HERE BEGINS BOOK TWO: THE SUMMER OF GLORIES
The Ascendants Arrive
Only three others dared to follow in the footsteps of Kelith and Lucius. Many of the Ascendants had feared the retribution of the School. Others had simply been afraid of what they might find buried deep in the notes of the Archmage. The three that followed were those named Phoebus Adorin, a tall blond-haired young man with icy blue eyes and an affinity for fire spells, Adon Gervaldiew, a hot-tempered young noble from Alterac, and Finnius Steampipe, a gnome of no little talent in the Arts.
At first, the plan was to spend the summer with Lucius' father, in his home in Stratholme. Master Torbin would have none of this; the family owned a little-used manor house in the countryside, and Torbin demanded that Lucius use it to put up his friends. New servants were hired, and Torbin even designed to vacation there for several months with his wife and daughter, Lucius' sister, Narcissa.
The manor house was one of those old Lordaeron houses that stands four stories high, and has several large wings to put up guests. Its upkeep had been in the hands of a skeleton crew of servants for many years, as Torbin had not needed it. In the old days of Stratholme, it had been the location of a small town and a fortress, but the keep had crumbled upon the hill, and the town had emptied of people after the Rebellion of 533. The exterior of the manor was off-white, as was the style. It had three turreted towers, each of which was capped with its own garret - each of which would become throughout the summer the location of multifarious experiments.
The place was done up in imperial reds, the interior being a clash of many different styles. The rooms had been renovated over the years, until at last gaslight lit most of them, and they bore the hallmark of the most recent trends. Gold-leafing on the ceilings, beautiful gas-lit chandeliers... The manor was truly stunning. Kelith immediately claimed the master bedroom as his; it was a great affair, oceans of red velvet, black and gold trimming, and a canopy bed replete with gargoyles carved upon it to drive away nighttime spirits. Lucius took another room, just down the hallway. His was one lined with bookshelves, and with a blue cast to the decoration. Phoebus and Adon shared a room between them on the third floor. They were laughingly called the Fire-twins, as their studies into the power of fire magic had been intense, and they had delved into the dangerous subject together. Finnius took a room on the ground floor, directly adjacent to one of the unused parlors that became his workshop for the duration of the stay.
This was the last happy summer that Kelith would experience - and the last that Lucius would ever see. On the day of their arrival, Kelith burst into the house, rushing from room to room, exclaiming "What marvels, these! This entire place, ours! Our study, our library, our... our... home!" He chuckled and laughed and went to claim his bedroom, his bags on his shoulders.
The twins immediately went about finding a place to sleep and setting up their things. Lucius, who was more used to the house merely spent the remainder of the day conversing with Finnius. They talked late into the night until Kelith came traipsing down from upstairs. He found a serving girl and shouted "Dinner! We must have dinner! Bread, cheese, wine, and... oh, blast it, some main course or other!" His mood was light, his desire to delve into the forbidden texts fueling him.
He ran into the room were Lucius and Finnius conversed and, discovering them in conversation, waited, bubbling with energy. When Lucius finally turned to him and raised his eyebrows, Kelith exploded with joy. "Why, Lucius, my friend, do you know what you have in this house? Do you know what I've found?"
"No bodies, I hope. It would shake my view of my father and put it on rather unstable ground if there were any."
Kelith laughed and shook his head. "No, dear Lucius." Then he extended his hands, which had hidden trembling behind his back. Thrusting them out, he presented two sheathed sabers. "I found them in the bedroom!" he said, tossing one to his friend. Lucius sprang up catching the blade and the mood in the same gesture, then smiled wickedly.
"Have at you, my foe!" he crowed. Kelith, delighted, unsheathed his blade. Finnius ducked behind the couch as a battle ranged across the room, from table-top to hearth, the clattering of steel and bang of blade-on-wood as nicks appeared across all of the rooms furniture and the mantle-piece. As it seemed the tide of the fight had turned, and Lucius had begun to drive Kelith back across to the other side of the room, a loud BANG followed by plaster raining down from the ceiling, caused them to cease. Immediately following on the heels of that deafening sound, the head chef called out from the first floor dining room: "Dinner's been served, masters! Come 'ave somethin' to eat before it cools, sirs."
At dinner they discovered the source of the noise - the Twins shamefully sat at the tale, covered in soot. Some spell or other had misfired, covering them in a thick layer of the stuff. Kelith, not yet satisfied as to his own amusement, began to play parlor tricks on those around him. He chilled Finnius’ turkey with a wave of his hand while Finnius was busy picking up a dropped knife, and shot a ray of ice at Lucius' goblet, freezing the wine within just as it clinked against his teeth.
The next day was spent in revelry. The notes were ignored, and Lucius suggested that they take a carriage out to Stratholme, which was a mere two hours ride from the manor. Agreeing, the five Ascendants put on their finest outfits. Kelith chose one from Torbin's personal closet, dressing in the mighty silks of a High Mage.
The countryside jounced by pleasantly as the heady scent of summer filtered in the windows of the coach. Patches of honeysuckle and peacebloom dotted the countryside, and it was not until the coach crossed over the mossy stone bridge that marked the border of Stratholme proper that the trees began to close in, and the high peaks of Lordaeron make themselves felt. The air chilled perceptibly as they approached.
They spent the day in the city, amusing themselves by walking along the wide-paved streets, by watching performances of the most famous of comedies being performed on the commons, of visiting Stratholme Castle, the seat of the Crown. That month, dignitaries from the Alliance had been stationed in the city to speak with the King and determine the course of the Alliance. The day was so filled with joy, and more than a bit of wine, that the entire week was wasted away in journeys to the capitol.
By the beginning of the second week, Kelith began to grow more serious about the work they had all come to the country to do. For two days they simply read the notes out loud, commenting to one another on the contents. Great chalkboards were purchased to furnish Finnius' workshop, and upon these they began the study of the both the house’s mystical geometry and the spells contained in the book themselves.
The days began to grow more laborious as they surveyed the house for the best place to begin their experiments. At last they decided at the top of one of the garrets - the room did not have the best geometry for the gateway spells, but it was high up, which made it easier to defend if something awful should happen. Four days where spent drawing the chalk-marks on the floor and walls as they were supposed to be. Two more were spent in revelry in the city, supposedly procuring candles for the ritual, but truly wasted away in laughter. The Twins enjoyed the theater, and Kelith rarely refused to go with them. Finnius and Lucius, on the other hand, preferred to lounge about the various pubs and fest-halls of the City.
On the seventh day, in the middle of the third week of the summer, they were ready to complete their first summoning. The room had been properly prepared, the incense had been placed in its pots, and the candles were in place on the circle etched on the floor. They waited until nightfall, partially because of misguided notions of atmosphere, but mostly because the tower rooms were hot and stuffy during the day. As the countryside cooled off with the setting sun, they each donned a flat grey robe. They did not wish to risk their good clothing if something were to go terribly wrong.
The Twins laughed nervously to each other as they climbed the staircase. Lucius, beside Kelith, seemed aglow with anticipation. Kelith himself kept glancing back at the Twins and Finnius. A knot of fear was beginning to grow in his stomach. This was not something easy to do, this was not some mere trifle. He felt a deep black fear welling up inside of him and sloshing around. He was afraid that if he spoke of it, it may consume him, so he simply nodded at Lucius' comments.
They gained the tower room. They bolted the door behind. They went around and carefully lit the incense and the candles. As the smoke rose, curling, off of the large brazen pots the incense rested in, as the wax dripped down the candles, they began.
The words came easily. They had studied their parts to the “T” before this. They were in a demoniac language that had long since been forgotten on the face of Azeroth. It had been preserved in these perverse rituals, written down by Medivh, copied down by Khadgar, but it existed nowhere else.
As the chanting grew louder, as the cadence grew faster, the chalk-marks began to glow. They began as a deep dark red, like iron in a fireplace. The color grew in heat as they ascended the spectrum until they blazed a fiery orange. The chanting stopped - the candles hissed, the incense burned.
"Forth, Nathrezim!" they shouted as one.
The room went dark. Every candle was blown out. Then, in the darkness, two pinpricks, two slits, of bright green light appeared. "What do you wish of me, Masters?"
The Tempest Builds
The uproar amongst the Ascendants for their triumph was egregious. They celebrated for four days straight, turning the ground floor of the manor into a drunken wasteland. Finnius periodically let off fireworks in the backyard, enhanced with explosive magics and various whistling doo-hickies and thing-a-mabobs. The joy to be found beneath that roof was unheard of in Dalaran. Even the most expensive and decadent nobility would not spend so much simply on expensive wines. Nearly three whole wine cellars in Dalaran emptied their contents to keep the group inebriated and happy.
When the period of celebration ended, the Twins slunk off to their room to sleep off the effects. Kelith, Lucius, and Finnius went up into the garret of the tower and mused over what they had done. Horrifying green stains marked the floor where the Nathrezim had dripped its poisonous venom. They examined the chalk marks that had burned themselves into the walls and ceiling during the ceremony. Lucius kicked one of the large bronze canisters that the incense had burned in.
"Kelith, what now? We spoke with a demon! What is next on our list?"
Kelith leaned back, banging his head against the wall, then clutching it. The hangover had hit him sometime two hours ago, and his body was crying out for water in every way possible, but mostly in massive headaches. "Next?" he muttered. "Next we must learn from them. We hardly even asked it anything before the Twins got afraid and we had to banish it; that's not the way to go about things at all. We need to delve into the secrets of the magical arts, and who better to ask than Nathrezim, Eredar, you know?" Kelith clicked his tongue.
Finnius smiled under his mustache and clapped his hands on the backs of Kelith and Lucius, which made Kelith grimace. "My friends, I think we have seen and done a thing which no other men have done since Medivh. Only the barbarous Orcs have called forth demons in this manner since then, and they in uncontrolled and improper circumstances. Who knows what we might find, eh? Turn the lights high and lets get to work. This can be the Nathrezim Tower; it already has all the requirements for that kind of summoning. If we want to call something different, we can take a new tower there. I think we should perfect our work here, first, and perhaps...
"Perhaps we should finish our questions to the Nathrezim, and when we are done, we will move on to the Eredar. After that... I do not know what is left to call upon. Are those not the only two things in the Nether with the intelligence to answer us back?"
Kelith shook his head, a wry smile on his face. "Ah, but you forget, Finnius. Someone must have been author of the ancient language the chants were written in, and it was not Trollish. It does not resemble Eredun, or Nathrezor. There must be a third race - perhaps behind them? Perhaps above them? A common ancestor, mayhap, or even something completely alien to them."
Lucius cleared his throat and, biting a piece of bread, he said, "All this may be, but we have no rituals, we have no circles, we know nothing about how to call your mythical Third Race."
Kelith laughed. "Don't be limited, Lucius. We have now tutors of unimaginable age and wisdom. We don't need scrawls out of tomes and half-copied texts. We can get answers straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were."
Lucius and Kelith exchanged glances, then broke out into similar grins. Finnius, between them and about a foot below them, looked up into their beaming faces and smiled. "This will be a marvelous experiment," he said.
The following day, when the pain had worn off from the overzealous celebration, Lucius suggested going out into the city and making a day of it - though a less inebriated one than the several spent in the manor house. They packed into the carriage and headed off. Lucius and Kelith brought the sabers they had discovered at the manor, intent on staging an intricate sword battle across the Stratholme Commons. However, before they ever reached Stratholme, Kelith demanded that the cart stop.
Peering out through one of the windows and the hoary mossy wood that the carriage had to drive through, he said, "Forgot the city for now, lads! Bring out the food, bring out the wine! Let us spend the day in the forest!" When Phoebus put the question why to him, he turned back at the Twins and tsked them. "My boys, you can go see a play any time of the week. How often do we picnic in the wood? This dark forest..." Kelith turned back and spread his hands, indicating an inclusiveness of all the wood. "This dark forest is akin to our wandering through the halls of knowledge. Besides the metaphoric, it is also cooler beneath the trees," Kelith smiled and winked.
The Twins finally consented, and Finnius removed the picnicking supplies (which had been intended for Stratholme Commons), and they set out into the woods. They finally settled down in a small glade. At one end of the little clearing there stood a huge rock formation, limned with lime and encrusted with salt. Bordering the edge, just to the right of that, was a sharp drop-off. A muddy cliff-face that descended about fifteen feet to follow a small stream below. The other two sides of the clearing were lined with the tall oaks of Stratholme, resplendent in their ancient-ness, and covered with moss.
The grass was springy and soft, and the underbrush was thin. Light hardly had a chance to get to the clearing, for the great boughs of the oaks overarched the place, putting it squarely into deep emerald shade. Lucius had told the carriage driver to return at dusk - leaving them the whole day to do what they wished in the wood.
Finnius spread the oversized blanket, and placed the several large baskets, the kind woven by Azerothian weavers for a few silver in the marketplace, brimming with fruit and other foodstuffs onto it. Immediately, Kelith went to try to climb the large cool rocks that threw their mighty fingers up above the treetops and into the sun. Scrabbling and scrambling, Lucius and Finnius engaged in idle talk while he made his way up, and the Twins began to examine the smaller stones that lay about the clearing.
By the time Kelith was half way up, the Twins had developed a new game to play. One at a time they would hoist up a rock in their hands and try to ignite it with the powerful fire magic they had studied. Burning rocks was not an easy task. They set to it with determination, immolating each one and tossing the subsequent fireball over the cliff and into the water, where they fizzled out.
For about half an hour this continued, until at last Kelith thrust himself into the light. He stood atop the rock, triumphant. Laughing he sent an arc of glittering blue light into the air with a burst of magical words. At nearly the same time, Finnius called up jokingly "Gzir ngat urass!" The words were in the Vile Tongue that had been written in the books of Medivh. Kelith stopped, surprised, and stared down.
"What... what did you say?"
Finnius jutted out his tongue. "I don't know! And that's the joke!"
Kelith cocked his head and looked to the sky. The bright sun was not immediately obscured by cloud, as he had half suspected. But there was a low breeze that had begun rumbling through the trees. Their branches shuddered in the wind. The cool air huffed across the clearing, disturbing blades of grass and sending napkins spiraling up into air, snatched from the picnic setting. The Twins stopped and looked at Kelith as well, distracted from their fireballs.
Kelith's brow furrowed. "We had best get to eating," he announced. Descending the rocks, he leapt at last to the ground and the luncheon began. They ate in silence for a while, but the Twins were irrepressible. They could not keep their chattering quiet, and thus was the awkward silence broken.
The day continued in joyful ribaldry, resulting at last in Kelith's delight as he discovered some of the spells of Dalaran could be used for fun as well as destruction. He began a furious swordfight with Lucius, their blades flashing like liquid mercury, booming together like lightning. Lucius kept driving him to the edge of the lee, and he was forced to push his way back with sheer brute force.
At last, Lucius cornered him, Finnius watching, laughing, clapping. The Twins had vanished into the woods to experiment with more methods of starting fires, and Lucius’ blade hovered in the air like some glistening and deadly insect. Kelith was drenched in sweat, his fine wine-red tunic soaked. Lucius smiled just before he lunged forward. The options for Kelith had become very limited. He must either leap down the lee, endangering his life, or submit to Lucius and concede the match.
He did no such thing, after all. Rather, he leapt backwards, weaving a quick spell to catch him and grinned like a fool as he sank slowly behind the lee, leaving Lucius behind. Lucius, laughing and cursing at the same time, hurried to find a way down to the water. Kelith floated gently down towards the surface of the river. Lucius arrived a few moments before Kelith touched down on the dry riverbank. He was prepared, ah, but so was Kelith. He quickly leaned out and his blade flashed, disarming Lucius as his feet touched the ground.
As Kelith extracted a submissive bow from Lucius, something moist slapped him in the face. It was a wet, heavy, rain drop. The sky had become a mass of clouds as they fought, insensible to it. In the distance, a rumble of thunder sounded. Rain began to come down en masse. Marching armies of water fell in time, parading down in their finery from the darkening sky. As Lucius and Kelith ascended, made glum by the weather, the Twins appeared from the trees, drenched. Finnius had scrambled to put together the picnic set before the remaining food was wasted.
Yelling and whooping, they all attempted to construct a crude tent from the blanket. After what must have been at least an hour, but what felt like half that time or less, a footman wearing a button down shirt and a black uniform appeared in the clearing, disturbing what had become a fort of magically draped afghan.
"Master Lucius," the footman said, bowing low. "Your father is on the road some ways distant and requests your presence. He was eager to come up early and stay with yourself and your houseguests. Upon discovering that you were out here in the woods, he traveled at once to fetch you. He would not like you to be caught out in the rain for too long, and perhaps take cold."
Lucius was suddenly white as a sheet. The four or five days of solid drinking and merry making were coming back to him. What would his father think when he saw the mess they had left behind?
The footman had turned to go, then paused, thinking. He turned back to say one more thing. "Ah, and if I may be so bold, the Master’s sister Narcissa has come as well."
Echo Suffered the Same
Upon reaching the carriage, what remained of the Ascendants had already been drenched three times over. Opening the carriage door, the footman revealed a comfortable, cozy interior. It was already inhabited by a short man with a round face, bare of facial hair. He wore robes of several layers, in aquas and blues. His blond hair was brushed back and clasped with a golden loop at the back of his head. Across his lap sat a short staff, resplendent in emerald and jade. Its head was formed of a large silver claw, grasping up at the empty air. Sitting next to Master Torbin, for this was indeed that man, was Narcissa. Light blond hair fell down past her shoulder blades, and a dark red and black dress graced her young form. Her face bore some resemblance to Lucius', but must have looked far more like her mother’s, for there was something about it that Lucius did not have in his - her eyes had a hint of wildness in them.
Stepping into the carriage, Lucius kept his head bowed, and his eyes away from his father. The Twins murmured to each other, hardly ever glancing at anything other than their conversation that was taking place between their elbows. Finnius leapt in, unconcerned, and worked furiously at wiping the profuse amounts of water from his glasses. Kelith, however, was transfixed - spitted - speared by the vision of a girl that was in the carriage, sitting across from him.
On the way back to the manor house he could not stop staring at her. She noticed, as women in her position usually do, but feigned ignorance. She kept her eyes diverted, looking out towards the rain, for a good deal of the ride. Every so often, though, she couldn't resist turning towards him, just to see him frantically appear to be looking at something else with a frenetic fury that was hardly to be matched.
At last the carriage came to a halt before the gates of the manor. The Ascendants waited until both Torbin and Narcissa had stepped from the stage before exiting. Lucius felt a terrible sinking feeling in his gut - they had left the house a mess. An overturned couch, plates left out to become encrusted with food... Lucius gulped heavily as Torbin swung open the door.
Luckily, the servants had busied themselves with cleaning when they heard the Master was on his way to the house. Torbin walked in, smiling and surveying the rooms. "Yes, yes, I remember this old place, and it will do nicely for the summer!" he proclaimed.
He was not lying. For the next five or six days, the entertainment of the day was not the study of black and forbidden arts, but rather the exploration of the finer things available to nobles of Stratholme. Croquet, polo, and more. Some days simply lounging in the sun on the back porch beneath an umbrella was enough. Of course, a journey to Stratholme City was planned; and of course all this while Kelith burned with lust and barely concealed desire for Narcissa. She had begun to think of it as a kind of game, though she really did admire the older boy’s cunning wit and proclivity to dive into subjects with reckless abandon.
The activity planned for that trip into Stratholme City was none less than a full day of revelry. Though Lucius and Kelith were secretly growing anxious to return to their studies - perhaps in some other locked tower, as Lucius had mystically bolted the one in which they performed their first experiment in order to keep the servants away from it. The plans for one last day of joy before finding themselves buried again in the forbidden tome of Khadgar were acceptable to them. Lucius, the whole night through, felt a terrible tug of foreboding, and of warning. What it was I do not know, though perhaps even now the Nether forces had begun to work their way into his body, forming a wretched pit of addiction within him. The troop of the Ascendants was accompanied by Narcissa, though her father had some business to take care of in the Lordaeron capital and so would not be joining them for the reveling.
First they watched street performers, and ate cheese and drank wine on the Stratholme Commons. Repeatedly, Kelith made up his mind to approach Narcissa this night and make some essay against her, and repeatedly he grew uneasy and wary of this decision, and drew back. At last they picked up and went to dinner, and Kelith kept his attention (and his concentration) trained on Narcissa for the entire evening. Only the dullest of minds would have failed to see his attraction to her by this point, for he was verily shouting it over the rooftops with his looks and his speech; it would have been given away even if his face did not burn whenever he spoke to her.
With dinner finished, they went to see a concert, and upon leaving that, strolled down the wide cobble lanes of Stratholme City, waiting for the carriage of Torbin to arrive and pick them up. It was there, in the dark of night, that the hooded man approached.
He was wearing a long cloak of tattered blues and greens. He was clothed in the ruined sort of shirts and pants that only the Hill People in the dark and dangerous Alterac Mountains wore - those terrible lonely valleys were the degenerate tribes of men practiced incestuous marriages and prayed on desolate hilltops to the terrible spaces beyond the stars. He walked with a purpose towards Kelith and Lucius, his cloak flapping in the breeze behind him. He stopped not fifteen feet from them, and a heavy sword was evident at his side.
"Give up the book, children, and ye will live to walk under the sun again," the hooded man said. His voice was calm and smooth, but one could almost detect the hint of a disturbance, like a deep ocean current running with hate beneath.
Narcissa, of course, was taken aback, for she had no idea what the man wanted. She frowned and answered, before the Ascendants could react. "Go away, beggar. How dare you torment nobles thus?"
The man merely laughed, and his laugh was like a burbling swamp. "Torment will be on your highest list of concerns, girlie, 'less ye let yer betters talk fur ye," he said, turning to Lucius and Kelith. "Well? The book!"
Kelith hesitated for a moment, and it was a moment too long for the hooded man. "Vury well!" he announced, drawing his heavy iron blade. Lucius reacted quicker, and soon his own saber was drawn. Kelith glanced at him, and Lucius, conceding to his better in swordsmanship, tossed Kelith the curved blade. Kelith then turned to the hooded man.
"Do not dare threaten us, father. We have power at our fingertips that you do not -"
"Time fer talkin' is over, ye dandy!" announced the hooded man, and he lunged at Kelith with his blade. His form was strange, and Kelith was unprepared. He managed to deflect the blade from his body with only a split second to spare. However, now that the fight was on, Kelith immediately pressed into the attack, his blade flickering here, there. The hooded man was at a loss for several long and nearly deadly seconds, as his sword was much heavier and slower. As Kelith prepared for a riposte to the man's sword-arm however, something terrible happened.
"VIDRACOMUS!" the hooded man shouted, and Kelith's riposte never hit, for he was flung backwards by a burst of fire that quickly spread to his clothing. Lucius kneeled to help put it out, and the Twins rounded on the hooded man as one. They began to shout out spells of fire, launching attack after merciless attack. However, the man must have been a master magician, as he quickly raised his left hand and diverted each of the flaming orbs with a few words. Finnius drew a small and wicked looking dagger, waiting for an opening in the hooded man’s defenses.
He did not need to wait for long, because soon Kelith was on his feet again. However, Finnius could not get close, because Kelith formed a near wall of steel, his face contorted in concentration. As the blade whirled, he began to mutter dark words. Shimmering droplets of condensation froze to ice as the words moved from his lips, dropping onto the cobbles. At last, he backed off from the flurry of attacks, and his words were done. A sudden jolt, and the hooded man's hand was encased in ice, up to the hilt of his blade. His arm dropped, his sword useless. He took a few steps back. "Yer've made a mustake ye won't be a-living to regret, boyo," he muttered.
Kelith, already worked up into a fury announced, "YOU will not be living, you mean!" and flung himself at the attacker one last time. The force and unexpectedness of his dash bowled the man over, landing flat on his back with Kelith perched atop him, his blade driving a straight line for the man's throat. The hood had been thrown back, revealing an angular face and long braided red hair. The man also had two dead blue orbs for eyes - sightless, and haunting. Kelith only paused for a moment when he saw them, but in that moment the city guard arrived.
The sound of cocking rifles, the new Dwarvish inventions, caused Kelith to back off and stand, his blade lowered from the attacker’s throat. But, the attacker just cackled, and with a bright green flash, was gone.
The Towers of Thought
He had almost killed that stranger. Indeed, the stranger had almost killed HIM, but... How he had behaved. It was vile. He continued to remonstrate himself over the next few days, even as two, and then three Nathrezim made the long journey through the Nether to answer the call of the Ascendants.
Soon they outfitted a second tower, their chalk-marks dictating the proper circle to hold an Eredar warlock. And, with many long nights of chanting and burning of incense, many warlocks answered the call. The compendium of notes grew. Now they were more than Medivh's cast aside scrawlings. Kelith added to them daily, and soon he was writing them in The Vile Tongue, that long forgotten language. Torbin gave him a heavily bound black book when he asked for a "journal" to keep his "thoughts" in. To Torbin it seemed odd, but not so odd as to not grant the request.
As the black book began to fill with darkly colored ink and sketches of circles and runes, Kelith began to grow more and more discontent. His early budding desire for Narcissa had found nowhere to go, as she turned him away with a cold heart. He secretly smoldered, eyes ablaze at night, when the rituals were over. Perhaps it was that smoldering that was at fault for the Voices - or perhaps simply too much time in the practice of unwholesome things.
Whatever it was, they had gleaned enough information about the Third Race, the Vile Race as Kelith called it, to attempt a summoning in the third tower of the manor house. For three weeks preparations were made, expensive reagents were purchased, and circles drawn. Then at last, the work was finished. The night chosen to perform this dire task was a dark one, and great blasts of air from the Mountains rocked the manor to its foundation.
With his black book of notes raised before his eyes, Kelith intoned the chants, and the others followed suit. Here, I must give you a brief aside. My Master could never sufficiently explain to me what he saw that night. He would turn pale upon the mention of it, and look away. He has been very vague. Darkness, he told me, and shadows leaping to life. Guttering candles and towering pillars of violent fire. Vast blasphemous expanses of empty waste, and simultaneously hideously writhing things of unmentionable description.
They emerged from the tower shaken. They had not even bothered to invoke the abjuration to banish the demons, for whatever had happened had run its course and left of its own accord. The hallways seemed longer, as though a great set of hands had pulled and stretched them. The sky seemed empty, hollow, as though things could easily peer in through it from whatever Beyond in which they lurked.
The fire in Kelith's eyes died out. The desire in Lucius' vanished. Finnius fell dead asleep nearly immediately. The Twins could not even speak. What had happened to them in the tower was so nameless - so horrifying - that no creature could emerge from it unchanged.
The mind had been laid bare and exposed to the Cosmos - the third race was not a race after all. What they had seen - it could not be explained in terms of races of demons, or any magical phenomena. It was beyond life and beyond measure. It was the work of vast intelligences too alien for mankind to ever understand - it was what Kelith would come to call, the DARK ONES.
As if that was not enough - as if they had not too late realized their dabbling in the mysteries of the Nether - that was not all. For when Kelith awoke, there was SOMEONE in his room with him. He could not properly see the intruder, but he heard his voice. It was a low whisper, from just to his right. He shot up in bed, and, teeth gritted, turned quickly to the right. Only the curtains blowing in the breeze greeted him. A ray of sunlight warmed the foot of the bed. The voice hissed on, behind him now. He leapt from the sheets, hands poised to fling a spell. He spun wildly, trying to track the culprit about the room as the voice quickly shifted to behind the dresser, and then just before the door. He saw no one.
With growing apprehension, he took a few hesitant steps forward. Another voice joined in, this one now behind him, while the first moved to directly before his eyes.
There was nothing before him to make the whispering voice which he heard.
His flesh turned cold as a third whisper joined in, all of them muttering things just below the cusp of hearing; too soft to make out, too loud to ignore. He began to shiver violently. It must be a dream - he had not yet awoken. He turned back to his bed to see if perhaps he was still lying in it, unaware of his dreaming delusion. As he turned five more voices piped in, and now a veritable choir was singing to him.
He was not asleep.
He slowly walked to the window, to look outside, to see if the terror of last night had scarred the landscape, had transported him to his own personal hell. He stared out at the hills behind the manor house, and the forests, and in the distance the mountains. Something was wrong, but he could not pin it down. He could not place his finger on it.
Then his eyes shifted focus. The reflection. There was something wrong with the reflection in the window. As it came into sharp view, he saw a face that was not his own, with hollow eye sockets and teeth sharpened to a razor-point. It had been turned toward him this whole while, staring out from the pane of glass with its sightless gaze.
He shrieked as loudly as he could and collapsed sobbing onto his bed.
Kelith was immediately attended to by all of the Ascendants. They had each experienced unsettling dreams, and Lucius glanced about distractedly as he entered the room. They found him sobbing, eyes shifting from corner to corner of the room like a maniac. When Finnius approached him, he clutched a pillow tightly to his chest and locked his teeth, hissing out "Get away, you fiend!"
Finnius darted back quickly, just out of the way of a searing blast of fire erupting from Kelith’s crooked hand. Long strands of drool hung glistening from his face, caught in the beard that graced his chin. His breathing was heavy and erratic, as though someone was stepping on his chest from time to time to force the air out of him.
Finnius turned helplessly to Lucius, who was now staring at a fixed point on the ceiling. Finnius mumbled something that Lucius did not hear at first. Then he repeated himself, growing louder. "Lucius! Lucius, damn your eyes, what are we going to do?" he asked, a tone of begging in his voice. Lucius frowned, his face furrowing into a chasm of thought.
"Father. He will know what to... what to do," Lucius muttered. "Go and tell father that Kelith is ill. He will fetch a cleric."
Finnius rushed down the hallways, passing the now occupied guest-rooms, which had been filled in the past few weeks by Master Torbin's sister and niece. (Editors Note: My most excellent Master has been very vague on the identity of these two women, and whenever I ask of them, he hushes me to silence. I can only assume he does not wish to speak of them, or me to write of them). Finnius stopped at last in front of Narcissa, who was lounging in a smoking room on the first floor.
"M-madame Curview," he said, body a-tremble. "That shriek was... was Master Kelith. If you could... could tell your father to perhaps fetch... fetch a cleric or a... a healer?"
Narcissa turned, peering out from under her hair at him. She was concerned, somewhere, but she did not let it show. After all, it might be a ploy of that dastardly Kelith to get her to reveal something; something that she would not reveal to him no matter what games he played. Somewhere inside she grinned; these games were fun.
"I will send for a priest at once."
Finnius sketched a bow and hurried back to Kelith’s side, to find that he had incinerated the curtains in the room and taken to prying out the windowpanes with his fingers, slicing them open in the process. What his plans were for them, no one could tell, until at last he had removed them all and threw them one by one out the open window, along with the full-length mirror that rested in a corner of the room.
Kelith was eventually tied down as Lucius regained his composure, and a gag placed in his mouth. His hands were tied at the wrists. These precautions were necessary to prevent him from spellcasting, as he seemed dangerously inclined to do. The day passed while the terrified Ascendants watched over Kelith, the Twins taking turns walking about the gardens for relief.
Torbin arrived that night with a cleric in his cart. Torbin Curview, a man of no little importance, had managed to bring the very Archbishop Devlin of Stormwind out to the manor. The Bishop, wearing cream white robes and a Cardinal's red scarf, emerged from the carriage with grace. He was an older man, but he had seen much in his day - including war. A ragged scar ran down the back of his left hand, ending in a stump where his ring-finger should be. He was lucky enough to have never been married.
Stomping up to Kelith’s room with his heavy cherry wood cane, the Archbishop finally crested the stairway and entered Kelith’s room. After examining him for a long while and talking quietly to himself, he peered into Kelith’s eyes. They burned with fear and hate, raging in a maelstrom there. Fire flashed behind his pupils and lightning in his gaze.
"The boy is very ill. Demons have entered the humors of his mind. I will do what I can, but it is not much," the Cardinal of Stormwind said haltingly. "His balance has been upset by these devils. You must immediately burn some incense in this room, and make certain that the windows and doors are left open. When the demons are driven from his body, they must have somewhere to go. Also, fetch me a glass of water from the well outside, and a small bit of uncooked meat. We will see if we cannot set the balance of his Lux and Phlegmic humors properly again."
The Cardinal worked on him from dusk till dawn. At last he mopped his brow and sighed over the boy. "There is nothing I can do. The demons are too strong for me - his body is in turmoil, and it may tear itself apart if he is not watched."
"Does that mean..." Lucius inquired, "Does that mean it is hopeless? That he will NEVER be cured?"
The old Bishop shook his head. "Now, now, I didn't say that, but his vitae will have to come to level again on their own. I cannot do anything about it. Watch him day and night. If, by the fifth day, he has not recovered, he must be committed to the services of the Church, I'm afraid. There are certain ways to remove the demons and destroy them, but I am afraid they are... quite fatal to their unlucky host."
Master Torbin nodded grimly. Lucius and the other Ascendants bowed their heads. In some distant part of the manner, Narcissa was weeping.
A Dialogue with The Devil
-Hush now, boy. Hush.-
-Hush. They cannot hurt you. Stop struggling so.-
What do you mean, who -are- you?
-Who am I? I am here to help you, Vedan.-
I don't understand! There are so many! They talk all at once! BY THE LIGHT IT HURTS!
-I know it hurts, Vedan. But you must listen to me.-
You still haven't told me who you are - what you want.
-Who am I, Vedan? I am someone you know very well. You have always known me.-
I don't understand - and I don't think I want to.
-I am Father Elfeater, I am the Mage you saw take away your priest, I am, I am, I am Medivh, I am a something you cannot deny.-
What? You aren't making any sense!
-You need to calm down. Yes, they are loud, but you must be quiet. You must be quiet and listen to me, and do as I say.-
Then tell me who you are!
-I am the face you saw in the window, Kelith Vedan. I am the CHOSEN ONE. I am YOU.-
Two days passed. Kelith did not stir, but to breathe. His body was still. His heart had slowed and was barely perceptible as even beating. Lucius, Finnius, and the Twins spent their time whispering to each other in one corner of the room. They stayed vigil over him, watching for signs of danger - or recovery.
In the middle of the first night, the sheets about Kelith began to let off the odor of something burning, and then thick black smoke curled off of the places where they touched his body. Phoebus leapt up from his place, half asleep, and pulled them back. He grimaced, for as his hand came close to Kelith, a deep purple welt appeared across it. He had been scorched.
This affair continued until the second night when, of a sudden, the water in the basins all over the house froze solid. Waves of frigid air emanated from his slumbering form. He remained that way until morning.
Come the dawn, both hot and cold had ceased. His eyes fluttered open as the morning light passed through the now-empty window frames. "Wha...?" he moaned.
Lucius sprung from his chair. The Twins were startled into awakeness. Finnius had been awake for several hours, and was at the moment downstairs, picking through the pantry.
With a few quick strides, Lucius was across the room, at Kelith's side. Kelith looked up from his sickbed. "What's happening?"
"You were ill, Kelith," Lucius muttered, but his eyes played over the room, not Kelith's face. He was distracted, as if by something else. A slow sly grin spread across Kelith's visage. Phoebus was soon at the bedside too, his concern visible.
"Kelith... are you alright?"
Kelith merely grinned back at him. "Never been better."
In his study in Stormwind, Archbishop Devlin coughed once, and then again. A terrible feeling had overcome him. He clutched at his shoulder, grimacing. He started to call out, but he never finished the first syllable. His collapse overturned the ornate bronze globe on his desk, and sent a vial of thick black ink spilling to the floor.
In the manor house, Kelith coughed up something that looked very much the same. A spattering of what was almost tar emerged from his hacking throat, and slapped itself onto the hardwood floor. Phoebus softly touched his shoulder, but within moments, the fit had ended. "I told you, Phoebus. I am fine."
Torbin was informed, but he had little time to appraise Kelith's new state, as he was called away to attend the mysterious death of the Archbishop. Black magic was suspected, and runners from Stratholme had gone as fast as they could to get the top magicians in the kingdom. He had only held Kelith by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes for moments before he was called off, and, mounting his fastest horse, off he went.
In the parlor, Kelith demanded the doors be shut. "Lucius and I must talk - we must discuss our failures - and then we will talk with everyone," Kelith said, nodding to himself. The others exchanged glances, backing slowly out of the room, and leaving Kelith and Lucius alone.
The Twins went outside to wander the gardens, and Finnius returned to his workshop. When the room was empty, Kelith grinned widely at Lucius. "You can hear them, I assume?" he asked.
"Of course. I didn't realize you could as well... what do you think it is?" Lucius said, worry creeping into his well-composed features.
"I have a feeling it is our Third Race, my friend. But... why can the others not hear? And... what happened to me?" Kelith frowned, thinking this over for the first time.
"Kelith, I don't know. But I think this is getting dangerous," Lucius replied, his eyebrows lowered. "In fact, I -know- this is getting dangerous."
Kelith only half nodded. "It may be, but that means we are close to the prize. We came into this thing for knowledge - can we afford to back out now?"
Lucius said nothing. Nothing out loud at least. Inwardly, he mused -Can we afford not to?-
My Most Excellent Master again finds a gap in his narrative. He will not speak of what happened next, save to say that he and Master Lucius came at odds. Some incident occurred that pushed Master Lucius to consider the Voices both evil and unnecessary - and thus he commanded the Master to purge them. Why my Master tasks me with writing this account, but keeps so much hidden, is beyond me.
When my Master returns to the Tale, it is in the same parlor, but a different conversation between the two friends is raging.
"I can't believe you... I can't believe you would actually!" Lucius could not even form the thought out loud. Kelith snorted.
"Why not? We will learn something - see if it works. See if it can be spread."
"You are letting this make you into a -monster-, Kelith. We have to stop this. I will not fight with you on this again. If you don't stop your damned studies and your prying at once..." Lucius huffed and puffed. "My cousin, you bastard. A -child-."
Kelith sneered. "You are growing weak, Lucius. I never thought you would react to anything this way. If this were a year ago..."
"A year ago we didn't have to listen to whispers in our heads, you fool! We have to cure this, not feed it!" Lucius’ anger was taking him in circles now, as his feet wandered. Suddenly, he looked to Kelith, pleading. "We -must- tell someone. A priest. It -must- be cured. Kelith, they will drive us mad."
Kelith bowed his head. Perhaps Lucius was correct - perhaps he was right. The child needn't have... it was an act of cruelty and malice. There had been other ways, but he had taken the worst of them.
The whispers built around Kelith's head, telling him things that Lucius could not hear.
"HE IS WEAK" they hummed. "HE FEARS YOUR STREEENGTH."
Kelith shook his head, trying to clear it.
"HE IS WEAK AND HE WILL DRAG YOU DOWN. HE WAS SMART AND STRONG ONCE, BUT FEAR HAS TURNED HIM INTO A CHIIIIIILD AGAIN, VEEEDAN. HIS WEEEAKNESS WILL BE A BURDEN TO YOU. DOOOO WHAT MUST BE DONE."
Kelith could hardly resist. They grew in intensity. His hand fell to his dagger. Lucius stepped closer, his arms open, to hug with Kelith, to make up for their fight, to come to an understanding.
"STAB HIM AND BE DONE WITH IT!" They howled. Kelith winced at the volume, and at the content. He had learned not to try to disobey the Voices, for it only resulted in the deeper parts of him... surfacing.
"STAB HIM NOW, NOW NOW NOW NOW!" They began to converge, their disparate languages and mutterings focusing on one word. "NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!" they screamed, tearing at his ears, at his mind.
Kelith accepted Lucius' embrace. With his face buried deep in Kelith's shoulder, Lucius could not see the hand, knotted with intense fear and repulsion, reaching for the dagger.
Folds of cloth clenched tight between one hand, the other, now white with the strain, clenched the hilt of the blade.
There was a very very soft "click" as the hilt slid free of the sheath.
Then Kelith's hand unclenched. A tear rolled down his cheek. The other hand raised again to clasp Lucius' back.
Lucius smiled and pulled away.
He could not do it.
He could not kill his friend.
A Demon Draught
"WEAKLING" they moaned, in unison, their hideous mouths, wherever and whatever they were, deforming the word into twisted syllables.
"I will find another way. A way where he does not have to die."
"THERE IS NO OTHER WAY, VEDAN; THERE CAN BE NO OTHER WAY."
Kelith was alone in his room. Then again, was he ever alone since the incident in the Tower? He shook his head. "Not face to face, at least. No, I cannot do it if I must see his face."
The door was locked. The night was in its full splendor beyond the empty window frames. The distant stars gazed down like a thousand thousand cold eyes, watching his weakness and his failure. If he hadn't overstepped himself, if he hadn't - the damn girl. It was her fault. She was too perfect a subject to test.
His mind roiled across the possibilities as he sat, his cheeks wet with salty tears, in a ray of moonlight. There was no poetry about the scene, though the brushed wood floors gleamed in the evening light, though the canopy bed, crimson and bright beneath the moon, though the kneeling figure on the ground all belied it. There was no poetry, for the moonlight was cold. It was dead, and unfeeling. It was the light from a ghastly bilious torch, burning out in sulfur fields, where thick fumes and horrifying plumes of vapor rise.
This was no silvery strand of moonbeams. This was a light the pallor of a freshly laid out corpse, this was the glow of the grave. Kelith sat full-well in its center, no more aware of the night without than he would have been had he been kneeling in a cavern of stygian darkness. His mind was racing. He had committed acts, terrible acts, by giving that girl what he gave her. He had committed worse by listening to the Voices he heard in the shadows every day.
And the dreams! Oh, the terrifying dreams of gaunt thin figures with elongated bodies so distorted that they flopped about in defiance of gravity! The skeletal hands that had too many fingers and crawled all about the walls, and the yawning darkness that was always filled with unseen watchers - with corpse-white beings thin as gas that gyrated obscenely in the wastes! Oh, the dreams were not enough? Now he must face the jittering madness in waking life as well. Sometimes, out of the corners of his eyes, he would catch half-dreamed figures skittering in the dark. Sometimes, just at the edge of his vision, he would espy movement, but when he whirled to confront it, it would be gone. The world was closing in on him, closing in by opening up - veils were parting before his eyes. Veils that had best remain closed to human vision.
Then, he hit upon it. "Of course," he nearly hissed to himself in a low tone. He already had a lab for it, of course, of course. The alembics were ready, the vials had already been put into place! Yet... yet, there were still obstacles. For one, he knew nothing about poisons beyond his first concoction. Murder was a precise thing. He would have to do some research.
Kelith became more inward in the following days. Often, he would slip away from conversations and meals without saying anything, vanishing into untold portions of the house. Lucius asked him what he did then only once. When he received a pained look and a reply that amounted to little more than "I thought you trusted me, my friend," he decided to back off. This was a strange time for all of them, and he would not help anything by pushing.
Of course, the location that Kelith kept vanishing to was one of the towers - one they had not used. He had prepared it specially to summon up sages of various kinds, and his days were filled with laborious study, extracting secrets from writhing demons that, when they refused, met with crackling responses of fire and electricity from Kelith's hands.
Three weeks passed, and it was done. A vial of red liquid, a philter, a distillation of potent formulae and various nether essences. A draught of kings, if kings relished suicide. He slid his notebook under the bed in his room, keeping the details of his work hidden. Every night, just before supper, he slipped into the kitchen while the food was being prepared by various under servants. Chatting with them, in the pretense of being friendly, every night, Lucius’ plate found itself with a dab of the red liquid.
A week after Kelith's masterstroke had begun, Lucius fell ill. He had begun to grow pale, thin, drawn. His face was haggard, and his eyes wet and sad. Kelith doted on him, fetching him things to drink and blankets, though the summer sun blazed outside. He was always cold. He always felt a chill.
After a week of this, his condition worsened. Clumps of hair began to fall out from his head, and he sometimes broke into tears. Clerics were summoned, but none could find anything wrong. Kelith would listen to their diagnosis and their befuddlement as they told Master Torbin and nod gravely. And then he would go back to poisoning Lucius to death.
Three weeks and Lucius had become a walking corpse. No hair, and his teeth were beginning to go. He was frail, and a single fall could kill him. Everyone knew he was fading fast - the mystery ailment had struck him down in his prime and would be the end of him.
One night, Lucius called Kelith into his room, his skeletal head doubled over before his chest. "My friend," he began.
"My friend, I have always loved you as a brother," he managed, wheezing through the pain. "And I do not know what has become of me. I am... I am in your debt for a great many things. I only hope you will remember me when I'm gone?" and there he raised the ridges of his eyes, devoid of eyebrows for days, and smiled weakly, as if begging. Kelith turned away, to hide the hot tears and shame that burned his face.
The next day Lucius was dead. The Voices rejoiced with clangorous noise. Within another week, the funeral was held... and then the Summer of Glories was over. It had begun with a triumph of one kind, and ended with a triumph of another. The final semester of Dalaran called, and after that, the Exam.
Kelith left the manor house feeling sick inside, as though he was the one who had drank the poison. Torbin had become a wandering depressed spirit, and Narcissa was as cold as ever. Kelith himself was struck with a different sort of fever - one that had started bleeding his horrifying dreams into the everyday. And his conscience. It rot and stank like a gangrenous sore.
Lucius was dead. By Kelith's hand.