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Tales of the Council of Elders

Title: Tales of the Council of Elders

Series: The Imperium Saga: Anthology, 1

Author: Karen Aragon, Brandon Barr, Clifford B. Bowyer, Stuart Clark, Mike Lynch, Ben Mitchell, B. Pine, Robb Webb, Brittany Westerberg

ISBN: 978-1-60975-027-5

Product Code: BK0047

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 320

Release Date: May 2011

Cover Price: $19.95

Our Price: $15.95

 

 

 

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Book Jacket

 

Tales of the nine Mages who form the Council of Elders, the leading body of the Mage’s Council. Some of the most charismatic, influential, and powerful characters in all of the Imperium at last reveal parts of what has led them to be the Masters of all magical beings. Follow the adventures of the Council of Elders from the dawn of Mages straight through to the aftermath of the Siege of Zoldex. Written by Imperium Saga creator Clifford B. Bowyer and other Silver Leaf Books authors, including Brandon Barr, Stuart Clark, Mike Lynch, B. Pine, and Brittany Westerberg.

 


 

Read brief Excerpts from each of the Tales by Silver Leaf Books authors. Click on the hyperlink below or scroll to the excerpt from the tale you wish to read.

 

Pierce’s Tale: The Coming of the Mage by Mike Lynch

Hergzenbarung’s Tale: Primal Instincts by Robb Webb

Promethisus’s Tale: The Paladin Goes Forth by Stuart Clark

Ilfanti’s Tale: Ilfanti and the Jewel of Amara by Clifford B. Bowyer

Senix’s Tale: Conquests of the Heart by Brittany Westerberg

Cala’s Tale: Revelations to the Elven Mage by Karen Aragon

Jeffa’s Tale: The Farm by B. Pine

Cinzia’s Tale: Nemesis of Siphynia by Brandon Barr

Ariness’s Tale: Celdil and the Dark Winter by Ben Mitchell and Clifford B. Bowyer

 

Pierce’s Tale

The Coming of the Mage

By Mike Lynch

 High atop Longbaugh Hill stood Mondragon Castle—impenetrable, forbidding. Its golden walls shone brilliantly in the morning light as the sun’s rays crested past the distant Ankor Mountains lining the horizon. Down below in the Kidron Valley, the armies of Lord Mowren and King Pleadocious waited. Grouped together in tight formations by clans, each man stood ready with his sword and shield, his attention fixed on the castle above.

A lone defender appeared at the highest part of the tower. Rising seventy feet into the air, the tower savagely dwarfed everything around it. The man lifted a polished silver horn and pressed it against his lips. The air grew still, expectant. A single high-pitched blare shattered the short-lived silence, followed by three sustained bursts. When the soldier brought the horn to his side, the thirty-foot tall castle gates groaned as they opened. The air exploded with the sounds of a hundred horses filing through the narrow opening at a full gallop, and every Eurillien knight shouting at the top of his lungs. Leading the charge was King Menedes, with his son, Lord Pierce, close at his side. “We slay these beasts without mercy,” he bellowed, his lime-green hair flapping in the wind behind him. “For Eurillia.”

The knights riding behind him roared in approval as they flew down the steep grade without regard for their safety, the sounds of clomping hooves rising up above the battlefield like some great symphonic prelude.

All at once, King Mendes’ horse leapt over the front lines, and landed behind the stunned soldiers. He dug his heels into the sides of the great beast and charged at them, his sword at the ready. With a cut to the left and a swish to the right, enemy fighters dropped to the ground like cords of wood, slashed and bleeding. Some cried out in pain, while others succumbed to the edge of his blade in muted silence.

Lord Pierce charged straight into the phalanx of soldiers desperately trying to maintain their ranks. But with their numbers dwindling by the second, they had no choice but to fall back and regroup. His pulse quickened at the thought of routing the enemy so soon after the battle had begun. If he and his horsemen could sustain their withering attack, their victory was assured. He summoned the knights closest to him. “Koros! Rindahl! You and your seconds follow me. The lines of these dogs are beginning to weaken.”

“But the king, my lord. He fights alone, and unprotected.”

Lord Pierce brought up his sword and cut down a Scupin mercenary charging at him. Another followed in his stead, but met the same fate. Pleasure pulsed through the prince as he watched each man fall from his sword, which was now covered in their blood. No mercy, he thought quickly. This was the only fate for those who dared to invade Eurillia.

“My lord,” Rindahl repeated with equal vehemence. “We need to protect the king.”

Lord Pierce’s eyes darted about the battlefield. Then, as though the heavens had come down and parted the combatants by force, a small gap formed. At the end of it stood an aged warrior dressed in his kingly armor, his lime-green,gray-streaked hair flailing in the air after each swath he cut with his sword. The prince sat in awe as he beheld his father striking down one enemy combatant after the other with the elegance of a master, whose long fluid motions of grace and purpose had felled countless legions in countless battles over the millennia. But then a feeling of dread shot through the prince as he watched hundreds of men and eternals fighting each other, some on horseback, others on the ground, pressing closer to the king. Choking dust rose up into the air, making it increasingly difficult for even the most battle-hardened soldier to breathe.

King Menedes stood alone against a dozen Scupin fighters coming at him from every direction, their maniacal shouts of rage chilling the prince to the bone. He fought off his attackers to the best of his ability, until one of them grabbed his arm from behind and wrestled him to the ground.

“Father!” Lord Pierce screamed. With his fellow eternals at his side, he charged at the small group of men huddled together in a loose circle. One of the Scupin mercenaries raised his sword, and plunged it downward. Another did the same soon after, and then another, and another.

 

Hergzenbarung’s Tale

Primal Instincts

By Robb Webb

 The young Mage Paladin carefully picked his way along the rocky cliff face. In his 20 years of life this was the most exhilarating experience he had ever had. Not wanting to rely on his magic, he had chosen the most difficult and challenging path. Challenging his mind, challenging his body, he slowly and methodically picked the most secure handholds and footholds. At any time he could use—if he so chose—magic to benefit his progress in any number of ways. He could make himself almost weightless by decreasing the density of bone and muscle. Using his magic in such a way to physically speed his efforts could also have been dangerous. The wind whipping across the rock face could have borne his lighter form aloft and dashed it against the unforgiving rock, leaving his brittle form shattered.No one would ever find him.

No, he thought, this is better. This is living.

Before earning the title of Mage, a prospective student must undertake a sojourn into the Imperium to experience the non-magical world. During this time, he must try to gain an understanding of how the mundane world lives and thrives without the use of magic. The young Paladin, as was his new title, set out for a number of years until such a time when he was ready to return to take the trials. Some of these sojourns took 2 years; some took 200 years, though for a human the time would be much shorter than for some of the other Mage races. Should he pass those trials he would be granted the title of Mage Master. If he failed the trials, he would join the Gatherers or take some other lesser role that few desired.

If he failed in the mundane world, it might just end his life. For some Mages, success in the mundane world agreed too much with them. They continued to live abroad, never returning to take the trials. He had never known any Paladins that had lost their lives. However, he was sure there must have been many through the years.

As he neared a rocky outcropping, he noticed—up about ten feet or so—an opening. The cave mouth was small. He almost missed it. It was nestled between two large mountain shrubs, which thrived by taking advantage of the airflow into the cave. This and the constant daily sunlight from their southern exposure served to increase their chances of survival. He took it as a sign that he was destined to find this cave and explore it.

The Paladin rubbed his hands together in anticipation of the physical feat required to climb to the cave opening, and got to it. Even with all of the training he had received at the Mage’s Academy—the hours of physical training and endurance exercises—he quickly found that he was out of practice and could feel the strain. Some might complain, but he found it wondrous.

Sweat dripped from his smoothly shaven head into his eyes—salty, stinging. He continued to push himself to his limits to make the final few feet and swung himself up to the outcropping. He pushed himself back on the ledge, trying to fight back the exhaustion. He sat there, taking in the view that a god might perceive, had one existed. His sandals hung out into the open air.

This is the reason for living, he thought again, this is worth living for.

In an effort to catch his breath quickly, the young Paladin decided to afford himself the use of a bit of magic. He expanded his lung capacity to allow himself to take in more air, giving him more energy and bringing quick relief to his oxygen-deprived muscles. The burning in his chest from the struggle to maintain a rhythmic airflow subsided. The sky was darkening; it would soon be nightfall. He stood up and turned to examine the cave.

Reaching into his Mage satchela bag that was infinitely larger on the inside than the outsidethe Paladin pulled two crystal spheres from deep within its vast confines. Attuned to the magic that surrounded them; they instantly winked to life and floated up to dance and circle in the early night air. A bright bluish-white light splashed across the dusk-lit rocks around the cave mouth. The shrubs were cast in a brownish-black, in sharp contrast to the rocks.

The Paladin entered the cave. What will I find? he asked himself silently. No one answered his query.

 

Promethisus’s Tale

The Paladin Goes Forth

By Stuart Clark

 Promethisus silently nocked his arrow and drew the bowstring taut. The white ash wood of his weapon quietly creaked in protest as he pulled the string back and touched it to the deep cleft in his chin. He sighted along the shaft of his deadly missile with one of his white eyes, picking out one of the humans as his target. He had smelled the hunting party long before he had seen them.

Humans. Disgusting, vile, creatures with little regard for the other races of the Seven Kingdoms. Just their presence here, hunting on the fringe of the Suspintian Forest, paid testament to that. It would give him some brief satisfaction to put an end to one of the shortlifes.

The hunting party had not seen him, nor were they likely to. Promethisus had smeared his white hide and human torso with mud and dirt, and only the keenest of eyes would pick him out among the forest’s dappled sunlight. Promethisus took a steadying breath and held it, preparing to shoot.

“I would not do that, my brother.”

Promethisus spun, startled. His eyes searched among the trunks of the leviathan trees that surrounded him, his readied bow following his line of sight. “Who said that? Show yourself!” he demanded.

No answer came.

“I said show yourself! Or do you wish this arrow, intended for another, to be your own?”

There was a snicker and then the voice came again. “Are you that good of a marksman that you can hit targets you can’t even see?”

“I am a fine archer, as are all of my race.”

“I believe you.” There were footfalls behind him and Promethisus turned toward the sound. “That is why it would be unwise to challenge one such as yourself.”

The centaur stepped into the clearing. He was another male, older than Promethisus but still young in centaur years, and his hide was a deep chestnut brown. He gestured toward the hunting party with a jerk of his head. “Leave them be. Their presence here is troublesome, but it would be unwise to attract their attention.”

“You tolerate them?”

“We have no quarrel with the humans.”

“You would do well to remember the lessons of history.”

“You are young to talk much of history.”

“I have been schooled,” Promethisus said with a patronizing tone.

The other centaur shrugged. “That may be so, but it is not history that concerns us.”

Promethisus snorted. “Regardless, the humans come to inflict pain and misery on others, and we, as noble creatures, have a responsibility to protect those who are unable to defend themselves.”

“We? You speak for me, yet I know nothing of you. You are a stranger here in this forest.”

“Yet you would still call me brother?”

“You are centaur. That much is obvious. Why you live outside of the clan is a mystery to me.”

Promethisus turned and looked back towards the clearing, watching the hunting party disappear out of sight. “It was not a choice of mine to make,” he said quietly, a hint of regret in his voice.

“My name is Capricas.”

Promethisus turned back toward the other centaur, who stood with his bow slung over his shoulder and a hand extended in greeting. He took the hand and shook it. “Promethisus.”

“Well met, Promethisus. Come, you are a stranger here, but you are among friends. There are others who will be eager to meet you, and as we travel you can tell me something of yourself.

 

Ilfanti’s Tale

Ilfanti and the Jewel of Amara

By Clifford B. Bowyer

 

Part I 

The Tenalong Everglades were considered one of the most vile, disgusting, and undesirable locales in all of the Seven Kingdoms. The swamps were full of creatures and vermin that spread pestilence and death to visitors. It was widely believed that those who did not gain a natural resistance from being raised in Tenalong would surely succumb to them.

They were also the home of the most unsavory individuals in the realm. Certainly nothing organized, but since few dared to venture into the swamps, it had become the home of bounty hunters, assassins, thieves, mercenaries, and all other varieties of roguish individuals. Even in the midst of the Great Wars that had ravaged the Seven Kingdoms, the most ambitious rulers and conquerors avoided Tenalong because they could not see a tactical or practical advantage to controlling the Kingdom.

All of this, and more, made it quite surprising to find Shanavie, High-elf of Turning Leaf, a maiden of some repute and pedigree, running through the swamp with little concern for her station in life. An outcast of Turning Leaf, in fact, Shanavie decided to dedicate her life to try to unite the races and help those who were in need.

Though she was the visionary, she was far from alone in her travels. A pair of high-elves, Erston and Halien, had remained by her side, and they also had a hybrid companion who was part orc and part human, Struum. Together, they were four members of a growing organization, Unity, which Shanavie had begun and led.

As they were running, their hearts pounding with the realization that they may have finally taken one risk too many, all four of them knew that their lives might have just become forfeit.

“Run, eminence, run!” Struum shouted, falling behind his elven companions.

Shanavie risked a glance over her shoulder, seeing Struum slow to a halt, lift his double-axe—his favored weapon with a short shaft and double-bladed axe heads on each end—and pivot around, ready for the predator that was chasing them. This was not the way that she had wanted things to turn out. When a source had told her that an especially deadly gorn—a female by the name of Salaman—was looking to unite the criminal underworld, Shanavie had come to Tenalong to see if the rumors were true, and to try and stop it from happening.

Shanavie might have wished to unite the races, but a unification of the criminal elements was one thing she knew would be detrimental to all races of the realm. Now, unorganized, the criminals already thrived, but imagine if they all had a single voice, a single representation? She could see how devastating that would be to the rest of the realm, and vowed not to allow it to happen.

The mission had gone well enough, especially with Struum along. In Tenalong, very few would think an orc hybrid was out of place. Orcs were considered an evil or lowly race, whether justified or not. Amongst the criminal elements of Tenalong, Struum fit right in without arousing suspicion. Of course, once he met to discuss his findings with a trio of High-elves, things began going decidedly against them.

Shanavie had thought that they had been careful, but obviously they had been observed. Salaman had learned that Struum was speaking to them, and likely could not be trusted. Almost since the minute their meeting had ended, bounty hunters had been tracking them, attacking them, and for all intents trying to kill them.

 

Senix’s Tale

Conquests of the Heart

By Brittany Westerberg

 Senix stood in the doorway to the main hall. Not much had changed since he was here last. Robed men and women of various races roamed the large room. Across the room, Master Soarex stood with Masters Ilfanti and Pierce. Senix hated to interrupt what looked like a heated debate, but he knew he should present himself to the Master of his race now that he’d returned from the prolonged absence of his Paladinship.

He started forward, his wings rustling slightly, and noticed several female students’ eyes glancing at him as he walked by them. He regarded as many as he could with a large smile. One set of eyes did not look away immediately. Instead, the young elf studied him, not quite smiling, not quite serious. She had light pink hair that flowed around her face attractively, a short stub of a nose and a pretty mouth. She was shorter than most of the people around her, but her shoulders were set confidently, if relaxed.

Finally she looked away, back to her friends. Senix smiled to himself and turned back to his destination, approaching Master Soarex.

“Senix,” Master Soarex said in greeting, ending the conversation between the three Masters. “I did not know you had returned from your Paladinship.”

“Just now,” Senix said, bowing deeply. “Greetings, Master Soarex, Master Ilfanti, Master Pierce.”

The two other Masters nodded and offered their greetings before moving away, Pierce still arguing quietly with the dwarf Ilfanti, who had a glare directed up at the eternal.

Soarex bowed his head in return. “Passed your trials, I trust?” he asked.

“Yes,” Senix said. “They were easy, actually.”

“Yes,” Soarex said, nodding. “I suppose I should begin calling you Master Senix, then.”

Senix grinned. He enjoyed the fact that he had the privilege of the honorific, though he would never have demanded Soarex use it. “Any news I have missed?” he asked.

“Nothing of importance.” Soarex nodded again. “How are things among the avarians?”

“Quiet, as usual, these past few years. It was good to be home.”

“Yes,” Soarex answered gruffly. “Well, I won’t keep you. Good day, Senix.”

“Master Soarex.” Senix bowed again.

Senix started for the door after glancing around the room. None of his good friends were in the hall, and any acquaintances there could wait to be greeted until later.

He was surprised to find he was leaving the hall at the same time as the group with the pink-haired elf. He held the door for the four girls and offered them all a large smile. “Good afternoon, ladies,” he said gallantly.

Two of the girls twittered and another blushed, but the pink-haired elf simply regarded him with bright blue eyes. “Good afternoon,” she replied.

“May I walk with you ladies?” he asked. “It’s a fine day.”

 

 

Cala’s Tale

Revelations to the Elven Mage

By Karen Aragon

 The phantom heat from the dragon’s breath and the smell of scorching flesh woke her. Immediately, Cala’s hand touched the scars that laced up her arm. They were cool. Her racing heart began to slow as her brain realized that she was not burning. Still, her terror remained. With eyes wide open, she stared into the cauldron of blackness surrounding her and tried to swallow the fear. It was always this way—this dream that terrorized her in the middle of the night and the shaking that usually followed. She tried to console herself as best she could. After all, the events of that hellish day had long since passed. She was not the young, naive Paladin that she once was. She was a Mage Master now and she shouldn’t feel such a weakness as fear. But this nightmare and the scars on her body were an ever-present reminder of her past foolishness.

She took a deep breath. As she exhaled, she imagined all the panic and anxiety exiting her body. She repeated this process until her nerves calmed and she was able to focus her attention on other matters.

Today she would inform Ilfanti—the dwarven Mage who had been her Master—of her intentions to take on an Apprentice of her own. Her recent ascent to the rank of Mage Master had earned her the right to tutor a young, up-and-coming Mage. It would be an honor, a privilege, and a challenge besides. Cala was definitely up for the challenge. And Xambia, the elven maiden who recently graduated from the Mage’s Academy, was the perfect candidate for Cala’s mettle. For the past week, Xambia had talked about nothing but how much she was looking forward to the first trials, and Cala had no doubt that she would pass. Xambia’s spunky attitude, combined with her determination and guile, would get her through the most difficult stage of the three tests. Cala smiled to herself. Yes, Xambia would be the perfect match.

Cala swung herself out of bed. “Light,” she said, softly. Immediately, in response to her words, a soft luminescence magically filled the room. She began her morning ritual—exercise and meditation—and then readied herself for the day ahead. She opened an antique wooden box and viewed the colorful spools of thread within. After gently caressing the satin textures of the bobbins, she decided upon a shimmering golden filament. The thread, of its own accord, unraveled and rose in the air; it wrapped itself around the Mage and rapidly expanded until it formed a gold and white robe around her. Cala cinched the robe together with a content sigh. She was ready to meet the dawn.

As Cala left her room to go to the Academy Board Room, she coincidentally bumped into Ilfanti. “Ilfanti! I’m glad to see you. I have something to talk to you about.”

“Of course you do,” Ilfanti responded with a grin and wink. “Let me have it.”

Cala laughed good-naturedly. “Ilfanti, you always do have a way of making my morning.”

His eyes brightened. “Hey, what can I say? I have that effect on those on the outside as well.”

“Yes, I know. You told me many times before, or don’t you remember?” Cala smiled at Ilfanti. He was still a handsome dwarf despite his five hundred and some odd years. The short, white hair styled in the modern look—like that of a young playboy—wavy and melodramatic, gave him an air of youthful exuberance. His stories of ancient lore, or what seemed ancient, added to his credibility and respect. “Well, I was thinking…”

“Okay, get to the point,” he interrupted, teasing her and rolling his eyes exaggeratedly. “We don’t have all day. We’re close to the Academy chambers and I know that that is where you are heading.” He looked at her knowingly.

Cala’s eyebrows drew together. “How do you know that?”

“Never mind. I just do,” he said more seriously. “Just let it out, Cala. You know me well enough by now to know that I will tell you how I see it.”

Cala pursed her lips. Did a deeper intent linger behind those piercing eyes? “Fine. I plan on taking on Xambia as my Apprentice.”

Ilfanit’s eyebrows rose. “Is that so?”

“You seem surprised.”

Ilfanti’s mischievous grin told her otherwise. “Really?”

“Tell me what you know, Ilfanti.”

“I know nothing. Only that you plan on taking on Xambia as an Apprentice. Do me a favor, would you? Tell me why you want her, out of all the potentials?”

Cala shook her head, puzzled. “I don’t know why. There’s just something about her. I guess it’s her determination. She’s quick-witted. She won’t quit even when the odds are against her.”

“Do you mean to say that she reminds you of…you?”

A sense of unease settled on the elf. An unspoken accusation tugged at the corners of his words, and she was left confused. “Come on, Ilfanti. She’s not like me.”

Ilfanti snorted. “She’s very much like you—more than you know.”

To settle her unease, Cala dismissed her discomfort. She rolled her eyes. “So, what do you think?”

“I think you’re ready to take on an Apprentice,” Ilfanti said as he rubbed his clean-shaven chin.

“I think so too,” Cala replied. “How about my pick?”

“You’ll be in for an adventure, that’s for sure.”

“So you approve?”

The sly smile that greeted her only confirmed her statement. “Ah, my dear Cala, adventure is my name.”

“Then we will both see for ourselves what today will bring, won’t we?”

 

Jeffa’s Tale

The Farm

By B. Pine

 Jeffa urged his tired mount up to the top of the hill. His fingers felt raw from his anxious rubbing on the worn leather reins. Open battle was less nerve-wracking than what he was about to face. Reaching the crest, he stopped. A small valley stretched out below. His two war dogs, Mun and Toc, trotted up and stood guard at his mount’s flanks.

He willed himself to be calm as he viewed the lush vines and tall wheat stalks swaying in the soft breeze through Mun’s eyes. Two years had not quite passed since the wartime attack that took away his sight and disfigured his face, but already he was quite adept at using his affinity with animals to help him see. He hoped he had made the right decision by venturing out alone on this trip. It might have been easier for him to return to the Mage’s Council and ask Master Zane for help, but he did not want the Elders to realize that he was aware of the whereabouts of a runaway Gatherer. They would not be pleased, especially since he had kept that knowledge to himself. And if what he suspected was true, that this rebellious former Gatherer facilitated the ambush that resulted in Jeffa’s skull being crushed, he would have to endure years of “I told you so” speeches from Master Pierce, the most powerful and influential of the Elders. Jeffa could already hear the ancient Mage rattling on about how Jeffa shouldn’t have involved himself in the Great Wars, how he should never withhold information from the Elders, how his stupid decisions had resulted in nothing but negative consequences… No, it was best that no one knew about this. It was his issue; he had to resolve it on his own.

Although the farm was obviously cared for and thriving, not a single soul could be seen. There could be a variety of reasons, but Jeffa knew better. She knew he was coming. The klatia, a small pink-faced creature perched on his shoulder that responded to the name of Keet, shuddered with apprehension, causing his mount to react accordingly.

“It is all downhill from here,” he joked to his horse. “Let’s go.”

His mount shook his head and hesitated. Jeffa switched his vision perspective from Mun to the horse. Instead of the farm, a dank, bubbling bog covered the valley below. It was interesting how the illusion affected only certain species. Was that intentional? He knew the skill of his adversary. It very well may be.

“Come on, there is no swamp, friend,” he said aloud. He could not help but notice that there was no magical emanation, either. He couldn’t blame his companions for being nervous. But he needed their help right now.

“Now remember, guys,” he mumbled aloud. He did not need to speak to communicate with them, but hearing his own voice right now eased his nerves somewhat. “Our host will not be very hospitable. She is good at using magic, but as long as you keep harassing her she will not be able to concentrate enough to attack us. I will be able to subdue her so no one gets hurt, and we can take her to the Council as a renegade.”

The only reaction he received was a headshake from his horse and another slight shudder from the klatia. He had failed to reassure them. This was not a good sign.

“Why do you all hesitate?” Jeffa dismounted. Even blind, it would be safer for him to walk down the hill. “This woman is very dangerous, but if we work together, we can bring her down without much of a struggle. I will take all the risk.”

Keet let out a tiny whistle. Jeffa knew they did not agree with him, but he could not understand why they felt so uncomfortable about this. Too impatient to try to figure out what was bothering them, he let the reins slide out of his hands and headed down the hill. “I cannot force you to do anything,” he said. “So if you wish to stay here, then so be it.”

He was halfway down the hill when the sound of hoofbeats reached him. Toc barked once, and Jeffa let out a tiny sigh of relief. Without his companions, he would not stand a chance against Sessiyah.

 

Cinzia’s Tale

Nemesis of Siphynia

By Brandon Barr

 It was long past midnight when the errant creak of Cinzia’s bedroom window stirred her awake. Her fingers laced around a sword hidden beneath the sheets.

Soft footsteps sounded on the cold stone floor, then silence.

“I dare not come closer,” purred a masculine voice. “You’d have my head before I gave my message.”

Cinzia threw off the covers, swinging her sword before her. The blade glowed red-hot, then burst into flames, as did the top of her head, flaring into a geyser of fire.

The light blared against a strange feline figure cloaked in a black tunic. At the sight of Cinzia’s burning scalp, he cowered back against the stone wall. For a split second, he looked as if he would flee through the open window.

Cinzia smirked. Only moments ago, this creature had thought himself in complete control. “Have you never seen a photon before?” she asked with an impish grin.

The figure seemed to draw strength at the sound of her silky, mellifluous voice, and growled, “No, but I’ve heard tales of your kind.”

“Now you have a face to go with your tales.” The fire flowing from the tip of Cinzia’s blade licked closer to the intruder. “Who are you, and what is this message you speak of?”

He stood slowly, and pulled back his hood, revealing white, tiger-like fur covering his head and neck. Orange slashes ran the length of his face.

“My name is Archer, and I have a message from my employer.”

“Your employer?”

“One who wishes to remain anonymous,” Archer added.

“You have come a long way to be turned away,” Cinzia said, feigning a lack of interest.

“You will not wish to miss this, I guarantee it,” Archer said.

“Nevertheless, I have no interest in being manipulated or only having half the story.”

Archer furrowed his brow, and nodded. He had hoped to treat Cinzia as he treated every other person his employer sent him to see, but she had warned him that the Mage Master would not be willing to cooperate without knowing the truth. It had been so much easier when his employer pulled the strings of those who sought her help, as she had done when Cinzia fought alongside Falestia’s true heir, Braksis, to free the kingdom from King Rawthorne. “Very well, my message comes from the Oracle.”

As a member of the Mage’s Council, Cinzia masked her surprise with practiced ease. The Oracle was one of the greatest mysteries in the Seven Kingdoms. Little was known of its ultimate will or purposes. She had first learned of the Oracle while in Falestia some years back, and had been curious about who or what the Oracle really was. It appeared that everything the Oracle predicted came to pass. Sometimes this was beneficial, but other times it spelled doom. “And what is the Oracle’s word for me?”

“The Oracle wishes to protect the next generation of Mages, and it needs your assistance to do this. As we speak, two parties of the Council’s Gatherers are returning to Trespias with highly important infants, to be groomed and raised as Mages. The Oracle has seen the potential of these little ones and knows the mighty role they have in shaping our collective futures.”

Cinzia did not lower her sword, her exposed arms and face glowing a dull volcanic red. “You expect me to trust you?”

Archer bristled at this. “Yes and no. The Oracle has sent me, and if it’s proof you need, this I can give. Beyond that, you will have to trust the Oracle’s vision for our world.”

For a moment, the thought flitted through her mind that maybe she did not want to know what the proof was.

“You were recently with child,” said Archer. “And when you birthed, the Seers saw your youngling’s power, and it was taken from you.”

Cinzia’s sword clanked against the stone floor, its fire extinguished. She gritted her teeth, forcing back emotion.

“Aha,” said Archer, “I see that even a Mage Master suffers when her own children are taken. You prove the sincerity of the Mage’s Council when you, a member, take from others, and yet are taken from.”

In a single motion Cinzia swooped up her sword and sheathed it. She managed a bow. “I’m glad you see it that way. You’ve proven yourself a true messenger of the Oracle…what is it that I am needed for?”

A soft purr issued from Archer’s throat. “Those two infants I spoke of are in danger of kidnapping. The infant Mica has been gathered from Shimendyn, here in the Suspintian Forest, while Sartir comes from the mountains of Falestia. The two groups of Gatherers sent to retrieve them are each being driven towards an ancient ruin on the outskirts of the western Dimmu woodlands, where the Drynan River rages most fiercely. What waits for them there, the Oracle did not say, but it is certain to be an ambush.”

 

Ariness’s Tale

Celdil and the Dark Winter

By Ben Mitchell and Clifford B. Bowyer

 It was a cold, dark morning. A late frost had covered the ground and the thick fog was not helping him any. He circled the camp slowly, hoping to erase any sign they had spent the night there. The ground was so frozen that there was little chance of hiding the previous night’s tracks and he knew it. Although he was only twenty-five, his eyes showed a pain born of a harder life than most could imagine. An eyepatch covered the hole where his left eye had once been, but it did nothing to hide the scar that went from his forehead to his jaw. At six-feet-two-inches and heavily built, he all but towered over his companion.

“Are the horses ready yet?” he asked, in a voice that sounded like stone on a grinding wheel. “We need to be gone, there may still be people pursuing us.”

His companion just looked at him and shook her head. At nineteen, she was fully grown, and although only five-feet-three-inches she was far deadlier than she appeared. Having been trained since birth in the art of assassination in a world rife with wars and conflicts, she was more than capable of surviving and thriving when it came down to her or someone else. He was glad she was his companion and they never had to cross swords. It would be a fight, even with all of his skill, he wasn’t sure he would win. He watched as her petite figure walked up to him, seeming even smaller than she really was. She was so disarming, with her melodious voice that was such a contrast to his, but he knew better.

“It took a while to warm them up this morning. Winter seems to be hanging on a lot later this year,” she said, flirting a glance back at their steeds. She then gazed into his eye, her curiosity getting the best of her. “After two and a half years you still haven’t told me why you do what you do.”

Celdil brushed past her and took the reins to his horse. He mounted, and then with an audible sigh said, “Come, I’ll tell you as we ride. For you see, it all started nineteen years ago this spring…”


 

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