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Rated: ASR · Novella · Fantasy · #1501780
A story in the world of the Rime Celestial
Shadowblade: A Rime Celestial Story

A Note on Dates: In the realms of the Rime Celestial, time is measured in years before the Icecarver War (BIW) and years after the Icecarver War (AIW). The year of the Icecarver War is known as Year 0.

This story is dedicated to Joel Torbiner, Necromancer and to Naomi Black, Archangel.

Prologue – Year 0:

         The Chaos Revenant, formerly known as Athian, Lord of the Icecarvers, lay on the ground, a charred skeleton. He had called out to his gods to save him, but they had deserted him. In desperation he called out to the Demons, those who had bestowed upon him ultimate power, only to have it taken away by that cursed Necromancer, damn him! The Revenant cursed Siranov. To hell with you, Shadowblade! He tried once more to summon the Demonic force that he considered the one power able to help him. This time he was rewarded with an answer. The Demons gave him a second chance, a new identity. This time, the Revenant thought. This time, I will not fail. This time, Siranov will pay!


Shadowblade – 20 AIW:

Andrith woke up. It was the middle of the night. His face, deformed and misshapen by the effects of mental assault, showed no emotion, behind it there was but one thought: Destroy the King.
         He hoisted himself out of his bed. Donning his cloak and wishing not to be seen, he cast a simple concealment spell. Removing his combat boots, he instead slipped into stealth boots, which had velvet soles to prevent its owner’s footsteps making a noise. The door made no sound as the master warrior and assassin opened it and was equally silent as it closed, with Andrith on the other side.
         Noiselessly, Andrith made his way through the corridors of the Black Academy. He knew that he could not exit through the main gate, as it would creak when he opened it and slam when he closed it. So Andrith left the fort through a silent side door, designed so that it would not alert the enemy in stealth raids. He had completed the first part of the task successfully. He was out of the Black Academy.
         The assassin passed through the hills and into the village without being seen. Fortunately for him, clouds covered the moon and stars. He made his way into the village; there were fires here so his concealment spell was essential. He passed through the village and into the castle through an open window. The guards had been careless. Two guards were standing in front of him, alert. Perhaps the guards had not been so careless.
         Drat! His concealment spell was wearing off and he didn’t have time to cast another one before the guards saw him. He stabbed one in the chest but the other guard raised the alarm and ten more guards came. Realising he was outnumbered, Andrith fled. Soon he was asleep in his bed in the Academy. He had failed.
         Another figure was awake. High in a tower, it laughed…
         “The Black Academy has revealed itself. We must strike back!” Commander Sarito thumped his fist on the table.
         The King and his officials had gathered together in the meeting room to discuss last night’s murder.
         “Slow down, Sarito. This… is not how the Academy operates,” Commander Daleb asserted.
         “Show me the blade,” Wraith, the King’s Ranger spoke. Sarito handed him the murderer’s dagger. “This is no ordinary Academy knife. For a start, it has jagged edges. The Academy prefers to use poison. Also, it has strange runes on it. I’ve seen this knife before, I just can’t remember where…”
         “The chances that the assassin acted of his own accord are too slim!” Sarito snapped, snatching the knife back. “We need to attack!”
         “Perhaps Wraith and I could work together to analyse the knife and discover who the murderer is,” suggested Sendri, the King’s Doctor, timidly.
         “There is a threat to the King’s life here!” Sarito roared. “We must regroup and attack immediately!”
“Sarito is right. We shall attack at dawn.” The King had given his word, albeit reluctantly. The meeting was over.
         A huge ram smashed against the walls of the fortress just as the sun broke over the horizon. The door broke and stone smashed. The warriors hurled flaming torches inside the Black Academy.
Siranov, Archmage and leader of the Black Academy, rushed to the lookout turret. A powerful Necromancer and one of the eight Kasam, the Archmagi and the leaders of the Eight Schools of Magic, the Sorcerer demanded to know why the King’s army was attacking his own allies.
Siranov rang the signal bell for the defending forces, telling another fighter to alert the rest of the Academy.
A garrison of members of the Black Academy rushed to its defence. Korit was in the lead, Siranov’s apprentice and master assassin and fighter. Just behind him was Andrith, his rival. His specially crafted jagged knives were ready for battle. Andrith was also a master of martial arts. To Korit’s left was Arika Sariona, an agile and skilled fighter with a slim and fit figure and deadly dual katana, her speciality weapon. Arika’s long dark hair flew out behind her slender form. What she lacked in strength, she made up for in agility. Korit’s right hand was Sirik, his best friend and a master of knife defence. Sirik was large: tall and muscly, very well built. His short brown hair was plastered with sweat to his face. Slightly to Arika’s left and behind was Kereset, an elite assassin. Kereset was tall and extremely thin, his shadow being almost like a spectre. A little way behind and to the right of Sirik was Kari, adept when it came to long range, and Wraith’s little brother. Slightly behind Andrith were Karad, Korit and Sirik’s old master and one of the only members of the Black Academy (excluding Siranov himself) who used a sword.
         Together, the group cut down many warriors. It only made Karad, who was by far the oldest of the group; sad to see how many innocent souls they were destroying. These warriors had been tricked. Of course, Karad remembered, discipline was much stricter these days. Then Kari spied his older brother on the hills. Wraith and Kari were very close. Each look between them meant a whole sentence.
Why are you doing this?
I was forced to participate in this slaying, little one. But look closely.
You’re killing your own men! Traitor!
They were tricked. We were all tricked. It is for the best. And now I must go.
         Arika used her speciality move, the white falcon, raising her arms in a sweeping motion and bringing her knives down in a swoop of destruction. Kereset took out the best fighters before they could reach the main force, and Sirik defended his friend from attack. Karad was older than the others at the age of 45, but he showed everyone that he could still fight.
Korit fought ferociously, and the Academy managed to drive back the mob, though not without a price. But that was just the beginning…
         Attend me
         Korit heard the summons. As his friends worked hard to defend the building from another attack, Korit dashed up the narrow stone spiral stairway ascending to the summit of Siranov’s tower. Upon reaching the peak, Korit sheathed his daggers, flattened his short black hair and wiped the blood from his jet-black uniform. Then he entered Siranov’s quarters and knelt in the centre of the floor. Around the circle, which surrounded Korit’s kneeling form, an eight-pointed star pattern was engraved into the floor. A line spanned out from each of the points, dividing it into eight identical sections. The great domed crystal ceiling was an illusion; the real ceiling was pure obsidian, fashioned into the shape of a skull by the ancient Golem Masons. Add a forest of crystal pillars surrounding the room, and the effect was complete.
         “Korit,” Siranov’s voice was colder than the Rimesteel blades wielded by Icecarvers from beyond the mountains. “This sudden attack worries me. We have done nothing to provoke an attack from the King’s Army. I am sending you to the castle to investigate. Wraith will be your contact. Don’t look surprised, Korit. He is the best man for the job. Also, Andrith has been behaving strangely. I fear he may be suffering the effects of… mind control. I am sending Arika (and at the mention of the name, Korit’s eyes visibly widened) to spy on him. You are dismissed.”
         As Korit turned to leave, Siranov added: “Oh yes, one more thing, Korit. You and Arika seem to be getting on very well. Perhaps too well?”
         Yes, Master.
         You did well.
         No, I did not. I failed.
         You… achieved the desired effect. Now that there is a state of chaos it will be easier. Fear is the ultimate tool of destruction.
         No. It will be harder. The King will be better protected.
         Not if all his warriors are attacking elsewhere. Wait till he declares war on the Black Academy, then strike.
         Yes Master.
         Mind control is a harder feat than most think, even for the greatest Mages. The controlled being must be weak enough to submit to the control, but not so weak that it utterly destroys their mind. Even Andrith, a hardened warrior still showed signs that he was under the influence of another – facial scars, a pained expression, distorted features, lack of sleep and fatigue – signs that Siranov, a master Necromancer and a Kasam –one of the eight Archmagi, the leaders of the Eight Schools of Magic and supposedly the most powerful Mages in existence at any one time, could interpret, though not without difficulty.
         This was how Siranov’s suspicions had developed. Now, with the attempted murder of the King and the growing tension between the kingdom and the Black Academy, the Magician might not have had proof, but he was almost Athian. The Academy protected the kingdom from the Icecarvers sure that Andrith was behind it. The kingdom and the Academy lived in mutual dependence with each other, a forced alliance ever since the war against the barbaric Icecarver tribes of the south, united under the rule of the Icecarver lord and in return the King restrained those who disliked those who practised the supposedly ‘black’ arts of Necromancy.
         “Good job, my Liege. They lost more men than we did.”
         “Sarito, you talk like a murderer,” Daleb scorned.
         “And you a traitor.”
         “You’re the traitor,” Daleb spat.
         Sarito ignored him. “My Liege, we must not falter. We must attack soon.”
The King made his decision “I’m sorry Daleb. Ready the troops.”
         Truth be told, the King was loath to do this. Daleb had been a key fighter in the war against the Icecarvers; his friendship with Karad had been essential in the alliance between the kingdom and the Black Academy, the alliance that had proved vital in the battle against the Icecarvers. But it seemed that Daleb was growing soft, and that in his friendliness with the Academy he was willing to disregard the only logical course of action. Though the King hated to ignore the advice of his oldest, most trusted commander, tactician and adviser, he realized that he would have to do so in order to win the impending war.
         “Arika. I’ve come to say goodbye. I’m going on a mission and I might not come back.”
         “Korit.” The look in Arika’s eyes conveyed her intended message more clearly than words ever could.
         “Arika, we shouldn’t.”
         “Since when have you ever played by the rules, Korit?”
         “Very well, then.”
Korit gripped Arika’s shoulders, drawing her closer, and began to caress her neck. They embraced and kissed, nuzzling each other. The romantic position was held for a long time. Then, suddenly Korit abruptly withdrew from the kiss.
“Well then.” Korit tapped the stony wall nervously. “Let’s start the ritual.”
Arika changed her pose, so that she now stood with her slender left arm outstretched, her olive hand, free of its gauntlet, clenched into a fist, which displayed the X-shaped scar that marked the bearer as an adept of the Black Academy and connected her to the Rime Celestial. Korit copied her action, the knuckles of his right hand sliding between the knuckles of hers. Then, simultaneously with their free hands, they drew their daggers and cut a vertical wound on the other’s hand in the centre of the scar. The Third Cut, the ancient and forbidden symbol of bonding in the Black Academy. Blood glowed bright red for a moment then the wound abruptly sealed up, leaving only a distinct scar.
Korit turned to leave, but as he reached the door Arika raised her hand, palm open and spoke.
“Farewell, Korit. I love you.”
Korit hesitated for a moment, then turned back and raised his own hand with an open palm.
And with that Korit left the mighty fortress. Arika shed a single tear, and then wiped her eye dry.
         Once Korit was beyond the anti-teleportation aura of the Black Academy, Korit removed the transfer stone from his belt pouch. He concentrated on the stone intensely, so that to him it was as if nothing else existed. There was a bright flash like a flare and then Korit was gone. For a split second he felt like he was speeding across an extra-planar path faster than light, then he reappeared behind some rocks near the castle that was his destination.
         “Master Siranov, what is the League of Magi? I keep hearing you and the other masters talking about it, but you’ve never told me what it is."
Siranov’s face took on a kindly, parental shade. The youngling was only about six years old, and Siranov decided to give him the full explanation.
         “The League of Magi is the organization of the eight elemental schools of Magic, one for each of the eight Archangels revered by the Magi: Light, Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Ice, Shadow and Death, plus those few who didn’t belong to an elemental school. However, after the Icecarver War the School of Ice was destroyed and the identity of its heir was became known only to the Kasam, who deemed that the heir was to be put in to the care of one of the Eight Orders until the Kasam deemed that the heir was ready to restore the School of Ice. The League of Magi was still required due to the power of Magi, even though only about one in 1400 people was a Mage. 98% of all legitimate Magi belonged to one of the Eight Orders, with the remaining two percent being freelancers. The movements and actions of all Magi can be mapped, tracked and viewed by means of the Rime Celestial Diagram.  The purpose of the Rime Celestial Diagram is as follows: To find new recruits, to monitor traitors and renegades, and perhaps most importantly of all, to watch old enemies.”
         “Old enemies?”
         “Yes, young one, there are many renegade Magi who need to be watched. Now you should go and join your class. You’re late.”
         Andrith ran out to those very cliffs upon which Korit had stood barely hours before. He whistled shrilly, in a way that one would not think a man of his build could, an almost supernatural sound. On the horizon, a dark speck appeared, becoming rapidly larger by the second. The silhouette came into focus, a shadowy winged steed flying proudly through the golden dusk. ‘Black Pegasus’, as Andrith had christened the Demon horse, attending his master’s summons. Andrith mounted his otherworldly beast and set off in hot pursuit of Korit.
         Siranov’s alarm ward activated, signifying the presence of Demonic magic. Siranov arrived at the source of the magic, just in time to see Andrith ride off into the distance. Arika almost ran into him. She had sensed the foreign power too. Before Siranov could stop her, Arika had dashed off in pursuit of Andrith.
         “Take this!” Siranov roared throwing Arika a ring embedded with a talisman granting the speed of an angel. “Godspeed!”
         Arika caught the ring in one hand and instantly slipped it on. The ring changed its shape to fit perfectly on Arika’s delicate fingers. Wasting no time, she dashed out the gate of the great construct and ran off toward the tower, where Korit was headed. She jumped from ledge to ledge across the valley, her leaps increased a million times by the ring. One moment the terrain would be a rocky cliff, the next she would see icy mountains, followed by lush forest and busy village scenery.
Korit stealthily made his way to the castle.
The castle was very grand. It had large stone pillars and was covered in carvings. It was made of white marble. However, its beauty did not diminish its strength.
Korit came to the gate, where the sentry was standing. The sentry recognised him instantly as being from the Black Academy, but as he reached for his horn, Korit silenced him with an icy blast of Magic from his hand, freezing the guard in place. Then, a series of black orbs, each about the size of a large marble washed over the guard, ‘thawing’ him. Korit watched as the guard, without a sound, opened the portcullis. Korit slipped in, shutting it noiselessly behind him. Just before the gateway was sealed, a wave of black lightning washed over the sentry, erasing all memory of the incident.
         Siranov sat cross-legged and alone in the centre of his chamber, meditating. He thought about the recent raid. Perhaps one of his men had secretly committed a crime. But he had searched all of their minds and found nothing, which eliminated that possibility, unless one of them had committed it unknowingly or unwillingly, which brought him back to Andrith. If Andrith was suffering from mind control, as Siranov suspected, that would explain his disappearance. It couldn’t have been coincidence that Andrith had left almost immediately after Korit. He decided to meditate on this some more…
         “Korit! Good to see you! How are things going? How’s my little brother? How are Sirik and Kereset? How’s Arika? What about Andrith? And tell me about Siranov and Karad!”
         “Whoa, slow down there! I thought rangers were supposed to be cautious! I’m well, and guess what – I’m Siranov’s apprentice!”
         “You! How?”
         “Siranov saw potential in me. Also, I was the only person to use Magic in my trial. I had to reanimate a corpse.”
         Wraith’s jaw dropped open. “And how are the rest of them faring?”
         “Your little brother – Isn’t little anymore! He had to shoot an arrow perfectly from half a mile away for his trial! He could barely see the target, but he still takes after you in archery! Sirik’s great, and we’re still best friends. His trial was to defeat his own reflection in combat, and he passed! Kereset is still the stealthiest, as showed by his test – sneaking up on Siranov! Andrith and I are still rivals and his test was to slay a Demon. But Andrith is acting strangely. Siranov suspects that he may be under the control of someone else. Siranov is an amazing mentor, and Karad is still my mentor and everyone’s friend. Arika…”
         “Oh, I get it…” Wraith started laughing. “Korit likes Arika, Korit likes Arika… arrgh!”
         Korit had silenced Wraith with a y-hand strike to the throat.
         “Hmm… yes, maybe it is better that we don’t talk about that topic. Let’s talk about old times instead. Remember when you were all only eight years old and I came to visit? You, Sirik, Kereset and Kari were all in a room with Siranov and me. I challenged any one of you to shoot an arrow through my earring during my stay, giving each of you only one try, and each of you failed due to a fault in your own speciality, or to my superiority in that ability.”
         “Ah, yes, I remember. But we were only eight.”
         “Kereset tried first. He had been tailing me for a while when I rounded a corner. As soon as I was out of his sight I jumped up and clung to the ceiling. I then proceeded to drop my cloak so that it would look like I was standing in the corridor with my back to him when Kereset turned the corner. As I predicted he would, he shot at the cloak and missed me completely. As soon as the arrow hit the cloak, I jumped down and landed directly behind him!
         Then Sirik tried. He threw two knives at me from his position on a windowsill higher up in an attempt to pin me, and I don’t have any idea how he expected to pin me to a solid stone wall with throwing knives, and then shot his arrow. I blocked both knives with my own, alerted by the whistle of projectiles being thrown, then ducked as the arrow sailed towards me. I guess that he expected me to block them – had I noticed them being thrown. Very few people know of, and even fewer people notice the slight whistle of a knife being thrown.”
         “I tried next, I remember. I used Magic to make my arrow silent and more accurate.”
         “Indeed you did. Looking back on that, perhaps it isn’t so odd that you are Siranov’s apprentice. I must admit, each attempt was better, and you were second closest to getting me. I just managed to erect a Magical shield in time.”
         “I hadn’t expected you to have a Tapestry at your disposal,” Korit reflected bitterly.
         “Most people either think that rangers are Mages or have no Magical capabilities whatsoever. Not many know that rangers have some Magic, but only very little. We can fade in with the shadows, increase our own camouflage to what is almost invisibility and create an aura of silence. The shield is probably the strongest Magic that I can perform.
“Then my little brother tried. I don’t mean to boast, but he was the closest by far.”
Wraith ignored Korit. “He shot at me while I was talking to Siranov. It was a very near hit, even taking some skin off my earlobe. But, Kari too failed.”
“He was only eight! Anyway, while you were saying goodbye to Kari, my master cleanly shot an arrow through your earring. And I’ll never forget the expression of surprise on your face when you looked up and saw Siranov, smiling and waving, with a bow in his hand.”
“Hmmm. Well, enough about me, let’s talk about you.”
         Don’t fail me. Your existence depends on it.
         The words of the Chaos Revenant bound the two Nightmare Assassins, Ghouls of the highest class, to their duty. The murder of the King was the only thought in the minds of Tohu and Vohu. They were completely focused on the task before them.
         Vohu, I’m hungry.
         Well, almost completely focused.
         Stop being such a wimp.
But I’m hungry! I can’t kill on an empty stomach!
Fine, you can eat the victim once he’s dead.
I want live meat! And I want it now!
Yes master. I will obey.
Yeah, right. When Tohu chooses obedience over food, I’ll eat my own arm.
Can I eat it for you?
No, you fool!
Vohu silently begged the Revenant to free her from Tohu’s companionship, but he was unmoved. Vohu produced a needle and thread from somewhere in the rags that gave her the bare minimum of dignity and deftly sewed Tohu’s lips together.
Tohu made an incomprehensible sound of anguish at being prevented from both eating and talking.
Here we are.
Vohu was positively enjoying herself now. As they arrived at the window of the King’s bedroom, Vohu realized that she didn’t know how to enter silently.
Oh well.
Vohu smashed the priceless stained glass window.
The King woke up. Guards came running. The captain of the guard burst through the door. Upon seeing the ghouls his dark skin shone with perspiration, he drew his sword and lunged, but the two ghouls dodged. The captain swung his sword again, this time hitting Tohu, first slicing through the thread that prevented him from talking. The Ghoul was about to utter a cry of gratitude, when the sword cut through his vocal chords, along with the rest of his body. Meanwhile, Vohu had drawn her knife and was about to throw it when she too, fell victim to the blade that had killed her partner.
“What do we do now?” breathed the King.
“Replace your window,” replied the captain of the guard.
         “Karad, from what Korit tells me, we will soon be at war.”
         “20 years, Siranov. 20 years ago we were last at war. And now we do battle with the very allies who were fundamental to our victory.”
         “20 years ago, Karad. 20 years since I first stood upon the battlefield. 20 years ago, I became a Kasam. 20 years ago, the Icecarvers fell.”
         “What will we do, Siranov?”
         “You organize a war drill. I’ll ready my army.”

         “You did what?” asked The Assassin, Lord of the Stalkers incredulously.
         “I sent Ghouls after him”, The Revenant replied.
         “Congratulations, you just alerted everyone to our presence.”
         “Actually, I know what’s happening in the castle as we speak. This will get blamed on the Academy.”
         “They’re not that stupid.”
         “20 years is a long time, my servant.”
         “Don’t call me that.” The Assassin had a slightly menacing touch to his voice.
         “Why not?”
         “Because I am not your servant, I am merely in your service. I am a Demon Lord, and even Demons can’t save you from my wrath.”
         The Revenant decided to change the topic. “If I shouldn’t send Ghouls, who should I send?”
         “Hmmm. Well I think that your servant would do much better than Ghouls, to say the least.”
         “Very well. Go.”
         “Everyone who fought to defend against the Icecarvers stay here to defend the fortress. Everyone else, go to the Chill Barricade and prepare the attack on us. Remember, this is a training drill. If anyone dies, the killer will face my wrath. Are we clear?”
         As Karad delivered orders for the battle drill, Lithia quietly left the briefing room to find Siranov and confront him at the Graveyard of the Ages, a gargantuan cemetery that spanned over much of the mountain range bordering where the Black Academy and dividing the Valley of Siranov. She had no idea that she was being followed, and neither would she care had she known. Lithia was not stupid. She simply knew that she was the most powerful person there, with the possible exception of Karad.
High above, hidden in an alcove outside the Academy’s second floor, Lycanthia saw the event and realized that Lithia was up to no good. She decided that she would have to stop Lithia herself. It was too late to sound the alarm. Lycanthia was a Lycanthrope, a human who could transform into a Werewolf at will. She was also a first class fighter, her Werewolf claws, teeth, strength; agility and aggression combined with her human intelligence and Academy training were a deadly mix.
Jumping down from her hiding place, Lycanthia landed smoothly on the ground before Lithia in a crouching position, her Lycanthropic fortitude absorbing most of the shock from the impact. She pulled herself to her feet.
“Lithia, I can’t let you continue.”
And then the changes began. First, her eyes became yellow. Then, her ears became smaller and pointier, shifting closer to the top of her head. Her face became more snout like and her muscles began to bulge. Coarse silver hair covered her body. Gleaming white fangs developed within her canine maw and steel claws sprang from her clenched fists, each over a foot long. She crossed her claws in an X shape, bracing herself for the imminent attack.
A stream of lightning leapt forth from Lithia’s hand. Lycanthia’s claws glowed azure as they absorbed the Magic. But Lithia did not stop the lightning. The stream became a river. Still, Lycanthia blocked the Magic, with evident strain. The river became a torrent. Lycanthia was blasted away, her features becoming human again as unconsciousness claimed her.
         The Assassin and his pack of Stalkers scaled the walls of the castle in silence. Perched on a ledge the Captain of the Guard motioned to a group of elites and nocked and arrow to his bow, aiming at the Assassin. As he prepared to fire, however, a throwing star hit him in the neck. He was brain dead before he could cry out. The other Stalkers followed the Assassin’s lead, and very soon all the guards had died a silent death.
         Make no mistake; the Assassin was proud, and with good reason. The Assassin was one of the eight Nemeses, the eight Elemental Demon Lords sacred to renegade Magi. His Element was Death, and fear emanated from his very presence, his existence the stuff of legend and the bane of the Kasam.
         Next the Assassin perched himself on Daleb’s windowsill. Daleb’s uniquely carved dagger appeared in his hand. Very carefully, the Assassin produced the bottle of Siranov’s poison from his belt. The Assassin unscrewed the lid of the bottle. Drawing a line of poison along the blade with his finger, he then merged the poison into the blade with a spell. Carefully replacing the lid on the bottle, the Assassin moved outside the King’s window. Magically passing through the window, the Assassin threw the dagger at the King. As the dagger embedded itself in the King’s shoulder, the Assassin disappeared.
         Lithia finally found Siranov within the Necrotic Ranges, completing the ritual to raise the Army of the Dead. At the sound of her footsteps, the Necromancer spoke without turning around.
“So Lithia, it finally came to this."
         “Siranov. You know why I am here.”
         “You were the only man I ever loved, Shadowblade!” The words were an angry snarl, said as the Sorceress wiped a tear from her eye.
         Siranov turned. “So this is why you must destroy me.”
         Lithia drew her Frostblade, the Rimesteel gleaming in the moonlight. Siranov drew Shadowblade, the Sword of Necromancers and also the weapon that had earned him his nickname, with black lightning illuminating the runes carved into the blade. The two mighty swords clashed, sending sparks flying. Their blades locked, and then disengaged in a shower of Magical energy. Siranov cast a bolt of pure darkness, and Lithia teleported onto the top of a cliff. The Necromancer swung his sword, unleashing a seismic wave that cut the very cliff in half. As the ice Sorceress escaped again, this time reappearing on the ground, the falling cliff top ignited in a fiery explosion. Lithia hurled lightning bolts at the powerful Sorcerer who, in turn dodged them all. Then, Lithia created ice shackles around Siranov’s feet, binding the Necromancer to the ground. Finally, the ice Sorceress cast the spell that would freeze the very spark of life in a victim’s soul and cast them away from this very plane.
         The icy blast exploded as Lithia turned around, wiping her hands. She stopped short when she saw Siranov standing on a dry and rocky cliff top high above her, an arrow nocked to his bow and aimed at her. Her feet became rooted to the ground. And then it all became clear to her as she saw the dying flame in her peripheral vision, the images of the past few seconds flashed in her mind.
         Now the Army of the Dead is under my control.
         Lithia let out a triumphant scream as the arrow sped towards her. Just before is hit, she disappeared.
         She was ready.
         Now was the time, Siranov thought. Now was the time. The Sorcerer called up a projection of the Rime Celestial, the display on mists of frost in front of him.
         How did she get there? She couldn’t have found the portal alone!
         That was when Siranov realised that Lithia knew her presence on the Rime Celestial just as well as he did. He would have to follow her immediately. Knowing he would have to make haste, the Necromancer teleported to the Portal.

         Lithia felt the Mage’s presence immediately and spun to face him. Dispelling the concealment charm that he had donned in case anyone else had been there, he decided to get straight to the point.
         “Why did you go here?”
         Lithia rolled her eyes. “Because if I had stayed there I would have an arrow in my chest.”
         “No. Why here?”
         “I… I was drawn to here. No, don’t ask about it. I can’t explain it. You wouldn’t understand.”
         “I understand. I too, was drawn here when I was ready. You are ready. I know that now. Let me show you something. Come.”
         Siranov knelt and muttered a password of some sort and a gleaming portal of lightning appeared before them.
         “This is Centrepoint Portal. Follow me.” Siranov motioned to the Ice Sorceress. The Necromancer stepped through the Portal, with Lithia close behind, still half suspecting a trap.
         Suddenly their surroundings changed completely. They were now standing in a circular meeting room, with the central round table and the eight benches made of flawless white marble. There was no door, but instead of a floor Centrepoint Portal whirled beneath them, ready to return them to the outside world upon a whim. There were no walls or ceiling either, just a massive dome that showed a perfect view night sky. Lithia realised that the dome was actually the original Rime Celestial!
         “Welcome to the Hall of Magi, Lithia,” Siranov bowed, then added “Kasam of Ice.”
         “You, Lithia are the rightful Kasam of the elemental realm of Ice! Use my army to restore the College of Frost! And most importantly, stay here and talk to the others.”
         “The others?”
         “Yes, the other Kasam. I came here to call a meeting. That is part of the reason I brought you here.” Siranov took a tiny silver bell from within the folds of his robe and rung it. The bell had a strangely deep and resonant tone. Then he just waited. Within minutes all of the other Kasam had arrived. Shadow came first, then Light, who the Necromancer took a moment to recognize, before he remembered that only around 6 months ago, a new, younger and considerably more intelligent and better-looking Mage had become the Kasam of Light. Fire and almost instantly after, Water were the next to come, followed by Wind and finally Earth.
         When everyone was seated, Siranov spoke. “Now that we are all here, I have news. First, as you can see, the Kasam of Ice is here and is a fully-fledged Kasam. Now that you know that, I can deliver my message. The kingdom is about to make war on the Black Academy. We need your help, and I fear there are forces at work here far more sinister than corrupt officials. I must return to the Academy, but I beg of you, help us. Farewell.”
         And with those words, the Necromancer was gone.
         “The blade is Daleb’s but the poison is that of the Black Academy. I don’t understand,” stammered Sendri.
         “Daleb is obviously an Academy traitor, for it was they who poisoned the King!” Sarito asserted the chief medic. “He must be hung!”
         “No! He must stand a fair trial!” Wraith protested
         “It’s too dangerous; if he escapes he could slaughter us all!”
         “He must stand trial! The constitution will not allow what you want!”
         “I am currently acting head of state.” There was a cold tinge to Sarito’s voice. “There will be no trial.”
         Lycanthia rushed through the canyon, all too vivid memories of what Siranov had told her rushing through her mind, searching for the Hidden Caverns, home to the Were wolf population. Optimistic thoughts ran through her mind. They may have lost the undead army, but she was confident that they would gain the Werewolf army. Finally, she found the caves. She saw Alpha, her childhood love within the cave.
         “Lycanthia! Is that you? You’ve grown!”
         “So have you!”
         “I’m Packleader now.”
         “What happened to the old Packleader?”
         “All creatures grow old and die.”
         “We need your help, Packleader Alpha. The Academy is in danger. Siranov was interrupted while summoning the Army and it is now under the control of a powerful Ice Sorceress known as Lithia. We need the Werewolves.”
“Then I will lead them.”
“No. We will lead them.”
         Daleb stood on the cart, the rope looped around his neck. Korit and Wraith stood concealed in the trees, waiting for the signal. Daleb began to talk, but was cut short, as the carthorse was whipped and trotted away. Quickly, before his comrade’s neck snapped, Wraith threw a knife and cut the rope. “Run!” Korit yelled. Daleb began to run, but there was an angry mob chasing after him. They had come for blood, and blood they would get. A furious villager stabbed him in the back thrice. Daleb fell. Sendri rushed to aid him, but was held back by Sarito. Seeing that they had failed. Korit and the ranger exited.
         Kereset and a group of Stealth Troops snuck across the halls of the fortress. At the end of the main entrance hallway, Kereset laid a line of Stalagmite Seeds, and ideal spike trap, finishing with a one way Net Matrix. Ascending the spiral staircase, a Seal was set on the door of the control room. Then the group returned to The Trigger, the Chill Barricade’s control room for the traps.
         Kari shot a Magically charged arrow and the door exploded. The young warriors charged through the main entrance hallway. As the older members of the Black Academy responded, the spike traps and the Net Matrix, which sucked enemies into special holes that temporarily confined someone to another plane, met them. A Sirik’s rival’s quarterstaff smashed into a master’s shins and one of Lycanthia’s friend’s bladed elbow strikes cleared the way. The battle was becoming one sided.
         Karad entered the control room alone. Kereset activated the Seal. Sirik’s flying sidekick smashed the crystal window. He drew his knives, turning to face Karad who responded the same way.
         “So… the apprentice challenges the master.”
         Sirik engaged in battle with his former master, attacking with fast and furious slashes. Karad disengaged and jumped back. Sirik sent and Inferno blast at Karad, who ducked and the blast blew a hole in the wall behind him. Karad backflipped through the hole and landed comfortably from the 10 metre fall in the dojo. Sirik followed him, enhancing the shock waves as he landed. The enhanced shockwaves were unleashed and pinned Karad to the wall. He then held his knife to Karad’s throat.
         “And so the pupil surpasses the teacher.” Karad wore a mysterious half-smile as he spoke the sentence and wept tears of pride. Then he blew his horn, signifying that the training battle was over.
         “I’m sorry, Wraith. There’s nothing left for me here. I had two friends. Now I have one, who will probably die in the forthcoming battle.”
         “No, Sendri! You still have a choice!”
         “Goodbye, old friend.”
         And with that, Sendri jumped off the balcony.
         Siranov returned to the fortress and told Karad of his problems.
         “Karad Battlesplinter, we are no longer young. This may well be our last battle.”
         “I understand, my friend.”
         “Are you ready, friend?”
         “I am, old friend.”
         The combined forces of the Lycans and the Black Academy stood their ground as Sarito stood before the King’s Army and gave the order to attack the Black Academy. They were outnumbered five to one, but their skill far surpassed that of their opponents. The Lycans, led by Lycanthia and Packleader Alpha, slashed their foes to pieces, scraps of flesh for the vultures to feed on. The men of the Academy, otherwise known as Shadows, slashed with knives, struck with claws, threw knives and shuriken, shot arrows and cast spells. Kari commanded the archers, and a stealth force from the side was under the control of Kereset. However, Sirik led the main army of Shadows. Siranov and Karad remained inside Siranov’s citadel, the true command room of the Black Academy.
         The King’s Army, now led by Sarito, numbered 5000, and though many of the soldiers were inexperienced, the knights were formidable. Wraith reluctantly led the archers, but gave them special orders not to strike until the Academy was within range. He would then, hopefully, prevent them from striking at all.
         But the most interesting battle was taking place inside the very castle itself. For Andrith had finally caught up with Korit...
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