“There is nothing to fear,” stated Findre to the various senior and master magicians that had assembled in the auditorium to seek counsel and receive orders from the Lords.
“But we are surrounded by the armies of Mileu!” moaned one of the senior staff members.
“From the towers you can see them, hundred of them. And more on the way!” stated a master wizard.
“We are doomed!” muttered several in the group.
“And Icon is captured or dead,” wailed another.
Findre fixed them all with a stare that brought silence and attention. “There is nothing to fear,” he repeated. “We are in Minas Nimgul, the Tower of White Magic, built by the Elves with a shell of Neutronium a billion layers thick. The walls will not crumble, and we have ex-Rauder guards at both doors and in the tower. There is energy in our vaults to last many weeks. Fear is the bane of wizards; don’t spread it here in the very center of our power!”
There was power in Findre’s voice, and even the master wizards could detect no fear or falsehood in it; they left to return to their normal duties, or to stake a claim to one of the many bunks that had been set up in the classroom or in the back of the auditorium.
Tanas called Feindre over for a whispered conversation in an alcove far from prying eyes or cupped ears. These words were to be heard by no others.
“You believe what you told them, Findre,” said Tanas.
Although Tanas’s tone was calm a sudden ill feeling chilled Findre, robbing him of the confidence he had felt so strongly before. He breathed deeply, regaining composure. Perhaps Tanas just needed some reassurance, too.
“Don’t imply that the Guild isn’t safe, Tanas. I know my facts are accurate. What danger do you foresee that I do not?”
“Esaf Mileu is no fool. He’s over two thousand years old and his mind does not dull with age. Every day he learns something new, and by now he has amassed as much knowledge in his brain as we have stored in the entire library.”
Findre snorted. “No one’s brain can hold that much information. Come on, Tanas, even wizards don’t have that capacity.”
“It’s the nature of his immortality spell,” said Tanas. The Esafs aren’t wizards; they don’t need to be concerned with modification of the brain structure. So they have eternal life, eternal youth, perpetual health and unlimited memory capacity. Not to mention that in the case of Esaf Mileu, a prophesy protects his life. He can’t be killed.”
Findre pondered for a moment. “Even so, the Guild is still impregnable. It was built by the Elves, with such skill as only they possessed. Normal matter cannot harm Neutronium, and when alloyed with white crystal it’s impervious to magic as well. What can an old Esaf and his army do to us? Starve us out? We can last weeks, enough time for find allies among the Rauders or the Esaf Condeu.”
“I heard a rumor just before the attack that the Esaf Condeu was murdered.”
“Shit. That can’t be right. He’s a tough bastard. Even if it is true, whatever successor emerges won’t let the guild fall to their rival country.”
Tanas shook his head. “I hope you are right, Findre. I hope we have some allies and the time to last till they arrive. But the demons also had their strongholds, with many powers both physical and magical in nature. And they fell to weapons made by the Elves. Weapons wielded by both men and Elves. Weapons whose fate we do not know.”
“Surely they disappeared when Aloria fell! Tanas, you know very well that all Elfin things faded with their death; even their cities fell to ruin instantly. Not a bone, not a rag, not a single one of their scrolls was left behind. Surely their weapons disappeared as well. We have nothing to fear!” The big man put an arm around Tanas and smiled reassuringly.
“Still, it would have been better had Icon not been trapped at his home when the siege started. His knowledge of the elder days is vast, and his magic skill is mighty.”
Findre shrugged. “My own skill is not much less, nor is yours. We will persevere.” He turned and left.
Tanas remained in the quiet alcove, musing. It would be prudent to consider all possibilities, and keep options available for all contingencies. He went to the Library to begin exploring some of them.
He found Kristianus and Mordac having an animated conversation.
“What’s the problem?” asked Tanas.
“I went up to the Center office to check on Kratia and the students,” said Mordac. “There are two guards outside the door. They wouldn’t let me close enough to knock. I called out to Kratia but there was no answer.”
“How did she get in, anyway?” asked Tanas. “The access hasn’t been changed from Icon.” The two other wizards shrugged.
“Form a circle with me, quickly. I’ll reset the access to let me in as Acting Center,” said Tanas. The two Lords nodded and tried to form the circle, but the level of fear or pain from the outside was too much. The spell could not actuate.
“Let’s go to the Circle chamber,” said Tanas. “And we’ll check on the Kratia and the students.” They hurried for the stairs.
Thirty minutes later, breathing hard, they stopped at the Center level.
“I am Tanas, Acting Center of the Circle of Lords,” Tanas said to the guards. “Stand Aside.”
“No, my Lord,” they answered.
“Are you forbidden even to explain what you are doing?”
“We are guarding the apprentice wizards. None but Kratia and Icon may enter.”
“Ask Kratia to come out and talk with us.”
“She is not here. She has left to get help.”
“And she told you not to let anyone else enter?”
“Yes, Lord Tanas. Some of you may be traitors. We can’t let anyone enter till we know who they are.”
Tanas turned and motioned the other Lords to follow him. He went up to the Circle chamber.
“There is no magic here, either,” said Mordac. “The fear of the soldiers is very strong.”
Tanas moved over to the edge of the room, peered down to streets far below. A few arrows came briefly into view, but all fell far short of the chamber. “There are not enough people out there to block magic at this height. Probably not enough people in the whole city for that.”
“You’re wrong, Tanas,” said Kristianus. “It’s obvious that they are blocking our magic.”
“No, something is not right,” said Tanas. “Mordac, go back down and bring all the Lords back with you. And bring a few guards, too.”
Almost fort-five minutes later, five Rauder guards and three Lords walked into the Circle chamber. Tanas and Kristianus greeted Nasan, Osiri, and Rankor.
“Where are Feindre and Mordac?” asked Tanas.
“Feindre said there was no way he was walking up a hundred miles of stairs,” said Nasan. “And then Mordac said it was more like two hundred miles, and he wasn’t going back either.”
“This is important!” said Tanas.
Nasan shook his head. “Important or not, Feindre must be at least three hundred pounds and without magic, no way is he able to make it up the stairs. Better that Mordac keeps him company in the library.”
“Okay, okay. Here’s the situation. Two problems. The big one is that the Esaf’s troops have been able to block our magic even here in the tower. Kratia has left to get help, she must have made it out just before the blockage went up. The second problem is that she left guards on the Center apartment and told them not to let anyone in until she or Icon get back. She seems to suspect that one of us is a traitor.”
The silence was absolute, and in twenty seconds seemed to capture an hour. Finally someone spoke.
“Do you believe her?” asked Nasan.
Tanas hesitated. He looked at the worried eyes staring at him. They needed his leadership. They needed confidence.
“No. I don’t. Kristianus, take these guards with you, disarm and arrest the guards at the Center apartment. Break down the door and check on the children.”
Kristianus nodded and the five guards followed him out.
“The rest of you, help me figure out what is blocking the magic and how we might unblock it.”
As it grew quieter, Nasan frowned, and walked to the end of the room and looked over the edge. “Problem number three,” he said. “The army outside is swarming around to the front of the building, and they are shouting. I think they have broken through the doors.”
“Impossible!” said Rankor.
“I was afraid of this,” said Tanas.
“How many students are in Icon’s apartment?” asked Osiri.
“Doesn’t matter. They are about as safe there as here,” said Tanas.
“Certainly over twenty,” said Nasan. “There are twenty-three permanent boarding students, and it was after curfew. There might be one or two older students still out on the town.” He looked questioningly at Osiri. “Why is the number important?”
“What if the students are afraid?” said Osiri. “They are locked in, no one to let them out. No one able to get in. They could be blocking our spells without meaning to.”
“That must be it!” said Tanas. “Osiri, you’re a genius! Let’s go help Kristianus break that door down!”
Tanas started down the stairs to the first landing, followed by the other Lords.
Kristianus lay dead on the floor, two arrows piecing his chest. Three guards lay dead beside him. The two guards at the office door now numbered three. That left one guard unaccounted for.
“Problem two just got bigger,” said Nasan.
“Back upstairs!” shouted Tanas.
Rankor paused long enough to grab a sword from one of the fallen guards, then hustled with the others back to the Circle chamber. They milled about, waiting for Tanas to tell them what to do. But Tanas was out of ideas. They huddled silently together except for Nasan, who paced around the perimeter of the room.
The sound of running footsteps and wheezing drew their attention to the stairs. Rankor clutched the sword, which was far too long and heavy for him to wield effectively. Nevertheless, the group moved behind him as he hefted the sword.
Dacsinj ran through the door, screamed as he saw the sword and skidded to a stop inches from impaling himself. The librarian dropped the sensiball he was carrying and it rolled rapidly across the floor. Nasan moved quickly and swept it up before it could plunge off the edge.
“Don’t kill me!” Dacsinj screamed. “Don’t kill me!”
“No one is going to kill you,” said Tanas.
He looked relieved for a moment, then resumed wailing. “The Mileu army will!” he said. “They broke through the doors! Feindre and Mordac are dead! Our own guards are fighting with each other!”
“What happened? Tell us exactly,” ordered Tanas.
“I don’t know,” said Dacsinj. “Someone yelled that they were cutting through. Then suddenly Mileu troops were there. Right in the Library! El Corsordas was leading them. He had a wicked sword with him, and more and more troops pouring in. They were yelling for us to surrender. Our guards rushed Corsordas, but he swung the sword and it cut them all in half! In half! Without even slowing his swing! By the Desolation, the blood was flying everywhere.”
Dacsinj stared at his arms and chest. Jagged wet lines of red striped his purple robes. “I have their blood on me,” he said. “I have their blood on me!”
“Dacsinj!” shouted Tanas. “Look at me!” The librarian’s frantic eyes settled on Tanas. “You said they killed Feindre and Mordac.”
Dacsinj shook his head. “No. Not Feindre. I mean yes, he’s dead so they killed him, sort of. Feindre was trying to run, but he collapsed. He was pale and clutching his chest and gasping. I think he was having a heart attack. Mordac tried to help, but of course magic wasn’t working. Feindre died clutching Mordac’s arms. Then Mordac went crazy, grabbed a sword from somewhere and ran at Corsordas. He was hit by a dozen arrows before he got within ten feet.”
Dacsinj’s eyes went wild again. “They killed Mordac! And they will be coming up here soon!”
“Our guards will slow them down,” said Tanas.
“Not for long!” moaned Dacsinj. “There are hundreds of Mileu soldiers. And I saw some green smoke inside the guard sharks. Poison, I’m sure. And the ones the poison doesn’t get may get killed by their own kind. I saw several Rauders fighting each other. I don’t know why. Some of them were yelling ‘death to the traitor of the Taka Shema’. I don’t know what that means. But in the confusion I slipped into the archives, grabbed the master sensiball and some wands and ran up here.”
“What shall we do, Tanas?” asked Osiri.
There was silence for several seconds. “I don’t know,” Tanas said softly.
“I have an idea,” said Nasan.
“What?” asked Tanas.
“Assuming that Osiri is correct about twenty scared kids blocking our magic, then their range can’t be more than seventy or eighty feet, and that’s if they’re terrified. With that short a range we might almost be clear of it at the far end of the chamber.”
The chief librarian started walking to the far side of the room.
“Don’t bother, Dacsinj. I already checked the entire room. Magic’s still blocked.”
“Then what’s your point,” he snapped.
Nasan frowned. “The point is this, librarian. There will be a zone about eighty feet below this level and about two hundred feet above the ground where magic is not being suppressed. A zone just over three hundred feet thick. If we jump, we’ll have just over two seconds inside that zone. Enough time to form a simple levitation spell, keep ourselves inside that safe zone, and fly out of town to safety.”
“Why not form a portal and send us somewhere really safe, like Minas Palanar with Kratia?” asked Dacsinj.
“Not enough time. Portal spells are too complex to generate in just two seconds.”
The sound of fighting could be heard coming up the stairs.
“Okay,” said Tanas. “Let’s jump.”
“Wait!” cried Dacsinj. “What if you’re wrong? What if there is no zone? What if magic is blocked all the way down!”
“Then we die,” said Tanas, leaping from the tower.