Chapter 19: Awakenings
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
I know not how long it was that I was aware of something. It came as a great shock to me when I realized it had penetrated the thick fog of my coma-like existence. Many beings had I dreamed of during my slumber, but none had so bright a soul nor so resolute a personality as to make my soul sing with the need to be nearer to it. I was surprised at how far away this person was, once my newly awakened senses began functioning. There were many leagues between my new master and me, for I was sure that was who this was.
And for that reason I worried. As I took stock of my surroundings, I sensed scores of malignant creatures ringing the peak in whose flank I was buried. The wind moaned, as it ever does in the Netherlands, but there seemed to be a voice behind that wind. A spirit seemed to guide its icy fury, pushing snow and sleet before it to clog the passes through the Nethar Mountains.
But far, far to the south, my master was. A new companion to take me up and deal Justice to the vile and corrupt world that had come after my brethren and I fell out of mind and into myth and legend. That was all that mattered. Father would not let simple weather and even simpler villains stop my newest companion, if, indeed, he could not win through on his own. For the wielders of Vindicor-Kimber were ever stalwart and hardy warriors with minds equaled by few. So...
... So I awaited his coming with patience and calm, though the enthusiasm was kept in check with effort. Long have I slept in the icy sepulcher of my entombment. I was not forged to remain dormant, leaving Justice no vindicator capable of slashing through the corruption of wicked men and the injustice of ignorant adjudicators. Yes, I will enjoy awakening the world to the Justice of Sol once again in the hands of my new master.
Maseryk sheltered them in his strange home through three howling days of whiteout conditions before he finally grew impatient. On the morning of the fourth day, as they were sitting down to a breakfast of raven's eggs and gabressi steaks, his gruesome face was screwed up into a fierce scowl. He glared at the massive windows in the gigantic dining room, informing them that the blizzard was the worst he had seen since he arrived in the Netherlands nearly three decades ago. Despite the fierce winds, there were six feet of snow on the ground already and the storm did not seem likely to stop any time in the near future. As soon as they were finished eating and he had conducted them back to the library, their normal gathering place during their days of respite, the sorcerer left them to their own devices. He promised to return before dusk, hopefully with good news on the weather.
Maseryk Dame'marin left the children and the Gnome, wishing for not the first time in four days that the Lady had chosen another path for the poor deluded kid and his friends. His was a simple, solitary, quiet life spent studying ancient texts and killing the occasional band of Dei-Xhan. He was not used to company and he was not overly happy to finally have it now that it was here. He, however, was choiceless. Rangers are not given choices, only tasks to complete.
"Come now, Maseryk," a high pitched voice suddenly said from out of the gloomy passage the sorcerer was taking to his sanctum. He chanted a ball of flame into being to see his familiar hovering just at the edge of the light, its wings beating frantically. "The Lady does not assign you so many tasks that you cannot do this one with ease and be back to your studies within a month or two."
"More like a half year in this weather," he grumbled, continuing on down the dank, dusty passage.
The fairie imp trailed after its master, giggling inanely. "So you go to fix the weather so you may guide this youngling and be done with him?" it guessed, its suddenly looking far more impish than fairie-like.
Maseryk darted out a powerful hand, his claws extending to ensure the clever creature did not escape him, and wrapped it around a thin leg with a steel grip. The Jotnari Dei-Xhan brought his familiar so close he could hear its frantic heart pounding in fright. "Let me make one thing clear, demon-spawn," he said in a tone the netherworlder could barely hear, so deep was it, "nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is to happen to that kid while he is in my care. If one devil, one ifrit, one ukaysa shows its fiery hide anywhere near that kid you will spend the next millennium in agonies so great that you could not possibly comprehend the pain you will experience. Am I understood, Qyzariya?"
Maseryk let the creature go and continued on his way. "I am going to the sanctum. Make sure nothing disturbs me," he said in a tone that sounded as if it came from the depths of a tomb. What disturbed the faerie-imp even more was the emphasis on the word nothing. Not nobody. Nothing.
The sanctum was, at one time, the bell tower of the great library of Lunivo-Vaslaria. The Freosans were a people of great stature and their buildings reflected this. The tower soared to over two hundred and fifty feet into the air and, as was the case with most Freosan structures, served a second, more martial purpose. Being the tallest thing around except the mountains of the region, the bell tower was also the principal watch tower of the city. When a very young and inexperienced Maseryk Dame'marin stumbled upon Lunivo-Vaslaria, the first thing he saw was the bell tower. It was the place he chose to hide from a ravening of imps loosed by their master to hunt. Not having anywhere else to live, the young sorcerer and callow ranger claimed the lost city as his own. It was not until he began deciphering the great library that he figured out who and what had built the massively constructed city.
As all sorcerers must, he had to choose a site for his sanctum and the bell tower, minus the bells (they having fallen through the wooden floor and crashed through the seven other levels of the tower to the basement, which he later found and converted into a bath tub and a cistern), made an excellent retreat for his meditations and incantations. He replaced the wooden floor with stone and filled the wide, empty windows with thick glass. Covering half of the new room, from the center out, were permanent binding and summoning symbols as well as the standard protection circles engraved into the new stone. Balls of crystal hovered at the cardinal points and lit whenever he entered. There was also a desk covered with his grimoires and other spell-books and a large table upon which were the implements of the magi Maseryk had collected over the years from those he vanquished.
Breathing heavily from the laborious climb, Maseryk entered the sanctum to the soft glow from the crystal balls. Their kind white light illuminated the silvered lines of the arcane symbols covering the floor, almost seeming to blaze with a secret light of their own. The sorcerer closed the door behind him, clearing his mind as he waved the candles on the desk to flame. Beyond the windows, the blizzard still raged, dumping more and more snow atop that already fallen, surely clogging the passes close to the point of being impassable. Maseryk shivered as he heard the voice behind that storm. It was a voice older than any magi he had yet encountered, including the almost-senile, completely blind, hoary Dei-Xhan he had cajoled into teaching him when he was a teenager.
Inhaling deeply and letting his fear and pain, hatred and sorrow drain out of him with the exhaled air, Maseryk stepped over the circle of protection to sit in a meditative posture for the coming battle. When he felt as peaceful as he was going to get, he muttered the incantation which activated the protection circles and awoke the spirits bound to his sanctum. As their power infused his being, his mind detached itself from his body and swelled upward. Looking down on his domain, the Freosan city looked puny and insignificant. He looked northward with his new senses, searching for the tendril of thought being blown southward with the blizzard by the magi controlling the insane fury of ice and snow.
I was wondering how long the wizard of Lunivo-Vaslaria would sit in his castle before answering my challenge! came the malignant mental shout, the wind shrieking its defiance at Maseryk. After all, by all accounts, you are reputed to be a hundred feet tall with two heads, a score of arms, and four eyes that see all and lance fire at all Dei-Xhan who dare come near your domain!
You know me, but what am I to call you in the short time we will know each other ere you follow your comrades to Zondro's Underworld? Maseryk inquired diffidently, knowing the sorcerer would never give him his real name.
You may simply call me Lord Dzar, not that you will have much leisure to use it! with that quip came a psionic blast of pure magic. Had Maseryk been either less prepared or less powerful than he was, his mind, despite the powerful protections of his sanctum, would have been destroyed.
Now that was not nice, Maseryk replied, sending a blast of his own back while also releasing a secondary spell, hoping to mask its release with the assault. The two magi exchanged several more blasts of pure, unmanipulated magic before the real sorcery began. The blizzard's winds howled, changing direction and slamming massive amounts of snow and ice first northward, then southward as Nature itself was caught up in the struggle.
Bolts of lightning as thick as rivers streamed down to flick disaster at the ancient dead city even as protections woven into the very stones by the founders sought to protect their new master. Far to the north, in the shadow of Mount Gyru, a fortified camp of Dei-Xhan sorcerers and warriors suddenly found itself being rained upon by flakes of acid snow. The pained screams of burned men were torn away to be carried southward as they all sought some shelter impervious to the burning crystals.
Maseryk, sweat pouring down his face, fended off pure magical blasts while several ifrits he summoned battled two hugely hideous ukaysai in the dead streets of the deserted city. The spirits bound to his sanctum aided him in mixing components to a spell he was trying to complete before the Lord Dzar and however many junior sorcerers he had aiding him managed to slip a spell by his considerable defenses.
Suddenly he felt a let up on both his opponent's offense and the blizzard and a wicked smile spread across his repulsive face. The spell he released at the beginning of the battle had indeed gone unnoticed. He felt the ukaysai's glee at finding unprepared sorcerers within their grasp. The brutish beings did not care whether or not these were the sorcerers who had enslaved them with spell and geas, they were sorcerers and they rushed northward to rend the now unprotected magi. Maseryk finished combining the elements to his final spell and chanted the imperative stanzas, releasing the final blow. The resulting surge of energy back to himself was immediate as he killed three of Lord Dzar's junior sorcerers and banished the ukaysai.
Inhaling deeply and cursing as he exhaled, Maseryk slammed his large fist into the stone floor in anger; Lord Dzar had escaped.
Suddenly three amorphous creatures congealed before him, prostrating themselves before him, their piping voices begging for mercy. Maseryk, an enemy of Zondro-Xhan and a follower of the Lady of Light, hated this part of Zondro-Xhan's folly in giving him the gift of sorcery at birth. These amorphous beings were the slain sorcerers come to serve him. Dozens of others rose from the floors, emerged from the walls, or congealed from their own resting places now that the battle was over. They hovered, awaiting Maseryk's decision as to what each spirit would do, and hoping the stern but morally plagued sorcerer would grant one of them release from this plane of existence to complete its journey to the Underworld and maybe find a path to Kreu-Garra's Hall of Valor.
Maseryk looked at the first spirit sternly, frowning in anger. "What was your name and station in life?" he asked even as one of the other spirits, the one longest in his service, brought him an ancient wand of awesome power which the Dei-Xhan half-breed had found in the dead city.
A shudder rippled through the mist that was the spirit as it seemed to bow. "I was Ivannascharr nok'Dzar, daughter of Jqar. I was a senior cleric of Ytzaryh, great lord."
Maseryk snorted at the formality adopted by the dead sorcerer only a few minutes ago aiding in the attempt to kill him. "You, as the rest of these do, may address me as Maseryk," the sorcerer informed the spirit. He pointed to the table holding his spell-books. "Upon the table you will find a grimoire written in Freosan. You will infuse the tome and use your essence to animate it. You and the grimoire will respond to my every spoken order and, during conflicts such as I was just engaged in with your former master, you will add both your power and the power of the book to my own. Is that understood?" What was probably a nod rippled through the upper quarter of the misty blob before it drifted over to the table and disappeared into a huge leather bound volume of dark gray.
"You?" the sorcerer asked the next spirit. When the shade did not answer, Maseryk mutter a short spell and pointed the wand at the misty revenant, eliciting an agonizing screech. "You?"
"Khybasch Dzar of Ytzaryh, Lord of the Western March and Grand Sorcere to the Prince Keilun's Royal Guard!" the defiant shade exclaimed proudly, its misty substance roiling with impotent anger.
"Ah! A Royal cousin!" Maseryk said with grim amusement. His mind went over the various projects he had on hold for lack of sufficient power and time and smiled when he remembered that the Freosans were quite inventive in the arena of sanitation. "Beneath the city you will find a system of tunnels and pipes, each connected in one way or another to either the water system or the sewer system. I want you to use your power to both fix them so they work in their intended manner, without harm or potential harm to myself or any of my current or future guests, and protect this system from any damage or invasion. Am I understood?"
The cloud ceased its vibration for a long second before shivering with rage. "You want me to become your sewer cleaner! I won't do iiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee-" the spirit screeched as Maseryk brought his and the wand's power to bear once more. "I understand ... Lord Maseryk." With that the misty blob sunk into the stones of the tower room.
The last spirit was somewhat smaller than the other two were and its mental aura was quite frightened. "What was your name and station?"
"Me Jovani, mister," a childish voice replied tentatively as it drifted back a pace. "Please no hurt me."
The language was Zondron, the language all Dei-Xhan speak. But its grammar and inflection was distinctly juvenile, even babyish. Dei-Xhan are sticklers for perfection in all things and young Dei-Xhan are able to speak as the adults do by age six. This gave Maseryk a bad feeling as he looked over at the elder spirit serving him.
"Is this what I think it is?"
"It is," the mist replied, a semblance of a sad face emerging out of the fog for a brief second before turning back into a formless cloud. "It was a three year old child of such amazing potential that the Lord Sorcere of Ytzaryh had advanced him to the rank of Apprentice Sorcere before his education was complete. It does not comprehend that it is dead."
Maseryk closed his eyes, his ugly face becoming haggard with his own sorrow and guilt. "Take him to the Underworld, X'el. When he has been received, you may remain to be judged yourself. Long have you awaited your rest," the Jotnari half-breed said, rising to his feet. He tossed the wand towards the desk and one of the spirits caught it up and returned it to its place. The room was soon cleared of the nebulous forms except the two, one old and one young. The sorcerer turned towards his latest victim and waved towards to the other. "Follow this one, young one. He is going to lead you to a nice place for you to rest." With that, the sorcerer turned away from them and started to open the door.
The young spirit seemed to turn toward the cloudy ancient whose mass seemed to be stretching forth a tentacle of mist and shot around it to disappear into the man's robe. "Please don't let the bad man get me!" a muffled cry sound from somewhere in the vicinity of Maseryk's arm pit. "The bad man will hurt me like the other ones!"
Maseryk looked down before sighing, his own spirit leaden with guilt at having slain a child. "Go, X'el," he said shortly as he opened the sanctum door. "Perhaps your service to me will in some manner expiate your sins while you were among the living and Kreu-Garra will allow you to occupy some dim corner of the Hall of Valor."
Maseryk wearily dragged himself through the darkened corridors of his demesne, guiltily aware of the child-spirit hovering next to him, clutching at his left hand with nebulous tendrils of mist. When he came upon his sentry, the mischievous faerie-imp, noticing its master's somber expression, wisely kept its usually irrepressible mouth shut. It gave the spirit a distasteful look as they passed him and took up its usual position at the right shoulder of the sorcerer.
"Nothing tried to get by, master," he reported a few minutes later when it could no longer stand the silence. When a nod was all the response Qyzariya received, the little creature rolled its eyes and sighed. "Is something the matter, master?"
"I crossed the line into the dark side, my pet," came the mumbled reply. "I have slain an innocent."
Qyzariya snorted, glaring at the child-spirit. "There is no such thing as an innocent Dei-Xhan, master," it said authoritatively. "They are bred into evil, from the moment they are weaned from their wicked mother's breast. They are fed wickedness for every meal, nurtured with it with every activity, schooled into it during every lesson. Waste not your pity upon the evil beings known as the Dei-Xhan, for they would not return the favor were the roles reversed!"
This malediction did not stir even the least measure of emotion from the sorcerer. He simply shuffled down the corridor, almost ignoring the two supernatural beings accompanying him back to his guests.
Both disappeared as he entered the study. His study, as were its former owners, was huge. Massive blocks of inky basalt floored it and huge columns of snowy marble supported the vaulted heights to which the granite walls climbed. Enormous panels of ebony enclosed fanciful designs in jeweled mosaics that told stories in a long forgotten language in a ceiling of some unknown material which had somehow stood up to the ages between the fall of the Freosans and Maseryk Dame'marin's rediscovery of the ancient city. Along the sturdy walls were rows of bookcases and scroll racks and cabinets filled with the knowledge of Lun's race of Frost Giants. Several fireplaces and iron fire boxes heated the huge room. Around one of the fire boxes, Maseryk found the three women, the Meikari man, and the Gnome.
"Where is our hero?" his rough voice echoed through the room, startling Myka and Alyssa from their conversation and waking Illyana.
Myka looked to the door leading into the research library attached to the study. "He was bored," she said, her tone letting Maseryk know she felt the same way. "He went into the library to find something to read."
"He can read?" he replied, surprised. Then he remembered past conversations and nodded. "What languages?"
"The standard four," Donnar replied, turning back to his conversation with Kyftassa.
"Well every book in that library was written before the Gnomes, Gnathar, Jotnar, and Ce'al were created. He will not find anything of interest to him."
Jonar staggered in just then with a massive volume bound in black leather in his arms, a frown on his face, and a lantern hanging from his mouth. "Dynnwwwtthssstngzz?"
"What?" six voices asked with amused confusion.
"And what are you doing with that thing?" Maseryk added with a disgusted frown.