The four Lords who had escaped the siege of the guild sat huddled around a small fire that burned in a shallow pit in the center of a large barn. It was dark outside, cold and wet. A storm had come up soon after they made good their escape, and while it had helped mask their tracks it had left them soaked and miserable. The barn was old. It smelled of mold and old manure. It leaked and the wind moaned through the cracks and holes in its walls. Still, the Lords were thankful for the shelter it provided. Spells could certainly have made them all more comfortable but the Esaf would have ways of detecting magic and tracing the spells to their origin. They had risked only enough magic to start the fire.
Dacsinj sat with the four Lords. Though not a Lord, Dacsinj was still an accomplished master wizard as well as the Director of the Library. His knowledge and experience had always been appreciated by the Circle. Dacsinj was pleased that the Lords considered him so important. It might give him more opportunity to prove himself.
“I’m sorry, Tanas,” Rankor said slowly. “I feel like I should have been able to do more to defend the Guild. And I worry about the apprentices locked in the Center’s apartment.”
“There wasn’t anything you could do,” Tanas answered.
“Once the Esaf Mileu turned against us the fall of the Guild was inevitable,” said Nasan.
“But we didn’t even try. We waited, oblivious to our fate until it fell upon us in full force and fury.” Rankor’s face looked as if it were made of sagging gray clay.
“We need to focus on our future,” said Tanas, the unofficial Center of the group. “Recriminations and post-mortems will not aid us in finding a safe haven and in determining our proper course of action.”
“Tanas is right,” said Osiri, the only female Lord in their group. “We must decide first where we should go to seek shelter and aid. It must be a secure and secret location from whence we can unite and direct all free wizards into an effective force.”
“The Esaf has patrols everywhere,” lamented Nasan. “I can sometimes hear them in the distance. While we can probably avoid them for awhile, unless we know their objectives and troop strengths we are likely to be discovered and captured eventually.”
“We surely will if we remain stationary targets. But to move at random is just as foolish. We need to identify a safe destination,” replied Osiri. “Any ideas?”
The group fell silent, each staring at the fire.
Dacsinj broke the silence. “Lord Kratia remains free in Minas Palanar. If the Esaf Condeu is alive, and has not joined this unprovoked attack by Mileu, then perhaps we can make our way there.”
The Lords nodded thoughtfully. “You brought a sensiball, Dacsinj,” said Nasan. “Perhaps you can contact Kratia and determine the situation there.”
Dacsinj shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lord Nasan, but the background level of pain and fear generated by the Esaf’s troops and the general populace is just too high for a long distance spell originating here. If Kratia was trying to reach us at precisely the same time, there might be a small chance to link the sensiballs; but there’s no way to predict when or if she might try to communicate with us.”
“What if we form a Circle, Dacsinj?” asked Nasan. “Would a Circle of four have sufficient strength to penetrate the interference?”
“I think we should form a Circle,” Tanas said. “I will attempt to contact Kratia. I will also obtain an aerial view of the terrain, with particular attention to troop deployment.”
“And find the path of least resistance,” added Nasan.
Nasan, Rankor, and Osiri stood and surrounded Tanas. Dacsinj stood off to the side; he didn’t have to be told that his mental patterns were not compatible with those of the Lords. He had learned that years before and deliberately pursued advancement in the Library as the only other worthy career option. Still, he felt humiliated that his considerable magic talents could not be directly used; and angry that he would never be asked to join the elite and revered Circle that in its infinite wisdom ruled all magic users, whether they be skilled or clumsy.
Dacsinj watched the Circle form. The three Lords clutching their wands as their faces went slack and eyes became vacant. Only Tanas, standing at the Center, was alert. A bluish glow surrounded him as the magic and the power of the other Lords suffused through him. Dacsinj felt the spells of communication form smoothly and flawlessly. Tanas was good; no, he was excellent, as were all the Lords. Dacsinj couldn’t help but marvel at the skill and speed with which the spell seized the sensiball and cried out to the Lord Kratia, hundreds of miles away. The spell danced around and between the fears and pains of the populace, skirting any direct contact, deftly threading a path to Krashbrinae.
But there was no contact; Kratia’s sensiball would not activate. The spell swirled and gathered more energy, then reached out again. To no avail. Kratia’s sensiball could not or would not respond.
Communication space was not exactly like physical space; it was impossible to know with certainty from this end just where the spell was being blocked. But Dacsinj knew that the spell had certainly reached as far as the walls of Krashbrinae, and probably had penetrated deep into the castle. He did not know if Tanas knew how close he had come, or what conclusions he would reach if he did know. There were the faintest hints of other spells at work, far away and muddled with distance and interference. Dacsinj attached no importance to these; such spells were a common enough distraction for the normal network, so it was not surprising to detect them on this special attempt.
The communications spell withered and died to be replaced by a spell of visual detection, augmented by infrared scans. The spell would produce a mosaic in Tanas’s mind of the terrain for the surrounding hundred square miles, with particular emphasis on positions of all groups of humans. Dacsinj couldn’t read the mosaic; it was attuned only to Tanas. But Dacsinj did detect what seemed to be huge gaps in the information being provided. In fact, Tanas seemed to be having trouble maintaining the spell itself. It waxed and waned and became distorted as Tanas fought to stabilize it. There was a loud peal of thunder from the storm outside, and the spell suddenly collapsed. Tanas clutched his head in pain as the other Lords slumped to the straw covered floor.
Dacsinj hesitated, then went over to check on Tanas. He was conscious and shaking off the after effects of the aborted spell. There would be no ill effects. Dacsinj checked each of the other Lords, waking them and confirming each was well.
Tanas looked grave as he reported to the other Lords. “I was unable to contact Kratia, and I was unable to obtain information on the Esaf’s forces,” he said. “Both spells were blocked by spells of higher levels. I’m not sure, but I think the reconnaissance spell may have been severed by the Crystal itself.”
The eyes of each of the Lords opened wide. “But why would the Crystal be blocking such a simple spell? Is there some prophecy at work here?” asked Rankor.
The Lords turned to Dacsinj; as Director of the Library, he had been responsible for maintaining a complete and precise inventory of all prophesies. “My Lords,” Dacsinj began. “I have memorized all the prophesies that were uttered up until the time we fled the Guild. None of them bear in any way on the Circle, the Esaf Mileu, or this geographic location. I consider it highly unlikely that the Crystal is blocking your spells.”
“Well someone is!” Tanas replied. “And clearly it must be coming from a circle of more than four, and be centered by a highly skilled wizard. Are there any ideas as to who that wizard could be?”
The wizards were silent for several seconds. Dacsinj spoke. “Lords, you know the abilities of all the wizards that pay homage to the Guild; so do I. None of them have the skill or the motivation to block your spells.” There were puzzled looks as Dacsinj continued. “Therefore, the source of your opposition must be from a group that does not recognize the guild. A people that pride themselves on magic yet recognize no authority save their own.”
“The Rauders,” said Nasan.
Dacsinj smiled. “Exactly, my Lord. I do not know their motivations, but certainly they have the ability to form circles. They are so independent that we have no accurate measure of their abilities, but certainly some of them could be of master caliber.”
Tanas frowned. “The lack of motivation bothers me. The Rauders are a fiercely independent. I can’t see them joining up with the Esaf in a war against wizards.”
“They united to oppose Murgorath,” said Nasan.
“But that was in their self-interest,” replied Tanas. “What’s in it for them now?”
“I recall that Nexus spent some years among the Rauder tribes,” said Dacsinj. “And Nexus seems to have been behind a lot of the strife that now surrounds us. Perhaps he had an alliance with the Rauders, and some master plan whose nature died with him.”
“Dacsinj, that’s pure speculation!” complained Tanas.
“My Lord, I believe that is all we now have left to us,” Dacsinj shot back. Tanas stared hard at Dacsinj; after a long second, Dacsinj lowered his head. “Forgive my impertinence, Lord,” he said softly.
Before Tanas could respond, Nasan interrupted. “Tanas, I think we should leave the barn and seek shelter somewhere else. Regardless of who blocked the spells, there was a great deal of energy and magic force expended here and it’s bound to be detected and traced to here by the Esaf.”
“You’re right, Nasan,” Tanas sighed. “Keep your eyes and ears open. Let’s pack up.”
“Where will we go?” asked Osiri.
“East,” replied Tanas. “To Minas Palanar.”