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Chapter 5 -- The Mage of Flame
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

The trip to Tjarik's fortress took two days; so we had to make camp that first day at the edge of the jungle. I untied Silla and together we prepared the site. I gathered firewood nearby, keeping an eye on my unwilling assistant, then placed it in the circle of stones she had arranged. With a few words of magic I had a pretty little campfire.

We ate our ration of jerky and warm water in silence, for as I have said, she could not speak due to my Compulsion spell; and I had little interest in talking to a silent person. Then, I placed my bedroll on the ground, and motioned her onto it. She looked suspicious, but of course I had no plans such as she was considering.

"Silla, I can't trust you to remain with me, so you must lie down here and I will bind you. Please don't resist." She did as I said, and I bound her hand and foot. Naturally no gag was needed, for only threat of death would overcome the Compulsion.

From the smoke of the campfire I summoned a Spirit Guardian, a nature spirit bound to my service for the night, and charged it to wake me if any men or large predators approached. Then, secure in this arrangement, I rolled up my cloak and used it for a pillow. Sleep came surprisingly easily.

The night and the next morning passed uneventfully. We moved from the jungle onto the barren blackened stone of the volcano, following an old lava flow which stretched out like a cracked roadway toward the fortress visible in the distance. As we grew closer I saw a flaming barricade around the fortress.

"Who needs a moat," I said to no one in particular. As we neared the gate, the flames abated in that area and they opened. Two guards came out, and one immediately took charge of the girl. Before the other could close the gate I said, "I am Zam Nar, a wizard, and I would like to meet your master Tjarik."

"Wait," was the only word he said, and he closed the gate. Quite a while passed, but the flames were not reignited before the gateway, so I had hope. Finally the same guard again opened the gate, and said "Come."

I followed. The fortress was along the lines of a fortified manor house, rather than a proper castle such as you might be imagining. The guard led me to a man in finer clothing whose manner identified him as a steward.

"I am Dalderi, assistant to the Mage of Flame. He is occupied now, but wishes for you to meet him for the evening meal." As he said this, Dalderi led me through several rooms and hallways. I made note of the dining hall when we passed it, and also of the stairs in both directions. Quarters on the first floor were assigned to me, and I was encouraged to bathe before supper. Naturally I did so, for I had not had a good bath since Ta Charka.

I had considered from every angle whether or not to place defensive enchantments on myself, or on Silla, but finally I decided against. I had two good Flame Resistance spells prepared at twofold power, and a twofold Kinetic Shield spell as well, each needing a single word and no gestures to activate. The extra Flame Resistance was simply because I expected Tjarik to have the counterspell ready. If I placed the spells on myself I knew he could detect them, but there was no spell I knew of to reveal another caster's prepared spells.

As I was drying off from my bath, I looked out the window and saw that there was an interior courtyard, perhaps twenty yards square, with a pillar in the middle. The pillar was smoke-blackened, as was the paving around it, and as I leaned out further I found a pile of human bones, also blackened, just below and to the right of the window.

This, I thought, could be useful.

I dressed for supper just in time for Dalderi to arrive and take me there. Tjarik was already seated, and did not rise as I entered. Then, as now, this is an indication of contempt. I ignored it.

"Master, this is Zam Nar, a sorceror," said Dalderi.

He looked up. "Ah, Zam Nar. Your apprenticeship is over, then?"

"I decided to end my time in the wilderness after I learned of my master's death."

"So it is true that Solomoriah the mage-slayer killed Tigris and King Elmarin?"

"Indeed, sir. I have decided to seek retribution against Solomoriah, and as I have learned that you are a powerful man I have decided to come here and seek to learn from you."

"Young man, I would be delighted to help you. However, tomorrow I must again make sacrifice to the God of Flame, and any such activities must wait until then."

By now Dalderi had brought the first course, a soup. I wondered if he cooked it himself or if there were other servants. "I understand, sir. When will the sacrifice take place?"

"Exactly at noon tomorrow I will light the flames."

"I'll be there." The conversation shifted to other matters as the courses came and went. I drank lightly of the potent wine Dalderi served me, to keep my wits. I was lucky that Tjarik didn't ask me anything about Tigris I didn't know.

Late that night, I left my bed. After using the chamberpot I went to the window in the bath and looked out, apparently taken with the full moon. Actually I needed the light to check my ring; and it was not orange. I stepped back into the darkness and silently activated my Invisibility spell, thanking the stars that Tigris had revealed that trick to me.

I dropped over the side, into the courtyard. The bonepile was quite large; for a moment I was overcome with the sadness of it, and then with rage at the waste of lives. After I recovered my self-control, I released the spell of Animation I had prepared. Fortunately the spell takes care of sorting out the bones by means of the principle of sympathy.

The spell animated five of the skeletons; I silently commanded them to remain down, and was relieved that there was only a slight shifting of the bones. The fortress was small enough, I reckoned, that I could call them by force of will anywhere within the walls; but I would probably only need them in the courtyard, if my plan went as I hoped.

My return to my bed was uneventful; I dismissed the Invisibility while passing through the window, which was in deep shadow.

The next morning I awoke with the sunrise, and prepared spells to replace what I had cast. I prepared no necromancy, of course, in case I should be watched.

Dalderi brought my breakfast to my room. "Tjarik is busy, Zam Nar, making preparations for the sacrifice. He instructs that you meet him in the courtyard before noon. Do you know the way?"

"Indeed, down the hall past the bath, then turn right and out the door."

"Then I don't need to instruct you. The master prefers you stay out of the way, as you are not versed in the procedures he is performing. If you wish, he has instructed me that you may have access to the library."

I took him up on it, and after perusing the tomes and scrolls which appeared the most used, I realized why Tjarik performed sacrifice after sacrifice: He believed that the Flame-God would grant him greater magic power in return for the spirits of the virgins. Even Ket knew better than this; evidently Tjarik fell under cult influences at an early age, and now that he had reached his personal limit of power he wanted more.

Ket, by the way, performed sacrifices to the Demon Lord in return for his undying existence. I fully believe that there is no other way he could have achieved such an undead form.

Perhaps half an hour before noon I went out to the courtyard. It was hot. The two guards, who I had finally decided were all there were, brought Silla out. She was naked, and her hands were bound. One guard (the tallest) tied her hands over a bronze hook protruding high up on the pillar, and then began wrapping a long, thin rope around and around her, giving her no room to move. He obviously enjoyed it, but he didn't waste much time fondling her. The other guard left, then returned with a large urn, which he handed to the taller guard.

As he tipped the urn and poured the honey-colored liquid over her, I realized it was oil.

Tjarik entered shortly thereafter, wearing robes embroidered with arcane symbols with which I was unfamiliar. He had been meditating, I assumed, as he had that blissful look that many get when they perform the ancient disciplines. Then he smiled.

I had to act. "Tjarik, look! Your servant hasn't bound her securely!" I said. Before he or the guards could inspect her bonds, I trotted over and tied the very secure knot another couple of passes. Secretly I also focused my mind and released one of my Flame Resistance spells, to protect Silla.

I returned to my place, wiping my oily hands on my pants and looking down, so I would not give myself away by smiling. Tjarik said, "Are you finished now, Zam Nar? Or must I wait for you to fix her hair also?"

"Proceed, O Mage of Flame," I said with all the fake sincerity I could muster. He turned toward her, raised his hands before him with fingers spread, and spoke two words. Flames appeared at the tips of his fingers. He stretched out his hands toward her, and a mighty fan of flames spread out from them. He was three or four yards away from her, but the flame sheet easily reached her, and the oil burst into flame. I braced myself, expecting him to realize shortly that she wasn't being killed by the burning oil on her skin, when she screamed out, "Save me, Solomoriah! Save me!"

Ah, I thought, threat of death will overcome the Compulsion. Of course she didn't immediately realize she was safe; she surely thought she was burning alive.

Tjarik turned toward me, his fingers still flaming, and I spoke the word for the other Flame Resistance just in time; the sheet of flame left me unharmed. My staff smoked but my clothes were undamaged.

I quickly cast my Force Bolt, but he must have already cast his Kinetic Shield. He was pushed back but appeared unharmed. The two guards decided that discretion was the better part of staying alive, and fled into the fortress. I could see Dalderi watching from the doorway.

Tjarik pointed at me and spoke three words, and I felt the Flame Resistance faltering. Before he could follow up I cast Paralysis, and saw him struggling to resist it. I followed with another Force Bolt, and this one shattered his Kinetic Shield. Unfortunately I was out of those at that point.

He stood up, the Paralysis gone, and I played my trump card: I called the skeletons into action. "Arise, my servants, and slay him who burned you alive!"

Tjarik did not know, and I didn't feel like telling him, that the Animated undead were not controlled by the original spirit or soul, but by a nature spirit bound to the task. He had every reason to think that the clattering monsters approaching him were truly seeking vengeance.

He cast another flaming sheet spell (I don't know the real name, as I never learned the spell), but the bony things were not affected. I knew that only force attacks, antimagic, or physical weapons could damage them, but evidently he didn't.

As the nearest skeleton clutched at him, he cracked, turning to run from the courtyard. I turned to Silla, who had stopped screaming when she realized she was not dying, nor even being harmed. The oil was still burning fiercely, but my Flame Resistance still protected me enough to help her. The ropes against her skin were unaffected, just as my clothing was protected, but where they went around the pillar they went out of the protected area and were burned through. As a consequence, I had only to lift her up off the hook and cut her bonds with my knife.

The guards and Dalderi had fled ahead of their master. I told the still-flaming girl, "Go to the bath, through that door and left, and immerse yourself to put out the fire. Bar the door and remain there, and I will come for you."

"What about you?" she asked.

"I must slay Tjarik."

I ran into the fortress then, in search of Tjarik. I assumed his rooms were in the upper level, so I ran straight to the staircase, and was rewarded by the sounds of the skeletons. I found them scrabbling at a door, so I ordered them out of the way and blasted it with a Force Bolt. No, I didn't have any more prepared, but the spell is short and I had time to cast it.

Tjarik turned toward me, from the tome he had been frantically searching. I could see his terror as he realized I was a necromancer and he had no place left to run. I smiled, and walked into the room.

"Solomoriah, please," he pleaded, kneeling, "let me live, and I'll grant you any boon you ask."

"You are reprehensible, Tjarik, for though I am a necromancer, I have never sacrificed an innocent. Your time is up." I drew back my staff and struck at him as if I were stabbing with a spear. I hit his head, and he fell hard onto the floor. He was dead; I checked to make sure.

Some who have heard this story are outraged at this point; for Tjarik was a beaten foe, so surely I should have restrained him and turned him over to the authorities. To them I say, what authorities? There was no national nor state government, no police to call, no court he could be tried in. Should I have turned him over to the elders he had controlled by means of fear? No. His guilt was evident, and I was the only person who could carry out his punishment.

I sent the skeletons to wander the fortress and attack anyone they found other than Silla and I. Then I set about finding all his spell books and scrolls.

His room was full of shelves, with books and sorcerous nicknacks all over them, in terrible disarray. Truly this was a treasure trove! I had looked at perhaps half of the items when I saw a small box on a high shelf. It looked valuable, and I wondered what he kept within it.

I got it down to a lower shelf, and lifted the lid. Inside was a small, white lizard with large dark eyes. I had one timeless instant to realize what it was, and curse myself for a fool, before the darkness fell over me.

It was a Basilisk, and I had been turned to stone.

My last impression was of falling...

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005