“And if we do nothing, nothing
will change!” replied Silfer, Archmage of the Wind Tower. “Students are falling
left and right. We must find out what’s causing this.”
All the members turned as Rayne entered, and she spoke in solemn tone. “It is
spreading. I have just come from New-Santhala, and from the reports Artimidor
has received, other mages are also growing weak and then falling unconscious.
The tell-tale signs of the Sleep.”
“Did you stop in Quallian?” asked the Archmage of the Water Tower. It had been
long since anyone referred to the Archmage by her proper name: everyone simply
called her “Fox.”
“Yes, Fox. The Ylfferhim were hesitant to give me passage into much of their
forest,” Rayne’s voice echoed her disappointment, but she went on: “but I met
with Avennía Asaiá, and from what she tells me, the younger mages there are also
falling into the Sleep.”
Twen, the Archmage of Fire, then spoke, “Do we have any idea where it’s coming
from?” Her elven face looked weary from worry, her stormy gray eyes tinged with
both fear and concern: after all, many of the students taken by the Sleep were
of the fire school.
“I met with a victim of the Sleep in New-Santhala—a young mage who must have
been one of the first to fall victim. I-it’s hard to say, but from the links I
could find upon inspecting his car’áll, it seems that whatever is causing this
hails from the North somewhere. I traced it to somewhere beyond the Tandalas.
That was as much as I could find.”
“So then what do we do?” asked the Archmage of the Ecuá Tower.
“If we do nothing, our young magi will continue to fall victim to whatever this
is,” offered Coren Frozenzephyr, lecturer in the Tower of Foreign Magics and
Culture. Lord Frozenzephyr, hailing from the far-away land of Nybelmar, was not
an archmage of Ximax; however his knowledge and expertise granted him entrance
into the Shield Dome as a member of the Council. “It seems we have no other
option but to journey north.
“But—” The Archmage of the Earth Tower began, but Rayne quickly cut him off
before he could further complain.
“Some of us will stay behind, to guard the Academy in case of an attack. Two
magi: one of an elemental school and another of an arch-school should be enough.
There are a fair amount of exceptional students that would also provide means of
defense.” Her indigo eyes scanned the table. “Silfer, Fox, Twen, Coren and
myself will go. The others will stay behind.”
The Archmage of Earth sat back in his chair, and the look on his face echoed his
discontentment, but his silence served as his agreement to Rayne’s plan. The
Archmage of Ecuá nodded stoically, in the traditional manner of an Ecuá mage.
Rayne’s indigo eyes met the eyes of each mage, allowing space for objections.
When none came, she went on:
“We will start out tomorrow before dawn, when the school is still dark. None
must know that we have left, for the safety of the school.” All in the room
nodded. “Silfer, Fox, Twen, Coren: I will see you tomorrow, before dawn.”
Each mage stood and moved quickly out of the Dome to their respective tower.
There was much packing to be done, and with the situation so dire, all who would
journey northward knew what was at stake: over forty students had been taken
with the Sleep, first growing weak and then lapsing into unconsciousness from
which they would not awake. At first, the Sleep had taken only the lower-level
magi, but in a week, the mid-level magi were beginning to take to the Sleep as
well. Each day more took ill, and the Infirmary was filling fast with young
While the Sleep had come upon the Academy only in the past two weeks, the Sleep
had taken other magi in other cities earlier than this. The first cases in
New-Santhala had occurred a little more than month ago.
Like the rest of them, Rayne knew what was at stake. She turned wearily toward
the Xeuá Tower when she was caught by the arm. She turned to see Silfer looking
at her, concerned. “Alýr...” (Silfer was the only one who called Rayne by her
true elven name—and was one of the few who even knew it) “... are you sure you
should be doing this to yourself? You have just traveled from New-Santhala, and
now you’re traveling again.”
Rayne smiled a little at her old friend. Of all the Archmagi of Ximax, she had
known him the longest: they had been classmates together in the Wind Tower, back
before she turned to Xeuá, and through the years he had remained one of her
closest friends. “I’ll be fine, Silfer. There are more important things at
The Archmagi of Wind nodded a little. “Yes, but if you are too weary, you are
little help to anyone!”
Rayne had to chuckle. Silfer always had a way of bringing up inconvenient
truths. “I’ll make sure I rest tonight. Tomorrow, we will all set out together.”
Silfer sighed slightly: “Just make sure you take care of yourself.” Rayne
nodded, and disappeared through the Shield Dome and into the white tower of
Xeua. He stood there a moment in the empty room looking at where the dark-haired
elf had disappeared and shook his head knowingly, then passed into the Wind
Before sunrise, five cloaked figures rode out into the darkness: one slender
figure in deep red robes riding a chestnut mare, one elegantly cloaked in a
faded blue robe on a roan-colored mare, one covered in light indigo robes and
riding a gray stallion, another in earthy tan robes riding on a bay stallion,
and the last in light gray robes on a cream-colored mare. They moved swiftly out
of the Guard Tower’s gate, through the ornamental garden and through the
otherwise quiet streets of Ximax.
In the early hours of morning, as all of Ximax slept, these five cloaked figures
The early evening was settling a lazy shade across the land, but on the
outskirts of Milkengrad, a tavern sat with brightly-lit windows. Inside, men
with rough faces and beady eyes inhabited the stools along the bar, and they
talked to one another in loud voices about lewd and obscene topics. Some of them
wore hatchets on their belts, but most simply had knives and daggers, and the
similarity of their dress and the bawdiness of their camaraderie spoke to their
occupations as bandits of a rough and rowdy sort. Weary, angry women in low-cut
dresses and tight corsets served them beer and doch nuts, occasionally subject
to a crude comment or rude joke.
The talk quieted when a group of five entered the tavern, not because they were
strangely dressed in robes, necessarily, but because there were among them three
elves. It was not often elves were seen outside their forest—and the presence of
three at once seemed to add an air of suspicion to their every movement.
The man in the earthy-tan cloak seemed the first to notice the hostile air
forming in the room, and he guided the others toward a table in the corner and
then called to the bartender, “Drinks for me and my friends here!”
The bartender nodded, and with the group of robed figures tucked away in a
corner, the noise of conversation returned to the tavern. A woman came around
with their drinks, and as less and less attention was paid to the group, the
five of them spoke more openly and less hesitantly. In a matter of moments, the
conversation among the five had quickly moved from commentary on the journey
thus far, which had taken nearly two weeks, to magic, and Coren, in his typical
pedagogical spirit, had launched into a lecture concerning the intricacies of
Krean Magic, history, and culture.
“They were extremely powerful, the Ancient Kreans. Like gods.”
“They sound very much like the Chosen,” offered Twen. For the Archmage of Fire
with a certain penchant for necromancy, she had a rather fragile appearance,
with porcelain skin and crimson lips. Like Rayne, she was an elf of the
Aellenrhim, and so looked very youthful for her age. “Did they have any sort of
differentiation among them? Different schools?”
“Something like our elemental schools, you mean?” asked Rayne, as she brushed
back her dark hair into a loose bun that sent tendrils elegantly across her
face. “I’m still uncertain about what exactly it means to trade one possibility
for the other. What precisely are you manipulating? What within the fabric of
reality is getting changed?
Fox, who hadn’t touched her drink yet, spoke up before Coren could answer—which
he was extremely eager to do. “I’m going to get something else. Can I get any of
you some refills while I’m over there?” The rest nodded. “Okay. I’ll be right
Fox stood up and moved toward the bar as Coren began a lecture concerning the
manipulation of various possibilities within the Krean system of magic. For a
human woman, so advanced in magic as to be an Archmage of the Water Tower, Fox
looked quite young, and she moved with the swiftness and grace echoing the
essence of her element.
At the bar, she smiled as she raised her hand to hail the bartender, causing the
blue sleeve of her cloak to slide down her soft sun-kissed wrist. This was
enough to catch not only the attention of the bartender, who moved quickly to
assist her, but a gruff man in black sitting on the stool beside where she
“What can I get you, miss?” asked the bartender.
“Another round for my friends, and a Twilight's Hearth for me, please.”
The bartender nodded and winked at her as he moved toward preparing her drinks.
Fox turned around to return to the table when the man at the stool grabbed her
wrist. She turned to look into a grinning face. “Hey sweetie. What’chu doin’
with a crowd like that? Why don’t you come home with me, huh?”
Fox tugged to free her wrist, but the man’s grip only tightened. “Let go,
please,” she said quietly, but the man laughed at her. “What’s wrong, pretty
thing? Come on, now.”
Fox hazarded a glance towards the group’s table, and then back at the man. She
tried to pull away again, and repeated, “Sir, let me go. Please.” The words only
caused the gruff man to chuckle with the stench of cheap liquor.
Coren, despite his lecturing, was the first to notice Fox’s predicament, and he
moved quickly to position himself between her and the man, effectively breaking
the man’s grip on the mage’s wrist. “I would advise you to stand down, sir, and
let the woman be.”
“Who do you think you are? You best not try to tell me what to do.” The man
stood, wobbling slightly under the influence of alcohol, and spilling his drink
across the bar. He reached for his dagger and pointed it threateningly at Coren.
“Let’s just go,” Fox whispered from behind him, but Coren held his ground.
By now the entire bar had noticed the skirmish forming, and a dozen darkly
dressed men, comrades of the gruff man, moved to his side. Silfer, Twen, and
Rayne had moved toward Coren and Fox, the three elves eyeing the human bandits
carefully. The gruff man smiled a little. “Oh, you don’t know what you’ve gotten
Suddenly the man came at Coren with the dagger glinting, but the Nybelmarian
swiftly moved out of the way. The dozen other bandits came at the group, most of
them armed, and with a scream from one of the barmaids, the chaos began.
Fox took a step backwards and in a wave of her hand, cast distract on one of
them, causing him to dizzily stumble and fall down into a collection of bar
stools. One began hurdling toward her, and in a flash his feet froze to the
ground, preventing him from moving. Three attacked Silfer, who stood
protectively in front of the other two elves: he threw the attackers all back
with a blast of wind, and, casting a bolt of lightning, launched it at the
group. They shook as the lightning ran through their bodies and then collapsed,
unconscious. A man behind Twen grabbed her by the shoulder, and in a sudden
collection of fire ounía, his hand burned as though he had just tried to grab a
hot skillet. He howled and fell back, clutching the scorched palm.
Rayne began altering links, causing daggers to become debilitatingly heavy
through manipulation of earth ounía, or causing them to become too hot to hold
through activating the links between fire ounía. Coren, through the use of Krean
magics, began changing possibilities, and instead of unsheathing daggers, many
of the bandits began unsheathing carroots, flowers, and children’s leather
The remaining bandits moved away as Silfer formed another static charge. Silence
passed over the bar as bandits stared at the group with horror and awe. Being
simple (minded) men of a town of this size, in a rural tavern, they had never
before witnessed a group such as this: magic lived only in stories and in rumors
from the great Ximax Academy. They breathed heavily while one whimpered in the
corner over his burnt hand and another tried desperately to free his frozen
“Stop this!” yelled the bartender with feigned confidence: he, too, was
impressed and terrified of the five magi that had wandered into his bar. He
looked at them with eyes that conveyed his terror and a voice echoing
desperation. “W-we don’t serve your kind here. P-please go elsewhere.”
The five magi looked at one another. Silfer extinguished his bolt of lightning,
and they took one last look at the wretched bandits who had launched the
debacle. Coren moved toward the bar and dropped the fee for the drinks in front
of the bartender, and then they all filed out the door into the night, the door
shutting softly after them. In the tavern, many moments would pass before anyone
spoke, leaving the room quiet, save for the whimpering man.
Outside, the five magi walked to their horses. Twen was the first among them to
speak. “Well, that could have gone better.”
A soft chorus of “Yeah”s and “Uh huh”s resounded from the group.
“Maybe we should head into Milkengrad from here,” offered Fox. “We should be
able to make it to Nyermersys in a couple of weeks.”
“I’m getting a message from Fizzle,” Twen said. She could feel images flooding
into her mind from her Ximax cat, still at the Academy to keep an eye on the
situation. She closed her stormy gray eyes, and all the magi were silent. An
evening breeze passed through her cascading golden curls, and when her eyes
opened again, they glinted with anxiety. “Another ten have fallen into the Sleep
since we left. The situation, it seems, is not getting any better. There are now
over fifty magi taken by the Sleep.”
“We should hurry into Milkengrad and find rest, and make good time tomorrow. The
weather should be fair,” said Silfer as he mounted his horse, and the others did
Just as they were leaving, something descended upon Silfer in a flutter. At
first, it seemed as though a bat had gotten lost in the darkness, but when the
creature re-emerged from Silfer’s hair, it was quite clearly a small paper bird.
It sat up in Silfer’s hair and warbled dizzily.
The Wind mage sighed with slight frustration, pulled the bird from his hair, and
handed it to Rayne. Her paper birds had become almost famous among Ximaxian
residents; they often followed her and served as her messengers. She blushed as
she accepted the little bird. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly. She was still
getting the kinks worked out.
“Is it a letter?” asked Twen, to which Fox quickly added, “Who is it from?”
The little bird unfolded into a letter. “It’s from Artimidor,” replied Rayne, as
she moved to get the light from the tavern to read what the sage had written.
“Artimidor?” asked Coren curiously.
“I sent him word before we left, letting him know our plans and requesting any
Compendium entries related to the north,” (Rayne inspected the letter curiously)
“Though this note is too small to possibly contain them. I had expected a
traditional message-carrier.” Finally finding enough light to see the words, the
elf began to read them out-loud:
Instead of sending you Compendium entries you requested, I am sending you a
guide to the north. This guide I have directed to meet you in Nyermersys, at the
Pest Pillar at noon. You are in good hands.
Please be careful. You and your friends journey into very dangerous territory.
P.S.: These paper birds are handy little magical inventions. Have you considered
perhaps doing an entry on them?
To the postscript, everyone in the group had to chuckle a little. All of them
had done at least a few entries for the Compendium, and knew Artimidor. Rayne
closed the letter, looking slightly puzzled.
“A guide?” asked Twen.
Rayne shook her head, staring at the letter. “I know, it seems strange—but
Artimidor, in all the years I have known him, has never led me astray. I trust
that this guide—whoever it is—will get us where we need to go.”
“The night is growing old,” said Coren, turning his horse to the north. “We best
hurry to Milkengrad before it grows much older.”
The group nodded their agreement, and together rode off to the city.
It was a cold afternoon in Nyermersys. The day shone clearly, with only a few
clouds lingering high in the sky, but the chill of autumn had already permeated
into the still air. However, the people of Nyermersys were not ones to let the
cold get to them: they moved busily through the streets, selling bread and
cheese and flowers and a host of other things—shouting out their wares over the
sound of horse-hoofs echoing on the cobblestone roads and the loud talk of
friends and colleagues and rivals.
Despite having three elves in their group, the five magi seemed to move through
the town without much notice. They had stabled their horses just outside the
city gates, and now walked through the narrow alleyways and large avenues that
wound through the old city. After a number of wrong turns, having to double-back
and retrace steps, and occasionally asking a resident Nyermersysian for
directions, they were finally closing in on the Pest Pillar.
“I’m certain we’re almost an hour late,” Fox said with a sigh. “I certainly hope
our guide hasn’t given up on us.”
“Me, too,” said Twen. “I’ve grown increasingly relieved at the thought of being
guided through the north by one well-versed in the details of the land.”
“Well,” Coren said, “I suppose we’re about to find out if our guide has waited
for us or not. There’s the Pest Pillar ahead.”
Over the tops of heads, the pest pillar emerged: it was a rather grotesque
statue, but served as a kind of marker for the city’s tragic, historical past:
the reason for the large temples to Queprur and the slightly morbid style that
had worked its way into much of the ornate decoration on the more prestigious
In their minds, each magi had formed roughly the same image of the guide: a
large, human man in bear-skins with wild hair and an unshaven face. They each
scanned the pillar for a sign of someone who looked like a guide to the north,
and were surprised as the sound of a female voice from behind them:
“Well, it sure took you guys long enough!”
The magi spun around to see a young half-elven woman with long, nor’sidian black
hair and bright green eyes. She grinned, and after a second of confusion, the
magi instantly knew her: “Azhira!”
Azhira was known at the Academy not simple for her studies there in the realm of
Earth magic, but also in her many outstanding entries for the Compendium. After
Ximax, she had wandered into Northern Sarvonia and constructed detailed and
well-referenced entries concerning the details of this land. However, she often
returned to Ximax to brush up on magic and help with entries related to the
Academy, and for this she was both well-known and much admired among the Academy
Rayne could not help but embrace her. “I can’t believe it!”
“You are out guide to the north?” asked Twen, and a smile of relief passed over
the fire mage as Azhira nodded the affirmative.
Silfer smiled at their guide. “Sorry for being so late.”
“We were lost,” offered Fox.
“I figured,” said Azhira. “I have been waiting here for over an hour!”
“Well, this is such a big city,” Coren said. “It’s hard to know how to get to
where you need to go. I suppose you didn’t have any trouble, though.”
Azhira smiled and shook her head. “No, but I grew up around here. I had actually
just arrived to visit my mother when I received word from Artimidor that you
were coming this way and were in need of a guide. It has been about a month now
since you started out from Ximax, isn’t it? I have heard from Artimidor about
the situation. You don’t know what’s causing it?”
“Unfortunately, no,” said Rayne, the concern returning to her voice. “All we
know is that, whatever this is, it’s coming from the north.”
Azhira sighed and glanced down, thinking. “It could be almost anything.” She
looked up again. “The north is a dangerous place. Yet unspoken and unknown
creatures still lurk in those lands. But based on what I’ve learned of the
situation, it seems you have no other choice but to journey through the Tandalas
and into the north.”
“Speaking of the Tandalas…” began Silfer.
“Yes, the season is getting colder,” Azhira said. “This is certainly not the
best time to be journeying into the north, but it’s still soon enough to
hopefully get past the Tandalas before early winter. If we don’t leave soon, the
snow and bitter cold will make the mountains impossible to cross.”
“Have you ever crossed them yourself?” asked Fox curiously.
“No. But I have heard a great deal about the climb by those who have. They are
treacherous mountains, which will probably take about a month to cross. We
should set out tomorrow for Astran. From there, we can move north and hopefully
hit the Rayne River and go north from there.”
“Rayne River?” asked Twen curiously, glancing at the Archmage of Xeuá who shared
the river’s name.
Rayne waved her hand as though brushing any thoughts out of her comrade’s head.
“A coincidence. Entirely coincidental. There’s probably a story behind the
naming of the river. You can ask Artimidor some time—I’m sure he would know.”
Twen’s eyes narrowed, and her crimson lips smiled in a way that hinted her
suspicion that her dark-haired friend knew more than she let on. “Perhaps I
“If we’re leaving tomorrow for Astran, what should we do with the rest of the
day? It is only an hour past noon, and there is still quite a bit of daylight
left,” Coren said, again addressing the expert of the north.
Azhira looked at the group, up and down. “Your robes. These will not keep you
warm in the north, and you can’t be wasting willpower on casting spells to keep
each other warm: you will need every ounce of willpower you have to survive the
The group of magi, most of whom had never been as far north as they were right
at this moment, stared blankly at the half-elf. Azhira recognized their puzzle
expressions, and turned. “There’s a shop over here that sells thick fur coats.
Let’s start there.”
Like a herd of sheep, the magi followed Azhira as she guided them on the details
of north-worthy garb. A full day of shopping produced a set of five magi with,
not only thick coats, but sturdy boots, fur hats, and warm gloves. While the new
clothing offered a tinge of confidence to their northbound expedition, all the
magi remained haunted by the challenge that they knew awaited them, not only
with the dangers of their trek through the Tandalas, but from what knowledge
they had of the creatures of the north.
Azhira seemed well aware of the fears of her companions, and that night took
them to a respected tavern and treated them to drinks. In the warm light of the
tavern, accompanied by friends, and with the influence of a little alcohol, the
group of six spoke and laughed through the evening. At night, they all retired
early, prepared to set out the next day.