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Tempora heroica official

  1. 1. Tempora Heroica by John Symons
  2. 2. This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. TEMPORA HEROICA Copyright @ 2013 by John Symons All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any electronic or printed form without permission First Edition: June 2013 Printed in the United States of America
  3. 3. For everyone who ever agreed to just blame Toshi After all, it is usually his fault
  4. 4. Contents 1 A Path Chosen.................................................................1 2 Lost and Found..............................................................11 3 The Fate of a City..........................................................22 4 Light as a Feather..........................................................35 5 The Mastermind............................................................44 6 Gnomes versus Planes..................................................56 7 Living Legend...............................................................68 8 Hidden in Plain View....................................................77 9 Trust is a Funny Thing..................................................88 10 Tempora Heroica..........................................................96 11 Departures...................................................................107 12 A Rarely Traveled Route.............................................115 13 Up the Mountain.........................................................124 14 Preparing for the Worst...............................................133 15 Needle in a Haystack...................................................140 16 The Death of Dulin......................................................147 17 Slippery as a Fish........................................................155 18 A Reunion....................................................................163 19 A Bird's Eye View........................................................171 20 On the Edge of a Knife................................................179 21 Checkmate...................................................................186 22 An Impossible Idea......................................................193 23 All In............................................................................203 24 Timing is Everything...................................................209 25 What Must be Done.....................................................215 26 Out of the Ashes..........................................................223
  5. 5. Tempora Heroica
  6. 6. Chapter 1 – A Path Chosen The snow swept down from the mountains in wide swaths, blanketing the ground in the valley below. It was a light snow, by the time it landed, but there was still something odd about snow falling down on a cloudless day, with nothing but blue skies and sunshine up above. The dwarves that made Dun Morogh their home were used to it, just as they were used to the bone chilling cold. The small figure, descending down into the valley along the mountain road, was used to neither of these things. In fact, it felt like she was walking into a dream. She had felt this way all afternoon, and it was still unclear to her whether or not this was a pleasant dream. For years, Reyna had known that she would be heading here; not specifically here, of course, but somewhere like here. After all, her people, the gnomes, were adventurers. It's true that for the most part, they lived in their cities. They were born in cities, warm cities, which were often carved deep below the earth. They grew old in their cities. In every gnome's life, however, there came a day when it was time to head out into the world, and bring something back. Just recently, her cousin Razzle had been off adventuring for weeks, and had returned with the designs for an exploding robot sheep. That had caused quite a stir among her relatives, but for Reyna, gnomes like Razzle were largely missing the point. Reyna leaned heavily on her staff for balance, as the icy road began to slope sharply downwards. Her thick leather boots dug into the ice, but she still slowed her pace in the unfamiliar terrain. As she did so, it seemed like even more of her pink hair ended up brushing across her face. Shaking her head, she took a deep breath, and released it in a big frosty cloud that drifted out in front of her eyes. How strange it was, being able to see your own breath. Reyna hadn't been out in weather this cold since she was a small child, and being able to see her own breath was one of the 1
  7. 7. tiny details that she had forgotten. Up ahead, where the path reached the valley floor, she saw a lone guard standing in the middle of the road. He waved briefly in her direction. Reyna raised her free left hand, and waved back. He was a dwarf, covered in dull iron armour, and he leaned casually on a sturdy axe. “Welcome to Coldridge Valley,” he boomed. Well, at least the place was aptly named. “What business do you have down here, little one?” Reyna's eyes narrowed at that; she was very small in size, true, but what did that have to do with anything? Fool dwarf. She took a deep breath, and just shook it off. In her book, it was always worth taking the high road. Well, almost always. “I have come to see Magis Sparkmantle,” she shouted, her voice squeaking a lot more than she intended. Why did it have to sound like that when she raised her voice? “I will inform him directly of my business here.” The dwarf shifted his weight on his axe, and raising a gauntleted hand, tugged his beard. “Mr. Sparkmantle? You don't look like the type. Well, if you are determined to see him, he is in the outpost. Just follow the road, and you'll be there eventually. I'd say soon, but well, for you we'll just have to see.” The guard's beard twitched; was that a smile? Well, she'd show him! At least, as soon as the ice became less slippery. Reyna focused on her breathing as she walked past the guard, and had to concentrate on not glaring at him. “Thank you for your assistance,” she said evenly as she inched past him. “With any luck, I'll be back up this road well before nightfall.” The guard bowed his head slightly, and chuckled softly. As soon as the ground became level, or close enough, Reyna picked up her pace. The road curved around a bend, and the mountains rose up on one side. On the other side, a flat snowy plain stretched out for quite some distance. Squinting her eyes, she was just able to see what looked like two gnomes lying against a snowbank. She briefly considered going over to see what they were doing – after 2
  8. 8. all, gnomes should be friendly with one another – but quickly decided against it. Straight to the outpost, and then back again. That was her plan for the day. Well, depending on what Magis had to say to her. Up ahead, the road curved again, and she saw a large stone building at the base of a large hill. Apparently the guard had been teasing her more than she had suspected, as it had only taken her a few minutes to reach it. She would have a nasty surprise for him on the way back. Well, at least a glare. If her mother had taught her anything at all, it was how to glare ferociously. Out in front of the outpost, several dwarves were standing around. Waving her staff at the nearest dwarf, Reyna put on her best smile, and strode up next to him. With a bow, she asked casually, “do you know if Magis Sparkmantle is here at the outpost today?” “Why yes young lassy,” the dwarf replied. “He's in his usual spot. Which is somewhere. I don't actually remember where. But it's definitely through that opening in the rock wall, down the stairs, and well within range of the furnace. Magis likes it hot, he does.” A warm room! Reyna quickly thanked the dwarf, and hurried down the steps. As she entered the outpost, Reyna shook the snow off her brown fur robes, and began to study her new surroundings. The warm air welcomed her like an old friend. The heat was flowing outwards from a large iron furnace which stood in the center of the room, and at least a dozen people, a mix of dwarves and gnomes, were moving around near the heat source. Some were covered from head to toe in armour, some were wearing ordinary clothes, and all looked comfortable. Reyna practically ran over to join them, twirling her staff as she went. Moving right up next to the furnace, Reyna examined the nearby gnomes more carefully. She had no idea what Magis looked like, but she did expect him to look fairly distinguished. After quickly scanning the room, her eyes stopped on a gnome who was leaning back against the far wall, examining a scroll in his hands. He was wearing bright blue robes, and also had a 3
  9. 9. prominent grey beard, that stretched almost to his waist. Reyna reluctantly moved away from the furnace, and walked towards the robed figure. “Are you Magis Sparkmantle?” She asked in the clearest voice she could muster, although she couldn't help but feel her nerves start to rattle. Gripping her staff tighter, she tried to produce a natural looking smile. “The one and only!” Magis said as he looked up from the scroll. “Who are you?” His eyes gleamed with excitement. She had been told that he had lived in this outpost for years, and she had no idea how often visitors came to see him. From his reaction, perhaps visitors were rare. “My name is Reynalesca,” she continued, “and many gnomes have told me that you are very wise. Very wise in certain areas. Areas that I would like to study.” Magis looked down in thought, and began twiddling his moustache. Reyna felt herself relax slightly. Her father had done that when she was a child. After a brief pause, Magis looked up at her as if he had just received some very good news. “Ohhhh....a student, are you? You would like to learn some of my tricks? Perhaps you would like to shoot fire from your hands, or turn your friends into sheep, or teleport instantly from place to place?” Magis threw his head back and laughed, a friendly laugh, like he had just shared a list of things that amused him. “Yes, I would like to learn those things very badly,” Reyna replied. Her eyes were determined; or at least they felt determined. “I would like to become a mage, and see the world. You know of the rumours, about what's been happening out there. I want to go see for myself, and help if I can.” That wasn't the whole truth, but it was true. Her mother always told her there was no need to start a conversation with the whole truth, when you could just pick out the best parts. First impressions are important, after all. “Ambitious, and brave!” Magis threw his head back and laughed again. “Well, you seem like someone that would be well worth showing how to shoot fireballs. Follow me. If you pick 4
  10. 10. this up quickly, I have a job that you can do. Do that well, and I'll show you something else.” He turned and started to walk deeper into the outpost, tucking the scroll into one of his deep pockets as he went. Reyna followed, and took a deep breath, trying to shake her nerves away. Fireballs, from her hands! This was just what she had been hoping for, and now was not the time to mess things up. Magis led her down a short stone corridor, away from the main room where the furnace was. The rocks managed to hold some of the heat as the pair of gnomes moved deeper into the building; she was thankful for that. After walking by several rooms with closed doors, Magis paused in an open area, and turned to face her. “We're here!” he cackled. “Fireball time!” Reyna noticed that along the opposite wall, several straw dummies were tied up in the shape of humanoids. Small humanoids, not much taller than a gnome. Magis pulled his right hand back behind his body, and spun to face one of the targets. “The key to all of this,” he began, “is to feel the power inside you. Feel the magic. What you need to do is to channel it, shape it, in a certain way. I personally know a lot about creating fire, and to do that, well....watch.” Tiny flames burst out of his hand, and began to intensify. A few seconds later, Magis thrust his hand forward, and those flames grew into a giant ball. The fireball flew forward from his arm, and slammed into one of the targets. The target was immediately incinerated. Straw normally burned quickly, but Reyna couldn't help but stare. It was simply....gone....and only a black charred wooden post remained. How hot had that fireball been? Magis did a spin move, then threw his hands in the air. “Ok...Reynalesca is it? I think I'll call you Rey. Your turn! Isn't this fun? Just remember, you need to feel the power. In theory, everyone can do it, but in practice, most can't. It takes a certain kind of, hmm, well, I don't know what. You can either feel a connection to the vast ocean of energy within you – mana, it is sometimes called – or you can't. I will guide you as best I can. Concentrate. Empty your thoughts. What is left?” 5
  11. 11. Reyna looked down at the floor. Well, she had walked all this way because she thought she had the ability for this. She had always felt a certain glow, deep within, that called out to her but always felt just slightly out of reach. She thought this was the very power that Magis Sparkmantle had just described. It was mana. Or at least, it seemed like mana. After all, she had never tried to cast a spell of any kind, and certainly hadn't tried incinerating anything. The closest she had come to doing anything magical is the one time she had attempted to pull out Maj Topplewagon's chair from right underneath her, without actually touching the chair (Maj was being especially annoying that day). In fact, Reyna had been on the other side of the room when she had tried to tug on it with her mind. The chair fell over, and so did Maj. Had she actually made the chair move? She had never been sure. Closing her eyes, Reyna took another deep breath, and tried to follow the advice that she had just been given. The world went blank; nothing but darkness, her breath, and a dim presence on the edge of her awareness. Was that the reserve of mana that glowed inside of her? How was she to do anything with that? “Yes Magis,” she said tentatively, “I think I can feel something. How do I take that energy, though, and do anything with it. I watched you do it, but what exactly were you doing?” She heard Magis laugh, a full rich laugh, and she opened her eyes. He was doubled over, and pounding his hand on his leg. “You just do!” he said. “The most important thing is that you can feel it. The energy is a part of you, just as it is a part of all living things, but as I said, only a select few of us are able to tap into it and manipulate it. If you can really sense your mana reserves, then you've already overcome the main barrier to using magic. To make a fireball like I did, just try to tap into that energy with your mind, and put it into motion. More specifically, imagine that energy filling your hand, and think of heating it up. Heat it up in a specific way....you know, all firebally and stuff. Then, poof! Fireball! I don't know why that works, but it does. Just be sure to actually throw the fireball somewhere!” He threw his head back, 6
  12. 12. and laughed yet again. Reyna didn't really understand, but she nodded. Pulling her hand back, like Magis had done, she tried to imagine it filling with energy. She was still quite cold, and the thought of her heating anything up was strange. Despite this, he had said to think of the energy going into her hand, and turning into a flaming ball, so she did. What was that strange sensation? Reyna looked behind her. Flames! There was fire dancing in her hand! “Ahhh!!!!!!” She shrieked. Reyna starting spinning around in a circle. “What do I do, what do I do, help!!!!” Magis dove to the ground, face first, and tried to make himself as flat as possible. “You want to aim!” he said calmly. “Preferably at the targets, but anywhere other than me should be fine.” The flames were getting larger in her hand, and started rounding into a ball. Which way were the targets? The room was spinning so fast, and she was running out of time! Well, it was her that was spinning, but still! She caught sight of one of the straw dummies, tried to plant her left foot, and immediately fell over backwards. As Reyna was falling, she flung her arm forward. The fire was so bright! As her arm straightened out, the fireball flew out from her, and exploded as it slammed into the ceiling. Tiny bits of rock and dust shot out from the impact. Reyna landed on her back with a thud, and quickly raised her head to look around. Other than a very small crater in the ceiling, that was sending out tiny puffs of smoke, everything seemed fine. Magis leaped to his feet, and cheered. “Outstanding effort!” Magis looked up at the crater, then down at her. He was twiddling his moustache again. “It looks like you can definitely feel the energy, and I'm impressed that you were able to do that on your first try. Although we will have to work on your aim.” Reyna brushed herself off as she stood up, and faced the target practice dummies. Reaching back, she filled her hand with fire, and proceeded to launch a large fireball directly at one. The target was struck directly, and it melted away before her eyes. So, 7
  13. 13. that's how it was done. Throwing fireballs was very tiring – more tiring than she had expected – but she could do it. This was going well. “Alright, I'm convinced,” Magis said, his face suddenly turning serious. “I believe that you are capable of becoming a mage. A genuine, high quality mage, even though I haven't seen you do much yet. For now, let's say you're an almost mage. To make your mage status official, you'll need to prove yourself by doing a job for me. I should mention that it is a dangerous job, but that fireball ability should be sufficient. If I tell you more than this, there's no going back. Are you sure you want to go down this road?” Reyna didn't even need to think about it, as this is what she had come here to do. “I would be honoured Magis. Whatever you need done, I'm the gnome to do it.” “Alright,” Magis said. “If you recall, the ancient gnome city of Gnomeregan, the true home of our people, has been taken over by troggs.” His face grew sad at the mention of those horrible creatures. Reyna shuddered. As a child, she had been smuggled out of Gnomeregan during the invasion. She barely remembered, but she remembered enough. “It has been many years since the trogg invasion,” Magis continued, “and no gnome has been safe there since. We are all now in exile of a sort, but of course, you know this. What I mean to tell you is that the troggs have come here. To Coldridge Valley. They have taken over the mines to the south, and have camps set up outside. What I need you to do, if you dare, is to sneak into the mines. There is something that I have hidden there – something very important – and I need it back. I'd go myself, but well, that's what brave gnomes like you are for.” His eyes brightened, and he flashed a joyful smile. Reyna frowned briefly, as that did sound dangerous. Still, she had just learned how to throw fire at stuff, and if she came across a trogg....well, she had already agreed anyway. “You can count on me!” Reyna said, her smile returning. “What am I looking for?” 8
  14. 14. “A purple box,” Magis replied. “Just find the box, and bring it to me. It could be anywhere in the mines by now, but I remember where I left it. Let me draw you a map. Let's see, where is my quill...or my ink....or paper....hmm...well, let me describe a map! On one corner, there will be an E, so you know that corner is East. Wait, East should be centered on the right, not actually in a corner...ok, put an E on the right! Then you want to draw a line....” As Magis rambled on, hopping about and flailing his arms as he went, Reyna struggled to follow what he was saying. Still, it was clear that she had to go into some mine, and find a purple box, and avoid becoming lunch for troggs. That was a more difficult afternoon than she had expected, but still, it could have been worse. Magis was babbling on endlessly, it seemed, and had moved on to describing a scale for the bottom of the imaginary map. Something about one thumb width being equivalent on paper to 16 paces, if you were walking while in a good mood. Perhaps she should interject. “Um...Magis?” Reyna said softly. “Where is the mine, approximately? From where we are now? And, um, how do I get in?” Magis turned to face her, and frowned. “Well, I suppose I can just skip ahead to that. The mine itself is directly south of here. Just walk south, and you'll see it. If you don't see it, then just wander around. You should find it. It's a small valley.” Magis had a much more serious look in his eyes at the moment, and it was a bit startling. “Now, Rey, here's the vital thing to remember. I know of a secret entrance. It's top secret, as I had one of my apprentices make it for me awhile back. Mostly by accident, as I had just told him to practice his fireballs in an open space. After he blew a small hole in the side of the mine, however....well, I soon found that the hole was very useful. A way to get into the mine without the dwarves seeing, you see? I put the purple box near that opening, at the end of a small cavern to the...well, to the left or right. I can't remember at the moment. Perhaps if I finished thinking through my map.” 9
  15. 15. Reyna threw up her hands. “That's alright! I'll be able to find it, don't you worry at all. I'll be right back, you just stay here. Should I go right now?” Magis nodded, and smiled warmly at her. “Go, and come back,” he said. “Make sure you bring my box though! I'll be cheering for you.” The two gnomes both jumped up into the air, and pumped a fist towards the ceiling. It was surprising how they had managed to synchronize that. Flashing Magis one last smile, Reyna turned quickly, and practically ran back down the hallways, and into the main room of the outpost. With one last reluctant glance at the blazing furnace, Reyna bounced up the steps, and headed back out into the cold. Perhaps she could hold a ball of fire in her hands to keep herself warm? On second thought, that was something to experiment with later. For now, she was an almost mage. Turning to face south, she marched off into the deep snow. Her footprints started sinking all the way up to her knees, but she didn't mind. She was an almost mage. If she had her way, the “almost” part wouldn't last long at all. 10
  16. 16. Chapter 2 – Lost and Found The snow was piled high in the south end of Coldridge Valley, and with troggs lurking in every direction, Toshi had struggled to conceal his tracks. For years, the dwarf had practiced being a chameleon, and was used to blending into his environment. He was very good at it. Some things, though, like footprints in the snow, were especially difficult to work around. Still, with care, he had managed to descend from the mountains like a soft breeze. Looking behind him, the snow was swept to the sides as if simply blown by the wind. From his current position on top of a large boulder, in the shadow of a thick white pine tree, Toshi briefly admired his work. Nothing could have seen him approach this place, and nothing would be following him. Now was not the time to be looking behind him, however. He had work to do. Adjusting the twin daggers sheathed at his sides, Toshi studied the opening in the rock face that lay ahead. It was a wide opening, with plenty of room for ten dwarves to march through side by side. The problem, at the moment, was the group of four troggs standing guard. They were spread out across the entrance, and were watching the area in front of them. Troggs were not clever, and were barbaric, caveman like creatures. It was hard to believe the rumours that they were distant cousins of his own people. Shaking his head at the thought, Toshi spat into the snow. Distant cousins or not, he had never enjoyed fighting the savages. It was nowhere near as exciting as taking down an orc, or a troll. Still, troggs were dangerous, and he would need to be quick to handle all four. There was a large open space between Toshi and the trogg guards, and with the snow so deep, it would be very hard to approach with stealth. Crouching down even lower on the rock, Toshi's long black beard brushed against the ground. Better to go 11
  17. 17. in fast, and launch a frontal assault. After quickly checking that his black leather armour was strapped on tightly, Toshi drew both of his weapons, and exploded forward from the boulder. As he sprinted across the snow, so fast that his feet barely even touched the ground, Toshi felt an adrenaline rush. The nearest trogg had turned its head in another direction, and he slammed into it from the side. With both of his daggers leading the way, the trogg was instantly down on the ground, its eyes glazing over. The next trogg was only a few feet away, and as it turned in surprise at the noise, a dagger slashed across its throat. Staggering backwards, it made a futile attempt to hold its own neck together, before falling over awkwardly. The remaining two troggs had time to react, and roared as they raised their clubs. Toshi slid underneath a wicked swing from the trogg on the right, and leaping to his feet, spun quickly and planted a dagger deep into the creatures back. It howled in pain as he pulled the blade free, and ducking under another wild swing from the last trogg, Toshi spun again and slashed both weapons across the trogg's leg. It fell forward into the snow, and Toshi quickly stabbed it in the back of its neck. It thrashed about momentarily, before going still. Pulling his weapons clear, he surveyed the area, and everything was quiet. There was no sign of any other troggs nearby. All four trogg guards were also no longer a threat, and lay sprawled on the ground, clearly dead, or close enough. Toshi spat at the nearest corpse. No challenge at all from these ones. Yes, it was definitely more fun to take down orcs or trolls. Wiping his daggers on one of the fallen troggs, Toshi turned to the cavern ahead of him. This had recently been a dwarven mining operation. His people had dug well, as the cavern was not only wide, but high and spacious. Large braziers had been setup at fairly close intervals, on each side of the cavern, and the troggs had kept the fires burning steadily. They may not be clever creatures, but they did like to be able to see, and Toshi was glad the braziers were lighting the way. He had brought a torch with him, but he hated using the thing. It was extremely difficult to 12
  18. 18. move stealthily while holding a burning stick in your hands. Toshi crouched down low, and began gliding his way into the mine, holding his daggers out in front of him. With the firelight dancing around, it would be hard to remain unseen, but he would try. If another group of troggs noticed him, as unlikely as that was....well, that's what the daggers were for. He wasn't here to kill troggs, but if he had to, he would kill as many as necessary. Either way, the troggs weren't important. What was important was the item that he had been sent to retrieve. All he had been told was that it was of great value, and while he didn't know what it was, he intended for things to proceed smoothly. If anything else unexpected got in his way – something that wasn't a trogg – well, Toshi was prepared for that too. The sun was still high in the sky when Reynalesca finally found the secret mine entrance. It hadn't taken her long, in the grand scheme of things, although she had needed to search the hills a bit. Heading south from the outpost had actually led her fairly straight to the mine entrance – the main mine entrance – and she had taken a long look at four nasty looking troggs that were lounging about. They hadn't seen her, as far as she could tell, and she had quickly darted off to safety. A bit too quickly, perhaps, but four troggs were a lot of troggs. In any case, she had headed off in a somewhat correct direction, and after spending some time walking around to the side of the main entrance, she had seen it. A hole cut into the rock, barely big enough for a gnome to squeeze through, with charred black markings around its edges. It was the secret entrance Magis had mentioned. It had to be. As Reyna approached the hole, her thoughts lingered on those four troggs. They had been so large. Troggs were bigger than gnomes, true, but those troggs had seemed especially big. Throwing fireballs was fun, in her very brief experience, but facing four troggs at once seemed a bit much. If even a single real live trogg started charging her, could she react quickly enough? Well, maybe all the troggs were taking a nap right now. 13
  19. 19. Troggs needed to nap, didn't they? It occurred to Reyna that actually squirming through the hole would be a challenge. Crouching down next to it, she could see that it wasn't very wide, and that she would need to go in sideways. Her staff would clearly be a problem. It was also hard to see what awaited her inside the mine, as the only things visible were rock, ice, and dancing shadows. The shadows were a result of fires which were burning inside. She was glad for that. A mine could be pitch black inside, and she had planned to light the way by randomly throwing fire around. That probably hadn't been the best idea. There was one obvious way to get her staff through the hole, and Reyna decided to just throw it ahead of her. It landed with a thud on the rocks, and she smiled. She had been worried that there may have been a steep drop on the other side. From the sound that her staff had made, it appeared that the ground was level. Pulling her robes close to her sides, Reyna turned sideways, and brushed up against the icy rocks. Why was everything so cold today? Grimacing, Reyna pushed her back into the wall, lifted both legs up onto the edge of the hole, and began to inch her way through. Abruptly, the ground underneath her sloped down sharply, and she started sliding. Spinning around awkwardly, she had to muffle a cry as she crashed onto her back. Somehow, she had managed to land directly on her staff. Slightly dazed, Reyna lay there for several moments. She hadn't been very loud there, had she? Well, there was nothing to do about that now. After rolling over to get off of her staff, she slowly closed her fingers around the smooth wood, before proceeding to push herself up off the ground. Looking around, it became clear that she was now in a very narrow tunnel, with a single brazier burning off to one side. She also saw a mining pick propped up against the rocks, practically right next to her. Well, at least she hadn't landed on that thing. Up ahead, a tunnel veered off to the left, and there was a wider tunnel to the right. Perhaps she should have let Magis try to work out which way she was 14
  20. 20. supposed to go. With a sigh, Reyna spun her staff above her head, and threw it in front of her. It landed with one end pointing almost directly at the tunnel on the left. That may have not been the most scientific approach, but at least it was something. Reyna picked up her staff as she walked past it, and turned left. Once she was in it, the tunnel she chose seemed especially narrow, and there was maybe room for 2 gnomes to walk through side by side. The dwarves likely hadn't finished carving the path here. The tunnel curved to the right, and she couldn't see very far ahead. At least everything was quiet. All she could hear were her own footsteps, and the tapping noise that her staff made as she pressed it into walking stick duty. She would hear a trogg if it was up ahead, wouldn't she? Reyna slowed down her steps a bit, and raised her staff up into the air. Her breathing didn't slow, however, and puffs of frosty mist continued to steadily emerge from her mouth. The tunnel ended abruptly, and a large open area lay ahead. Reyna squeezed against the side of the tunnel, and leaning over, looked out into the room. Troggs. She could see at least five moving about, although thankfully, none were close to her position. The room itself seemed blanketed in ice, and as she looked down into the main area, she could see a large frozen pool of water. It filled most of the room, and the five troggs appeared to be converging there for some type of conference. From where she was standing, she could barely make out grunting noises, as they gestured and pointed at one another. Around the edge of the room, there was a pathway, and she knew she had to get moving. If she just kept waiting there in the tunnel entrance, one of the troggs would see her eventually. Stepping out onto the rocky path that ringed the room, she saw that several other tunnels darted off at various points. There was a tunnel fairly close to her left, and close was good. Crouching down as low as she could, while still being able to walk, Reyna moved to the nearby opening. She was almost immediately out of view, and hadn't been in the larger room for long. Perhaps instead of learning how to become a mage, she 15
  21. 21. should be learning how to become a spy, or a scout! Smiling at the thought, Reyna reminded herself to concentrate. None of this was make believe. This was real. In fact, it was some of the realest real that she had been a part of all day. She quickly rounded a bend into a very small open space, which was lit by a single torch that stuck up out of the ground. Reyna gasped. In the middle of the far wall, she saw it. There was a small purple box – painted metal, by the look of it – sitting on a ledge. Could she have found it so quickly? Reyna looked admiringly at her staff, and thrusting it up into the air, she had to suppress a cheer. She still needed to be as quiet as possible, with troggs nearby. Still, the hard part was mostly over, at least in theory. After all, the box was encased in a massive block of ice If she threw a fireball at it, the block of ice might just melt. Perhaps that was why Magis had needed someone that could throw fireballs. He could have even froze the box in place himself, as a security measure. Yes, that must be it. She would just need to concentrate, fireball the thing, hope the box was only mildly damaged, and then get out of this place. Reyna pulled her hand back, and as she did so, she heard footsteps in the tunnel behind her. Her breathing stopped. She spun around quickly – too quickly – and fell over awkwardly. The end of Reyna's staff hit the ground hard, popped out of her hand, and bounced away to the side. She looked up, and saw a trogg entering the room. The thing was at least five feet high slouched over, which was enormous, and it was flashing its sharp, pointy teeth. Troggs ate gnomes. It raised a thick wooden club over its head and growled. In a panic, Reyna scurried backwards on the ground, as she tried to stand up. The ground was slippery, though, and her feet couldn't seem to catch on anything. The trogg grinned and started walking slowly towards her. She looked over at her staff, which was well out of reach. This was it. She was trapped, and she was going to be trogg food. Unless she could use a fireball on the thing. First, though, she had to stand up. Reyna's feet continued to push her backwards, and at this point, she was about 16
  22. 22. to crash into the ledge underneath the frozen purple box. What had her mother said about times like this? Nothing came to mind. She wasn't going to go out like this. She wasn't. Time seemed to slow down, but as she searched inside herself for the magic energy, all she could find was the thud of her heartbeat. The tunnels that had taken Toshi deep into the mine had been fairly narrow, and he had mostly abandoned stealth. Over ten troggs lay dead behind him now, and the ones that still roamed the mines were bound to notice that. Well, at least, there was a good chance that they would notice. They were troggs, after all. It seemed best to move fast now, though, and if any troggs appeared in front of him, he would just add to the body count. As Toshi dashed out into a large open room, he reconsidered his tactics, and hid himself in the shadows. This was the room he had been told to find; a large, cavernous room, with plenty of ice in the center. His search should end here, or somewhere close to here. Before moving on, though, he had more troggs to deal with. He could see six of the creatures moving about the area, with the majority huddled close together on the ice in front of him. A rock pathway circled the room, with multiple tunnels branching off to the sides. The pathway climbed upwards as it reached the opposite side of the chamber. As he looked about, trying to decide which tunnel to explore first, something caught his eye. Was that a ball of pink? What was that? Toshi concentrated, and high up on the pathway, in one of the tunnel mouths, he could clearly make out a blob of bright pink. The pink blob started to move, and as it did so, he saw that the pink blob was actually someone's hair. A gnome's hair. What was a gnome doing here? It's true that gnomes were allies of the dwarves, and that for years now, dwarves had allowed the gnomes to live in the dwarven capital. Still, Toshi couldn't assume anything; not all gnomes were to be trusted. In his experience, most were actually quite devious, and made better footballs than friends. 17
  23. 23. The gnome slid along the pathway – in plain view, the fool – and quickly darted down another tunnel. Toshi started sneaking his way along the path, and headed towards that tunnel. Wherever that led, he intended to catch up to that gnome, and find out what it was doing here. As he moved quietly through the dancing shadows, Toshi saw that the solitary trogg off in a corner had also seen the gnome. It hadn't alerted the other troggs in the room, and was walking casually up the path towards the tunnel on its own. Troggs ate gnomes. Perhaps this trogg was hoping to get a meal all to itself. With a curse, Toshi hurried after the moving trogg. The trogg would get to the tunnel first, but if the tunnel had any length to it, Toshi would easily catch the thing. Before it got to the gnome. Better to move carefully, though, and not alert the other nearby troggs. He could easily handle them, if needed, but he wanted to learn what pink hair was doing here. To get that information, he couldn't let that trogg do what it wanted, and fighting off all the other troggs would take longer than moving carefully. Toshi soon found himself on the other side of the large room, and he headed down the same tunnel that the gnome and trogg had taken. Almost immediately, the tunnel turned into an open space, and there was nothing but rock walls. Walls, a burning torch, and a dead trogg at his feet. The thing had been turned black, and smoke was rising up from its chest. A few feet away from the trogg, the pink haired gnome was standing there, doubled over, her arm extended forward. She was panting. So, it was a she, and a dangerous she at that. Clearly, the gnome was some kind of magic user. Well, she had just saved him from killing the trogg himself, although in truth, with the tunnel ending so soon, he wouldn't have got there in time. That was a minor detail, though, and Toshi still had to find out what she was doing here. If there was a problem...Toshi raised his daggers, and narrowed his eyes. Magic users could be fun to dance with. Reyna had done it. She had barely got the fireball off in 18
  24. 24. time, but she had done it. The trogg had been right on top of her, club ready to strike, when she had pushed the energy through her hand, and launched the fire. The impact had thrown the trogg back several feet, and killed the thing instantly. At least, she thought it was dead. The smell of burning trogg flesh was sickening, and her head spun, both from the smell and from exhaustion. She had put a lot of energy into that fireball, and casting spells was tiring. It would take her a few moments to recover, and for a time, she stood frozen in place, arm stretched forward. When she finally looked up, she blinked, and jumped backwards. There was a dwarf standing over the body of the trogg. Where had he come from? She hadn't heard him approaching at all! The dwarf was holding a wicked dagger in each hand, and was dressed in almost pure black. He also seemed to blend somewhat into the wall behind him, as ridiculous as that was, and stood completely still. Despite how dangerous this particular dwarf looked, dwarves were friends, right? It was best to say something friendly, while she still could. “Hello there Mr. Dwarf,” Reyna began. “It's good to see you, with all these nasty....” “Why are you here?” He cut her off. She noticed a scar above his left eye, and was that an eye patch over his right eye? His voice was cold, and it wasn't clear to Reyna how she could warm things up. In the sense of easing the tension, that is. She could always warm things up in another way, although the way he held those daggers, she wasn't eager to try. “I was sent here on a mission,” she said, trying to keep her voice friendly. “A very important mission.” As she said that, it looked like the dwarf's expression grew even harder. Was that possible? “In any case, it should be easy to explain things to you, as what I'm looking for lies right here. In this room.” Reyna stepped to the side, and gestured at the purple box. The dwarf muttered something to himself, and lowered his daggers slightly. His muscles seemed to relax, although he also looked strangely disappointed. Disappointed about what? Reyna 19
  25. 25. didn't want to think about it. The dwarf pointed a dagger at the ice block containing the box. “If that is what you are here for,” he said, “then we have no problem.” Reyna smiled. It was good that she didn't have to try throwing a fireball at him. He seemed like a difficult target to hit. “If I may ask,” she said carefully, “what brings you to these mines?” “I am also looking for something,” the dwarf said, turning away as he did so. “And it certainly isn't a purple box trapped in ice. I don't know what's in your box, but hopefully it is worth the trouble.” “I don't know what's in my box either!” Reyna said with a chuckle. “Hopefully I won't melt the box when I try to get at it, as I'd very much like to find out.” The dwarf looked back over his shoulder. “It seems we are in a similar situation today,” he said mirthfully, and his sudden change in tone was startling. “I also am looking for a box – although definitely not that one – and also don't know what's in it. In any case, it's best we both move quickly.” He spat on the dead trogg. “These creatures will probably notice something is wrong soon, with both of us here, and we should finish up as soon as we can. Farewell pink hair.” He started gliding out of the room. “Wait!” Reyna called after him, trying to keep her voice low. “I'd like to think we could be friends, being in the same situation and all. My name is Reyna. What's yours?” The dwarf paused, and without looking back, shook his head slightly. “Oh, alright. My name is Toshi. Whether or not we can be friends.....well maybe one day. Do you like to duel? My friends like to duel.” Reyna thought she heard a soft laugh, as Toshi seemed to disappear into thin air, and was gone. Well, she was alone again, but that was no problem. She knew what she had to do. After retrieving her staff, Reyna turned to face the block of ice, and pulled her hand back. She was still tired from the last fireball, but after talking with the dwarf, she felt recharged a bit. Recharged, or perhaps just frightened. Either 20
  26. 26. way, the effect was the same. Drawing on her power, Reyna felt the fire start to fill her hand, and then visualized a fireball. She threw her arm forward, and fire slammed into the block of ice. Shards of ice flew off in all directions, and the purple box bounced off the back wall, landing with a thud on the ground. The box was singed a bit, and dented, but otherwise alright. Reyna picked up the box, and as it was a fairly small box, she jammed it into one of the pockets in her robes. It was always good to have lots of pockets. With a sigh, Reyna retrieved her staff from where it lay on the ground, and keeping her right hand free, started back the way she had came. If she needed to fireball more troggs, it was best to be prepared. With that dwarf in the area, however, the troggs would probably be busy right now. Reyna smiled, and headed back towards the sunlight. 21
  27. 27. Chapter 3 – The Fate of a City Ultimar never liked coming to the northwest corner of Dun Morogh. It was always especially cold here, and at the moment, an icy wind was chilling him to the bones. He raised a black gloved hand, and rubbed the top of his mostly bald head. He still had a ring of white hair, around the edges, which he had grown quite long, and which was currently blowing in all directions. Today, the cold didn't really bother him though, and neither did his baldness. How could these things matter, when he had just been down there. He had descended into Gnomeregan several times in recent years, since the trogg invasion, and every time he went, things looked worse. The troggs were growing in numbers, and were spreading out from here to other parts of Dun Morogh. Troggs were just troggs though; you killed them, and moved on. The problem was with what had happened to so many of his people – innocents, all of them – who had been left behind. He was some distance from the ancient city now, but saw another one of the creatures approaching along the snowy plains. Its body turned green from the corruption, its mind twisted to the point of madness, it still had the shape of a gnome, but little else. As it trotted towards Ultimar, he could see the thing draw a curved blade, but its eyes remained empty. Ultimar raised his hand, concentrating, and shot a purple beam out towards it. Waves of light connected him to the creature, as he channeled the magic. It would be any moment now. There was the sound of a bowstring off to the side, and almost instantly, an arrow appeared in the creature's chest. Whatever light remained in its eyes flickered, and went out, as the green gnome fell over. The purple beam of light flew back towards him, and crystallized in his hand. Another soul shard had been created, to add to his stockpile. Opening the brown cloth pouch that hung from his belt, Ultimar tossed it in. He had at 22
  28. 28. least 20 soul shards now, mostly from corrupted gnomes. The poor things. He was doing them a favour. Ultimar turned to his right, and struggled to see the tall elf standing nearby. Night elves naturally blended into the world around them, purple skin and all, but Iashon seemed especially good at it. The elf had already slung his bow over his shoulder, and called over his pet tiger. Kupo was a massive white beast, with jagged black stripes, and wicked fangs. In the snows, Kupo was almost as hard to see as Iashon was. Almost. Ultimar tried to ignore the thing. Iashon always joked that if Ultimar wasn't careful, well, Kupo loved eating gnomes, and Ultimar looked quite tasty. The tiger hadn't ever actually eaten a gnome, had it? In any case, it was time to keep moving. The rest of his group was thinking the same thing. To his left, he saw Sparkel standing on the road, arms crossed in front of her chest, as she tapped her foot impatiently. She wasn't particularly tall for a human woman, but was at least a foot taller than he was. Her long black hair was tied securely in a pony tail, which was attempting to fly off behind her, and her eyes....why did her brown eyes pull him in like they did, even when she looked annoyed? Ultimar shook it off, and started walking towards her. A little bit further down the road, Burrfoot and Archimede were already marching along. The two gnomes were huddled close together, and Archimede was proudly brandishing his newly acquired long blue staff. The hydrocane. Retrieving the thing had been their main reason for going to Gnomeregan today, and it had been fairly difficult to find. Still, Archimede had insisted on looking for it, as it was rumoured to have some unique magical properties. Ultimar noticed Archimede's long white beard blow up over his left shoulder, as Archi threw his head back and laughed. Burrfoot was chuckling too. Who knows what they were laughing about now. They had both been in a good mood the whole day; did the current state of Gnomeregan not bother them at all? Perhaps it didn't. After all, Ultimar had long suspected that both of them were insane, or near enough. Still, 23
  29. 29. they both had their uses, and were very good at certain things. Archimede was a more obvious kind of crazy. He was always inventing something, whether it was a new magic spell, or a ray gun of some kind, and his ideas always – always – sounded ridiculous. At least to Ultimar, in any case. Most of what he attempted to do was a disaster from the start, but when he suceeded, Archi's craziness really paid of. Burrfoot was harder to figure out. There was no question that he was a great warrior, and despite where they had just gone, his gleaming silver armour barely had a scratch on it. He currently had his massive broadsword out of its sheath, and had it casually resting on his shoulder. Burrfoot was a rock. Nothing seemed to upset him, or bother him, and while he laughed a lot, his laughter often seemed tinged with a deep sadness. More importantly, it was also unclear whether there was a single thing in the whole world that actually mattered to him. To Ultimar, there was something crazy in that. Ultimar pulled up next to Sparkel on the road, and the two of them started walking side by side, with Iashon and Kupo bringing up the rear. Ultimar looked up at her over his shoulder, and admired her new white staff, that curved upwards into a dazzling crescent. The hydrocane wasn't the only thing they had brought out of the depths of Gnomeregan. “Well, it looks like we are finished here, and I think I have enough shards gathered now,” Ultimar said with a smile. “With you coming along to heal us today, it's a miracle we survived, but here we are.” He liked to tease her, for some reason. Sparkel poked him in the ribs with the butt end of her staff, which actually hurt quite a bit, and he was barely able to suppress a grunt. “Well, you do make it interesting, the way you push past the limits of your power and convert your own life force to magical energy.” Sparkel looked down, and raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps next time, I will just let your drain yourself all the way; it would be very amusing to see you kill yourself. In fact, I've heard you actually did that once, when you were young.” Ultimar ground his teeth. He wasn't much older than her, 24
  30. 30. despite his white hair. However, it was true that he had tapped his life force to the breaking point before – several times, actually – but he always had managed to keep a copy of his soul safely stored away, in an orb at his side. The dark arts he practiced had their dangers, but were worth the risks. After all, why just use the magical energy available to you, when you could augment your powers with the pulse of life itself? In any case, soul stones were wonderful things, especially when you didn't have a healer nearby to resurrect you. He hadn't stored his soul today though. If something had gone wrong, Sparkel would have pulled him back from the grave, right? Ultimar frowned as he pondered the question. Sparkel laughed as she saw his expression change. “Well, we should be back to Ironforge soon, and we have good news to report. I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to seeing if that hydrocane actually works. Archimede will likely test the thing immediately.” Ultimar nodded. “I'm sure he'd test it right now, if it were possible. Anyway, I agree that our trip went smoothly enough.” Looking down at the dirt road, he tried to focus on his steps, but couldn't concentrate for long. He hoped that things had gone just as smoothly for the others. The Redridge Mountains had been quiet today, and the journey down from Stormwind had been uneventful. With the sun shining brightly overhead, and bird songs floating out from the nearby trees, the world felt peaceful. Sephirah shook her head slightly, as she walked along the road, and spun her silver wand across her knuckles. The world was anything but peaceful, especially where she was going, but there was nothing she could do about that. At least not today, and not in this place. Up ahead, a dazzling building came into view, at the top of the hill. The Tower of Ilgalar. It was a small tower, with few windows, and a red slate roof that matched the colour of Sephirah's robes. The road led directly to it, running right up to the large wooden doors. This would not be a friendly visit, and as 25
  31. 31. the tower grew closer, Sephirah wondered if she should have brought more help for this. She trusted the people she had asked to join her – Dwarr and Senzeicapi were both highly skilled at what they did – but perhaps there would have been no harm in bringing a few extra friends. It was important to keep what she had come here to do as secret as possible, true, but there would have been no harm in bringing someone like Antarus along, or maybe Dulin. She trusted them too, didn't she? Dwarr jogged up beside her, and the young dwarf looked eager. He reached back under his green cloak, and pulled out a long rifle. How had he managed to conceal the thing? He waved the weapon at the tower, and looked up at her. “It's strange that we haven't seen any gnolls running about yet,” he said casually. “The wizard Morganth is said to have built up a large army of them by now, and the hills should be crawling with them.” Sephirah rested her chin on her wand. She had also been surprised by the lack of gnolls. She hadn't wanted to run into roaming packs of the hynena like humanoids, but she had expected to. Could they have gathered together in the tower for some reason? That could be dangerous. If they weren't there, well, that was equally concerning, as wherever they had gone, Sephirah knew it had to be bad news. To her right, Senzeicapi walked up beside her, and reached for the sword strapped to his waist, as if that was his main weapon. The tall man was very dangerous, true, but his prowess with a sword had little to do with it. “We may not have seen any gnolls,” Senzeicapi began, “but that doesn't mean that they didn't see us. Perhaps they are just letting us approach their stronghold, before they spring the trap.” His eyes were searching the trees for signs of movement, although with the hills curving the way they were, a whole army could be camped nearby and be completely out of view. The three of them quickly reached the tower doors, and there were still no signs of anyone being in the area. Sephirah took a deep breath. Well, there was no point in knocking. She gestured to Dwarr, and he slammed into the double doors with his 26
  32. 32. shoulder. The left door shattered, and he stumbled forward into the opening. She darted in behind him, with Senzeicapi bringing up the rear, his sword now in his hands. Inside the tower, the main entrance room was dimly lit, with none of the torches burning in their bracers. A small glimmer of sunlight trickled down from the upper levels, though, through some gaps in the central stairwell. It appeared that the ground level was all one large room. Dwarr searched the area through the sight of his gun, but didn't pause to dwell on anything. The place seemed deserted. Dwarr approached the large winding stairs, and leading the way with his weapon, started to climb them. Sephirah followed him, and Senzeicapi turned his back to the stairs, looking out towards the doorway. “I will wait here,” Senzeicapi said, “and let you know if there are any interruptions.” His eyes were hard, and he assumed what looked like a defensive sword stance. As Sephirah started up the stairs behind Dwarr, she knew he was positioning himself for something else. The staircase twisted about three times, but they soon arrived on the upper level. The lighting was better here, as a large stain glass window stretched out along one side of the room. Wooden floors formed a ring around where the central stairway was, and the walls were lined with shelves. They contained books, scrolls, clothing, wands, and plenty of objects that Sephirah did not wish to examine too closely. Morganth had a reputation for conducting some grizzly experiments up here, and while Sephirah was a very curious woman, there were some things that were best left unexplored. A wide desk was positioned on the far side of the room, but there was no one there. This room was just as quiet as the lower level had been. Dwarr took up a position at the top of the staircase, and continued to scan the area behind the muzzle of his weapon. Well, her friends were determined to watch her back, that much was certain. Turning to the nearest set of shelves, Sephirah began to search. It was hard to decide where to begin, as there was no way to know where Morganth would hide the thing. Best to be 27
  33. 33. thorough, and hope for some luck. She had barely finished looking through the first set of shelves when she heard a whirring sound from down below. Dwarr leaned over the staircase railing with his rifle, and with a curse, began firing away at something. She heard howling noises, and cries of pain. There were gnolls down there, and the way Dwarr was blasting away, there were a lot of them. She needed to hurry now, and if she had to guess somewhere...Sephirah raced over to the desk, and starting rummaging through the drawers. Almost as soon as she got there, a circular portal flashed into existence next to Dwarr, and a man walked through. He was wearing bright robes, the colour of fire, that turned from red to black around the edges. His belt appeared to be solid gold, and he was holding a green orb in his hand. The portal closed behind him after he stepped through, and his eyes widened in surprise. He spun to face Dwarr – faster than Dwarr spun to face him – and blasted a fireball at the dwarf's head from point blank range. Dwarr attempted to dodge, and while he twisted his head out of the way, the ball of fire slammed into his shoulder. His rifle slipped out of his hands, and flew over the railing, as he slumped to the ground. His leather armour was singed, but not burning. Dwarr's eyes closed as he fell. Dwarr! Sephirah sprung forward into a battle stance, and with a roar, fired a bolt of fire from the end of her wand. The blast struck Morganth directly in the chest, and he staggered, but immediately hurled a large fireball in her direction. Instinct took over, and Sephirah threw her arms and legs into a star formation. The fireball hit its target, but melted away harmlessly, as it had struck a solid block of ice. From inside her protective bubble, Sephirah froze, and not from being encased in ice. The howls from below raged on, as Senzeicapi continued to battle the gnolls – or, at least, that's what it sounded like – but Morganth ignored the sounds. He kicked at Dwarr's motionless body, and then strode up towards her, the surprise on his face quickly turning to rage. “What are you doing here?” He demanded. “Before I kill you, tell me your reasons for having 28
  34. 34. entered my territory.” It was hard to speak from inside the ice block, but not impossible, and Sephirah had to quickly compose herself. If she could bring a healer quckly to Dwarr, everything would be alright, and the best way out of this....well, why not try the truth? “I did not come here today to fight you, Morganth, and neither did my companions. We were prepared to do that, if necessary, but that was not our reason for breaking into your tower. We came for a specific object. Something that is very valuable to us.” Morganth laughed, a humourless laugh, and shook his head. “You really thought that I would just leave it around for anyone to find? The book is mine – mine – and I am very close to breaking the seals. You'll never get it from me.” “If you are talking about Ur's Treatise on Shadow Magic,” Sephirah replied, “then you can take that with you to your grave. Which could be very soon.” Morganth's stopped laughing at that, but he did not appear afraid in any way. Well, she would cast aside her protective block soon, and she would give him reason to be afraid. It wasn't time for her to strike yet, though. The dark wizard clutched his green orb close to his chest, and waved his free hand dismissively. “If not for that,” he asked, “then why have you come? Just tell me quickly, so we can both get on with my killing you; and your friend downstairs as well, I suppose.” “We are here because you possess a cipher,” Sephirah answered quickly. “One that you have used, rumour has it, to decode messages from one of your associates. An Orc named Balzamel, I believe.” Morganth's eyes widened at the name. “Well,” he replied, “you seem to have acquired some very rare information, not that it would have helped you. The cipher is not located in this tower, but is kept somewhere especially safe.” He tapped one of his pockets, muttering something to himself as his eyes transitioned into a mixture of anger and utter disdain. They quickly turned back to surprise though, as he gasped, and dropped the green orb. 29
  35. 35. It shattered as it struck the floor. A spear point had emerged through his chest. Dwarr was standing behind him, breathing heavily, and holding on to the shaft of the weapon with both hands. “When you kill a dwarf,” Dwarr said savagely, “you better make sure he's actually dead!” Seizing the opportunity, Sephirah let the ice block melt away, and raised her left hand to point at Morganth's head. “So long, and goodnight,” she said softly, as the fireball launched from her hand. The dark wizard barely had time to scream before the fire struck him directly in the face, almost blasting his head clean off. His legs buckled, and the wizard was quickly down on the ground. He had to be dead. No one could survive that. Dwarr pulled his spear clean, as Sephirah walked towards Morganth's body. She avoided looking at his ruined face as she reached down, stuck her hand into the man's pocket, and felt the edges of a small book. She picked the book up, and after quickly skimming through its pages, she felt herself relax slightly. Lines of symbols were neatly arranged in columns, providing the key for a fairly complicated code. This was definitely a cipher. They would find out soon enough whether this was the cipher they actually needed, but for now, their work here was done, and she placed the book securely in a pouch that hung on her belt. The sounds from the first floor had faded almost as soon as Morganth had fallen. Sephirah suspected that the green orb had bound the gnolls to the wizard, and once it had broken, the confused creatures would have no longer felt compelled to remain here. Motioning to Dwarr, she walked down the staircase, with the dwarf following close behind here. Dwarr had genuinely looked dead, but she knew he was skilled at acting, and should have guessed that he was merely lying in wait. In any case, she was glad that he was alright. With any luck, Senzeicapi would also be in one piece. As she neared the bottom of the stairwell, she saw the man sitting casually on the bottom step, leaning slightly on his sword. There was no blood at all on the blade, despite the room being filled with bodies. There were at least twenty gnolls lying in piles 30
  36. 36. near the doorway, and an especially dark smoke rose up from most of them. That smoke hadn't been caused by fire. Senzeicapi looked tired, but completely at ease, as she passed him and strode out into the room. “We are finished here,” Sephirah said, her voice sounding a bit more like steel than she had intended. “Thank you both for your help today. I will be heading to Ironforge; just let me know if you would prefer to head somewhere else.” “Ironforge works for me,” Dwarr said, and Senzeicapi merely nodded. Turning to an open space in the room, Sephirah channeled, and a wide portal blinked into existence. She could see the Ironforge mystic ward shimmer into view on the other side, and as she strode through the portal, Sephirah absent mindedly tapped her belt pouch. The road to Ironforge curved upwards through the mountains, the path hugging the rockface tightly. As the road twisted into a particularly narrow section, Toshi leaned forward on his mount, urging the grey ram he was riding to slow its steps. He didn't particularly like heights, and it was always good to walk this road carefully. As the ram slowed down, Toshi looked up, and saw that the sun was beginning to dip below the tall peaks to the west. He had made good time, and although his trip down to Coldridge Valley had been messier than he had intended, he had got results. Results were all that really mattered, and no one would care about his methods; at the very least, no one would ask. He had found what he had been sent to find, and that was what really mattered. After all, results brought rewards, and he was looking forward to claiming one particular reward today. The road widened out, and curved around a final bend. Toshi snapped the reins, and his ram sped up to an impressive speed. Humans were often surprised that mountain rams could run as fast as horses over short distances. Rams also had the advantage of being very good at running things over. It was true that horses could do that as well, but not quite like a ram could. 31
  37. 37. Toshi patted his ram on the neck, and whispered encouragement in its ear. He would take his ram over a horse any time. The large stone gates of Ironforge rose into view, and Toshi swelled with pride. The capital city of the dwarves was a world wonder, a magnificent feat of engineering, and an impenetrable fortress. Carved right into the heart of a mountain, a foreign army had never breached its gates, and Toshi couldn't imagine that one ever would. The gates were swung wide open, and as Toshi rode through, a pair of stone faced dwarf guards saluted stiffly. Toshi nodded to each of them and continued on his way. They hadn't asked him any questions; this was him home, and they knew better than to delay him. Toshi continued to ride as he passed through the winding city entrance tunnel, and quickly emerged onto the ring road. The ceiling flew away from him, way up into the sky, with the rocks above difficult to see clearly in the distance. Despite being encased by a mountain, the city was well lit, and large braziers were set in all the main areas. The main source of light, however, came from the lava flows. In this part of the city, the middle of the ring road had a large cleft, and lava bubbled and swelled in its depths. Wide stone bridges crossed the cleft at regular intervals, but he had no need to cross it right now, and kept his distance. The drop down to the lava wasn't that far, but it was still unnerving. Turning his mount to the left, Toshi rode past the auction house, which was currently booming with activity. Humans, dwarves, gnomes, and night elves all traveled freely here, and the dwarven capital was in many ways the capital of the allied races. He rode along the stones past the main inn of the city, weaving his way through the crowds, and continued on past a busy tavern. The lava cleft ended abruptly, and Toshi soon found himself in the mystic ward. In the middle of the area, there was a large fountain, and as he rode towards it, he saw Sephirah sitting on the ledge. Her long brown hair framed her face, and she held a book in her hands. She was reading the book intently, and seemed oblivious to the world around her. Well, she had told him to meet 32
  38. 38. her here, but it was a surprise to see her actually waiting for him. Reining in a short distance from her, Toshi leaped off his mount, and threw his arms open. “Hello beautiful,” he said, “are you happy to see me?” Sephirah looked up from her book, and raising an eyebrow, closed the book before lowering it and making it vanish at her side. She smiled warmly at him, and standing up, began walking towards him. “That depends, Toshi.” Her voice sounded calm, but hopeful. “Do you have it?” Toshi grinned, and reaching behind him, retrieved the black box he had found in the mines. The box had a strange skull marking on it, like she had told him to look for, but was otherwise unremarkable. He had no idea what was inside it. Sephirah had told him not to open the thing, and if she didn't want it opened, well, that was no difference to him. “Yes,” Sephirah said, nodding her head. “That is what I hoped you would find. You have done well Toshi.” She reached forward, and he handed her the box. Toshi looked up at her. He raised a gloved hand to his mouth, and coughed softly. “I believe, my dear, that it is now time for my reward.” Sephirah rolled her eyes, then bending down, kissed him on the forehead. Toshi's cheeks began to turn red, despite his best efforts to avoid that. Still, the feeling of her lips touching his brow....it was more wonderful than he had expected. “Is there anything else you'd like me to do today?” He asked hopefully. “I have many talents.” Toshi winked at her with his good eye. “Thank you Toshi,” Sephirah replied, “but that is plenty for today. If you don't mind, I have to examine the contents of this box immediately.” Her eyes examining the black box intently, Sephirah turned, and strode off towards the center of the city. Toshi whistled quietly, and walked over to the fountain, hopping up to sit on the ledge where Sephirah had been. The things he did for that woman. One day she would really learn to appreciate him. For now, though, he took whatever he could get. 33
  39. 39. Even if it was one kiss at a time. Smiling to himself, Toshi reached into a pocket, and pulled out a copper coin. He tossed it back over his shoulder and into the fountain. A wish of his had come true just now. What harm could there be in making another? 34
  40. 40. Chapter 4 – Light as a Feather The oil lamp flickered, its fuel running low, as it struggled to illuminate the windowless room. The lamp sat on a small, sturdy desk, and Reynalesca squinted as she studied the figure pacing back and forth on the other side of the desk. Magis Sparkmantle was lost in thought, and was turning the purple box over and over in his hands, probing its surface carefully with his fingers. As soon as Reyna had returned with the box, she had been led to Mr. Sparkmantle's “office,” if the room could be called that. She had expected him to be excited with her success, but he had simple taken the box from her, without a word, and had proceeded to wander around the room, occasionally muttering something nonsensical. Well, there was nothing for her to do but wait. Reyna leaned back in her cushioned arm chair, lifting her feet up off the floor as she did so, and closed her eyes. It had been quite the afternoon, and while she had been looking for adventure, she hadn't really been prepared for so much so soon. Learning how to create fireballs was one thing, and it was a wonderful feeling. Running around in the snow, trying to avoid troggs, and actually killing one of the things while backed into a corner, well, that was something else entirely. Not to mention her encounter with Mr. Eyepatch the dwarf. What had his name been? Toshley? Toshiba? Tashkent? She knew it was something like that, in any case. Whoever he was, he hadn't tried stabbing her, and he was probably much more friendly than he looked. Or sounded. Or smelled, for that matter. “Aha!” Magis suddenly shouted, and Reyna opened her eyes to resume squinting at him. “I've found the opening mechansim,” he continued. “The switch isn't actually visible, you see, and is a layer below the surface. Unfortunately, it seems to be, well, stuck at the moment.” Magis proceeded to lift the box high above his head, and he slammed it as hard as he could into 35
  41. 41. the ground. Nothing happened. Muttering furiously, Magis walked behind his desk, and opened one of the drawers. He pulled out what appeared to be a small sledgehammer. “You never know when you need tools,” Magis said, smiling to himself. “Now, if I set the box up just like so....yes....just like that.” Magis set the box on the ground, propped up on its side, and pounded his hammer into one of the box's corners. Nothing happened. Reyna yawned. This could take awhile. Magis stopped aiming, and was now beating furiously on the purple box from all angles. It was a tough little thing, and his blows were barely denting it. He continued to smash away for several minutes. Nothing happened. Magis threw down the sledgehammer in disgust, and began twiddling his grey moustache. “Well, it looks like my attempts at finesse are not working very well,” he reluctantly admitted. Finesse? Reyna could only shake her head at the thought. “The locking mechanism is probably broken,” Magis decided, “and I think we're going to need to bring in some muscle.” Magis opened the door, stepped out into the hallway, and waved down a random dwarf that was walking by. “Hello strong fellow,” Magis said, bowing so low that his beard scraped the floor. “Would you like to smash something as hard as you possibly can? I'll pay you.” The dwarf stopped walking, and cocking an eyebrow, looked down at Magis. The stranger was wearing a fairly loose fitting tunic, but did appear to have strong arms. “That depends,” the dwarf said suspiciously. “What am I smashing, and what are you paying?” Magis straightened, and gestured at the purple box. “I'd like you to force open that box, using whatever means necessary. The contents should be very secure in there, and the chance of damage is low; it should be a simple job, I think. Your reward? Let's see. How about we go for a round of ale afterward. I'll buy, and you can drink to your heart's content!” The dwarf smiled at this. “Sounds like easy work, and for 36
  42. 42. all I can drink, I'd be happy to help you out.” “Marvelous!” Magis jumped in the air, and clapped his hands together. “Well, while you work on that, I have other matters to attend to.” Magis turned to Reyna. “I believe I made some promises to you, and to start, how about I show you some more techniques? Magic techniques, of course.” Reyna rose from the chair, and walking out to join the others in the hallway, simply nodded. “Well then,” Magis said, clapping his hands again. “Let's all travel to my other office.” Magis started scurrying down the hall, and then looked back at the dwarf. “Do you mind carrying the box?” The dwarf shrugged, went to pick it up, and was soon trailing behind them. Magis rounded a bend at the end of the hallway, and opened a wooden door. After climbing a short staircase, he opened a carved stone hatch, and a cold wind greeted them. As Magis walked out through the hatch, Reyna was surprised to see that he had led them outside, and they were now up on the roof of the outpost. She frowned as the icy wind cut into her robes, covering her with flecks of snow. It would have been nice to stay inside for just a little bit longer. Near the back of the roof, Reyna noticed a line of straw target dummies set up at the edge. The newly recruited dwarf shook his head when he saw the things, and moving off to the other side of the roof, began raining blows on the box. He had also brought the sledgehammer with him. “Now Reyna,” Magis began, as he led her closer to the targets. “I showed you earlier today how to make a ball of fire in your hand. That is often the easiest way to do things, but in fact, it's possible to make fire at a distance. Watch me carefully.” Magis crouched down low, jumped up in the air, spun around, and hollered out “Woot!” as he flung his right hand towards one of the straw figures. Flames instantly engulfed its head, and then vanished. Only a blackened, charred, straw head remained. Magis smiled proudly. “That is how you blast things instantly. 37
  43. 43. Want to try?” Reyna looked down at her boots, and shuffled her feet uncomfortably. From behind her, the sound of iron on iron rang out through the air, and she heard a low voice singing merrily. “Beating a box, beating a box, oh how fun it is to randomly smash a box...” That was very distracting, and definitely out of tune. Reyna grabbed her forehead. She needed to concentrate. “I'd like to,” Reyna said tentatively. “but in truth, you moved very quickly there, and I have no idea what you actually did, other than Woot.'” Magis laughed, and threw his hand up in the air, doubling himself over on the way down. “Saying Woot is highly recommended, as it's fun, and makes you sound professional, but it has nothing to do with the actual magic. You may select your own fun sound if you'd like.” Magis finished laughing, and then turned to face the targets. “Watch again,” he said. “The only trick here is that when you push the energy through your hand, don't imagine yourself forming a fireball. Don't imagine yourself holding on to anything, however briefly. Instead, focus on something in the environment – such as part of one of those targets – and imagine it exploding. Make sure you are very focused. If you don't concentrate, you could end up blasting something that you don't intend to. Like your shoes. Or me. So right. Concentration is key!” Magis bent down low again, jumped up, spun around, Wooted, and another target dummy head melted away. Nodding to herself, Reyna bent down low jumped in the air, but didn't attempt to spin. Instead, she simply pointed a hand at the middle of one of the dummies, and reached for the magic well of energy that hovered at the edge of her awareness. Reyna gasped as she landed, and saw the dummy briefly light up in flames, before turning black. “Fantastic!” Magis cheered. “You are a natural, a real natural.” Reyna smiled. Turning to face another target, Reyna paused as she heard a cooing sound. A white bird had landed 38
  44. 44. right in front of one of the straw dummies, and it appeared to be a rare white pigeon. The magical blasts didn't seem to have scared it off one bit. “What luck!” Magis said, turning to face the bird. “This provides a great opportunity to show you another very important technique.” Magis pulled his hand back, and Reyna saw his fingers shimmer with white light. He flung his arm forward, and the pigeon turned into a sheep! The confused creature walked about awkwardly, before jumping off the side of the roof, wildly flailing its hooves as it did so. Reyna's mouth flew open, and she ran to the edge. Looking down, she saw the sheep lying in a deep snow bank. Thankfully, it wasn't a far drop, and the poor thing seemed to have landed somewhere soft. As she watched it, the sheep abruptly turned back into a pigeon, and the bird hopped back to its feet, obviously dazed. After a moment, though, it spread out its wings, and started flying rapidly away from their location, towards the setting sun. Magis laughed again, a deep, joyous laugh, as he walked up behind Reyna and patted her on the shoulder. “For that spell,” he said, “you need to do things quite differently. You need to reach back and feel the very soul of your target, and then, well, sheep it. The effect is always temporary, but if you can see the energy of a living creature, however briefly, you can rearrange things for a short time. I find that sheeps are easiest to make, but you could try penguins, or turtles; whatever works for you.” Reyna nodded, but wasn't sure if she really understood. Mastering fire was complicated enough, and now this? Well, she would find something to test that on. She scanned around, looking for another bird, or maybe a rabbit, when she heard a cheer rise up behind her. “Operation smash stuff has been a smashing success!” Their dwarf helper said the words proudly, and as Reyna turned to look, she saw the purple box was lying in pieces. It had been beaten almost beyond recognition. Magis walked over casually, and appeared to be 39
  45. 45. unconcerned about the wreckage. He bent down, and tossing the metal fragments about, paused on something. Suddenly moving very slowly, he carefully picked up a tiny object, and held it towards the fading sunlight. It was a feather. “I have been hiding you for awhile,” Magis said to the feather. “Well, time for you to go home.” Reyna struggled to contain her confusion. A single feather? “This feather,” Magis said, walking towards her, “is a very special feather. It was given to me by a colleague for safe keeping. A gnome named Archimede. A few days ago, he sent me a message, and asked to have it back. I believe he is in Ironforge at the moment, or at least, you should be able to track him down from there. Just ask around.” Magis handed Reyna the feather. “That is, if you don't mind giving it to him for me.” Reyna considered the request. Well, why not? She was an apprentice of sorts, after all. “Sure thing Magis,” she said, taking the feather. “Shall I start walking back tonight?” Magis smiled. “No need. You have shown that you have plenty of talent, and I'd say you have earned the right to be called a mage. Officially, that is. As a mage, there is a much better way to travel.” Magis spread his arms out to the sides, and concentrated. After channeling for a few moments, a portal rippled into existence. Reyna looked through, and could see the stone walls of Ironforge on the other side. Somewhere in the mystic ward, by the look of it. Reyna looked down at the feather, then up at Magis, and then through the portal. He had said she was a mage! An official mage! Holding the feather tightly, Reyna gave Magis a deep bow, and began what was now a very short walk back to Ironforge. It was hard to tell time inside the city of Ironforge. There was no sunlight, and the fire was always burning brightly, whether it was the glow of the lava flows, or the firelight from the braziers. The braziers were kept burning steadily at all hours, and the lava – well, it was lava – and there was no turning it off. As Toshi lounged at the side of the large fountain, however, he could 40
  46. 46. feel in his bones that the sun was about to set. He could also feel in his stomach that he was growing quite hungry. He had been very busy earlier in the day, and felt like he could eat a horse. Not a whole horse, but maybe an entire leg. Rising to his feet, Toshi began to think about which tavern to visit. The Dancing Pony served surprisingly tasty horse, despite its name. It was down on one of the lower levels of the city, but was probably worth the travel time. Toshi started walking over to his ram, and before he had taken three steps, he stopped. In the crowd, he saw a blob of pink hair darting about. She turned, and smiled widely as she met his eyes. It was the gnome he had met in the Coldridge Valley Mine; what had her name been? Raindrop? Rey Rey? Rayban? Pausing to brush some snow off her sleeves, the little gnome walked towards him, and stopped a few feet away. “Hello Toshiba!” she said happily. “What are the odds that we would meet again like this, twice in the same day?” Toshi bared his teeth. Well, she had almost got his name right, and it didn't really matter. In any case, the gnome had a point; it was strange to see her here in Ironforge, so soon after seeing her in the mine. What was she up to? “Hello to you,” Toshi replied cautiously. “I see you are still in one piece. Can I help you with something?” “That would be great!” The gnome said with a flourish, as she started to spin around on the spot for no apparent reason. Her eyes were scanning the crowd randomly. “I am looking for a gnome named Archimede. I have something to give him.” Reyna stopped her spin, and raised a feather up over her head. Toshi widened his eye in surprise. Archimede? Strange that she would be looking for him, of all people. Well, dinner could wait a little bit longer. “I happen to know Archimede well,” Toshi said. “Too well, actually, and definitely better than I'd like to. Anyway, hand me that feather, and I'll take it to him right away.” Reyna gasped, and clutched the feather close to her chest. “You know Archimede?” she said with surprise. “How 41
  47. 47. wonderful! However, I would like to hand him the feather myself. Perhaps you could tell me where he is?” Toshi sighed. It would be better to be rid of this one as soon as possible. After all, she had seen him in the mines, and perhaps that was no accident. Could she have actually been hunting down whatever he had retrieved for Sephirah, and had followed him afterwards, once he had found it first? Then again, she was looking for Archimede, and might even be working for the crazy old gnome. What a tangled mess! In any case, it was best if he controlled the situation as much as possible. “You can trust me, little one,” Toshi said, attempting to put on a friendly smile. He couldn't tell if he was actually smiling, but it felt like he might be. “Oh yes, I do, I trust you Toshiba,” the gnome said cheerfully. “I have a good feeling about you. It's just that, well, I was told to deliver this to Archimede, and I feel like I should be the one to hand it over to him.” Toshi looked down at the ground, and rested his chin on his knuckles. She wasn't an assassin, was she? In any case, there was one obvious way to resolve this issue. An especially fun way, in fact. “How about this?” Toshi began, looking up at the gnome, his eyes sparkling. “Let's have a duel, right here by the fountain. A friendly duel, of course, non-lethal and all. The winner decides what we end up doing about that feather of yours.” The gnome's smile melted away, and her eyes went hard. “Fine!” she said sharply. “If you insist, then let's get this over with.” Toshi grinned, and reached for his daggers. As he did so, his eyes widened in shock, as his daggers didn't seem to be there. In fact, neither did his hands! And why was the floor so close? He looked up at the gnome, who was suddenly taller than him, and definitely smiling again. He opened his mouth to shout something at her, and heard himself make a long baaaaaaa sound. “Good sheepy!” the gnome said, giggling to herself. 42
  48. 48. Suddenly, the room started to shrink, and the gnome got slightly smaller. He looked about, and noticed his gloved hands were back in front of his eyes. He needed to move quickly. As he reached down for his weapons, he saw a white light building up in the gnome's hand. His vision blurred, and she was taller again. This was bad. “I suggest you agree to lead me to Archimede,” she said happily, “or this could be a very long evening. Well, for you at least.” His vision spun, and he saw his hands appear back in front of him. He didn't hesitate, and pulling both daggers out from his belt, threw himself towards the mage. Almost instantly, he stopped moving, and the daggers were gone. The gnome hopped backwards, laughing as she increased the distance. “That was the wrong answer,” she said. “Try again!” Toshi muttered some baas under his breath. Well, there was no sense continuing on with this humiliation. At least not this evening. He was far too hungry. As soon as he saw his hands pop into view, holding his daggers tightly, Toshi threw the weapons down on the ground. “Fine!” he growled. “Let's go find Archimede. Follow me.” The gnome clapped her hands together, and jumped in the air. Shaking his head, Toshi gathered his daggers from off the ground, and walked over to his ram. Grabbing it by the reins, Toshi headed off towards the center of the city, the gnome skipping along behind him. As they started walking, Toshi smiled in spite of himself. Oh, Sephirah. What had she gotten him into now? 43
  49. 49. Chapter 5 – The Mastermind Archimede held the blue staff out in front of him, watching closely as water ran down its length, the water dripping away steadily in large drops as it fell towards the stone floor. Water dripped down from the sleeves of his robes as well, and he was completely soaked from head to toe. That was only logical, as he had been underwater for several hours, testing the thing in the first suitable location he could find. The small pond in the forlorn cavern was extremely dirty, and was also a busy fishing hole, but it was deep enough water for his purposes. That is all that had mattered. The city of Ironforge simply did not have a lot of deep water lying about, unless you counted the lava flows, so he couldn't afford to be picky. A sub-lava test had intrigued him, but probably would have been a bad idea, despite the potential research benefits. Waving the hydrocane wildly at his side, Archimede started walking away from the water's edge. The hydrocane had worked. Worked perfectly. It had been an amazing experience, being completely submerged, and not needing to breathe. Well, as long as he held on to the staff, at least. He had tried letting go of the thing, just to see what would happen with it merely nearby, and had immediately started drowning. Luckily, that test had been done very close to the shore. His Gnomeregan incursion team had stayed to observe his initial tests, before heading off once it became clear that the thing worked. That had been hours ago, now, but Sparkel had seemed especially interested in the staff. Should he be suspicious of that? Archimede shook his head, as he tracked water along the stone roadway. If he started worrying about her, then he would truly be worried about everyone. Of course, in a way, he did worry about everyone. Archimede closed his eyes, as he often did while lost in 44
  50. 50. thought. It was dangerous to do while walking, but he only rarely crashed into things. Walking along with his eyes closed, he tried to think back to when this first started. Back to when he had first learned that Balzamel was alive, and plotting something. It had happened by pure chance, during a visit to an old mutual friend, when he had noticed a letter with a certain marking. The skull marking had seemed so familiar, and yet he hadn't been able to pin down its significance immediately. It had taken some further investigation for him to realize that Balzamel was still out there, reaching out to old contacts, and planning something dire. The orc had been a friend of his once, as unusual as that was, considering that orcs and gnomes were officially enemies. Balzamel, however, had shared Archimede's love of knowledge and its more creative applications. How could he be enemies with a fellow inventor? Their friendship was so long ago now, though, so very long ago. While they were both still young, something had happened to Balzamel. Something very sad, and something irreversible. Archimede had always been suspcious that the orc scholar had somehow survived the incident, and might return someday. What had fueled those suspicions over the years? He searched his memories, and couldn't remember. What else about Balzamel had slipped away over the years, now that he needed to remember? Eyes closed, and feet moving, Archimede tried to remember. Shaking his head, he turned his attention to the present. One thing that he did know – as clear as anything – is that Balzamel had recently mobilized operatives near Ironforge itself. Worse, there was almost certainly an operative moving freely through the city. A human, dwarf, night elf, or gnome was serving Balzamel inside the city, and was preparing to carry out something terrible. Perhaps there were even multiple operatives at work here. Worst of all, Archimede suspected his own friends; he was nearly certain that one of them was Balzamel's chief agent, and point of attack. He trusted his fellow mages beyond all reasonable doubt, but the traitor could be almost anyone. The whole situation had made it hard for Archimede to sleep, at least 45
  51. 51. when he was here in the city, right in the thick of the probable danger. There were simply too many things that he was worried about, and too many ideas that he needed to test. This afternoon, some plans of his had been put into action, and groups of his most trusted associates had been sent off throughout the Eastern Kingdoms. The goals were simple; intercept messages from Balzamel, discover a way to decipher the messages, and figure out how to respond. Recovering the legendary hydrocane, while worthwhile for its own sake, was part of the preparations for one possible response. Archimede remembered fondly the fortress that Balzamel had established at the bottom of the ocean, so many years ago. If he had resumed using that location as his seat of power, then it was best to be ready. Even if Archimede would have to go in alone. As his feet continued to carry him along, eyes closed, Archimede could hear the sound of voices, and the distant ring of the forges. That was his cue. Turning left sharply, Archimede felt the ground become smoother, and he opened his eyes. In front of him, there was a large oak door. It had the words “Max Rawr” carved deeply into the wood. He was at the headquarters of the Max Rawr Mages Association, which was his destination this evening. His mage associates should be gathered inside by now, although he wasn't sure exactly what time it was. Who could remember the time, when there was so much to do? “Hello Archimede,” a quiet voice squeaked. He realized that a green haired gnome was standing guard near the doorway, and saw her frown a bit as she leaned on her staff. It was Sparkel's sister Sumtopia, although he wasn't sure how it was possible for them to be sisters. So many mysteries in the world, far too many for him to solve them all. He did like to try, though, when he could. “Hello Sum Sum,” Archimede replied, calling her by her nickname. “Do you know if everyone has gathered here yet, and why are you standing guard for us? This is a mages meeting, you know.” “I don't see why it isn't mages and warlocks,” Sumtopia 46
  52. 52. said, pouting slightly. “Besides, Ultimar is inside, and he's definitely a warlock. He asked me to keep an eye on the door, though, so I suppose I'd be out here anyway. I wouldn't want to let down my teacher, if you can call him that. Anyway, I think the mages are all here, although I haven't seen Dulin. I haven't seen Dulin for quite some time, actually, and I don't think he's here today.” At the mention of Dulin, Sumtopia's pout seemed to grow deeper. Archimede nodded. It was very likely that his hydrocane studies had caused him to be late, as he often was. Well, there was no helping that. Important research was always a priority, after all. Walking up to the oak door, Archimede placed a hand over the carved words, and released the magic lock. A simple thing to open, really, but impossible without magic, and knowledge of the code word. The code was KillDulin. That had been Sephirah's idea, and Archimede smiled as he recalled the day they had set this lock. It had been extremely fun to inform Dulin of the situation, and then watch Dulin's face as they asked Dulin himself to open the door for them. There was a short staircase directly beyond the doorway, and after closing the door behind him, Archimede headed down. He heard the voices of his friends below, and as his feet echoed on the stairs, the voices went quiet. Turning into the main room, he could see that everyone was indeed gathered around the long wooden table. Ultimar was sitting in a chair at one end, spinning a soul shard on the surface in front of him. Sephirah was also seated, with a book in front of her, along with what appeared to be a scroll. Vortna was seated across from Sephirah, and with her blonde hair tied back behind her head, the woman looked even more serious than normal today. Standing in a corner of the room, Hova had his back turned to everyone, and the tall man was wearing simple black robes that disappeared into the shadows. He presented a stark contrast to Sedir, who stood in the other corner, and who seemed to be wearing his finest jewels and silks. They were all here now, except for Dulin. Archimede had tried to invite Dulin, but couldn't, as no one seemed to know where he 47
  53. 53. was. Hova turned from the shadows, and looked over his shoulder. “Well well, Archimede, it looks like you truly were practicing being a fish today. You even managed to escape from the fisherman, if just barely.” Sedir laughed, and several of the others grinned. Looking down carefully at himself, Archimede noticed that there was a fairly large fishing hook caught in the left arm of his robe. So that was what had tugged him about in the water for awhile; he had been confused by that, and thought it might have been a defect in the hydrocane. He would have to correct his notes. Archimede pulled the hook free from the cloth, with some difficulty, and tossed it up into the air, before incinerating it casually with a burst of fire. “For my part,” Archimede began, “I can tell you that the hydrocane works as hoped, although Ultimar may have already informed you of our success. How did things go with everyone else?” Sedir stepped forward, and took a seat at the table next to Sephirah. “I was unable to find anything in the Tower of Azora,” Sedir began, “and I believe that Hova's search also turned up nothing.” Sedir gestured over to Hova, and the dark skinned man continued to stand in the corner of the room, merely nodding once. Vortna looked up at Archimede, as the gnome took a seat at the near end of the long table. “Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Sephirah and I did manage to find some information.” Vortna's voice was calm, but her eyes were troubled. “Perhaps Sephirah should go first?” With a nod, Sephirah picked up the book that lay on the table, and pointed it at the ceiling. “I managed to find this book in the Tower of Ilgalar, as hoped, but the book hadn't actually been there. It had been in the wizard Morganth's pockets, essentially, and I removed it from him. In a not very friendly way, I should add, but that was always a possibility going in.” Archimede closed his eyes. Yes, he had known that Morganth might be carrying the book, and had been worried 48