“My Lord,” said Sarral. “We must leave quickly.”
“I want Drake’s head. Where’s his knife?”
“Lord Kratia, there isn’t time!”
“I want his head! To show Billy!”
“Lord, Esaf Mileu ordered two garrisons of troops to Guildtown.”
“We have hours before they’ll get here.”
“Corsordas decided to lead with his cavalry. They have already entered the town.” As if to punctuate Sarral’s words, the sound of hoof beats emerged from the patter of the raindrops.
“Damn!” said Kratia. “Quick, with me to Minas Nimgul.” She reached down to Icon’s head, ripped off an ear and stuffed it in her pocket before running out the door.
Sarral followed Kratia through the wet streets, splashing as they ran towards the guild building a few blocks away. Sarral felt Kratia’s magical enhancement to their speed, and they arrived in just a few seconds. The sound of the dead Esaf’s cavalry was much louder now.
Kratia pushed through the massive outer doors into the large entry foyer. She turned left to face the guard booth, and shouted, “Bar the doors! Secure the guild! We are under attack!”
Almost instantly Rauder guards were next to her, closing the doors and barring them with massive steel beams reinforced with neutronium. Kratia didn’t wait, but rushed ahead through three sets of doors and into the Library.
“Secure the Archives!” she shouted. “We are being attacked!” The librarians stared at her for a moment then scurried into the archive chamber to store and protect the scrolls and sensiballs holding vital information.
Not seeing any Lords in the library, Kratia turned right and entered the wizard’s lounge. Two Lords were seated in large over-stuffed chairs, having a friendly argument. Sarral recognized the smiling fat man as Feindre. The thin scowling man with the black beard was Mordac. The two were known to be fast friends, although their temperaments as optimist and pessimist often put them at odds on policy decisions. They looked up as she and Sarral approached.
“We will soon be under attack by the Esaf Mileu,” Kratia said. “Icon has already been captured or killed by the Esaf’s troops. Now they are heading here, to put us under siege.”
“But how?” stammered Feindre.
“I was with Icon, in his home and barely escaped with my life. I don’t know what triggered the Esaf’s decision, but he’s deadly serious. Mordac, find Tanas. He is the senior wizard and will be the acting Center.”
Mordac nodded and left. Feindre asked, “What can I do?”
“Contact all the Lords. Gather them here. We will need to defend Minas Nimgul from attack. They will try to storm the building; our magical defenses may need shoring up. Meanwhile, I will gather up the apprentices and take them to relative safety higher in the tower.”
Feindre, the eternal optimist, looked different with worry lines crossing his face. “Shouldn’t we escape. Hide?”
Kratia placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Feindre, the Tower of White magic was built by the Elves. It is the most fortified structure in all Salmineria. We are the greatest wizards in all Salmineria and we have the energy reserves to back up our spells. If we are not safe here, where will we?”
Feindre nodded. Kratia left through the doors leading to the tower, Sarral keeping pace with her. She banged her first several times on the door to the guard station, which promptly opened. She saw the guards inside donning extra weapons.
“I need two guards to sweep the building for apprentice wizards, and bring them to me in Icon’s apartment. Now!” said Kratia.
The Master-at-Arms nodded, but Kratia had already turned her back and was rushing down the corridor towards the tower stairs. She flung open the doors and began running up the stairs. Sarral felt her begin another spell of speed, but it sputtered and died.
“Troops have surrounded the building,” panted Sarral. “With pain or fear.”
“Yes,” said Kratia.
“Then,” said Sarral, running to keep up. “We are.” Breath. “Trapped.”
“Come,” said Kratia, continuing up the stairs.
Five minutes later Sarral felt the magic return and understood that they had passed beyond the range of the negative emotions of the Esaf troops. With replenished energy and increased speed they quickly reached the second highest level of the tower: the level of the Center’s apartment and offices. The door was locked. Sarral knew that it was protected by the same kind of spell that prevented anyone uninvited from entering the upper Circle chamber if their DNA didn’t match the samples on file in the library. True, this door was protected by only a third level spell, not a tenth, but it was just as effective at keeping out a single wizard.
He watched Kratia pull a bloody ear from her pocket, palm it and push on the door. It opened. Kratia tossed the ear inside. She cast a spell and the ear transformed into a mouth.
“Kratia, please come in. You too, Sarral,” said the lips.
“Thank you for inviting us in, Icon,” Kratia giggled. Really, some of the protection spells here were so lame it made her embarrassed for the entire Circle of Lords.
She strode into the office and motioned for Sarral to close the door. He did and when he turned back she was holding her wand and spelling. A pile of rags, several lengths of rope and a roll of tape appeared on the floor. These she pushed out of sight behind a desk. She began spelling again, this time for several minutes. A bowl filled small green pills appeared on top of the desk. Then a pitcher of water and some cups.
A knock on the door startled Sarral.
“Open it,” said Kratia.
Two ex-Rauder guards stood in the hall with twenty-one children, ages ranging from five to fourteen.
“Come in, young mages!” Kratia said, smiling. “Guards, please wait in the hall. Let no one disturb us.” She closed the door.
“What’s happening, Lord Kratia?” asked one of the children.
“We are under attack. But it is important that we not let fear come into our minds. Do you know why?”
They all nodded. “Pain and fear are the bane of wizards” they recited.
“Right!” Kratia said. “That is why we often take drugs, to suppress pain and fear. That’s what these are.” She passed around the bowl. “Each of you take one pill and some water.”
The apprentice wizards complied. In under ten seconds each one was glassy eyed. In thirty seconds all were unconscious.
“Quick Sarral, help me tie them up,” Kratia whispered. “Then gag them with the rags and tape their mouths shut. Hurry.”
Sarral complied, uncertain of Kratia’s plans. In minutes they were done. Kratia and Sarral stepped into the hallway, closing the door behind them. The guards were still waiting.
“No one but me or Icon is to enter that room,” she said to the guards.
“Or the new Center, should Icon die or be removed from office,” said one of the guards. “That is normal protocol.”
“This is not the time for normal protocols,” Kratia said. “There are traitors in our midst. We do not know who they are. But these children, our future wizards, must be protected.”
“There is a chain of command,” said the guard stubbornly. “If Icon is confirmed dead, the new Center must have access to these chambers.”
“You were once Rauders,” she said to them. They frowned.
“I tell you now that the fate of the Taka Shema depends on these children not being disturbed by anyone save me or Icon.”
The guards looked nervously at each other. Then turned back to Kratia. “No one else will enter these chambers while we live,” they said in unison.
Kratia smiled. “The spirits of the Elves smile upon you,” she said. “I leave to get help. I will return as soon as I can. Sarral, with me!” Kratia moved past the guards, up the last flight of stairs and into the Circle chambers.
She grabbed a wand, closed her eyes in concentration, and a portal appeared. Sarral could see Kratia’s office in Minas Palanar on the other side.
“OkaySarral. Let’s get out of here before the kids wake up and that slow acting poison sends their pain level skyrocketing.”