Sunlight seeped through a slit in the velvet curtains, allowing a single ray of sparkling gold to slant down into the Great Library of the Magicians' Guild in Specularum.
Karnus closed the heavy tome, causing a cloud of parchment dust to rise shimmering into the light. The blue-robed mage leaned back in the chair and used the fingers of one hand to massage his weary eyes, knowing that his research for the day was still far from complete.
Silence filled the air of the place. Lost in his thoughts, the mage thought he might have heard the vaguest of scuffling sounds. He strained to listen for a long moment but could hear only the still of the long dark shadows. Karnus shrugged. A rat, he thought, and rose to his feet. He would return the book to its proper shelf and begin studying a second, unfortunately more advanced edition. Hefting the tome under one arm, a candelabra in the other, the mage began his walk along the creaking floorboards, through the dimly lit aisles of the Library.
He rounded one corner. For the briefest of instants he discerned the figure of a man, clad from head to toe in gleaming metal plate. A warrior inside the Guild?? The words of a defensive spell formed quickly on his lips, but with an unexpected gleam of silver... he vanished.
A carriage rumbled past violently, causing children who had been playing in the street to dive to one side. Angrily, Drewen shook a fist at the careless driver. A reckless human, no doubt. Behaving like they owned the place, acting carelessly, now honestly...
The trader had offered to have the cumbersome cask delivered for an exorbitant fee, but after a half hour of heated bartering the frugal dwarf had pointedly refused to pay even one kopek more. Drewen had a better plan in mind. He would bring the liquor home himself. And on such a fine summer's day the dwarf was nowhere near ready to deprive himself of a hearty afternoon stroll.
The dwarf paraded proudly through the bustling streets, his head high, his newly braided beard gleaming in the sunshine. He was forced to make a sharp move every once in a while to keep the cask rolling in the correct direction. Heads turned on all sides as many of the cityfolk recognised the dwarf whose valiant deeds were already sung of in inns and taverns across the Duchy. Nowhere more so than in Drewen's own homestead, the Flying Ferret, which was now little more than a few streets away. No doubt the exhibition of the dwarf wheeling a cask of brandy through the city streets would bring many new customers to the Inn that night. Drewen could already imagine the scene - the blazing fire, merry laughing all around, the brandy flowing freely as toasts were offered on all sides. He and his companions would truly be kings that night.
"Dwarf!" came a shout, bringing Drewen abruptly out of his daydream. The cask tipped to one side and would have rolled into the nearby gutter, had the dwarf's reactions not been quicker. Who had spoken? Glancing round Drewen deduced that the voice must have emanated from an alleyway he had passed a few steps behind. Cautiously, Drewen propped the barrel at the entrance to the alley, and took a step inside...
There was a flash of silver. Long moments passed and no-one returned to claim the brandy.
Threy hurled his pitchfork into the haystack with a snort of contempt. Somebody had been needed to muck out the stables and the normally sullen cleric, after a barrage of chiding from Lana, had finally and unwisely gone against his better judgement, agreeing to take care of the task.
He had paid no thought to the conditions he would be working in, mind. Black flies buzzed noisiliy around the man's ears, as the roasting midday sun beat upon his back. The warm muck was making the stench of horses practically unbearable... Threy had taken enough. He was worthy of greater deeds than this! He was ready to march back into the Inn, find Lana and proceed to bestow upon the young lady a hefty piece of his mind. All after pouring himself a long cold drink, of course...
The hairs on Threy's neck did not give the cleric an early enough warning. A hand on his shoulder caused him to turn slowly to face the stranger. But for a second all Threy saw was his own reflection. Then the flash came. Threy was gone.
Lana whistled tunelessly as she reached the final corner of the barroom, slinging the soapy rag back into its pail. She surveyed her handiwork with satisfaction. The whole floor of the Inn was sheening like the surface of a mirror...
The smile faded as memories came unbidden to her mind. Memories of the turmoil which she, her companions and the people of Verge had endured a short while before, courtesy of the madman Skarda and his enchanted Mirror. Yet another rogue magician, she thought, loose in the Duchy and causing pain to the lives of countless thousands. Wherever they were, the Antonics were beyond her help, she knew. Sure there had been a rivalry between she and Halia, but the two fought for the same causes. Peace, justice, and happiness for the many. Lana fought back a low, tired sigh as she wiped her forehead with the back of a damp hand.
She could hear some-one approaching the door of the Inn. She picked up the bucket and tiptoed across the still-wet floor, smoothing the creases of her skirt in a hopeless effort to appear less bedraggled. The door opened and two men stepped inside, both wearing metal armour. Lana's brow creased, since these men did not bear the emblem of the City Guard... her lips began to shape the words to a spell, as the two men glanced around the room, seemingly verifying that no others were present.
Lana called out a customary welcome. The men only closed the door behind them, bringing with them a package, a wrapped object of some description. Lana gasped as the binding fell to the damp floor, revealing a gilded frame whose surface shone with a mystic, silverish sheen. The Mirror was here! She was in danger...
In the space of a heartbeat Lana flung out her ringed hand toward the bar, and felt the familiar feel of steel as the amber rose dagger hilt settled into her outstretched palm. Biting out words of magic a Shield surrounded her body, and Lana closed to confront her assailants. The first man lunged at her with the flat of his blade, but Lana dodged nimbly, gaining advantage enough to land a heavy slam of her pommel squarely between the man's eyes. He swooned and dropped to the floor. His companion had manoeuvred behind Lana however and grappled her with strong arms, lifting the woman off her feet and across the barroom. Lana shouted out in surprised anger, kicking and screaming, as her face was pressed tightly against the glass of the mirror. She shut her eyes fast.
"Open them!" the fighter snarled, pummelling the mage's back in a rain of heavy blows. The Shield offered her adequate protection against the onslaught, and as Lana forced herself to think straight she thought of one last trick she might play. "Whiskers!" she screamed, thinking the ferret might be within earshot and could help her turn the tide of battle. Within an instant though, the fallen fighter stumbled to his feet and began prying Lana's eyelids apart. There was nothing she could do.
As Whiskers came bounding through the kitchen door, snarling at the sight of enemies in his home, the three vanished.
Vasily knocked politely on the Inn door later that day, as was always his habit, this time thinking it strange that no reply should come from within. He was expected, after all. Surely Drewen would call out from the bar, or Lana would come bustling from the kitchen offering some stream of chat. The cleric frowned as silence continued.
Opening the door a fraction, his suspicions were confirmed. A sheening mirror surface was all that awaited him! Shoving the door inward he cleared enough room to manoeuvre, swinging his mace hard into the midriff of the armoured fighter holding the frame outstretched before him. Vasily uttered an oath to Halav and closed for combat.
"Hold!" spoke a second would-be assailant, as a pre-cursor to negotiation. Vasily was alone. His companions had been taken and there was no need for further violence. Surely a man of the cloth could agree to that much. Vasily and his companions had been summoned by a mysterious higher power. The cleric's lip curled, as he deduced that this "higher power" could be none other than Skarda, whose Mirror Fiend the party had fought a brief time before. Still... his companions were at risk without him. Furthermore, the chance to come closer to Skarda was a good first step toward rescuing Halia and Retameron!
Vasily nodded his consent, and was roughly taken hold of by the men. All three turned to face the golden Mirror. A blaze of silver erupted from its surface as the three men were transported through space... to another realm.
Read the next instalment HERE
Or, return to the Main Page or the Site Overview