HERE BEGINS BOOK THREE: HEIR TO SHADOWS
To Dalaran they went. To finish their studies was their aim, and to earn the most coveted Seal of the Kirin Tor which would forever proclaim them to be a master of the Art, both in the eyes of the city, and in the eyes of the Law. The Ascendants that remained, fearful of Kelith’s wild new moods, his violent changes in temperament, and the look of lust that had come into his eyes, did their best to avoid him.
For Kelith’s part, he wished to see no one - to interact with no one. He wished only to finish the year of school before his mind rent itself completely and utterly asunder. The night of his arrival in the city, he went with all haste to his dorm room and made certain to wipe clean all traces that Lucius had ever lived there with him. His heart was sick to think of the skeletal face, the drawn and gaunt form, that he had forced Lucius to bear. His stomach churned with revulsion for his acts. Little did it matter, for in the depths of his mind THEY lauded him for it. THEY gave him many praises for his quick mind and quicker fingers. Poisons, THEY said, could serve him well.
And then he lay down to sleep, fearing to close his eyes for the nightmares he knew would come. At last those heavy lids fell shut, and almost without delay he was assaulted, tormented. He dreamt of empty places, of corridors long since dead, of black hallways through which only ghosts passed - but this was merely the start of the dream. Through the forbidden corridors he ventured, lost and alone. He was led on by the sound of soft feet, just ahead, and of muffled voices - people discussing something in tones too low to understand. On and on he went through those dark halls until at last he reached a casement.
It was a window that looked out into a vast sea of darkness, an expanse of nothing. Yet, as he stared, the darkness become peopled with light - with many tiny stars, fearful in their aspects, for they appeared most of all like eyes winking in the darkness. With all these eyes upon his person, he felt himself examined, judged. Then the casement was empty again.
However, all was not the same. There was a breeze where that had been none before, a foul musty air was blowing through the empty frame. Borne on this breeze were whispers - whispers that held mocking, accusatory tones in their voices. "Murderer," they hissed. "Betrayer," they moaned. Kelith began to back away. He made as if to fend them off, raising his hands in front of his face.
"No!" he called. "No, if I had not, he would have revealed me! He would have revealed my work! If he had not died, all would be lost!"
"All is lost, Kelith," came another voice, this one concrete. He whirled to find Lucius standing in the hallway behind him. "All is lost because you could not bend your be-damned pride and admit we were wrong; that what we did was wrong. I have already paid the price for it. Who knows how long it will take you to pay yours..." Lucius intoned solemnly, as large bits of flesh began to slough off of his body.
"You are a liar! I am not lost!" Kelith howled. "I am more powerful than ever before!"
"At what cost, my friend? At what cost?" the quickly disintegrating figure of Lucius asked.
"No matter the cost!" Kelith shrieked, and his scream was loud, and Lucius' body was weak. What little remained of the vanishing man fell to pieces, shattered upon the floor. Shuddering a shudder that reached his very bones, Kelith turned and fled the hall.
Ah, but to what better place did he come? To what sunlit meadow of the mind did he flee? Only from darkness to greater darkness, from fear to greater fear.
For what did he find when at last he rested his feet? A rotting crimson curtain hung before him, in a doorway. Not wishing to be visited by the specter of Lucius again, he brushed the slimy fabric aside, only to reveal a parlor of horrors. Furniture lay scattered about, broken and ruined. Mold crept across it, and Kelith slowly recognized it as his own room in Dalaran.
The only difference was the that time had wasted this room to nothing, made of its beds and chairs carcasses that could not resist the flow of the endless years. And worse - there were THINGS in the room, THINGS flitting from place to place. Vaporous and ghostly they were, and in forms blasphemous to behold. They whirled and twitched and gyred endlessly, forming looping patterns about themselves and making the most horrendous noise.
Amidst this clutter, amidst this madness of biology deformed, Kelith saw himself, at a desk. The desk was nearly a lump of wood by now, no place for writing. And yet, as though he did not know, he saw himself there, scribbling away by candlelight. His simulacrum self seemed unaware of the madness around him, but Kelith the dreamer saw - and he saw that the THINGS swirled around no place more than his other self - they danced in hideous unspeakable nightmare dances nowhere more than around his head. From their deformed and unholy grotesque bodies came whispers and suggestions, in a torrent.
Kelith had heard those whispers before - heard them almost constantly since the Tower. He desperately fought to hold back his gorge.
Ah, but then his attention shifted again, for he saw that the walls were unlike the walls of his room. They bore the mark of a deep fire that had written sigils and signs upon them, forming a great and intricate summoning circle of vast size, writ about the whole room.
Then he awoke.
He was covered head to foot in sweat, and yet this had been one of the least horrifying of his dreams. His body shuddered violently as waves of heat and cold passed through him. In turns his veins burned and froze.
The next day, after classes, he obtained three large pieces of summoner's chalk. His hands itched to write, and write he did. He slid aside his large bookshelf and began to copy down the sigils he had seen in his dream upon the stone wall. There was nothing he could do to stop himself. It was as though he were possessed.
A Rock and a Hard Place
Kelith was coughing again. He had purchased a little bowl to keep on his desk, by his journals and papers. Whenever he felt that unclean urge well up inside him, he would turn to that little dish and cough. Every so often he had to wash it, to remove the vile looking black tar that came out of his throat.
His walls, hidden by day behind his bookshelf, were now covered with runes. Every night they changed and grew as he applied himself with diligent effort to writing with the stubs of summoner's chalk. The ancient text on his stone wall was growing, changing, becoming something more than what it had started. The diagrams were shifting, and who knew what would happen when at last they were in place.
Kelith had noticed a strange correspondence to the stars - the nighttime sky often looked unerringly like his drawings, the ones that he vomited up onto the wall from his dreams.
And oh! the dreams. They were indescribably horrific now, showing visions of creatures too obscene to imagine by a sane mind; things only someone whose brain had been shattered and reset crookedly, like a bad doctor might reset a limb, could conceive. That was not all, for sometimes now, and with greater frequency, he saw THINGS in the shadows.
They were small and vicious, and insubstantial. These ethereal puffs of white were also shaped in the most various and frightening forms that may be conceived, and some were beyond even conception. They were never there when he looked directly at them, only when a shadow was in his sight and his eyes wandered from it.
Mirrors too had become a frequent source of horror for him, not because he saw that twisted face any longer, staring back instead of his own. The Voices got louder, just the tiniest of increments, when he was looking in a mirror. Sometimes, sometimes, a door would open in the mirror that had not opened behind him. Sometimes, infrequently, his reflection would make a brief expression he had not made. Worst of all, and most infrequent, shadows and figures might appear in the glass that were most definitely not haunting the room.
As the days wore on, the star charts changed. Kelith inched closer and closer to the Exam, in which he would receive his Seal of the Kirin Tor, stating he was himself a mage. Sleep too began to roll back, the hours that he could actually convince himself to dip into that awful nightmare world of dreaming growing less and less.
Darkness began to bleed into his days, appearing like huge bruises on his vision. Surreal and terrifying objects began to insert themselves along with the mundane. He might be writing in the Library only to see Lucius' grinning head on the desk, or a being composed of equal parts octopus and darkness crawling along the ceiling. His coughing grew worse.
He had not spent any money in the last few weeks, either. His friends had dropped him like a hotplate, Finnius and the Twins growing ever more distant. Privately he sneered at them, believing that they had been broken by the events in the Tower. The only sign of their affection was Finnius' paperweight, that he had given Kelith the moment they got back. It was a heavy slab of stone, black and rounded at the edges. Kelith had admired it out loud on many occasions; before Finnius was through with him completely, and still trying to cheer up the newly depressive student, he had given the paperweight to him as a gift.
Kelith kept it, even though Finnius never spoke to him anymore. No one spoke to him anymore, save the teachers.
The bland and vaguely horrified look that had plastered his face since his return must have aroused some suspicion in one of the faculty, because the Dean of Students had taken a particular interest to him. He had been called more than once into the older man’s office, to speak with the bloated figure. The Dean was not a pleasant man, by any means, though he seemed genuinely concerned. That did not matter to Kelith. What did matter was that he was grotesquely large and uncouth - and that the Voices did not like him.
So it was a bad end that he came to when he arrived at Kelith’s dorm room that night. His pudgy fist laid down a heavy rat-a-tat on Kelith’s door, which he opened.
The Dean strode in, without waiting to be invited. "Come in," Kelith muttered under his breath in a snarling tone. The Dean merely cocked an eyebrow and smoothed the layers of his expensive robes with his sweating hands. Kelith closed the door behind him as the Dean moved to take a seat on Kelith’s bed.
"Kelith, my lad, we need to have a chat. You haven't... well you haven't gotten mixed up with Goblins have you? They can have a very bad effect on your health, not to mention your magic. I recall you always having been one keen on honing your magic."
Kelith sneered. "Goblins? What are you talking about? There are no Goblins in Dalaran."
The Dean shook his large ponderous head. "No, my boy, there aren't, but you still might be in touch with them via mail, and I wanted to say... Well, Kelith, lad, it would go very poorly for you if we discovered some, say, opium in your possessions before the Exam."
Suddenly, Kelith’s eyes leapt to life. He bared his teeth, and his body tensed. "Opium? You fat twit, why would I dull my mind, rather than sharpening it to a point? And get off of my bed, you slovenly man, you are upsetting my sheets!"
The Dean, used to this sort of treatment, sadly stood up and walked over to the bookshelf, pretending to examine book titles, all the while trying to think of another way to broach the subject. Kelith turned back to his desk and leaned on it, breathing heavily in anger.
The Dean toyed with the frayed edge of a binding that was coming undone on one of Kelith’s books, his large stubby finger pushing it back and forth. Then, he frowned and made a "Hmm" sound under his breath. Kelith turned around to look at him.
The Dean was looking at something directly to the right of the bookshelf. His fat finger was touching the cool stone wall. Kelith’s pupils dilated as adrenaline rushed into his body - the sour tang of fear was in his mouth, the pit of nausea in his stomach.
The Dean was looking at a chalk mark.
"What's this?" the Dean asked himself, following it to where the bookshelf covered it up.
The fat man tapped the side of the shelf. "If you don't mind, Kelith, lad, I'm just going to give this a bit of a push. Like to know who’s been scribbling on your walls and all. Don't think it'll be much tro-"
The Dean stopped mid-sentence. The reason for this was that a very large dent had been knocked in his head. Kelith had snuck up from behind, holding the paperweight Finnius had gave him, and bashed the man on the skull. The Dean’s massive body toppled, almost in slow motion.
The rock slid from Kelith’s fingers and landed on the Dean’s temple, landing a blow that would have killed him, had he not already been dead.
Kelith’s mouth opened wide with horror, his face ashen pale. He did not know what to do, or who to turn to.
In the manor house in the countryside of Stratholme, Torbin Curview was moving without aim from room to room of his house, mourning the death of his son as his mind tried unsuccessfully to find some ledge to grasp onto, to find some meaning, some reason.
He arrived in the room Kelith had inhabited and sad heavily on the bed, his head in his hands. His feet slid about sadly on the floor. Then the heel of his boot hit something hard. Torbin leaned down and patted the floor with his hand.
He wrapped his hand around something thin and wide, pulling up a folio-sized notebook. Opening it, he saw a familiar writing inside.
"The poison is almost perfected. The effect should be slow. Loss of hair and teeth a distinct possibility. Administration begins in several hours," he read.
Then he cried.
Then he grew silent.
His anger was cold like a mage’s ice. And he knew who to blame.
A Man of Letters
Finnius, Adon, and Phoebus each received a letter postmarked from Stratholme; no names were on these letters but between you and I, they were from Master Torbin Curview. He sent a letter to each of the Ascendants who were still alive - each other than my most excellent master. At first a creeping suspicion came over them, a worry that the black-lacquer paint in one of the towers had cracked and revealed their illegal and immoral work. The contents were far worse.
Meanwhile, Kelith was alone with the corpulent Dean. He had moved the vast bloated body to his bed and covered it with his sheets. The whispers, the voices, they had quieted. The constant babble had softened to a sibilant whisper. As he was to find, the Voices often reduced themselves to something bearable almost pleasant after a murder.
But for now, though he was spared their interminable shrieking, he had a different problem. A body is normally heavy enough, but the Dean of Students had enjoyed a good port and a fine steak too often for health to dictate. Kelith sat at his desk, his fingers steepled. He had been staring at the ruin of a thing that was once a man for a few hours.
It hadn't been easier the second time. He felt the same pit in his gut staring at the man whose head he had staved in as he had felt at Lucius' funeral - which had been closed coffin, for the emaciated boy looked too deformed for peace of mind to allow.
His flesh had been crawling for three hours, his eyes examining the wreckage of blood and bone carefully. He could not look anywhere else, partly from a morbid fascination with his own handiwork, but mostly because the room was bending and swaying in a sickeningly unnatural manner. Deep bruises in his vision, hideous purplish splotches, ran through the air. The only thing solid in the room was the corpse, and so that was his anchor.
He almost felt as though the warping and the blotching of reality was a leprosy on his own form. If he concentrated on them too long or hard, his head would pound and a nausea spread over him with startling quickness.
The question remained: What to do with the body? He could not move it alone. Then, as though Lady Fortune had at last heard his thoughts, a rap came on the door. "Kelith!" cried a familiar voice "Kelith, it's Finnius. We have to... to talk."
Kelith leapt from his chair and threw the door open, drawing Finnius and the twins inside. "By the Light," Adon hissed as Kelith frantically barred the door.
"In, in, you need to come in," Kelith mumbled. "Found out, we've been found out!" He turned from the locks, his face a lunatic’s frown of perspiration and concern. Finnius muttered something to himself that sounded like "Found out, indeed." Buried deep in his long red coat, Finnius had the crumpled letter from Torbin.
"Kelith, what did you do?" He asked wearily.
"Do? Do?! The man was going to have us arrested for trafficking with demons! It was the only thing I -could- do!"
After listening to him rave for several long minutes, the Ascendants at last designed a plan. "But," stipulated Finnius, "once we've done this you must promise to come with us. Take a leave of absence from class for a week or two. Lie low in the countryside."
"Where?" Kelith demanded.
"The Curview manor-house."
Grudgingly, he agreed. The rest of the afternoon was spent in preparation. The twins scouted their route, to make sure it was clear. Then, with the help of Adon and Finnius, the Dean was wrapped up in sheets and hastily conveyed down the empty corridors. They ran out into an empty courtyard, and Phoebus pulled up the sewer grate. Down they went into the Dalaranian sewers, their moribund cargo in tow. Through the dank passages they carted the body, until at last Finnius instructed them to set down the grotesque load lifted, they removed the sheets and burned them. Over the Dean they splashed liberal amounts of alcohol. There they left him, and Finnius turned to Kelith. "Now, we must flee."
Finnius was a terrible liar, but Kelith was in no state to realize that he had been duped. He still thought of the Ascendants as his bosom friends. Only the traitorous Lucius had moved against him, and he had been dealt with.
The long coach ride find found Kelith a wreck. He was sweating like a man in front of a furnace and his long black hair had become limply plastered to his head. He stared out through the window, brooding, though his heart was racing. Finnius watched him with unease. When they arrived at last, the manor was cold and empty. Had Kelith been thinking at all of his situation, he would have realized that the coach had Curview livery, and that the driver was one of the family footmen. When the cart jolted to a halt, Kelith leapt from it and strode towards the house with quick violent steps. Finnius ran to catch up.
"Kelith, to the tower first."
His words were ripped from his mouth and carried away by the blast of wind that came rippling down from the mountains. It seemed as though a gale were brewing. The air was cold and filled with the tension of an unbroken storm.
"The tower? Why!" Kelith demanded.
"Just trust me, Kelith!" Finnius replied, and they ran into the house, the wind pulling at their clothes. Kelith followed the gnome through the house and up into the tower - the last tower - the tower of the Dark Ones.
The black paint they had spread was still intact. The secret of the summoning was safe. However, there were new fixtures within. In the center of the room was an irregular lump of grayish stone twice the size of a man. Lying on the ground by its foot were several coils of shimmering silver cord, each tied to smaller stones on either end.
"Finnius?" Kelith asked, but Finnius had gone.
"You killed my son," a familiar voice announced. As Kelith turned in horror, Master Torbin Curview pointed the gemstone tip of his glowing staff at the coils of the rope. They sprang to life, animate. Each long line wrapped itself around one of Kelith’s limbs, and the heavy gray rocks carried him bodily to the stone in the center of the room. With a -clang- and an eruption of sparks, Kelith had been pinned to the rock, immobilized.
Torbin, wearing a robe of black and gold, lacing decorating its edges, advanced, the staff pointed at Kelith. "You killed my son!" he howled, the knowledge of it a sickness, a worm in his heart. "Oh yes, you thought you were a -mighty- wizard, Vedan! Look at you, boy! Brought low by a child’s spell of magnetism!" Torbin’s face darkened, clouded with hate. Kelith hung limply from the rock, tied down by magic at his wrists and ankles.
"They'll hang you for this, monster."
Torbin closed the door. The lock clicked. The room was dark. But Kelith, he was not alone.
The voices were quiet, the darkness nearly empty. And yet - and yet there was a figure there, moving slowly about in the dim light. The grated window in the door afforded only the sparest of glows from the torches without.
A silhouette shuffled into the light. Hollow eyes stared from a rotting face. Kelith knew he was there, but he did not look, his head hanging, tears once again on his cheeks.
Then, a change came upon him. His face broke into a smile, and he swung his head up to look at the lurking figure. As fast as he could blink the dead creature was no longer in front of him, but sitting with its head between its knees against the far wall. Though the tears continued to ooze from his eyes, Kelith bore an expression of detached sublimity - something close to rapture.
"Lucius, we have done it," he whispered.
The specter nodded with an inhuman jerk. His voice was husky and raw. "We have, my old friend."
"Everything we ever dreamt, it is ours!"
"Oh yes, Kelith. We have broken the taboos and learned all the secrets."
"Even those they tried to keep from us?" Kelith half-asked, eyes hungry for an answer. The sepulchral voice fulfilled his lustful wish.
"Even the ones they tried to keep."
"We are masters of all we survey, eh Lucius?" Kelith asked, his face breaking into a warm smile. "We have conquered it all."
"Yes, my friend. We have truly showed them."
"We are stronger after all..." Kelith muttered happily, even though reality told a drastically different story as his body hung limply on the massive lodestone.
Suddenly a little piping voice came from outside the door; the voice of Lucius' cousin perhaps, who my Master has avoided speaking of for so long. "Mister Kelith..." it called. Kelith’s wide eyes swiveled from the door to Lucius.
"You must hide!" he hissed at the specter.
"I have nowhere to go, my friend, I do not think it will matter much."
"But if she sees you!" Kelith croaked in protest. The corpse raised a single finger to its withered lips and turned to face the door. Kelith’s voice emerged like a strangled yelp from his throat as he called her name.
"Mister Kelith? Who's in there with you?" Kelith sucked down a breath and muttered, "No one, no one."
"Oh, okay. My mommy said... she said..." The little girl's voice began to tremble. "That I wouldn't be able to see you anymore. So I brought you someone to keep you company." Kelith’s heart leapt into his mouth. Had the girl brought Narcissa? His mind raced. If she had... how would he hide Lucius? He turned to look at the corpse-figure by the wall. The deceased and decaying Lucius pointed a bent finger at the barred window in the door.
"Mister Kelith? Are you there?"
Kelith made a response that sounded more like someone trying not to vomit. The girls voice squeaked and asked "Mister Kelith?" Kelith gulped and very slowly said,
"Send her in."
"Alright Mister Kelith. Please take good care of her." The girl must have been on her tiptoes, because her hand appeared through the bars, dangling something. "Go on, Jezebel, don't be afraid," the little voice whispered. Kelith stifled a bitter laugh as he realized what was happening. It wasn't Narcissa at all. It was the little doll, Jezebel. "I'll miss you, Mister Kelith," she whispered, and then her delicate little hand dropped the doll and she was gone.
Lucius chuckled, a sound like tombstones rubbing together. Kelith smiled ruefully. "I can't even reach it," he observed.
"If the Blackrock Clan won't come to Lothar..." Lucius murmured. Kelith, catching his meaning, closed his eyes and began to whisper.
While Kelith’s dialog with his own fevered mind went on above, the Ascendants sat with the heartbroken Master Mage, Torbin Curview.
"Guards will be here from Stratholme City soon," he mused over his wine. "Come morning an entire platoon will apprehend that -thing- in the Tower." Torbin looked up, as if he could stare straight through the ceiling and up into Kelith's temporary prison.
Phoebus pushed a small ornamental dish around the table. "I don't understand," he said softly. "How could he...?" Torbin made a face of strong distaste.
"I should have known to expect as much from a farmer’s son." When he saw Finnius about to protest in favor of Kelith’s good character, he snarled "I believe he was dabbling in the Dark Arts. A second light-damned Medivh we have on our hands." That shut up the others. No need to risk his discovery of their involvement in the matter. "One of us should watch the door - we can take shifts. I doubt he's sorcerer enough to break those ropes, but still..."
Phoebus nodded and volunteered for the first watch, but Adon would have none of it. The normally subdued boy demanded to take the watch. The others went to bed, Torbin stopping in to ensure that Narcissa was asleep. Silence fell over the House.
In the Tower the ragged doll stood at Lucius' side, animated by unholy magic. Lucius nodded at Kelith. "You still have an ace, old friend. You remember the chants."
Kelith nodded and closed his eyes. Words of the ancient black tongue fell from his mouth. Long curls of smoke began to rise from the floor. The might of the summoning runes was burning through the paint.
The Night of the Demons
Every room in the House was silent, save one. Adon was nodding off in front of the tower door. Inside, Kelith had his eyes closed and hideous chants poured from his trembling lips. The runes and sigils burned into the floor over the summer beginning to shine with fiery light, black fumes of smoke rising from the dull red points.
Kelith had forgotten, or didn't care, or didn't realize that his body was suspended above the center of the whirling circle the Vile Letters inscribed. He was to become the epicenter of the summoning - the very heart of the spell.
The wind outside raged. The moon was obscured by clouds. Adon's head sank in his chest. Then the door shattered into a thousand pieces. Chunks of wood went sailing this way and that as the heavy portal rent itself apart. Strangely it was not loud. It was only the hundreds of splinters and the large board to the face that woke Adon.
Startled, he rubbed his head and ejaculated a loud "Huh?" The frame of the door was filled with choking smoke. All at once a shadow appeared in the lighter darkness. It advanced slowly, with a strange limping gait. As it emerged, Adon managed to say "Wait! Uh... stop!"
To his surprise, the figure did as he commanded. The smoke and soot began to settle, the shape becoming clear. It might have been Kelith - might have been save for the living flames erupting from his eyes, save for the cloak on his back having torn and resembling a pair of ruined wings. Might have been, save for the crooked hands that looked more like claws, might have been save for the lust written on his features. Adon’s jaw dropped and he scrambled backwards, in his fear trying to burrow through solid stone.
"Wait," commanded a deep grinding voice from Kelith. "Stop."
Adon did as he was commanded, his fingers ceasing their scrabbling. At last he turned to face Kelith and, with an accusing finger pointed, blubbered "You killed Lucius!"
"And you think I don't know what -you- did with Phoebus?" the frightening voice asked. Suddenly there was a dimension of playfulness as the tone shot up several octaves. "What do you think they'd do about you two in Dalaran, if they knew? You would never be Kirin Tor." A terrifying smile spread across his face. Adon fell to his knees.
"You wouldn't - wouldn't tell!" he pleaded. Kelith did not answer.
"Take me to your lover, boy."
The room was dark when they entered. Kelith’s stature had changed; from the fire-eyed figure of terror he had hunched, appearing now more like a demonic hermit. His claw-like hands clenched and unclenched eagerly. The only light came from Kelith himself, his eyes ablaze. Lying in the bed, the lurid red light of Kelith’s burning eyes shining on his face, Phoebus lay sleeping. His brow was furrowed with troubled sleep. Kelith pushed Adon aside, and the quiet boy drew in a sharp breath. Kelith’s very touch shed heat. Kelith shuffled closer to Phoebus, moving like an insane hunchback.
He bent down over Phoebus, the light from his eyes like a window into hell. Kelith’s bent finger pushed Phoebus' flaxen hair from his face. The claw of his hand traced the fine lines of Phoebus' cheek. The blond-haired sleeper stirred uneasily as the raging wind blew the house shutters hither and yon, slamming against the walls.
"Come," Kelith rasped, beckoning Adon to the bedside. Adon, trembling with fear, his face slick with tears, approached.
"You... I don't believe him, you know! Neither does Ph-Phoebus!" Adon stuttered through his tears. "We both know Torbin's wrong - you, you're innocent!"
Kelith’s awful visage turned to Adon, a smile on his lips. "In-no-cent?" his grating voice asked. "Like you and poor Phoebus are innocent?" Adon trembled, fell to his knees, cowering. "There -is- no in-no-cence." And then he laughed, his voice the sound of mountains crumbling. "Look at him, Adon. Get up! Look at him," Kelith commanded. Adon’s body moved to obey before he even thought of refusing. His tears fell onto Phoebus' face. He could feel Kelith’s malignance like a furnace, like a sickening fire that was burning not wood but the fabric of reality itself. Kelith smiled at him. "Puh-retty isn't he, Adon? You think he's puh-retty, don't you?" His voice raised as he mockingly pronounced the word.
"Don't tell anyone, Kelith, please -" Adon begged, his voice a harsh whisper. Kelith closed his burning eyes.
"Hush..." he said in a voice of sulfur. Without warning one of Kelith’s all-too-warm hands was on Adon’s temple. Adon didn't say anything; he froze with fear. Kelith’s face grew frighteningly close. His eyelids shot open, revealing vistas of endless fire. "Burn him," he said, his mouth twisting into a leer that made a devil of him. Adon tried to turn his head to look away, but the insistent claw tightened, preventing him.
"Wha-what?" Adon squeaked. Phoebus stirred in his sleep. The wind howled. Kelith hissed.
Adon shut his eyes tightly, squeezing out tears. His voice came back in a strangled whisper, repeating himself. "Wha-what?"
"You Twins have studied fire magic for so looong," he drew out the word until it was tortuous. "Show me what you've learned."
"I can't, he wouldn't, I c-can't," he pleaded.
"Oh, but I truly believe you -can-," Kelith whispered back.
"Puh-please..." he blubbered.
Kelith’s left hand pressed close against Adon’s stomach. "You or him, Adon. You or -him-." The claw-hand twitched.
"Don't make me choose, please..."
"Fine, Adon. I'll choose for you." Kelith’s hand left Adon’s stomach and hovered like a wicked spider above Phoebus' peaceful face. The wind shrieked. "But when I do it, Adon, there will be more pain than he could ever imagine." Kelith chuckled and it almost seemed as though tongues of flame erupted from his teeth.
"Wait! Please don't!" Adon shouted. Phoebus groggily opened his eyes and turned his head.
"Too late," Kelith hissed. His free hand swung up from Phoebus’ face where it hovered and it clamped firmly down on the other side of Adon’s head. His eyes opened wide as Kelith’s mouth began to move. Adon’s suddenly followed suit. Phoebus turned to them, but he did not have time to shout. Adon’s hand erupted in fire which soon enclosed and enveloped Phoebus' head. The only sounds were those of the wailing wind and the hissing fire. The room filled with the stench of charring flesh and melting fat. Phoebus barely had the time to twitch before Adon’s spell forced from his lips by Kelith, consumed his body.
When the fire burnt out and Adon’s vomiting and crying had begun, Kelith threw him onto the bed, raised the hood of his ragged cloak, and left him to die. For, of course, Adon would not last the day. The guilt and pain would drive him to suicide before Kelith even reached the door to Narcissa's room. For that was his next stop.
The storm refused to break. The clouds roiled like angry eels in the sky, sliding over one another. The few people out and about in Stratholme that night could see the firmament move with a sort of sick horror. The trees groaned with the burden of the wind. In the deep parts of the wood, shadows took on strange forms; faces leered from the darkness. In the embers of a dying fire, an old woman saw the shape of a grinning maw. In the bole of a tree, a tired woodsman glimpsed a pair of gleaming eyes. The Night of the Demons was one that would not be forgotten in the Stratholme countryside.
In the manor, Kelith had entered the East Wing. Adon had flung himself from Phoebus' window casement, the bed still sizzling with the young blonde's demise. The charnel smell of death fled down every corridor of the house, slowly and surely, like some sort of miasma.
Kelith stalked on, his wild eyes with burning pupils calming, subsiding, returning to their flinty cast. His wicked claws smoothed and became hands once again. He brushed back his black hair, smoothed it down to his head. Then, he came to Narcissa's door.
She was awake inside, which he did not know. She had been awake ever since her father had come in and checked on her before retiring himself. She had heard his footfalls, and woken. She pretended to sleep, for his peace of mind, but for her own she could not rest. Thoughts of the boy she had known for only a brief summer, thoughts of the boy growing into a man that she felt some pull towards, tormented her. Her father said that this very same boy, this noble boy who had been raised from the stead of a farmer by her brother’s generosity, was a murderer. And no normal killer was he, according to Torbin, but a poisoner; he had killed with cowardly poison his own very closest friend.
She refused to believe it. Surely Kelith could never have done such a thing.
A rapping sounded on the door. Narcissa stood, nearly knocking over the bedside table. The oil lamp teetered precariously, its wind-shield of glass sending huge rays of light up the scarlet walls. The heavy crimson curtains flapped with the disturbance. Narcissa's heart beat in her chest, though she knew it would only be Adon or Phoebus or even the little and clever Finnius. Her hand fluttered to her breast in a vain attempt to steady her wildly pumping heart.
She reached the door and pulled, the warm red womb of her room opening out into a bleak and dark hallway. Long blue and purple carpets ran in either direction. Light came, a long way down the corridor, from a series of wide windows with their curtains drawn back. Whatever feeble moonlight could find its way in was left to grace the hall. As Narcissa peered out into the darkness, she saw shapes and forms begin to coalesce. It was almost as if the very blackness was moving and bubbling, taking form. Faces, half imagined, began to yawn in the empty corridor. She gasped a little breath and pulled the door shut.
In the hall, Kelith cursed his fright. He was standing a few steps off, staring at the closed door. In a patch of light, far down the way, standing by the windows, Lucius stood with the little doll. The journey to the East Wing had not improved his looks much. Flesh sagged from his decaying form, and his eyes were hollow and barren holes, too long touched by the gravedigger’s shovel. His finger, when he raised it, was sheared of flesh from the last knuckle to the tip, and with his digit of bone he gestured for Kelith to knock again. Kelith sneered at nothing, at himself, at his own weakness, and took a breath.
Narcissa had just settled back into her large and comfortable leather chair by the bedside and resumed her reading. The book of poems in her hands leapt to the floor, almost of its own volition, when the rapping came again. This time, Narcissa's heart beat not out of some vague apprehension, but a palpable fear. The room was safe, that she knew. The hall she could not be sure of. If she was not so old as to think it foolish, she might have simply run from her room to be comforted by her Father - but she knew better. Woe to age and the insights it denies us! She decided to do nothing. She watched the door for a few moments, and when the knocking did not resume she carefully retrieved her book and sat back down. She tucked her knees under her and her eyes wandered back to the page.
Another rapping caused her no small fright. She whipped her head around, her hair falling in disarray about her face. At last deciding on a long brass umbrella as the best weapon to defend herself with, she went to the door. Her feet tread slowly upon the floor. She reached the door and pulled it open. The umbrella was poised to strike. -Nothing-. She quivered, turning her head this way and that, the umbrella following her gaze and hovering in the air. Then, without warning, a piece of darkness detached itself, began to sail towards her. She bit her lower lip and raised the umbrella. When the darkness did not cease, but continued to advance from the far wall and towards her door, she swung.
The umbrella never reached its intended target. In mid-flight a hand shot out of the darkness to grab its haft. Not a second later, Kelith's face emerged from the gloom. "Narcissa!" he muttered with reproval, "Are you trying to kill me?"
Narcissa took a few steps backwards, her chest heaving in relief. The umbrella fell from her grasp and Kelith’s, thumping onto the ground. "By the -Light- Kelith!" she exclaimed. She was too relieved to see him flinch. "I thought you were some manner of monster - a ghost or a... I don't know what!"
Kelith sniffed and made a little face, stepping into the room and pulling the door behind him, just as hungry wraiths of shadow began to move forward. He closed the door and, with a bang, they were foiled. "An I-don't-know-what, is it?" Kelith frowned, lowering his hood. Narcissa laughed nervously, then realized she was in her nightgown.
"Light, Kelith, you shouldn't see me like this! What are you doing out of the tower, anyhow? Father thinks you've..." She trailed off, the events of the past few days returning to her.
"It's not true, Narse. It's lies, all of it. I escaped - I had to. I just wanted..." Kelith made a face of frustration. "I just wanted to see you before I went into hiding. Your father is a powerful man. I have to lay low - maybe go keep among the hill people for a while."
Narcissa gathered up her nightgown and crossed the distance that lay between them. "What? You mean this is... this might be the last time I see you?"
Kelith nodded unhappily. "I mean, I'll try to come back, but... who knows?"
Narcissa collapsed into him, and he folded her into his arms. This close to him, nearly inside his cloak, and pressed right against his robes, she smelled something strange on him. Something that smelled like... fire? She put out her hand against the cloth covering his chest. There was something there... or no! It wasn't there, but in the room perhaps? She heard something, like a sibilant hiss. It could be rain, or a small blaze, or... voices? She pulled back a few inches, and the moment she did the sound stopped.
Another thing happened the moment she pulled back, too. Kelith kissed her. He was surprisingly tender for a boy so passionate. Her shock slowly melted away. This -was- the last time he was going to see her, after all. The rules and regulations, the stringing along - it had all been leading up to this moment. She let it carry her along.
She let it carry her further into the room. She let it carry her onto the bed, where they sank down. Her heart began to beat faster, but she also began to hear things. She let Kelith lay her down as that strange noise began to build again. When she opened her eyes to protest, Kelith made a waving motion at the room, still kissing her, and the noise subsided again. She didn't need to say "I've never..." because Kelith knew - in those days, ladies never had.
Their heated breath mingled and the moment was perfect. She didn't hear the sounds again until Kelith was in her - and by then, it was already too late.
Like Narcissa, he had never gone to sleep. While Kelith was forcing his will on the girl, causing her awful screams to fall silent with a few tricks of arcanery here and there, Finnius was pacing back and forth in his makeshift lab, downstairs. As Narcissa fell back to her bed, weeping, and Kelith unlidded his burning eyes, Finnius tinkered with his little devices. As Kelith forced the girl to shatter her mirror and use the shards to open up long gashes in her wrists, Finnius poked at the fire. And, as Narcissa lay bleeding to death on her bed, Kelith descended the stairs to find Finnius.
The little gnome was frightened out of his wits when Kelith appeared in the doorway. He whipped around to see the apparition standing with a distinct limp and hunch. Finnius reached for the poker, but before he could grasp it, a blast of cold purple light dashed it from his hand. He scrambled backwards. "Kelith!" he gasped.
Kelith nodded, the movement causing the lurid red light of his eyes to send shadows skittering across the floor. The shadows seemed like claws, like hands, and half-formed faces gazed from deep within them. Kelith took a step forward, and the baleful light grew brighter. Finnius knocked into a table sporting many devices and alembics, and the legs gave out, sending it toppling. Kelith chuckled icily.
"Goodbye, Finnius," he muttered. Within seconds the last of the Ascendants was dead, a clenched claw sent through his innards, long strings of ropy violet intestines spilling out onto the floor. It was the loudest of the deaths, and even over the shrieking of the wind, it could be heard up and down the house. This woke the last living person, for the servants had been dispatched to keep them from Kelith's wheedling words long before this night of imprisonment had been planned.
In his room, removed from the clamor and clangor, the shouting and cackling of Finnius' demise, Torbin sat up with a cold sweat. He knew at once that his spells in the tower had been shattered by some massive force - that the Lodestone lay exploded and the door was ruined. He knew, just as certainly, that something else was happening as well - something terrible. The cold walls loomed over him like veils, like suffocating gauze. He immediately stood and reached for his staff, which remained by his bedside even when he slept. The stone couched in the wooden claw at its tip began to glow with recognition.
Shades with half-cognizant thoughts and dreams flew back against the walls, fearful of the light. Torbin's knuckles tightened. He stood and dressed as quickly as he could, then stepped into the corridor.
A stench was rising. The manor smelled of death. There were corpses buried in the tombs that were once rooms. Torbin shuddered, gathering his robes up tight and muttering a few words. The blue gem in his staff responded by increasing its shine tenfold. The light did not banish the stench, nor did it banish the tricks his eyes played on him. In the edges of his vision the dead cavorted with demons. He whirled once, twice, but every time he turned only the empty house greeted him. As he stood, rooted to the spot with anxiety, with fear, the hallway began to change around him. It was a mouth, a throat, vast and endless. He turned about in a slow circle, his jaw slack with wonder.
He came to himself with a start. His final circle brought him around face to face with his son. Though the flesh was bulging and white, though the eyes were empty and a ruined tongue lolled from the mouth, there was no doubt as to his identity. Torbin screamed and screamed, taking a few steps backwards. His son advanced on him with an unholy speed. His legs moved furiously fast, faster than any living being. Torbin did not shriek this time, but swung his staff. There was a flash of light as the thing struck, and when it cleared only a wisp of black greasy smoke remained.
Torbin shook himself. What black magic was at work here? He would soon get to the bottom of it. He made haste to the first floor, where the sounds of struggle had been heard. He arrived in the den where so long ago Lucius and Kelith had staged a friendly swordfight upon their first arrival at the manor. The room was dark, thick shadow draped over all its furniture. It was as though a layer of empty night had taken residence. It did not move or stir like the other shadows in the house - it was still, warm, and totally malign.
Torbin cautiously moved forward, and the light in his staff went out. He cursed. The words for the spell fell without sound from his lips, and the staff’s light did not reignite. He held the staff out in front of him, waving it about as he walked slowly into the room. He felt something warm and sticky engulf his left slipper, and his throat quivered with a cry. He quickly choked it back and continued to move forward. He was somewhere in the center of the room when a loud banging noise and a rush of air being drawn inside told him that somehow the doors had closed. There was a snicking noise, and he was left without light, without direction, and without a clue. He was locked in, he knew, and every step he took felt like he was walking trough warm treacle, with little gummy bits moving out from under his feet.
He stumbled and fell on the slick floor, bodily collapsing onto the ground. He felt whatever he had slipped on ooze around him. It was warm, and it was wet, and it was sticky. A sick sensation began to crawl in his stomach. He reached out for his staff. His fingers had only brushed the edge of it when a dim red light lit the room.
He nearly shrieked again when he saw the horrifying image of his son squatting inches from his outstretched hand, his rotting face leering. The feeling of illness grew into a deep nausea as the light revealed what he had fallen in. It was Finnius - and some others, for surely Finnius' body could not have contained -so much-. Thick cords of intestine festooned the couch, blood and gristle coated the floor. There were things that had been pinned to the walls by sharp pieces of wood, there were long shreds of flesh that seemed to have been flayed off of a victim. Kelith had been busy.
Torbin still couldn't see the source of the light, and he moved with the speed of fear and loathing to grasp his staff. He withdrew his hand with a curse however, when he felt something nick at it. It wasn't the visage of his son, which had not moved. He looked down into the gory mess his staff was nearly afloat in. That cursed ratty little doll his niece always carried was nearby. He blinked, and realized that -it- had -bitten- him. It wriggled with a blasphemous life, its glass eyes wide and dark. He scrambled away, pulling his staff with him. Entrails and flesh followed him. His feet made an unpleasant sloshing noise in the muck.
As he stood, Lucius stood too, and stepped back. Thus was the source of the light revealed. Sitting on the couch, head turned and body sideways to see over the back, was Kelith Vedan. His eyes were beacons, torches, throwing light all over the room. Torbin gripped his staff which was slick with blood.
"So, Vedan, you are more than a poisoner - a murderer of all that is good, I name you! A fiend and a demon!" Torbin shouted.
"Oh, stow it, old man," Kelith laughed, leaping up from the couch. Lucius took a few circling steps towards his father. The doll wriggled and crawled forward a few inches. "Your time is over. Mine has begun."
The Fall of the Curviews
While Kelith gloated over his victory, over the ascendance of his young new philosophy over what he saw as the decayed morals of the old world, Torbin was preparing. The demon-riddled sorcerer sitting at the couch may have been powerful, but he had yet to learn the value of being quiet and getting to it. Torbin had not.
As such, Torbin's first spell caught Kelith off balance. A spray of ice-shards exploded from his outstretched hand, flying across the room and embedding themselves in the floor, walls, couch, and Kelith. He was knocked backwards, to the ground, where he landed with a squelching sound. Torbin then quickly swatted the hideous little doll away with the butt of his staff, and simply kept his eyes from falling on the specter of Lucius, which was watching him with keen interest.
The room was suddenly dark again, as Kelith hooded his burning eyes and stood. Torbin gritted his teeth and prepared a second spell. When Kelith's eyes opened, Torbin screamed. Lucius was only a few inches from his face, smiling grotesquely. Torbin pushed him back with the tip of his staff. The motion was ginger, as though he was afraid of hurting either the staff or Lucius.
Kelith sprang to his feet, cracking his knuckles. "Oh now, Master Torbin, that was not very nice. Not very nice at all. Here I was going to make this quick and you have to go and do something nasty. I suppose... I suppose it's time then, to get serious," he grumbled, his voice a blaze of hate. Torbin looked up at him and frowned.
Both of them moved at the same time, Kelith to raise his left hand and mutter a hideous phrase in the language of the Nether. Torbin raised his right hand to speak in the Lingua Arcana, a shimmering field of light erupting around him. From Kelith's palm there shot forth a streak of purplish light. It was as though darkness had taken on a glowing shape and form; the thing shrieked as it crossed the room, dissipating against the bluish hue that surrounded Torbin. However, the force of the blast caused the halo to shimmer once, then vanish. Kelith laughed.
"Your tricks won't save you, Sir. Nothing will," he crowed, drawing the long saber from his belt. He shook it once, and a lance of fire ran from its hilt to its tip. The fire glimmered and burned. It fell in molten droplets from the shining blade. Torbin's eyes opened wide and he tapped the heel of his staff against the ground, trying to find wood beneath the intestines and other assorted organs that lay at his feet. A frosty chill descended from the gem at the top of the staff; it froze and steam began to rise from the sub-zero temperature of the sheathing about the staff.
The blade and the staff clashed. Kelith grinned as Torbin was forced a step back. His magic was mighty, but he was still an old man. Kelith was young, spry, and his muscles pulsed with unearthly strength. A cracking noise accompanied the older mage’s backwards retreat. The fire of Kelith’s blade burned brighter. Droplets of liquid flame fell upon the ice of Torbin’s staff. With a hiss, the frigid barrier cracked. Torbin pulled the staff away before it was incinerated and answered back with a quick blast of magic.
Pure white light exploded from the tip of his staff. Kelith blinked, his eyes still blazing. The spell had ripped a huge hole in his side, and blood was slowly oozing out of the wound. He grunted. "No, no," he said. He raised his left hand, his palm filled with fire. As he brought his left hand down to Torbin's head, Torbin tried desperately to fend it off. His attention was engaged - which is what Kelith wanted.
The flaming saber entered Torbin’s stomach. The old mage was dead.
Waltz of the Fatebreaker
The tension in the frigid air was unbearable. The howling of the storm that raged across Alterac was like the nightmare shriek of beasts that can only live in the shadowed bowers of the mind. The wind was blustering, ripping away all warmth from the land, tearing apart the shawls of comforting air and sending them to the heavens where they were dashed against the slate-grey clouds. In the hills of the Alterac Mountains, something was stirring.
A tall man with a crooked nose that had once been shattered and reset stood in the doorway of a little cabin. Like the cabin he was stern and unyielding. His eyes were icy blue and long tangled red hair fell down his shoulders in knots. At one time they were braids, but neglect had made them into something far less orderly. He wore a leather vest and pants of some mountain creature's hide. His beard was full and unkempt, bristling in the chill winds. At his waist he carried a sword of heavy iron; mage-killing iron, wizard-biting iron. That sword had seen the throat of many Dalaranians who had come up to the hills to understand exactly what form of magic the hill-folk practiced. The blade was cold to the touch, like a sliver of ice. It had been enchanted that way generations before.
The tall man was thin as well. He was bony and underfed. In the shadow of the doorway, a pair of eyes watched him. They were huge and blue like his own. He cast one backwards glance at them and muttered "Yer watch yer sister - an remember what've told yer." Then his heavy boots began to move, and his legs followed. The stick-thin man with the iron sword sniffed the air as he walked. "I kin smell yer, boy. I'm comin' fer that damned book o'yern," he whispered to the screaming winds.
The storm broke as he stepped into the pine trees. The needles were shivering, as though they too felt the biting emptiness of the air. Rain exploded from the sky and a great bolt of lightening etched itself across the face of the firmament as the stick-thin man vanished into the trees. The pair of eyes in the shadows blinked.
"Dahla... Father is gone," a voice whispered.
The stick-thin man did not care if he got wet. He let the sheets of rain pour down on him, though he could have easily protected himself from the damp with a simple spell. In his left hand he held a large deck of cards that the rain seemed unable to touch - droplets of water sliding off them without harm. They were battered and worn, and they somehow looked as much a part of the stick-thin man as his beard or his eyes.
The pines passed one by one, but the going was too slow. The stick-thin man cursed. He must be faster if he was to reach the boy in time to take the book from him - as Fate promised him he could not. He cast about for a few moments, looking to the ground. His eyes trailed over rain-slicked pine needles and, in places, piles of leaves beneath groaning oaks. He espied a squirrel scurrying to shelter, and marked it in his mind. He put the deck of cards into his pocket.
"Blood o' my blood, flesh o' my flesh," he began, drawing his iron blade and writing with its tip in bloody ink along his arm. Heavy droplets of the stuff fell to the ground, and the squirrel stopped its frantic dash for haven. The squirrel paused, its head raised, brushing itself with its paws. "Blood o' my blood, flesh o' my flesh, bone o' my bone," he chanted. The squirrel turned and slowly walked towards him.
The stick-thin man had his eyes closed while the squirrel approached, and the blade still bit deeply into his arm. When the squirrel reached his foot, he whipped the blade downwards and stabbed the point through its back. It squeaked miserably as he twisted the blade. Then, picking up the feebly pawing thing, he dropped his sword and began to pry with his fingers. Pushing aside furry bits of skin he at once revealed the interior of the squirrel to the driving rain, and to his keen eyes.
"Now ther time has come fer flight, an’ with yer spirit I alight," he whispered into the wounds of the dying squirrel. There was no flash of magic, no bang of power. His form flickered for a second, as though it was unsure of whether or not it would be remaining in this world. Then he dropped the squirrel, sheathed his sword, and started off again.
This time the stick-thin man was given the motive force of a departing soul. It was a small one, from a small creature, but it was enough. He did not need to cross continents, only miles. Trees blurred on either side of him. The ground began to run together, and the air became thick like honey. Pushing forward, like a man trying to walk through treacle, he stepped out of the forest and into the well-tended grounds of a garden. A stone bench lay half-buried in the mossy earth nearby and a fountain chuckled ahead, bloated to overflowing with the rain. The garden had a strange smell about it, and a strange feel as well.
As the stick-thin man passed by bushes and trees along flagstone paths he began to feel as though something were brushing up against him. A subtle touch on his skin of something wet and oily, perhaps from the rain. He shook off the feeling and continued forward. He stopped only once more as his foot tread upon something fragile and it shattered beneath him. Lifting his boot, he saw what looked like a saucer, smashed and half filled with mud. Not understanding its import, he walked on.
Very soon, the Manor was in sight, and what a sight it was to see. All of its windows hung open to the storm, and its walls where smeared with a ruddy light that spilled from the sills. The stick-thin man arrived on a small outer patio and looked up at the Manor’s foreboding presence. The brightest lights of all emerged from three tallest towers, their windows blazing. The stick-thin man drew his sword and looked at the door before him. He knew it would be locked. Just the same, he knew how to open it.
He breathed slowly and deeply and, drawing on those hidden places of shadows and fear, he exhaled. His breath took on shape and form as it traveled and it slammed into the door with a concussive blast. The portal was torn asunder, leaving a wide and gaping hole into the house. He stepped over the torn stones and into a white room bathed in red.
In the corridors of the house, Kelith was wandering. His mind had doubled back on itself and obscene things had begun to issue forth. The walls of the corridors were red now, not because of the light of his burning eyes, but because they were organic and pulsing with life. He could not but step and he was standing knee deep in the movements of a great and vast beast that had perished. The doors were flaps of flesh, and the drapes were dangling tissue. His hands slid wetly against the walls that expanded and contracted to an unholy rhythm.
The stick-thin man passed through the kitchen, and over the ruins of other rooms through which Kelith had so recently chased servants and friends alike to their deaths. The body of Torbin Curview was pinned to a wall as the stick-thin man passed, a saber emerging from his gut, his head completely gone, disintegrated perhaps by a blast of angry magic. Somewhere up above, Kelith's newly expanded demon-riddled senses felt the stick-thin man in the house. The light-from-nowhere that was-not-light went out. The house was dark.
Kelith was coming.
Arrival of the Sun
Dawn came over Lordaeron. The violence of the freak windstorm of the previous evening had left its mark on many homes. Trees had been scoured of leaves, branches torn from their moorings and tossed about like lost children. At the Stratholme Palace several windows had been shattered by the force of the gale; they were irreplaceable windows that had been crafted by the master artisan Gregor Beskov three centuries before. So too did many other things pass forever out of the world on that blustery night. In a cabin, up in the Alterac foothills, a man was free of the tyranny that his Father beat into him for the first time - and made a slave to the tyranny within for the first time. In the lush valleys of Stratholme a certain manor-house sat, devastated. The interior had been gutted by magical fire, which had raged throughout the last hours of night and the early hours of morning.
The stick-thin man had been after Kelith's book - the notes of Khadgar the Archmage. The black book had taken on another meaning by the time the stick-thin man had stepped into the house. The black book Kelith had written in had grown. It had taken on shape and form that the original text would never have recognized. It was filled with scribbles in its margins, with long extended notes and charts copied down painstakingly by its author. Kelith had added to the black book until it bulged with pages, and then he had added more. The binding had been redone throughout his studies until it was no longer a notebook but a tome. The stick-thin man had wanted those notes, that knowledge, for himself. Kelith was by no means ready to give it to him - and the demons that had infested his body, the felfire that was in his spit and his blood - it responded to his will. The stick-thin man, for all his magic, for all his knowledge, had not stood a chance.
When the guards finally arrived to take Kelith away - for you will recall Master Torbin had called them there the night before - the sun was just beginning to rear its bloated head over the mountains. The first shafts of light were entering the valley as the prisoner’s coach stopped at the gates of the Manor. The guards slowly got out of the wagon and gazed in wonder and horror at the scene before them. The roof had been blown straight through in many places. One of the aged and reverential towers of the manor, that had stood like silent penitents over the years, had come toppling down into the house, leaving a path of masonry and rubble where it fell. Thick black smoke curled up from the ruins and bore with it a pungent smell like a slaughter house that had burned to the ground. Somewhere in that malodorous clamor was also a taste of sulfur and brimstone. The guards shouldered their halberds and slowly entered the ruins.
They found Kelith Vedan lying in a pool of his own blood and vomit, sprawled across the wreckage of a grand staircase. Fallen rock surrounded and cradled him. Had they bothered to look closely, they would have noticed that he was free of wounds or marks, that the blood could not have been his. But before they could examine him, he awoke. "Horrible," he muttered. "It was horrible!"
The guards rushed over to him. "Are you alright sir? What happened here?"
"Master Torbin, tricked into... oh by the L-" here his voice stuck. "By the L-" and again, he could not force the word out. "By the L-light!" he finally managed, the sound of his gorge rising. He proceeded to weave the tale he had constructed - the violent red-haired stick-thin man had come to the house and sparred with Torbin. Once Torbin was dead, he had set the house ablaze and killed off its inhabitants one by one. The guards soon forgot their original intentions of arresting the Vedan boy in light of these new discoveries.
They found the body of the stick-thin man, horribly mangled by collapsing stone, in one of the adjacent rooms. Kelith had explained that his magic had been barely able to deflect one of the stranger’s own blasts, diverting it to the ceiling above. The Stratholme guards offered to return him back to Dalaran, as that was where he belonged, where he lived.
On the way back, Kelith sat by himself inside the coach while the guard captain and his men rode without, on the top. A strange transformation overcame Kelith within the carriage. His blood-drenched face was no longer innocent and empty, wracked by fear and tragedy as it had been when he was explaining his story to the guards. His head was tilted down, his eyes towards the floor. Some fragment of that burning vista still remained within them, smoldering. His face spread into an unwholesome smile that even the stupidest of folk would have recognized as belonging not to a man, but to a devil. Then he started to laugh.
Then the laugh became a hiss.
The Seal of the Kirin Tor
As Kelith returned to Dalaran, his mind dwelled on the events of the previous evening. His hands went to his eyes, their heels digging at his sockets. His body shuddered with an involuntary movement, and the feeling he had before - that strange shiver of power and strength - was gone. He felt a nausea creeping up on him, crawling from the base of his spine into his stomach. The fire was gone from his eyes, leaving a terrible empty space, a hollow space. The snake which devours itself had nestled in his heart; he felt shaken to the very foundation of his soul to be without the immense forces that had dwelled within him just a sunrise previous. His flesh had turned pale, and his ragged clothing clung to him like soaked rags.
Two forces were at work inside Kelith Vedan. The first was something you or I might understand quite well - guilt. His mind was filled with ghastly visions, all the worse because he had caused those very visions to come to life and dance before his eyes the night before. The count was now at eight. He had poisoned Lucius, brained the Dean, and in a serious of gruesome attacks finished all the rest and that other man - the strange sickly fellow with the red hair. Though the night was a terrifying blur, Kelith knew what he had done. It thrilled him, and it sickened him. It made of him a man of infinite power - and a monster. He felt his gorge rising again.
The second force was the magic. His body had been home to a score of demons that were drawn through the gate he opened on himself. Forces arcane and fel had flowed through his veins, pulsed in time with his heart. Now those forces were gone. He was empty. His abandoned flesh yearned for the touch of fel forces again. He had delved too deep into the Lost Arts, and they had taken their toll. He could not -live- without them.
The carriage disgorged him at the gates of the University of Magic at Dalaran. He stood alone in the streets as a light rain began to fall. The sweet scent of the canals and their flowery banks rose up on the breeze. The clock tower of the city began to chime eleven in the morning. Kelith returned to the College as he had left: a specter, hardly to be missed or noticed.
The weeks that followed, the months, ran by with a bizarre rapidity. Kelith's studies began to slacken. He often found himself sitting on his bed staring at nothing. He never more read the books which were assigned in class. The Grimoire Magus, the Rapport Arcana, the inestimable Der Hexenhammer, all were left to the other students on the library shelves. In fact, he never read at all any more. He was afraid to let his gaze rest on objects too close to his person, like books. The reason for this was, of course, the things he could see. Whenever he drew his attention from the corners of a room or it's shadows, terrible and hideous forms would begin to crawl forth from these places, as though shadows and corners were not mundane things, but rather gateways or portals for the obscene and horrific to emerge.
There was no longer any rest for Kelith Vedan. Sleep and waking were the same long nightmare. The things he saw while dreaming were paralleled by that he saw while he was awake. After a week of such visions, he gave up on trying to differentiate between what was real and what was a dream. There was no longer any difference to him. The air bruised and bled before him, giving birth to monstrosities beyond naming. The towers of the University where tall finger-bones, knotted knuckle-joints comprising their bulk. The grass of the quadrangles was instead fetid flesh, or a field of fire. He ignored what he could and squeamishly tried to conceal his visions. He knew they were visions, of course, and that they could not harm him, but he could hardly remember that in times of extreme peril when terrifying vistas opened up before him and he was in danger of becoming forever lost to them.
Then, without warning, the Exam was upon him. He had woken that morning to find his room crawling with black shapes. They fluttered in the air, they floated lazily across the room, they crept up the walls. Though he could see no organs or in fact make anything out other than their darkness, as if they were blobs of moving light or rather unlight, he was aware that they had a malignance about them. They had some kind of hateful intelligence. He could not wait to discover what their intention was. His fear and madness had been growing in their cocoon, and he somehow knew that if he was touched by one of these floating aberrations he would certainly be dead. He rushed from his room at full speed, wearing nothing but his nightgown and a pair of slippers.
It was in this ridiculous dress that he stumbled upon Kevin Shrieve, a young man from Lordaeron who was in Kelith’s year at the school. Shrieve was an arrogant boy. He was the kind of child who had grown up in a wealthy Lordaeron house and expected for this to be given every deference. He did not expect this treatment from men only, but from the whole world around him. One would think that such a men would often be sore disappointed, but perhaps the University could smell the money or the respectability. Shrieve should never have merited more than a second glance, if the universe handed out talent to those that deserved it. However, as we have seen, it is often the business of the universe to hand out talent indiscriminately to those least capable of making good use of it. Kevin Shrieve was a waspish boy with eyes that utterly lacked compassion. His sandy blond hair was brushed back from his temples and his robes in nice order. As Kelith, looking more and more like a ghost every day, bumped into Shrieve, Kevin muttered "Not going to the Exam in that, are you? Filthy commoner."
Kelith hardly heard what Shrieve said, but he would rather the company of others while he was in his state. The things that crept out of the darkness seemed to have a problem with being shy - when others were about they hardly ever came forth. That was not the case today. Kelith followed Shrieve then, eventually, overpassed Shrieve in his hurry to leave the trembling corridors which were fast filling with shapes too heinous to describe.
At last the corridor spat them both out in the center park of the University. The sky was clear, but the sun was hidden by the spires of the School. The entire class was assembled on the lawn where several tall and reverend figures looked over them. Professors Leon Illyich and Silas Finke stood at the rear of the class, observing the students. Leon Illyich was true to his name, a great lion of a man. He had a respectable mane of whitening hair and the face of a predator. His robes were laced with black piping and trim, the purple of the Violet Tower the dominant scheme upon them. The other, Silas, was a little rat of a man who hunched over on himself, his long snout-like nose constantly sniffling and snuffling, as though he was searching for truffles. Presiding behind them both was a man of great height and countenance. He had a shock of black hair that was sprinkled with grey, and a long beard that was also shot through with the color of age. He had a snaggle toothed smile and a great tall staff, devoid of gem or ornamentation. Around his neck was nestled the seal of the Kirin Tor, and imprinted on his robes was the open Eye of the Violet Citadel. The Archmage Kel'Thuzad had come himself to watch the graduation of this class.
Kel'Thuzad cleared his throat, and his somnolent basso voice resounded across the lawn. "Students and fellow magi of the College of Wizardry and Magics, I am glad you have all assembled here. The dark days of apprenticeship in cold and lonely towers have finally come to an end - the last apprenticed mage, Khadgar, has passed beyond this world," he said. Everyone bowed their heads at the dead Archmage's name. "But! Little time now for dwelling on such things! Today is a joyous day when, all of you I hope, will be gaining acceptance into the ranks of magicians all the world over by obtaining today the Seal of the Kirin Tor! Let the exam begin!"
Kel'Thuzad's speech was followed by tense silence. Fear settled on the students. This was the moment they had been studying for for six years. The Exam.
Beneath the Burning Skies
The Archmage of Dalaran, the head of the school, the cunning and twisted Kel'Thuzad, surveyed the students gathered before him. His eye rested lightly on the young man in nothing more than a long sleeping robe and night cap. The child-become-man had become a wasted figure. He was thin beyond measure. Beneath his eyes lay the dark shallows of an unknown sea. Within the flinty blue of his pupils, blades danced to a tune called fear. Kel'Thuzad could tell that the boy was by no means in his right mind. Sickness oozed from his forehead in the form of great droplets of sweat, pouring in cold waves down his spine and his chest. His flesh had a pallor of illness, a white not the pure color of ivory, but a sickly, almost jaundiced tone. There was something else there, something that the clever and malicious Archmage couldn't put his finger on. Some nameless thing dwelt in the pit of the boy's stomach.
Kel'Thuzad smiled at the students. "Let us begin," he himself began. His voice, his resonant basso somnolent voice, thundered through the courtyards. Silas Finke and Leon Illyich, the two teachers chosen to oversee the Exam, consulted with one another. The great mane of Leon's head bobbed low to bring his ear to the level with the secretive snout of Silas'. Kel'Thuzad turned to them, interrupting their discussions. "I have already chosen who shall go first," he rumbled.
Leon and Silas stood up straight, the latter licking his lips in a predatory way and the former brushing back his great shock of hair, as though that would tame what time and wax could not. Leon's distinctive head swiveled as though on a pivot, and he looked Kel'Thuzad in the eye. The pressure was too much for the battered old lion, like his namesake only in appearance. Kel’Thuzad’s gaze had pierced stouter hearts before, and would continue to corrupt and spread it's poison throughout the school in the years to come. Leon dropped his eyes and looked to the students. He asked in his blustering tone, "Which of them have you chosen, Archmagus?"
Kel’Thuzad’s long finger extended. It was crooked and gnarled, like the branch of an ancient tree. "That one," he said with a distinct sound of glee in his voice. His finger had singled out the sickened Kelith Vedan. Kelith, rocking on his heels with his eyes shut tight to keep out the flaming apparitions of madness behind them, had no idea he was being signaled. Kevin Shrieve, the obnoxious boy who had never said so much as three words to Kelith until this very day, nudged him forward. Kelith's eyes opened at once, and the visions before them were something to be feared and abhorred. The earth was red clay, twisted by centuries of exposure to a baking sun. The sky was dark now, after it had burnt out. The world bore the wounds of some great battle, huge fissures to the left and right, Dalaran sunk into nothingness, spirits and disembodied ghosts floating hither and yon. Worst of all, from the corners of the fissures, glowing with a luminous gaseous light things that shone like something from the grave were moving, crawling forward. Above the star-light sky (for there was no longer any sun to light it) suddenly caught fire. Traces of burning embers scorched their way across the stars. Kelith jittered and shuddered. He nearly collapsed. Kel'Thuzad clapped his hands and shouted with a disciplinary tone "Kelith Vedan! The time has come to earn the Seal of the Kirin Tor, or to fail to do so! Are you prepared?"
Between bursts of shivering, Kelith chattered "Y-yes, Archmagus," between his teeth. Kel'Thuzad nodded.
"Show us, Kelith Vedan, the spell you have prepared for this occasion."
Kel'Thuzad smiled to himself. "Very well, Kelith Vedan. We all know it will be something thrilling. You may save that for the last part of your exam." The Archmage had not mistaken the tone which Kelith asked the question. He knew Kelith had not created a spell for the Exam, but he chose to willfully misconstrue the statement - as though the boy wanted to wait until the very end to show off his mighty achievement.
"First Kelith Vedan, before you, you will see a large block of magically cooled ice - destroy it, if you please. Nothing short of a full pyrotechnical display will do."
And indeed, there was a block of ice in the courtyard, which had escaped Kelith's notice due to the horrific other things he saw. He closed his eyes, tried to focus, thought of the process he would have to now undergo. Opening them, he began with a Tenser's Manifold - the basic underlying structure of nearly all spells. Drawing elemental power to himself with arcane hand gestures and muttered words in the Lingua Arcana, he prepared to unleash the spell. Somewhere between the syllables "Akat" and "Binod" he lost control. THEY were shouting again, and at full blast. THEY were howling in his brain, playing games in his skull, and shrieking like the wind of a dying star. Kelith's hand trembled. Kelith's fingers shook. Kelith's mouth faltered. And then, THEY did something They had never done before. He felt power welling up within him. The rudimentary formation of the Manifold grew a hundred times in size and power. They pulled into him energies which he could never have held on his own.
The human body is not made to withstand the massive rigors of Nether energy. The Lingua Arcana is an ancient form of tapping into this Nether power. Since man cannot hold in his flesh the great world-destroying spells of the Nether, he is confined to smaller and more mundane operations. However, tapping this force immediately begins to warp the physical frame. At first, this manifests in an addiction - a NEED for magic. As the amount of Nether energy present in the body grows, actual metamorphoses take place. The loss of limbs, the growth of new ones, the twisting of features. For all of this, there is a limit to the amount of Nether power that a human being can draw on. That limit, when surpassed, dissolves the flesh - merges the finite with the infinite - the ultimate expression of power. However, no mage is willing to give up the flesh for the surge of ultimate strength.
Kelith was dangerously near that level. They were flooding him with energy, Elemental Fire, bound by the Arcane and Fel influences. His body was a furnace, an inferno, an engine of unbelievable heat and strength. Kel'Thuzad's eyes grew wide. Leon Illyich took shelter behind a column, and Silas Finke disappeared altogether. Kelith, standing on the grass which was scorching beneath his feet, looked like a rising star. He began to ascend, a few inches at first, and then a foot. His body was engulfed in burning light. Without warning, ear-wrenching, heart-sickening syllables burst from his mouth. He was speaking Vile.
There was a flare, and then all was darkness. For a moment, everyone who had seen it was blinded. Only Leon, hiding in walkway around the courtyard, saw the blast of light spreading from Kelith Vedan to the ground, and then to the sky. When the vision of those who were blinded returned, something even worse was happening. Kelith Vedan's magic had been unleashed. The block of ice had melted away, but great bursts, titanic rays, of fire were casting all about him. All at once, they began to strike the sides of the school. Chunks of masonry exploded where they touched. Rock rained down from the heavens, molten. The ground began to tremble.
Kel'Thuzad started shouting, trying to bring Kelith back to ground, trying to end this nightmarish spell which had set the sky ablaze. Wave after wave of ice melted off of his person as the rays grew hotter, brighter, stronger. With a blast and a shudder, the great bell tower of the University was reduced to rubble. Another rolling shock, and the dome of the Library was breached, burying knowledge and students alike in its fall. The very clouds burned away, and the air was like the inside of a standing tower of flames. It was dry, it was hard to breath, and most of all it was hot. At last, Kel'Thuzad completed his spell, encasing the young Vedan in ice. Silas re-emerged from wherever it was he had hidden, and assisted the Archmage in lowering Kelith to the ground with a levitation spell. The icy shell soon cracked, leaving Kelith standing, wet and swaying on his feet, on a patch of glass which had been created by his liftoff.
Kel'Thuzad placed a hand on Kelith's wet shoulder. "You have a lot to work off boy. Luckily for you, your new job pays well." And with that, he hefted the great Seal from off of his neck and placed it around Kelith’s. "A younger and more talented Professor there has never been."