Klarsz Wingwright usually didn’t give up vices during Windtide, but this year, with the war going so poorly, he thought it best to appease the gods. His mother used to tell him that pessimism was his greatest vice, so that was what he was giving up. It wouldn’t work, of course. How could he possibly be optimistic when he was just a spear’s throw away from the enemy’s strongest city.
Abieth was built at the bases of two mountains. It had an impossibly high wall that stretched from one cliff face to the other. Klarsz and the other captains had discussed the possibility of climbing around the wall and descending into the city, but there were no ropes in the entire army long enough for the task. They could ride in on dragonback, except the dragons refused to get involved in what they called a “purely human conflict.” The only way in was the gate, and behind that gate were two thousand Parethi veterans, many of whom could use magic. Klarsz’s army consisted of five hundred farmers.
“Are you sure I can’t go over there and yell at the men?” Klarsz asked. “I mean, is it too hard to hold the pointy end with their top hand and the curved end with their down hands?”
“If you went over there, you’d reveal our hiding place,” High-Captain Reed said patiently.
“Give them a break,” Captain Iszara said. “Half of these men are fishermen. They’re holding them correctly for spear-fishing.”
“Give them a break?” Klarsz repeated. “We’re at war and our men aren’t even holding their weapons properly!”
“Not all of us grew up practicing the spear all day,” Reed said.
Why did Reed always bring that up? Sure, Klarsz was a spear-master’s son, but he also had a job cleaning the dragon stables. He spent so much time there, he only had a few hours each day to practice the spear.
“It won’t matter if they hold their spears right if all goes to plan,” Iszara said.
“It won’t go to plan. This is a crazy idea.”
Crazy was a generous description. It was a desperate move. The bulk of the army was standing just out of arrow range, surrounding a large wooden dragon. Any moment now they would…there it is! The dragon went up in flames. When the Parethi saw their religious symbol going up in flames, they flung open the gate and began spilling out like insects after their hive has been kicked.
“Told you it would work,” Iszara said.
“It hasn’t worked yet,” Klarsz reminded him.
A small group of Loretian soldiers charged the Parethi horde. The archers fired magic arrows, which moved a little slowly, but could turn in the air if the victim tried to run. After striking their targets, the arrows returned to the men who fired them. Death hadn’t bothered Klarsz since his first battle, but he had ordered this suicide run and it made him sick to see his men die.
“Captain Wingwright” High-Captain Reed said slowly, “What just happened?”
“I don’t know how the magic works,” Klarsz said, hoping to evade the question. “Something about connecting two objects.”
“That’s not what I mean. Why did they make that charge?”
“I didn’t think your plan would work,” Klarsz admitted. “We want them to chase us, but we can’t just run and expect them to follow. We needed some casualties, so we could get ‘scared’ and run away.”
“You should have said something, but that was a good move,” Reed said, putting a hand on Klarsz’s shoulder. “I know how hard it is to give that kind of command. Honestly, I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Klarsz hadn’t thought so either, but he had learned that sacrifices needed to be made to win battles.
As planned, the Loretian army ran and the Parethi gave chase. After the ten minutes it took for both armies to disappear, Klarsz and the thirty elite spearmen emerged from the trees and rushed the gates. The few remaining guards were slaughtered as thoroughly as Klarsz’s suicide team had been. The Parethi had powerful magic, but they were idiots. Their strongest fortification had just been taken by thirty men!
High-Captain Reed organized a few men to watch the gate and set the rest to search the city. Reportedly, the source of magic – the object that gave Pareth its magical advantage – was hidden somewhere in Abieth. Klarsz knew it was just a legend, but he would follow orders. He needed to finish quickly though; it wouldn’t be long before the Parethi realized they were marching towards an ambush. When they did, Klarsz would be needed to help hold the gate while the army at their rear made them feel stupid for leaving their city so poorly defended.
Klarsz and his ten men found a long staircase in a cliff wall that led to a small shack. They climbed up and entered it to find themselves in a long room that transitioned into a cave. At the end of the room was a door that presumably led to an inner chamber. They had only taken a few steps into the room when Undercaptain Rhey screamed and died under a square block of stone that had descended from the ceiling. The stone then slid back into its place.
“This is Parethi magic!” Klarsz yelled to his men. “Stay where you are! There will be more traps. We need to retreat and get reinforcements before we try to flush out the mage.”
Sadly, a metal wall slid down in front of the exit and began moving forward. All of Klarsz’s men panicked as they were pushed towards the traps. Klarsz was more level-headed than them. He was used to things going wrong. He expected it. Before making a move, he watched what was happening. Some men were being crushed by ceiling blocks, while others were falling into holes in the floor that opened beneath them. Klarsz ran to one of the holes and laid his spear across it. It was a long drop to the city below, but he lowered himself into it anyway, cringing as the spear bowed under his weight. The metal wall floating above him was almost as disturbing as the open air beneath him. He expected to hear a scraping sound, but he only heard the rushing of the wind and an occasional scream of pain or fright. His arms burned as he waited for the wall pass on its return trip and he finally scrambled out of the hole, almost slipping as he did so. He took a moment to verify that all his men had died, then sprinted to the inner door.
On the other side of the door, Klarsz found the mage responsible for the traps. Without his magic traps, he posed no threat. Klarsz quickly killed the murderer before investigating his surroundings. He was fully in the cave now. There was a round portal in the far wall from which a light emanated. As he approached it, he noticed three triangles carved into the wall around it. Where had he seen this before? Was it a history book?
He stepped through the portal and found a large, square room. A plum-sized gem sat on a pedestal in the middle of the room next to a strange statue.
“Hello,” the statue said.
Klarsz stared at the eight-foot tall stone man.
“Look kid,” it said. “I’ve done this whole ‘Who are you? What is this place?’ routine more times than I can count. I’m just going to give you a quick rundown. If you have questions, save them until the end because I’ll probably cover them.”
Klarsz nodded slowly.
“This place is the Chamber of Magic. I am the Guardian of Magic. That rock on the pedestal is the Source of Magic. I’ve been here since I took over from the previous Guardian just like you’re going to take over from me today.”
“I’m going to do what?”
“Save your questions,” the Guardian reminded him. “When I started, I swore a magically binding oath to protect my people. That got really complicated because my people split into two nations and started killing each other. So, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to put your hand on the stone and tell it to change how magic works. When it quits working, all the magic currently in use will fail. That’s good for you because your enemies won’t be able to do magic anymore. You and I will do a ritual, making you the Guardian and me mortal.” The Guardian paused. “Yeah, that’s about it. Any questions?”
“Why don’t you change the magic? Why do we have to switch places?”
“Simple. If I change it, we’ll both know the secret and there’s a chance someone might get it from me. Also, I’ve been here for three thousand years, and I want to leave. If you don’t switch, I won’t help you and the Parethi will win.”
“Well, that’s a horrible deal,” Klarsz said, “but if it means we cripple the Parethi, I’ll do it.”
“Wonderful! By the way, once you become the Guardian, you won’t be able to leave this chamber.”
“That’s an even worse deal,” Klarsz said. “I’ll try to convince someone to switch with me. I doubt anyone will want to though.”
“Yeah, the thing is, those stairs you climbed up here are held up by magic, so they’ll fall once we change it. This place is hard to find without them, and I’m not telling anyone. Get comfortable. You’ll probably be here for a century, at least.”