"You see," Garrett continued, "according
to the Keepers, Master Nightfall came alone on the ship that brought him.
He told them he was a mage, and he drew a building out of the very ground
with the last of his power." The Mage looked thoughtful.
"It is possible. The mage we sent was skilled enough to use his magic both to lead the ship alone and to conjure a building out of the ground." He turned to direct his stare at Cray. "How long ago did he arrive?"
"I'm not exactly sure," Cray replied. "Five, maybe six years ago "
"That basically corresponds with the relative time at which we sent him. It could easily have been the same person. What is his real name? For obviously Nightfall is a pseudonym."
"Indeed it is, but no one knows his real name. He has never told us his real name. However, if he is a mage, could you not communicate w " But the Mage interrupted him.
"That's it! It is our mage. His real name is Naikoulakh. In the Ancient Language, it means Sun Master."
"Maybe so, but the Hammerites who were there when Nightfall conjured the building called him Nightfall. It wasn't his choice," Cray protested.
"But he kept the name because it was so near his own. In fact, many strange events now make sense. Several years ago, for example, there was a great fire in our libraries, and many books were lost. Naikoulakh's main power was the manipulation of fire. Each mage uses his main power in order to transport objects. So, of course, he must have moved all those books to this Circle. For nothing can exist in two places at once, you see I don't understand why I didn't think of it before " His face then changed as he fell deep into thought. The other four watched as his face went through countless changes while his thoughts wandered. Finally, he seemed to return to the here and now. "Oh. Excuse me. I haven't been hospitable. Where will you be staying?" The four looked at each other.
"Well " Garrett said. "To tell you the truth, we haven't really thought about it. I guess we were planning on staying on the boat, but, now that I think about it, I guess it wasn't all that great of an idea. Where can we stay?"
"There are several inns in the area. However, I get the feeling some of you prefer to be free to move about?" he said with a smile. Garrett and Mercury looked at him with amazed expressions for a moment, and then at each other.
"Yes, indeed," Cray said slyly, glancing at the two thieves with twinkling eyes.
"Follow me, then. I will show you to the Mage Quarters. They are always open. However, I must warn you; these people are not used to thieves. They will not hesitate to kill you." Garrett and Mercury burst out laughing. "What seems to be funny?" asked the Mage.
"My friend," Mercury began," It is more dangerous to steal in a city where they are looking for you than to do the same in one where they aren't!" The Mage realized his mistake and smiled, but he continued walking. When all five of them were in the center, the Mage muttered, 'Antilevitatum humanum.' As they reached the bottom, a quick, 'pausum levitate,' stopped the movement of the five men.
The five stepped off the platform that was there to indicate the center of the Tower. Beyond, the streets were once again beginning to bustle with life as the people of Kunath-Loch returned to their daily duties. But, as the four visitors walked through the streets, heads turned to gaze upon the long-awaited Keepers of the Balance of the City. For years, they had been called the KBC, but now, as the people beheld them, only 'The Keepers' sounded like a good title. The four men were aware of the stares, but they decided to ignore them as well as the hush that overcame every area through which they passed. The two Keepers were surprised that they were so important, for they were used to being ignored.
The managing of the balance had always been a stealthy duty, and Keepers were usually not known by anyone except other Keepers. Here, however, their roles were completely reversed. It seemed as if every person knew of them, and some even knew their names. But the most surprised of the visitors was Garrett. Garrett was actually quite famous in the City, mostly because of his thieving exploits. However, here, every one seemed to know his name or his title ('the Acolyte'). Not even in the City had he been this well known.
Every once in a while, they would cross under a shadow cast by one of the tall Mage Towers. Only Mercury could contain his awe at these amazingly tall feats of construction. According to the Master Mage, the Mages were a separate class in Kunath-Loch. They used combinations of magic to construct and support the gargantuous towers. The tallest one, near the center of the city, was over twenty stories high. Only a few mages had access to that tower, for it contained some of the most powerful - and dangerous - magiks.
The Master Mage was one of those few, but he said that one of the most important things passed on to him by the Master Mage of Old was that no one was to pass through to the tower unless great need arose. Since great need had never arisen during this Mage's lifetime, he had never entered it. Rumor had it that the gate would remain locked until true need of its information arose.
Finally, the Mage halted in front of a fairly short Mage Tower that had the emblem of a unicorn and a wand on it. Apparently, this was the symbol for the Mages of Kunath-Loch. He led them inside. In this tower, however, there was no magical elevator. Instead, a spiral staircase that seemed to go all the way up to the very top of the tower occupied the center. By the time they reached the third floor where the four would be staying, the sky outside was already darkening.
"Sleep here tonight. Feel free to roam the streets. I must awaken early in the morning, so I have to leave you now. Make yourselves at home." The four men thanked the Master Mage, and then each one of them flopped down on his own bed. Garrett and Mercury had agreed earlier not to go thieving tonight, and all four of the weary travelers settled down to sleep.
The next morning, Mercury woke up and looked around, trying to figure out
where he was. Then, the memory of the day before flooded back to him and his
head dropped back onto the pillow. His thoughts raced through the events of
the last few months. The huge change in his life was absolutely unbelievable.
He had gone from a poor "Okie" farmer to a thief in a world that
seemed to be straight out of fiction. He had a friend with a mechanical eye
who was also a thief, except this thief had his own complicated history and
Mercury shut down that train of thought.
Instead, he got up and put on his clothes, checking to see if the others were asleep. Garrett and Mordak were stirring, but Cray was apparently fast asleep. Mordak suddenly sat straight up. Mercury, startled, said nothing as Mordak stood and quickly put on his clothes.
"I have neglected my duty," Mordak muttered. Then, aloud, to Mercury he said, "I need to communicate with the Keeper Council to tell them what has happened. Tell Cray that you should all stay here until I am finished, so we can then go out and get some breakfast." As he walked onto the staircase, he turned around again. "Good morning, by the way," and he disappeared.
Mercury had barely had a chance to give Cray Mordak's message before Mordak himself came running up the stairs, looking extremely agitated. He looked around for a moment with unfocused eyes and then he seemed to snap back to the present. He ran over to Cray and whispered something into his ear. Cray's eyes slowly widened and his face took a horrified look.
"Hey, you wouldn't mind telling me what's going on, would you?" asked Mercury, looking very annoyed. Mordak looked at him as if he had just seen him and then began to apologize profusely. After Mercury calmed him down a little, he asked for the information again. Mordak's mobile face adopted a grave expression.
"The Trickster has managed to get his minions through the portal. He has begun a great assault against the City." Mercury's brain took a few moments to register what that meant, and then his face turned disbelieving. "He has been amassing his forces within the confines of the graveyard since we left. We had no warning "
"Let me guess," Garrett's voice said, "the runes did not tell you. Yes, I'm awake." All three of the men had jumped when they had heard his voice. "What are the Keepers doing?"
"The final decision rests upon my vote," Mordak said. "They will either help as much as they can while hidden, or they will uncover themselves to the citizens of the City and do a thousand times more. I, however, cannot make this decision alone. This is why I came. I want Cray's opinion, and, since you two are also awake, yours."
"There is really no room for opinion here," Mercury said. "We have to think back to what those apes are capable of. I don't even want to think about how many apes the Trickster took through the portal. We are quickly approaching the City's doom, but let's try to avoid it."
"The Keepers have been concealed too long. They are probably the best fighters in the City, and we can't risk that going to waste," Garrett agreed. "Let them finally reveal their existence and prevent their own demise. I agree with Mercury." Cray nodded, but remained silent. Mordak murmured a few words in the Ancient Language and touched the east wall. The wall disappeared for a moment, revealing the city outside. Then, a liquid-seeming gray substance took the wall's place. Soon, an old and weather-beaten face appeared in the middle of the substance. Cray kneeled for a moment while Mercury stood there, awed by the powerful magic that allowed the two men to communicate across so great a distance.
"I have decided," Mordak told the aged Keeper. "After an innumerable amount of years living concealed, the Keepers will finally reveal their existence in order to battle the Trickster and his evil minions. The Glyphs told us not of this, but we will retain the Balance." Garrett gave a sarcastic snort at that remark.
"As if they had any choice," he whispered to Mercury. "At this rate, the City'll be nothing but rubble by the time they finally decide to do something."
"Very well," the old Keeper said. "Our men will go immediately. The Hammerites have constructed a barrage to halt the Trickster's onslaught. However, I do not know how long it will last. We will see. I advise you, however, to search for the way to destroy the Trickster "
"And then destroy the Balance in the process?" Mordak argued. "We have spent our entire lives to preserve it, and now we are going to destroy it? No."
"Then at least get help and return." And the old face disappeared. Mordak turned towards the others, opened his mouth as if to speak, and stopped. He walked out of the room and took the stairs to the street two at a time. Mercury ran after him. He finally caught up at the tower of the Master Mage.
"Mordak! Wait!" he exclaimed. "What's wrong? I know you weren't just kidding back there. Are you or are you not going to get help?" Mordak looked at him for a moment.
"I am. That is why I came; to ask the Mage for help."
Mercury followed him to the center, but there they both paused. Looking at each other, they wondered how to get up. Finally, Mordak shrugged. "Levitate humanum," he whispered. To their surprise, the two men began to move up and past the first and second floor. As they reached the fifteenth, Mordak whispered, "Pausum levitate," and the movement stopped. Hunched over at his desk, the Master Mage was writing something. Suddenly, he waved them to two chairs near the desk.
"Sit, sit," he said. "And don't look so surprised. In my case, the expression 'eyes in the back of my head' applies more than to most." The two startled men sat down in the chairs and waited restlessly as the Master Mage finished writing. While he was putting his pen away, he said, "Yes."
"What do you mean, yes?" Mercury asked.
"Yes, we will help you expel the Trickster from the City." The two visitors' jaws figuratively unhinged themselves and dropped to the ground. "Naikoulakh, or Master Nightfall, as you call him, has apparently not lost his powers. He simply has not used them. He has come into contact with me to inform me of the City's condition. He is wielding his spectacularly large skills with fire quite well, but he does not think the City will stand without assistance from elsewhere. I guess that was what you came for."
"Indeed, it is," said Mercury, who had recovered his composition. "How soon can we go towards the City?"
"As we speak, the word has already been sent out to all the mage towers of the city. Soon, the Mages of Shadow will begin to amass at the docks. I am also notifying the city's great Fleet of Darkness to awaken from its long unneeded state and prepare for war. The many armaments that have fallen into disuse and disarray are being repaired and reinventoried so that other men may accompany us as well. We should be ready to depart with the first of our forces at dawn tomorrow."
"Dawn tomorrow?" Mordak asked. "How will you gather and organize your people so quickly?"
"My people will be sent in waves. Besides, they are trained to gather quickly when the time comes."
Garrett and Cray appeared then, apparently having discovered, like the other two, that a Keeper could manipulate the elevator. They pulled up their own chairs and the former spoke.
"I've been thinking," he said. "You said this guy sent the instructions on how to get rid of the Trickster here, right?"
"Yes," the Mage agreed.
"What if the message was sent before he sent the information? What if he lost it after he said he'd send it, but before he ever sent it?"
"It is quite possible "
"Then wouldn't the information be somewhere in the Lost City?"
"Yes, but the Lost City is lost, buried under magma and earth "
Garrett smiled. "Not really. I've been there," he said. The Mage took a moment to fully comprehend.
"You've been To Karath-Din?"
"Oh yeah. So has the Trickster."
"But what if he found the information and destroyed it?"
"I doubt that happened. Sounds like this guy was smart enough to make sure that couldn't happen. Maybe he enchanted it with Shadow magik and hid it in a very dark area and sent the message as a decoy in case the Trickster intercepted it."
"Quite possibly. In any case, this gives us renewed hope."
"I disagree," Keeper Mordak said. "This gives us renewed terror. If anyone finds that information and we destroy the Trickster, we will destroy the Balance we were created to Keep."
"Your order, Mordak," the Mage said, "was created to make sure that a minimal amount of killing occurred between the Hammerites and the Pagans. That is what the Balance is. It is not a channel through which to protect the forces of Chaos." Mordak fell silent for a moment.
"You know nothing. I have been Keeping the Balance my entire life. I have seen men and women die and rejoice for the Balance. It is not something to be taken lightly!!" Suddenly, a Mage appeared out of thin air next to the Mage's desk.
"You called, sir?" he said.
"Yes," the Mage replied. "I want you to take Master Keeper Mordak to a place where he will not harm the effort we are putting into this war against Chaos. But make sure he is treated with the utmost courtesy."
Mordak looked stunned. Garret smiled and looked at the Master Mage with a steady glare that suggested he had been expecting this. The other mage, meanwhile, nodded and took Mordak by the arm. Mordak, however, awoke from his reverie. Springing into action, he gave the mage a swift kick in the stomach, making him double over in pain, clutching at his stomach. The Master Mage sprang to his feet, preparing himself to fight. Garret, however, dealt him a swift blow to the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He then pulled out his sword and turned to face Mordak, who also had his sword out.
"You're not going anywhere," Garret said. "I don't agree with them taking you like that, but you are staying right here." Mercury, who had been watching as these events took place, drew his own sword from its sheath, ready to reinforce Garrett. Cray, however, stepped to Mordak's side and pulled out two daggers, ready to defend his leader.
"Cray," Garrett said, "what are you doing? Cray just watched him, daggers in hand. Mordak put his sword into a fighting position.
"I wasn't expecting this," Mercury told Garrett. He two mages had removed themselves from the action and were now nursing their wounds. Suddenly, Mordak leapt forward and executed a vicious downward slash towards Garrett's head. But, in the next moment, Garrett's blade was there, blocking the enemy sword. Garrett thrust his sword forward then, stabbing at the place where, a moment before, Mordak's chest had been. Meanwhile, Cray's daggers had both moved to stab Mercury in the shoulders, but Mercury had leaped out of the way in time The new black sword gleaming in his hand, Mercury moved to put Mordak between himself and Cray.
Cray circled and circled, but Mercury kept up with him, step for step. A yelp from Mordak indicated Garrett's success. During the brief opening between Garrett and Mordak, Cray leaped through and stabbed at Mercury's stomach. Mercury nimbly dodged the attack, but his reluctance to hurt Cray evaporated. Without missing a step, he moved in and slashed at Cray's shoulder. Cray quickly moved a dagger up to block, but he wasn't fast enough. The sword dug into his shoulder and then came up, leaving a large wound. A man of pain came from Cray's mouth, and the two daggers dropped from his hand.
Cray clutched at his wound, right hand hanging limply, useless. Mercury dashed to his side, quickly sheathing his sword. His hands fumbled in his cloak for a moment and came out empty. Garrett and Mordak, meanwhile, were still totally engrossed in heir fight. Mercury, however, did not hesitate to interrupt them.
"Garrett," he said. "Garrett, I need a healing potion. Cray's pretty badly hurt. I know you have one."
"Give me a second," Garrett replied, not taking his eyes off Mordak. One of his hands moved into his cloak, searching by touch rather than sight. As he found the potion, he carefully pulled it out, extending his arm slowly so that he didn't drop it. Mercury opened the vial and poured the contents into Cray's mouth. Then, he pushed and pulled his body over to the two mages.
Garrett was relieved to see that Mercury then returned to his side, ready to assist him in his fight against Mordak. Seeing that he was outnumbered, Mordak dropped his sword, lifted his hands, and kicked it towards them. Mercury leaned over to pick it up and heard the slight click of the flash bomb's button a moment too late. He looked up just in time to be blinded, with Garrett, by the bright flash emanating from the small sphere.
They heard the patter of Mordak's feet as he raced to the center of the tower, and his voice as it whispered the magic words. Then, much louder, they heard the Master Mage roar, "Haltum Elevatus!" As Mercury recovered his sight, he jogged over to the edge of the floor and leaned over to be greeted by the sight of Mordak cowering on the invisible platform, trapped between floors. The Master Mage, now obviously recovered, also walked over to the edge.
"We are capable of more than you believe, Master Keeper Mordak. We leave tomorrow, at dawn, with the City as our destination and the destruction of the Trickster as our goal. And as for you, dear Mordak, you will stay here, where you cannot harm the effort that we are preparing to put into this war between order and chaos."
Mordak just looked at him, eyes blank with terror and body rigid as stone. Apparently, he didn't like hanging in midair.