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Potential Energy (Part 3/3 - complete!)

Wulfgard

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#1 Saber-Scorpion

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Posted 29 October 2014 - 02:01 PM

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(Apologies for some of the paragraphs being weird, but I'm sure many of you are familiar with how the forum mangles copy-pasting from Word documents. Later I'll convert all of this to a nice PDF or something.)
 

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Part 1 – Brotherly Love

                As it was at the time of creation, the earth was split into light and shadow. With blasts of terrifying power, the light would try to fill the void. But the black abyss paid no heed, and each flash was soon lost in darkness. The light shone with fierce fire, in a last dazzling display of energy, as the shadow relentlessly closed in around it.

                This was how the two armies appeared that day on the field of battle. The mage-lords stood behind their horde of horrifying creations and unwilling slaves, watching as the legion of black-armored knights cut through them like grass, moving ever forward. The magi were at the peak of their power, hurtling spells of unimaginable fury into the heart of the enemy force, spells that could break mountains asunder… but they were forced to watch their spells dissipate, like a meaningless light show to amuse peasants, as the enemy marched on unheeding.

                The land beneath the feet of the ebony knights was blasted, twisted, torn asunder, cursed to be forever barren, like the earth of the Great Wastes to the South laid bare by the Mage Wars of Sinkarya. Forever after, the battlefield would be known as the Scar, a place no man would dare to tread. Yet the knights tread it that day, plodding and climbing over the sundered ground without pause.

                The magi who had instilled unthinkable horror into the lives of so many – shattering the minds of innocent Achaean men and women with otherworldly things never meant to be glimpsed by mortals – now found themselves cowering before the strength of the Void Iron Knights.

                Sir Durand led them, slicing a bloody swath through the magi and their minions, his eyes ever locked upon his goal: the tall golden war-chariot of Ildrius, Mage-Emperor of Achaea. He slew the twisted, unnatural beasts that pulled it, not pausing to watch their hideous forms crumble to dust under his feet as they returned to the dark realms from which they had been summoned. He looked ever upward, to the top of the throne-chariot’s golden stairs. To Ildrius, the knight’s obsidian form looked far more terrifying than the beasts he had just slain.

                The Emperor’s gaunt and bent figure rose from the chair at the top, wracked with terror and anguish, but also with rage. To his credit, the usurper of the Imperial throne refused to cower, to beg, or to flee. He fought to the last, in his own cowardly way, opening a gate to the nether realms from which spewed a flock of hellish bats, crows, and harpies. Through them all, Sir Durand cut like a scythe, until he slammed the fingers of his black gauntlet atop the head of the golden lion that adorned the arm of the usurper’s throne. Then he pulled himself up.

                They say his black blade sliced through so many layers of arcane shielding before it pierced the Mage-Emperor’s chest, that the blast of power from the broken spells melted the gold of the great chariot, leaving a mound of riches in the center of the Scar. They also say that when Durand drew his long sword from Ildrius’s chest, the Mage-Emperor’s heart came out with it, and it was blacker than even the Void Iron of the blade.

                But the stern Sir Durand would not have wanted such fanciful tales told of his deed that day in the shadow of the Iron Pikes…

---
               
Here the young man closed the book with a sigh.

                “He’s a fine one to talk about ‘fanciful tales’,” said Septimus Plutarch.

                Behind him, his sister giggled. “Now Septimus, you know better than to criticize our most beloved ancestor.”

                “Yes, especially not in front of our lord father, who would have me follow in his footsteps.”

                “You would make a grand historical chronicler, Septimus.”

                “A grand chronicler of the greatness of others…”

                Septimus rose from his chair and placed the heavy tome back on the bookshelf. His family had a massive collection of books. It was not quite the great Library of Xandropolis, but most of the important works were here. Septimus had spent the majority of his years studying them, since his skills with the sword were no match for his arrogant warrior brothers. All things considered, he preferred the company of his sister Octavia. He found her music a soothing background while reading, though he seldom complimented her on it. She was strumming on her lyre even now. Septimus usually pretended to find it irritating.

                She looked up at him now, her dark blue, almost violet eyes smiling. He knew she was well aware of his true feelings, though he always tried to hide them behind his own eyes, which were similar in color but not so vibrant. They both had very dark hair, as did all the members of their pure-blooded Achaean family, the Plutarchs. Named for their vast wealth, they were one of the oldest houses in all of Achaea. Their ancestors had stood beside Exar I of Coria himself when he had forged the First Empire.

As a reward, they had been given the great castle of Pluton Hold, just north of Coria – now called Coronaria, capital of the Empire – in the shadow of the great volcano Vulcan’s Forge. Though the mountain had never erupted in all of recorded history, it was also never truly dormant. It just loomed there, nestled among the unimaginably tall peaks of the Jagged Edge, spewing a never-ending cloud of smoke. Septimus could see it even now outside the window of his room, which was built high in the black volcanic-stone towers of the Hold.

“Your skill with the lyre has improved,” Septimus deigned to say.

Octavia giggled again. “My friend has been teaching me. Truly I prefer the lute, but others seem to find it somehow… common. Not distinguished and ancient enough for my distinguished and ancient blood. In the south, around Justantion, they use a bowed lyre, which I also prefer…”

Septimus ignored all this dull talk of musical instruments and gave a dirty smile. “This friend you’re referring to wouldn’t happen to be Cordia? The blonde with the green eyes? Mmm… Is she back in town? I thought she’d run off to Templaria.”

Octavia pursed her lips and made a scolding motion with her fingers. “Yes, she’s in town, but she told me not to tell you. Must you try to get all my friends into bed?”

Septimus chuckled, rubbing his smooth-shaven chin. He’d been told his deep chuckle was charming. In fact, it was one of Octavia’s musical friends who had told him that. Septimus took great pride in his personal charisma. While his brothers busied themselves trying to make conquests on the battlefield, he had made far more conquests of a different type, more suited to his own skills…

                Suddenly, the door to Septimus’s room burst open, interrupting his pleasant reverie. In stepped Paulus, the loyal family servant. The grey-haired, sour-faced old gentleman had served the Plutarchs all his life. Septimus’s father Lord Titus, head of House Plutarchus and master of Pluton Hold, had grown up with Paulus, as they were nearly the same age. They hardly seemed to say two words to each other now, but there was a silent mutual respect there that Paulus thoroughly lorded over Titus’s children, despite being low-born and uneducated. Septimus utterly despised the man.

                “Master Septimus,” Paulus said, without even looking at the man he was addressing, “you are summoned to the great hall. Lord Titus and your brothers are waiting for you.”

                Pointedly reclining in his chair, Septimus said, “And what of Octavia? She is Father’s daughter – is she not summoned as well?”

                Octavia made a face at him, angrily imploring him to leave her out of it. He paid her no heed.

                Paulus glanced between them, stumbling to form an appropriate response. “She is not… That is, your father did not specify, but he indicated… He said to fetch his sons.”

                Though she truly did not like Paulus either, Octavia forced a smile. “It’s quite alright.”

                Septimus snorted. “It’s not alright at all. Octavia, if by some good fortune my brothers and I all kill each other, and you come to inherit, I hope you’ll fire this lout.”

                Paulus stiffened even more than normal, if such a thing were possible. “I shall tell Lord Titus of your disrespect toward me.”

                “You may also tell him I said you were an idiot and recommended he replace you with a trained monkey from the Sunset Islands. But enough; I tire of talking about you. I’ll head to the main hall now. You can run along.”

                Paulus bowed and left, and after replacing his book, Septimus followed. Octavia waved goodbye and continued practicing her music. Plutarch felt his feet sink into the luxurious carpet of the castle hallway. He tightened the belt on his night-robe but did not bother putting on any more formal clothes. It was a nice enough robe, a deep royal purple lined with silver, even if he did occasionally sleep in it.

                Septimus headed downstairs. Just outside the doors to the main hall, he ran into one of his brothers. It was Varius, his father’s fourth son – one of the lighter-haired ones. Septimus suppressed a sneer. He had to suppress a sneer around all of his brothers, but it was perhaps worst around Varius.

Thoroughly outshone in martial prowess by their father’s eldest two sons, Varius was forever trying to prove himself in the only thing he was good at: swordfighting. “Varius the Blade,” he liked to tell others to call him. He could barely sit a horse and was no good at commanding troops, but he was a master with a blade. Their father had assigned him to teach Plutarch in the art, and instead Varius had simply done his best to humiliate him. Plutarch was better with a pen than any kind of blade, and Varius loved to rub this in his face.

“Septimus,” remarked Varius, grinning and swaggering like a swashbuckler – the idiot could never stand still.

Septimus looked down his tall aquiline nose at his shorter brother. “Varius.”

                Varius hooked is thumbs on the belt that held up his leather trousers. “Been exercising your sword-arm any since we last met? Perhaps we should spar again later, though I see you’re not carrying a sword on your… robe.”

                “Are swords all you ever talk about, Varius? I always have to resist thinking of innuendo when speaking with you.”

                Varius snickered. “Still sharpening your wit instead of your blade then, I guess. I could lend you my sword, and I’ll fight with just my dagger. We could do it now!”

                Septimus rolled his eyes. “Father is waiting for us, so please, just… keep it in your pants.”

                Varius laughed, bobbing excitedly on his heels. Then he moved past Septimus and opened the great oaken doors to the main hall. Septimus followed him, and saw that the rest of the family was already there, seated around the tremendously long table amidst the tall statues and long banners of the Septimus house. Their ghastly family emblem, a helmeted black skull on a field of deep purple, stared from the flags with hollow eyes.

                As he took his seat, Septimus scanned over those present. At the head of the long table sat Lord Titus Plutarch himself, a gaunt but straight-backed old man with hardly a hair on his head, and with eyes so cold it was hard to believe a soul resided behind them. Septimus had his doubts that one did. As usual, he was clad entirely in black. They were fine clothes, of course, but where other nobles valued color as a sign of status, Lord Titus spurned it.

                On either side of him sat his two eldest sons, Adamas and Albus. Adamas was dark-haired, as stern and emotionless as his father, and a master of all the arts of war. Albus, the younger of the two, was the first of the three lighter-complexioned, sandy brown-haired Plutarchs. He had bright blue eyes and an even brighter, self-confident smile. He was supposedly a tactical genius on the battlefield, and his troops loved him.

                The next two Plutarchs were the other light-haired ones. First was Claudius, the least ambitious of all the Plutarchs, and a disappointment to his father. For this reason if no other, he was the only brother that Septimus could tolerate, even if he had no respect for him. Claudius simply lived a life of luxury on the family wealth, and Lord Titus tried to ignore him so long as he caused no scandals. Seated opposite him was Varius.

                After Varius, their Lord Father had apparently lost interest in thinking up individual names, for the rest of his children were simply numeric. Quintus – number five – had taken up religion and become a priest in the temple of Zeus, much to his father’s annoyance. He took his job seriously, however, and was always annoying the rest of the family with reminders to respect the gods. Perhaps it helped him feel superior to his brothers.

                Then came Sextus, the most forgettable brother. Well aware that his position lay far down the ladder, he did everything he could to ingratiate himself with the eldest son, Adamas. He served as his squire, eagerly following him around everywhere he went and overzealously enforcing his orders. He made Septimus sick.

                Of course, Septimus had plenty of cause to jealously resent all his brothers, for he was the youngest. Except, of course, for Octavia, but Lord Titus hardly seemed to acknowledge her existence. Once his wife had borne him a daughter, he had reportedly lost all interest in her. She passed away when Septimus was still a child; he had barely known her.

                Septimus scooted his seat around to the end of the table – the squeaking of the chair legs echoing in the great chamber – so that instead of sitting opposite empty air, he now faced his father across the long field of polished wood. Lord Titus looked at him and frowned deeply, but made no comment, not even about Septimus’s attire and his reclined posture. Instead, the old man cleared his throat for silence and then addressed the whole room.

                “My sons, I called you here for an important occasion,” he said, his voice coarse but strong. “Adamas and Albus have been assigned to lead two Imperial Legions to the Black Lands to suppress a rebellion. Word is that the rebel houses may even have the support of a barbarian tribe who sailed their longships through Rognosst Swamp and into the Empire. This is an opportunity for the eldest sons of our house to show their greatness. Varius and Sextus will accompany them, as their lieutenants.”

                Sextus grinned sycophantically at this. Septimus tried hard not to gag.

                “And Septimus,” said the Lord of House Plutarch, startling his youngest son, “you will accompany them as chronicler of the campaign.”

                Septimus coughed. “What? Father, I was about to head to Coronaria to stand for election as an Aedile…”

                “An ancient position,” Lord Titus said dismissively, “largely worthless now, and it was my impression that you had no desire to serve in it anyway.”

                “I do not, of course. In truth, I had… other plans.”

                Titus gave an amused smile, and said condescendingly, “And pray tell, what plans did you have in mind?”

                Septimus’s lips tightened. He knew he should not say anything, but it was difficult to resist. He’d been keeping his scheme a secret for so long, and now the judging eyes of all his older brothers and his father were laughing at him – even Sextus, the stupid little toady.

                Septimus straightened in his chair, leaned over the table, and placed his hands out flat upon it, looking across into his father’s eyes. “Consider this: The Empire is full of ancient, blue-blooded patrician families with virtually no land holdings. Compared to the young and upcoming new bloodlines, earning their money through conquest and trade, these venerable old houses are practically poor. Over the centuries, they’ve lost everything save the value of their names. They’re desperate for financial help, but they have nowhere to turn. The only bank with enough money to loan them is the Iron Gauntlet, and what Achaean noble wants to deal with the dvergar?

                “So here is my plan, Lord Father: I will go to Coronaria, serve my years as an Aedile, and use the knowledge I gain of economics, the families in the capital, and their finances, as well as their respect… to open a bank here in Pluton Hold. Whatever meagre pittance I inherit of our great wealth should still be enough to start the venture. Men will flock from across Achaea for an alternative to banking with the dwarves. Our wealth and influence will increase a hundredfold. So… what do you think?”

                Silence fell over the room. Every small squeak of leather echoed off the ceiling. Septimus looked at his brothers. Adamas was stone-faced as usual, impossible to read – as was Lord Titus. Albus was frowning thoughtfully. Claudius actually had the guts to raise his cup to him, with a nod. The rest looked like they had hardly even understood his proposal.

                Then Lord Titus simply shook his head. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life, boy. You think I’d let a son of mine stain the family name by becoming a damned professional moneylender? We have money, son. We needn’t make it like some upstart young merchant family – we need only manage it.”

                Unfazed, Septimus crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. “If you’re offering to put me in charge of the family’s finances…”

                Titus waved his hand. “I’m offering no such thing. What I am offering you is a chance to follow in the footsteps of one of our family’s most esteemed names and become a great historian.”

                Septimus’s lip twitched with a barely-concealed sneer. “Yes, a chronicler of the exploits of greater men – my esteemed brothers.”

                “A chronicler,” said Quintus, the priest brother, “of the will of the gods! A holy calling.” But no one paid him any heed.

                Albus, the light-haired second son, licked his lips and forced a smile. “Now brother, there’s no need for this attitude. If you feel that way, we will give you a command position! Won’t we, Adamas?” Adamas’s stone face carved itself into a frown, but Albus went on: “Why, if we conquer some new land for the Empire, you could even have a governorship–”

                “You think I want to govern some backwater frontier swamp or barbarian dung-village,” Septimus snapped, “while one of you two inherits the wealthiest hold in the heart of the Empire? Don’t throw me a bone, Albus – I don’t want your table scraps. I can make my own way in the world.”

                Lord Titus rose from his chair then, and placed two fingers upon the table, leaning forward with an air of finality. “Enough of this! Septimus, you will accompany your brothers as their chronicler, and if either Albus or Adamas sees fit to offer you a greater position than that, you will thank them kindly and accept it. You are not going to make your own way in the world – you’re going to help make the way of House Plutarch. Now, I would have a word with you alone. The rest of you wait here.”

                 Septimus refused to look cowed. He kept his head held high as he rose from his seat and walked around the table to join his father, the eyes of his brothers following him as he moved. He shot Albus a look and nodded, hoping his elder brother would not take his earlier outburst personally. He had no real problem with Albus – only with his father. And perhaps Varius.  And Sextus. Well, he certainly had no love for any of them.

                Lord Titus moved with measured step, never looking back as he led his youngest son toward a door on the side of the great hall, and into a small study room. He closed the door behind him and motioned for Septimus to take a seat on one of the deep purple cushioned chairs. Septimus did as instructed, picking up a glass from the table and sipping it, without knowing what it was. It turned out to be green wine, a very rare and valuable elven drink. Septimus decided he would finish the glass.

                His father sat down opposite him and locked his fingers together beneath his chin. “Septimus, I wanted to have a word with you in private.”

                The younger man swirled his wine and huffed. “Well yes, that’s why we’re here.”

                “I want you to know I understand how you feel. You are a man of great potential, who feels he is being held back. I want you to know that is not the case. I am not holding you back – I am holding you in reserve.”

                Septimus suppressed a laugh. “In reserve for what? In case my six older brothers all suddenly catch the plague?”

                “Do not be so quick to scoff at the idea. I know I’ve told you this many times, but I too was seventh in line to inherit this place, my name and titles. I lost two brothers to war, three to disease or accident, and one to assassination. At least two of your brothers are utter fools and may not even outlive my horse. Indeed, I hope they do not. They would only drag down the family name. But you, my son, would not. So… bide your time. Educate yourself and improve your skills. And eventually, your day will come.”

                Plutarch threw back the rest of his glass and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his robe, before looking his father in the eyes. “And what if I don’t want to be your… contingency plan?”

                Lord Titus gave a thin smile. “Of course you do. You want power – it’s plain in your eyes – and this is the surest way to get it. And in the meantime, during your studies, maybe you can help us conquer another house through marriage instead of the sword. Maybe you can seduce the only daughter of some wealthy old family like Beltizar or Olgovic. I hear you’re good at that.”

                “A waste of my talents,” muttered Septimus Plutarch, looking into his empty glass.

                “The gods give each of us certain tools,” Titus replied, with an air of finality as he opened the door and head back out into the hall. “We must use the tools that we are given.”

                With that, he closed the door behind him, leaving Septimus alone with his green wine and his thoughts.


-Scorp
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#2 Amarok

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Posted 29 October 2014 - 02:52 PM

That was seriously fantastic!

 

There's so much for me to praise it's hard to know where to start! The dialogue was just superb in every aspect and all of Septimus's unspoken thoughts made me laugh. In fact: You gave just enough information about the character for me to feel the same way about them as Septimus!

 

A very enjoyable read, can't wait for more!

 

Not to mention the cover art, which is gorgeous!


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#3 Lord_Capulet

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Posted 29 October 2014 - 08:26 PM

At last, we shall see the origins of the shadowy Lord Plutarch!  I'm so excited!

 

Every line of this story was a joy to read, though the section about the Inquisition was particularly vivid and enjoyable for me (even if I am slightly biased).

 

I liked how you explained the dynamics of each family member, showing your character's opinions of them in a way to make them as memorable as he thinks they should be.  Also, the part where the father sympathizes with his youngest son in private was an interesting touch.  Instead of the stereotypical "You're my son and you'll do as I say" spiel, he actually knows how Septimus feels.  That's an arc I don't think I've ever seen before.

 

 I shall eager follow this thread to see how this story progresses.


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#4 Dalton Westmoore

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    That was Dramatic.

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 06:20 PM

I'm betting that by the end of the story, Lord Plutarch Septimus probably kills his entire family with dark magic. By the way, is Octavia based off of Octavia Melody from MLP?



#5 Saber-Scorpion

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Posted 16 December 2014 - 04:55 PM

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Thanks for the comments, guys! Sorry part 2 took so long. I thought I had it ready quite a while back, but when I read over it again, I sort of hated it and had to scrap it and start over. You know how it is!

 

 

Part 2 - A Change in Plans

 

                Septimus Plutarch did not look back. It was one of his policies in life, established at a young age. He made his decisions and stuck to them, and then dealt with the consequences. Looking back tempted one to turn around and go back, and Septimus preferred to move forward.

 

                So now, as he rode from Pluton Hold on the road to Coronaria, alone except for the horse pulling his cart, he kept his eyes trained on the path ahead. Though eventually he got bored of this and began taking in the familiar scenery once again. Far away to the west, he could just make out the shadow of the Iron Pikes, rising up from nothing. Nestled in those lonely mountains were the fortresses and mines of the Iron Gauntlet, the guild of dwarves that controlled the trade of their special metals and crafts, and had the wealthiest bank in Achaea – the bank with which he hoped to compete someday.

 

                And just north of those peaks lay the Scar, the blasted landscape where Sir Durand the First Inquisitor had defeated the Mage-Emperor Ildrius. Plutarch had ridden by it once or twice, but there wasn’t much to see, for the Empire had erected a low but solid stone wall around the blackened land. Many an adventurous young Achaean dreamed of scaling that wall and venturing into the Scar to find the mound of Ildrius’s treasure that supposedly rested at its heart. A few had attempted it, but they either came back with naught but scars and strange tales, or never came back at all.

 

Plutarch looked at all these things that lay off to his side, but still he did not look back… until he heard the sound of another horse approaching. Then he turned his head and cursed.

 

                Paulus rode his steed up beside Plutarch’s cart and matched its pace, then said loudly, once again without looking at him: “Septimus, your lord father does not want you leaving. You are to meet up with your brothers Albus and Adamas at our manor the edge of the Shadow Sea.”

 

                Returning the favor, Septimus did not look at him either. “Our manor, Paulus? Really? You must be going senile, with all the times you forget you’re not a Plutarch. Unless one of my relatives has been foolish enough to adopt you… or marry you, perish the thought.”

 

                “Where are you going, Septimus? Coronaria?  Stop your cart, turn it around, and ask me not to report your transgression to your Lord Father. Hurry up now. Perhaps if you ask nicely, I’ll consider it.”

 

                “Honestly, Paulus, if you speak to my brothers like that, I’m surprised none of them has killed you in a fit of rage by now.” Septimus could feel his own ire rising even now, but as always he refused to show it. “You’re lucky I’m so tolerant.”

 

                Paulus drew his horse closer to Septimus’s cart and finally deigned to turn his wrinkled old head and look at him. “I wiped your bottom, boy! Perhaps your brothers simply respect me the way you should.”

 

                Septimus snorted. “I highly doubt that.”

 

                “Damn it, Septimus – stop your horse and look at me!” Here he reached out and grabbed Septimus tightly by the arm, as if threatening to pull him from his cart.

 

                Then something happened. First Septimus felt a surge of fury go through him like a wave of heat, and then Jupiter himself looked down from Olympos and threw a divine thunderbolt, which burst from the heavens and, with a mighty flash of light and crash of thunder, struck Paulus dead. At least that’s what Septimus assumed had happened when the unfortunate old man was blasted suddenly backward, away from Plutarch, flying off his horse to land sizzling in the ditch beside the road, smoke rising from his tangled form.

 

                Septimus stopped his cart. Paulus’s mount bolted in fear. As his brain worked to comprehend what had just occurred, Septimus climbed down from his cart and approached the old man’s corpse. It was a twisted, blackened mass – it barely even looked human. The flesh had been warped into strange shapes and patterns of massed scar tissue. One thing was patently obvious:

He had been killed by magic.

 

                A chill ran down Septimus’s spine. He looked at his hands. They looked perfectly normal, but he knew he had felt a surge of power go through him before Paulus died. 

 

The voice of his father echoed in his mind: “I too was seventh in line…”

 

 

Suddenly Septimus remembered an old superstition, and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

 

                “Seventh son of a seventh son…”

 

                He said this aloud as he stared at his hands, turning them over as if looking for a magic rune to appear. Stories claimed that magi were born with bizarre birthmarks, or other distinguishing characteristics such as white hair, or heterochromia – eyes of two different colors. Septimus could recall seeing no such marking on his own body. But tales also said that magi were usually born under unique circumstances, such as during a solar eclipse, or at a place of magical power like an ancient crossroads… or when a seventh son bore a seventh son.

 

Terror gripped him in its icy embrace, and he found himself looking away toward the Iron Pikes again, imagining the final battle between Sir Durand and Emperor Ildrius. Since he was a child, he had often envisioned himself on the winning side, striding into battle in that black armor, dauntless against the godlike power of the mage-lords. Now he stood on the opposite side, and imagined that unstoppable legion of Inquisitors hunting him down like an animal. He could feel all of his well-laid plans – and even those of his father – crumbling down around him.

 

                And then the mood passed.

 

                Plutarch looked at his hands again, and the feelings of fear and doubt faded as quickly as a cloud of sea-spray in the wind. Fear was a waste of time. He glanced over the colossal ruins of all his best-laid schemes and, without a thought, swept them aside to begin building new ones. All his life, he had sought to gain power with his intellect, through political or economic means. But now fate had granted him a far greater power, one even his great warrior brothers could never hope to achieve. And he would use it. The words of his father continued to echo in his thoughts.

 

                You are a man of great potential… We must use the tools that we are given…

 

                First he needed to dispose of Paulus’s body, for if it were discovered, the Inquisition would soon hear of it and begin a search. Perhaps he could drag it to the bog he’d seen nearby, and sink it into the mud. It would have to do. Luckily, there were no other people on the road at the moment, and he was quite far from any settlements, so hopefully there were no witnesses. He reached down and gingerly touched the corpse’s dry skin. Despite the manner of death, it was not hot to the touch. He tried to lift it, but it proved surprisingly heavy. He had no idea dead men weighed so much.

 

                A thought struck him: This was the first man he had ever killed. Shouldn’t he feel something? Remorse? Pity, at least? He felt nothing. Only annoyance, as if he had stepped on a bug and now had to clean it off the floor. Did this make him an evil man, he wondered? Then again, it was only Paulus. He doubted if anyone who knew the bitter old man would truly feel remorse for putting him out of everyone else’s misery.

 

                “If only I knew a spell,” Plutarch muttered as he struggled to drag the cadaver, “to raise you from the dead, just so you could walk your own sorry corpse to the bog.”

 

                When he finally made it to the little patch of wetlands, he had some difficulty pushing Paulus’s stiff body to a spot deep enough for it to sink. Once Paulus had disappeared out of sight into the mud, Septimus did his best to bend some of the grass back into shape to cover his trail as he made his way back to his cart.

 

                He climbed back up into the seat and picked up the horse’s reins. He considered his next move. He needed to arm himself… but not with weapons.

 

                “Scientia potentia est,” Septimus said to himself, and he smiled.

 

---

 

                First Septimus returned briefly to Pluton Hold and visited the library, taking all the most obscure books and scrolls on magic, along with some other subjects to camouflage his intentions. He loaded these into his cart and then headed for Coronaria. He took a slightly different road this time, to avoid the marsh where he had hidden Paulus’s body. Fortunately, all of the roads between Pluton Hold and the capital were safe to ride – probably the safest in all the Empire. Which would make Paulus’s death all the more suspicious, but Septimus had no time to worry about that.

 

                So I’m a wizard now, he thought as he rode. I should grow some sort of beard. A forked one, perhaps. And buy a cape with a tall collar. No pointed hat though.

 

He tried to laugh at these thoughts. Not so long ago, he’d dreamed of wearing void-iron armor…

 

                Soon enough, the walls of Coronaria, Capital of the Empire, loomed over Septimus’s head. Extending from the top of the wall to the hills beyond the city stretched a long ramp. A gatehouse stood at the point where the ramp touched down. It was toward this that Septimus headed, merely nodding at the gate guard, who took one look at his face and the family crest embroidered on his surcoat, and then waved him on his way.

 

                These were the gates to the city’s Sky Bridges, which extended from the elevated central districts, over the outer poor districts, and then over the outermost wall. The bridges allowed the wealthy and noble, the important and powerful, to pass over the crime-infested poverty-ridden “Iron Ring” without ever having to set foot in them. They were a marvel of engineering, dwarfing even the great aqueducts that fed the city water, especially in width – they were wide enough for four carts to ride abreast.

 

As Septimus rode, he looked down over the edge at the slums below. They looked so dismal, like an entirely different world he was happy to have never experienced. He wondered if he might end up hiding in such a place eventually, on the run from the Inquisition. As he looked, he saw what appeared to be a child clad in black crouched atop one of the tallest rooftops. She looked up at him, her eyes so big he swore he could almost make out their color – they looked green. But when he blinked, he found she had disappeared.

 

                Septimus turned his gaze ahead to the elevated inner districts: the so-called Silver and Gold Rings, surrounding the tall central citadel. In the Silver Ring lived the merchants and the younger noble families, still separated from the oldest Patrician houses and government buildings in the Gold. Here in the Silver, Septimus found the city’s library. Though nowhere near the size of the great library at Xandropolis in Kemhet, it was newer – relatively speaking – and boasted quite a selection of rare works.

 

                Septimus Plutarch headed straight in, collecting a pile of books and scrolls under one arm as he walked between the towering shelves. He headed to the stairs, down to the lower floor where the rarer works were kept. He had perused these shelves many times, and knew where to find what he was looking for. The selection of works on magic was not enormous, but it was a place to start.

 

He sat down at a secluded alcove and spread his books and scrolls upon the table. Without further consideration, he dove in.

 

And found nothing.

 

For hours he poured over those tomes and lengths of papyrus and parchment, and yet he came up dry. He found only simplistic information, magic history, the basics of magic explained at great length, and vague references to other arcane works that were nowhere to be found in the library. There was no concrete information. Never before had he fully considered how easy it was to say so much without actually saying anything at all. He learned nothing.

 

The most interesting passage he stumbled across was a single paragraph referencing an actual spell:

 

                Many a wanderer in arcane ruins or the Blasted Wastes has attempted to reveal the hidden treasures of the magi through spellcasting, to no avail. For no matter how many times a mundane man mutters the phrase “vide arcanum,” no secrets will be revealed to him unless he bears the Gift. All words have power, some say, but only a born mage can cast a spell.

 

                Septimus shrugged and murmured, “Vide Arcanum.”

 

                What happened next surprised him so much that he sat bolt upright, nearly falling out of his chair. A message appeared out of nowhere, fading into view on the blank lower half of the very same page, written in a halting script with bright red ink:

 

Magus, heed these words: Your brethren await you, down the stairs into the ruins at the corner of Silver Way and Old North Street.

 

                And remember, seek not the Schola. They will make you a prisoner.

 

                Septimus had never heard of this ‘Schola.’ He wondered if it might be some archaic word for the Inquisition. Of course, the entire message might be a trap laid by that very group. He would have to be careful. But he could not simply ignore this – it might be his only path to true arcane knowledge, the kind he was having no luck finding in this library or the tomes he had borrowed from Pluton Hold.

 

                Septimus hurriedly slammed his books shut and rolled up his scrolls, and then went about replacing them on the shelves. If they had been covered in dust when he found them, he tried to gather some dust from nearby and scatter it back on top, eager to cover his tracks. It looked far from perfect, but it would have to do. Then he walked briskly back outside.

 

The sun was setting as he made his way down the well-paved Imperial highway – down Silver Way, the oldest road of the Silver Ring. Old North Street was also ancient, and at their corner stood an archaic ruined temple overgrown with grass and vines. Stories said it was actually a temple to one of the titans – Ouranos perhaps – whose worship had fallen out of favor long ago. The locals now used it as a park. Some of the fallen stones there were so well-worn from the rear ends of sitting visitors that it was hard to imagine they had ever been anything other than benches.

 

                But Plutarch hesitated to approach them now. What if there was a secret Inquisitor outpost beneath the ruins, with sentries waiting day and night on the slim chance a mage would happen across their bait, their hidden message? And yet, what other choice did he have? How would he ever learn the secrets of magic alone? It was not as if the hidden magi rumored to live among men in the Empire would simply reveal themselves to him. Would they?

 

Septimus sat down on one of those well-worn benches to think. He drummed his fingers on the smooth stone, watching the men and women who walked by – especially the women. The Imperial capital was truly a place of beauty, he mused as his eyes roved up and down the legs of one young maid, watching the way her dress flowed over her hips.

 

Then something in the air seemed to change. He felt a tingling in his skin, very subtle – an extremely mild version of a sensation he had only experienced once before… when he had unconsciously blasted his father’s obnoxious manservant straight to Hades. Septimus had the presence of mind not to look around wildly. Instead, he leaned back on his seat, stretching, and glanced to his right – the place from which, somehow, he felt the sensation must be emanating.

 

                And saw a woman staring straight at him.

 

                She was very striking – not only because she was beautiful, with a pale, blue-eyed face framed by long dark hair – but also because she was tall, probably taller than Septimus. Her shoulders looked broad too, though her dress was perfectly tailored to draw attention away from this, accentuating the feminine curves of her body rather than her rather masculine stature.

 

                The pale woman stared at Septimus, and then reached up with one finger and traced an invisible line under one eye, in the shape of a hook.

 

                In a chillingly serious tone, her voice alluring with a slight lisp, she said: “I see you.”

      

With a graceful wave, she beckoned Septimus to follow her. He knew how dangerous it was – that it could still easily be an Inquistor trap – but what choice did he have? If it were a trap, then he was already as good as caught. And they could not have found a better way to lure him in. He always had trouble resisting beautiful women. The prospect of learning to tap into his magical potential was not bad either.

 

He stood up and followed the woman. She led him into the heart of the overgrown ruins, down a flight of stone stairs, to a dark room, half caved-in, that youngsters of Coronaria often used as a secret meeting place. The half-collapsed “room” was really little more than a shaded area full of rubble, but the woman led him inside anyway. Then she approached the ancient stone wall and held her finger out before it. Without touching the stone, she traced in the air the same symbol she had drawn under her eye earlier.

 

                Soundlessly, the stonework of the wall slid backward. The pale woman squeezed into the opening that appeared, and Septimus reluctantly followed.

 

                It took his eyes a few minutes to adjust to the dim lighting he found inside. The only illumination came from candles on tables, and each table was littered with books and scrolls, or potion bottles and ingredients. It was all very arcane, exactly what one would expect to find when walking into a secret mage lair.

 

                But the people were not what he expected at all. There were only six occupants, counting the pale woman, and most looked like they had walked right in off the street. They were from all walks of life – two poor and wearing rags, two middle-class merchants, and two wealthy nobles dressed in all their finery. Four were old, two were young, and half were men, the other half women. It was strange to see such a diverse group united for what he assumed was a single cause.

 

                A few, however, definitely stood out. Four of them had skin so pallid it seemed almost translucent, with visible dark veins and a red tint to their bloodshot eyes. Three of these actually had the hook symbol tattooed under their eye, like a black talon, marking them as an obvious member of the cult. Were these some sort of branded slaves, bound by magic, Plutarch wondered? Such a thing had been commonplace under the rule of Mage-Emperor Ildrius, according to the histories…

 

                The pale woman waved to the room in general and said, “Friends, this son of Plutarch is to be welcomed into our midst. Perform the first of the mysteries while I prepare myself.”

 

                One of Septimus’s eyebrows went up at these last words, and he watched with some anticipation as the pale woman stepped behind a curtain at the back of the room, concealing herself from sight. He wondered what exactly the mysteries of this cult involved.

 

                The other five cultists quickly gathered in a circle before Plutarch and began to chant. Septimus tried to make out the words, but they were from no language he had ever heard. The tone of the chant and the language was undeniably ominous. Septimus stepped closer, peering into the center of their ring, watching. He fully expected some great flash of light, or an oddly-colored flame to sprout from the floor, or a demon to be summoned into their midst.

 

                Instead, they simply stopped chanting and stepped away from each other, and then went back to whatever they were doing before. The two oldest started carrying on a hushed conversation, while two others resumed studying books and potions. Septimus turned to the last one – a relatively young man, but with the pale skin and mark under his eye – and tapped him on the shoulder.

 

                “And what in Hades,” he asked coolly, “was that all about?”

 

                The man blinked at him with eyes that were colorless save for the bloodshot red around the edges. “That was the First Chant.”

 

                “Does it… do anything? Cast a ward of protection over this hideout, or…?”

 

                The pale, hairless little man shrugged. “None know for certain. It is an ancient tradition passed down by magi since the days of Ildrius, the Mage-Emperor. Why he and his magi performed it, well, that has been lost to time.”

 

                Plutarch had to resist rolling his eyes – he had little respect for meaningless traditions, no matter the group that performed them. “Right. So, am I inducted as a member of your… cult, now? Who are you, exactly?”

 

                The candlelight glinted in the shorter man’s beady eyes. “I am called Cold-Eyes, at least here in this place. We are the Hidden. For so we have remained since the fall of the Mage-Emperor, walking among normal Imperials, right under their noses, gathering in secret and collecting what magical knowledge we can, to save it from the void-iron claws of the Inquisition. And meanwhile, we infiltrate the highest ranks of the Imperium, to one day take back what is rightfully ours.”

 

                As Cold-Eyes continued intoning his rhetoric, Plutarch scanned the books stacked on the tables, which bore strange titles like Arcanum Obscura and Transmutation: The Most Difficult Magick.

“So there is actual useful information here?” he asked. “I could find none in the libraries.”

 

                Cold-Eyes breathed rapidly in something approaching laughter. “Of course you couldn’t! The libraries have been… cleansed, by them. By the Inquisition. Just like they wish to cleanse the world. They suppress even the existence of magic, so that many in the Empire believe it’s nothing more than a fairy tale, denying what they see with their own eyes. You know why? To keep people calm. So they think of mages only as a distant fear, a threat from which their precious Empire protects–”

 

                “That’s enough, Cold-Eyes,” interrupted the voice of the pale woman, who now reappeared, stepping out from behind the curtain.

 

                Only she did not look like the same woman at all. Not in the slightest bit.

 

                She hardly even looked like a woman now. She was clad in armor – dark-tinted metal over robes of black and deep violet, standing straight and broad-shouldered and at least an inch taller than Septimus. And there was not a hair on her head – for it was covered in horrific burn-scars. Her bare scalp was a network of them, some dark and strangely twisted. The transformation was such a contrast that Septimus felt genuine terror run its icy fingers down his spine.

 

He had noticed a metallic tinge to her voice, and now he saw why: she wore a tall metal gorget around her neck, which rose to completely cover her mouth and nose, with only a few holes for breathing. Her eyes were sunken and dark, but gleamed in their shadowy sockets with a fierce blue fire. Beneath one was tattooed the familiar black claw mark. But her skin, however pale, lacked the dark veins and unnatural translucency and wrinkles he saw on the others, including Cold-Eyes. It was still smooth in the places where it remained unburnt.

 

                “Welcome to the Hidden, son of Plutarch,” she said, waving her clawed gauntlet toward him.

 

                Septimus gave his most charming half-bow. “My Lady. You may call me Septimus.”

 

                “And you,” she snapped, her armor clanking as she stepped forward to tower over him, “may not call me Lady. Do not flatter me with gracious niceties. I get plenty of those when I walk the streets, disguised by magic to appear how I once did. Here, there is no such pretension. I know the way I truly look to your noble eyes. And I do not care.”

 

                Septimus licked his lips, and tried to look as respectful as possible, never breaking eye contact. “My apologies…”

 

                “Septimus Plutarch,” said Cold-Eyes, bowing his head, “you stand before Vae Victis, Second Apprentice to the Master of the Hidden.”

 

                “Vae Victis,” Plutarch said. “Woe to the conquered… I am honored. Did the Inquisition do this to you?”

 

                “You are bold,” she said, between rasping breaths sucked through her metal mask, “to ask so bluntly. Bold, or proud and foolish. We will see which. No, this was not the work of the Black Order. These scars came from the hands of ‘simple’ peasant folk. Despite being fair of face, I never fit in as a girl – too tall, you see, and too able to defend myself. That’s why the gang of boys was stalking me that day, and saw me practicing the magic I had only recently discovered within me. That’s why they seized me – not without some difficulty – and dragged me back to the village leaders, who were all too willing to accept their sons’ accounts of what they had witnessed the freak-girl doing in secret.

 

                “At first they tried to cut out my tongue. I wouldn’t let them – I was too strong – so they settled for mutilating my face, trying to cut off my lips or sew them shut. Finally they decided it would be easier just to burn me. So they gathered a pile of wood, and tied me to a stake in the center. But they made the mistake of leaving me conscious, so I could feel the pain of the flames. That was the last mistake they ever made. I didn’t yet know how to control my magic, but the agony of the fire awoke it. When the Inquisitors arrived days later, they found a crater surrounded by blackened bodies.”

 

                “Impressive,” said Septimus with a nod. “I only managed to kill the family butler.”

 

                “Your noble status is an asset,” said Vae Victis, as if to herself, without acknowledging his comment. “We are always looking for new members in high places. One day, when the time is ripe, they will be the key to seizing power in the Empire once again, and bringing about the rule of the next Mage-Emperor. Or perhaps even the return of the original…”

 

                Septimus blinked, looking back at the dismal little room and all the robed men and women in it, all staring at Vae Victis where she towered above them. “You can’t possibly mean Ildrius is still somehow alive?”

 

                Cold-Eyes rubbed a slender finger over his hairless chin. “There are those who say he is. Could someone so wise and powerful truly allow himself to die? Would he not have had some backup plan? Tales speak of spells that can anchor one’s soul to an artifact, allowing life after death…”

 

                Septimus sneered. “But why would you want to bring back Ildrius? He was a madman.”

 

                As Septimus had expected, a murmur spread through the room. Cold-Eyes even audibly gasped, quite theatrically. Again Plutarch almost rolled his eyes. But Vae Victis only let out a hollow metal laugh.

 

                “You truly are brave, Septimus Plutarchus,” she said. “I’m starting to like you. It’s not your fault you have been deceived by the lies put forth under the orders of the Imperium – even those penned by your own historian ancestor. Ildrius performed certain… experiments on the weak, ‘tis true, but only so that humanity as a whole might grow stronger. Had Ildrius ruled for longer, he would have led us down the path to immortality. Instead of being the puppets and playthings of the gods, the giants, the titans… we would have been their equals. We would have been gods ourselves.”

 

                Septimus snorted. “Lofty goals, certainly, but if Ildrius were truly worthy to lead us down that path, then he would be the one telling me this now, not you. As it is, he failed. He and all his mightiest peers and apprentices, servants and slaves, cut down in the height of their power.”

 

                Finally, Vae Victis merely shrugged. “It is a moot point. Unless he is found, he cannot return to power. Perhaps someone else could rule better – there are those who think so. Perhaps I could rule. Oh, the vengeance I would wreak…”

 

                “Upon whom? You already blasted your village to dust.”

 

                She gave a metallic chuckle. “Upon anyone I pleased.”

 

                Septimus nodded slowly, wondering if everyone in this hideout was mad. “Quite… Well, I should warn you: my family is expecting me at our manor near the border to the Black Lands. I should have been there already; my visit to the library was a… detour. I’m supposed to document the glorious conquests of my two oldest brothers as they put down some petty rebellion or other. So if you want me to remain incognito, just lend me a few of your ‘Magic for Beginners’ and ‘Baby’s First Spell’ books, and I’ll be on my–”

 

                “No,” Vae Victis cut in, raising a gauntleted hand. “We have a hidden lair in the Black Lands, a storehouse of forbidden knowledge. Cold-Eyes will travel there ahead of you. He will then meet you outside your estate, and lead you there. We can’t risk our precious knowledge falling into the wrong hands and exposing you. Besides, you need more than books to learn magic. You need hands-on training. Your Gift must not be squandered. Some in this room are not so blessed by fate.”

 

                Septimus glanced back at the others, who looked away as soon as he did so, as if in shame. Only one man kept his eyes on Septimus – the one without the hideous pale skin. Septimus felt a familiar sensation in that gaze. His eyes went wide, and he turned back to Vae Victis.

 

                “Let me see if I understand this…” he said slowly, trying to keep his voice low enough so only she would hear. “There are only three real mages in this room?

 

                “If you only consider those born with the Gift to be ‘real mages,’ then yes. The others – those who look pale and sickly, as I’m sure you noticed, like Cold-Eyes – are just men and women who sought to be more than what they were, by selling their soul to a demon in exchange for power. With each use of this power, they lose more and more of their humanity. They can fight it by fueling their spells with soulstones and other tricks, but the demon is always waiting, for as long as it takes… to inevitably claim what is theirs.

 

“A deadly high price, but who can blame these ambitious souls? Do you have any idea the rarity of your Gift, son of Plutarch? There are perhaps one million people in this, the capital and largest city of the Empire. Among them, I doubt there are even ten magi. We three may be the only ones. In all the vast lands the Empire holds, there are perhaps a few hundred… and many of those now live in chains in Karak du Vide, prisoners of the Inquisition. The key to making sure you do not join them… is to remain Hidden.”

 

                “We few, we happy few…” Septimus muttered sarcastically under his breath.

 

                Vae Victis did not seem to hear him. “You should go now,” she said, with a commanding tone in her metallic voice. “You’ve tarried in here long enough. Your family must not suspect.”

 

                Septimus snorted. “They’ll probably be more suspicious when they see me riding up to the manor like a good little boy. But you’re right – I should be going. I’ll… be in touch.”

 

                “We’ll make sure of it,” Vae Victis said ominously as he rose to leave.

 

                He tried not to think too hard about that. He had only just discovered his power, and already one group was trying to control him. Previously he had wished for more control over his life, over his own destiny, and he had thought this “Gift” would give him that. But now he felt more under the control of others than ever before. But that would change, he told himself. That would change.

 

                Just as he reached the door, Vae Victis called out to him one last time: “And Plutarch! One thing to remember: always remain calm. If you let your emotions get out of control...”

 

                “Yes,” Septimus said, “then I might accidentally blast my pompous brothers into ash. Or freeze them in solid ice and then smash it. I’m not sure which would be more fun.”

 

                He traced the sign over the stone door, and again it slid right open… just like magic.


-Scorp
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#6 Amarok

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Posted 16 December 2014 - 11:18 PM

So, that was very much awesome! Loved the Whisper cameo!

 

A really fantastic bit of writing, Your descriptions, as per normal, are just superb, and all the character's introduced are awesome! Looking forward to more!


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#7 Dalton Westmoore

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Posted 17 December 2014 - 11:18 AM

Oh joy, another Antagonist who is about as understanable as Bane. :P

Septimus doesn't like pointy hats? Gandalf is gonna whup him good for that. :D

I enjoyed reading this, but you'll have to draw whats-her-face before I understand what she's supposed to look like. :P

#8 Burger Warrior

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    Hulloo! :3

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Posted 17 December 2014 - 01:20 PM

This continues to look awesome! And finally I get to see what the Hidden are like (though if there are any other canon Wulfgard stories explaining them and their methods, a link or a name would be appreciated ^^ ) :D

 

Also, Dalton, I think she looks something like this...

Spoiler


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#9 Saber-Scorpion

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Posted 17 December 2014 - 06:05 PM

Thanks for reading and commenting, guys! :) I'll try to have the next part up sooner.

 

This continues to look awesome! And finally I get to see what the Hidden are like (though if there are any other canon Wulfgard stories explaining them and their methods, a link or a name would be appreciated ^^ ) :D

 

Also, Dalton, I think she looks something like this...

 

Actually, I've been coming up with a lot of the details about the Hidden as I write this. Which is the best way to come up with lore, right? :P So I'll have to put it all down on the wiki later, and make a Hidden article that's up to speed. I'll link to it in here when I do.

 

One reason I had to scrap and rewrite this chapter is that I wasn't satisfied with the Hidden at first. Originally I had them all wearing spooky black robes and such, but that seemed too over-the-top and stereotypical. It felt better to have them mostly dressed like normal people, to emphasize that they were really Hidden, living right under everyone's noses.

 

And yeah, you got Vae Victis right. I wanted to have a mage who was horribly scarred by a mob of peasants, but hid her disfigurements behind an illusion. And as I was describing the scars, I decided to make her wear something to cover her mouth... and then I thought of Darth Malak/Malgus and just rolled with it. :P


-Scorp
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#10 DragonJedi

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Posted 19 December 2014 - 12:20 PM

Well oh my, this story was excellent. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, as the only appearance of Plutarch I had seen before this was in the comics. I was absolutely blown away by the description, and really all of the detail and care that you put into this story. I'm really hoping for more Wulfgard origin stories.

#11 Cutlass-Crocodile

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 11:25 PM

I really loved both chapters, Scorp. This story is getting really exciting!

 

Your writing is fantastic, your style vivid, and the dialogue phenomenal. I see the characters as you verbally paint them before my eyes, and am really reveling in the locations and plot.  


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#12 Saber-Scorpion

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Posted 12 January 2015 - 05:35 PM

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Part 3 - The Storm Inside

Septimus Plutarch arrived at his family’s manor on the edge of the Black Lands two days later, still traveling alone to avoid suspicion. He took his time, resting often and poring over the tome he’d stolen from the Hidden lair in Coronaria. He knew they would realize it was missing, but would they do anything to him, as valuable as he was? He doubted it.

And I’d be even more valuable if I knew how in Hades to do some real magic, he thought as his cart rattled over another hill. The manor came into view then, resting in a lush valley below him, between a shining blue lake and the dark forests of the Black Lands. The mansion itself rose like a fortress tower, tall and grey, surrounded by a stone fence topped by black iron spikes. It contrasted sharply with the placid surroundings. The Plutarchs had never been a family known for their beautiful decoration choices.

A servant greeted him at the gate as he swung it open. “Hail, Master Septimus! Your brothers sent word that they would be late, though we were expecting you a good deal earlier as well.”

Septimus frowned thoughtfully as he loaded his books into a satchel and dismounted, taking them with him. “I see. So none of my brothers are here? When should they arrive?”

“I don’t know, m’Lord – within a day or two, I think.”

“Take care of my horse and carriage. I’ll be in the study. If anyone else arrives, let me know. Just knock and shout it through the door; it will be locked.”

The servant nodded, though Septimus did not see it, for he had already moved past him into the manor. There were some more servants inside cleaning, who bowed when Septimus entered. He nodded to them as he strode past, heading straight up the stairs to the study.

It was a spacious room on the second floor of the manor, with a shining wood floor, plenty of comfortable chairs – one behind a large desk – and glass doors opening to a balcony overlooking the lake. Septimus tossed his bag into the nearest chair and withdrew the stolen Hidden book, which bore the title A Translation of Nirav Sadar’s Study on Elemental Lightning, by an anonymous author. The title had caught his eye because his own unexpected magical murder of Paulus had looked like lightning.

But he’d already read enough of the book along the way, so he just deposited on the desk and picked up a silver candlestick. He had failed time and time again to cast any of the spells mentioned in the book, but he was determined to keep trying. Striding out onto the balcony, he looked down. There was only a short gap between the side of the building and the defensive wall below, with nothing but grass and the lake beyond. No servants would see, hopefully, if he succeeded in blasting the candlestick. So he set it carefully upon the balcony railing and then stepped back to the doors.

He casually stretched out his hand and said, “Voco Fulmen.”

Words, the tome had said, helped to concentrate the mind. The shorter and more specific the words, the more concentrated on a single idea the mind could be. This meant, supposedly, that although specific spell incantations had been found to have certain effects, any words could be used to cast most basic spells, no matter what the language. High Imperial was favored due to its terse and accurate nature.

But this sage advice had been no use for Septimus so far, because once again nothing happened.

He concentrated now, furrowing his brow and pointing one finger directly at the candlestick. He was a surprisingly good aim with a crossbow – one of the only martial contests in which he was a match for some of his brothers – so how different could it be to aim a spell? He tried to think of lightning, images of Zeus tossing thunderbolts, even the Nordic god Thor with his thunderous hammer.

Voco Fulmen!

Nothing. Why in Hades wasn’t it working?! He stamped out onto the balcony and grabbed the silver candlestick in his fist, preparing to hurl it into the lake if he could manage to throw that far. But as soon as his fingers closed around it, something happened:

The candle on top exploded.

Septimus looked at the candlestick. There was smoke rising from where the candle had been resting, and blackened bits of wax dotted the balcony. He wondered why the candlestick itself had not been harmed.

He walked over to the desk, setting down the candlestick and picking up a new one. He stared intently at the candle, trying to rekindle his earlier feeling of rage and concentrate it on the new target. He stirred up his emotions, bringing them to a boil.

Voco Fulmen!” he snarled.

Nothing. He swore and slammed the candlestick down upon the table. Was it a bad spell?

But his thoughts were interrupted by a sound coming from behind him: “HAHAHAHA!

Septimus wheeled. It was Varius, his cocky swashbuckler brother, swaggering into the room and clapping as he laughed. His leather vest was hanging open and he smelled of alcohol. Septimus felt the chill touch of terror run over his skin. He’d been discovered. Just a few days since his first act of magic, and already his secret was out.

But the situation could still be salvaged…

“What are you laughing at?” Septimus said, eyes narrow as his fingers inched toward the sword sheathed on his belt.

“My brother, the world’s worst swordsman,” replied Varius with a lopsided smile, “is now the world’s worst wizard as well! He can only cast spells by accident! Oh, things could not have worked out better. Go ahead, draw your sword, brother! I’d welcome a final duel!”

Varius’s blue eyes flashed, and his sword appeared in his hand as suddenly, Septimus thought, as a bolt of lightning. Its tip was pointed toward Septimus’s throat, and though he still stood some distance away, he knew Varius could close the gap just as quickly as he’d drawn his blade.

Septimus took a step back. “What are you talking about? You’re going to kill me? Why? What could you possibly gain?”

“Well, for one thing, by a stroke of luck, the Inquisition is already on its way here! They’re traveling with our esteemed eldest brothers, heading into the Black Lands to search for some secret mage stronghold or something. It’s all so perfect! Now to finish it!”

Septimus unsheathed his sword just in time. As he’d predicted, his brother closed the gap in two graceful steps, striking at Septimus as fast and hard as he could. It was all the younger brother could do to deflect it. As he blocked the jab and stepped back, Septimus picked up one of the silver candlesticks from the desk behind him.

He pointed it as his brother, but Varius just laughed and mocked him: “Voco Flumen! Hahaha!”

Flumen means river, you complete idiot,” Septimus snapped between gritted teeth. He despised the thought of being killed by a moron.

Varius rolled his eyes. “Oh, whatever.”

The dance resumed, steel ringing against steel. Septimus put all his effort into remembering his swordfighting lessons, parrying Varius’s attacks and trying to keep his brother at bay. But no matter how hard he tried, he found himself being pushed back. Soon he realized, much to his shock, that he was standing out on the balcony now. The wind whipped over him, catching his short cape like a flag. He had nowhere to run.

“Why?!” Septimus shouted. “What do you gain from killing me? The satisfaction?! We could be allies! Your blade and my magic!”

Varius laughed again, almost madly. “Oh yes, your magic is so impressive! Just as impressive as my swordsmanship, certainly! That must be why father made you his heir!”

Septimus’s eyes went wide, and somehow he deflected Varius’s next attack almost by reflex, as if his desire to live had just increased. “What – are you saying – how could you –”

“I picked the lock to his room one night just like I picked the lock to this study! He’d been writing his will, naming you above even Adam and Albus! Above me! Above six brothers! I refuse to see that happen, and now that I know your secret, I know it never will!”

With newfound determination, Septimus threw himself into the fight. Blade rang against blade. But Varius had new energy as well. With rage that matched Septimus’s determination, he forced his younger brother back more and more, until Septimus knew the balcony railing must be right behind him. He glanced back to look, just for a fraction of a second, and that was all it took.

Varius knocked Septimus’s sword away, sending it spinning out of his grip, through the air and over the edge of the balcony. Then he stabbed Septimus. The younger brother felt the cold steel sink into his side. He screamed.

And then he looked up, right into Varius’s eyes. His brother stared back at him, surprised at his courage. Septimus reached up… and grabbed the blade of Varius’s sword. He felt hot blood trickle down his wrist where the edge started to sink into his fingers. He let the pain combine with his outrage and fear, channeling his emotions.

“Voco Fulmen,” he said.

Varius went rigid for a fraction of a second, then shook violently as a flash lit the air, even brighter than the light of the sun. Arcs of lightning crawled along Varius’s blade and into his arm, snapping and cracking, leaving burns on his clothing and flesh as they traveled over him.

Then it was over. Blackened and stiff, Varius toppled backwards, letting go of his sword’s hilt as he fell. Removing his hand from the blade and gripping the hilt instead, Septimus pulled the blade from his side, groaning as he did. With a great effort he stood, wiped off the blade, and slid it into his own sheath. He didn’t even look down at Varius as he shuffled past his charred corpse.

“Live by the sword…” he muttered, with a dark chuckle.

Then he saw movement. The door to the study was still open, and a servant was standing there.

“Voco Fulmen!”

He did it reflexively, pointing and saying the words. This time, the lightning came when called. It split through the room with a sharp crack… but his aim was off. It only left a charred hole in the door next to the servant. He got a good look at her then, as she stared at him with her eyes wide. She was young, he thought, very young. He moved his finger to the right, toward the girl’s face… But he hesitated.

Then she was gone, running back through the hall and down the stairs. The last living witness to his magic had escaped. He’d held his lifelong dreams in the palm of his hand, and in a moment of weakness, he had let them all fall away. Cursing himself, he took off after the girl. Maybe he could still catch her before she told someone else. Or maybe he’d have to kill every servant in the manor.

He sprinted down the stairs, taking two steps at a time, but on the way he tripped and nearly fell. Swearing again, he steadied himself and resumed his pursuit. But by the time he reached the bottom, he knew he was too late. He caught a glimpse of two servants fleeing out the main door. All the doors in the hall were open. They all knew, and they were all gone.

He could not believe his misfortune. If what Varius had said was true, then he had been set to inherit his father’s lands and titles – everything he’d ever wanted. And he’d beaten Varius. For once, he’d felt completely confident and in control of his life, on the road to being Lord Plutarch, the secret mage prince of Pluton Hold. But now that moment had passed. Once again, he felt it all crumbling down around him. All his plans, everything he had tried to build.

He looked at the great hall of the Plutarchus manor, with the portraits and tapestries of his father and forefathers hanging on the walls. Suddenly he hated all of it. He wished it would crumble down around him. He walked out onto the wide purple carpet that spanned the hall, standing in the center of a great star of Astra depicted thereon. Then, without even thinking about it, his emotions swirling like a tempest within him, he raised his arms…

Lightning poured from his fingertips, arcing up along the floor and the walls. A bolt snapped across the room and straight into the face of a painting of his eldest brother Adamas. It fell to the floor, burning. Fire began to trail along the blackened walls. One, two, three thunderclaps split the air, and he felt the floor of the building tremble under his feet. A chandelier hanging overhead fell and crashed at his feet, sending shards of broken glass onto him.

He didn’t care. He felt the energies of the universe flowing through him, and felt more like himself than he had ever felt before. Why should he be concerned about the trappings of man, when he held in his hands the power of the gods? This was who he truly was, what he was meant to be. He had found his true potential. He felt free, without a care in the world as he watched his old life burn. The pain of his wound was entirely forgotten. He laughed aloud with joy.

Then a section of the roof fell down, blazing with flame, crashing to the floor just to his left. It woke him from his ecstasy. He turned and ran from the building, out into the courtyard. He glanced around as he listened to the Plutarch manor crumble behind him. There were no horses left in the stables. Perhaps the servants had taken them all, or released them. Still on a high from unleashing his magic, he could not bring himself to care. He simply strode out the front gates, turned toward the forest, and ran.

What could possibly stop him?

---

Adamas and Albus Plutarch surveyed the wreckage of the lakeside manor. The mansion had been burning for hours before they got there, and it still blazed now – a towering inferno bearing the symbols of their house. Albus felt righteous indignation. Adamas simply felt the cold desire for justice.

The latter turned toward the Inquisitors who had accompanied them. They had been headed toward the Black Lands to stomp out an outpost of the Hidden there when they’d joined forces with the Plutarchs so they might travel together. The Plutarchs and Inquisitors had talked much along the way, and Adamas had come to admire their selfless dedication to such a necessary cause.

Then the servants from the manor had come, riding on horseback, looking terrified. One girl recounted the tale of how she’d witnessed their youngest brother, Septimus, kill Varius with magic. The servant had fled as Septimus destroyed the manor behind them, casting lightning from his fingertips and calling it from the skies to burn that bastion of his family name to the ground.

“You have a new target,” Adamas told the Inquisitors.

There were only three of them: an Inquisitor-General, his lieutenant, and a channeler. The Inquisitor-General’s name was Burkhard. He was old with silver hair, and he wore his void-iron mail like a second skin. Clean-shaven and straight-backed, his black tabard bearing the white iron bars was immaculately straight and clean. His lieutenant – named Karl Metus – wore heavier armor and never fully revealed his face, leaving his helmet on at all times with only the ventail open to reveal his chin, which seemed curled into an eternal scowl.

From atop his mount, Inquisitor-General Burkhard looked down at Adamas where he stood outside the gates of his family’s manor. “We do, Master Plutarch. We’ll do our best to bring your brother back alive for trial, if possible. We were supposed to wait here for a contingent of Ebonguards to help us clear out the Hidden stronghold, but we should be able to handle Septimus on our own. From what the servants said, it sounds like he’s inexperienced, as well as wounded.”

Adamas nodded. “He’ll be brought to justice, I swear it.”

His lighter-haired younger brother Albus gave him a worried look. “Adamas… go easy on Septimus. I doubt the boy even knows what he did. The servant said Varius had stabbed him. You know Varius…”

Knew Varius,” Adamas corrected. “Unless our witness is a liar, Septimus killed him.”

“Possibly by accident,” said another voice, with a thick Southron accent.

It was the channeler, whose name was Basileus. The Plutarch brothers had never seen a man with darker skin. It was almost as dark as the black tattoos that covered it, including a tattoo of the Inquisition’s emblem over one of his eyes. He had a black beard and long black hair as well, both thick and curly, and wore little more than a ragged black robe over his bulging tattooed muscles.

Channelers underwent special rituals so that they could absorb magic through their runic tattoos and “channel” it back at their enemies. The Plutarchs had asked him whether his skin tone was a result of the rituals, but he said it was natural, as he was from a land far, far to the South. He was well-educated in the arts of magic, even moreso than Burkhard.

Basileus went on: “Magi can lose control of their powers during times of stress, emotion, pain... I have witnessed it personally many times. It is why they can only be allowed to live in secluded, controlled communities like on Karak du Vide. Septimus will go there, if we can take him alive. Hopefully he will see reason.”

Inquisitor-General Burkhard’s lieutenant, Karl Metus, added: “But if not, we will do what’s necessary.”

“I understand completely,” said Adamas. “I can come with you…”

“No,” said Burkhard, “I will not be the man to get either of the eldest sons of Lord Plutarch killed. No offense meant, my Lords, but without void-iron armor or the tattoos of a channeler, you are as helpless against your brother’s power as if you were fighting naked. Now, the three of us should be off before Septimus gets too far ahead. Metus! Release the hounds!”

Besides their three horses, the Inquisitors had two other animals with them: a pair of dogs, sturdy bloodhounds with thick muscles visible beneath their short black and grey coats. Their great floppy ears twitched to and fro as they sniffed the ground around a pair of footprints left by Septimus. Metus let go of their leashes, and off they dashed toward the forest. In a rumble of hooves, the Inquisitors followed.

---

Septimus was walking just off the northern road into the Black Lands, keeping off the road itself and traveling through the forest to its right. He had no precise idea where he was going, just a vague understanding of the local geography and locations of towns where he could stop and rest. He had enough coins in his pouch to last a while.

And the power of the gods at his fingertips. On the way he had spotted a rabbit and killed and cooked it with a single blast. It hadn’t been terribly tasty, so he’d left most of it for the wolves, but still it satisfied him both physically and mentally, securing his feeling of power. He wondered vaguely if the strongest magi even needed to eat, or if they were able to overcome such mortal requirements…

Suddenly he spotted a lone traveler on the road. Clad in a grey cloak and robes, the man was easy enough to recognize by his hairless head and pale, very nearly translucent skin and eyes. Septimus shouted a greeting to him and emerged from the brush onto the road.

“Cold-Eyes,” he said with confidence, “fancy meeting you here.”

“Master Plutarch,” said the Hidden pseudo-mage with a very small bow, “I am pleased you have found me! Our stronghold is not far, in the forest due east of here. It rests on a place of magical power, so even though I cannot sense it, you should be able to find your way there. The stronghold is located beneath a crumbling old fortress ruin, and–”

Septimus held up a hand to stop him. “Cold-Eyes, I have a question to ask of you. If I were to, say, suddenly be discovered and lose my influential position of power in the Imperium… would your organization still have any use for me?”

The little necromancer squinted his pallid eyes at him, as if he had trouble seeing clearly. “I… hope it will not soon come to that, Master Plutarch. But you are a born mage! Lady Victis emphasized how rare and valuable you were, no matter your position among the nobility.”

“How comforting,” Septimus said sarcastically, and then he sighed. “I just wish I could have seen my brothers one last time, to tell them that father was going to name me his heir. To rub it in their faces, and then tell them I don’t even care anymore...”

Cold-Eyes blinked with incomprehension. “Wait… you don’t mean…?”

Septimus paused at the sound of distant barking. It was not an uncommon sound in and of itself, but he was on the alert. He recalled something he’d read in a book, about the Inquisition using a special type of bloodhound, kin to an ancient breed developed by the Venatori for hunting monsters…

“They’re coming,” he said.

Cold-Eyes blinked. “What? Who?”

“A parade of frolicking naked nymphs,” Septimus said dryly. “You catch on quick, don’t you?”

He was about to clarify with the truth when the truth itself rode up before them. First came the two dogs, and behind them three Inquisitors on horseback. The one in the rear whistled, recalling the hounds, which immediately ceased their snarling and snapping and ran back to their master. Then all three Inquisitors dismounted. Two were clad in that daunting black armor, one in plate and the other only in mail. The third was nearly naked, but his skin was almost dark enough to be void-iron itself. The white of his eyes shone like beacons of light against it.

Septimus glanced at Cold-Eyes. He had not thought it possible, but somehow the pallid little mageling had gone even paler.

In a fit of panic, without even thinking, Septimus stretched out his arm and cast a bolt of lightning at the first Inquisitor. It cracked like thunder, splitting the air, and burned the man’s tabard in half, so it fell to the ground in blazing pieces. But the Inquisitor himself did not even pause in his stride. His black armor was not even smoking.

As Septimus tried to think of a plan, Cold-Eyes attacked as well. With a hissing snarl, he mouthed an incantation and called upon his demonic powers, conjuring a ball of red hellfire between his hands and then sending it hurtling toward the middle of the group of Inquisitors. But without hesitation, the channeler simply stepped in front of it, letting the blast of crimson flame disappear straight into his chest. The network of tattoos on his ebon skin began to glow white, as did his eyes…

Septimus turned and blasted a nearby tree with lightning, setting it aflame and sending a large branch falling into the road. Then he put the branch between the Inquisitors and himself, hoping his movements would be obscured by the smoke and flame… and fled into the woods. He did not look back.

“I’ll go after him!” shouted Inquisitor-General Burkhard, tearing off the last remnants of his burning tabard. “You two finish this one!”

As he dashed into the forest after Plutarch, Basileus and Metus advanced on Cold-Eyes. Basileus channeled the energy he’d absorbed and sent it flying back at his attacker in the form of a beam of raw arcane power. At the last second, Cold-Eyes shouted a few words and conjured a magic shield that deflected the blast. The magic was sent flying outward in all directions, striking the nearby ground and tree branches, twisting them into unnatural shapes.

Basileus just kept walking, with Metus on his heels. The latter Inquisitor then dashed forward, striking Metus’s magic shield with his sword. The void-iron blade cut right through, slicing into the mageling’s arm. Cold-Eyes stumbled back with a cry and sent out a gust of red flame from his hand. Basileus just reached out and caught it, then channeled it right back into the necromancer’s face.

Cold-Eyes screamed as his flesh was burned and scarred and twisted.

“Violent and wielding demonic magic,” said Metus, his voice echoing within his helmet. “Let’s put him out of his misery.”

Basileus just nodded. He drew his dagger and knelt down beside the suffering servant of the Hidden. Then he calmly slit his throat.

---

Septimus ran as fast as he had ever run in his life. He was no expert, however, at making quick time through the forest. He kept tripping over vines and getting hung on briars, and all the while he could hear the indomitable Inquisitor-General smashing through the underbrush behind him like a void-iron boulder. Along the way, Septimus kept blasting trees with spells as he passed, setting them ablaze. But it only seemed to tire him out more. Earlier, when he had unleashed his power in the manor, it had felt limitless. But now, calling upon it as needed was starting to drain him.

He passed a particularly large dead tree. Summoning all the energy he could muster, he cast lightning at its base, which exploded into splinters and flame. The fire spread rapidly, and then the towering inferno crashed to the ground, blocking the path behind Septimus. He had long since resumed running, not looking back. He hoped the blockade would slow the Inquisitor down for a while, because he had no more strength left in him for spellcasting. It was all he could do to concentrate on the vague feeling of magical energies in the area, trying to follow them to their source.

Soon he saw the ruined stronghold ahead. It was a tiny place, just a small crumbling tower with a tiny ring of stone walls at its base. The gates had long ago been smashed, and the intact iron portcullis was wide open, so Septimus dashed inside. He looked around desperately for some sign of the Hidden, and his eyes soon landed on a note nailed to a wooden post. The note bore the Hidden symbol – the black hook – and below it was written:

If one of our brethren reads this, know that we have abandoned this location until the Inquisition are done sweeping the area. All Hidden should leave the Black Lands immediately.
If one of our enemies reads this, know that GODS NEVER DIE. EMPEROR ILDRIUS WILL RISE AGAIN!

Septimus balled up the bit of papyrus in his fist and tossed it to the ground. It was clear the fortress had been used recently, for there were tracks of men and animals all over the hard-packed earth. But everything of use had been taken when the Hidden fled, apparently. The only thing left was a massive amount of hay and animal feed in a loft above the stable.

Suddenly Septimus had a truly wild idea. It was desperate and would likely never work, but he had little choice except to try, or die trying.

He would not be taken. He would not be caged.

---

Inquisitor-General Burkhard took caution when he reached the ruined fortress. He was out of breath from running so far in full armor, especially after dodging all the burning blockades Septimus had put in his path. He paused a while, leaning against the stone wall until his strength returned.

He looked into the fortress, the gates of which lay wide open. Inside the low stone walls stood a few buildings, including a stable with its loft smashed open and crumbling. Hay was scattered everywhere, so thick on the ground that it rose up nearly to Burkhard’s black-armored knees as he waded into it. He moved toward a wooden post, to which was nailed a crumpled paper bearing the unmistakable mark of the Hidden.

The moment he reached the note and began to read, he heard a loud metallic clangor and then a crash behind him. He wheeled to watch helplessly as the iron portcullis dropped down over the entrance. His eyes moved upward to the gatehouse above it, where a man in simple but well-made noble finery – with the purple cape of the Plutarchs – stood confidently with his arms crossed, gazing down.

“Septimus,” said Burkhard, sheathing his black longsword, “come down here, and let us speak. We do not wish to harm you…”

Septimus Plutarch threw back his black-haired head and laughed. “Oh, you can skip all that, Inquisitor. I once dreamed of being one of you, so I know very well your order does not suffer a mage to live a free life. I have no time to talk.”

Burkhard threw out his hands. “So what will you do then? Run? They all run, Septimus. But they can never run forever.”

“I don’t intend to,” said the mage, and then he cast his spell.

The lightning set the scattered hay ablaze immediately. The flames spread with startling speed, and Burkhard was forced backward. But everywhere he ran, Plutarch sent another bolt ahead of him, starting another fire. Soon the entire courtyard was aflame. And while the lightning that sparked them was magical, the flames were not. They were natural, and void iron did not block natural flame.

Burkhard was roasting in his armor, coughing from the smoke, unable to breathe behind his void-iron mask. He tore the visor from his helmet, snapping it right off the hinge, and tossed it away. It bounced between the bars of the portcullis to land in the grass outside the gate.

Burkhard stumbled after it, hoping to get some fresh air near the gate, but the hay was spread beyond even the portcullis, all of it blazing. He walked to the iron bars and peered out through the smoke… and saw Septimus Plutarch standing there. The mage looked down at the void-iron mask, picked it up, and turned it over in his hands, gazing at the triple bar design that hung down over its narrow visor.

Looking at Burkhard, he slid the mask into his satchel. “I’ve heard that if an Inquisitor loses any piece of void-iron gear, they are obligated to search for it relentlessly until it’s found. Well, they’ll be searching for me anyway…”

Burkhard said nothing. He stood there, leaning against a wall, choking silently as he was baked alive in a void-iron oven. The stare he leveled at Septimus was as cold as the flames were hot. He refused to bargain or beg for mercy.

Septimus did not stay to watch him die. He knew the other Inquisitors would be on their way, and in truth, he didn’t care if they managed to save Burkhard. They would scour the world for him regardless. All he could do was keep moving.

As he walked away from the burning tower, he considered the events of the last few days. It felt as if he’d gained and lost everything at least three times since that meeting with his family in Pluton Hold. He thought of his sister Octavia, whom he might never see again. He wished he had gotten to tell her how much he actually enjoyed her music... And to think, for a few brief seconds, it had all been perfect. He’d held in his hands everything he’d ever wanted. He’d been heir to the title and lands and gold of Lord Plutarch.

But even as he had lost these trappings of power, his own power – his true power – had only increased. Wealth and property and prestige could be snatched away, just like love and family. But the churning storm inside of him, the power that arced from his fingertips… No one could take that away. And it would only grow stronger. He would see to that.

---

Albus and Adamas Plutarch had followed the Inquisition against their wishes. But by the time they caught up with them, Basileus and Karl Metus were just preparing to head into the woods after their commander and his quarry. They were in too much of a hurry to protest the Plutarchs following them, so all four plunged in together. Metus led the way, with his two bloodhounds on their leashes sniffing out the path.

As it turned out, they were not needed. Even if Burkhard hadn’t left such an obvious trail as he smashed his way through the underbrush, Septimus’s burning trees also clearly marked the path. The woods were likely to erupt into a forest fire soon, but that was not their concern. They forged on, heading toward a pillar of smoke that rose ominously in the distance, beyond the trees.

When they arrived at the abandoned fort, the inferno inside was still blazing. But all that was left of Inquisitor-General Burkhard was a heap of void-iron armor against the wall, with a dancing flame where a face should have been. Karl Metus fell to his knees at the sight, and Basileus closed his eyes and bowed his head. If they said any prayers for their fallen comrade, they did it silently.

After a moment, Albus Plutarch spoke: “I am sorry. As Adamas said, we will do everything in our power to bring our brother to justice for his crimes. His guilt is now clear.”

With grave seriousness in his gravelly voice, the dark-haired Adamas fell to one knee. “I will do more than that. I offer my service to the Inquisition, in payment of the debt of this man’s life. I will help you catch my brother myself, and continue to serve after that, for as long as I am needed.”

Albus shot his older brother a concerned look, but he knew better than to try to dissuade Adamas once he had set his mind on a course of action. He only said, “Adam… you know that Father will not like this. And when Sextus hears… You know he follows you everywhere.”

“It doesn’t matter what they think,” said the stern Adamas. “It only matters what must be done. Tell young Sextus he may follow me, or follow you with my blessing. But this is my duty. Inquisitors… will you have my sword?”

Metus and Basileus exchanged glances. The former nodded his helmed head. Basileus smiled and turned back to Adamas.

“We will give you a new one,” he said.

---

The elderly woman strolled leisurely through the marketplace, smiling at each stall she passed. Her silvery white hair tied up in a bun, a shawl over her head, standing hunched in homemade clothes, carrying a basket of herbs from her garden… she was the picture of a nice old lady. No one who saw her would have thought her capable of harming a fly.

But once she was out of sight of any prying eyes, she slipped deftly into the shadows of an alleyway. She removed her shawl and stood up straighter, striding into the darkness with confidence. Ahead of her stood another shadow, in the shape of a man in a cape and hood. He stepped out into the dim light to meet her, but his face remained in the shade of his crimson hood.

The old woman said, “You’re the one who wishes to join the Schola?”

The hooded man raised a hand, on which he wore a fingerless black glove. A faint blue light appeared in his palm, barely illuminating the alley before it disappeared again when he closed his fist.

“Of course I am.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Mm-hm. I heard about your experience with the Hidden. You say you joined their organization, but sensed its foulness and managed to escape? I congratulate you. Many are too late perceiving the evil of that group. You were fortunate.”

“They were mad, hoping to resurrect and restore an insane Emperor who already fell once. I have better things to do.”

“Certainly. If you can lead us to any of their strongholds, it would be of great use to us to liberate any magical knowledge they are hoarding. We have great libraries of our own, to which you’ll be granted unrestricted access. They are located far from the world of men, where one can study in peace.”

“I thank you. It is an honor.”

“The honor is ours, young man. All well-meaning magi are welcome within our halls. It’s been ever so long since we found any.” She gave a little laugh. “But listen to me! I must be growing senile. I haven’t even introduced myself. I am called Suzana, sometimes Suzana the Silent, for I prefer to listen rather than speak. One learns more that way. And what, pray tell, is your name?”

The man threw back his hood. He had blue-blooded Achaean features, with high cheekbones and an Imperial nose. His hair was dark, his eyes blue… and he had a small forked beard on his chin.

“I am called Plutarch,” he said politely, as a smile spread over his lips. “Lord Plutarch.”


-Scorp
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#13 Dalton Westmoore

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Posted 12 January 2015 - 07:12 PM

This was a great story. I hope you make more soon...that are somewhat less dark.

 

I mean, a Inquistior melting into a pile of goo? That's...pretty disturbing...

 

At least we didn't see it. :D



#14 Hurki-Wan KenobLee

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Posted 12 January 2015 - 08:10 PM

I read it, and I'm avalanch'd in homework, so that's how you know I enjoyed it. :)

 

Just a couple thoughts; Is this Wulfgard? Because the mentioning of Zeus and Thor confused me greatly.

And number two, there's a part where one of the inquisitors says "no offense meant", and I think that phrase is a bit too contemporary. I'd think about changing it to something like "your pardon sire, but" or "Not to bring offense" or something that smacks of medievalness, and not highschool...

 

But other than that, I think it was good. Good imagery, I like the spacing in all the dialogue (it helps with reading it). I'd just say Septimus's leap in the learning curve was a bit abrupt and sort of falls into cliche (or maybe its just the cliche we've made for wulfgard magic, what with its raw and universe-scale power). That cliche goes along with the idea of a mage being more an invoker/shaper/director of an already existent magical power. 

Maybe find a way to work small timelapses in, or something. It was just really abrupt how he went from frustrated and totally unsuccessful to castle destroyingly powerful. 

Maybe have him zap a few of the last fleeing servants just for fun. He's supposed to be kind of a badguy right? 

 

You also said that the channeler had the darkest "sin" (not skin). For a minute there I just though that the story was allowed to have racism in it (insinuating that he was dark as his tattoos, and that made him sinful... :P). Small typo, no biggie. Well sort of. 

 

 

 


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#15 Saber-Scorpion

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Posted 12 January 2015 - 08:48 PM

This was a great story. I hope you make more soon...that are somewhat less dark.
 
I mean, a Inquistior melting into a pile of goo? That's...pretty disturbing...
 
At least we didn't see it. :D

Thanks! Haha, yeah, I would like to write a less dark story next as well. Wulfgard is pretty 'dark fantasy,' but it does start to wear. It'd be amazing to write something with a truly happy ending for once... Anyway, I plan to start another poll about what the next story should be, once I find time again. So keep an eye out. :)
 

I read it, and I'm avalanch'd in homework, so that's how you know I enjoyed it. :)

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it and appreciate the feedback!
 

Just a couple thoughts; Is this Wulfgard? Because the mentioning of Zeus and Thor confused me greatly.

Yes, Wulfgard uses gods and monsters from real-world myth. It's essentially a fantasy version of earth in which (nearly) all myths are real.
 

And number two, there's a part where one of the inquisitors says "no offense meant", and I think that phrase is a bit too contemporary. I'd think about changing it to something like "your pardon sire, but" or "Not to bring offense" or something that smacks of medievalness, and not highschool...

Really? I don't see the phrase that way... I could swear someone in the Lord of the Rings films even says the same thing... Hm.
 

But other than that, I think it was good. Good imagery, I like the spacing in all the dialogue (it helps with reading it). I'd just say Septimus's leap in the learning curve was a bit abrupt and sort of falls into cliche (or maybe its just the cliche we've made for wulfgard magic, what with its raw and universe-scale power). That cliche goes along with the idea of a mage being more an invoker/shaper/director of an already existent magical power. 
Maybe find a way to work small timelapses in, or something. It was just really abrupt how he went from frustrated and totally unsuccessful to castle destroyingly powerful. 
Maybe have him zap a few of the last fleeing servants just for fun. He's supposed to be kind of a badguy right? 

Well, perhaps it didn't come off exactly as intended, but his destruction of the manor was supposed to be due to extremely strong emotions flowing through him at the time. He doesn't even know how he's doing it - he's just watching it happen. That's the dangerous thing about mages, which is why the Inquisition wants to lock them all away. Later in the woods, with his emotions more in check so he has to actually summon his spells willfully, Plutarch gets tired after just a few lightning blasts. And he essentially only learns one spell over the course of the whole story. I did consider making him unable to master that one spell so quickly, but I didn't want mages to seem underpowered either. Wulfgard mages are pretty much OP as heck, which is why they're feared.

 

You also said that the channeler had the darkest "sin" (not skin). For a minute there I just though that the story was allowed to have racism in it (insinuating that he was dark as his tattoos, and that made him sinful... :P). Small typo, no biggie. Well sort of. 

lol, thanks, I'll fix that.

Oh, and I'll just leave a link to my previous Whisper story in case you find more time... :whistling:


-Scorp
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#16 Cutlass-Crocodile

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Posted 12 January 2015 - 09:57 PM

Really great, Scorp! This is a fantastic conclusion to the story, and I really love how open-ended you left it. Obviously it had to be for a character like Lord Plutarch, but I still appreciated it.

 

I thought the pacing of the story, as a whole, was really good. Reading each chapter was easy, not the least bit plodding, and left me feeling hungry for the next bit. Your story-telling skills are phenomenal. I'll be excited for the next tale you weave for us! :P


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#17 Amarok

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Posted 12 January 2015 - 10:11 PM

Well, that was worth the wait!

 

I loved the character arc for Plutarch, from snobby and conniving to downright apathetic and murderous!

 

The imagery for this chapter was fantastic, and I liked the inquisitors, as well as how Septimus's brother - when not viewed from his twisted perspective, actually seem decent.

 

You pulled the ending together very nicely, and I can't wait to see what you will start writing next!

 

Also, I like the name of this chapter. *winknudgewink*


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#18 Saber-Scorpion

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Posted 13 January 2015 - 11:05 AM

Thanks, guys!

 

Interesting seeing peoples' different reactions to the character of Plutarch. His role in the main story is primarily as an antagonist, of course, but he's meant to be the sort of antagonist you can relate to, even sympathize with or root for at times. That's why he hesitates when he's about to kill the girl who witnessed his magic. He lets her go, even though he curses himself for it afterward. He's not a cackling supervillain who would go around frying helpless servants just for fun. That's the sort of senseless cruelty the Mage-Emperor Ildrius was known for, whom Plutarch calls a madman. He believes he's better than that. But hey, whether or not he really is... well, that's up to the reader to decide.


-Scorp
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#19 Dalton Westmoore

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Posted 13 January 2015 - 05:13 PM

Thanks! Haha, yeah, I would like to write a less dark story next as well. Wulfgard is pretty 'dark fantasy,' but it does start to wear. It'd be amazing to write something with a truly happy ending for once... Anyway, I plan to start another poll about what the next story should be, once I find time again. So keep an eye out. :)

 

one_does_not_simply_____1_by_dwestmoore-

 

But something that would actually be Happy in Wulfgard (for once) would be greatly appreciated.

 

Also, yes, I made this myself with Paint.



#20 Lord_Capulet

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Posted 14 January 2015 - 02:57 PM

Magnificently written!  As always, the skilled descriptions and narrative made every line a joy to read.  It's so exciting to see more Wulfgard material coming out, and watching you and your sister creating such...well...magic together.  XD

 

 

 The professionalism and drive of the Inquisitors was my favorite aspect to dwell on, as you've probably guessed.  And this dialogue:

 

“It doesn’t matter what they think,” said the stern Adamas. “It only matters what must be done. Tell young Sextus he may follow me, or follow you with my blessing. But this is my duty. Inquisitors… will you have my sword?”

Metus and Basileus exchanged glances. The former nodded his helmed head. Basileus smiled and turned back to Adamas.

“We will give you a new one,” he said.
 

 

 

  SOLID GOLD.   I nearly upended my desk from the excited flailing.  Well done!


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