Prologue to Chaos - Chapter 1
The Ninth of Winterfall, in the Year 1642 of the Taming
Gerard Killraven stepped through the door from the Wizard’s Tower and into the Great Hall. It was the height of the Yule season in the Kingdom of Carlissa, and the walls and arches of the royal palace were strung with magical lights and decked with garlands of mistletoe and holly. The cheery ambiance provided a stark contrast to his sense of dread at the summons that had brought him down from his research.
He saw his brother Aron closing the door to the conference room at the far end of the hall. Aron waved, and then strode purposefully to meet him. Right in character, Gerard reflected. Everything his brother did was laced with a sense of purpose, from the way he fought — the elder prince was renowned as one of Carlissa’s finest fencers — to the way he moved and spoke.
The expression he wore now, though, was grim. Whatever was happening, it was serious.
“I came down as soon as I got the message from Grandfather,” Gerard said. They met in the center of the hall and briefly clasped arms, a gesture of greeting and salute that had become habitual between the two princes.
He glanced over Aron’s shoulder at the conference room door. It was locked and guarded by a dozen men at arms.
“It doesn’t take a diviner to tell there’s a crisis brewing,” he added. “What’s going on?”
Aron put a hand on his shoulder and gently steered him toward the gate to the courtyard. “Not here,” he said.
Gerard grinned at the sound. The rich baritone of his brother’s voice had become one of the elder prince’s signature features. It never failed to instill him with reassurance.
“Let’s take a walk outside and I’ll fill you in. Father’s ordered the Great Hall to be cleared, so it’s best if we don’t stay here, anyway.”
Gerard nodded and fell into step beside him. He knew better than to ask questions. Despite the many differences between them — Aron was a warrior and a statesman, Gerard a wizard and scholar — they shared an uncanny intuition for each other’s thoughts and moods. He waited patiently until they were well outside, walking along the south parapet of the courtyard, and far from where prying ears could overhear.
“There’s been another incident with the Inquisition,” Aron said at last.
Gerard sighed. “I should have guessed. Who is it this time?”
“There have been three arrests so far. All of them are instructors in the Grand Academy’s Department of Society and Culture.”
“Hardin is getting out of control. How much longer is Father going to allow this to continue?”
“There’s more to it than that, Gerard. This one’s serious. So serious, in fact, that the high priest is supervising it personally.”
They came to a stop by a corner of the parapet. The face of Mount Cascade towered above the palace behind them, looming like a great wall over the Carlissan capital of Lannamon. The last rays of the westering sun touched the mountain's massive shoulder as they shone into the valley, bathing the city below in a soft, golden light.
Gerard turned to look carefully at his brother. “You studied in that department during your time at the academy,” he said. “Did you know the instructors who were taken?”
Aron nodded. “All of them. That’s why you saw me coming out of the conference room. I was in there for almost half an hour. Father and Grandfather were grilling me for everything I could tell them. What were they like, what did they teach, what ideas did they advocate, and so on.”
“That’s a lot of trouble to go through for a handful of academics. I take it there’s another shoe to the story? One that you haven’t let drop yet?”
Aron smiled. “A rock giant’s boot. All the instructors arrested were close colleagues of a highly placed academy fellow. The Church is bringing charges of blasphemy and heresy against the entire group.”
“So this fellow is someone important,” Gerard mused. “Someone Hardin needs to tread cautiously with. Probably someone you studied under …”
His eyes went wide as he made the connection.
“Oh, Light,” he breathed. “Not Lord Zomoran of Westreach?”
Aron nodded. “Zomoran’s a member of the High Council, so Hardin didn’t dare try to arrest him as well.”
He paused when Gerard looked at him quizzically. “The legal tradition allowing the Church to prosecute heresy cases doesn’t extend to members of the civil government,” he explained. “It would have been taken as an attack on the Crown.”
Gerard nodded. “Of course. Knowing the high priest, though, he’s not going to just leave it at that.”
Aron grimaced. “No, he’s not. Even as the warrior-priests arrested his alleged conspirators, Hardin was bringing his accusation directly to the academy regents. They met today, and he presented a detailed case against Zomoran for ‘crimes against the Covenant.’
“And they voted to expel him, Gerard. The entire board. The vote was unanimous.”
Gerard gasped. “Even Grandfather?”
Aron cocked his head back toward the now heavily guarded palace.
“Hence, the crisis atmosphere. The case must have been rock solid. Grandfather would never have gone along with it otherwise.”
“He wasn’t actually preaching heresy, though, was he?” Gerard asked. His voice was incredulous. “From a fellow’s chair, and protected by a seat on the High Council? With no one noticing until the high priest accused him?”
Aron shrugged. “Grandfather didn’t share the details. It wasn’t hard to work out the gist of the case, though, from his questions about Zomoran’s lectures and research. What’s frightening is that it actually sounds plausible. He and his group were known for some pretty radical ideas.”
“Radical ideas? Like what?”
“Well, Zomoran’s the academy’s leading demonology scholar. No one knows more about those cultures that still practice the demonic religions than he does. His Essays on Hellman Society were full of weird insights about how elements of their social structure could be adapted to our own. That’s just an example, but you get the idea. I had always dismissed them as impractical academic speculation. But some of the other students seemed quite taken by them.”
Gerard pursed his lips. “You think he may actually be a closet demon worshipper?”
Aron shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. Based on what I know of him, I can see it either way.”
Gerard raised an eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”
“Well, he’s not the most personable instructor I’ve ever had, if that counts for anything. He’s arrogant and self-important, in that extreme kind of way that only the truly brilliant and powerful can get away with. And Light help you if you dared try to disagree with him. His invective could be brutal. If you weren’t on his level — and almost no one ever was — he’d humiliate you without a second thought.”
Gerard laughed. “Yes, I know what you mean.”
Aron looked surprised. “That sounds like the voice of experience,” he ventured.
The young wizard nodded. “He’s not just a cultural scholar. He’s a full magus as well. I had him as an instructor for my studies in conjuration.”
Aron nodded in return. “So you know what I’m talking about, then.”
They lapsed into a long silence. The sun had disappeared below the shoulder of Mount Cascade, and shadows were growing from it like fingers reaching into the valley below. Fading orange fire still sparked from the towers and buildings of the Upper City on the ridges to the north and south.
“So Zomoran’s been expelled from the Grand Academy,” Gerard said finally. “Is that going to be the end of it?”
“With the high priest?” Aron grimaced. “Of course not. He sits on the council too, and he’s already called a meeting tomorrow to present his case there as well. He hasn’t shown all his cards yet, but Father’s convinced he intends to demand Zomoran’s removal.”
“That still won’t allow him to be arrested, though. Will it?”
“No, there’s more to it than that. Even without his seat on the council to protect him, he’s still the Lord of Westreach. But Hardin’s strategy seems pretty clear: isolate Zomoran from any sources of support, and build a growing and very public case for him to be taken by the Inquisition. If he’s expelled not only from the Grand Academy but from the High Council as well, then that gambit will likely succeed, at least eventually.”
“I can see why Father and Grandfather are locked away trying to figure out what to do,” he said. “If the evidence was strong enough for Grandfather to actually vote with the other regents, then it must be pretty damning. I don’t see how they’ll be able to let him keep his seat on the council.”
Aron nodded. “And if they expel him, it sets the stage for his eventual arrest — and probably, execution — for heresy. Such a high-profile prosecution will give the Inquisition greater influence with the people, and with the lesser nobility. That, at a time when the Crown has been working to try to institute more liberal reforms.
“Father’s cross, to put it mildly. He’s not sure if this is a subtle attempt to head off the reform movement, or a power grab by the Inquisition, or an earnest prosecution, and Zomoran really is as dangerous as Hardin says. Maybe it’s all of them at the same time. However you take it, though —”
A bright flash interrupted him. A shock ran through the stonework of the inner bailey, followed a few seconds later by a thunderous boom. Gerard looked down from the palisade in surprise.
The Cathedral grounds in the High City below were in chaos. Part of a building had erupted suddenly into the air, spraying chunks of stone in all directions. Bodies lay strewn around a gaping hole in one wall.
“It’s the Cathedral prison!” Gerard yelled over the sudden pandemonium. Cries and horns from the palace walls responded to the unexpected blast, sounding frantically to spread the alarm.
Aron looked down, and his sword rang as it cleared its scabbard. The weapon glowed with a soft, white light. Flamebane was a famous blade, a gift to him from his grandmother, and enchanted to protect its wielder from all but the hottest of fires.
“Jailbreak!” Aron cried. “The damned fools — they’ve pushed Zomoran too far! Come on! We’ve got to get down there to help!”
Gerard gripped Aron’s arm as his brother turned toward the barbican.
“Zomoran is one of the most powerful wizards alive,” he said loudly, struggling to be heard over the din. “If he’s actually desperate enough to attack the Cathedral, then running in to confront him will be very dangerous!”
Aron grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Not to worry, Brother,” he said. His voice was laced with lighthearted charm. “You’ll be there to deal with him!”
Gerard rolled his eyes as Aron sprinted toward the gate, but he followed right behind. “I was actually going to suggest waiting for Grandfather,” he yelled. “I guess you’ve decided that’s out of the question?”
“Entirely,” Aron shouted in response.
Gerard kept running and didn’t press the matter. Heroism came naturally to the elder prince — a bit too naturally for his own good, his brother sometimes thought — and he knew there would be no dissuading him.
They came to the end of the palisade where it overlooked the main gate. A wall rose in front of them. The stairs down to the High City were on the far side.
Aron looked around, and his gaze settled on a coiled length of rope atop the wall. It was tied to a metal ring driven into the stone. With an almost casual leap, he vaulted onto the parapet, grasped the line, and backtracked along the narrow ledge to pay it out.
“See you below!” he cried cheerily, and leaped into space.
Gerard scrambled to the edge in time to watch him swing down along the palace wall. The elder prince moved in an almost perfect arc that carried him over the road and set him down on the roof of the gatehouse. Gerard saw that a quick bound and a roll would take him the rest of the way to the ground. In moments, he would be up and running again along the road to the Church compound.
“Reckless idiot,” Gerard muttered with an affectionate grin. He didn’t try to copy his brother’s move, nor did he run the long way around to the stairs. He knew the right spell for the occasion. His approach would be a little less dramatic, but no less effective.
His mind reached out, summoning the Magic. Quickly, he wove what he needed: a levitation spell. Then he climbed on top of the parapet, turned to face the road to the south, and jumped.
The gate road ran east from the palace. Aron’s swing had taken him across it to the north. While his brother was climbing down the gatehouse and cutting back along the road, Gerard simply stood, riding the air. Carried forward by the momentum of his leap, he descended to the ground at a gentle but constant speed.
He landed in the middle of the road to the Cathedral, the Divine Way. He arrived with just enough time to draw his wand and turn as his brother came running up to meet him.
“What kept you?” he asked. There was just a hint of mischief in his characteristically serious voice.
Aron laughed as he sprinted toward the commotion on the hill below. “Well played,” he called over his shoulder. “You’ll have to teach me that sometime!”
“I have tried,” Gerard responded drily.
The wizard prince extended his spell to cover them both. Lightened by its magic, they ran toward the Cathedral with remarkable speed. It was over a mile from the palace to the Church compound, but they covered it in only a handful of minutes.
The road ran through an entrance in the compound’s outer wall. Guards lay on the ground in and around the gatehouse. Some were still, while others were groaning and moving feebly. The gates themselves had been thrown open in a ruin of twisted iron. A healer was running frantically between the stricken soldiers, doing what he could to help.
Several other soldiers stood with their weapons drawn, looking around wildly, as though expecting an attack from any direction. When they saw the two princes, they set themselves into a defensive stance.
“Strangers! Identify yourselves!” one yelled. His voice was shaky and his weapon trembled. His eyes were wide with panic.
“Aron and Gerard Killraven, princes of the realm,” Aron called back. He kept his voice calm and his rich baritone soothing. It seemed to have the desired effect, and a look of relief washed over the guard’s face. “What happened?”
“Thank the Light you’re here, Your Highnesses!” the man gasped. Gerard noted with alarm that he didn’t lower his weapon. “The Church is under attack! A man dressed in black, surrounded by some kind of huge, black cats.” He shuddered. “With red eyes and bodies dark as pitch. Swords went through them, but their claws rent like a lion’s. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true!”
“Shadowcats,” Gerard said, when Aron gave him a questioning look. “It’s a conjuration spell. An advanced one, too. Not within the capabilities of your average, run-of-the-mill wizard.”
He turned to the guard. “They generate an aura of fear,” he explained. “That’s why you’re feeling so spooked. It’s a magical effect. Just take a deep breath and relax. That’s it. Now, are there more of them about?”
“I don’t know,” the guard replied. The knowledge that his fright had come from a spell seemed to calm him, and he finally lowered his weapon. “We’re not the gate guard.”
He turned, gesturing to the fallen soldiers. “That’s them, over there. We were at the barracks when we heard a commotion and came running. Whoever the man in black was, they were challenging him. Then the — shadowcats, they came out of nowhere, and the other guards were all dying or running and screaming. Then he pointed his staff at the gates, and they just twisted apart and fell open like they were made of putty.”
“It’s got to be Zomoran,” Gerard said. “There are only a handful of wizards who could perform all of those castings. And who else would have a motive to attack the Church today?”
“It was Zomoran,” one of the fallen guards moaned feebly.
They turned to look at him, and the healer rushed to his side. The man’s face had been badly mauled. Gerard could see a commander’s insignia on his shoulder.
“We were on watch,” he continued weakly. “We’d been warned that he might come, to try to see the Lord Inquisitor. We were told to refuse him entrance.”
“Apparently, he didn’t take kindly to that,” Gerard observed.
Aron looked around. “Guards, we have work to do,” he said loudly. The ones still standing snapped immediately to attention.
“Your compound is under attack by the Magus Zomoran of Westreach,” he continued. “We believe that he may be here to free his collaborators from the Grand Academy, who were taken into custody by the Inquisition earlier today. My brother and I were on the palace walls when we saw the prison building blasted and came to help. Zomoran is a powerful mage and stopping him will not be easy — but stop him, we will.”
He pointed to one of the guards. “Remain here and watch over the healer and the wounded. Tell anyone who comes what has happened.” He pointed to another. “Run back along the road to the palace. You should find a force on their way here to investigate. Tell them that the princes Killraven have gone on to the prison to try to stop the attack. Tell them to send their fastest runner to alert my grandfather, the Archmage. They’ll find him in the council room of the palace.
“The rest of you: with me!”
Aron dashed off along the road, and Gerard fell in beside him. Shouted cries of “To the Princes!” rang out as the guards followed behind.
Gerard marveled at his brother’s ability to rally men who, only moments before, had been quaking in fear. He wasn’t surprised; he’d seen it before. Aron had inherited the power of their mother’s voice, and it never failed him in times of need.
The road ran through a thickly wooded section of the compound. Darkness seemed to close in menacingly beneath its dense eaves as the light ebbed around them in the deepening dusk.
Gerard saw a fork in the road ahead. The main way continued toward the Great Cathedral of Lannamon, but a side path turned to the right and began climbing steeply into a knot of hills. At its end, in a clearing nestled into the foot of Mount Cascade, stood the prison building. Screams echoed from the sheer face of the mountain behind it, and fires burned in and around a huge rent in its north wall.
Gerard suddenly felt the hairs rise on the nape of his neck. Dark patches of vaguely feline shadow loomed along the darkening road before them. Tiny pairs of red lights turned to face them as they approached.
The guards faltered when they saw the creatures that had attacked them earlier blocking the way, but the princes didn’t. Gerard’s wand flicked the air in a complex gesture, and a ball of bright light emerged from its tip and floated forward. The monsters shrank back, their shadowy outlines becoming suddenly clear and distinct in the unexpected luminescence.
Aron’s voice rang as he charged to meet them. “For the Light!” he cried. “Guards, to me! To me, my brother!”
One of the shadows padded cautiously toward him. Flamebane swept out in a graceful arc as Aron feinted to one side, and the enchanted blade scythed through the creature’s neck. With a bloodcurdling howl, the shadowcat exploded in a cloud of black smoke and vanished.
The battle that followed was brief. The shadowcats’ aura of terror evaporated at the sound of Aron’s voice, and the guards, emboldened once again by the elder prince’s call, rushed to attack. Gerard’s spell seemed to negate the monsters’ shadow defense, and the soldiers’ blades bit fully on the feline shapes under its light. No match for the ferocity of the assault, the creatures had all soon been cut down — vanishing, howling, into clouds of dark vapor.
Again, the princes ran forward, the guards close behind. The road left the trees and opened into a clearing. More soldiers, all in the livery of the warrior priests of the Divine, lay strewn along the path. There was no stopping to render assistance; these were the elite soldiers of the Church, and they had fought to the death. Several had been mauled, and others charred or dismembered by blasts of flame or magic.
A reddish light shone in a gaping hole in a wall of the prison building. Gerard held his arms out in a gesture of restraint as they approached it.
“Careful,” he said quietly. “That light isn’t natural. There’s someone — or something — in there.”
Aron nodded as the group slowed. “My brother’s right,” he said, pointing to the building with his sword. “Whoever blasted their way into the dungeon is coming out again. Surround that hole. We will not let them get away.”
The guards fanned out to form a semicircle around the riven side of the building. The light grew quickly as they watched and waited.
The leading edge of a sphere of shimmering red magic passed through the opening, followed by a tall, thin man dressed in black. He wore a suit of dark leather armor, and carried a staff of polished obsidian. A billowing cloak of black flapped around him in the mountain breeze, and a salt and pepper beard ending in a neatly trimmed Van Dyke framed a face that seemed hard as stone. Huddled closely behind him, and within the protection of the warding spell, walked three prisoners: two men and a woman. They were naked except for blankets that had been thrown around their shoulders.
Lord Zomoran of Westreach stepped out into the twilight air and tapped his staff once on the ground. A flare of red magic, like a fireworks rocket, erupted from its tip and sailed into the sky. Then, a calculating rage burning in his eyes, he turned his attention to the guards, and to the two brothers at their head.
“The princes Killraven,” he said. His voice was thick with mockery. “Here to stop my rampage, I presume. And too witless to realize they’re doing the high priest’s dirty work for him. I’ll be generous and offer you a chance to live. Walk away now and don’t interfere.”
Gerard raised his wand in a gesture of warding, and Aron did the same with his sword.
“You know it can’t happen like that, Zomoran,” Aron called loudly.
The elder prince’s gaze flicked to the three figures standing behind the magus. The woman’s hand was dripping blood. His eyes widened when he saw that two of her fingernails were missing.
“And I’m no puppet of the Church in this,” he continued. “If there is cause, then the Inquisition will answer to the Crown for its actions today. But so must you. Stand down before more innocents are killed. Your case will get a fair hearing and a fair trial. You have my word on it.”
Zomoran laughed. He stepped out into the field beside the building. The tip of his staff moved casually in the air before him, like the head of a snake preparing to strike.
“A pretty speech, whelp,” he said. His voice was thick with derision and contempt. “But it’s too little, too late, and very much beside the point. Do you really think there’s any going back for me now? I wouldn’t want it if you could offer it to me. Which you can’t, and you know it.”
Gerard shook his head. “It doesn’t have to end like this, Professor.”
“Yes, it does,” Zomoran said. “Because I’m done with you. Done with years of trying to bring wisdom and progress to this intellectually barren kingdom. Done with appealing to fools, aided only by a handful of friends who understood — who saw the brilliant society we could engineer, if only we could order things as they need to be. Done with writing and speaking to classes of empty minds, who lack the inspiration and courage to see and dare the truth.”
His gaze came to rest on Aron, and a strange anger blazed in his eyes.
“Done with puppets of the ruling class, too busy tiptoeing around zealots, and dancing on the strings pulled by an old man behind the scenes. The only other great mind in this entire besotted nation, but without the ambition to guide it into the embrace of history.
“Oddly enough, I may owe Salmanor Hardin a debt for opening my eyes today. I see now that this society is decadent beyond redemption. It is time for it to be purged in fire and rebuilt from the ashes.”
Aron’s eyes hardened as he returned the magus’s acid glare.
“The people of Carlissa are not toys or machines, Zomoran,” he said, “to be ‘engineered’ to suit your view of the way things should be. They are individuals, with rights and dignity. Too often in the past have we made that mistake. It’s time to try a better way.”
Zomoran shook his head and laughed again.
“So parrots the puppet,” he mocked. “Your grandfather’s ideals are a delusion, boy. A nation of sheep cannot govern itself. It needs to be led, by those with the knowledge and spirit to understand what is best for them. Or do I truly have to lecture a princeling of the realm on the meaning of noblesse oblige?”
His free arm reached behind him. He drew the woman with the bloody hand into a protective embrace.
“Would a great man allow his best minds to be given over to torture and the threat of a heretic’s fire?” he demanded. “For the mere crime of thinking bold thoughts? Or would he lead and protect them? And if others lacked the wisdom to follow of their own accord, would he not shepherd them? By force, if necessary? For their own good?”
“A great man doesn’t concern himself with his own greatness,” Aron replied firmly. “Empty minds, you say? I was more attentive to your lessons, Professor, and to your example, than you realize. You stand there, sheltering a colleague whose devotion feeds your vanity, and you leave a trail of dead and broken bodies in your wake to do it. And you presume to lecture me about the meaning of noblesse oblige? Whose needs do you truly serve, Lord of Westreach?”
Zomoran regarded him icily, but with a look of sudden wariness.
“You are clever, princeling,” he said. “More so than I gave you credit for. You’re stalling, trying to keep me talking and arguing, while you wait for reinforcements from the palace. Yes, I know that the Archmage is there. And as much as I would relish the opportunity to test myself against him, that is not my plan for today.”
Without warning, he raised his staff and then struck its base upon the ground. A concussion of force erupted from the edge of his protective sphere, and the guards were thrown from their feet by the blast. Aron staggered backward, arms pinwheeling to try to keep his balance. Zomoran raised his staff again, and then lowered the tip to point directly at the elder prince’s heart.
Gerard had been quietly preparing himself while the others spoke. Now he leaped into action. Zomoran’s spell broke like a wave around a coruscating sphere of silver that bloomed suddenly into form around him. He threw himself between the magus and his brother, and raised his wand in a warding gesture as a bolt of livid blue lightning erupted from the staff. Gerard’s shield flared brilliantly where it was struck, but it held — and some of the bolt reflected back toward the caster. Zomoran’s shield flared too at the contact, and dwindling arcs of electricity shot back and forth between the globes until the sparks had finally discharged.
The magus blinked in surprise, trying to recover from the blinding afterimage. The young wizard ran toward him, trying to press his momentary advantage. The shields of silver and red collided and flared brilliantly where they met. Motes of multicolored light sparked around the contact point as the two spells fought, trying to drain each other of power. Then, with a flash and a loud thumping sound, the silver shield winked out of existence. Gerard stumbled backward and fell to his knees.
Zomoran blinked again and looked around. The younger prince was struggling to recreate his defenses and was, at least for the moment, no longer a threat. But now Aron was striding forward, his eyes hard and unforgiving.
“You can’t win, Zomoran,” he said. He reached the edge of the magus’ shield, which was visibly weakened from Gerard’s attack. He placed the tip of the enchanted blade against the surface, as if preparing to try to plunge it through. “The Archmage, the King, and half the palace guard will be here in moments. Even if you defeat us, there’s no escape.”
Zomoran smiled. “Wrong again, dear boy,” he said smugly.
Gerard surged to his feet and charged. He caught Aron around the waist with one arm and raised his wand with the other. The sphere of silver magic flickered weakly around them again, lighting his face, pale with sudden desperation.
“Guards! Run!” he cried.
He looked up, and the others followed his gaze. An enormous dragon was flattening its descent and bearing down on them. A trail of flame ran behind it where it had flown over the shoulder of the mountain, hugging its slope to fall on them from almost directly above.
Zomoran stepped back, laughing, as the monster’s jaws opened, brimming with fire. Aron, too, raised his sword over his head. As the princes watched death descend upon them, he clasped Gerard’s shoulder and whispered, “I love you, Brother.”
The dragon’s wings beat harshly to slow it as it swept in, and it came to a crashing halt atop the prison building. The structure collapsed under its weight, and the monster rode the cascading rubble downward in a spray of broken stone and splintering wood. A gout of white-hot flame exploded from its maw as it struck the ground before the two princes, and they were engulfed in a terrifying inferno.
Further back, and still recovering from Zomoran’s first attack, the guards fled. The blossoming edge of the firestorm pursued them. One guard was too slow, and it caught him. He ran, aflame and screaming, into the deepening night.
Zomoran turned his back on them. He waved his staff once more, and he and his companions floated upward as the dragon’s breath ebbed. It turned toward them and reared, reaching out with its monstrous foreclaws. It grasped the two male prisoners in one, and the woman and the magus in the other. Then, driven by its powerful hind legs, it surged again into the air. Beating its wings, it rose slowly into the sky, flying away to the south and west.
Gerard looked out from under the hood of his cloak. The brothers had drawn theirs grimly over their bowed heads as the dragon landed, hoping desperately to somehow survive the attack. The shimmering aura of frosty white that surrounded them faded, leaving behind only the icy glow of the elder prince’s sword. Their clothing was scorched and burned, and he suspected that he would find ash where parts of his beard and eyebrows had been. But they were alive.
“What magic!” Aron cried, turning toward him. “And against a dragon’s breath, no less! Grandfather is going to be very impressed.”
Gerard shook his head. He saw the dragon ascending into the sky, already disappearing over the southern arm of the Eldar Mountains.
“It wasn’t me,” he said. “My spell protected us for a few seconds, but then it collapsed.”
Aron’s eyes widened. “Then how — ?”
Gerard nodded at his brother’s sword.
“It was Flamebane that saved us. I knew it was spelled against fire, but I had no idea that the dweomer was so powerful!”
Aron gazed with a look of renewed appreciation at the enchanted blade. “Thank you, Grandmother,” he said earnestly.
Then he clapped Gerard soundly on the shoulder. “What a battle! We will have to ask Randia to compose a ballad for us. Is it not as I’ve always said? The princes Killraven! Shoulder to shoulder against the greatest of evils, and no foe can defeat us!”
Gerard grinned at him. “Ever the optimist,” he observed drily.
A horn sounded, and the pair turned. A company of the palace guard was running onto the grounds, swords and shields raised. Behind them strode the King, his powerful voice angrily bellowing orders.
“Better late than never,” Gerard laughed. “Come on. Let’s see what can be done to help the wounded. And Father will want to know everything that’s happened. Somehow, I think his worries about the Inquisition are about to be overshadowed by other concerns.”
Next: Chapter 2 - Inquisition on Trial
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