Authors: Stephanie Beavers
“Almost non-stop. I’m about ready to kill him for some peace and quiet.” Esset growled. “There was a brief reprieve when Jionar Atah’s scrolls showed up, but even that was too short-lived.”
They found Tseka in her room, cleaning her already glistening spear. Esset stuck his head in her door.
“We may have found a focus,” he said with a smile.
“Let’s go.” Tseka was beside him in an instant, spear in hand, cleaning rag lying forgotten on the floor. Toman blinked at her alacrity.
“You may have been busy,” Tseka said to Toman, looking him in the eye when he didn’t move right away. “But Esset and I have been frustratingly idle. Let’s
“Er, yes.” Toman quickly led the way to Erizen’s study.
Despite Esset’s complaints about Erizen’s complaints, Erizen
been working hard, and he was in the middle of a scrying spell when they opened the door to his study. At least Esset assumed that’s what he was doing; Esset knew not all magic was as flashy as his own. Erizen was sitting up straight and his eyes were closed as he held one hand over a map.
“Erizen?” Toman said quietly.
“I may make this look easy, but I assure you, it is not. I hope there’s a reason for this interruption,” Erizen said smoothly, without moving or opening his eyes.
“I may have located a focus,” Toman replied. There was a moment of silence before Erizen lowered his hand and opened his eyes.
“Excellent. Shall we investigate?” the mage asked calmly, but his smile was actually genuine. It seemed that, for once, they all agreed on something.
“You mentioned that your creations can’t speak and aren’t all that intelligent; how sure are you that you’ve got something?” Erizen asked as they left the room and headed for the courtyard.
Toman responded to the intended slight calmly and smoothly. “As sure as I can be. My creations might not always be the most reliable of scouts, but with such a massive area to cover, they’re a reasonable option, especially since they can be very discreet.” Unlike Esset’s summons or some of Erizen’s “louder” spells, which could be detected. “And, evidently, an effective one compared to other tactics we’re trying.”
Erizen frowned. “
they have, indeed, found something.”
Toman smiled. “Of course.”
They reached the courtyard and Esset flew them swiftly to their destination. They hid on a nearby hillside to spy on their target.
“That’s an abandoned farm house,” Esset said.
“Yes, thank you for that stunning analysis,” Erizen responded. Esset glared at him and was studiously ignored.
“It makes sense,” Tseka added, ignoring Erizen’s comment. “Who would look in an abandoned farm house?”
“Don’t bandits and the like take up residence in them? I’d think Moloch would pick a place where there wouldn’t be a risk of something this important being stumbled across,” Esset replied.
“This is Moloch we’re talking about,” Toman replied. “No bandit dares to roam his lands. He has a reputation for capturing them and torturing them or using them in experiments or both. The only crimes in Moloch’s lands are committed by Moloch himself or by others on his orders. It would take someone really dumb to break the law here, what with Moloch’s reputation.”
“True,” Esset acknowledged. “So what’s our plan?”
“I need to get a close look at the foci,” Erizen said. “But I imagine Moloch would have left magical protections on and around it.”
“How did you find it?” Esset asked Toman, who shrugged.
“Suspicious conditions,” Toman replied. “This is an unoccupied area that’s well kept, and my creature saw something shiny inside. My creations also seem to pick up something of magic, because when I tell them to look for it, they seem to know. Don’t know how though.”
“Well, it’s worth investigating,” Esset said with a shrug back.
“I’ll lead the way. If I give an order, follow it,” Erizen said. Esset scowled, but Erizen was already moving, not giving them a chance to object. They all followed; they knew that he’d be the first to detect anything magical, so it actually made sense.
They skirted some trees as they made their way to the farmhouse, trying to keep out of sight as much as possible. Esset was sure something would intercept them on the way to the silent building, but they reached the door unscathed. Erizen paused at the door, and Esset could only assume that he was checking for magic; since the mage’s hand went to the doorknob, Esset assumed he hadn’t sensed any. Erizen stepped inside.
“Shield!” he said sharply, and both he and Tseka threw their magical barriers up just in time. Electrical energy rolled over the shields with a series of vicious snaps. The second the energy was gone, Erizen strode forward with a purpose.
“Count down from a hundred,” he ordered.
“What—” Esset began.
“Aloud!” Erizen demanded. Esset narrowed his eyes at him, but obeyed.
“Ninety-nine, ninety-eight…” He could only assume they were on a timer.
Toman stepped back out the door to keep a look out for anyone incoming while Erizen stepped further in. The only thing in the main room of the farmhouse was a plain table with a stone cube sitting atop it. Runes and sigils were carved into the stone and a crystal was embedded into the top.
“Smart design,” Erizen murmured, circling the table but not touching anything. Esset continued counting aloud and Tseka surveyed the rest of the house, but came up with nothing.
“Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen…”
“Okay, let’s go,” Erizen said, gesturing towards the door. Given that they were fairly sure someone would come investigate the disturbance, they were all agreeable to the suggestions. They headed outside and Esset summoned one of his massive smoky birds to carry them away.
“So what was that all about?” Esset demanded when they were back at the castle.
“Simple,” Erizen drawled, no doubt purposely trying to tweak Esset’s ire. “It takes roughly the count of a hundred to locate the source of an alarm spell like that and cast either a scrying spell or a transportation spell to investigate. I wanted to use what little time I had effectively so we could get out in time.”
“Great. So Moloch knows we were there?” Esset asked.
“Not exactly. Occasionally spells such as that will go off accidentally, and we got out of there quickly enough that he could not have seen us to know who set it off, if anyone,” Erizen replied calmly.
“Being Moloch, I doubt he’ll think it was nothing,” Esset replied.
“But there’s a difference between suspecting and knowing,” Erizen added condescendingly. Esset gritted his teeth.
“I still say we should just blow them up. I hope you at least found out something worthwhile,” Esset muttered.
“Of course. I couldn’t determine the exact structure of the spell, but I could see that it wasn’t drastically different from the model I first taught Moloch. That means I can narrow our search for the next focus, and we can decide on a plan of action from there.” Erizen studiously straightened his cuffs before looking at them. “However, I suggest we lie low for a couple days to lessen the risk of detection.”
“Darkfire take it,” Toman cursed. He wanted Moloch dead, but he was wise enough now to know that patience was both a weapon and a powerful defense against Moloch. Impatience would get them killed. Of course, that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.
“Well I’m not wasting my time. If you need me for anything, I’ll be working on my army,” Toman said. Half of what he made he sent after Moloch immediately—there was no reason for that to stop now—and the other half he was saving for use at a later date. If it came to all-out war, he wanted as many tools at his disposal as possible.
Esset watched his brother’s back depart for a moment then shook his head, feeling useless; he wished there were more he could do to prepare, but his skills were more useful in the vicinity of immediate conflict, not future conflict. Toman was strongest with the most time to prepare; Esset could react instantly and powerfully to surprises. All Esset could do with extra time was think, plan, and read his tome, which was exactly what he intended to do. Without a word, he turned around and left.
“Hey!” Erizen objected. Esset just lifted a hand in a little flick of a wave without looking back. Erizen shot a dark look at Esset’s back.
“No appreciation for my genius around here.”
Two days later, Esset was passing time reading his tome in the library; a normal enough occurrence for him, which was no doubt how Erizen found him so easily.
“Okay, time for you to pay me back for all my help. Get up, we’re getting your brother, and going.” Erizen had entered the library with an imperious air that didn’t impress Esset at all.
“Funny, I was under the impression your work with us wasn’t a favor, but part of the process of saving your obnoxious butt as well,” Esset retorted.
“Come,” Erizen simply ordered him; the mage didn’t stop to see if he’d obey, but simply turned and walked back out of the library. Esset ground his teeth together, then snapped his tome shut and jumped up, hurrying to catch up as he stuffed his tome in his side-bag. He knew Erizen would be going to bother Toman next, and Toman would be really mad if this trying narcissist interrupted him for nothing.
“Hey!” Esset yelled after Erizen as he skidded into the hallway.
“Oh good, you’re coming,” Erizen remarked as if it were no surprise at all.
“What’s this all about?” Esset demanded, trying to get in front of Erizen and stop him. Erizen simply stepped around him to continue down the hall.
“Something has come to my attention and it requires an immediate response. You are going to assist me,” Erizen said.
“That’s not an explanation,” Esset snapped, but Erizen studiously ignored him and kept heading down the hall.
“Hey!” Esset finally darted in front of the mage and blocked his way down the passage. Erizen stopped and narrowed his grey eyes.
“Did I mention that this was time sensitive?” The mage stepped forward and shoved Esset out of the way with his shoulder. Esset took a second to reign in his temper and stop himself from injuring Erizen in some satisfying fashion. Then he had to catch up to Erizen again.
The arrogant mage was already at the bottom of the stairs, and he was exiting the grand hall into the courtyard before Esset caught up to him again. Tseka had heard them and poked her head out the door behind them. Her grin suggested that she thought this would be fun to watch, and she gleefully began to follow them.
“Is that seriously all you’re going to tell me?” Esset snapped at the mage. He was studiously ignored once more.
“Hey!” The objection again garnered no response, and they were now beyond the confines of the walls, where Toman sat, creating a new animated stone bird. Toman glanced up at Esset’s exclamation, and the glimpse gave him all the information he needed.
“I’m busy,” he said curtly to Erizen before the mage could speak.
“With nothing urgent,” Erizen said, dismissing the dismissal. “I have a pressing issue that needs immediate attention. I require your attendance.”
“Too bad,” Toman replied, turning back to his statue.
“Fortunately, I don’t need your permission to transport you with me,” Erizen replied. Knowing that Erizen would follow through with that threat, Esset didn’t need further prompting to reach out and smack the mage on the back of the head—the surprise was enough to stop him working the magic. Transportation spells were tricky and required concentration and, usually, a great deal of magic to perform. Esset was perfectly willing to keep smacking Erizen for as long as necessary, too.
Perhaps sensing that, Erizen glared at Esset.
“Try that again, I dare you,” Erizen hissed. Esset lifted his hand, but Erizen caught his wrist. For a moment, they stared into each other’s eyes in silent challenge. To Esset’s surprise, Erizen caved fairly quickly.
“Look,” the mage said, releasing Esset’s wrist and breaking eye contact. “I’m asking for your help.” There was even a trace of humility in the tone of his request. The brothers were shocked.
“With what?” Toman asked. Esset could hear in his voice that his anger had been diffused, although a trace of suspicion remained. With Erizen, it was always wise to be a bit suspicious.
“I managed to hide away some of my people before my kingdom was annexed, those who were nearest to the throne room when the other mages came for me. I took them to my safe house and went on the lam myself so they couldn’t be tracked. It seems Semrus—one of my former peers—found them anyways. If he were alone, I could take him easily, but he will have brought underlings. If you come, fewer of my people will die.”
Even when stooping to ask for help, Erizen knew how to play them. Neither of them would refuse to give aid if lives were on the line. Just as it was wise to always be a bit suspicious of Erizen, it was also best to assume the worst of him first and hope to be proved wrong later.
“Let’s go then,” Tseka said from behind them.
“Indeed. That’s what I was
to do.” Erizen glared at Esset again, his humility once again gone. Esset scowled. Toman didn’t look happy about this either, but he stepped forward, knowing that closer targets were easier to transport magically.