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CLOUDED DESTINY

Title: Clouded Destiny

Series: The Imperium Saga: Survivors of the Siege, Book 4

Author: Clifford B. Bowyer

ISBN: 978-1-60975-155-5

Product Code: BK0114

Format: Hardcover

Pages: TBD

Release Date: May 2018

Cover Price: $25.95

 

Additional Formats Available:Coming Soon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Jacket

 

Confidence. Faith. Courage. Heroism. Destiny. With belief in these things, one can face insurmountable odds without blinking and achieve almost anything. Doubt. Defeat. Failure. Pain. Even the bravest soul, the one destined to be the savior of all, can falter when faced with her own mortality. The realm is in chaos, and the one spark of hope that is the Child of Prophecy has lost her way. She cannot see through the darkness. She cannot regain the spirit that once drove her. Her despair will be more devastating than all of the tragedies that have befallen the Imperium to date.

 

Kyria, the child destined to save the world, has fallen at the hands of the despot Zoldex. Once she knew defeating Zoldex would be difficult, but she truly believed in the outcome. She knew that good will triumph over evil. She believed in the prophecy and her role in ending the tyranny of Zoldex. Now she is fueled by doubt, by insecurity, by uncertainty. Now she is afraid of her future instead of boldly facing it. Unless Kyria can overcome the torment her mind has woven around her, the realm has little chance of resisting the insurmountable forces aligned against them. Conquest will be inevitable.

 

Mica, the best friend and companion of Kyria, is determined to find a way to help her heal. They have been through a lot, and Mica will do anything to help Kyria get back to being where she needs to be. But she also is a scout in the middle of a war, and her duties pull her away, putting her in peril. If only Kyria was there to help her like she always has been before.

 

Sartir, returning home after facing his own inner demons, he will continue to help Kyria where Mica leaves off. Unlike Mica, he has been scarred and knows something about torment and suffering. He can relate to Kyria and help her see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it leads her someplace far different than where she ever expected to go.

 

But the people of Adlai, while understanding of Kyria's plight, will not stand still to give her time to heal. The war is going poorly, and Kyria has a role to play in it. With changes to leadership and the direction of the war effort, to efforts to create new allies with the assistance of the famed gnomish inventory Vingalli, to the rescue of the Madrew, to continuing to prepare the next generation of Mages, there is never a dull moment on the Adlesian Islands.

 

The true threat though is far from the Adlesian Islands. Where Mica is dispatched, in the Suspintian Forest, the last outpost in the south resisting against Zoldex's forces have prepared a delegation of emissaries to visit Turning Leaf, home of the xenophobic High elves, the largest elven city in the realm, in hopes of bringing them into the war against Zoldex. Success would turn the tide and push Zoldex's forces back. Failure would spell certain doom for the resistance and the realm. Lead by Master Cala, and having legendary heroes such as Arifos, Kai, Mylvannan, Theiler, Baldock, Ravinder, Grazlin, Lady Shanavie, and others, all hope may rest not on Kyria's shoulders, but the success of their efforts.

 

Clouded Destiny will challenge everything the heroes know and believe, forcing them to find a new way to move forward, or falter under the mounting pressure. Too much is at stake, and true heroes will find a way to rise above their own doubts and insecurities and put the needs of others before their own fears and shortcomings.

 


 

Book Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

 

The war with Zoldex has not been going well. He had planned his conquest too thoroughly, and caught the people of the Seven Kingdoms unprepared for what he was doing. It had begun with small skirmishes, rivalries, prejudices, and growing fears and doubts that most considered natural. But Zoldex played those to perfection, forming alliances and adversaries and pitting the realm at war with itself before he boldly announced his presence and swept across the land dealing with the already-worn-out opposition to his plans.

Most of the survivors of the realm were refugees who made their way north into Falestia, the last free Kingdom unclaimed by Zoldex. Some remained in Tenalong in the raspler and worral city of Jarntra. Others in the community of Underwood in the Suspintian Forest. But beyond those two locations, six of the Seven Kingdoms were under the control of Zoldex.

But Falestia was not the only destination for the survivors. The people of Adlai opened up their home to those fleeing from their homes as well. This was not the first time that Adlai had become a location of salvation. During the Great Wars, the one-day Emperor Conrad had discovered that Adlai was the home of adlesians and gnomish refugees led by the inventor Vingalli. An alliance was formed that changed the course of history as the fleet Vingalli and the Adlesians built for Conrad helped to take control of the seas, and then with further alliances with King Sarlec of Danchul, their influence spread to the land.

Once more Adlai has been called upon to be a beacon of hope for the Seven Kingdoms. The five islands of Adlai—Ahnalai, Kalii, Madulawai, Tanu, and Uhlu—welcomed those who would oppose Zoldex and began building a new joint society and structures to help everyone feel at home.

The island of Uhlu was given to the survivors of Aquatica. With the assistance of the gnomes and adlesians, a vast city was built that spreads both on land and in the sea. Their complexes also extend to the surface of the water to accommodate the seafaring vessels and ships of other allies coming to the islands. While the bulk of their new home remains beneath the surface of the water, the structures on land provide common access locations for interaction with surface-dwelling allies and storage of provisions.

Tanu is the primary source of creation in the war efforts. Vast shipyards were constructed on Tanu during the Great Wars to construct Conrad’s Gallies, and has remained in service to the Imperium ever since. While there are also shipyards on Adlai itself, Tanu is the principal source of all invention and construction on the islands, staffed almost entirely by adlesians and gnomes. This is also where the inventions of Vingalli’s top gnomish minds are transformed from theory into reality.

Madulawai has always been the home of the photons, who remain there. While they consider themselves to be allies with the gnomes and adlesians and are allied against Zoldex, they still prefer to live in isolation. Others would be welcome on their island, as long as it was only for a short visit and not to remain.

 Kalii, like Madulawai, is largely untouched by outside influences. While adlesians live on all of the islands except for Madulawai, Kalii is the remaining tribal home of their people. It was chosen as the heart of Adlai, maintaining the tradition and values of their ancestors.

The final island, Ahnalai was gifted to the Mages and members of the avarian Soarinell. A new base of operations was created here, that would oversee all Mage development, training, interaction, as well as rescue efforts to find and recover Mage survivors throughout the land before Zoldex could get them. The main facility on the island, named the Needle, served as the command center for the joint efforts of the Mages and the Soarinell, and also housed the Oversight Chamber, where the governing body of Ahnalai convened.

Considered to be more of an advisory board, the twelve members of the Advisory Board who met in the Oversight Chamber were responsible to provide information, subject matter expertise, and evaluations to Master Soarex, the current leader of the new Mage Order. While Mages had always been run by a Council of Elders, during this war time, this council served as an interim committee. Master Soarex himself, an avarian, had been a former Council of Elders member who retired and decided to spend the rest of his days in the avarian home of Estonis, before Zoldex’s forces destroyed it. As the sole member with Council of Elders experience on Ahnalai, he was called back into service to make all final decisions that impacted Mages during these dark times.

The rest of his Advisory Board included Mage’s Academy Headmistress Auria, also an avarian, and four Academy professors—the elven Master Cali, the troll Master Critchley, the chiroptera Master Deaken, and the fairy Master Loukas. The only other Mage to serve on the board was the sarnal Gatherer Tarwas. Others who were not Mages also served on the board, including the avarian Admiral Kindlen, the adlesian Arkus, the gnomish doctor Indara, and the Madrew elf and member of the Triad, Kai. The final member was viewed by many as an unlikely pick, and one who was not wise enough to serve on the board, but Master Soarex insisted. After all, Kyria was prophesied to save the world, and her insights and experiences with Zoldex was crucial to the future of the Mages. So even at the age of fourteen, she found herself serving on the council that would determine Mage policy.

It was not the most experienced group. It was not full of true leaders, or diplomats, or even warriors. But the Mage Order has suffered a tremendous blow at the hands of Zoldex and it was the best that they had to offer. Regardless of their combined experience, each and every member of the Advisory Board took their duties very seriously and were determined to do their part in the struggle for survival against Zoldex.

Kyria had received an early morning summons to meet in the Oversight Chamber. She had to postpone her sparring session with her Master, Lystra. It seemed like of late their sessions were being postponed quite often as crises around the realm kept popping up. Zoldex was certainly not giving them an opportunity to catch their breath.

Kyria made her way to the base of the Needle and to one of the glowing stepping discs. With a mere thought of the Oversight Chamber, her disc began to rise up the Needle to bring her to her destination. Every time she came here she was marveled at how everything had come together so quickly. Vast landing bays with Wind Soarers and the smaller Wind Gliders were being constantly tended to by the avarians with ships constantly coming and going. People were always in motion, always working, always so focused.

She reached the platform for the Oversight Chamber and stepped off of the glowing disc. She walked into the chamber and saw that everyone else was already there and seated at their traditional round table. Master Soarex gestured toward the lone remaining seat and Kyria sat down. As soon as she did he began speaking.

“Welcome, everyone. We can begin now,” he said. “As you are all aware, the primary goal for the Mages on Ahnalai is to reestablish our order. Not only does that mean that we continue teaching and training the Mages and students already here, but we must endeavor to find other survivors, wherever they may be, and bring them here.

“Thanks to Admiral Kindlen and his avarian support, we have been able to dispatch Master and Apprentice teams to search for Mage survivors. This, unfortunately, is like, and I apologize for the analogy, looking for a needle in a haystack. Our Wind Gliders are often risking their lives to go behind enemy lines without any clear direction of where to go. We are desperately lacking information to help us find survivors.”

“Seers,” Tarwas said. As a Gatherer, Tarwas was quite familiar with Seers. Some felt that those with the gift of Sight were cursed, because the mystical ability was so overpowering that most Mages with it could hardly function. Instead they were regulated by the Gatherers and with magical aids to assist with narrowing the focus of the Seers, all Mages in the world could be tracked. Gatherers primarily used the skill of Seers when a new Mage, called a spike, was found. They would then transfer the essence of the spike that the Seers found into a mystical compass known as a Trackbar, and go recover the infant and bring them back to the Mage’s Council. But, while that was how Seers were used, the Sight allowed them to track all Mages at all times. Any survivors that slipped through the cracks of Zoldex’s onslaught would easily be detected by the Seers.

“Precisely,” Master Soarex confirmed.

Arkus, who had once served Emperor Conrad as his protector before passing the title on to his son, Adonis, raised a finger and asked, “What is a Seer?”

 “A Seer is a Mage with a very special talent that allows them to know the exact location of every Mage in the world,” Soarex said. He paused, allowing that to sink in to the minds of the Advisory Board members who were not as familiar with Mage stations. “Clearly you can see how having a Seer, or several Seers, would provide us with a sizeable tactical advantage with our mission.”

“Or in the hands of Zoldex, a means to wipe out all remaining Mages,” Admiral Kindlen, who always assessed every angle of military action, added.

“True,” Soarex said. “Either way, we must make sure that the Seers are not aiding Zoldex, and are helping our cause.”

Kyria could see that the Mages in the room all looked uncomfortable. She glanced sideways at Kai and saw the look mirrored on her face. She could guess why, but Headmistress Auria gave voice to their reservations.

“The Seers would all be at the Mage’s Council,” she said. “Zoldex controls the Mage’s Council.”

“If any are still alive,” Master Critchley added.

Admiral Kindlen scoffed at that. “I’m sure Zoldex would be aware of their tactical advantage. That’s one group of Mages, I assure you, that are still very much alive.”

“But still at the Mage’s Council,” Kai said, mirroring Auria’s concern. “Zoldex began his siege by decimating the Mage’s Council. Trespias, and the Council, are firmly in his control. That’s his base of operations. Not just behind enemy lines, but the capital of enemy lines.”

“A suicide mission if we try,” Master Critchley said, folding his arms and shaking his head from side to side. “We need another solution.”

Admiral Kindlen stood up and slammed his fist on the table. “You are missing the point! The Seers are either an opportunity or a threat. We either control their gift, or they need to be neutralized! We cannot allow them to remain in Zoldex’s hands!”

“Agreed,” Arkus said. “Perhaps a small group to infiltrate the Mage’s Council. Rescue the Seers if they can, or eliminate them if not.”

Master Soarex nodded. “I wish we had other options, but I concur. Having the Seers on our side is vital to saving Mage survivors. Having them in Zoldex’s hands is a sure sign that all of ours days are numbered. Don’t forget, he’d be able to see all of us here, too. How long before an amphibier fleet surrounds the islands and bombards us? Or more of the korgrim swoop down and do to us here what they did to Estons? Seers are both an opportunity and a threat. Either way, we must send a team after them.”

Admiral Kindlen nodded his agreement before retaking his seat. “I will have one of my best pilots at your disposal for this mission.”

“Thank you,” Master Soarex replied. “Then we just need to determine the team that is going in. This mission is too vital to leave up to a single team. Too dangerous. Speed and stealth will be important. As well as people who know how to get in and out.” His gaze set on Headmistress Auria’s. “Will you lead this mission personally?”

Kyria looked over at the Academy Headmistress. Auria had always been wise and friendly even. The times she visited the Headmistress’s office, it was full of pillows and comforts. But one did not become the leader of the Mage’s Academy without being skilled and accomplished. Without surprise, Auria agreed at once.

“I believe three other teams should support you,” Master Soarex said.

“So many?” Master Cali asked. “We risk so much.”

“We risk even more if they fail,” Master Soarex added.

Kyria took a deep breath and stood up. She may be speaking out of turn, and she hoped Master Lystra was not upset by boldly committing them to such a dangerous endeavor, but she said, “You need me.”

“Kyria, no,” Kai said, placing a hand on Kyria’s arm and trying to pull her back down.

“I have to go,” Kyria said. “Our teams are Professors and students. What other student has my abilities? Who else gives us the best chance of surviving an encounter with Zoldex?”

“Thank you for volunteering, Kyria,” Headmistress Auria said. “I agree that having you on the team will help a great deal.”

Kai looked angry, but then said, “If she’s going, then I am too.”

“You are not a Mage,” Master Soarex said.

“And yet I’m going all the same. I may not be one of your Master and Apprentice teams, but I have intimate knowledge of Zoldex and his allies. I am going.”

“As am I,” Tarwas said. “I will help us get into the Gatherer tunnels and hopefully back out without being discovered. I am the only one here who knows where the Seers are kept and what we would need to properly utilize them.”

“You should have a scout, too,” Master Loukas said. “One of my fairies.”

“Mica will volunteer, I’m sure,” Kyria said, glad that Master Loukas suggested a scout. It was bad enough that Sartir was off on his own with the Drannin. She hated the thought that all of her friends were apart. Even doing something as dangerous as this, with Mica by her side, she had a better chance of success.

Master Loukas shrugged. “Mica would be fine.”

“Very well,” Master Soarex said. “Headmistress Auria, I leave it up to you to select two other Mage teams to go with you. Preparations will begin immediately. Then you should be off as soon as first light tomorrow.”

“Agreed,” Master Kindlen said. “Time is of the essence. This threat is too real to be ignored. Make sure some of those teams you bring are aware that this is a sanctioned kill mission if recovering the Seers is not possible.”

“I understand,” Headmistress Auria said.

“Then we’ll let you get to it, and wish you every success. All of us are depending on you completing this mission,” Master Soarex concluded. “One way or the other.”

 

v  v  v

 

Rather than go and resume her training session with Master Lystra, Kyria went to the complex where the Scouts resided. She was sure Mica would agree to go, but she wanted to tell her best friend herself. As she went inside, she saw almost all of the Mages inside were fairies. There were some wraiths and a few others scattered around, but the diminutive size and speed of fairies allowed them better access for stealthy missions and all fairies were mandated to become a member of the Scouts.

Kyria went to the room she knew Mica lived in now and found her strawberry-blonde-haired friend fast asleep. Some things would never change. Kyria lightly tapped Mica’s shoulder, and the fairy flew off with a jolt.

“I’m up, I’m up, what did I miss?” she shouted.

“Don’t worry, it’s just me,” Kyria said.

“Oh,” Mica said, exhaling in relief. “They make us do these drills at all hours. I can’t stand it.”

“Then how would you like to get out of here?” Kyria asked.

“In a heartbeat,” Mica said as she flew up and hovered before Kyria. “We’re going to go on an adventure?”

“Of sorts,” Kyria said. “Authorized by Master Soarex.”

Mica landed on her pillow, put her hands under her chin and frowned. “Authorized? That’s not as fun. What are we authorized to do?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Kyria said. “Just go back to the Mage’s Council with the fate of all Mages hanging in the balance.”

“Did you say go back to the Mage’s Council?” Mica asked after a pause where her jaw dropped open. “Why would we ever be authorized to do that?”

“To try and recover the Seers,” Kyria said.

Mica bit her lip as the words sank in. “Yeah, okay, I can see that. But you and me? No Sartir?”

“He’s with the Drannin,” Kyria said. “So you and me. And Kai, and Grazlin, and three other Mage teams.”

Mica shook her head. “I think I’d rather it be just you, me, and Sartir.”

Reflecting on their many adventures together fondly, Kyria couldn’t help but agree. “Are you still willing to go in a heartbeat?”

“Maybe not a heartbeat,” Mica replied, “But no way I’m letting you go alone. I’m in.”

Kyria waved her hand and an image of the Mage’s Council appeared. Not as it was now, but as it had been when they all lived there. She wondered just what exactly they were walking into by going back. But they had to make sure Zoldex could not use the Seers. They had to do this. There was no choice. And when it came down to having to oppose Zoldex, who better than she to do so? Nobody that she could think of.


 

CHAPTER 2

  

By first light they were all flying about the Hair Raiser, under the command of avarian Soarinell Captain Merrick. Kyria had flown with Merrick before when they went to try and save Master Balfour and the entire Mage’s Academy, and found him to be quite competent, though he was a bit of a risk taker. Of course, going to Trespias and the Mage’s Council required something of a risk taker, so that made him the perfect pilot for this mission.

He flew them low, inches above the water as they soared south in the Wind Glider, the mist of the ocean striking them all in their faces as they went. Headmistress Auria had, as instructed, assembled her team. She had her Apprentice, the avarian Shelby with her. Kyria and Shelby had always been at odds. They began as roommates when Kyria first arrived at the Mage’s Council, but she found Shelby to be too condescending, too arrogant, too focused on the need to be superior to others and belittle those around her. She was the prototypical mean girl and the two became instant enemies. Shelby saw all of the gold on Kyria’s robes and tried to boost her own popularity by showing that Kyria followed her every word, but that never happened. Becoming rivals, or at least opposites, was the only logical alternative. Kyria wished that Shelby was not on this mission, but she was Auria’s Apprentice, and her being here was a foregone conclusion.

Kyria’s Master, Lystra, was a mystral. She was not the only mystral, as Master Frilora and Traina were both also on the mission. It made sense in a lot of ways. Mystral were swift, athletic, dexterous, and had a history of opposing tyranny. They were great warriors, both with their abilities with weapons and their stealth to sneak around. They were valued allies on this mission. Traina was also one of Shelby’s best friends, so Kyria wondered if that had anything to do with it. After all, she wanted Mica, so couldn’t Shelby want Traina? At least Traina had become somewhat tolerable after she had begun dating Sartir. It certainly wasn’t her inclination to be nice to Kyria and Mica, but Sartir went a long way to smooth things over. He just wouldn’t allow Traina to force him to take sides, and ultimately she came around.

The last team had a sabrenoh, Rhiner, who used to be on Kyria’s Lumnia team at the Academy. Like Sartir, Rhiner was fast, strong, and cunning. Of course she would rather have Sartir here than Rhiner, but somehow having another sabrenoh felt fitting. Rhiner’s Master was a wraith named Velon. Kyria had never had one of his classes and did not know anything about him, but she suspected that their team was selected more for his abilities than Rhiner’s.

Other than Captain Merrick and Kai, everyone was given Mage armor for the mission. Master Varitimas, who used to run the shop for Academy students, had provided each of them with the armor personally. It began as a small ball that fit in the palm of their hands, silver in nature, and then like the Mage robes and cloaks, it took on a life of its own and wrapped around them, enveloping them in the armor. It was form fitting, seamless, and skintight, covering every inch of their bodies, including their heads—though Kyria could see through the armor without any difficulty at all. Unlike Mage robes that had golden designs in the influence of the wearer, these were the same for everyone, regardless of their rank in the Council.

According to Master Varitimas, the armor, like Mage robes, was self-repairing and self-cleaning, completely reforming as long as even a portion of it remained. The armor also responded to the wearers mental commands, so if they wanted their faces to be shown, the armor would flow away from their skin and reveal their heads. The armor would provide added protection from weapons and even mystical spells, but without the encumbrance that heavy armor of similar quality would provide. Unfortunately, only a Mage can make it work, which was why Kai and Merrick remained in their normal outfits, though Kai had abandoned her makeshift Koxlen-hide top that she had made from Lucky’s head and instead, with the materials available on Adlai, made herself a more form-fitting brown and beige leather sleeveless outfit that more closely resembled what her fellow Madrew Arifos wore.

“Does anyone have any questions?”Headmistress Auria asked.

Kyria looked around seeing that everyone knew what was expected of them. They all knew how important this mission was. They would not let anything go wrong. They couldn’t.

Auria turned and looked at Merrick. He nodded, “Five minutes.”

Five minutes, Kyria thought. Just five minutes until they were back home. Five minutes until they were potentially in the fight of their lives.

Merrick brought the Hair Raiser swooping up over the cliffs and onto the land outside of the walls of Trespias. This was where it was going to get tricky, because if they were spotted, this little mission would be over before it even began. All avarian ships, including the Wind Glider, had hulls comprised of an allow that gave them added stealth technology, blending the ship into the environment around them. Someone could still see them, or hear them fly by, but at least it would look like the sky. But that didn’t help going over the wall.

“Hold on,” Merrick said as he lowered his staff to the orb that controlled the ship. The Wind Glider lifted high into the sky, soaring up into the clouds in instants. He moved forward and peered down. “There?”

“There,” Tarwas confirmed.

Then just as quickly as they flew up, they came straight back down to the ground, threatening to crash as they dropped. At the last second Merrick hovered above the ground and brought the Wind Glider in under a small waterfall, the water cascading over their heads, and then landed at a small clearing.

“Welcome to the Gatherer tunnels,” Merrick said. “Thank you for flying on the Hair Raiser, please watch your step as you disembark, and, you know, avoid painful deaths at the hands of our enemies. Goodbye. Good luck. Don’t get killed.”

Kyria and Mica could not help but smile and laugh. Even with the dangers that they were about to face, Merrick was trying to keep the situation light.

“Okay everyone, we’re here. Let’s not advertise that and do what we came here to do,” Headmistress Auria said. “Mica, you have the point.”

“You can count on me,” Mica said, the lone scout in the group, as she soared ahead of them and into the Gatherer tunnels.

The Mage’s Council had swirling waters around it, a mystical barrier that prevented entry from anyone who was not a Mage. But to protect the younger Mages, only those who had passed the Second Trials and achieved the rank of Paladin were able to make the portal inside or outside of the Council work. Since Gatherers were often students who could not handle the demands of the Academy or failed to advance to Apprentice, they needed to be able to get in and out without achieving the rank of Paladin. The Gatherer tunnels were the answer, bringing them out through a waterfall that concealed a hidden entrance into the Mage’s Council. It was their way in, their best shot at completing this mission. Of course that did not mean that Zoldex had not added new barriers or wards or defenses to stop them from doing exactly what they were now doing.

As Mica vanished from sight, Headmistress Auria added, “Kai, you need to remain here with Captain Merrick.”

“That’s not happening,” Kai replied, following after Mica without hesitation.

“You need to remain,” Auria persisted. “The Gatherer tunnels may allow you to enter freely, but the Mage’s Council itself has wards that only allow those with mystical abilities in. Sooner or later, you won’t be able to go any further. You should stay here and help guard the ship.”

“My job is to guard Kyria,” Kai said, not backing down.

“Kai, she’s right. It’s for the best,” Kyria said. “We won’t be long.”

Kyria could see that Kai was fuming under the surface, but she did not advance any further, and watched the Mage teams and Tarwas as they continued down the tunnels.

“I’ve never been down here,” Master Frilora said. “How long do they go?”

“Not much further,” Tarwas said.

“Keep your eyes open for anything,” Master Velon added.

Just then, Mica came flying back around the corner and landed on Kyria’s shoulder.

“Report,” Headmistress Auria instructed.

“There’s nothing there,” Mica said. “No guards, no Seers, no traps that I could see.”

“Why would Zoldex leave the Gatherer tunnels unprotected?” Traina asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“He’s overconfident,” Kyria replied. “He doesn’t think anyone would dare come here. Most of us were killed. Those that are left are scattered around the Seven Kingdoms. Who would dare come back here and face him?”

“Other than us,” Mica replied, winking.

“If the Seers aren’t down here, then where are we supposed to look for them?” Shelby asked, looking at her Master for guidance.

Headmistress Auria took a deep breath and kept walking forward. “Tarwas, bring us to where the Seers should be.”

“This way,” Tarwas said.

It sounded to Kyria like their plan was already a bust. Now they were just grasping at straws, hoping that luck would steer them in the right path. Kyria no longer believed in luck. There had to be another option. Something they were overlooking.

With Tarwas in the lead, they entered the facility where the Gatherers and Seers were stationed and bunked, as well as all facilities, offices, and the chamber where the Seers were hooked up to mystical devices that allowed them to transfer information into Trackbars. Tarwas found several crates of Trackbars and pulled out some equipment and set them aside.

“In case we find them, we should take all of this with us, too,” Tarwas said.

Headmistress Auria pointed at Shelby and Traina. “Use satchels. Put as much of the equipment in them as you can.”

Mage satchels were a good idea. They looked like nothing more than a coin purse by the size of them, but inside was an infinite dimension of storage where a Mage could place anything they wanted and then reclaim it with but a thought. Kyria recalled just how many of her text books were shoved into her satchel, without ever increasing in size or weight.

“It’s too bad we don’t know what’s going on inside the Tower,” Traina said, peering at Mica.

“You want me to scout ahead again?” she asked, glancing at Headmistress Auria.

“Be careful,” Auria said.

Then it came to Kyria. All at once. The way to find out what was going on in the Tower without alerting Zoldex’s forces, if he had any, within the Mage’s Council. It had begun as an art project on the Halls of Vorstad. Sartir had made an exact scaled-replica and asked Kyria to create images of dwarves to populate it with. She and Mica had used one of the books on Vorstad to transform the images of the dwarves into artistic-moving-images for the city, but something had gone wrong. Instead of art, Kyria had created actual life. Representations of the dwarves she had seen, and finger-sized, but they had personalities and were actually alive.

As living images, for the next year, they had been popping up all around the Academy, moving in and out of classrooms, playing practical jokes, and making a general nuisance of themselves. But they should still be here. Kyria had made a replica of Thamar to help reign in the rest of the Vorstad dwarves, and he did. If she could find him, then he could provide invaluable information about what was happening here since Zoldex took over, and likely would be able to help them find the Seers if they were still alive.

“Wait,” Kyria said, causing Mica to hover in the air before leaving. “I have an idea.”

Headmistress Auria gestured for Kyria to continue.

“Do you remember all of the trouble the Academy had when my art project with Vorstad kind of backfired?”

“Those little dwarves,” Master Velon said, rolling his eyes.

“Ooh, ooh, ooh, Thamar!” Mica cheered, clapping her hands.

“They have to still be here,” Kyria said. “Let me go find Thamar, and he might have valuable information for us. Including what’s happening with the Seers.”

“Do you think you can find the dwarves?” Auria asked.

“Might as well try my room first,” Kyria said, grinning. That was where the Halls of Vorstad were. With the rest of the Mages gone, it was as good a place as any to look for her little creations.

Kyria’s Master, Lystra, frowned and shook her head. “It’s too dangerous. You might encounter any number of threats in the Academy.”

“Mica and I will get through,” Kyria said confidently.

“Go with them,” Auria said to Lystra.

Kyria knew better than to argue. Master Lystra was not just her Master, but a friend when she needed one. She was the one Professor in the Academy who had always gone out of her way to be kind to and help Kyria out. She began as Kyria’s Self Defense Professor, but had become so much more. Besides, Master and Apprentice teams were supposed to stick together.

Mica took the lead with Kyria and Master Lystra close behind. The rest of the group remained behind to help Shelby and Traina finish packing up what they were going to take back with them.

When they reached the barrier from the Gatherer tunnels to the Mage’s Council, Mica stopped and waited for Kyria and Master Lystra to catch up. This would be the first real test, since the mystical wards would be present to either allow them to enter or not.

“Think this will set off an alarm?” Mica asked.

Kyria winced. With no guards in the tunnels, it was definitely possible. “Only one way to find out.” Kyria then stepped directly into, and through, the wall, emerging in the corridor of the Mage’s Council. Like the tunnels, there was nobody there.

Mica and Master Lystra quickly joined her. Lystra gave her a disapproving frown. “We could have used magic to see if anyone was here.”

“It’s like this place is abandoned,” Kyria said. “Think about it, if the Mage’s Council still only allows Mages, Zoldex only has a few under his command. It makes sense that this place would be empty.”

“Don’t make unwise assumptions,” Lystra cautioned.

“I stand corrected,” Kyria said, but she then boldly walked down the familiar corridors and headed direct for her old room without taking the time to scout or be stealthy at all. “Here we are.”

Rooms at the Academy were magically sealed so that only the occupant could enter unless they were to unlock the enchantment to allow others in. Kyria placed her palm on the door and a portal opened to allow them inside.

Mica flew into the room and immediately came to a landing on her bed. “Oh, how I’ve missed this! Can we take it with us?”

Kyria ignored her and went right to the table where the scale model of Vorstad was. As she peered into it, she caught movement. “They’re here!”

“Kyria?”

Kyria’s smile widened as she recognized the voice, and then saw a finger-sized image of Thamar step out of one of the doors and look up at her. “Thamar! You’re here!”

“My heart is glad to be setting mine eyes on ye,” Thamar said. “But how can ye be here? This place is under the control o’ yer sworn enemy!”

“We know,” Kyria said as Master Lystra came over to stand beside Kyria and look down at the diminutive dwarf. “Have you been exploring the Tower?”

“Do ye even need to ask?” Thamar asked with a deep belly laugh. “Me and me boys have been scouting the Tower, just waiting for our chance to strike!”

“You know you can’t hurt them, right?” Mica shouted across the room, still resting in her bed.

“I am Thamar, thrasher o’ mine enemies! A true son o’ Vorstad! Whether I be the real Thamar or this here illusion you be creating, I am a warrior at heart. If my mallet cannot strike me enemies, then me eyes can at least see things that can help those who do live in the physical world.”

“I was hoping that was the case,” Kyria grinned. “Do you know what happened to the Seers?”

“Indeed I do know,” Thamar said proudly.

“Are they alive?” Lystra asked.

“Imprisoned,” Thamar said. “Where the Renegade Mages used to be.”

“Are there guards?” Lystra followed up.

“None,” Thamar replied. “Occasionally one o’ Zoldex’s Mages comes to run some experiments. That gorn, Artrilin, most o’ all. But at most, the Mage’s Council has a handful o’ Mages loyal to Zoldex. He sits in the Council o’ Elders chamber, above all o’ the rest o’ his forces and uses his little images to command them. He must think there is safety in his solitude.”

“Less chance of being overthrown like the Madrew elves did,” Kyria guessed. “But this is great news for us.”

“I’ll let Headmistress Auria know,” Lystra said as her armor opened at her command and revealed a Mage satchel. She reached in and removed a corryby, the mystical communication devices of the Mages.

As she summoned Headmistress Auria and provided their report, Kyria focused on Thamar. “We’re getting out of here. Can you gather up all of your dwarves so we can take you, too?”

“Most are here now,” Thamar said. “I can send out scouting parties to gather up the rest. Where should we meet?”

“Gatherer tunnels,” Kyria said.

She waited as Thamar summoned several other images of dwarves and sent them off on a mission to find their fellow companions. She then focused on Sartir’s model, using what the Council of Elders had done to the Colosseum with the Academy students as inspiration, and shrunk the model—including all the dwarves inside—down to size even further and placed it into her own satchel.

“Anything you want to grab while we’re here?” Kyria asked Mica.

“Other than my bed?” Mica asked.

Kyria snickered, then went into her room. All of her books were still stacked by the wall. Things that likely would be lost to the next generation of Mages if the Mage’s Council was not one day recovered. She took a few minutes to put everything she could in her room into her satchel. Whatever can be saved should be.

“Kyria, we’re ready,” Master Lystra said. “The others are going to meet us in the dungeons.”

Kyria took one last look around her room and exhaled, taking a moment to think of all of the times she had been here and the adventures that began right here in this room. So many memories, but even with the foreboding doom of Zoldex on the horizon back then, they were such easier times.

Kyria walked back into the common room and looked over at Mica’s room, seeing Mica kissing her bed and telling it how much she’ll miss it. There was a lot to miss here. It was funny, Kyria recalled feeling so trapped when she got here. The outsider who would never fit in. Now she wished she could do it all over again and somehow keep everything from falling apart like it had.

With Thamar’s assurances about the lack of guards in the Council, the three of them moved much more swiftly to get to the tunnels that lead to the dungeons. When they arrived, the other Mages were already there.

“Did you find them?” Lystra asked.

“There’s a dozen of them,” Shelby said excitedly.

“I asked Captain Merrick to bring the ship around,” Headmistress Auria said. “I hope your information is accurate about the resistance here. He’ll be just outside the Tower wall waiting for us to load up the Seers.”

“I trust my source,” Kyria said.

Traina stepped into the hall. “They’re all out,” she said.

They had to help the Seers one at a time. There were ten of them, including Mica and Tarwas, here. But Seers struggled to function normally. Without another Mage to help them, they might just as likely collapse where they stood or wander in the wrong direction.

“We’ll do this in two trips,” Headmistress Auria said. “Mica, you lead the way to make sure we don’t run into anything. Masters Lystra and Frilora will go with the first group. Take all of the Apprentices and each of you help a Seer.”

“I can carry two,” Tarwas said. “Might as well get as many out as possible.”

“Very well,” Headmistress Auria agreed. “That leaves four behind. We’ll need two to come back to help us.”

“I’ll come back,” Kyria said, knowing she still had to meet Thamar at the Gatherer tunnels.

“Then I will, too,” Traina replied, not willing to let Kyria take all of the risk. If something happened to Kyria, Sartir would never let her hear the end of it.

“Go. Be quick, but safe,” Auria commanded.

Quick and safe was not easy when it came to guiding Seers, who seemed to want to do anything but go with them. The Seer Kyria was helping was an aquatican, and quite slimy. He kept slipping out of her hands and sliding down to the floor.

“Can’t you keep him upright?” Shelby scolded.

“You want to switch?” Kyria asked.

“Just keep moving,” Master Lystra said. “Do the best you can.”

They reached the wall of the Tower, and like so many barriers at the Mage’s Council, walked right through it. As promised, Merrick had the ship on the lawn waiting for them a mere thirty paces away, Kai walking back and forth anxiously for their arrival.

Mica led them to the Hair Raiser, and Merrick and Kai helped them get the Seers on board.

“Where’s Headmistress Auria and Master Velon?” Merrick asked.

“Waiting with the last four Seers,” Master Lystra answered.

“Making sure they don’t wander off,” Shelby sarcastically added.

“We’re going back to help,” Kyria said. “You should prepare to lift off.”

Kai grabbed Kyria’s wrist. “You should remain here.”

“I have to go,” Kyria said. “Besides, I need to pick up Thamar.”

“Thamar?” Kai asked, her expression one of confusion. “He’s on the Soaring Mist with Braksis.”

“Not that Thamar,” Kyria replied, pulling her wrist away and running back toward the Tower. Traina and Mica close by her side.

“Wait,” Thamar shouted as he ran over to join them. “If you have someplace else to go, I’ll get another two Seers. We’ll meet back at the ship.”

“Are you sure?” Kyria asked.

“Don’t waste time arguing,” Traina said. “We need to move quickly.”

Mica nodded emphatically. “Yeah, tell me about it. Don’t you get the feeling like we’re on borrowed time? Like this has all gone down too easily?”

Kyria felt a cold shiver run down her spine. “Well I do now.”

“So let’s move,” Traina said.

Once they were inside, Tarwas ran back to meet up with Headmistress Auria, Master Velon, and the final four Seers. Kyria, Mica, and Traina made their way to the Gatherer tunnels where Kyria told Thamar that she would meet him. But when they got there, there were a bunch of images of dwarves, but no Thamar.

“Does anyone know where Thamar is?” Kyria asked as she removed the model of Vorstad from her satchel and enlarged it for the assembled dwarves to get inside.

“Haven’t seen ‘em,” one dwarf said as he walked into the model.

“This is ridiculous,” Traina growled. “These things are illusions. Let’s just get a move on.”

“Living illusions,” Kyria clarified. “And I won’t leave Thamar behind.”

“An hour ago you didn’t even remember he was here,” Traina pointed out. “You’re risking the mission.”

“Go if you must,” Kyria said. “But I’m staying.”

“Unbelievable,” Traina groaned in frustration.

“I still don’t know what Sartir sees in her,” Mica said.

“Nice,” Traina said, glaring at Mica. Mica just stuck her tongue out at Traina in reply.

Then from the wall, Thamar emerged with half a dozen other dwarves. “Kyria! We’re here!”

“Thamar, thank the Gods!” Kyria replied. “Quick, get into Vorstad.”

“About time,” Traina said, watching as the dwarves ran into the model. “Can we go now?”

Kyria used her magic to shrink the Halls of Vorstad back down to a smaller scale again and then placed it into her satchel. “We can.”

They rushed back to the walls of the Tower and straight through it, coming out on the grounds. Kyria looked and saw that the other group was already at the Hair Raiser and loading the Seers on board.

“We made it,” she said.

“No we didn’t!” Mica screamed. She then pointed.

Kyria followed Mica’s gaze, her eyes widening. Zoldex!

 


 

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