Safeguarding the Dawn
by Christian O'Kane
The wolves took Demarest deep into woods, along paths even he hadn't traveled in a long time. The trees here were taller and crowded closer till the path disappeared completely and he found himself wending his way among trees that seemed to tower up to the sky.
Soon they came to a place he recognized. Gray-brown rocks rose up out of the ground displacing the trees just enough to grudgingly allow some sunlight to shine down. It was called Kelrig's Rock for reasons no longer remembered. Perched on the highest point of the rock was a massive Doron wolf. This wolf, easily the size of a large horse had fur the color of an evening fog and eyes that glowed a dark amber. The creature simply looked at the approaching mage with a calculating gaze.
The man walked up to the rock and stopped twenty paces from it. He bowed deeply to the wolf. "Thank you for seeing me. I apologize for the trouble I have brought here to your home."
The creature that looked like a wolf seemed to just look at the mage and if words passed between them they were unspoken.
Demarest nodded. "I understand. The guild and I personally thank you for upholding the agreement for so long. It will be moved. It is long overdue. I have plans but it will take time to implement them. I do have plans that will be implemented immediately. But first we have unwanted visitors to get rid of."
The wolf gave a low growl.
"Of course!" The mage answered. "I understand the guild's part of the bargain. We will continue to uphold it."
Over the centuries of its existence the Marigund Mages guild had earned a reputation for learning and openness. It also had a reputation for attracting the odd and unusual. The guild was devoted to teaching and learning and allowed it's members considerable leeway. But although its members might have nobles ideals they are still the daughters and sons of Merchants. Most are merchants themselves are or have brothers and sisters who are and belong to one of the countless merchant families whose energies make the city of Marigund wealthy. They devote their life to knowledge and magic BUT if they make some money along the way so much the better.
Only part of this was done out of greed. A big reason for it is necessity. Running a large school and hosting all sorts of experiments and research is not cheap. Equipment has to be bought, employees paid and supplies purchased. The Guild make a lot of money but almost all of it is spent as quickly as it is earned. The budget is always a concern of all the Guild Masters. This has lead to the Guild offering many services to anyone who wants it - for a fee. Some said they offer too many.
One part of the Guild had no official title but plenty of unofficial ones. Names like The Cleaners and the Suicide Squad. Both fit their task very well. With great knowledge does not always come great wisdom. Many a mage created or summoned things they could not control. Others simply did not truly understand the nature of what they were working with. And other, evil people understood and knew how to control things but didn't care about the devastation and death their magic would cause.
Let's say your uncle Aydin dies and upon checking his estate you discover he left something undead, unnatural or just plain dangerous in the basement. The guild will handle the problem - for a fee. You think the thing in the basement might actually BE uncle Aydin and therefore want it handled with some decorum. The guild will handle it - for a larger fee. Want it taken care of without your neighbors and the government (whatever government that might be) knowing. The guild will deal with the problem without it becoming general knowledge - for an even larger fee. And perhaps the entire problem was created by an odd statuette that the thing in the basement is carrying. The guild would dispose of the deadly item. For an additional fee of course.
The Guild makes an impressively large amount of money but often finds itself with magical items that are evil, cursed, deadly or all three simultaneously. Some were created deliberately while others were the result of a failed experiment or crafting. But regardless of their origins all are dangerous. Such things that could be destroyed are - as quickly and safely as possible. But some items defy all attempts to destroy them. Such things had to be stored somewhere safe. Till they could be destroyed. And for that reason the Vault had been created.
The Vault holds items too dangerous for even an organization of the finest mages in the Midlands to handle. The mere idea that such a place existed scares many people - most of whom are in the guild itself.
Attempts over the years by the guild to keep its existence secret have all failed and the Vault has gained something of a mythical status. The subject of countless stories and legends all of which distorted it's true purpose. Much to the great annoyance of generations of Headmasters.
And with anything kept locked there are those who want to break in. Some were after the legendary mountains of gold and jewels supposedly kept there. Other robbers did understand the deadly nature of the items stored there but still wanted them. Usually with dreams of gaining power and glory or more ominously - just sowing chaos and death.
The current group of robbers were of the second sort - more interested in power than common sense. The group had been kept small, just five people. One of the group was tall and lanky, with blonde hair that was kept cut short. In his hands was a massive compound bow made of horn, wood, sinew and other materials. That alone marked him as a stranger for in Marigund bows were made of Yew or Euldarn wood.
A middle aged woman with straight. black hair walked alongside the archer. She was wearing a loose fitting tunic and pants both colored a drab gray-brown. She had no weapons but the red glow that covered both her hands marked her as a mage.
Walking behind the pair was a man, slightly shorter than the archer and unlike the archer who was wearing chainmail armor this figure was dressed all in black, leather armor that hugged his body closely. He had a crossbow strapped to his back and a short sword dangled from his belt.
Behind him was a tall, burly man dressed from head to toe in thick chainmail armor. In his hands was a large, double bladed axe. Blue tattoos that swirled and curled across his face and on both hands marked him as a Sylvan mountain warrior. People who had inhabited the Sylvan mountains for millennia.
At the head of the group was a man with closely cropped brown hair and was wearing a tunic and pants both colored a dark burgundy. He wore no armor nor carried any visible weapons but he needed none. Everything he needed was already with him. His skills with magic was far greater than the woman's and made him a much more deadly enemy.
Persistence, effort and some potent magic had gotten them this far. The clear road they had used to enter the ancient forest had quickly dwindled away into a tangled and overgrown foot path. Merely moving along it was a fight. Having to chop and push through the overgrowth just to take a step.
Finally they broke out into a small clearing. In front of them was a tall pillar of grayish brown stone. Resting on the ground next to it was another stone that looked to be a duplicate of the first. This one covered with earth, grass and leaves telling of it having rested there for many years.
The early defenses had been fairly easy to work through - disabling wards and spells to get this far. Most seemed to have been placed to scare off the mildly curious but that was ended.
The mage examined the menhir in front of him. Gone was the spells meant to frighten and hurt. The magic that surrounded and enveloped the stones were all deadly. A cursory examination showed him a dozen ways to kill the unwary.
In front of him within arm's reach was the first trap. Using unenhanced sight it was simply a patch of grass. But using magesight he saw the magic woven into the grass and earth. Following the tendrils of power from the heart of the trap he saw them end at two blades of grass. Those were the triggers - touch them and you would be enveloped in a cloud of acid. Carefully, using a specially prepared spell he pulled part the strands of magic and he saw the power drain from the trap.
The mage took one step forward and was rewarded with nothing happening. In front of him was another patch of grass. The mage examined it closely and tried to determine how to pull apart that spell. Working with care and skill he slowly made his way towards the menhir; one step at a time.
The first attack came suddenly. A bolt of blue ice as cold and hard as a glacier slammed into the group sending them tumbling in all directions.
"Looking for something?" A voice said calmly. Demarest slowly moved into the clearing. He was floating some four feet off the ground and was surrounded by a shimmering, green bubble. There was look of stone-hard determination on his face. A bolt of lightning leapt from his hands and danced along the ground. in all directions. The largest one hit the other mage in the feet and traveled up his legs instantly. The mage let out scream of pain.
Demarest pointed to a massive boulder and the rock, weighing at least a ton floated free of the ground. He gestured to his opponent and the boulder raced off at the chosen target.
The other mage gestured with arms and made a punching motion with his right arm. The boulder exploded sending thousands of smaller rocks and dust flying in all directions. The man extended his hand towards the guild mage and wiggled his fingers.
The terrible stench of rotting fish filled the air. A dozen, black tentacles, each a foot wide and yards long erupted from the ground. One of the slimy tentacles wrapped itself around Demarest and lifted the mage off the ground. The guild mage didn't panic, instead he smiled.
Suddenly the top of the standing menhir flared and glowed like the rising sun peeking over the horizon at dawn. The bright light filled the entire clearing. The light washed over the mass of tentacles and they just crumbled under the onslaught. Crumbling and flaking away till only a dark circle of dead grass remained.
Demarest deftly touched down on the ground none the worse for wear except for a torn jacket.
The head of the guild looked at the spot for a moment and shook his head. "We'll have to decontaminate that."
His opponent brought both arms up and a ball of green ooze erupted from the earth. When it's drops of ooze struck the dirt the ground sizzled and bubbled as the acid melted it's way downward. The strange and deadly projectile moved straight at Demarest dripping acid along the ground as it moved.
Demarest almost casually brushed it aside with the flick of the hand sending the deadly sphere careening off harmlessly into the earth. His eyes narrowed and he pointed a finger at the mage opposite him. A beam of blue light raced off the digit and towards his enemy.
Off to one side a figure stood up and looked at the duel between the wizards that raged in the clearing. The archer pulled a special arrow from his quiver. This projectile was made completely of bronze down to the fletching and was covered with powerful runes. The mage had been most specific and warned him to never touch the head. Even the merest scratch would mean instant death. Gently and carefully he nocked the arrow to his bow and took aim.
Without warning a massive weight slammed into the man and he crushed to the ground. His bow and its deadly projectile smashed under his body as he hit the grass and earth.
"I don't think so," Madog said in a cold, hard tone. The automaton placed both paws on the man's back pinning him to the ground with a weight that crushed the breath out of him. The automaton ripped away his weapons and armor in a flash. The animal leaned close, his sharp teeth brushing the man's throat. "Go home," Madog said in a voice as cold as a tomb. "Don't come back." And with that the weight was gone.
Slowly he stood up and stood there shaking.
He looked up to see Madog standing there flanked by a dozen wolves. "All right! I'm leaving!" The man turned and raced away at top speed and didn't look back till he was clear of the forest.
The archer was only looking at the woods for a minute before two others of his group appeared. One was running and the second was a few steps behind limping but still moving pretty fast. Upon seeing the archer they both angled toward him. Soon all three had gathered together.
"Is everyone all right?" the archer asked.
"I'm still alive and with all my body parts," the axeman answered.
"My only injury is to my pride," the man in leather answered.
"I wonder what happened to Marilyn?" The archer asked nervously, afraid of what the answer might be.
From the woods came the sounds of screaming, yelling and cursing in several languages.
"Ah. Here she comes now," the axe wielder answered.
Marilyn came into view, flying through the air, head first, screaming and cursing as she flailed around. The woman hit the ground with a loud thump and rolled for several feet before coming to a halt. It was several moment before she stood up. Cursing and swearing the entire time.
"Enough," the archer snapped. "Shows over. Be quiet."
The woman scowled at him but she stopped cursing. "Ow!" she said and rubbed her behind. "That thing bit me in the butt."
"Be glad he didn't bite you in the throat like he did those Moranasi," he commented.
The woman stiffened and the color drained from her face.
The metal fox appeared at the edge of the woods flanked by a Doron Wolf on either side. The wolves turned and glided back into the woods. Madog stood as still as a statue watching them for a long time. Then he slowly turned and vanished back into the ancient forest.
The group stood there and looked at where Madog and the wolves had vanished.
"So," the woman said slowly. "Who do you think won?"
The mage barely noticed the departure of the four people who had come with him. He was too occupied to give their fate more than a moments consideration. There would be time later to worry about them. He pointed his hand at the guild mage. A dozen flaming spheres raced out and straight at Demarest.
The target brought his right arm across his face. One of the spheres slammed into Demarest knocking the mage backwards. The right sleeve of his shirt caught fire and the mage frantically patted out the flames. Demarest examined the burns on his right arm for a moment. "I'm tired of these games." He glowered at the invading mage.
The invader saw the entire menhir glow this time and he brought both arms together just before a bolt of lightning struck him. It was like being hit by two ton stone block. The breath was knocked out of him and he was pushed back a dozen yards but his magic held - barely. The bolt ricocheted harmlessly away.
Moving his hands in a complex gesture the mage created a ball of pure fire and sent it off towards the Guild Mage. The sphere hit Demarest in the chest in a shower of shrapnel and flames. But the Headmaster showed not the slightest sign of being affected.
Demarest pointed both hands at him and a bolt of deep blue ice erupted from both. The twin bolts of ice raced straight at him. He fended off one with wave of the arm and a fast spell but the second one smashed straight into his chest and sent him tumbling to the ground.
The invader staggered to his feet. The pain was incredible. He looked down and both of his sleeves had been burnt completely off revealing flesh beneath that was both heat burned and frost burned. He looked up at his opponent and his eyes grew wide in surprise. The massive stone Menhir that had been resting on the ground had lifted clear of the earth. The entire two ton stone was floating in midair and was glowing the brightest shade of green he had ever seen. In a moment the massive stone raced straight at him. He spoke a single word and the mage vanished as the magic of an escape spell claimed him.