Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chapter Twenty-three: Friends With Benefits(Part Two)




"You insolent brats," Vignette hissed. "I should have suspected you'd be willing to try and kill a Master to protect the drow. She truly has corrupted you." The teacher waved her wand, and all three students were ripped from the wall again. They floated in the air in a row, choking and thrashing futilely. 

"You...can't...kill her," Belthor managed in a hoarse voice.

"She is a kidnapper and likely preparing to murder Hastel, if she has not already," Vignette said. "She may have more foul purposes for him than that. Forgive me for putting the life of one of my students above the life of his attacker."

"She's...not...evil!" Tori gasped.

"I will start with Belthor," Vignette said, and he choked as he was hauled closer by his neck, right into her face. "Where has she gone, son of Morse? Tell me, and you will merely be expelled and not charged as an accomplice."

What would Estelle do?

Belthor spat in her face. He cried out as she flicked her wand and his arm twisted behind his back brutally, lighting everything from his wrist to his shoulder on fire.

"Wrong answer." The Master crossed her arms, her wand seeming to glow in the light. "You have two more failures, Belthor. Then there will be no chance for redemption."
Belthor tried to kick her. He screamed as his leg was next to twist, and bones cracked.

"Stop it!" Tori cried. Sam thrashed viciously, but any time he tried to level his hands at Vignette, her wand flicked and they twisted up over his head. He hissed in pain each time.

"That was two. One more chance, son of Morse." Vignette put her wand to his throat. "I hope you appreciate the gravity of your predicament. Another wrong answer will land you in a prison facing the death sentence. Maybe you and Theron will be roommates again."

That was when Belthor saw victory in the doorway. Vignette's eyes narrowed as he looked away from her, though, so-

"Go...to...hell," he snarled. "Your school...is a sham."

"A pity. You were a very promising student." Vignette shook her head. "Normally, I would give you to a court, but since you did assault me...perhaps if Victoria and Samuel see what is awaiting them, they will be a bit more compliant."

"Leave him alone!" Sam cried. "Don't you-" He howled as Vignette slammed him into the wall.

"Don't touch him!" Tori's hair caught on fire, but her struggles meant nothing. The flames went out a second later when her arms twisted like Belthor's, and she shrieked.

"Horas," Vignette said, and a Rune on her wand glowed yellow. "I invoke the God of D-"

A finger tapped her shoulder. Her pause was almost comical.

"What is it?" she asked the man behind her, turning with a very cross look. "I am in the middle of-"

Walker's fist was three-quarters the size of her head to start with, and his cross was blindingly fast. She spun in a circle three full times before hitting the mystic pantry and collapsing on her back. As Belthor, Tori, and Sam fell to the floor, gasping in air, the pantry collapsed too: right on top of the woman with a crash!

"Get up!" The big man grabbed Sam first. "You kids all right?"

"A moment!" Belthor grabbed his leg. "Nerien!" He waited through the flash of white and the burst of pain...and then he was up. "Tori!" He repeated the process on her arms.

"Thanks." She let him help her to her feet. "Is she-"

"She's out," Walker said. "I dealt with the chumps in the halls outside, too. Your staffs are by the door."

"Thank you!" Belthor hurried out and took his in hand, sighing in relief as he was reunited with the tool. Sam and Tori claimed theirs too.

"Hastel's missing. I hear Agnete did it." Walker followed them into the hall.

"I think that's right," Belthor said. "I don't know what happened, but something must have. Protec and Vignette wanted to know if we knew where she was. They want to kill her."

"Do you know?" Walker asked. Belthor shook his head.

"But I can find out!" He pulled out the Ardwal glass. "Spellweaver. Show me Agnete."

The glass rippled. Tori and Sam crowded around his shoulders, while Walker just loomed, but all eyes were on the little window through space.

"That's up in the mountains," Walker observed as the glass showed rock crevices and a sheer drop. "That's quite a ways up."

"She must have hiked all night to get there," Sam agreed.

"She might have, but you're lucky I showed up. I know those mountains like the back of my hand." The big man cracked his neck. "There's a much faster way there, if you know where you're going. I figure she wandered until she found something that suited her purposes. Probably got turned around a lot in the dark, and she had to sleep sometime."

"What purposes?" Belthor asked. "What's she going to do to him?" He gestured to Hastel, lying in the snow. "Kill him? Why is this spot better than any other?"

"Kill him? Why would she kill him?" Walker frowned. "Ain't you studied portals and magic, son?"

"Yes!" Belthor blinked. "What does that have to-"

"Your friend's a drow and a Vod-witch," Walker pointed out. "I ain't got no more against drow than I got against humans, which ain't sayin' much but it's something, but what occurs to me here, Spellweaver, is that we have a drow sorceress and witch pushed to her limit, with a human captive in a remote location with nothing to lose."

"And?" Tori asked.

"You ever heard the expression summoning Char?" Walker asked. Belthor stiffened.

"She wouldn't. She...she can't, she's not one of the Four-"

"All it takes is a living sacrifice and enough time to set up the ritual and perform it," Walker said. "He ain't even need the person to be dead first! Just blood spilt and incantations done, and he comes tearing out of a portal to Hell."

"Agnete would never-"

"Then why's she settin' up that street art, eh?" Walker asked. He gestured to the lines carved into the plateau. "She's gonna cut his wrists and give him to the Forgotten Lord of Hell to start the Scour."

"She's not one of the Four-"

"Who taught you that nonsense? Protec?" Walker's eyes flashed. "You seriously still believe a word he's got to spout on drow claptrap?"

"I don't believe it." Belthor swallowed.

"Bel, maybe she is and maybe she isn't, but there's a chance she is," Sam said. "We have to assume she is and get to her before she can get all the way through the process."

"He's right," Tori said. "We need to go. Now." She glanced at Walker. "I assume you're-"

"I'm coming." The big man smirked. "I'm your guide, ain't I?"

"Move." Belthor clutched his staff and hurried down the hall. He took the stairs two at a time, his friends behind him all the way. They hit the ground floor at a run, and in less than a minute they were out in the snow. Belthor shivered, wishing he'd remembered to grab his scarf and coat.

"Here." Tori lit her hands, and the warmth was just enough to make life bearable. Belthor gave her a little smile.

"This way." Walker waved, and the quartet hurried eastward for the hills. Belthor worriedly glanced back at the glass, looking on as Agnete stared from her perch, waving her hand every few minutes to carve more and more intricate lines in the snow and rock around her.

"She's going to do it," he whispered. "She's actually going to...Agnete, why?"

Boom!

The four ground to a halt. Tori and Sam turned, and their faces glowed blue in the fading light. Belthor turned too.

"Well, shit," Walker grunted, as they all looked up at the pillar of blue light racing into the sky from the center of the campus. "That'll be the shield."

"We have...five minutes. Maybe." Tori turned away. "We've got to-"

Pop!

In a flash of light, their path to the forest was intercepted. Belthor clutched his staff.

"I knew you knew where she was," Protec said, wand in hand as he stood between the four and escape. His breath came out in one great cloud of steam. "Give me that glass."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chapter Twenty-three: Friends With Benefits(Part One)



Agnete paced across the top of the snowfall, her footprints light and shallow. She eyed her chosen spot: nestled in a little crevice surrounded by rock on three sides, shaded from the sun at almost all times. She breathed in and relished the chill of falling snow, much more present than it had been down in the valley below.

"Let...please, let me g-go," Hastel chattered. Agnete turned to watch his breath come out and rise.
She glanced to the ice in which she'd encased his arms below the elbows, fastening them to his back, and her smile was not pleasurable.

"Poor baby," she said, feeling a twinge of satisfaction. "Are you scared?"

"Look, Fr..." he trailed off, swallowing. "Agnete, all right? I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I was just having a bit of fun...I didn't mean anything by it. Please, I'll stop, I won't ever say a word to you again. Just...just..."

"Do you have much experience in begging?" Agnete asked. She turned away from him to admire the view out the one un-walled side of the crevice, where she could look down on the valley and the School of Sorcery from on high. She glanced to the dorms laid out in a circle, the Hall of Honors and the library complex, the staff training courtyard dominating the center of the campus, and the little town a mile down the road from school, smoke rising from houses and businesses as humans tried desperately to fend off the unimpeachable power of nature.

"Agnete-"

"You needn't call me that." She turned back to Hastel. "That's not what you call me, is it?"

"It's...it's your name," Hastel said. "I don't-"

"It's quite all right," Agnete said, feeling calm like she hadn't in a long time. "What do you call me, Hastel?"

"I-"

"What do you call me?" She took one step his way, and the boy almost fell over skittering backward. Agnete shot her hand out, and he slid toward her until they were almost in kissing distance.

"F...F-Frost," Hastel whispered.

"Yes." Agnete released him and now he did fall on his back. She paced around him in a circle, playing with his staff. "Frost, you call me. Savage. Primitive."

"Agnete, I never-"

"Drow-lover." She clutched the staff tightly, washing away her objections by summoning every reason she had to hate the scum writhing before her. She felt a twinge of something that wasn't sympathy when she saw tears falling down his cheeks. "Me! Uncivilized and barbaric, you call me, when your people are the ones who produced your brother and his sadistic entitlement."

"My people?" Hastel asked. Agnete laughed, loud and clear.

"Ezraval," she called, extending her arms. "No more do I invoke the God of Love."

The chill ran over her. She gasped as it did, replacing the cold of winter air with the cold of change and spellcraft. She reached up to her hair and did away with her winter cap, letting the copper flow over her shoulders before it turned back to the beautiful color nature had given her.

"You're..." Hastel shoved himself away as far as he could. It was pitiful. Agnete watched with a curled lip. "You're a drow-"

"Yes." She took two steps his way, and he screamed.

"Help! Help me!" He tried to keep kicking away, but Agnete was faster in the snow than he would have been on his feet. She grabbed him by the collar, hoisting him up. With her other hand, she clutched his ankle.

"Ah!" Hastel screamed as ice shackled him. Agnete shoved him over again, and he lay in the snow, whimpering and shivering.

"You call me savage and demonic," she said, "but it is your race that has infected this world, and your race that spreads nothing but death and cruelty. Men are a plague. You think nothing of any life you consider different from your own. You are tribal, just like the drow, and yet you believe you are above us? Your tribes lack war-paint and furred mayors, Hastel of Greenhaven, but no less are they tribes for it." She let out a breath. "You know, I thought I could be a bridge, once. I thought I could build a better world, and change how drow and men see each other."

"Don't kill me, please," Hastel moaned. "I didn't know...I'm sorry, I didn't know-"

"Frost, you called me. Do you know something, Hastel?" Agnete smiled. "I like it. Frost." She waved her hand, and ice ripped her coat to shreds, sending the demonic thing away and letting the chill. Ice formed on her shoulders and down her chest, and she smiled wider when she saw her reflection in Hastel's bonds: a looming figure armored in white ice.

"I am Winter," Agnete said. "I am the Frost Queen, and I will see this world Scoured."

"Don't kill me-"

"Why would I?" Agnete asked, frowning. She waved her hand absently, and snow shifted all around them. Hastel glanced left and right, face pale as lines carved themselves into the snow.

"What are you-"

"I told you," the Frost Queen said, as she approached her victim. "I have much better uses for feed like you."

***

Belthor paced. He chewed his lip, which reminded him of his mother. Or, more accurately, reminded him of how his mother had always tried to get him to stop doing it.

"It makes you look indecisive," she'd said.

Belthor couldn't argue. But he wasn't indecisive...just nervous. Every minute that passed was one that Agnete and Hastel were getting further away, and Protec was closer to locking down the campus...

Sam leaned by the door. They couldn't open it, not without their staffs, and none of them thought vaulting from a third-floor window into a ring of armsmen was the most brilliant plan ever. No, they had a plan, and while it was a weak plan, it was, in fact, a plan.

"They could be in Nurem by now," Belthor grumbled. He didn't dare produce the glass and scry Agnete, not while there was even the slightest risk that Master Vignette would burst in halfway through. He couldn't give them the Ardwal glass, or there would be no saving his friend.

"We'll figure it out," Sam told him. "Step by step. Step one is getting out of here."

"Right." Belthor breathed in. "Getting out of-"

The door opened. He prided himself on not jumping back as Master Vignette entered, flanked by a pair of tough, broad-shouldered men in armor and carrying cudgels.

"Let us go," Belthor ordered. "You have no right to-"

"Silence." She leveled her staff at him. "You will speak when spoken to. You three are working together with the drow, and that makes you criminals."

"Would Master Kulkas-"

"Shut up." She turned. "Where's Tori?"

"The bathroom," Sam supplied, keeping his hands visible while the armsmen regarded him. "I think she's crying. She thinks you're going to torture her."

"I will do what I must." Master Vignette approached the bathroom door. "Victoria!"

"Don't call me that!" Tori's voice rang out. She sniffled loudly. "That's not my name. I hate it."

"It's the name they'll use when you're brought up before a Wizard's Court for your conspiracy with a drow to abduct Hastel Greenhaven," Master Vignette said. She raised her staff. "Out. Now."

"No!" Tori screamed. "I won't come!"

Vignette sighed. "Child, you will only make this harder on everyone-"

"You're going to torture me, aren't you?" Tori demanded. "Well, I won't let you!"

"I hope you're not standing close to the door," Vignette told her, before she rammed her staff into it. The bathroom door exploded into splinters, and the armsmen ducked to avoid the flying refuse.

That's when Sam's hands flashed and lightning struck one in the chest. He looked very surprised as he flew into the far wall. The second one's cudgel came up, but when his hand came down, the tool wasn't with him.

"Huh?" he asked, glancing up. Belthor swung his hand down, and the tool he'd taken from six paces away obeyed him, cracking the man's skull and putting him out like a light.

"What are you-" Vignette spun, staff in hand. She leveled it at Belthor - right before a blast of flame hit her from behind and she too flew. She hit the couch, which upended, and the old woman crashed through the coffee table with her feet straight up in the air, staff flying.

"Go!" Belthor grabbed the Master's staff and hurled it out the window, right before Sam slammed the glass shut. Tori burst from the bedroom, fire coursing over her arms-

Thump!

Tori, Sam and Belthor all flew. They hit the walls once, then peeled off and hit them again. Belthor clutched his throat as it compressed, struggling to breathe.

Vignette rose, wand in hand, eyes wild.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Chapter Twenty-two: Ice Cold Hearts(Part Two)



"You have until the count of three to surrender that," the teacher said, his voice low and level as every armsman in the room backed three paces away, covering their faces. "If you do not do so, child, I will assume you intend to attack me because you are in league with the drow and this is an effort to eliminate the House Greenhaven in its entirety. If that happens, I will kill you where you stand."

Belthor sucked in breath. "I'm not scared of you. I took Theron."

"A feat well-done, I admit," Protec said, "but when you faced Theron, his guards didn't have your friends in their custody." He nodded over Belthor's shoulder, and though the initiate didn't look, he knew what he would see if he did. "Maybe you can put up more of a fight than I think, boy, but your friends won't, even with their Gifts." He reached up for Belthor's staff, and firmly grasped the end. "I suggest you think very carefully about your next move, Spellweaver." 

Belthor sucked in a ragged breath through his teeth.

"One."

"Belthor-" Tori started, before quieting as someone grunted.

"Two." 

Belthor quivered. The rage poured through his veins and steamed up his vision...

"Boy-"

He sighed in the instant he released his grip on the staff it had taken stopping a war for him to win.
"Probably the wisest choice you've made in your time at this school." Protec handed the weapon off to a guard, who held it like he expected it to turn into a snake. "Where is she?"

"I don't know." Belthor didn't even try to conceal his anger. "And that's the truth. I don't have a clue. She didn't come back last night."

"Convenient." Protec reached into his coat, and out came his wand. Belthor eyed the tool as the wizard took two steps across the room. "And also, I think, a lie, but let's try something else." He turned back around. "What's her interest in Hastel?"

"Maybe it's because he's a prick?" Belthor suggested.

Protec laughed. He laughed quietly, but for a very long, drawn-out moment. "You, Spellweaver, have so much in common with the last aficionado of the dark this school produced that it's not even funny."

"Well, if you think he was such a pain, he must have been all right," Tori snapped. "You're getting nothing on Agnete from us. She's innocent."

"I doubt it," Master Protec said, and the sick thing was Belthor was starting to think she wasn't. "You are aiding and abetting a creature that has attacked a wizarding student and taken him for her nefarious purposes."

"Her name is Agnete," Belthor insisted. "And even if she did this, all you're going to do is use it as an excuse to kill her."

"Excuse?" Protec snarled. "She's a kidnapper and likely plans on murdering my brother's youngest! And you say I hunt for an excuse?" He shook his head. "No. There is no path forward endorsed by a reasonable man that does not end with the drow's blood being spilt. Maybe if you weren't so blind to the reality of what she is, you could see that." He curled his lip. "This generation is soft. You think a drow and a human can coexist? The animal will always be looking for a way to spill blood however is most convenient!"

"Yeah, and the drow won't," Belthor said. 

"I hope your things are easy to pack, son of Morse," Protec said. "Because the only way you stay at this school now is if you earn a wand in the next twenty-four hours." He laughed. "Good luck." He considered. "I could help you if you helped me."

Belthor swallowed. "We'll go after her. Me, and Tori, and Sam. And we'll bring Hastel back-"

"This is not a matter for children." Protec shook his head. "The Masters will handle this ourselves. You obviously are in league with her. She's put you under some kind of Vod-spell, or perhaps offered you more worldly rewards for service." He turned to his guards. "Are there any ways they can escape without going through you?"

"No, sir." The man eyed Belthor, Tori and Sam while he said it. "My men have the building surrounded too."

"Good. Do not let them leave. Master Vignette will be along to entice their cooperation." Protec turned for the door. "I am going to lock the school down. I won't see anyone else taken while we wait on these race-traitors' return to the light."

"Don't hold your breath!" Sam snapped. Protec ignored him.

The guards in the room streamed out at their sergeants' orders, leaving the three initiates alone.

"This is bad," Tori said, with commendable understatement. "If Agnete really took him...she can't have, though!"

"I think she did," Belthor replied, sick in his heart. "It would explain why she was in the woods. And she had a staff. It must be Hastel's."

"I really hate Protec!" Tori turned and punched her couch several times. "I! Hate! That! Man!" She paused for a moment to massage her knuckles. "And I hate that he's right! Can't he at least be racist, stupid, mean and wrong too?"

"What are we going to do?" Sam asked. "We don't have staffs-"

"We have our Gifts," Tori said. Belthor nodded.

"We'll have to figure out the staff part later," he said. "If Protec and his goon squad catch up to Agnete, they'll kill her. There has to be more to this than meets the eye. She wouldn't just take Hastel."

"Are you thinking maybe he attacked her?" Sam asked.

"I don't know," Belthor admitted. "But we at least owe Agnete a chance to explain herself, and I know Protec and Vignette won't give it to her." He paused. "Not to mention that I think Master Vignette's going to torture us when she gets here. Did you get a different impression? Please tell me you did."
"...no," Sam said. Tori shook her head.

"Right." Belthor swallowed. "With no staffs and a half-wrecked apartment surrounded by trained armsmen, we've got to figure out a way to hold off a Master and escape."

"Not to mention," Tori added, "if Master Protec locks down the campus, that'll take the form of a shield around the whole thing that we can't get out of. Whatever we do, we have to do it before he locks everything down, or this'll be the shortest escape in history."

"Great." Belthor glanced around at the wreckage of Tori's door and the remnants of breakfast. "Then I guess we'd better plan fast, huh?"