Monday, July 30, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

Rubbing his eyes, Crowlin turned another page in a tome he’d been perusing. He’d spent the past four hours in the library, sifting through the many tomes of ancient knowledge, searching for a book that would offer him insight on the origin and culture of the mask pried off the face of the attacker. Yawning, he closed the tome and picked up another one, opening it. He’d gathered all the books on masks he could find, but none of them had yet offered him any insight.

With the candle burning low and the night late, Crowlin skimmed through the pages, with Myrrdin sleeping next to the candles lighting the table he was at. As Crowlin flipped through the pages with half-lidded eyes, he passed a through a section where masks appeared to be discussed in great detail. Pausing and flipping back, he caught sight of the same mask he’d pried from the attacker’s face. Perking up, Crowlin poked Myrrdin.

“Myrrdin, I found it.” Crowlin muttered. “Here it is. Mask with wide eyeholes, measured cuts in the side, and nothing to represent the nose and the mouth. It’s called the Kahu Ifera, a mask of malefic wisdom. Supposedly saturated with dark magic, it enhances the magical abilities and cunning of the wearer.”

Myrrdin yawned, stretching. “Where does it come from?”

“Hmm.” Crowlin murmured, flipping back to the front of the section. “This section deals with mythical masks from far eastern cultures-”

“Crowlin!” Sage panted, dashing around the corner with Kashé, Deviån, and Coriko. All four of them were dressed in combat gear, with their swords belted by their sides. “Come, we must go! A mob has formed, and they’re looking for you!”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

“That’s great.” Sage said. He glanced around the tavern; ever since the massacre, it had been unusually full. Durry had also slashed prices on drinks to three quarters of their original price, making it easier for his patrons to drown their sorrows. It was likely that he would provide the ale for the mass funeral taking place tomorrow.

“They’ve been rumbling, you know.” Coriko muttered. “Talking under their breath about Crowlin. How he apparently sold us out.”

Sage looked at Coriko with alarm. “You don’t believe that, do you?” 

“ ‘Course not.” Coriko muttered into her drink. “But the rest of the city doesn’t know him as well as we do. All they see is a Druid boy who survived the attack when the rest of the staff didn’t. A Druid boy who stands to become the Instructory’s youngest headmaster, should the Arcanis Council approve it. Which they may, given how he acted to save the rest of us from being killed. To everyone else, it’s suspicious, especially when they’re drunk. Crowlin’s survival, and subsequent rise to one of the community’s most respected positions, looks planned. His Druid heritage doesn’t help.”

“Can’t they see reason?” Sage demanded.

“Do you and Kashé ever see reason when you two get drunk?” Coriko asked. “They don’t want reason. They want someone to blame. We all do. Lately, they’ve been moving towards going out and finding a scapegoat for the grief, and Crowlin’s the most popular candidate.”

“I should find him, then.” Sage said, getting up. “I was planning on inviting him to come with us.”

“Wait up. I’m coming too.” Coriko said, slipping off her stool. She reached into her purse and pulled out a few coins, but Durry caught her hand before she could drop them on the counter.

“Nay, lass. You drink free. I can’t deny that to someone who’s lost as much as you have.” he said kindly, gently pushing her hand back to her. “Besides, if I’ve been listening aright, you’ll be needing those where you’re going.”

Coriko’s eyes grew misty. “The spirits bless and keep you, Durry.”

“You ought to be along.” Durry advised. “I know that friend of yours, and there’s a many fixing to pin the blame on him. You should get him out of the city afore long.”

Sage and Coriko quickly left, departing the tavern for the night. But there were those in the tavern who had overhead their subject of conversation, and would not sit idly by.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

Sage stepped into Durry’s tavern and looked around; finding no sign of Crowlin, he was about to leave when he noticed Coriko over at the bar. Stepping in, he walked over to the bar and took a seat beside her. For the first time that he was aware of, Coriko had ordered something alcoholic, and not water or tea.

“I suppose Kashé offered to let you come on the mission?” Sage said quietly, motioning to Durry to get him a mug of water. At least one of them should be sober, but since Coriko wasn’t fulfilling her usual function, Sage had to be the sober one tonight.

Coriko cast a sidelong glance at Sage. Nearly all of her friends had been killed during the attack on the Instructory, and she’d taken it particularly hard.

“Aye.” Coriko muttered. “What of it?”

Sage shrugged. “I was just wondering if you’d made a decision. If we’re going to go, we need to do it soon, before the trail goes cold.”

“What trail?” Coriko demanded. “We all know there’s no trail. Whoever they were, they just disappeared into thin air when Crowlin raised the strongest shield spell anyone at the Instructory’s ever raised.”

“So you’re not coming?”

“I didn’t say that.” Coriko said, slamming her mug down. “Aye, I’m coming. I lost all my friends to masked cowards. I know they teach us that revenge should never be the motive behind a mage knight’s actions, but someone must answer for all the good blood spilled that day. May the spirits help them if I ever find out who was responsible.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

Crowlin exhaled as he severed the last of the magic threads with the blade of energy. Allowing the concentrated energy to dissipate, he stood upright, grimacing as being bent over for a couple of hours took its toll on his spine. Over by the door, the supervising knight had fallen asleep out of boredom, and the sunlight coming through the cracked door was fading. Evening was coming on fast.

Carefully reaching down, Crowlin took the edges of the mask and lifted it off the corpse’s face, bracing himself for what he might see under it. But as the light fell across the corpse’s face, Crowlin saw nothing unusual aside from a man he didn’t recognize, which was all he could expect.

Looking at the mask, Crowlin turned it over in his hands. It was made of wood - what kind he was unsure - and was light and hardy. There were measured cuts carved into the sides of the mask, and there was no physical representation of where a mouth and nose would be. The eyeholes were wide, allowing for a considerable visual range.

As Crowlin hefted the mask in his hands, a strange fascination began to come over him, and a compulsion to put on the mask came over him. He wanted to try it on, see what it was like to look at the world through it. Turning it over, he raised it to his face.

The sudden snort of the sleeping knight snapped Crowlin out of his fascination; he slammed the mask down on the table and took his hands off it. The ease with which he’d been compelled to put on the mask was frightening. Deliberately ignoring the mask, Crowlin turned his attention to the corpse, checking the temperature and texture of his skin and pulling back one eyelid to examine the eye.

“Gah!” Crowlin gasped, darting back. The corpse’s eye was entirely black - no iris, no pupil, no white. Just pure, solid black all the way through. What was more, the eyelid remained open, staring creepily up at the ceiling. Edging forward a little, Crowlin snatched the mask off the table beside the corpse and backed away again, using a nudge of magic to close the corpse’s eye from afar.

Wrapping the mask in cloth to prevent the apparent allure from grabbing the attention of others, Crowlin nudged awake the mage knight supposedly supervising him. “Ensure that the corpse is placed back in the alcove.” he ordered.

“Mm? What?” the mage knight said, blinking and rising. “What’s that you’ve got bundled there?”

“The mask.” Crowlin answered. “I was able to remove it. I don’t recognize the man and he doesn’t have any belongings, so this mask is the only clue to what we’re dealing with. I must go to the Great Library and see if there are any books with knowledge of masks like these.” Crowlin stepped out, nodding to the other mage knight standing guard. “I will return with answers as quickly as possible.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be using one of the few Druid spells I learned before my childhood was shattered.” Crowlin said without looking up. “Don’t worry; it’s harmless. It’s just a spell that allows me to see the flow of magic, to sense the connections that magic makes between objects.” Before the supervising knight could protest, Crowlin placed his hand above the masked corpse’s face and closed his eyes, the air between his hand and the mask shimmering.

In his mind’s eye, Crowlin could see a malefic black aura just in front of him, and realized it was the mask. The thing was entirely saturated with some foreign sort of dark magic, a type of black magic he had never encountered before. Turning his hand, Crowlin saw that there was the slightest of spaces between the mask and the face, and that red light seemed to be emanating from that infinitesimal space. Looking closer, he realized that the red light was actually threads of magic - thousands upon thousands of them, all linking the mask to the corpse’s face.

Opening his eyes, Crowlin took a breath. “How curious.”

“What is it?” the supervising knight asked.

“This mask looks like it’s been sewn onto this man’s face - with magic.” Crowlin said, pressing his knuckles to his lips. “And not just around the border, either. There are thousands of threads of magic linking the mask to every inch of his face. It’s no wonder nobody could pull the mask off without taking the man’s face with it.”

“Does that mean we’ll never know his identity?”

“No, I can get it off.” Crowlin said, glaring at the corpse. “But it will take time. The threads of magic can be severed with magic, but the space between the mask and the face is so small the unaided eye cannot see it. I will have to be careful not to cut his face while I am also cutting the threads.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

Druid Heritage
Examining the mask on the corpse, Crowlin gave it an experimental tug. The mask hung tight, sealed to the dead man’s face; straightening, Crowlin folded his arms and perused the mask.

“I’ve heard tell from the locals that you’re a Druid.” the mage knight supervising Crowlin said, breaking the silence.

“Druid by descent? Yes. Druid by training? No. I was only raised by the Druids for the first third of my life.” Crowlin answered, turning the corpse’s head sideways. There was no seam between the mask and the corpse’s face.

“Oh, so you were a runaway.” the mage knight assumed.

“Quite contrary. I loved it in my village. Knights - more like savages dressed in armor, they were - from a neighboring region attacked our village without provocation. My parents, peaceful Druids like every other Druid in our village, were killed, along with dozens of others. It was then that I ran - not from my own people, but from the swords of foreigners. I survived for a few weeks in the wilderness, using the little magic I had learned by the age of seven. I eventually wandered into Aylodae, and when I was found, it was decided that my Druid heritage would make me a good mage, possibly even a mage knight. That was how I came to the Instructory.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

Sage walked back to his dorm alone, thinking on the mission assigned to him and his two companions. Kashé had gone to invite Coriko to be part of their party, while Deviån had gone to pack. Sage had considered inviting Crowlin, but he wasn’t sure the bookish teaching assistant was cut out for a mission with this kind of danger.

But what weighed most heavily on Sage’s mind was the fact that he had no idea of where to start.

They’d been given a mission with a clear end goal: find the organization, bring them to heel and stop them from killing. The goal itself was simple enough, but it was getting to that goal that was the problem. They didn’t know what the organization was. They didn’t know their motivation, didn’t know where they were based, didn’t know what resources or knowledge they had at their disposal. In short, they knew nothing.

In short, they were embarking on a mission with essentially no idea of what they were supposed to be doing, or even what direction they should head in. The end goal became much more daunting when you took into account the fact that they knew nothing about their opponents.

Thinking on the problem, Sage wondered if Crowlin could help them after all. He was more versed in esoteric subjects, and was often engaged in reading ancient histories and obscure tomes. Perhaps he would know something that could give them a direction to go in. Reaching their dorm, Sage pushed open the door.

“Crowlin. . .?”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

Walking through the halls of the Instructory, Crowlin received more unkind glances than he would’ve liked. Most of the glances came from mage knights that were assigned to the Instructory; there were no students to glare at him with animosity, since the spring term had let out a week and a half before and most of the students had returned to their villages to work for the summer. Ignoring the glances, Crowlin continued on to the lab where the body of the dead attacker lay in stasis.

Reaching the lab, Crowlin moved to open the door but found the way barred by the two mage knights set to guard the room. “I’m afraid we can’t allow you in there without supervision.” one said roughly.

“Supervise me, then.” Crowlin snapped, knocking their arms out of the way with a flick of his hand. Pushing open the door, he stepped into the room, one of the knights following him.

Within the room, the dead assailant was kept suspended in an alcove, encased in clear blue crystal. Walking up to the crystal, Crowlin pressed a hand to the surface and spoke a word, which sent a ripple across the surface. The crystal began to regress into the alcove, and Crowlin stepped back.

“What are you doing?” the mage knight demanded.

“Did you expect that I would just stand here and stare at him through the stasis crystal?” Crowlin demanded in return. “What am I supposed to learn from that? I need answers, and staring at him isn’t going to help me get them.”

“You can’t just take him out of stasis!” the knight protested.

Crowlin whirled on the knight. “I have just lost all my mentors and forty-six of the students I helped teach! Do you expect me to do nothing?”

The knight relented with some embarrassment. “Of course. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”

Crowlin glared, then extended his hands, levitating the corpse of the masked man over to a table. “Has anybody examined him prior to this?”

“Yes. The magic specialists in our company went over him this morning.”

“And they found no spells guarding his body or any of his possessions?”

“There were a few, but they disarmed them.”

“Alright.” Crowlin said, rolling up his sleeves. “Time to get to work.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mage Knights: Childhood's End

“But. . . we only became mage knights mere days ago!” Kashé pointed out, shocked as Deviån and Sage.

“Precisely.” the emissary agreed. “As young knights, your names will not be well known. You will be able to blend in better among others, and nearly no one in all of Aylodae will recognize your faces, since you are not well-traveled. That way, if this group has spies or hides among the citizenry, their suspicions will not be roused as easily if older, better-known mage knights had undertaken this same mission.”

“We’ll do it.” Deviån immediately volunteered bombastically. “You can be assured we won’t let the Archsage down.”

“Are we allowed to take others with us?” Sage asked, thinking critically.

“At most, three others besides yourselves.” the emissary stated. “The purpose of this mission is that the group be a small one, to avoid attention and suspicion. As many as six may go, but I recommend four or five. The fewer, the faster your flight and pursuit.”

“Coriko.” Kashé said immediately. “I’m inviting her.”

“Someone you can trust. That’s good.” the emissary intuited. “Deviån?”

Deviån blew the emissary off. “I don’t need anyone to back me up.”

“And you, Sage?” the emissary inquired.

“I have someone who may come if invited.” Sage answered thoughtfully, quietly. “This is our mission now, though. We’ll make our own decisions without the guidance of others. You can tell the Archsage that he can count on us.”

The emissary nodded, rising. “The next generation rising to the challenge with independence. It is a heartening thing. Good luck, mage knights. May the wind carry you far.”