An orphan boy is the cornerstone in an ancient conflict between one man and the gods.
|I'll be putting this up on Royalroad.com! be sure to check it out for more!
Hello, my name is Elliot, and I'm an aspiring author. I welcome comments and constructive criticism, and honestly hope to improve my craft until it can stand on its own. This is the first rough draft of the first book I ever wrote, Xen's Chosen. Enjoy!
O'tambwe walked down the dusty road, his brown eyes alert. The tall old man's black skin and black robes embroidered with gold enchantments struck an imposing figure. His face was weatherworn, and his head bald. He stooped slightly as he walked. Not because of age, but to hold the hand of his daughter who was barely up to his knee. She was dressed similarly in clothes of his own design. To the left and right for miles stretched farmland as far as the eye could see.
O'tambwe smelled smoke.
He gazed out to the village ahead of him. It was, to all appearances, an ordinary farming community. A cloud of dust made its way to the east, moving away from O'tambwe even as a plume of black smoke rose from the distant cottages. On a beautiful day like this, there would be men working, children playing, and women resting in the shade, surreptitiously watching the men. O'tambwe saw none of these things.
The village was on the outskirts of the Empire, nearly falling in the shade of Feld Mountain, the towering landmark dominating the center of the land. It was visible from every corner of the continent, with a shape so unique that children were taught to place themselves on a map simply by reading the mountain. A village on the outskirts like this one had no defense against attack, but on the unified continent there weren't any particularly large groups of outlaws who would do this.
"Little one," O'tambwe said as he bent to face his daughter. "Your father is going to see if anyone needs his help, I want you to hide here, and if anyone tries to hurt you, throw this at them." He said, gingerly placing the magic bound up in soft clay in her tiny hands. He knew no harm could come to her as long as she wore his enchantments, but it made both of them feel better for her to be armed, albeit with a nonlethal spell.
Neya darted off the road and dived into the sea of wheat. She began looking for the best vantage to observe her father, and run to his rescue if he needed her help. Neya gripped the clay ball in one hand and began crawling forward, stealthily shadowing her father.
O'tambwe eyed his daughter clumsily snaking through the wheat and sighed, turning back to the village that was just now beginning to show visible flames. He began trotting, maintaining the most comfortable pace his age would allow. In a few short minutes he arrived at the well in the center of the village.
O'tambwe's gaze passed over the brutalized corpses of men and women intermingled with a handful of dead giants, their skin unnaturally white. The giants were nine feet tall and riddled with deep wounds, while the humans surrounding them showed signs of being stabbed with spears of hacked with swords.
O'tambwe's brows furrowed. Not a single human looked like they had been hit with the kind of force one of these giants could muster. He would have expected at least a few of the villagers to be cleaved in two or an entire side of their body to be crushed.
O'tambwe shook his head and looked up at the burning homes. He needed to see if there was anyone he could save now, rather than search for clues.
"Hello!" he shouted, his thin voice lost in the now roaring blaze of many former cottages. "Is there anyone alive? I am a wizard from the country of A'ktala, I can help!"
No response. O'tambwe looked about, his eyes watering as the smoke thickened. Giving up the worst burning cottages as lost, he began searching ones that had not yet been consumed by the fire.
He had braced himself, but seeing what he already suspected was unnerving. Men, women, and children had been put to the sword in each house. They were lined up in their main rooms as if there had been a head count before they were removed from the Weave. At last the heat became too great and O'tambwe had to abandon his search.
Back at the well, O'tambwe drew a bucket of water and smelled it before he drank. Wells are prime targets in warfare, and he would not have been surprised to detect the faint odor of sewage. The water seemed clean enough, so he drank. He poured the rest of the bucket over his head, intending to try one more house before he gave up on the town.
Looking up, he noticed one house, near the edge of the village, was slower to burn than the rest. The others danced in flames so ferociously no amount of water would have saved his skin.
Dripping, O'tambwe limped to the last building, his body no longer able to sustain heroics for any length of time. If anyone was even alive in that house, a few moments more would not kill them. He reached into his midnight black robe for a small charm made of gold. It contained the spell of healing he had made for his wife. If there was someone there whose soul hadn't yet departed, it could help them.
Sadly the scene in the last house was no better than any of the others, with one exception. Beyond the man and woman who lay slain in the center of the room was the body of another grown man, wearing riding gear and holding an extinguished torch.
He lay in a steaming puddle of soup. His face was a mass of blisters contorted in a rictus of pain. The handle of a kitchen knife protruded from between his ribs. The dead rider's sheath was conspicuously empty, and there was no sword to be found on the rough wood floor of the cottage.
The next instant, O'tambwe felt a heavy blow ring from the nape of his neck.
Neya was sneaking around to the last house her father had entered when she heard the ring of steel on stone, and a child screaming. Neya abandoned her clever hiding spot and sprinted towards her father's last known location.
She tripped, tumbling end over end, and slid to a stop, her face in the dirt.
When Neya got to her feet, both knees were bleeding from the rough tumble, there was dirt in her mouth, and her eyes stung from the smoke. The only thing she could think to do was plop down and cry for help.
The powerful enchantments woven in O'tambwe's robe broke the sword, and the boy hiding in the rafters fell to the ground. The thing that disturbed O'tambwe the most was that he had not stayed down, or crawled away, or cried out. Instead the boy rolled to the dead rider and pulled the knife from the corpse's breast.
In the space of a breath, he leapt at O'tambwe, trying in vain to disembowel the wizard. The knife bounced and dented against O'tambwe's stomach a half dozen times before he could grasp the child's wrists. "Be calm, child, I am not one of them," he said, gently holding the struggling child. "I am here to help you." At last the boy began to cry out. Beginning as a whimper, his voice rose to a wail. Shortly his breath gave out and he simply collapsed.
O'tambwe looked down at the sleeping child. If he had not been a wizard dressed for the dangers of the world, he would have died today. The rider's sword was shattered, strewn across the floor. The boy had hauled it up into the rafters above his head and fell on O'tambwe sword first, rightly expecting gravity to do the work of muscle. He was dressed normally for a child of this village, with not much more than a burlap sack cinched about his waist with a rough rope.
O'tambwe saw nothing wrong with him, physically. He was unnerved though, at the efficacy of this child's attempt on his life. Unnatural for one so young, the same size as my Neya. He thought to himself. This little one may grow to be a monster, but perhaps with the right guidance, he could be Neya's monster.
It was about that time, as the wizard was contemplating the boy's fate that he heard his daughter crying and shouting for him. O'tambwe let out another sigh and carefully scooped up the boy and went out to see what trouble she'd gotten into herself into.
Neya, true to form, was sitting in the center of a burning village with both knees skinned. She didn't say anything, just wordlessly shrieked and reached for her father.
O'tambwe laid his burden down next to her and picked up his daughter, one arm supporting her while she smeared snot on his robes worth a king's ransom. With his other hand he pressed his wife's healing charm against her forehead. Shortly she wound down to sniffling, and then stopped altogether.
Neya began getting restless, kicking him in her squirming. He set her down. "better now, little one?" he asked.
Neya nodded, finally taking an interest in the boy her father had placed next to her. "Who is that, papa?" she asked.
"It's a boy who's lost his parents today," Otambwe said, glancing down at the village boy. "I am going to look after him, and in return he can help me look after you."
Neya looked down at the unconscious child. "But he's not wearing any pants!" she said, pointing at him.
You only get one chance to make an impression, O'tambwe thought to himself, rolling his eyes.
Unnoticed by Neya, his hand casually touched the nape of his neck. The impression the boy had made on O'tambwe left a thin trail of blood oozing from the back of his neck.
Ezyk walked along the paved road leading away from the academy towards the clearing used from day to day as a practice field for any discipline that could result in bodily harm. His heart pounded in his chest and his limbs tingled with excitement. Today they would get to see some real magic, not glorified trade school.
O’tambwe had pounded the basics of a dozen disciplines into the students, day after day, and today was the day he would give them their first lesson on spellcraft rather than carving, calligraphy, chemistry and metallurgy, history or math.
Beside Ezyk, in front and behind him were the other students of O’tambwe’s Wizardry class, excitedly chatting amongst themselves. They filed into the practice field and took their seats on the stone semicircle at the edge of the grass.
O’tambwe stood near the seats with a table stacked high with bowls, paper, and what seemed to be a knitting needle. A large barrel of water and several buckets were nearby. There were suspicious swaths of grass between where they stood and O’tambwe himself that were blackened as though they had caught fire.
O’tambwe motioned for the students to sit on the seats facing him. As soon as the class had settled down, he got their attention.
“Good afternoon children,” he said, standing in front of the table. “It has been a long time coming, and today you will begin to learn practical magic.” The class gave a cheer, and Ezyk found himself grinning.
“Indeed,” he continued, “from this afternoon on you will be able to kill yourself, your friends and family just by writing a few words on paper.” The students went silent.
“Let’s begin.” O’tambwe said after giving his words a moment to sink in. “Long ago, when the world was created, the gods devised a written language that was so intrinsically linked to the thing that it represented, that it would allow them to change the world as they saw fit. In the end, the gods left us to our own devices, and the master key to reality they left for any man to use. Why then, is wizardry such a rare art? Am I not teaching a group of twenty five this very thing? There are many reasons. The more obvious I will share with you.”
“First, it’s difficult,” O’tambwe said, holding up a gnarled finger. “These runes resist being used. You’ll see what I mean today.” He held up another finger. “Second, it’s complicated. There are more than three thousand of these words that we know of, some so similar in shape that a layman could not pick out the difference. And others that we know must exist, but we do not know the rune for.”
O’tambwe extended his thumb. “And lastly, it’s dangerous. If every one of you is careful, and take the best precautions, only one or two of you will die. But we all know you’ll get confident in yourself eventually, and sooner or later you’ll start to drop like flies.” O’tambwe scanned the nervous students for a moment, his eyes briefly resting on Ezyk before moving on.
“Case in point, there is a small charm that could be used to clean your boots,” Otambwe said, pointing to his feet. “This combination of runes is almost identical to one which would gut you like a fish. My advice is to play it smart and never, ever, clean your boots with the power of the gods.” This got a small laugh.
O’tambwe moved to stand beside the table. “I have, for each of you, a book of common runes arranged by similarity and complexity,” he said, patting the books. “If you want to live a good long life, cross reference the runes of every spell you create with similar runes to make absolutely sure it’s not going to release a poisonous gas or hell spawn beast if you forget a stroke.”
O’tambwe clapped his hands together and spoke. “Now that I’ve hopefully impressed on you the danger of magic,” O’tambwe said, eyeing the students with a malevolent grin. “There is one little trick that will prevent you from killing yourself almost entirely. And that is blood.”
“I’m going to pool a small amount of blood from each of you into these bowls,” O’tambwe said, motioning to the bowls. “Which you will then use as the ink for your first forays into the magical arts.”
The students whispered to each other, most of them sneaking terrified looks at the needle that until recently had seemed innocuous. Ezyk heard the phrase ‘blood magic’ tossed around more than once before a small girl near the front raised her hand.
“Yes, my dear?” O’tambwe asked with a smile as he unfolded a velvet cloth filled with shiny needles.
“How does using our blood prevent us from hurting ourselves?” she asked. “It seems like the opposite!” Ezyk was sure that he and everyone else were thinking the exact same thing, which meant this was part of the old man’s game.
“I’m glad you asked my dear,” O’tambwe said. “It’s a simple matter of the spell assuming properties of the medium with which it was created.” The blank stares of the class had O’tambwe befuddled for a moment. He scratched his bald head for a moment before tossing one of the needles to the closest student, a young man with a fair, freckled face.
“Kill yourself,” O’tambwe said.
The boy sat stock still in the seat as every eye turned to him.
“I’ll give you extra credit,” Otambwe said. “Award you with full marks posthumously.”
The freckled boy shook his head.
“Do it,” Otambwe said, placing his index finger on his neck. “Just line the needle up with the major vein here, and go to sleep. That’s not so hard.”
The boy shook his head more emphatically, his hands shaking.
“Do it!” O’tambwe shouted, and the freckled young man dropped the needle onto the grass and began crawling away from the wizard, climbing up the stone steps to seek safety with his friends.
“Sorry, Paul,” O’tambwe said, stooping to retrieve the needle as he addressed the class. “Put simply, a spell created from a living creature’s blood cannot directly harm that creature, since it is anathema for a living creature to kill itself.” Still, silence reigned.
“I suppose a demonstration would convince you?” he asked, raising a brow as he scanned the students. This met general enthusiasm from the class.
Ezyk leaned forward, eager to see what would happen next. He was unprepared for O’tambwe, the wizard who had raised him like a son for 9 years to suddenly slip out of his robe, revealing himself in all his wrinkled majesty. Amid the silent squinting, scattered groans and a single catcall, O’tambwe calmly folded his robe and placed it on the table before taking up one of the bowls and a clean needle.
With a practiced motion, O’tambwe jabbed the needle into his left wrist. The open end of the needle spurted blood into the bowl he held with his left hand. No more than 4 seconds went by before he withdrew the needle and held his thumb over his wrist. O’tambwe set the bowl of blood down and took up a small necklace Ezyk had not noticed next to the bowls.
After a moment, he set it back down and removed his thumb, revealing that the bleeding had stopped and the hole in his wrist was gone. “Good,” O’tambwe said, flexing his left hand. “We can begin.” O’tambwe picked up the bowl with a flourish and grabbed a sheet of paper. He then moved a short way away from the table and sat cross legged, setting the bowl beside him.
“This is a worst case scenario,” he said, dabbing his middle finger into the bowl. O’tambwe began tracing an intricate symbol on the paper. The air began to feel thick, shimmering around the old wizard and pressing against the sensitive tissue of Ezyk’s eyes.
O’tambwe burst into flame.
A wave of heat washed across the faces of the onlookers, causing Ezyk to throw his arm over his eyes. Somewhere someone screamed as the boy in front of Ezyk prepared to bolt.
A moment later, the heat was gone. Ezyk stood, because the boy in front of him was blocking his view. Looking to the left and right, Ezyk saw the rest of the class standing as well. In front of them was O’tambwe with his arms akimbo, his skin glowing a deep red in the afternoon sun.
“Thus will using your own blood protect you from most harm,” O’tambwe said, still nude. “But not from everything. A wizard in the military can’t afford to be bleeding themself constantly either. Sooner or later you are going to have to work without that safety net.”
“So, who wants to quit while they’re alive?” O’tambwe asked. A few hands shot up, a shorter girl going so far as to bounce on her toes. Ezyk was frightened, but the appeal of the fantastic drew him in, and so he kept his hand down.
O’tambwe’s gaze crossed each person with their hand up, briefly settling on Ezyk. “That is the correct answer,” he said, a smile forming on his weather worn face. “You will make excellent wizards. I can’t actually allow you to leave my class, but that level of caution is exactly what I expect. Now form a line in front of the table.”
O’tambwe slowly walked over to the table, and very gingerly slid his robe on, grimacing as the silk slid over his tender skin. As students filed by him, he quickly went about handing them a book from under the table, a bowl, and a paper from the stack.
When Ezyk’s turn came, he spoke up. “Are you all right sir?” he asked.
“I expect I’ll peel tomorrow” O’tambwe said, giving him a grin that was shockingly white framed by his dark, burnt skin.
After all the students were seen to, O’tambwe gave them a quick lesson on spell structure before allowing them to sit wherever they liked to read their books. O’tambwe only insisted that if a student wished to try a combination of runes they would allow O’tambwe to review it first. Then O’tambwe would draw a bit of their blood into a bowl to allow them to work the spell safely. Other than that, they were free to peruse their books and begin building their own spells.
Ezyk sat down with his friend Jaque, and they began looking through the runes together. “That line about gutting you like a fish couldn’t possibly be right,” Jaque said, resting his chin on his palm as he flipped through the pages. “It has nothing to do with cleaning boots.” Jaque scanned the pages quickly.
“Oh wait,” Jaque said, squinting as his gaze flickered between two runes. “Nevermind, ‘clean’ and ‘hollow out’ are unbelievably similar. Yeah, I could see that happening.”
“He’s expecting us to make our own spells,” Ezyk said impatiently. “Let’s browse through the simplest runes for useful ones. That way we’ll be allowed to try it out sooner than everyone else.”
Jaque ignored him and was flipping through pages with increasing excitement, holding several places with his fingers while delving deeper into the book. “Hold on, I need to check something,” Jaque said, dashing off toward O’tambwe. Ezyk decided to not bother with him for the time being and began scanning through the first five pages for possible combinations.
Jaque came trotting back with his cheeks flushed and a stupid grin plastered on his face. “What did you do?” Ezyk asked, hoping his friend hadn’t done anything that would spill over onto his shoulders.
“ I am a genius,” Jaque declared, sitting cross legged in front of him “I showed O’tambwe my plan for a breast expansion spell, and with only a minor revision he says it will work perfectly.”
Ezyk was speechless. Mostly he was aghast at his friends impending misuse of magic, but a small part of him was curious. “And what was this minor revision?” Ezyk asked.
“An extra rune to allow the growth to stop.“ Jaque said, getting back up again.
Ezyk rolled his eyes and went back to scanning the page. His eyes caught the simple rune representing lodestone that looked somewhat like an apple that had been sliced in half. As a child, he always found it fascinating trying to push together like ends of lodestone and having them magically repel each other. If he could find a way to make other things behave like lodestone...The only problem of course was that lodestone attracted as well as repelled itself, he’d have to find a way to harness only one aspect of it. What If he made everything within a small area essentially represent an equal and identical amount of lodestone? That would either cause everything to be drawn in or repelled.
Ezyk got to his feet and walked to where O’tambwe stood. “Sir, I’d like to build a spell based on lodestone.” He said. “Oh? Describe it to me, young man.” O’tambwe said. “I’d like to use these runes,” Ezyk pointed at the Lodestone rune, the Becoming rune, Symmetry rune, and the Cloud rune. “to make an area around the spell in which everything will repel everything else, the purpose of this enchantment would be to turn aside sword and arrow blows.”
O’tambwe looked over the runes with a frown. “this is not my speciality,” Ot’ambwe said flipping through Ezyk’s book. “But substitute this,” he pointed at the cloud rune. “With these two.” he pointed at two others, further back in the book than Ezyk had looked. “And you will have a more definite border.”
“If you make an enchantment out of two pieces of lodestone bound together against their own force you should be on the right track,” Otambwe said, glancing up at Ezyk from his seat in the shade. “It would make the spell permanent, and reinforce the power of the Lodestone Rune.”
Ezyk was about to ask where he might get a large enough lodestone when O’tambwe put a hand on his shoulder, looking past him. “Be somewhere else right now,” O’tambwe said. “I would prefer it if you were beneath their notice.”
Ezyk glanced over his shoulder and saw the Dean bearing down on them, a dark look on his face. Behind him was the son of count Heager. Until recently he had been a member of the class, but he had stormed off a week ago when O’tambwe had moved from a month of minerals and smelting to a weeklong primer on woodcarving and scrimshaw.
Ezyk turned to stand beside O’tambwe rather than hide. O’tambwe looked down at Ezyk with a glimmer of frustration before addressing the now arriving Dean. “Dean Richmond, what business brings you here today?” O’tambwe made a small bow.
The dean looked over the field of students with their heads bent over books, conversing in twos and threes. He looked back at Otambwe. “What are they doing?” he asked, his face growing red.
“They are learning, my friend.” O’tambwe said.
“This boy here told me that you had been teaching these student nothings they could not learn from an engineering course,” The Dean said. “Of course I didn’t believe him, but then another came to me not five minutes ago, and told me you’d asked for volunteers to quit, told a boy to kill himself!”
The Dean’s face grew redder and his voice rose “then she confirmed that today was the first day you taught any real wizardry!” he shouted “The Empire is not funding your class for smiths, carpenters, engineers and scrimshaw artists! They want wizards to support the reclamation of the Interior! It’s been three months, and they know nothing!” The Dean gestured at the students, who were now staring.
“Ah, I see you are most astute, and right to be critical,” O’tambwe said. “I hope this will allay your concerns about my students.” O’tambwe motioned a short, plain girl with black hair and thin features to join them. “Heather, say you were working for the army, and they came across a wood bridge that had been destroyed by the enemy, and your troop needed to pass that day? What would you do?” heather ducked her head , hiding her face behind her book.
The Dean snorted, and was about to continue his tirade when she responded, “I would flatten the main beams, and carve Memory and Growth to cause the two sides of the bridge to grow back together.” She said, craning her neck to look at O’tambwe and the dean.
“A creative solution my dear, thank you,” O’tambwe said, patting her on the head. She blushed a little and almost skipped away.
“What the hell did that prove?” Dean Richmond demanded. “Wizards are weapons! Their utility lies in destroying the enemy!”
“If you want weapons instead of wizards, I could easily make some fire spells that any idiot could use.” O’tambwe said, his hand sliding into the pocket of his robe.
The light around O’tambwe dimmed, and his voice grew deeper, until it began to shake the ground. It seemed as though space had drawn around him like purse strings that had been firmly pulled closed. The only thing anyone could do was look in awe, as already tall wizard seemed to grow to a frightening height.
“The wizards I teach will be problem solvers!” He said, his voice shaking the earth. “If that happens to include enemy soldiers, they will solve that problem! Right now you are being a problem!”
The dean fell backwards, scooting away from O’tambwe, the red draining from his face, leaving him pale and sickly. The count’s son was already nowhere to be seen. A moment later the dean scrambled back to his feet, cowed by O’tambwe’s display.
“We will discuss this in private, another time” he stammered, before turning and walking away at a pace almost too brisk to be considered walking.
As his students continued to stare, O’tambwe took his hand out of his pocket and placed a small charm carved from what appeared to be a fingerbone on the table beside him. The moment he broke contact, the sky lightened, and he seemed to shrink back to normal.
O’tambwe waited for the dean to no longer be visible, then motioned his class to approach. When they had gathered around, he spoke. “this is a charm of my own invention, I like to call it The Alpha Wolf,” he said with a grin. “I use it for... well, exactly what you saw there. I suggest you make one of your own, children. When you leave my class, you will be required to join the military for a term of no less than 4 years. Wizards must have an air of mystery about them, and this little charm will make your life easier if you use it judiciously.”
Jaque leaned forward and snatched up the bone, instantly growing menacing and powerful. “Ladies!” he boomed, facing the rest of the class. “Arrange yourselves for me in order of height!” The class along with O’tambwe fell about the field laughing. The bone made its way through every student’s hands. Each made a demand, proclamation or insult before passing it to the next.
Ezyk looked to O’tambwe, who was wiping tears from his eyes. “Is this wizard training too?” he asked.
O’tambwe looked back at him, still chuckling a bit. “Indeed it is,” he said, glancing at his students. “A wizard must know a trick when he sees one. Imagine if they had run into something similar without having made a game of it.” he said. “Take the mystery away from something, and it loses its power over you.”
As the class wound down everyone had the opportunity to make an attempt at what O'tambwe claimed to be the simplest and safest spell. A simple three stroke rune summoned a small point of light.
"We'll take this opportunity to introduce you to the wizard's trance," O'tambwe said, orating from beneath the shade of the tree. "When you write a spell, you will feel as if everything has become sluggish. After a while you will start to feel nauseous, until your eyes begin to spin, and your sense of balance is lost."
"This is the sensation of reality stretching, and trying to correct itself," O'tambwe said. "And the longer you can soldier through these uncomfortable sensations, the more powerful the effect you will evoke when you finish the spell and the accumulated energy settles into the runes you have laid." A simple three stroke rune summoned a small point of light, hovering above the paper that O'tambwe held.
It turned out a little different for each student, some brighter, some dimmer, or strangely colored. None of them turned out as steady as O'tambwe's. Ezyk supposed that was to be expected. When Ezyk's turn had come, his heart wouldn't slow down, the thrill of working his first spell combined with the fear of self-immolation kept his pulse quick and fingers shaky.
As Ezyk drew the symbol, his arm quickly grew tired, then he realized his hand was moving slower than when he had started. Ezyk tried to make it move faster, but nothing happened. Instead his hand seemed to crawl across the blank paper with the speed of a slug. Ezyk tried to look up, and was hit with a rush of vertigo as his eyes took several seconds to move. His whole body was mired in a swamp, but everyone else was perfectly still. Ezyk panicked. Did I do something to the world!? he thought, pulling away.
Ezyk's concentration snapped, and the feeling went away, leaving his surroundings once again moving. He found his own hand finishing the last stroke, and he felt something leave him, as if Ezyk had taken a large breath and blown it all out at once. In front of him, a flickering mote of light rose from the paper. O'tambwe laid a firm hand on his shoulder. "Congratulations on your first spell, child." O'tambwe said, his wrinkled face beaming.
Ezyk was walking back to his dorm, mind buzzing with all the possibilities that had been set before him and making plans for his own spells when he passed in front of an empty storage room. Ezyk only heard a few quick footsteps before someone slammed into him from the side, knocking him into the room. Instead of falling onto the cold floor he felt hands catch him and pull him further into the room.
The room was dark, the only light coming from the open doorway leading into the courtyard. In a moment his eyes adjusted, but not before a fist struck his jaw and addled his senses. There were five people in the room with Ezyk, and the two behind him hauled him to his feet. Two more stood in front of him, while the last closed the door. With the door closed, only the thin light of the evening sun slid through a small crack in the door to illuminate the room.
The boy in front of Ezyk was Staffon Heager. Beside him was his younger brother, Fenris Heager. Fenris was named after the Legendary Wolf, but he would have been more appropriately named after the Legendary Opossum, had there been such a thing. He was small, with a hunched stance, furtive eyes, and a rather large nose, which dominated his face and made his quick glances from side to side almost comical.
Steffon had a delicate bearing, although taller and straighter than his brother, with a protruding forehead and thin lips that barely covered his mess of teeth. Ezyk found himself thankful that the older brother wasn't the most robust of nobles, else that punch might have hurt him more than it did Steffon.
"This is a school for the nobility," Steffon said, cradling the fist he had punched Ezyk with. "You don't belong here. Your very presence diminishes the prestige of this academy. If the wizard wanted a pet, he would have been better off with a dog."
Steffon leaned in closely. "if you think I'm going to share this school with a monkey who spent the first six years of his life not wearing pants, you're dead wrong," he said, punctuating his words with another punch to the face.
Damn it Neya, Ezyk thought as he felt the fire burning inside him, but it was still in check.
Ezyk considered the most appropriate response to deescalate the conflict as quickly as possible, trying to deal with the situation as O'tambwe had taught him. Ezyk took a breath to begin a well-argued case against assaulting him, then he spat a mouthful of blood in Steffon's face. Maybe it wasn't as in check as he had thought.
A lot of things happened at once. Steffon shoved away from Ezyk, wiping at his face like he had discovered a nest of spiders on his forehead as a shadow fell from the ceiling, hitting Fenris in the back of his hunched neck. The two boys holding Ezyk dropped him in surprise as the lookout by the door watched in shock.
Steffon was still wiping his face when the shadow set upon him. It was a lithe figure that seemed to swim through the air towards him, accelerating unnaturally. All of a sudden he didn't have time to be afraid of common blood tainting him as small fists struck with bruising precision. Neya hit Steffon everywhere it hurt, first his nose, then his stomach, then she kicked him in the groin. Steffon's eyes bulged and he dropped to the ground, folding around his manhood.
The room went silent, with Neya standing in the middle. Ezyk's mouth was filling with blood again, Fenris was unconscious, and Steffon couldn't breathe. Their three lackeys looked on in stunned silence.
"Who's next?" Neya demanded, planting her foot on Steffon's ribcage like a hero in an epic painting. She faced Ezyk and the two lackeys next to him. The only sound that penetrated the silence was a thin wheeze from Steffon's lungs as they asserted the need to breathe as only slightly more important than his need to reproduce.