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Fearful Symmetry

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Disclaimer: Visionaries belongs to NBC, Bandai, Sunbow Productions, and Universal as do all of the characters who appear here or are mentioned. They are not mine and are only ‘borrowed’ for the purposes of the story. Note: The title was inspired by the line from the poem by William Blake, “Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright.” This is set post-series and is my own take on it.

“Fearful Symmetry” by karrenia

Ectar very much doubted that despite everything that happened that he would ever lose his rigid attention to detail or his discipline; for these were qualities that had been so deeply ingrained into his nature that they had become as accustomed to him as breathing the air.

Those two things had been a part of his life even before the calamitous change that had introduced the world to magic and the supernatural.

Enough time had passed that many of the inhabitants of Prismos had all but forgotten what things had been liked when technology and science had dominated every aspect of their lives.

Sir Ectar thought about that for a moment and shook his head, adapt or die, bully for you, and for them, for that matter.”

Following shortly on the heels of that particular thought: he came to the realization that at least one thing would always remain the same: He would always remain cop; especially one that believed in law and order and in keeping the peace, and standing up and be counted whenever it mattered.

That very same resolve had brought him to the attention of Prince Leoric and whose evident leadership abilities and charisma had made it possible for him to transition into the ideal of knighthood. The world had changed, yes, but it still needed those who willing to stand up and protect and serve the people.

Far back where he stood at the castle walls staring out over the town taking in the sights, Leoric waited and watched knowing that whenever Ectar was in one those ‘faraway’ thoughtful moods it was best to allow him to ease out of gradually.

Also, judging by the wry expression on the other man’s pursed lips he had gained, even extremely grudging appreciation for the newly planted botanical garden that certain segments of the town council had been badgering and badgering at them, until some sort of compromise had been reached.

Not that long ago Ectar and he, and many of the other Spectral Knights would have argued that such a thing was at best impractical in a fortress caparisoned for any imminent attack by their arch-foes, the Darkling Lords or any other enemy that might threaten the peace in New Valeric or elsewhere on Prismos.

Now that the majority of the countryside enjoyed a comparative peace and prosperity and a kind of truce had been reached with Darkstorm and his followers, the botanical garden was just one many examples of using the time that they’d been given to rebuild and move forward.

Leoric moved to stand at Ectar’s side at that moment

“Taking your daily constitutional are we?” Leoric remarked in an off-hand manner meant to neither appear overly aloof or overly criticizing. They had lived, worked and fought together long enough that it Ectar had come to be almost his second-in-command and more importantly a trusted friend.

“Leoric,” Ectar replied as he turned to look him in the eye. “I realize that I’ve been restless, brooding even I’ve heard Witterquick remark to Arzon during the previous spring festival when he thought I could not overhear him.

“Something’s been eating away at you, you do realize that you can either bring such concerns to the attention of your fellow knights or to me in private, if you’d prefer.”

“I realize that, and it is appreciated, “ Ectar replied.

“Is it Darkstorm?”

“Yes, no, but in a way, I realize that the peace treaty we signed several months ago will hold and that world is safer and more settled than it has ever been, but I have a very vague foreboding that it might not last.”

“I understand where you are coming from, old friend,” Leoric replied, placing a reassuring hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Come with me to the meeting hall and I shall endeavor to set your mind at ease. We will consult my Staff of Wisdom. If that proves not to be sufficient we could always send a delegation to Iron Mountain and consult with Merklynn.”

“Thank you, Leoric,” Ectar replied. “I must admit to you that I had had half convinced myself that I was allowing my responsibilities over the security of New Valeric and its people to get the better of me.”

“I recall reading somewhere something that has always served me well, and that is that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Ectar grinned as he took measured strides down the corridors and then on into the meeting hall as he considered everything that Leoric had said and more importantly everything that he had left unsaid and then replied.
“True enough and you shall receive no argument from me, however,

“Don’t look too long at one aspect that you no longer see the forest for the trees,” Leoric replied as he glided over to the metal holder where his Staff was ensconced whenever it was not called upon and grasped it. The smooth metallic barrel of it felt solid and proper in his grasp.

He paused and then taking a deep breath chanted the magical incantation that summoned the spirit that inhabited the staff. “Bearer of Knowledge, Sir Ectar is troubled this evening about the security of New Valeric and its outlying districts. Tell me is there ought that would threaten the peace that we have worked so long and hard to achieve?”

“If Sir Ectar is troubled then he is not alone in his misgivings. Forces are at work, forces that are neither wholly of the dark nor wholly of the light, but rest somewhere in between. More I cannot say; Consult the Wizard Merklyn.”

“Cryptic, as usual,” Leoric replied, but it does confirm one thing at least, which is that we should definitely send a delegation to Iron Mountain.”

“Agreed,” Ectar replied, but would you go as well? You will need to recharge your power staff.”

“Eventually, but I think I should remain behind and that you and Arzon should lead the delegation.”

“I should inform the others of the purpose of our mission?”

“Agreed, I shall leave that in your capable hands.”
**

On the way up the steep and winding trail Feryl was expounding at length about the virtues of an ox-driven elevator cage and how it would make the ascent to Merklynn’s sanctuary at the summit of Iron Mountain a much more pleasant journey. Meanwhile Cryotech grumbled both over the lack of ambushes over the virtues of a healthy trek. Titling his head to address a very patient Feryl, “I must say that this is a much more pleasant trek now that we no longer need fear an ambush by the Darkling Lords.”

“I quite agree, but I also seem to recall that at one time we had this discussion I had mentioned an idea of a lift, down in the valley, perhaps powered by oxen, or some such. What do you think?”

“I think it’s an excellent idea, but where we you find the laborers to build the lift in the first place?”

“Hmm, I hadn’t considered that,” mused Feryl.

They arrived at the entrance to sanctuary and upon entering they found Merklynn seated at a desk pondering over a large and dusty-looking tome.

“Good evening, I’ve been expecting you.”

“How did you know we were coming?” Witterquick asked.

“I’m a wizard.”

“That should explain everything?”

“It has in the past, I see little reason to alter that fact,” Merklynn replied, but then shook his head and stated. “I digress, and time is of the essence. In fact, time is yet another aspect of the four basic elements that surround us at every turning and setting of the four suns of Prismos. You are here because of a premonition of dire things to come.”

“Yes,” Ectar stated as he stepped forward.

“Indeed,” Merklyn nodded and stroked his beard with his left hand nodding in the manner of an instructor to an attentive but still somewhat naïve pupil.

“Step forward to the scrying pool.”

Merklynn waited until they had all gathered around the deep sunken body of water in the center of the sanctuary and he had their attention once more. “Look within, and beyond the plains and even located somewhere in the
Anarchy Zone are a range of mountains. Within those mountains are a series of interlocking caves.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Cryotec demanded sulkily.

“If you will take a moment to hear me out, you will soon learn,” replied Merklynn, carefully schooling his face and features and keeping his irritation in check. It was more than ever important that even after a year or two of his alliance with the Spectral Knights, that he maintain his composure at all times.

The information that he was about to impart to them, was both dangerous and potentially disturbing, both to them because more than ever it would roil across the surface of the planet like a storm, and the his powers extended much farther than the purview of Iron Mountain and its immediate environs; it also rankled on a much more personal level.

He cleared his throat and dipped the end of his long and gnarled walking staff into the depths of the scrying pool, and then waited for the edges of the water to spread out much in the manner of a piece of a cloth being torn in half. An image, its square corners, and sheer unadorned walls gradually appeared in the center, cloudy and indistinct at first, but after a few heartbeats, it took the solidity of stone.

At first none of the Knights could recognize what they were seeing, but after a moment Witterquick, whose mind sometimes was as agile and as quick as his feet, gasped as the recollection of this image came back to him. “It’s the old abbey were we found old Bogavus hiding out four months ago!”

“Indeed,” sighed Merklynn, “and I if what I have learned is true, than it would seem I have greatly underestimated him.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Galadria.

“You were all present at the time I administered the test of veracity and the puissance of his magical ability; a test which in passed,” said Merklynn.

“Yes, I recall, very well, but I still do not quite understand what you want us to see,” said Leoric.

“Do you mean to tell us, that you now suspect Bogavus of duplicity?” demanded Ectar.

Merklynn shuffled his sandaled-feet for a moment or two, then removed the butt of his staff from the scrying well. “Allow me to put it this way; if there could exist a rumor mill among the mundane world; then it would stand to reason that one might exist among magic users.”

“And?" Cryotec demanded.

“Bogavus is now rumored to have begun to covet power and control and is now encouraging other wizards to flock to his side, with the understanding that he be looked to as the preeminent wizard on Prismos.”

“Woot,” young Feryl exhaled, with a whistle and as slap to his armor-clad thigh. “That’s heavy.”

“Is there anything else we should know?” Leoric asked. “I take it that this mission will be a straight-forward as a mere search and seizure.”

“No, I wish for you to investigate and discover the truth of these rumors. A part of me wishes that he is innocent of these accusations, that it is only those who yet remain wary and suspicious of magic-users and magic who spread this defamation of Bogavus’ character,; yet I am still troubled, that the opposite may be the case.”

“We will do our best,” Leoric replied. “But it is my understanding that without a shrine and an orb, a wizard will have only his own power to back up any claim to preeminence, is that not true?”

“Yes, that is generally the case, but the order of things seem to be changing, or he is seeking to upset that order. Regardless, I wish all of you to go and investigate.”

“I hate to bring this up,” Witterquick added, but if he is indeed in opposition to you, and he knows that the Spectral Knights tend to side with you, would he not seek out the Darkling Lords to his cause?”

“Yes, that is a good question, but until I have more information, we must not rule out any possibility,” said Merklynn, “I suggest that you keep that in mind, but deal with it if and when the situation arises.”

“Where is this abbey?”” Ectar asked.

“The Anarchy Zone.” I will give you a magical dowsing rod that will home in on his magical aura, and help lead you to him.”

“Oh wonderful, just wonderful,” griped Feryl, who stopped his griping when he felt the weight of Cryotec’s broad, callused hand falling upon his shoulder. “Calm yourself, lad. It’s not so bad, and at least we have the advantage of a place to begin.”

“With your leave, I shall provide transportation. Good luck to you all,” Merklynn announced, beginning to chant and then summoned out of the ether, a giant hand appeared passing through the rock ceiling of the sanctuary roof, dipping down and cupped like a scalloped sea shell, picked them all up and then retreated up the way it had come, as if tugged up by an invisible force.
**
Interlude

The flickering torches placed high up on the walls gave a shadowy cast to the chamber, but gave just enough light to see by, but not much in the way of warmth.

The chamber itself was sparsely furnished with a few tables pushed up against three of the walls, scattered with an odd assortment of objects, from a pitcher of water, pewter mugs, some empty, some filled to the brim with the heady but sweetly-scented mead, others with water.

In the center of the wide chamber two things took up pride of place, one was a stone hearth with a metal kettle hanging from a hook from the ceiling; the other was a stone seat that could have very well have been mistaken for a throne.

Of course, given the fact that the building had for centuries served as a monastic retreat, and still did, one might wonder what such a disparate piece of furniture was doing in a place given to the study and observance of the world beyond. If the brethren were at all disgruntled at it being there, they did not protest, or even if they did, they kept it to themselves.

The current occupant of that stone seat was garbed as one of the brethren, in heavy grey robes and with the cowl through back over his heavy shoulders. Perched on the armrest at his left hand was one of the heavy pewter mugs filled with mead. He sat with his back resting against the back of the seat, his arms resting on his knees, fingers laced together in roughly the shape of a triangle, his mind seeing far beyond his immediate surroundings.

“This is intolerable!” screeched, Wizasquizar, “simply intolerable. I demand to know why I was first brought here and then left to cool my heels in a sparsely appointed chamber while you deigned to see me!”

Another, who stood near the table, considering whether or not to take a mug of mead, shook his head, but the way in which he did it, seemed to indicate neither agreement nor disapproval. “I am certain our host will explain everything whenever it suits him to do so.”

“Harlan speaks correctly,” Bogavus quietly replied. “I do apologize for the lack of more conventional furnishings, but this is after all a monastery, and I have found I have become quite accustomed to its accoutrements’ and it suits me to leave them as they are.”

“All very well,” said Harlan as he turned away from the table of mead, wondering if he had simply drunk too much of the frothy brew so that his normally keen senses had dulled and become more than a bit fuzzy, because otherwise he would have marked the canny sharpness in Bogavus’ steely-blue gaze.

Harlan had once served as a journey-man mage to the older and better known wizard, before he’d suffered the unfortunate condition of being forever condemned to lie, despite his best intentions.

Harlan had been aware that the shifting of the world had changed, as had the tides within the growing circle of magic users, and while he had always considered himself something of a bit player in the circle of magic users; he had still managed to keep a proverbial ear to the ground, and had tried to follow the rise of the Merklynn to the heights of being the preeminent wizard in the world of Prismos.

During the conflict between the newly minted Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords, most of the wizards that had caused trouble of one sort or another throughout the countryside had been banished to the wizard’s jail.
During a recent misadventure those wizards had been freed, and most, chose to follow the better course of wisdom, and kept a low profile. This was a course of action that Harlan heartily approved of, because he would far rather not borrow trouble.

Now it seemed that whether he would or no, trouble would find him and he had the distinct promotion rolling around like a snake in his gut, that he would soon become embroiled in more trouble than he could possibly handle. At the same time, a part of him, welcomed the danger, and the challenge; it made for a very confusing and heady feeling.

For his part, Wizasquizar was bent over at the waist with his hands placed on his knees, gasping for breath, the hem of his robes pooling on the stone floor, while he fought to get his breath back, and the indignation of earlier rising up to the fore. “Want do you want from us?” he demanded.

“To put it in the most simplistic terms, so that even you simpletons can understand it; I want your vow of allegiance, to me,” stated Bogavus.

“Us, ally with you, that is simply preposterous!” exclaimed Wizasquizar.”

“I anticipated that you might say that, so I will explain myself,” replied Bogavus.

“After some time spent in private meditation it has occurred to me that Merklynn has at times over-reached himself, to the grief of all or any one of us. Wouldn’t you agree to that?”

“Yes, yes, but what does that have to do with us,” asked Wizaquizar.”

“I believe he thinks that he can take Merklynn’s place,” Harlan remarked quietly. “Even if that were remotely possible, do you have any idea just how powerful Merklynn is? And he has the magic of a shrine to back him up.”

“That is correct, however, he is just one, and if we were to combine our magical talents, under my authority, I believe that it is possible to overthrow Merklyn,” Balgama. “The first step in my plan is to form a cabal, and since Merklynn has chosen to ally himself with the Spectral Knights, it stands to reason that we should do so with the Darkling Lords.”

“What’s in it for us? It seems to me that in this alliance that we run all the risks while you reap all of the rewards.”

“And I might mission one serious flaw in your plan, you do not have the power of a shrine behind you,” added Wizaquizar, shaking his head at the sheer folly of this gambit, thinking rather regretfully at just how close he had come to capturing the power of the Lost Shrine in the Anarchy Zone only a year ago, only to see it literally slip through his fingers, as the orb shattered to flinders, and with his dreams of regaining his former glory and standing among the magic users of Prismos.

“I had hoped to appeal to your sense of pride as fellow wizards, solidarity, and a kind of new brotherhood.

“Far be it from me to question your intentions,” Wizaquizar in order to gain their loyalty, tasking with bring the Darkling Lords over to his side.

“Why should we do a fool thing like that?” whined Falkama. “If you have forgotten, Lord Darkstorm is not known for his hospitality, the reverse if anything. He also has a most choleric temper not to mention

“I do not feel inclined to explain at length, the exactitudes of my plan, nor do I need to. And I find your intransigence most vexing. Be that as it may; this opportunity for each of you, to be a part of something bigger than yourselves.”

“Perhaps, perhaps,” temporized Falkama.

“They are useful, but be wary, Darkstorm, flatter, coax, but tread wary, he could as easily betray as us side with us.”

“Why do you not go to him?” asked Wizquizar.

“That is the task I have set aside for the three of you!” Bogavus sighed and then set aside his pewter cup, saying as he did so, “It would take too long to explain and I think that it will be not only more effiecnet by also make more of impression on you, if give you a small demonstration of my power.”

With that Bogavus picked up a heavy and eerie-looking helm and then placed it upon his head. The helm gave off the air of antiquity, and yet, at the same time seemed to gleam with a light of its own, as if were new or freshly polished. While Falkama had never been one to withhold the lash of his tongue or his opinion on such about any subject matter, there something about the way the helm itself and the way the shadows feel upon it, for the time made him be silent.

Suddenly the stark audience hall was gone, as if had never been there; in its place was a wide feasting hall, with trestle tables piled high with all manner of food and drink, and revelers by the hundreds, and it was filled with light.

In the blink of an eye, this scene vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and its place was lush green parkland, and galloping across it were riders who the rich garb of the nobility, as if they had sprung full force from out of the scene picked on a tapestry.

The oddest thing about all of this, all, quite rationally, all three of the wizards, for whom this demonstration was intended, knew what they say was not real, that it was illusion, and were no strangers to either this type of magic or the arts and power required to produce it; each in their own way, were compelled in the moment that to believe that it was a real, as tangible as it looked, felt and even smelled.

When Bogavs at length removed the helm from his head, he had a glimmer in his eye, as if he could sense more than a little at what had gone through their hands. “Now, do you understand?” he asked.
***
**
Harlan, Wizasquizar, and Falkama go to Castle Darkstorm, tasked with bringing over the Darkling Lords over to Bogavus’ side and to fight against the Spectral Knights.

“What do you want, odd one?” growled Darkstorm, in a tone bordering on both mingled hostility and more than a little boredom.

“We’ve met before, Lord Darkstorm,” stated Falkama. “I cannot be certain which of the two scenarios vexes more, the fact that you do not remember me, or the fact that you do.”

“It is indeed puzzlement,” mused Wizasquizar, rubbing his hairless chin and craning his neck to get look around Castle Darkstorm’s audience hall. He had heard that due to the battles between the Darkling Lords and their arch enemies the Spectral Knights; the old place had seen any number of renovations, and that it was also infamous for the cunning if somewhat cruel games that were played on visitors, such as the marble-floor that also served double duty as a chess board, with actual living men and women as the pieces.

He had also heard of an elaborate system of pulleys and trap-doors, depending on which one you pulled at any given time, you might find yourself in the dungeon, the privy, or the wine cellar, all at the whim of the castle masters.

Rumor had it that Falkama himself had once been held captive here, and no doubt had a first-hand knowledge of those mechanisms, but the old man was a canny sort, and one not much given to idle talk, so Wizasquiar resolved that there must be a way of circling around the subject at a later date, and that he would find just the right to ask his questions about the subject.

It was an intriguing question, and one that he wished to investigate further, but at the moment, he was forced to remind himself, that he did not have to indulge his personal curiosity; because they were all here on important business.

Reekon, whose brown and dull good armor made him look as if he were so inclined, could simply blend into the plastered wall behind him, smirked at the tall, skinny Wizasquizar, and it was not all a pleasant one. To the middle-aged wizard’s way of thinking, this Reekon fellow had the air of one who thought himself pretty blessedly smart.

Falkama shook his head, “I’ve forgotten, but why dwell on the past. We are to offer you a most intriguing proposition.”

“What kind of proposition?” asked Darkstorm, cautiously, intrigued but still suspicious of both them and their motives, for one thing it was rather unheard of for wizards of any calling to work together, even more so, that all seemed to defer to one over the other.

As he leaned a bit further out from the back of his throne, he realized that this contingent of wizards had apparently chosen Falkama as their spokes-person, although the younger wizards, Wizsquizar, seemed to speak up, only to echo what the first had said. The third wizard was one that he had never seen or heard of before, and he had the chick-feathered red-haired look of a very young man.

Mortdredd, an apologetic sycophant sidled up to the side of his master, and whispered. “Might I suggest Sire, that we dispose of them right quickly. One can never trust a wizard and that’s a fact.”

“Not now, I want to hear them out,” replied Darkstorm, as he made shooing motions at Mortdredd.

Falkama heartened by the fact that they or any one of the trio had yet been dispatched to the middens, or worse the dungeons, announced the purpose of their visit. “We are an embassy, and going by the conventions of such, will be treated with respect,” exclaimed Falkama,” who then took a deep breath, “on the behalf of the wizard Bogavus, and he or rather we since we have been entrusted to speak with his voice in all subsequent negotiations, and such, seek an alliance.”

“Absurd,” scoffed Crevax, who had come into the audience chamber, accompanied by the other Darkling Lords, Cinddar, Viriluna, and Lexor.

“What’s absurd, this time?” sniffed Virluina, not all reticent in making verbal sallies at any or all of her fellow Darkling Lords, although she was astute enough never to let it get out of hand, after all one did not allies, after all.

“No, not all!” exclaimed Wizaquizar.

“As one liar to another, My Lord, Darkstorm, allow me to translate Wizquizar’s last speech.” State Lexor.

“Go ahead,” said Darkstorm, gesturing in the general direction of the contingent of wizards.

Lexor stepped forward and looked down his long nose at the swallowed face of Wizquizar, locking his carrion-crow beady eyes on those of the wizard. “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

“No, no, You must have the advantage of me, My Lord,” gushed Wizquizar, realizing rather abruptly that had it not been for the handicap of being condememmed to compulsively and often, even when his own inclination might lean to telling the truth, that wretched curse would make it nearly impossible for him to do so.

Lexor, never one to exercise much in the way of patience, reached out with his left hand and grasped the unfortunate wizard’s lantern-jaw in his fingers and squeezed, none too gently. “An embassy, of wizards, surely you must be insane. No one would believe anything like that. You lot have despised and contented with one another for generations; everyone knows that.” Now, tell me, why you are really here.”

“It does no good, I tell you,” spoke up Harlan. You know, I think that if we prevailed upon Master Bogavus, he might be able to do something about that atrocious curse of never been able to tell the truth even when you really could.”

“Let him go, Lexor,” Darkstorm commanded.

“Very well,” muttered Lexor.

“Getting back to the matter at hand,” mused Darkstorm, rather intrigued despite his own rather pugnacious and paranoid nature, asked “What’s in it for me?”

“The power and opportunity, to strike back at your enemies,” replied Falkama.

“I have that already,” said Darkstorm.

“Yes, but it is more a less a stalemate between yourselves and the Spectral Knights, no? said Falkama, but who still could not completely keep a cunning smirk from twisting his thin lips.

“Why didn’t Bogavus come to see me in person?” asked Darkstorm.

Harlan sighed and then said: “He had other tasks to accomplish and a very limited amount of time in which to accomplish it. Look we can over and around this all you like, but the essential question is you in or out?”

“Young whipper-snapper,” muttered Crevax.

“He does have a point,” remarked Reekon. “And if we were to agree to this alliance, what do you want in return?”

“All that you must do is mount an ambush on the Spectral Knights, who even know seek for our master’s sanctuary at the orders of Merklynn. Bogavus is at a crucial stage in his plans, and they must not be allowed to interfere with those plans.”

“What of Merklynn?” asked Mortrdredd. “Surely will have a part to play in all of this?”

“I do not know for certain,” replied Falkama, but he knew that you might doubt our spoken intentions, therefore he saw fit to sweeten the offer.”

“How so?” asked Reekon.

“Will gold do?” Harlan said.

“Three hundred bars of gold, payable upon completion of one small task,” added Falkama.

“What kind of task,” asked Crevax.

“Attack and distract your enemies, lure them away from Bogavus’ sanctuary and when we give the signal you will then, and only then, draw them after you and he will spring the trap that he has prepared for them.”

“Hmm, sounds too good to be true,” sighed Crevax. “That much gold for a bait and switch attack…I don’t know about this.”

“Fortunately for you Crevax, it is not you upon his whose shoulders this decision must rest,” sniped Darkstorm, but I, and I say that you have spoken in good order. It shall be so!”

Falkama and Wizquizar exchanged conspiratorial glances with one another, and then turned back to face the assembled Darkling Lords, and placed a restraining hand upon Harlan’s shoulder, before Falkama , speaking for the other wizards. “Then we have ourselves a deal. We will now depart and convey the good news to Master Bogavus.”
****
The Ambush

“Have you ever had one of those experiences where you feel as if everything else around you were speeding up and yet you felt as if you were running as fast as you could go and still not making any headway?” asked Feryl.

“Now, now,” mused Leoric, “there’s no need to go borrowing trouble.”

Whatever else he might have meant to say was lost in the sudden noise and sound of an attack, fierce and without warning. Soaring high above their hands was Mortdredd and Virolina using their magic to power the vehicle known as the Dagger Assault, forcing those on the ground to seek what scanty cover was afforded by the terrain.

The downpour of smoking fireballs soon abruptly ceased, as suddenly as it had begun.

Meanwhile, Darkstorm, Cindarr, Crevax, and Lexor, hanging back as was his custom, leaped down from a nearby rise, shouting and brandishing their weapons as they came.

“We meet again!” cried Ectar.

“So we do. Do you remember what we discussed at our last meeting?” asked Reekon.

“I do. But I feel it is not something that should be bruited about in the midst of a battle.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“I am not afraid of anything,” Ectar retorted, knowing even as he did that the only reason Reekon would offer such a dull barb was to purposely nettle him, but nevertheless he felt increasingly nettled. The only problem with that, at the moment, was that it was difficult to determine what he felt angrier about; the fact that their quest for Bogavus had so far proven so elusive and unproductive, or the fact that he had begun to feel that they might fail in the midst of it.

Reekon smiled a feral grin, one that made his features twist in a wry expression of mingled good humor and sarcasm. “Only a fool is afraid of nothing, and in our long association with one another, one thing I have never taken you for is a fool, Ectar.”

“Nor I, you, Reekon, it does make life a bit more interesting, I must say, also I apologize for my earlier behavior, I should not allow myself to become angered over trivialities.”

“That’s more like it. Well, have at you, then!” cried Reekon and lunged forward to with his own weapon raised only to have it meet that of his opponent’s with a resounding clink of meta on meta’ the late afternoon sun reflecting off the surface with a flickering gleam.

While their personal fight was soon joined by others, all over the grassy knoll, as the two forces paired off and traded blow after blow, and the air was filled with grunting, groaning, and the clash of blades.

Even as Ectar fought his own battle, he did have to wonder at their tactics, because for one thing, the Darkling Lords had had the advantage of surprise, choice of terrain, and had they attacked en masse, they might very well have overrun them, had that been their intent. Instead, the fight had become one on one, with no demands or boasting. It was curiously; off, but at the moment he could not quite determine what was wrong.

The attack by the Darkling lords is fast and furious, but just when it seems that they have the upper hand and have drawn the Spectral Knights into a box canyon with no way out, they withdraw.
**
Bogavus had been waiting for just that moment spring the magical trap that he had prepared for them.

Suddenly, even as they stared, weary yet alert a ground mist arose, confusing the senses, as it was no doubt intended to do and each, in their own way, attempted to stem the cries of confusion and anger and deal with this sudden and unusual threat.

Several attackers came at Critoec and Galadria and then returned blow for blow as best they could with the mist now creeping closer and swirling around their ankles. Criotec yelped involuntarily when a blow that went too far of its mark and his attacker landed one of his own. Soon after he had recovered, he turned to Galadria, who had a fixed put determined expression on her face.

She had, for the moment, beaten back her own attacker, and thought back to an incident going back more than a year ago, when she had been bitten by Crevax’s power staff, the spider of fair, that once bitten the victim begins to hallucinate and see manifestations of their worst fears; this experience felt similar but at the same much more real than those long ago hallucinations had.

For each of the knights what they saw, felt and heard in those gradually enveloping mists was unique to each of them, Cryotec saw himself fail his city, Witterquick saw robed and cowled men drag him down in his cheetah animal totem form and then drag him away in their nets. He fought the fear and felt that he had beaten it back, at least for the moment. Ectar witnessed failing when he most needed to be there for his friends and comrades, and so it was for Leoric.

Suddenly without a warning at all a wall, higher than any, even the tallest of them were to standing upon each other’s shoulders, rose a wall of thorns

Arzon, too, was affected by the hallucinatory-inducing mists, and glancing around he saw that each in his or her own way, his fellow Spectral Knights had succumbed; however, with the determination and sheer grit that he would not allow this magical mist to affect to him to the point where they would wait meekly for their enemies to come pick them up, he fought it, fought to the point where the sweat broke on his brow and made the tunic that he wore beneath his armor stick to his torso like a second skin.

Wrenching his gaze from the others and both their outward and external struggles, Arzon back-pedaled until he was backed up against the flank of the hillside. It was a fluke, a chance, maybe it was instinct or something else that made him look at patch of ground cover where he stood, and he saw a way out of the trap that they all fallen into.

“Wait; don’t give up hope, yet. I think I see a way out, a path that cuts through the hills.”

“I don’t see anything,” griped Criotec, craning his neck in the direction that Arzon had pointed, and shading his eyes from the glare of the noonday sun.

“Remember, Arzon, not all of us have eagle eyes,” remarked Witterquick.

“I’ll fly up and check it out, it could be nothing more than a deer track, but even so, it beats hanging around in this box canyon waiting for the Darkling Lords to capture us, or worse.”

“It’s the worst part, that I’m concerned about,” replied Criotec.

But his remark was addressed to the empty space where Arzon had stood only a few seconds before, because he evoked the power of his animal totem and turned into an electric blue eagle, and soaring up on the rising midday thermals and up and over to the heels where he had spotted the track that might offer a way out of the trap that they had all fallen into.

In his eagle form Arzon soared far above the hue and cry of the battle far below, his keen blade-edged gaze sweeping the terrain for that remembered crevasse in the fold of the hills, and after sweeping, right, left, up and then down, his search was rewarded. He folded his wings tight against his body and swooped back down, more thankful than he might have wished to admit, that Crevax, whose animal totem was also capable of flight, had not noticed or interfered in his reconssaniance.

Right before his eagle’s talons touched down on the churned up hard-packed ground he resumed his human form once more. “Leoric, if you will pardon the interruption, but I’ve a secret passage up to the summit, which I think is just the thing that we need at the moment.”

Gasping for breath and leaning on the haft of his own power staff, bruised, battered, but just trying to get his breath back after taking a hammering blow to his solar plexus by Darkstorm’s weapon. When he could breathe, more or less normally, Leoric, too had been wondering, too, if the surprising lull in the attack was a sign that worse was in the offing.

“A secret passage, Well done, Arzon. “

“Never have I desired to leave a place as much as I do this one," muttered Leoric.

“You never know what might be lying in wait at the top,” said Ectar.

“A cherry thought,” quipped Feryl. “

“Spectral Knights” cried Leoric, “Form up on me; we are well rid of this place!”

“More walking then, less talking,” replied Criotec as he pivoted on his booted heels and followed first Arzon, who lead them to the crevasse, half-hidden by clumps of shrubs and then Leoric,

At first it was difficult to make out any of the details of the underground passage because of all of them had to make an adjustment from the bright light of day and the dull almost ivory-colored light of the passage;, which gave off a dim luminescence much like that of ivory or pearl. The walls were the dull striated shades of the hillside and as they climbed the steps single file, or in pairs where space permitted; it was evident that these steps had been in place for a very long time.

At one point Galdarida stopped with her head titled to one side and her hand stretched out to catch a splashing drop of water that feel from the stalagmites on the ceiling and too the floor and pooled into the rough cracks of the steps. “Look, water, Cryptec. It is a marvel.”

Ectar stopped and looked back at where she stood, her blonde hair gleaming in the eerie light and shimmering with the water falling on it. And while he was careful to school his features, he too stopped and took a good look around at their surroundings. “Sometimes we miss the simple things, but they are nevertheless quite beautiful. I recall reading the writings of and a philosopher or was it a poet?”

“What did he have to say?” asked Arzon.

“He said that water was good, that it benefits all things and can be found almost everywhere and at all times, and we must never take it for granted,” replied Ectar.

“A wise man, indeed,” mused Arzon.

“Come, I think I detect a chance in the light ahead. I believe we are nearing the summit,” said Leoric.
***

The armored figure sat his dun-colored horse across the expanse of the top of the plateau, patient and imposing, his expression inscrutable, mainly because he wore a visor that covered almost the entirely of his face, except for his eyes and his mouth.

This mysterious black knight gave off the impression that wore his armor as if were a barrier between him and everything else around him slowly nodded his head and began to slowly rock back and forth in his saddle. He also appeared to have been set in that one spot, like a boulder teetering on the edge of the precipice.

In the distance, hidden by one of the monestary’s outbuildings the trio of wizards watched the confrontation with mingled anticipation and worry, the strain on their faces was quite considerable. The knight was a composite of all of their talents and as such required an enormous of magical energy not only to create, but also to maintain,

One thing that they had learned; to flout Master Bogavus’ will was to court banishment from his cabal, or worse. Falkama might have had some idea of what would constitute ‘worse, because of the three it was acknowledged by all of them that he had the most devious mind, so he would in essence, pull the reins of the creatures attack and defence, still he felt more than a little disgruntled by the whole thing.

In his own mind, he felt that thus far they had all been treated like lackeys rather than allies and figured that if the ‘master’ was all that powerful surely he his elaborate illusions down in the box canyon should have sufficed to deter the dratted Spectral Knights from even coming near his sanctuary. Following shortly on the heels of that particular thought, it also occurred to Falkama that he would have done a much better job when he was in charge.

Wizquizar, thought if they did not attack the black knight soon, he might very well let the reins slip on his end and simply take a snooze right in the very spot that he crouched in.

Harlan, the least weary of three, thought the knight would be sufficient, for as young as he once he knew that he also possessed considerable magical strength, and would provide the motive force to the construct. Also, he sensed that other wizards’ resolve were flagging through the link that they all shared, and so turned and offered them a confident smile. “Don’t worry so much. We can pull this off, no problem.”

“Ah, spoken with the confidence of youth,”Falkama griped, shaking his head.

“Well, why don’t we wait and see then?” Harlan, exclaimed, stung by the imperious tone in the older wizard’s voice.
**
They emerged at last into the open air after climbing the steps and breathed a collective sigh of relief, when the saw that at least two of Prismos’s three suns had not yet set, and the great pile of stone that squatted upon the summit of the hill squatting there like a honey-muzzled bear at the mouth of its cave.

Striding forward with confidence and with the air of a man who sees the end of a long road ahead of him, Cryotec legged out ahead of the others and received a resounding poke with the haft of a war axe for his efforts.

When he got his breath back, then he stumbled back-wards and growled in a manner much like his animal totem, ready to grapple with his attacker. “Have at thee, foul brute!” he exclaimed, twirling his own weapon high above his head.

Feryl stole one glance at the black knight and another at the distance that they had already covered through the secret passageway through the underground cavern and then at the faces of his fellow knights, and gulped.

“I do not care for this at all,” muttered Ectar. “It feels similar to that mist that confounded us earlier.”

“I concur,” whispered Leoric.

The black knight spurred his charger forward with his visor snapped shut and his hand resting on the pommel of his war axe clenched loosely from his left hand with all the lack of remorse and with the single-mindness of a boulder that he had very much resembled.

“What do I do?” muttered Leoric, figuring that once this unknown black knight reached the spot where they stood that they would pushed back into the secret passage. There was little doubt in his mind that this behemoth was intended to be the last obstacle to prevent anyone from reaching its master.

Turning to Feryl, Ectar and Witterquick, he placed a finger along the side of his lean nose and quietly whispered, “Do you recall what my knowledge staff once told me at the lost shrine when we were about to captured?”

“Yes, something cryptic about avoiding do what you would do,” replied Ectar.

“Exactly, “ replied Leoric.

“What are you two talking about?” asked Feryl.

“We will attack, but not in our human form, but using our animal totems. Even if we can’t overpower him, we confound him, or slip by him,” said Leoric.

“Capital idea!” cried Feryl, activating the power of their animal totems.

“When I gave the signal,” whispered Leoric. A moment or two later,” he cried. “Now!”

Soon where the four of them had stood, crouched, a lion, a wolf, a fox and a cheetah, growling and leaping forward upon the black knight; their attack took it/he by surprise and their combined weight knocked the rider from his saddle.

The motive force behind the knight, the three wizards, Wizquizar, Falkama, and Harlan, having tired themselves out with waiting, wrangling at each other, and the fact that they felt as if they had not been given everything that

Bogavus had promised to them, cut the reins loose and, much to the surprise of the four Spectral Knights’ surprise, the armored-clad form beneath them shimmered away into prismatic-colored sparks.
Resuming their human forms, Leoric remarked, “Very odd.” Turning back, he gestured to his comrades that had remained behind to come forward.

“I hope that is the last of the unpleasant surprises that he has in store for us,” muttered Feryl.

“I do, too,” replied Galadria.
***
When they approached the gates the robed and cowled brothers going about their daily lives curiously looked up at them, but offered no comment or anything in the way of resistance when they entered the building in through the main gate, which had not been locked.

Ectar felt a chill travel up and down his spin, his own instincts and experience finding this an ill omen, given everything else that they had been through so far. In the back of his mind, he thought, was Bogavus so confident of his own power that he did not even care to lock the gates? Or perhaps the wizard had simply not anticipated that they would even get this far?’

“Bogavus”!” cried Leoric, we have come seeking you!”

“You have found me,” said Bogavus, waving his hand, I would ask that you bluster about so much, it disconcerts the brothers.”

“Do they have any idea what you do here!” demanded Cryotec.

“No, but we have reached a kind of understanding, a delicate balance,” replied Bogavus. “They allow me to play at being the lord and master of all I survey, and have become more or less resigned to the uncanny comings and goings of my underlings.”

“If I recall correctly,” Witterquick said, “the last time we met, you admitted to being but a minor third player in the game of wizardry; it would seem that things have changed.”

“I owe you no such favors, or even an explanation. The only reason you are here is because Merklynn sent you as his errand boys, when he refuses to set foot outside of his own sanctuary,” retorted Bogavus.

“He does have a point,” muttered Leoric.

“Regardless, to what purpose was all of this for?” demanded Witterquick.

“How long do you think it will be until Merklynn tires of playing with you and yours, Spectral Knights? How long before the rather loose leash that he has you own for your magical powers and advice will no longer serve his purposes, and he cuts you loose?”

“That is not to the point!” Leoric said angrily.

“Is it not?” Bogavus whispered. “Be that as it may, I found a way to make him think twice, to sit up and take notice, to fool him during that ridiculous test of both my worthiness and veracity.”

“I remember,” whispered Ectar. “I wanted to believe you, I still do, but circumstances being what they are, it has been…”he trailed off and winced, then added, “Problematic, of late.”

“Why do you want to believe me?” Bogavus asked Ectar.

“Because, even in this age of magic, I still believe in the maxim which states that a man or woman is innocent before being proven guilty, that you are entitled to speak in your own behalf, and that we should not be both judge, jury and executioner."

“A rather antiquated notion of right and wrong, a sense of justice that it sadly lack in this world of ours, Sir Ectar,” muttered Bogavus.”

 

At that moment, a pewter goblet thudded upon Bogavus’ armrest, shattering the stillness of the room, causing everyone in the room to gasp. He reached over and placed an eerie-looking helm upon his gray-haired head.

Soon, it was if they were standing in the midst of a chamber of mirrors, for they were soon surrounded by twenty, thirty, forty, then fifty exact replicas of the black knight, all brandishing war axes, hovering only inches from each of their necks.

When the blows fell, some on armor, some on with the ringing clarity of blade upon blade, the temperature in the stony air, unrelieved by the roaring bonfire in the fireplace at the far end of the chamber, grew appreciably.

Feryl went down under the hammering blows of five of the mirror-image black knights, unconscious but alive. Galadria and Cryotec fought back-to-back but were knocked unconscious at the last.

Ectar, Leoric, and Arzon tried to cut their way out and stood protectively over their fallen comrades.

Soon, when it seemed that they must fail in their mission, three robed figures crept out of a hidden panel on one of the walls near the throne, and reached out with sinuous ropy hands, created by their own magic, and stealthily removed the helm from Bogavus’ unsuspecting head.

Just when it seemed that their gambit had been successful, the ropy, smoky hands lost their grip on the helm and it fell to the ground.

Bogavus sprang after it, his hands out-stretched but fell short by mere inches, crying out in dismay when failed to prevent it from shattering. “No!” he exclaimed. “

Falkama, Wizquizar and Harlan emerged from their hiding spot behind the throne, their expressions a bit shaky, but also proud that they had not only undercut their master’s hold over them, but also the source of Bogavus’ newfound power.

Bogavus whirled around with a fixed and determined expression, his face a fixed, pale mask.” How dare the three of you defy me!”

“We dare, because of your over-weaning ambition and arrogance, and because it has become evident to all of us, that you never had any intention of giving us anything but crumbs from your table,” exclaimed Falkama.

Bogavus heaved a sigh, saying, “I have made my bid, and I must live with the consequences. There is nothing left to fight over. Take me to Merklynn, for I would have words with him.”

Cryotec heaved the burlap sack that had been left behind their gear that could not be carried up to the summit and removed a heavy iron-linked chain and strode across the length of the hall that separated him from where

Bogavus stood heaving in mingled anger and disappointment at the failure of his last and ultimate gambit. “Sorry, old man, to have to do this.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Bogavus.

“I mean to that I must put these irons on you,” said Cryotec quietly.

“So be it,” said Bogavus in a resigned and quiet tone of voice.
***
Aftermath

With Bogavus in chains, seemingly outwardly subdued, but inwardly still very much defiant, he knelt on the ground and refused to meet anyone’s gaze for very long.

At the base of the hillside, after going down another hillside at the back of the monastery, this one open to the air, Cryotec led the captured wizard, as gently and as decorously as he could, because while he knew very little of the nature of magic as that practiced by wizards, and while the wizard himself had always been something of an enigma, he had been a worthy enemy, and had put a good fight. That, to Cryotec’s way of thinking, had earned Bogavus a grudging, brittle sort of respect.

Much to the surprise of the Spectral Knights, waiting for them at the foot of the hills was the last person they had expected to see. Darkstorm leaned up against a scrawny, leafless tree with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I’ll accompany you to Iron Mountain to see Merklynn,” announced Darkstorm “If for one would dearly love to hear what he has to say to this wretched renegade wizard.”

Feryl leaned over to whisper in Leoric’s ear, “Is this a good idea?”

“If nothing else, we do need to recharge our power staffs, so it would seem that we have a coincidence of paths, young man,” replied Darkstorm.

“I’ll use the power of my staff to run ahead and alert Merklynn that we have Bogavus and to expect the rest of you in due course,” Witterquick stated, and with that he chanted the incantation that activated the power of his staff,

“Shield these feet in the driving gale/Make swift these legs, over land I sail” and no sooner than that he vanished in the swirling vortex and swept across the plain and soon was lost to view over the distant eastern horizon, and was gone.

“We should purchase a dray cart in the village yonder, “said Ectar. “That way at least, the captive can travel the distance to Iron Mountain in something resembling comfort and dignity.”

“Whatever for?” asked Feryl.

“Because, it, “ Ectar started, stopped and started, his facing reddening, and then tried once more to articulate what he wanted to convey, but his emotions kept looping around and around inside of him and made speaking difficult, before at last coming out with a rather weak-sounding reason, “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Arzon, up till now, the quietest among them, nodded, and replied. “I concur.”

“Then it’s settled,” stated Leoric. “ Let us leave this place at once.”

Conclusion

They climbed the path to the summit of Iron Mountain

At Iron Mountain, Darkstorm stepped forward and approached Merklynn. “I believe that I speak for all of the Darkling Lords when I say that I truly regret siding with that wretched renegade that you see kneeling in front of you. “

“I appreciate the candor, Darkstorm, more so because it is not something that I would have expected coming from you,” replied Merklynn.

Darkstorm bristled, and then continued. “All the same I still loathe the Spectral Knights, but for the foreseeable future the truce that we agreed upon after that deplorable incident of the sun-imps will stand. “

“I accept your proposal, wholeheartedly,” replied Leoric with a remarkably straight face, holding out his hand, which after a moment Darkstorm shook, to seal the agreement.

“What about him?” asked Ectar.

“Ah yes, Bogavus,” Merklynn quietly greeted, “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Ah me” sighed Bogavus at the last. I might have a better chance of explaining myself, were these shackles removed from my person, they do weigh me down something fierce.”

“I see no reason to encumber you any further,” Merklynn replied and with a wave of his hand the magical iron chains vanished into thin air.

“Ah, that’s better,” sighed Bogavus, absently rubbing at his aching limbs, and then abruptly stopped when he realized that the gazes of all assembled in the room were fixed on him.

“I suppose the natural inclination would be to ask as to the why and wherefore of my actions, and I have every intention of telling you, all of you. It’s because I could no longer tolerate the status quo.”

“What do you mean?” asked Merklynn gently.

“I mean that that you’ve been lording it over as the premmeinet wizard for centuries. Oh, Merklyn
did you ever consider that someone might desire to shake things up, bring in fresh blood? For centuries we magic users have labored under the assumption that we must work in secret, build up our strength, and so it has been even through the disruption and upheaval to this new Age of Magic.”

“Somehow, while I find his rhetoric quite persuasive; his actions would tell another tale,” muttered Witterquick.

“So, I thought, and bided my time, and thought some more, on his was best to be accomplished, and through a curious twist of fate, the answer almost fell into my lap,” exclaimed Bogavus with a grandiose wave of his hands.

“I thought, instead of always working at cross-purposes, why not bring into my orbit, another disgruntled wizards and we work in concert with one another. Although, with the clarity of hind-sight, I should have really thought of a ploy that would have drawn you out of your Sanctuary, and then….”

“You would have set a trap for me?” asked Merklynn solemnly.

“But after all, that is no longer remotely a possibility. Speaking only for me, I and I, whatever punishment that you feel dispose to mete out; I no doubt deserve. However, I would ask a boon.”

“Speak,” Merklynn replied.

Bogavus heaved a sigh and then said: “The others, I coerced to my side and my will. So if guilt is to be shared, the allotment of three wizards is much less than my own.”

“You would freely admit this?” asked Merklynn.

“Yes,” replied Bogavus.

“Then let it be known to all assembled here and now, that my judgment is that the wizard known as Bogavus is guilty on all accounts and of all charges, including up to coercion, subversion. I am certain that in all likelihood, some of the blame for this lies with myself, for failing to see the sequence of events that would lead him down this path,” Merklyn shook his hoary snow-white head.

“Your fault! You over-weaning, arrogant and stubborn old goat!” Bogavus yelled, his own eyes blazing in and his lower lip trembling beneath his own long grey beard.

“Yes, my fault. I failed you, and thus you rebelled,” Merklynn whispered. “You have been found guilty, you have admitted your crimes and motives, and thereby the sentence is that I hereby banish you to the Wizard’s Jail.”

“That’s it?” muttered Darkstorm, “Here I was half-hoping to bear witness to how executions are conducted among magic-users. If nothing else it would have been instructive.”

“Shut up!” muttered Witterquick.

“Merklynn, you never cease to amaze, that is when you are not so damn dense, and aggravating at the same time. I submit, as I have no other choice.”

With that, Merklynn stepped forward and stood regarding the subdued but still somehow defiant rebellious wizard with sad yet hooded eyes, and then muttering an inaudible incantation, waved his staff over the other’s head, and, sooner as one could draw in a breath and then let it out again, Bogavus had vanished.

“You may all let yourselves out,” Merkylnn said, absently, his face turned away from them.

“I never imagined that it would be so difficult for him,” whispered Arzon as they departed from the chamber and back out into the cold evening air.

“Whom do you mean,” asked Galadria.

“I meant Merklynn, of course,” replied Arzon.

“I for one, am just relieved that it is all over,” stated Witterquick.

“I, too,” said Cryotec.

“Let us return home,” interrupted Darkstorm.

“For once, I agree,” said Ectar.