Rori: Battling Darkness
It took them a few hours to barricade the fifth floor. Every hallway was cluttered with turned desks and stacked chairs. They pushed wardrobes in front of some of the doors so that certain rooms were blocked and other rooms only had one entrance. And scattered throughout, Rori had instructed the other Mages on where to lay their traps and carefully placed wards. She found that not only did they listen to her carefully but they appeared to look up to her.
The Paladins busied themselves with barricading the hallways in front of each of the three stairwells; the northern, southern, and central stairwell. They were the only three possible entrances their enemies would try to use.
Just as they were finishing and Rori laid eyes on Cyrus, a high pitched scream ruptured from somewhere in the central stairwell. It was such a strange, unnatural sound that Rori wasn’t quite sure what she had heard. Everyone was quiet, their ears straining to hear something, anything. Another scream rang around followed by a splintering crack of bones or stone, they couldn’t be sure.
Rori’s imagination was running wild as she tried to discern what was happening.
Then the air rippled, static crawling across her skin, the air swelling with magic. Fear skipped up her spine. Power was being pulled through the veil between the Aether and their world. It was the most magic she’d ever felt in her years of living in the spire.
Cyrus at some point must have made his way over to her. His hand cupped gently around her elbow as he whispered, “This could be the start.”
“We’re ready.” She looked back at the hall, littered with barricades and every Mage already getting into position. They were prepared to fight whatever came their way. A sense of desperation was in the air to survive.
Rori clutched her staff with both hands, focusing her attention on the smooth surface beneath her palms. It was a comforting reminder of Winifred’s gentle nature, at least, when she was being motherly. With each deep inhale she could get a small whiff of Winifred’s perfume and it somehow kept her from feeling quite so nervous.
Her attention rolled past the staff, over the wall of stacked furniture to the central staircase’s narrow doorway. The darkness was almost unbearable, the way it grew darker and more menacing the longer she looked at it. Then something moved. She didn’t trust her eyes at first. She stared but nothing changed, so she thought for sure she hadn’t seen anything. But then the edge of darkness shimmered. The shadow of the doorway rippled like a pool of black water.
She reached out and laid a heavy hand onto Culllen’s shoulder, tugging at his pauldron. She nudged her head towards the door and whispered under her breath, “There’s something there. I’m sure of it.” Even though she was an elf and could see past most darkness, she couldn’t even glimpse a shadow.
Cyrus signaled to the Paladins and they readied their charmed tower-like shields and unsheathed their swords. They were a wall of rectangular metal, expertly trained to stand against all forms of magic.
Rori tapped the end of her staff into the stone floor and the Mages drew up a barrier spell. Without hesitation or waiting for the others, she gathered energy into her palm. It was an essence of pure light, ethereal light as clean and clear as the moon. She held out her hand and allowed the orb to glide gently across the foyer to the stairs.
They were silent, their eyes locked on the light as it was swallowed up and snuffed out.
The darkness, once still, began to morph. A wild and angry beast, although that would elude to some semblance of features. The darkness had no eyes or mouth or any recognizable details. But arms began to reach out as it began to sloppily roll into the fifth floor’s foyer. It fell forward into the stone, shimmering and slimy, black as tar, then rose up only to fall messily forward again. It looked awkward and flimsy but it was moving closer a little more and more.
Rori’s hand, which hadn’t moved since her spell began, snapped shut into a fist. The orb of light swelled but the darkness seemed to contain most of it. A few beams of light burned through the tar then disappeared. The black ink ballooned and shrunk down as if it were in pain then rolled forward once more.
“Use your arcane spells,” Rori ordered the other Mages. “This is dark magic and weakens easily in the presence of light.”
The Mages flourished their hands and weaved streams of light between their palms. But just before they could release their spells, another tar creature spilled out of the stairwell into the foyer.
Cyrus roared out a command, “Focus your attacks on the first.”
They released their spells, strikes of light bursting into the glistening blob. It seared away the black tar, decreasing its size little by little.
Another black creature spilled out to join the other two, rolling and falling like an ocean of black waves. The Mages kept up their spells, focusing their energy and a few more from the hallway joined the assault. But they weren’t moving fast enough. More of the strange creatures were appearing, the small tide rising and they seemed to be melting together to form one large tidal wave.
Rori held her staff and tightened her grip. She raced forward and leapt over the stacked furniture. She couldn’t be certain but she had to do something to stop the nonsense unfolding before them.
“Rori!” Cyrus shouted after her but she didn’t let herself hesitate a second longer.
She held up the staff in one hand and gathered energy through her body, up into her arm and into the focus crystal. She pooled all of the power around her then reached through the veil to gather more. The Mages behind her funneled their attacks through Rori until the foyer and every hall was filled with a blinding white light.
Her eyes slammed shut but just as the light began to fade she forced them open. She wanted to see for herself that the demon was being cleansed. Rori caught a glimpse of an outline, a figure just barely visible in the glow of the spell. She couldn’t see it if she looked directly at it. It’s luminous color was nearly the same as the spell’s.
And then, when the afterglow faded, the figure and demon were gone. The foyer was completely cleansed. The air felt lighter and her lungs tingled as she took down a crisp breath.
The fifth floor was quiet with nervous tension as they waited for another demon to attack. Then laughter broke out behind her. She turned around to the Mages cheering with relief and the Paladins patting each other’s shoulders in camaraderie. She thought she might have even seen the Mages give the Paladins a nod of gratitude.
They had won a battle, albeit a small one. They were true allies now.
When the laughter began to quiet, however, faint shouting could be heard on the northern side of the fifth floor. They grew still and quiet, exchanging glances to acknowledge what they heard.
The young elf glanced over her shoulder to the empty stairs behind her. They were too dark to see much of anything. The torches that usually kept the stairs well-lit had likely been taken down earlier.
A crack of thunder echoed, followed by what sounded like a wooden staff breaking in half. Rori could sense the magic swelling in the air, static that rose the air on the back of her neck. Wave after wave of spells were being thrown. In the back of her mind’s eye, a sensation ran through her, the Aether shuddering just beyond her reach.
The Paladins drew their swords as someone raced through the cluttered hallway towards them. It was one of the Mages, young and agile in their race through the maze.
“The Paladins have broken through the northern barrier! We’re being overrun!”
The Paladin next to Cyrus, an older more experienced man, stepped forward. “Stay here and guard the central post. I’ll take some of the knights with me for reinforcements.”
“Understood.” Cyrus turned a firm nod to the Paladins beside him.
“You three! Come with me!” The older man waved a hand to a group of Mages then pointed towards some of the Paladins. “Behind me, knights.” He marched forward and no one argued with him. Four of the Paladins fell in line without a moment of hesitation.
Cyrus nodded at the remaining fighters at his side then turned to Rori. They both nodded encouragingly.
She made her way back over to the group but a cold breeze ran through her hair and along the back of her neck. Rori spun around with her staff ready for the attack. She couldn’t see anything just like before. There was a slight chill in the air.
“What is it?” Cyrus began to march past the barrier.
She only looked back at him for a moment and held up her hand in warning. “I’m not sure...”
He raised his shield and readied his sword in anticipation.
She stared into the dark stairwell and half expected another monster to roll out. A blast of energy brightened the stairs in a bloom of white light. Someone was fighting, Mage or Paladin or perhaps demon. Another blast of energy just before someone appeared, racing out of the stairs with a Paladin in pursuit.
Rori raised her staff and gathered the energy around her. She sent a wave of sparks across the room that lapped greedily at the knight’s armor. “Winifred,” she called out and the elder Mage hurried to her side.
“Together.” She grabbed the staff with Rori and they poured their next assault into the Aetherian crystal. Lightning swept forward then exploded with swelling heat. Smoke and clouds filled the air, static crackled in their ears. When the smoke cleared away, they could make out the charred Paladin crumbled on the floor.
Winifred spun and marched towards the barricade. “That was close.”
“I’m glad you’re safe.” Rori quickened her pace. “The northern barrier is under attack.”
“Demons,” Winifred spat. “The commander and his men fell back to regroup.”
Cyrus spoke up, voice weak at the question, “The Mages that sided with them?”
Her mouth went crooked and she shook her head. “Liabilities. Some were killed and others chained up.” Winidred’s eyes went dark for a moment, empty as she looked back into a memory.
Rori scooped up her hand and squeezed it.
Her eyes fluttered but her tone was still dark, “The chancellor is dead.”
Cyrus shifted his weight between his feet then turned away. “Then we kill the commander.”
The old Mage croaked, “Then what?”
“We escape,” Rori pleaded. “We should escape now while they’re regrouping.”
“We can’t.” She shook her head. “They’re gathering on the first floor and that’s the only escape route.”
“Not the only.” Cyrus folded his arms, shoulders rising up with uncertainty. “The tunnel that Keir destroyed was cleared of rubble. If someone were able to distract the main group of Paladins...”
“Yes.” Winifred pressed her hand into her mouth as she considered it. “It would give the rest of the Mages time to escape. Especially the children. Once we get them out then...”
Cyrus nodded firmly. “It’s best if Paladins lead the charge and pin them down.”
“I’m going with you.” Rori clutched the staff. “Paladins alone won’t hold them down.”
“It’s too dangerous. We’re trained on how to kill Mages.”
Winifred sighed loudly, drawing both their gazes. “Paladins and Mages must work together.”
He took down a sharp breath, ready to argue but felt outmatched.
Her mentor turned to her and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Can I convince you to lead the children to safety?”
“Winifred,” she pleaded. “I have to do this. I need to do this.”
She lowered her eyes and her lips quivered. But she nodded. “Let’s help enforce the northern stairwell. Then we can call for a meeting.”
Rori squeezed her mentor’s hand then led the way through the halls.