The College of Wizards receives a visit from an unwelcome guest
| The College of Wizards was an ancient place. For centuries it had been here atop the high cliffs that overlooked the violent Western Sea, nearly a castle in its own right. The great keep towered hundreds of feet above the cliff-tops, its windows staring over the surrounding land like ever-watchful eyes, and its spreading walls protected it in a vast semi-circle from one side to the other. The grounds within were filled with gardens of thousands of flowers and its walkways were lit by torches, torches that had no flame but instead were set with pale blue stones which cast a wintery glow across the stone paths.
The gates in the outer wall were of some age-old black metal and were not solid, but rather were more like a fence of iron rods held together by a pattern of spirals, formed also of metal. They were open, welcoming, as they always were. A wide, blue-lit path connected the gates to the keep’s wooden doors, open as well.
Inside the keep were hundreds, perhaps thousands of rooms. And that was only counting the ones directly a part of the keep, for no one knew how many hundreds more lay within the maze of catacombs that wound their way down into the ground. Some of the rooms here were sleeping quarters; others were lined wall-to-wall with shelves containing uncountable numbers of plants, stones, and strange ingredients. Some rooms were completely empty.
A level up, the staircase opened onto an immense hall. At one end was a dais and podium. The rest of the hall was filled with benches, and on these benches were seated hundreds of robed figures. It was a sea of color: robes of deep red, of poison green, of sapphire blue; some were black as night and others a pale grey. The walls that soared overhead were strengthened by ornate stone arches from which hung banners and tapestries emblazoned with innumerable different creatures from mighty bears to serpentine dragons.
On the dais, four figures sat in high-backed wooden chairs. One was dressed in a robe of rich blue, and from beneath the hood his sightless eyes roved aimlessly across the hall. Beside him sat a man in robes like amethyst. His head was bald but his white beard was long and braided. Next was a younger man, with a thick brown beard and long hair that reached past the high collar of his red robes. Last in line was a man in robes as black as jet. His young face was clean-shaven and his dark eyes swept the room calculatingly.
There was a fifth man on the dais, an ancient man, older than any of the other High Wizards behind him, but he carried himself with such strength and his voice boomed with such power that no one could ever dare question his status. He was Arrus, Grand Wizard, Chief Scholar of the College. His robes were golden and shone faintly in the blue light of the hall as his voice rang out across the hundreds of students gathered before him.
“A spellbook has no innate power of its own,” he boomed. “It is the words within, and the wizard who make it what it is. It is a channel, a-”
The door onto the dais slammed open with a bang. Every eye in the room switched from Arrus to the man who entered. He was very tall, dressed in a richly embroidered robe of green and gold, and fur was sewn into the shoulders and much of the back. His black hair and beard were both trimmed short, and his eyes glittered with intelligence as they scanned the room.
Arrus fixed the newcomer with a silent stare. After a moment he said, “A new student? Please take your seat with the others. We shall deal with your lateness after the lesson.”
The man didn’t move. “I am not here to learn.”
Arrus’ jaw clenched. “Then whatever message you bring will wait till later. I am not a man accustomed to interruptions.” He returned his gaze to the students. “As I was saying, a spellbook is-”
“I am here to teach,” said the man.
Arrus turned slowly from the podium, disbelief and fury evident on his face. “I beg your pardon?”
“The Emperor has decided your students’ learning must be accelerated to more…practical matters.”
Arrus’ teeth were gritted so tightly that the veins on his temples were bulging. “Is that so?”
The man produced a piece of parchment from his belt. “This is a decree from the Emperor himself, commanding that the students immediately progress to learning the more practical side of things.”
“How dare you-” spluttered Arrus.
“Necromancers are once again being seen in Hytal Marsh, and the Emperor has foreseen a new threat that will arise in the North.”
“A thousand wizards with no understanding of the power they control will be far more dangerous than any horde of necromancers,” Arrus growled.
“The Emperor does not agree.”
“The Emperor does not understand,” Arrus corrected angrily. “He has no idea what dangers he will be creating. These students are not ready.”
“In your eyes they are not,” said the man. “In the Emperor’s, they are. I will instruct them myself in the ways of battle magic.”
“I will not have my school turned into the Emperor’s private army,” said Arrus.
The other man handed him the parchment. “This decree also gives me the authority to remove you from the grounds if necessary. Please, do not force me to take such action.”
Arrus drew himself up to his full height, and his voice rippled with fury. “This is my school,” he thundered. “And I will not allow you to endanger my students until I feel they are ready. I will give you one chance. Leave now, and tell the Emperor that this is not the way to ask for my help.”
The stranger nodded. “I am sorry, then.” He glanced back out the doorway and nodded. Four soldiers entered the room. Their faces were hidden by visored helms and swords were in their hands. “They will escort you outside the College. Once there, you will be forbidden from re-entering until such time as the Emperor permits it. Otherwise you are free to go where you will.”
“I am not going anywhere,” said Arrus. The air around him shimmered.
The other man’s eyes widened and he screamed, “Get back!”
A blast of air with the force of a thunderbolt crashed into them and sent them all hurtling head-over-heels back down the stairs. Arrus charged after them, hurling battering rams of air with his hands like he was throwing rocks. The five men never made it more than two steps at a time before being knocked face-first to the stone again. Arrus pursued them all the way to the gate, and with a final thunderclap of force he threw them all thirty feet out of the college. He raised his arms and the metal gates slammed shut and began to shimmer with blue, serpentine strands of magic.
The five men never looked back. They fled down the road and disappeared. Arrus stood for a moment, watching them go, then he turned to face the four High Wizards who had followed him out. “Keep this gate locked. No one enters, no one leaves. Varrath, instruct the students of our emergency procedures. Kel’Thrann, inspect the catacombs and ensure that there are no entrances we are unaware of. Nashuur, speak with the stewards. We must know what supplies we have.” He waited for the three High Wizards to disappear into the College. Then he turned to the fourth, the black-robed, watchful man. “I believe it is time you made use of your skills that we have for so long forbidden, Sevahr. Go to the capital. We must learn what the Emperor’s true plan is.”