What is on my mind...today. This is the blog of B Throwsnaill, author of the fantasy adventure series The Maker's Fire, which includes Hemlock and the Wizard Tower (Book One), Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy (Book Two), and Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress (Book Three).
Hemlock and the Wizard Tower: Chapter One
by B Throwsnaill Get the full text of this novel for FREE by visiting Amazon or Smashwords (click novel cover image to the right).
The night air was
crisp as Hemlock, a lithe figure wrapped in a gray cloak, approached the
decaying remains of a once proud structure. Heavy beams of wood, now sundered,
splayed out like broken ribs, leaving the main structure sagging in some places
and collapsed in others. One section of the old building, more stubborn than
the rest, remained standing at its full height, and it was toward the top of
this section that Hemlock directed her attention. She was able to make out a small
glowing ember atop that old roof, and she shook her head condescendingly as she
sprung onto the wall and scampered up the side of the building easily.
As she gained the
roof she saw an aging, balding man sitting cross-legged and puffing gently on a
long pipe. His cloak and pants were a worn and non-descript brown, and were
slightly ill-fitting on his large, portly frame. The familiar scent of his
tobacco comforted her.
“The whole Warrens
is surely aware of you, Safreon. Why do you insist on giving away our best
hiding spots by smoking that pipe?” she asked.
grunted, mouth still on pipe, gesturing for her to sit beside him.
Hemlock took his
cue and sat, taking little stock in the commanding view of the marketplace the
rooftop afforded. It was too familiar to register as anything but another place
to spot the ill-tempered types who preyed on the decent folk who kept life
moving in the district that extended from her position for a score of blocks in
visible deterrent is enough,” said Safreon, “and some evenings I’m just tired.
Let the cutpurses have a night to consider the direction of their lives.
Tomorrow I’ll resume stalking them.”
“I make no such
They’ve been warned. If strong drink or malice blunts the impact of that
warning, then they have made their choice this night.”
answer; instead she looked toward her and her sister’s apartment, the vicinity
of which was visible, though several blocks away. Seeing all was quiet there, she
turned her attention to the Wizard Tower, which loomed at the edge of the
Warrens near the shore of Hemisphere Lake, which separated the low-class
Warrens from the upper-class section which was simply called the Elite
The Wizard Tower
was taller than any other structure in the City of San Cyra. It rose to a
height of several hundred feet, and was composed of seven distinct floors. The
outer walls were round, and at evenly spaced intervals around the Tower a
series of tall, ornately arched windows were in evidence.The glass of these windows did not transmit
any signs of activity within the Tower other than a faint glimmer of light that
emanated from behind many of them from dusk through the darkest hours of the
night. At the top of the Tower there was an intricately shaped glass atrium
that rose up from the stone below it at an equal width, and gradually tapered
as it rose via a series of sharp angular transitions which culminated in a
slender glass rod that extended upwards to form the apex.
A shimmering light
played around the top of the Wizard Tower as Hemlock watched.
“How is your
sister?” asked Safreon, breaking the silence.
that healer, Frascont, needed to use an extra potion to help her.”
“How did you pay
“I see. I can lend
you some coins until we recover more money with no clear owner.”
Hemlock turned to
him sharply. “And what if we can’t wait that long? Why would a few coins taken
as a finder’s fee be such a problem?”
“You know why. Our
enemies would condemn us, saying we are little more than thieves ourselves.
They have connections, and those few who cherish the rule of law would listen
to such criticism.”
away and exhaled forcefully. The Wizard Tower caught her eye again, and she blurted
out something that had been simmering in her mind for a long time. “It’s the
Wizards behind it all! They are the reason my sister suffers as she does. We
need to do something about them!”
Safreon did not
respond immediately. Hemlock turned toward him; he merely sat, puffing on his
pipe. This infuriated her, but she controlled her anger. She knew from past
arguments it only ended up worse for her when she lost her temper. He always
made her feel like a foolish child, and she didn’t want to cede him that
intellectual high ground.
first night when you tried to rob me? You were a good thief—the best I’d
encountered, in fact—even then. But you didn’t think the rumors about ‘Safreon
the Vigilante’ were real, and you didn’t take the time to learn about me. Then,
because of your ignorance, you made an error in judgment that led to your
capture at my hands.”
“A point you never
tire of bringing up!”
underscores a critical point. I’ve been studying this City and the people in it
for years. I agree the Wizards must be dealt with eventually, but in due time
and with subtlety. You don’t know the first thing about them. You look at their
Tower and imagine we’ll attack it? It’s foolish nonsense. There are obstacles
and wards. How would we cross the Moat of Acid? What of the Drawbridge of
“I don’t know,”
conceded Hemlock, “but there has to be a way. And you do know things about the
Wizards! If you just tell me what you know, then we can come up with a plan!”
“You’re not ready
yet, and my plans for the Wizards proceed along other avenues. Never confront
an enemy at their point of strength when other, weaker options exist.”
Safreon puffed on
his pipe again before answering. “Call it diplomacy.”
Hemlock stood and
turned to him. “Diplomacy? When my sister takes ill again, should I trust in
responded Safreon, rising. “Now calm yourself in the remaining night hours.
You’ve agreed to trust me many times, yet here you are arguing with me again.
You must have faith in me and my plans. Rest assured I will teach you
everything you’ll need to know and more—but in the proper time.”
away as Safreon climbed down to the street to take his leave of her for the
night. He had made her feel like a chastened child again. Part of her bristled
at his lecture, but another part appreciated the truth in his words. She was at
war within herself for several minutes, but, finally, temperance won out over
defiance and desire for swift action.
smoking and their ensuing argument had likely compromised her position, Hemlock
was not inclined to move for several hours. She watched over the marketplace
and surrounding blocks, but her eye always seemed to stray back to the heights
of the Wizard Tower and the glowing dweomer that played lazily around its apex.
An unusual motion
caught her eye several blocks to her right. She was certain she’d seen
something soar from a rooftop down to the street, and now she could barely make
out two figures huddled there.
She rose, reaching
a full sprint in a matter of steps. The rooftop became a blur as she sped
toward its edge and then leapt into the open air. She flew for several seconds
before hitting a lower rooftop of an adjacent building in a controlled tumble.
She vaulted out of the tumble and jumped from rooftop to rooftop, covering the
intervening blocks in an astonishingly short period of time.
As the scene on
the street came into view, she saw a man of strange appearance roughing up a
drunk on the street below. The aggressor was clothed only in a loincloth, and
his slender and muscular body was light blue. Upon his back rested an odd pair
of wings. The wings were folded and covered in feathers. Hemlock realized this
was a “bird man”—a member of a group who had recently immigrated to the City
from the west.
The Bird Man was
close to wresting a coin purse from the prone man, who was putting up a
surprising amount of resistance, given his apparent condition.
“Awwww, no you dowwwn’t!” slurred
the drunken man.
down the shingled roof and then grabbed hold of an iron rain gutter. She slid
down the gutter, wincing as it groaned slightly under her weight, but she
reached the street just as the Bird Man was breaking into a sprint with the
coin purse in hand.
He was fast, but
Hemlock was faster. The Bird Man spotted her just as she reached him, and
suddenly his wings extended and his feet left the ground. But Hemlock was too
quick; she got a hold of the man’s belt as he rose. Though he carried her with
him into the air a few feet, Hemlock was able to strike the man several times
under his arm. The Bird Man lost control of his ascent, and Hemlock rode him
down into a hard face first landing in the street.
Safreon had a term
for a special skill Hemlock possessed. He referred to her as being "magically
attuned." He explained that meant she was sensitive to magic. She could
perceive it when most could not, and she could often understand its
Just before the
Bird Man had taken flight, Hemlock detected a magical spell of activation. It
had been a command word and an odd, mental visualization Hemlock had perceived
as a geometric pattern.
The Bird Man was
out cold. His wings appeared to be undamaged by the crash.
re-played in her mind. How would we cross
the Moat of Acid?
“This is how,” she
muttered, quickly removing the wings from the Bird Man.
She was able to
wear the wings comfortably after making some adjustments to the leather straps.
They were surprisingly light, and Hemlock sensed their power of flight was more
magical than physical, with the wing shape serving only to amplify the magical
She noticed the
Bird Man’s blue skin was the result of a covering of a chalky substance she had
to clean off her hands after handling him. His skin was colored normally
beneath the chalk.
She tossed the
coin purse to the drunk as he shuffled toward her, rubbing his head and
cursing. Though she needed the money, her deference to Safreon carried sway in
that regard. But in another, more fundamental area, his influence did not fare
so well. Hemlock was heading toward the Wizard Tower.
After she’d walked
several blocks, during which time she had resisted multiple counter-attacks by
her conscience, she stood in the shadow of the Tower. Its massive size was far
more imposing up close, and she wasn’t without fear as she stood in the shadows
of a hovel that lay close to the Moat of Acid.
The Moat encircled
the entire Tower, and its bubbling, viscous, green surface looked very
threatening. She had actually witnessed a man try to cross the Moat one night
some years prior. He’d attempted to slide across on the flimsy purchase of a
rope attached to a bolt, which he’d fired from a small, makeshift ballista. The
bolt had given way about two thirds of his way across—and had sent him hurtling
into the Moat with his face contorted in a silent scream. Hemlock had wondered,
prior to this incident, whether the Moat might not have really been filled with
acid. But the disintegration of this man, his partially destroyed limbs
thrashing above the surface of the moat, first devoid of skin, and then even of
sinew, had convinced her of the acid’s authenticity.
These threats are real. Are you sure you
want to do this?
The thought of her
sister suffering galvanized her.
And how many others suffer as she does?
She walked away
from the Tower for a block and cautiously attempted to activate the wings. Her
first attempt failed, but her second worked and she felt the wings extend on
her back. She felt light, and before she realized it, she’d begun to hover a
few feet over the street. She wasn’t sure how to control the flight and wished
she’d observed the Bird Man more closely.
Did he extend his arms?
She tried that and
began to climb rapidly. Fearing to rise too high, she brought her arms back to
her sides and she began to descend. Feeling bolder, she raised her arms again
and leaned forward slightly. This time she began to fly forward as she climbed.
After a few more
experiments, she felt confident she could cross the thirty yard width of the
She returned to
the shadow of the hovel and realized the moment for the final decision had
arrived. She was surprised to feel her doubts wash away in the face of it.
It just feels right!
That was enough
for her. She jogged toward the Moat and then accelerated as she mouthed the
magic word to activate the wings. She raised her arms and leaned forward, and
in a moment the strange green fluid was passing below her feet. She thought
about trying to fly to the top of the Tower, but as she did so, a sudden gust
of wind spoiled her flight.
She began rolling
uncontrollably and losing height. She didn’t know how to compensate. She raised
her arms frantically, but because she’d rolled to her side, the motion caused
her to dip toward the glistening surface of the Moat. She recoiled her arms as
the distant shore approached. She had no hope of regaining control—only that
she had enough momentum to carry her over the acid.
did. She hit the ground on the other side, mere feet from the Moat’s edge. But
she landed hard and rolled onto her back. The wings twisted and broke under the
strain of the fall.
She rose and
sprinted several yards until she reached the base of the Tower. As she removed
the remnants of the wings, she looked all around for signs of detection.
The night was
still quiet, and only the faint howling of a distant wolf interrupted it.
Her adrenaline was
pumping as she considered her next course of action. She knew the gatehouse was
to her right as she stood with her back on the cold granite of the Wizard
Tower. Everyone knew the gatehouse was protected by the Drawbridge of
Ninety-Nine Tears. As she scampered around the Tower toward the gatehouse, she
remembered the legend.
The Drawbridge was named for an apocryphal
event that had taken place in the early, formative years of the current age of
the City. According to the tale, there had been a faction in the Elite
citizenry that had been wary of the influence the Wizard Guild had been gaining
over City politics. A legislative power play had been made in the Senate, which
would have regulated the use of Magic and outlawed theWizard Guild—or any organized group of Magic Users, for that matter,
who would not have agreed to be "supervised" by City government
authorities. The Wizard’s Guild had reacted quickly and decisively.
The Senate members, who intended to
unanimously pass the measure to institute the new regulations, had numbered
ninety-nine. Each had been abducted on the night prior to the passing of the
legislation; some had been abducted by means of sorcery and others had been
taken by more conventional means. For six days and nights, nothing had been
seen or heard from the ninety-nine abductees, and no means had been found to
enter or communicate with the occupants of the Wizard Tower.
Finally, on the seventh day, the Drawbridge
had been lowered, and the ninety-nine Senators had been impaled on long
gleaming spears which had been arrayed in two rows running up and down the
length of the long wooden platform. All ninety-nine had been near death, and appeared
to be dying of thirst; their bodies were horribly desiccated. Though the
Drawbridge had been down, no desperate relatives, city guards, or any force had
been able to cross onto the Drawbridge to intervene on behalf of the
ninety-nine. Then, from within the Tower, a great chant was heard, as if each
wizard had chanted in unison under the power of some mysterious amplification.
"Know this: each of these ninety-nine
has been complicit in crimes against our Guild. We will not abide those with
hostile intent towards us. Each of these shall die upon the Drawbridge unless
they can shed a single tear to atone for their crimes. Ninety-nine tears shall
be the sum total of our required penance for these crimes. The alternative is
Each of the ninety-nine Senators had
perished soon after these words were spoken, for none had been able to muster
the single tear required, though those who had some small remaining pool of
energy had cried out, tearlessly and pathetically, at their fate.
help but shudder a bit as she beheld the drawbridge and thought about its
legend. It was closed, but there was a slight gap at the top, where its edge
met a stone gatehouse. The gatehouse extended outward from the Tower proper at
a height of almost twenty-five yards. The shafts of the spears, which were
mounted on the drawbridge, were visible through this gap, and gave it an
appearance not unlike a crude mouth, facing upwards towards the sky, punctuated
by thin wooden teeth.
She had a rope and
a small grappling hook with her, which she pulled out of her backpack. She
secured her hook through the gap and onto the very spears which were described
in the story of the drawbridge. It was those same spears she used as handholds
to slip through the gap and into the interior side. She then climbed back down
the inside using those same shafts.
That was almost too easy!
She had progressed
farther into the Tower than anyone she had ever heard tell of. Perhaps even
this much progress, should she fail, would earn her a place in song and
folklore: at least in the Warrens. She shook her head and quickly dismissed any
thoughts of failure.
Then she thought
sadly of Safreon, and how his countenance lately seemed to be aging before her
eyes. She’d watched him living his life in the constant sorrow of martyrdom; he
didn't seem to derive much joy from his existence, despite the appreciation of
many peoplehe had helped and mentored.
In her estimation, he, above most others, deserved happiness in return for his
A portcullis stood
before her as tall as two of the tallest men in the City combined, and the iron
was black, cunningly curved and slick with moisture. It was spiked downward at
the bottom, and outward along its surface, with a number of cruel, upturned
barbs. It looked massively heavy.
Hemlock began to
despair. How she could have assumed she’d be able to gain entry into the Tower
once she got past the drawbridge?She
felt naive and foolish.
seemed to loom larger in front of her. She experienced a vision suddenly, of
her flesh suspended on those upturned spikes.
glistened invitingly in the darkness. She was sure they could easily support
her weight if they were properly embedded in her flesh. Maybe it would be a
relief to come to such an end. At least it would show she had stubbornly tried
to climb the obstacle and had never wavered or considered retreat.
Mercuria would be devastated at her loss, but she also knew they would
eventually go on with their lives. And she thought they would have been proud
of her, after years of recollection, each in their own way.
herself, as she realized she was crouched and ready to spring up and run at the
It was odd she
didn't remember consciously planning to do anything like that.
instinctive way, she realized she had actually been preparing to impale herself
on those upturned spikes, just as she’d imagined herself doing in her
melancholy thoughts of the past few minutes.
Of course, the Portcullis of Infinite
She’d been so
relieved to get past the drawbridge she’d been caught unawares by the Tower’s
next legendary defense. She became aware of the emotion emanating from the
Portcullis then; it washed over her like a slap in the face: feelings of sorrow
and despair were rolling over her mind, and they were almost incalculably
She had to act
decisively, as she realized this was the strongest magic spell she’d ever
The Portcullis stood
at the end of a shallow tunnel, with an arched roof of masonry formed by the
line rendered by the top of the Portcullis, where it met the wall. There was
nothing to climb to, and there was no way to climb over. The seam where the Portcullis
met the upper masonry was impenetrable.
She noted the
space behind the Portcullis for the first time. It was a shadowy hallway, which
was a continuation of the one housing the Portcullis. At the end of it, perhaps
twenty feet further, there was a pair of large, ornate wooden doors. Between
the doors and the inside of the Portcullis, Hemlock beheld the legendary
It was said the
Gargoyles had been animated from the rafters of the Hall of the Senate on the
Night of Ninety-Nine Tears, and they had taken hostage two of the strongest
fighters of the City, who were also Senators. It was also said they had since
rested in eternal guard of the Wizard Tower, and any intruder that managed to
defy impossible odds and cross the Moat, enter the Drawbridge, and penetrate
the Portcullis, would be torn to bits by them.
Their forms were
winged and composed of smooth gray granite. Their hindquarters were powerful,
their hands tipped with talons, and their wings were massive and folded. Their
faces were grinning death masks with exaggerated, animalistic features. They
inspired an instinctive urge for flight in Hemlock (though it felt weaker than
the melancholy attraction of the Portcullis) as she fell under their gaze.
betrayed no properties beyond that of normal stone statues, she felt she was
being stalked by cunning and merciless predators.
The sorrow that
had almost overcome her moments before returned with a renewed force, and
overshadowed the fear inspired by the Gargoyles. It was a two-pronged mental
assault of fear and melancholy.
She needed to act
She considered the
Gargoyles would surely attack her if she somehow managed to get inside the
Portcullis. She assumed they would eviscerate her in short order, and the
wizards would find her remains in that hallway some days henceforth, and would
wonder what impetuous soul had ventured that far within their defenses.
considered she really didn’t have any means to bypass the Portcullis. She had a
file in her set of lockpicks, but it was small and it would take her weeks to
file through that iron. She judged she only had minutes to spare. The
temptation of capitulating to the Portcullis railed against her self-control
mercilessly, and it held an attractive promise: an end of suffering.
realized there could be only one solution. She considered an idea that the only
force that could possibly open or destroy the Portcullis was the Gargoyles. She
wondered whether the wizards had thought of that possibility. She felt her life
depended on their having overlooked it.
She assumed the
Gargoyles would animate if she entered their side of the hallway. The
Portcullis prevented this: but not completely.
She ran up to the
Portcullis, and focused her mind completely on resisting the melancholy as she
embraced the cruel iron and extended her limbs through the spaces between the
If her initial
plan didn’t work, she knew she would soon be hanging from those spikes in a
willing, dying embrace.
Her hands extended
to their full length and reached out toward the Gargoyles. She supported
herself with her upper arms as they pressed against the cold bars, and took a
low stance, as she also extended her legs through the bars and touched the
ground on the other side of the Portcullis with her feet.
awoke. Their eyes glowed with an anti–light which appeared as some sort of
active darkness. They didn't move at first, but all the same, she felt the
awakened presence of a great coiled energy, which was building in intensity.
In the space of
one breath, the Gargoyles sprung— her mind registered the motion; her entire
being shouted out a single message that reverberated through her consciousness
and was able to drown out even the bittersweet, tragic melancholy of the
backwards into a tumbling somersault as greedy talons rended the ground where
her legs had been half a moment before.
The Gargoyles were
terrible in their rage, and they seemed to know their prey was close at hand.
One, and then the other, grasped the slick iron bars, which now separated them
from their kill; and with a frenzied effort of unimaginable strength, they
began to bend the bars askew.
The iron groaned.
Perhaps the Portcullis itself groaned, as if imbued with some fell awareness. Hemlock
wasn't sure. Despite the terrible groaning, the Gargoyles steadily bent the
iron until they made enough space for their bulk to pass through.
wings tightly around their bodies, they crawled through the openings.
She’d made her
final gamble and now had to await the result passively. And, as was usual for
her gambles, the stakes were nothing less than her very survival.
As the Gargoyles
gained purchase on her side of the Portcullis, they slowly moved toward her,
menacingly, as if they were savoring the moment of her death.
realizedtheir speed and their strength
were far beyond her reckoning. She could not evade them or jump past them–even
with her excellent reflexes.
But then it
happened. The Gargoyles slowed and then turned around, in a shuffling gait, back
toward the Portcullis. They embraced it, their great arms outstretched
grotesquely; and as they did so, their forms reverted to smooth, unmoving
And then she felt
something else. She was totally alone again with the melancholy of the
Portcullis. The Gargoyles were just regular stone once more, as she sensed
their magical spirits had been seized in some way by the seductive malice of
those glistening iron bars.
Risking the icy
touch of the Portcullis one final time, she crept through one of the openings
that had been made by the Gargoyles, and approached the heavy wooden doors of
the Tower itself. As she stepped beyond the Portcullis, it felt like stepping
out of a bitterly cold night into a warm homestead. With a feeling of relief, she
realized the Portcullis’ magic did not affect the Tower side of the hallway.
touched the double doors, and she did not detect any magic. She surveyed what
appeared to be some conventional locks, which would take little time for her to
within the Wizard Tower, even after the heavy footfalls of the Gargoyles had
resonated over the surrounding moat during the recent encounter.
But at that
moment, unbeknownst to her, a robed figure was moving about the outside of the
Tower on a seventh floor balcony. It lingered above the drawbridge for a time,
looked down, and then retired within the mysterious confines of the Tower.
She soon stood in
an ornate entrance hall, which extended upward five stories, and was finished
with elegant mahogany walls and great, multi–story tapered windows of opaque
glass bordered with pale marble. Twin carpeted staircases crisscrossed the
space and wound upward, providing access to the four visible floors above.
woodwork of the hall felt oppressive, as if she’d entered into the belly of
some ancient sailing ship, preserved in funereal majesty, resting deep on the
floor of an ancient sea.
gathered her wits, realizing that staring at her surroundings was a good way
for her to end up being discovered and captured.
Hemlock’s goal was
to ascend to the seventh floor of the Tower. She figured whatever force was
siphoning magical energy from the Warrens district would most likely be
situated there for maximum effect. And she had noticed (as had many in the
City), that strange lights and dweomers were seen to dance above the Wizard
Tower in recent weeks.
Don’t the wizards realize the lights look a
little suspicious and that people notice these things? Are the wizards so
detached from reality they don’t consider what people observe?
The stairs rose
before her, the warmth of their mahogany railings enhancing their welcoming
expanse, which Hemlock perceived being in stark opposition to the danger she
knew would surely await her if she dared to take them. Subtlety would be
required for success—she couldn’t simply climb up those stairs and expect a
warm reception from the wizards. She hoped alternative means to ascend might
She had to be
cautious, just in case the wizards had been crafty enough to trap the interior
of the Tower, despite her hunches they might not do so. She hadn’t survived as
long as she had in the streets of the Warrens by being naïve.
The entry hall
contained two large wooden doors, located slightly ahead of her, and offset to
her left and right. Also, hidden somewhat in shadow under the balcony of the
second floor above was a smaller door, dimly lit by flickering lamps on either
side, and showing no visible doorknob or locking mechanism.
With a final,
almost feral glance to the stories above, she silently darted across the floor,
and with a graceful turn, halted, back to the wall, beside this smaller
The wall at her
back pulsed in an abnormal rhythm. This wasn’t something she had expected or
could react to instinctively. She considered her course of action, conscious
that precious time was elapsing and every moment spent in the open hall was a
risk to her.
After feeling them
for a time, Hemlock noted a pattern to the rhythms, and a distinct but faint hiss
that sounded at a regular interval in the complex pattern. She wondered whether
the source of the vibration was some sort of automata. Though automata were
often not threatening, she weighed the risk of the likelihood of a trap or some
other dark outcome waiting for her, should she pass through the small door.
Voices, she thought, as her ears
registered new sounds from above.
Footsteps on the stairs above. Three voices:
two elderly and reflective; one hissing, forceful. Third or Fourth floor,
probably. Descending. No time. Choose. Or die.
sideways, catlike, to stand in front of the small door, straddling its width
and feeling methodically along its surface. The echoing sounds of footsteps and
voices above on the stairs indicatedthe
rate of their descent was somewhat slower than she’d first thought.
Thank goodness for
the old timers. Their doddering footsteps came slowly. She pictured them
grasping a railing while they walked. She returned her focus to locating a
latch or other hidden mechanism.
concentrated on the rhythmic pattern that emanated from behind the door, she
noticed a spell warding it. It had been well concealed and subtle, and she
hadn’t noticed it immediately, wasting precious seconds.
She had to risk
entry despite the machinery beyond the door. Hemlock focused on the spell. It
manifested to her as a subtle mixture of anticipation, defensiveness, and
paranoia. It radiated from the middle of the door, and she felt a certain
geometry to it: it had an ordered nature and some dimensionality.
What does it mean?
above, more voices. Getting closer.
She returned her
focus to the magical ward on the door.
What do the sensations mean? Anticipation…
Expectation? What is the key to the magical protection? It’s a service door –
it shouldn’t be a complex ward. Feel.
The footsteps were
now directly above her, on the second floor.
Not a complex ward – likely runic or
The geometry she
felt pointed to runic.
Footsteps turning onto the stairs above!
Soon they would be
within sight of her.
She reacted from a
place of desperate instinct now: raising her hand to the middle of the door,
she pointed toward it with her fore and middle fingers. Her eyes closed and her
head leaned back slightly, as she began to trace a pattern in the air–following
the guidance of her mind’s eye as it struggled to traverse the geometry of the
rune she was seeing in her mind. Her hand steadily traced out a graceful
character consisting of six interwoven lines with three dots above it.
The door clicked
inward softly, and she slipped in just as three figures descended to the first
floor, and a moment before a robed figure with a serpentine appearance darted
its head her way.
As she slid the
door shut silently behind her, Hemlock hoped no sound had escaped in the short
time the door had been open just a crack–which had been enough time to allow
her slight form to pass within. She now stood in a damp, dark space which had a
musty, metallic smell permeating it.
A band of dull
green light, emanating from deep within the room, shone rhythmically up and
down over Hemlock’s body as she surveyed the room for exits. The only exit
seemed to be a metallic spiral staircase, which rose up into the ceiling some
distance in front of her, behind a machine of infernal appearance.
consisted of a man–sized glass piston filled with a glowing green liquid, which
was being pumped by the actuation of a metallic shaft. Ghostlike, an airy human
figure worked a wooden handle attached to a round gear which turned the shaft. The
figure was nearly transparent, but the room behind it was oddly distorted.
There was a large
glass vat which was reinforced with iron banding, which was suspended above the
piston. Within the vat rested the flanks of a massive green Dragon attached to
some sort of mechanical device. The Dragon was suspended by chains, its clawed
feet securely restrained with massive iron cuffs. The upper body and head of
the Dragon were not visible, but appeared to extend up into the floor above.The glowing green fluid dribbled from a
number of gaping wounds on the hindquarters of the Dragon, hissing as it fell
into the vat, which then fed the green fluid into the glass piston.
The piston pumped
the green fluid into a copper pipe which ascended into a larger glasslike
shaft, within which the glowing fluid could be seen to flow to the upper floors
of the Tower in great volume.
The ghostly figure
continued to pump as Hemlock took in her surroundings.
Sensing no living,
corporeal occupants in the room, Hemlock gazed in unmitigated awe at the
massive body of the Dragon, finding she was unsure whether it was alive, dead
or in some intermediate state. She’d heard legends about dragons, but had never
seen one. Seeing its massive form imprisoned there and subjugated by the
wizards gave her an increased appreciation for their power.
strode toward the ghostly figure, casting a lengthening shadow on the wall
behind her as she was bathed in the ghastly green light.
The figure was
manlike in form; it appeared to wear full armor, and moved as if encumbered by
its weight. As she approached it, there was no indication it sensed her
She continued to
creep toward it, moving silently. A faint sound began to emanate from the
figure and within two steps, it had grown to a wail of utter agony.
leapt back into a crouch, and just as quickly the sound was gone. She glanced
to either side of the room to make sure she had not been surprised by any other
developments, and noticed both walls were lined with shelves holding supplies
of a mysterious nature. There were beakers, books, strange robes, brooms, and a
host of tools like shovels and pick axes; all in all there was a myriad of what
were likely items of day to day use in a wizard tower.
befuddled by the strange apparition, but confident she could circumvent both
the machine and the Ghost, she moved toward one of the shelves in a circular
motion, maintaining the distance between herself, the ghostly figure and the
She could see the
figure in profile then, and her heart skipped a beat. The features were some
cruel combination of human and skeletal, locked in a howling scream of pain and
anguish, which seemed to reflect a level of suffering beyond anything in
Hemlock’s experience—and she had witnessed her share of suffering.
She imagined it
would roughly equate to those moments of utter destruction of the mortal form,
which normally extinguished the flame of consciousness before the true
magnitude of the torment could be experienced. This man–ghost–skeleton appeared
to be enduring in this state, however, as a gibbering shell put to some foul
purpose in this Tower, no doubt, Hemlock felt, as a result of some Wizard spell
of an ultimately corrupt nature.
Averting her gaze
from the tragic figure, Hemlock briefly toyed with the idea of trying to free
it somehow. But her senses quickly told her she was in no way qualified to
meddle in such a powerful dweomer, and she strongly felt her goal was at the
top of the Tower, not here.
She could sense
the form of the magic being employed in this room. Woven into the magic were
strong emotions of ambition, aggression, and perhaps even megalomania, locked
into a complex weave with the considerable mechanics of the machine itself. It
was like a tapestry of indecipherable pattern, folded back on itself in four or
more dimensions. Her mind simply could not make any sense of the complex
lattice of these spells. Simple wards and traps she could often handle, but
this was different. Understanding this magic would have been like a journeyman
painter trying to touch up a masterwork painting: the probable result would be
destructive. She felt it would likely result in her destruction and possibly
that of a good portion of the City as well. Such was the power of the magic
that she felt here.
She ruefully moved
toward the staircase, experiencing a reluctance to leave this machine in
operation, but not knowing how else to proceed. As she approached it, she saw
at periodic points along the spiral stair, its railing was adorned with odd
hands, which were cast in the form of a clenched fist. Some were large, some
were small. The staircase ascended to an opening in the ceiling and led to
another floor above, which was cast in shadow. She anticipated there was
another level of this maintenance area for this strange machine, accessible via
Sound! she warned herself, as the door
She heard new
metallic sounds, clearly but faintly, amidst the thunderous metallic churning
of the strokes of the piston; there were clattering footsteps heard on the
flagstone floor near the door.
She tumbled into a
somersault and landed behind a small workbench near the spiral stair. After a
few moments, she peeked out beside the bench.
A small clockwork
gnome, who was dressed in a bright red, conical, velvet hat, clattered and
sputtered over to the bench and placed a silver tray on it, upon which rested a
large glass jar containing a spidery form suspended in a milky fluid. The
Gnome’s body was composed of brass and iron parts: bolts, gears, pistons, and
The gnome soon
made its way toward the staircase. It did not seem aware of her presence; as it
reached the stair, she heard the metalwork of the steps groan slightly under
the weight of the automaton when it began to ascend.
Suddenly there was
a metal scraping sound and the climbing stopped. Hemlock risked a glance toward
the stair and she saw the lowest of the metallic hands had opened, and was now
gesturing as if motioning the Gnome to stop. A small mouth formed in the palm
of the hand, and Hemlock had to contain a gasp.
"What is the
form of the concept when unseen?" cried that small mouth, with the
strangest voice she had ever heard. It sounded like what she imagined a talking
mouse or rat would sound like, yet it was melodious just the same.
dream," responded a voice–she realized it must be the Gnome’s
voice–somehow quite understandable despite being composed of a fast series of
horns, grinds, squeaks, metallic shivers and dull groans.
The sounds of
another odd scraping sound. Again the climbing stopped.
"What is the
nature of the spotted alligator?" cried the strange little voice,
"To rend and
consume," replied the Gnome.
Hemlock heard the
odd pattern of challenge and response continue at the next highest point on the
flies the Lagma when his wings are mired in magma?"
"The gift of
flight he’s never known."
The Gnome had
almost reached the next floor as another question was asked. But Hemlock could
not make out the phrasing of the question. She glided along the floor, reaching
the foot of the stair, but she was unable to hear the answer in her
concentration on executing the quick motion without making any noise.
She cursed to
herself as she took stock of the fact she had missed both the final riddle and
its answer. Since the first three answers had been phrases, she imagined she
stood little chance of getting that final answer right on her own.
She wondered if
she could leap off the stairs or even climb up beneath them. She walked toward
the underside to investigate. As she moved closer, an invisible force gently
pushed her backwards. She surged forward then and was thrown back several feet,
landing on her backside. Apparently, she mused, the wizards had thought of
reflected on her options. Since the Gnome seemed to be a machine, there seemed
to her to be a good chance that he was automated and might return. But she
wondered how long that would take.
Every moment of
delay increased the chances the wizards would notice the damage to the
Gargoyles and Portcullis.
She knew she was
relying on the wizard’s arrogance and overconfidence. She wondered whether
whatever magical protections they might have had been allowed to weaken over
the years of seeming invulnerability. Or, she considered,
maybe there were alarms going off somewhere, but no one had noticed them–yet.