limitations of magic and the limitations of my own power, and I work within them. None are as noble as me,” Inge told Timothy, vaguely believing his own boast.
“Alas, I have a good set up within Skyhull, Inge. There are eyes in the walls in Skyhull, I’m sure you remember the water bitch telling you that. Many eyes, some are the traitor mages – some are mine.” Timothy said. He stopped talking as if he’d realized something. He looked at his guards and cleared his throat. “As I mentioned, I have a good set up in Skyhull, yes, Inge. You don’t fit within it.”
Inge pulled from his pocket a phial of saltwater and poured it into his mouth. He coughed twice as he swallowed it and felt the room begin to heat. Elyse is as efficient as ever.
The guards in the corner of the room collapsed before any heat entered. The death mages were good on Yve's word, Inge thought. Now to brace for the heat.
Timothy stood up and began to move for the door. Inge pulled his brother's sword from its makeshift sheath and with it blocked the way of the rogue mage.
“You see, Timothy. You may feel that fire is a superior magic, but all it does is consume. It burns, and when it’s stopped burning, nothing remains – neither the fire nor the matter it was burning. It consumed my brother, and soon, too, it will consume you,” Inge said, his voice never shifting as the man before him burned. He pushed the fool to the ground with the pommel of the sword. “Have you ever seen the ocean?” The heat kept rising. “The ocean – water – has a tide. The tide comes in, and it's strong and it covers the land, but then it goes out again. The water never stops. It can destroy many things in its path, but water never stops.”
Inge watched as the man began to scream from the heat in the room. He drove the sword through the mages chest and rushed out of the room, glancing often at the dark blood now coating the sword.
“Elyse!” he called to the woman he loved. Her eyes had rolled up into her head. The fire began to burn the walls around them. Inge grabbed her and began to drag her out of the room, her feet leaving trails of flame in their wake. “Elyse! Return to me!”
He pulled her out of the door and slapped her, her eyes beginning to return to their normal look. The outside of the hall was surrounded by a group of water mages who, when Inge and Elyse clambered out, began to drench the building with water.
“Is he dead?” Yve called from the front of the mages.
“Yes, he is dead. Elyse began to burn him, and I finished him with my brother’s sword.” Eirik deserved to kill him, Inge thought. Inge felt his face and found the newly exhausted vein. I must be hideous now, he thought, proudly smiling, thinking about mages who took pride in their grotesque appearances.
Elyse sat in a heap on the ground. She was herself again, the flame had left her body and left her human. Two of the Glenn’s rushed out of the hall with some wounds on their faces.
“A beam fell from the ceiling and crushed Oswald and Patrick. It is only us now,” Beverly spoke. Terrance stood beside him, dragging his leg slightly.
“I am sorry for our loss,” Inge told them. “Your siblings were strong mages, and strong people. I respected them both greatly.” He tried to soothe them slightly, but the two remaining Glenn’s seemed to be understanding of what happened.
“We knew the risk of fighting a war.”
“My king,” an unknown voice spoke to him. It was a death mage in dark robes. “I’m glad I could be of help to you – I know my curses can be unprofessional, but I hope they served you well on the inside.”
“Yes, thank you for your work. The guards died right before Timothy was to have them kill me.”
“No, my king. Those mages died long before then – they died a few weeks ago. What they were today was far from human.” He had a somber look. "I've been using my power to control spies within the main hall for a long time now. It's a grotesque magic, I know. I take little pride in it."
“I am Gozzek,” he held his hand out for a handshake from Inge. It was an old hand, his knuckles were clearly defined within his fingers and the bit of his arm that was visible beneath his robe was liver spotted. “I taught death magic at this school before the war. I have been a prisoner since.”
“I am pleased to have you within my army. Once we rescue my daughter and replace the king, I look forward to having you teach her your skills – she’s a death mage herself.”
The actions of the water mages was beginning to stifle the flames within. As it extinguished, Inge told the mages to ready themselves to return to their army. He wanted to attend to Elyse before they left, he knew that exhaustion for the first time was a horrible experience and he wanted to make sure she was alright.
Inge was disappointed that the fire burned all of the potatoes and food storage that was in the great hall. They would have to make do with the limited supply they had until they arrived in Dawnsend.
“Elyse, are you okay?” Inge asked him.
“I have never been thirstier in my life.” She replied lightheartedly. That sentence alone lifted Inge's spirits more than anything else that she could have said. “But I have energy still, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“Come with me and eat some snow, it may quench your thirst.” He smiled at her - she looked beautiful despite the jagged vein that now lay over her eyebrow. Her own smile, a response to his, warmed him more than her flames.
“How do I look?” She asked. “Which vein did it take?”
“One of the small ones. You have a third eyebrow now,” he laughed.
They sat on the mountainside, each eating handfuls of snow. Inge never felt thirsty after exhaustion – he found that magic water only had substance when he exhausted, each time he felt like his mouth was more full of spit and water than ever.
A cat scampered up the mountain and sat down beside the pair.
“Hello there,” Inge spoke to it. He tried to pet the large cat but it darted over to Elyse instead. It lay down in her lap and Inge noticed a small group approaching them. “Who is this? Was our celebration premature?”
As they grew nearer, Inge recognized the red hair of the shortest one in the group. The girl from his dream approached, and as she grew nearer, he made the connection. Alida, he thought. That’s her name – Alida. She didn’t burn, then. With her, she recognized the vague shapes of the other two from the Honeysuckle inn.
Inge stood up and began to walk towards them. Their faces were still indistinguishable, but he called out to them.
“Hello! Come, there is a celebration.” Inge was thrilled to see them and to know that they hadn’t been killed with his brother. As he drew closer to them, he noticed the green that covered Alida’s face. He fell to his knees, but felt his voice unable to speak.
“A… Alida,” Inge spoke. She seemed somewhat unsure about him. “Life magic?” he found full sentences were avoiding him.
“I have been taught by the best – by the anomalous city in the woods. They have sent me here with the belief that life may be needed. Life is constant, in death there is soon life.”
“Where is Sim?” the boy spoke out to him. Kasall? Inge tried to remember his name. I think he's Kasall.
“You must come with us to Dawnsend. I beg you to help us in our coming battle against the king who has kidnapped my daughter. You must come to the camp – Sim, Sim needs to see you, he needs to know that you’re still alive.”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Catherine spoke. Inge remembered Catherine. From the moment he laid eyes on her in the inn, he was overtaken by her beauty and her subtle genius.
“There’s been an incident at your inn. Rogue mages from Skyhull – the rogue mages we’ve just shut down sent a small party to the south. There was a conflict at the inn that left my brother and eight of our men dead, as well as your Jere and Lor.”
Alida looked torn. “I can save them, though” she said. “We can go back and I can bring them back. That must be what Rin meant.”
“No, Alida. Your father knew the risk – if we go back to save him, we will lose our progress. Your father always wanted to die for a noble cause, and he’s found it. Trust me, Alida Jere. Your father is happy.”
“We have slain the vile fire mages that ruled this city, and we now have a strong wave of water and death mages to march toward Dawnsend – and with you, Alida. With your mythical magic, we have an advantage. Ride at the front of our army, and we will speak much of your magic.”
They began to ride south toward the rest of the army. When they neared the army, Inge told Elyse to ride ahead and bring Sim to the front of the forest, without telling him the reason. When they got into the camp, the man’s eyes were full of tears.
“You’re… you’re alright?” Sim said to them. Alida and company dismounted, and the massive, new army began to set up tents. “I… I couldn’t save him, Alida. I couldn’t save them, Catherine,” tears were rolling off his face. Sim fell to his knees.
“You did all you could, I’m sure of that,” Catherine reassured the inn-boy. “I’ve known you long enough to know that you always do everything you could – Jere wouldn’t have kept you around if you weren’t worth that much.” The woman hugged Sim, as Inge left the group of former friends.
He returned to his own tent, where Elyse was awaiting him. She lay in the bedroll inside the tent. “No, Elyse. We don’t get the bedroll tonight, I fear. Yve deserves it – or any of the mages from Skyhull.” He carried the bedroll over to the new mages, handed it to the nearest one and went back to the tent. “I’m sorry, Elyse, we sleep on the floor tonight. After the hell those mages have seen, the least we could give them is a bedroll.”
“Did I do alright, Inge?” She said, putting her head on his chest and kissing him on the cheek. “Was I too dangerous? Is water actually stronger than fire? Were those your true beliefs?”
Inge felt embarrassed. “I don’t feel that any magic is superior, Elyse. The fool in Skyhull needed to hear what I said. A part of me feels that way, yes. I’ve seen the hell that is fire, but I hold no feelings of resentment toward fire magic – I resent the abuse of power. Any power, abused, is tragic. Elyse, you must learn this, but yes, you did exactly what you had to today. Now, let’s sleep. We ride for Dawnsend tomorrow.”
"What of this life magic?"
Inge hesitated before speaking. "One magic, I suppose, is truly superior. We shall take pride in having Alida on our side - and let’s hope her teachings have made her wise. She shall figure prominently in our success."
End of Part Two