Monday, 29 September 2014

Roaring He Shall Rise

Bruno walked down the ruined street in silent awe.

The witch hunter Schorsch Undrache paced warily alongside him, axe in hand. Their feet scraped on the cobbles. It was the only sound after the battle. Running through the streets behind his master, unable to keep up, they'd heard the roar of the fight. Screams, the clatter of steel on steel, clarions trying to restore military order.

Then a great blaze of light, a great grinding sound like the rolling of massive millstones, and silence.

Apart from the noise of their footsteps, anyway. It wasn't just the broken edges of stone left in the wake of the heavy cavalry charge. Nor was it torn links of mail or broken teeth. Instead, a strange and unseasonal frost glittered on every surface. Every step they took made a gritty crunch.

Amethysts. Everything was coated in a layer of tiny amethysts.

The frozen forms of dead men lay hunched under a mineral blanket, their empty eye sockets winking purple light back at Bruno's lantern. Here and there, larger crystals lay. Six-sided, perfectly cut - it was a miracle the city's scavengers hadn't already started pilfering them.

Maybe not, Bruno thought. Somehow he knew if you counted them, you'd find two for every dead, eyeless body.

There was no sign of his master.

"Wizards should not be allowed to fight," Undrache said quietly, treading carefully round the outstretched hand of a Reiksguard, a hand that clutched a single fat gem.

"The Empire trains us for little else," Bruno said angrily. "We're weapons."

"If you want to say so," the witch hunter returned swiftly. "You are for the defence of the Empire. You can be used to crush or kill, true. But you should be gripped and wielded by a steady hand. Not left to run amok like this. This only serves our enemies."

"You set my master to this," Bruno said.

"I sent him to deal with the rogue wizard," Schorche said. "He's destroyed how many men here? Eighty? A hundred?"

"Quiet," said Bruno.

Undrache immediately moved in front of him, axe up. "Morr's grace," he muttered.

The two wizards were still alive. And still fighting.


Victor von Esel knew pain. All Amber Wizards did. When the transforming wracks of their magic tore your body into a new shape, you learnt to deal with it. He could deal with it, he knew he could. But somehow, he'd lost control of his spell of wrath all the same, shrinking back down to his normal burly self.

The entire left side of his body was numb. Blood caked his robes. A caul of fine amethysts sparkled across his left cheek and shoulder. As he grunted the words of his spell, fragments of them broke free, cracking away to reveal a bloody mess underneath. He couldn't walk, his leg was broken. As he forced arcane syllables out of his mouth, he found himself having to bite on his swollen tongue.

He'd had to start again twice, the long shaft of the Amber Spear slipping away into curls of half-woven magic both times. But he'd get it done this time, he was certain.

The amethyst wizard was lying half underneath his horse. The beast had panicked after its rider's last spell, that terrible orb of magic that had laid waste to everything in its path. It had tried to flee, but slipped on the cobbles instead. One of its legs was broken. It thrashed it every so often, feebly trying to get up, although the beast was half-stunned and probably bleeding to death.

The wizard was pale as death under his idiotic gothic robes. His eyes had rolled back in his head and he seemed still. But Victor knew better than to trust the apparent stillness of a death wizard. The Amber Spear would finish him.

There, it was done. His hand grasped the weapon, lifted it shoulder-high. Hefted it.

He threw.

A skewer that transfixed flesh and bone, the golden leap of the spear flashed once in the dim light of the square. It thudded into the horse, skidding it several metres over the cobbles with the force of its impact. The wizard beneath twisted and rolled, trapped under the dead weight of his mount.

"No!" Victor heard. He was too exhausted to look round. Something thumped into his back, jabbed out of his chest. A blow too weak to knock him over, despite his existing wounds. But somehow still enough to pierce the numbness in his chest.

When he coughed, a mixture of pink spittle and powdered stone clouded the still air. Slowly, he sank to his knees and toppled sideways.

Bruno's sword stuck out of his body in a mirror of the fading spear protruding from Gesper's horse. Bruno ran to it, hoping desperately that the wizard had cheated death somehow.

Nobody can do that, Bruno, he heard faintly in his mind as he ran. You can only cheat while the game is still playing. Win or lose, it must still come to an end.

"Master!" he shouted, skidding to a halt by the horse.

"End of the game," Gesper von Sterben whispered, smiling up at him, and died.

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