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A Cord of Two Strands–Part 6

This is part 6 in a 7 part series. If you’re new, you can start with Part 1 or you can go to an index of all seven parts.

From the end of Part 5:

Aleron stopped mid-stride and turned, “We escape.”

One Way or Another

“I am not ready.”

“You do not have a choice.  We leave tonight.”  Aleron took a deep breath and added, “There is one more thing you must do—you will have to free me from this spell.”

“I can not!  If you are unable to undo it, how shall I?”

“It is designed to keep me from using magic,” he replied shortly, tempering his impatience.  “I do not think they considered an outside force.  You are, in fact, the only one able to do it right now.  Think back to what I have told you about how spells are formed.  Believe what you will, you have an intuitive understanding that quite surprises me.”

Sonora felt odd, as if he had given her a compliment she couldn’t accept.  That she would have any kind of arcane prowess was absurd; a simple tailor’s daughter did not have any business understanding magic.  But she nodded and closed her eyes, waiting for instruction.

“Focus on what you sense around you.  Your sight will not help you this time; you can only use your mind.  Find the spell matrix; feel it out.  Push against it until you feel it weaken.”

“How will I know what to do?”

“You will know.  This is something you will have to find out for yourself.”  She felt lost, like a traveler without a map or a destination.  She tried to focus, but doubt got in her way several times.  “Let go,” Aleron instructed. “Concentrate!.”

Sonora let go.  She pushed her doubt aside.  Aleron had never mislead her; never caused her to fail.  He had been her constant coach and friend, despite his insistence that she put herself through paces again and again.  If he said she was ready, then she was.

It was all the certainty she needed.  She pried into the ebon crown, feeling for nuances and weaknesses.  She touched hesitantly at first, and then as her confidence increased, grew bold.  Sonora forced herself not to rush; the time for haste would come later.  Pulling here, pushing there, somehow she began to piece the spellwork together, amazed that she had a grasp on the big picture.  She felt as though it hid inside her mind, waiting to be found.

Then, suddenly; in a flash of understanding she could neither repeat nor explain, Sonora knew.  She knew how the spell was formed; she knew of its intricacies and its deficiencies.  Calming herself so not to lose focus at such a critical moment, she found the most pliable thread in the spell and tugged gently, afraid that if it unraveled too quickly it could trap her own mind or steal Aleron’s forever.  Slowly she pulled, shielding herself from its outflows.  Sonora felt it coming apart, the other faults giving under the strain.  Several tense moments later, it collapsed, sending a small, cold shockwave across her.

Sonora opened her eyes and gasped.  She had done it!

UK

Aleron’s eyes sparked with a glow she had not yet seen in him.  He immediately looked stronger and taller, and his face formed an almost ferocious expression.  He stood and took a deep breath; to Sonora it looked as if he had just come from a dark ocean into fresh air.  He no longer looked tired or feeble; in fact, he looked frightening.

“You have done well, Sonora.  You may not have come into your power the way most of us do, but I would say that you are a mage of equal standing with any of the students of the Kirin Tor,” his voice was gentle, but she could tell it was only for her.  She sensed that he felt frustration and bitterness bubbling within him; she hoped it did not overcome him.  “You are not done yet, young mage; we have a battle waiting to begin.”  And one in which I will relish the torment of each of these greedy warlocks, he added silently.
Sonora took a deep breath herself.  She was not sure she could handle this; she knew quite a few spells, to be sure.  But fighting her way out of this place would take quick thinking and a courage she felt far beyond her years.
“Are you ready?” he asked, looking back at her.  She stood, her heart pounding so loud it nearly deafened her.  Her head felt weak, as if her body was acting against her will.

“I am.”

Aleron’s eyes flashed, and he sent a barrage of swirling light sailing at the door before Sonora had steadied herself.  The bang as the door flew open sobered her, and her mind caught up with her body.  Things felt as though they were moving in slow motion, and the fear threatened to keep her from moving forward.  But there was Aleron, striding forward towards the surprised guards; she had no choice but to follow.

Before Sonora had reached the door, another flash passed from the elder mage’s fingers, and a sleepy orc stumbled back in surprise.  With another pass of his hand, a shocking glow originating within him passed outward, knocking both guards on their backs.  Aleron raised his hands again, but Sonora grabbed his wrist.

“We are not trying to obliterate them—we are trying to escape.”  Sonora was surprised when he narrowed his eyes at her, but he lowered his hands.
“These I will permit to live, but not to speak,” he replied coldly, casting a spell to silence them both for a while.  His young companion looked at him in stunned silence.  It is not her vendetta, he reminded himself; but I must see it through.

They climbed a narrow staircase, pausing to look into the room.  One warlock sat in the corner, snoring over a stack of scrolls.  The two mages entered the room and passed through it.  Aleron’s fingers itched to cast, but the slightest lift of his hand brought a chastising look from his younger counterpart.  She could have her way for now.

The next room was empty, and they passed through it without pausing.  Another staircase around the corner, and they came across a room full of beds, each with a figure above.  Aleron looked back at Sonora, and she nodded.  They would move slowly between the beds.  It shouldn’t be a problem to get to the other side of the room as long as all remained still.
They began their slow trek, taking note that the boards beneath their feet were kindly mute.  Four beds in, a dwarf rolled fitfully on their left, and they held their breath until he had calmed.  Continuing carefully, they made it to the last row.

Aleron anticipated the moment when the cloak and dagger approach would fail, and was not disappointed as footsteps sounded on the stairs ahead.  He felt Sonora freeze behind him, and his own blood run cold.

A goblin.  The sound was unmistakable, and it was followed by a familiar female voice—the hooded night elf that had lead the torturous events they had endured for weeks.   Anger welled up inside of Aleron, and he waited impatiently for them to descend.

The goblin, hopelessly lost in some complicated and greasy-sounding explanation, missed them altogether until the elf next to him gasped as a fireball whirled towards her head.  She ducked, but it was too late—it hit her with all the force intended by its creator, and she stumbled backwards for a moment before the searing pain of its three blindingly fast and successful followers burned her from within and the world went black forever.

UK fire

Sonora gasped; she had never seen anyone die like that before.  It was quick and terrible.  She looked at Aleron frightfully, but he was lost in the heat of the moment.

If she was shocked, it was nothing like the goblin’s surprise at having his customer blown away beside him, and he was decidedly louder about the disturbance.  “Intruders!  Attackers!  Help!” he shouted shrilly.

Bodies shot up out of their beds, their eyes foggy as they assessed the situation.  Panic set in as many screamed and ran.  But many more began to shoot dark spells of their own at the mages, and Aleron saw summoners beginning to channel.  The demons they could bring forth concerned even him, and he looked back at Sonora, already ducking a myriad of dangerous, swirling attacks.

“Run!” he yelled, grabbing her arm and pushing her in front of him.  “Go for the stairs!”  She complied, and he tried to follow, but the spells raining down on him caused him to change his mind.  He began to focus, throwing up a small shield to protect himself as he tried to channel his own attack quickly.  He hoped Sonora was already upstairs, because this spell would not differentiate between friend and foe.

Suddenly, it was as if he exploded.  Sonora, fighting through the panicked warlocks rushing to the scene, felt the reverberation through the floorboards and stopped.

Hot blue fire moved out from him in waves that knocked every person standing off of their feet.  A couple of weakened spellcasters died instantly; others were knocked out by the force of their head unexpectedly slamming into the ground.  He took a moment to appreciate the tormented screams of those whose flesh burned from his spell before turning and slowly fighting his way through the throngs of recovering warlocks.  Spells flew around him in wide arches, and he threw a few of his own into the chests of those who stood in his way.

Sonora, pausing to evaluate the explosion below, found herself being forcefully grabbed by a nearby assailant.  Thinking quickly, she hurled a ball of fire in his face, causing him to writhe in pain and slacken his grip just in time for Aleron to catch up to her.  “Go!” he shouted.

But they had waited too long.  A wall of warlocks poured in from every entrance.  Aleron’s spell had awakened what must be the entire building.
“We must find a way out!” Sonora yelled at him, ducking an oncoming attack.
“No!  I will stand here and die if that is what it takes!”  Spells began to come from every direction.  Sonora felt one graze her arm and grabbed the place where it burned; warm blood oozed through her fingertips, and she winced.
At the same time, Aleron felt an odd and familiar weakness passing through him. Turning, he found the source of his weakness: a fel hunter sinking its tethers into his shoulders.  He used a spell that released them for the moment, but he could sense more coming towards him.  He began to cast wildly in all directions, aiming somewhere in his mind to kill every one of these filthy magicians and their supernatural beasts.

Mid-cast, he suddenly felt jerked, as if pulled from the stomach.  He knew the feeling well; he was being teleported.  Sonora! He thought angrily as the world swirled around him.

Sonora's Port

He took a moment to look around, trying to temper his anger at the young draenei before speaking.  A small room, somewhere nearby.  This was not connected to the building they had left, Aleron could tell; but it was in the same area.  They were in a house, but whose he could not say.

“What were you thinking?” he whispered harshly to Sonora, who was still attempting to steady herself after that surprising decision.

“I could very well ask you the same question!” she replied in her own whispered irritation.  “Did you really think we could take on hundreds of warlocks ourselves?”

“Whether we could or not, we should have stayed and fought until the end.  I owe it—” he cut himself off.  Sonora chose not to press, and instead took a few quiet steps forward, looking around for herself.  Aleron reluctantly followed, still angry but not finding anyone he truly felt deserved his wrath.

Once in the hallway, Sonora peered in each of the rooms.  A smoldering fire smoked in a fireplace in front of an empty, luxurious-looking chair.  A room with a table—a table she recognized.  Sonora held back a gasp.

And then she heard a sharp inhale behind her, and saw Aleron looking into the bedroom in which Markus slept comfortably on a bed large enough to fit three of him.  Aleron moved silently towards Markus, his unsettling anger finding a release.  This man has taken my entire life away from me! he thought. How very easy it would be…

Aleron raised his hand, conjuring the spell that would at last avenge his daughter, but cold, hollow laughter interrupted his cast.  Markus turned to face them, quite at ease as he stood.

“For two of my toys, you have caused quite the ruckus,” he chuckled darkly. “Ah well, one should know to clean up their playthings when they are finished.  A mistake easily corrected.”

Aleron pushed Sonora through the door and followed.  The wood splintered behind them with the force of Markus’s spell.  “Go!” he shouted at Sonora, and she ran hard and fast, until she burst from the house into the moonless night, Aleron right behind her.

“I do like a chase,” Markus said, casually sauntering out to join them.  “But please believe me when I tell you this is a battle you cannot win.”

“The chase ends tonight, Markcus!” Aleron replied hotly.  Markus only laughed again, sending a dark bolt sailing in his direction.  The mage blocked the attack, but only just.

“You are willing to fight, but what about your little apprentice?  Have you taught her enough, Aleron?  Arcis was stronger than she, and still she was not strong enough to defeat me.”

“Do not touch her, Markus!  This is our battle alone.”

“Is it?  I was aware of no such restrictions,” he replied.  This time, the attack came whizzing towards Sonora, close enough to singe hairs.

“So, you like to play.  I enjoy a good game myself…shall we?”

Click here to go on to Part 7:  The Parting.

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A Cord of Two Strands–Part 3

This is part 3 in a 7 part series. If you need to, you can go back and start at Part 1 or go to the index of all seven parts.

Progress

That evening, as they sat together pushing the foul mixture around their plates, Sonora looked closely at him.  He looked unnaturally worn, though she guessed he was only middle aged.

“What is your name?” Sonora asked.

“They call me Ultraking, Highness, and Majesty,” he said, his face twisting at the words.  “They have quite a sense of humor.”

“I did not ask what they call you,” Sonora replied.  “I asked you for your name.”

He smiled bitterly at her.  “It has been a long while since someone called me by my name. It is Aleron.”

“I am Sonora.”  Silence made her nervous, so she said, “Tell me about yourself.”

Aleron blanched.  “There is not much to speak of,” he said shortly.  Sonora looked at him in surprise at his cold response, and he added gently, “I prefer not to talk about myself; why not tell me about yourself?”

Sonora explained about her father and her trip to Stormwind as she had to Markus.  Aleron listened with some interest, having not had anyone to talk to in a long while.  His mind wandered to a similar scene in a much different place.  A table next to a warm fire; a young girl chattering on about the Kirin Tor and friends and the future…

As she finished, Aleron sighed deeply.  “I think we should go to sleep,” he told her.  “There is no way to know what they plan for us tomorrow.  Goodnight, Sonora.  I wish we had met under better circumstances.”

“As do I, Aleron.  Good night.”

The next morning, they had barely gotten through breakfast when the door opened and the now familiar figures entered.  There were no comments, no taunts.  They were eerily silent, and Aleron and Sonora looked at each other with raised eyebrows.

In a few seconds, the guards outside their door joined the warlocks, and Aleron eyed them warily. “Come here.”  Neither moved.  The night elf glared from under her hood.  “This will be easier for you if you comply, but you will do as I ask regardless.”  Suddenly the two guards were at their sides, and in the next moment, held them tightly.

“Turn them so they face each other,” the night elf commanded.  The guards followed orders, and Aleron and Sonora looked at each other.  Aleron could see the terrified look in the draenei’s eyes, and tried to silently reassure her.

“Are you ready?” the warlock asked her short, hooded companion, who merely nodded.  “Then let us begin.”  The gnome stepped forward and began to channel some kind of spell on Sonora.

Some aspects of the spell Aleron recognized.  They are trying a direct siphoning! Aleron realized suddenly, knowing that it could lethally overwhelm the young draenei.  “Stop!” he shouted.

“Silence!” the night elf hissed, and the orc holding Aleron drew a sword and held it effectively against the human’s neck.

The gnome finished her spell.  Sonora felt strange, and the concern on Aleron’s face combined with his shout terrified her.  She watched as the night elf approached him and began to cast her own spell, and the black circle seemed to descend into Aleron’s body, causing him to twist and wrench painfully.

“Now!”  The gnome and night elf together began to chant, channeling what Aleron knew must be a complex matrix.  He wished he could trace it, examine it, find its flaws; but the unnatural power inside him made it impossible to focus.  And then the bands of light began to move out of him.  He groaned at the familiar and unpleasant soul-sucking feeling, and doubled over as it intensified.  Sonora gasped, but before she had time to consider Aleron’s fate, the full force of the magic struck her.  At first, it was like a small pang, but it grew and grew, radiating through her body.  She cried out fruitlessly as the burning sensation she felt increased ten fold, and she felt as though she would certainly burn from the inside out.  Her head began to throb, and then it felt as if her whole body was vibrating.  She completely lost herself in the pain, not seeing or hearing anything but the increasing sensations in her own body.

“No!” Aleron cried out, seeing Sonora wracked with pain.  I will not be the reason she dies! He fought against the darkness using him and tried to focus.  He closed his eyes, forcing himself to probe; to find the place within him from which the flow originated.  It took precious time.  He pushed onward, finally finding the end of the spell matrix; the thread that tied the two of them together.  With the last bit of energy he had, he tugged at it with his mind, whispering a counterspell and successfully unraveling it enough to break the flow.

He fell to his hands and knees, winded, and looked over at Sonora.  She flopped, completely lifeless in the guard’s arms.

“How dare you!” the night elf yelled.

“Never mind,” said her counterpart.  “I would still call this progress.”  The night elf nodded, but continued to stare furiously at the mage.

“Leave them.”  The guards dropped their victims like sacks of grain, and Sonora landed with an unceremonious thud.

Aleron crawled to the place Sonora lay.  “Sonora,” he said hoarsely.  “Sonora, can you hear me?”  He could see her shallow breaths, but she did not respond to him; did not even flinch.  “Not again!  Do not let this happen again!”  Aleron carried her to the makeshift bed, biting back against the sorrow he felt within him; she reminded him so much of another lifeless form…

Click here to go on to Part 4: Memory.

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A Cord of Two Strands–Part 2

This is part 2 in a 7 part series; click here to go back to part 1, or you can go to an index of all the parts here.

An Introduction

“What brings you to Stormwind?” Markus asked Sonora, inclining his head with feigned interest.

“My father firmly believes in diplomacy and cultural understanding.  He wanted me to come to Stormwind City ‘for the experience.’”

“You sound a bit dubious,” Markus noted, glancing sideways at her.  As he suspected she would, Sonora blushed again.

“I mean no disrespect,” she said.  “Only I—“

“Do not worry, Sonora,” he interrupted.  “All of us have questioned our parents’ wisdom at some point or another.  You seem intelligent; you will figure it all out in time.”  At his complement, she forced another blush back below her skin.

Markus smiled inwardly, knowing he had made an impact on the girl.  He needed to be sure he had her complete confidence for what he planned next.  “I think we should go to the Mage Quarter of town,” he suggested.  “My old haunt.”

“You are a mage, then?” Sonora asked him, her interest piqued.

“Of a sort,” he answered smoothly.  “But it is something I prefer not to brag about.”

Markus led her around the Mage Quarter, ending at a tavern.  “This, m’lady, is the Slaughtered Lamb.  Sounds disturbing, I know, but its name is its worst feature.”  Sonora walked into the darkened pub and glanced around.  The clientele seemed a bit questionable.  One man in a stained shirt and ripped pants sat guzzling whiskey at a table which contained several feathers, a dagger, and something that Sonora thought might be an eyeball.  Behind the counter, the barkeep smiled at her with yellow teeth and an odor so strong she could practically taste stale alcohol.

“Well, Markus!” said the barkeep.  “Long time, boy.  Where have you been?”

“Oh, you know, here and there,” Markus said vaguely, winking at the man and throwing him a charming grin.  “I am escorting this lovely visitor around Stormwind, and thought we would stop by for a drink.”

“I have to keep the place open somehow,” replied the barkeep.
“We’ll take the back table.”

After a bit of food and drink, Markus leaned forward.  “Would you like to see some magic?” he asked, a bright twinkle in his eye.

“Certainly,” Sonora said, smiling.  She watched as Markus’s fingers began to move, and he uttered soft words she couldn’t quite make out.  Suddenly, a small figure made entirely of flames appeared.  Markus began to swing his fingers in the air, as if  playing a song on an invisible instrument, and the fiery figure danced on the table.    She smiled in appreciation, watching it sway and turn.

Mesmerized by the glowing image, Sonora failed to notice that Markus’s focus was elsewhere.  Markus brought his hand down quickly and grabbed Sonora’s, startling her.  Before she could even gasp, he uttered an unfamiliar syllable, and suddenly, Sonora knew only darkness.  It was cold, so cold and so dark that Sonora felt as though she were falling into meaninglessness.  Then, just as it had started, it ceased, and she stumbled backwards as her hooves touched solid ground.

Sonora looked around slowly.  She was in a dark room with only a few candles flickering.  Many forms of all shapes and sizes seemed to be engrossed in doing things—things Sonora didn’t recognize or understand.  Many of them wore robes, and all of them looked ominous.

Suddenly, she heard a voice behind her.  Markus!  What had happened?
“You have seen my façade, Sonora.  Welcome to my reality.”

He looked up when the door opened, and his eyes widened when a young draenei stumbled in.  She looked as surprised to be there as he was to see her, and as she hadn’t noticed him yet, he waited for her to regain her footing before speaking.

“Hello,” he said, trying not to startle her.  Sonora looked up at the unexpected voice, and seeing the dark ring above his head, took a step back.

“I understand your fright all too well.”  He paused for a moment before adding, “I have been here for a long time, and this accursed spell is what keeps me here.”

Sonora found her voice enough to ask, “Are we prisoners here, then?”  His pained expression gave her all the answer she needed.  “Where are we? Is there no way to escape? Who are these people?”  He motioned to her to have a seat beside him on his small straw mat.  She hesitated, but seeing no reason to argue, complied.

“I could not possibly tell you where we are,” he began.  “They effectively knocked me out before bringing me to this place.  I am sure there are ways to escape, but this mental prison they keep me in has made it too difficult for me to thoroughly consider the possibilities.”  At this he sighed deeply before continuing.  “These people are the collective dark warlocks that make up the Shadow Council, a story for another day.”

“Why do they keep us here?” Sonora asked.  “Why have they kept you for so long, and what could they possibly want with me?”

“I am a mage,” he answered.  “They have been trying to harvest my magic for their own purposes.  Several weeks ago, they succeeded.”

“But I have no magic, and I am too young and certainly not important enough to be useful to them,” Sonora said.  “What does Markus want from me?”

“Markus brought you here?” he asked sharply.

“Yes, he was my escort around Stormwind.  Or, I thought he was.”

“I knew it!” he said angrily.  “That man has done darker deeds than I like to think about.  It makes sense—they did not choose me for my power; they could have used any mage.  They chose me because I was so close to catching him and—” he thought better about what he was going to say.  Sonora, surprised at the outburst, knew that whatever had happened between this man and Markus was personal and serious.

Both of them peered around to the door as it opened.  Sonora quivered slightly as the hooded figures entered, but her fellow prisoner only afforded them a defiant glance.

“Good afternoon, lady and gentleman,” the hooded night elf sneered.  She walked over to where they sat, and looked closely at Sonora from under the dark cover.  “We have big plans for you.”

“I am not interested in your plans,” she replied, gritting her teeth.

“Oh, what spunk!  Markus certainly knows how to pick them.”  Sonora remained fiercely silent, refusing to give into the warlock’s taunts.  “Stand up!” she commanded, her voice rising.  The prisoners got to their feet slowly.

“Come to me,” said the gnome to Sonora.  She reluctantly obeyed.  The warlock produced the filled orb and handed it to her partner.  The night elf held it out above Sonora’s head.  She tried to duck, but the elf stood eye to eye with her, and intimidated, Sonora relented.  The gnome began to chant, and the orb appeared to dissolve, leaving a hovering vapor.  When the night elf removed her hand, the vapor floated downward, until it disappear into Sonora.
The draenei grimaced; it burned slightly in a way that felt as if she had been lit from the inside.  Then, just as quickly as it had come, it ended, and Sonora slumped to her knees.  “That will be enough for now,” she told her companion in a low voice.
The two left together, clearly delighted.  As soon as the door closed, the mage joined Sonora on the ground where she sat very still.  “I feel strange,” she said, her voice slightly hoarse.

“I would be surprised if you did not.”

“What was that?  What are they doing to me?”

The mage paused for a moment, deciding on the best way to word his answer.  Not finding anything but the outright truth, he finally said,  “I believe they are trying to give you magic.”

“That is…ridiculous,” she replied softly.

“That is the Shadow Council,” he said harshly.  “I imagine if it works on you, they will begin trying to siphon magic off of everything and channel it into themselves.”  I cannot allow that to happen, he thought grimly.

Click here to go on to Part 3: Progress.

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