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Alex Wright




249th Year of the Emperor

Gortas prowled the deck of the Ledsham, anxiety causing him to unconsciously flex his hands as he paced. The Ledsham was not a very large vessel, far better suited to be a river ferry than an sea fairing vessel. It's captain was a lot like the ship, aged and not quite fit for the task at hand. Gortas scowled, remembering how all of the other captains had refused his offers for passage. Most of them denied him simply for being draconian, others because he was an alchemage, and others still because of the retinue of other draconians and the orcaean they had with them. He had to admit that their destination wasn't exactly an easy place to navigate either. Of all the islands off the west coast of Glaia, Ishvalara was probably the most inhospitable place he had ever heard of. Reefs surrounded a shallow and rocky bay, the vegetation of the mountainous terrain was sparse, and the sun was unforgiving this far south. Not much detail had been gleaned of the island, as most crews seemed wary of attempting a landing along the shores. And yet, by necessity alone, that was their destination.

Draconians idled around the deck, there would be no work until they got to their destination. Each of them had a different expression: fear, doubt, frustration, despair. The knew their duty was one in which they were not likely to return home. Every one of them had volunteered, and they all knew the price of failure. Gortas turned in his pacing towards the bow of the ship, glancing quickly at the orcaean who occupied the small forecastle there. The female stood stock still, as if she were listening for a sound nobody else could hear above the waves and wind. He knew of her people of course, the wandering tribes of the Fragmented Isles. What he did not understand was their magic, and that bothered him. As a master-scholar of alchemagic, it was his goal in life to understand and comprehend all matters of the arcane. Shamans of the wandering tribes were secretive though, and few enough spoke to outsiders. Any questions posed by outlanders to shamans of the tribes were deflected or given evasive answers. He knew only from firsthand experience the sheer amount of power that a shaman could bring to bear. He considered it on par, if not greater, than the alchemagic he and his people used. What he had found interesting was that the two magics were entirely compatible. In fact, the expedition depended on that very point.

She had come into the Draconian lands looking for the wielders of alchemagic. She gave only her name, Shareena, and shared with them the visions she had seen in her meditations in solitude. In her visions, she had witnessed the return of the Althenar, beings possessed of the talent and magical might to cause calamity. Most of the council had disregarded her words, calling her a raving lunatic. Gortas had seen the wisdom in pursuing the truth of the matter, and thus had partnered with Shareena. Through a use of combined spirit magic and alchemagic, they had discovered that her vision would come to pass regardless. All they could do was delay the inevitable for a few years. That would give them more than enough time to determine a protracted solution. For now, the plan was to place a massive Spirit Seal on the island of Ishvalara. They had planned and studied such a procedure for as long as time allowed them. In those four months, they had fought over every exacting detail from the alchemagical circle and sigils to which spirits to call in to power them.

Now, a fortnight out from the mainland, their goal was in sight. The island of Ishvalara lay before them. From here they could see the island was just one large expanse of black rock. Steam rose from the waves in several places that they could see. A great sense of foreboding quickly washed over those on the ship. This island was desolate, entirely removed from their world, yet here it sat as a testament of everything grotesque. The only trees which appeared to grow on the island had no green leaves, most like scraggly bramble than anything else. Whitecaps crashed against hidden rock and reef and the cacophony created an unpleasant undertone to the whole scene. Gortas gazed at the island with trepidation. There were only two outcomes to all of their planning, success or death.

"Three days," said a soft voice behind him.

He twisted around sharply, he had not heard Shareena's approach over the crashing waves. "Three days?" he inquired.

Shareena nodded, "Three days until the first of the Althenar appear. The spirits are all restless. They too depend on us, you realize. Our binding must be in place before the end of sunset three days hence."

Gortas looked sharply toward the island. Three days would push them to complete all of their work on time. Even in practice it had taken three days, no less. They would have to land within the next hour or two if they were to make the deadline. The sun had passed its zenith a few hours ago. He gripped the rail as a shudder ran through the ship. Something had likely struck it from below. He could feel the slight strain on his senses as the alchemagic he and the others had applied to the hull activated to repair any damage that had been done to the structure. A dull orange light flowed over the hull once, and disappeared. He glanced to the helm, where the captain stood with a look of grim determination. "Irherar, how long until we make land?"

The captain's gaze shifted to the island briefly, "Two or three hours, if we avoid all of the rocks. Twenty or thirty minutes if not."

Time. It was all coming down to a matter of time. "Make for land, as quick as you can. We will handle the ship."

The old castore nodded. He knew enough not to question the decision. The ship changed course to head directly for the island. Gortas motioned for the other four to join him on the deck. Each took their specified location, and raised their arms to point at another. Alchemagic pulsed a brilliant red hue through their formation, scorching the proper runes and geometric designs into the deck of the ship. The magic hummed like fire in their veins, reaching outwards to force its change upon the world. Their runes and sigils were meant to contain and focus the raw potential into its intended purpose. Words flowed from their mouths to help guide the purpose and maintain the flow, "Eicmimi ack a aceiamqcok. Eicmimi ack eoy kcimqmogqaiy. Gou accqk eii acemiy!"

The magic flared, following the lines of the geometric designs, and began its descent around the hull of the ship. Like liquid fire it flowed over the beams and struts, radiating from the five alchemages. As the entire ship became encased in the blazing brilliance of the magic, it sunk into the beams, causing them to glow from within. The ship lurched once, striking a reef below them. Planking cracked as a hole appeared in the forward hull of the ship, yet no water seeped in. The wood seemed to warp and reform back into place as easily as it had been broken, the red inner glow tracing patterns throughout. Another jerk wracked the ship, larger than the prior two. A loud snapping sound came from the mast of the ship. Once more, the red glow flared to life around the splinters of wood as the magic forced the wood to reconstruct itself. They weren't gaining speed against the foam and waves, they merely cut across all of the obstacles in their path. They came out into the shallow bay several minutes later, with the ship none the worse for it. The red glow dissipated from the beams and planks of the vessel, and the alchemages dropped to their knees. The spell had been costly, but well worth the expended effort.

A dinghy was sent over the side of the ship, and three of the draconians slipped over the side to accompany it. Gortas and the other draconian, along with Shareena and the castore started passing supplies from the ship's hold over the side and into the dinghy. They didn't have much to take ashore, just those items which would allow them to fulfill their task. This included casks of acid, some brittle steel, firewood, chalk, and other accouterments of alchemagic. Shareena had not requested any additional supplies for her part, her succinct reply had been that shamans required no materials with which to cast their spells. As the dinghy had been packed with supplies, the draconians had moved into the warm water. Gortas and Shareena shared a look on the deck of the ship before they plunged over the edge and into the water as well.

They landed on a short beach of black sand which was hot under foot. As they pulled the small skiff ashore with the supplies, the material on their clothes dried stiff due to the amount of salt from their short swim. It abraded and chaffed their skin, but they had no time to focus on comfort. All that was required for their seal was a large open area, essentially any part of the large island would suffice. The group sorted all of the materials to be carried among themselves and set off towards the interior of the island. Steam billowed from several vents around the group, filling the air with the foul smell of sulfur. This would be the appropriate place to entrap beings who could bring such destruction upon the world. A butte jutted out of the black landscape, likely just a remnant of one of the island's once-active volcanoes. They could not have asked for a better setting, the land around the butte was flat and clear.

Gortas nodded to the others, "This shall be the place. We shall place the seal upon the rock face, the key upon the ground. Kastilley, you will be the tip of the Spear. Ravok, you are going to be the end. Arrias, Oronaia and I will form the shaft."

Shareena's gaze flickered back and forth across the face of the rock, lingering on points within. She mumbled something to herself and nodded, "Yes, a good of place as any, alchemage. I shall begin my preparations."

She sat with her feet folded up onto her opposite knees, a position many of her people used for their meditations. A soft and harmonious humming filled the air, seeming to reverberate off of the sheer stone cliff in front of her. Gortas studied this for a few seconds. As far as he could tell, she was humming to become more in tune with the natural spirits of the area. He left her to finish her work as he and his people started theirs. Unlike the pentagram postings they had used aboard the Ledsham, here they would use the Spear. The pattern was intricate and designed to enhance and intensify the magic sent through its structure to the point of being several times stronger than normal. There were dangers, as there were with any magic. If they overloaded the Spear's patterns with too much magic, the structure of the pattern could collapse and the magic would enter their bodies in its amplified form. If they misspoke, the same could occur. Any number of things could go wrong at any point in the proceedings, and they would all perish because of it.

The geometry of the Spear was laid out using the acid. Runes and sigils were drawn with crystal styluses specially designed not to be corroded by the powerful acid they were using. As they laid out the pattern, each draconian infused his or her alchemagic into the sigils. Each sigil seemed to drink in the energy being fed to it, which would then glow with the dull red or orange of an inner fire. Chalk was crushed and added at various points around the geometric patterns. Its effect was immediately apparent as various runes around the pattern flared or faded as it was placed. It would enhance or detract from the patterns depending on its position in the geometry. Because of the incessant wind, some water was mixed with the chalk to ensure its adherence to the diagrams around it. They worked slowly and carefully; any deviation from the predefined layout could be costly later in the casting. Each and every section by necessity was thoroughly checked for errors by a second person before moving on. Nothing short of perfection would allow the magic perform correctly under the strain of energy that would be flowing through it later.

By the time the pattern was finished, the sun's disk had hit the edge of the horizon. Full dark was only about half an hour away, and hunger ravaged the stomachs of the draconians. Salted pork was pulled out of packs, the only food they had on hand for the next few days. Even Gortas grimaced at the prospect of three days without proper food. Shareena stood abruptly, stating simply, "We must start."

The draconians nodded to each other and moved into their pre-assigned positions. As they took up their places in the Spear, they added the last runes to their stations. Runes describing their names in the alchemagical language were scrawled along the perimeter of their place in the pattern. As each one finished, their segment of the array pulsed with the red-orange of alchemagic. When all five had finished forming their names in the geometry, the pattern flashed once, and the red-orange blazed brilliant yellow. Shareena moved into her place, between Gortas and Kastilley, who stood closest to the rock face. They had already added her descriptors into the receptacle at her feet, and it flared once in bright blue before settling into a blue-green. Her descriptors were not in the alchemical language of geometry and sigils, but in the flowing pattern of script which the wandering tribes used in their rituals.

Shareena started, her intonations flowing from her lips in a haunting melody, "Éusteicht kuem ineus, buetáukke see im igus áut. De chibhiur i dhéininn muud i cheingik ir see eíche. In derchi i thiginn cunn, uid suúd i bheidh ig i dheureidh gich ge bhfuuk see siek. Tá i fhues igit ár spruecinni igus ár beikií. Uirr mé is de chibhiur keus in tisc see. Gich ár driíechti i thibhiurt duut, i sunseir. Gich ár driíechti i thibhiurt duut, buetáukke nádúr. Gich ár driíechti chun tú, uentich cunn."

The pattern at her feat flared into blazing blue light which flowed rapidly outward throughout the entire pattern. As the spirit magic touched sigils and the geometry, it mingled with the inner red-orange fire and melded into purple. As the wave of magic washed over the bare rock face, orbs of light in various colors emerged, coalescing above the ritual space. These twirled and danced as the melody continued from Shareena's lips. The alchemages began their part of the ritual, the quiet and droning intonations which would forge the wild magics and sacred geometries into one working, and allow the rite to move forward. Each intoned in time with the others, providing a quiet but undeniable tone to the singing rhythm of the shaman, "Gqeqyok ag miaiciak, ycimqkiiqk yoagck. Gqeqyok ag Kqaiy Miyeok, kqmaqkii eawayqmamqk. Qa iuqwqoy yqmmqyok qccqk, gcaie kcw eiikeqm cckeoic im kiqmok. Kqmaaeowoy ag owmqyoy miaiiamqcaik, mikmayiamc eckkim. Cyaqcok ackmiqk qqiqcok ack mqcq, eoy qiica ack ciaii. Kiiqimoi eic cyaq miyecii, mcwwqmoi iu oce yoagc."

Magic flared around the alchemages, their red-orange merging with the blue of the spirit magic. Geometric designs flared brighter and the sigils burned fiercely as waves of magic continued to flow outward. Each wave of magic rebounded off of the outer edge of the pattern, shifting back into the pattern and causing the entire structure to continue to flare brighter as each new wave pulsed through. The spirits above whirled faster and faster, feeling the excess of energy below them. They moved down into the pattern and whirled around the edges, causing a whirlwind of magic to flow into the center of the pattern, right to where Gortas stood. The entire pattern at his feet became brighter than any had previously thought possible. They had not attempted to include any spirits in their practice attempts. Now, however, there was nothing left to lose. Glaring light caused all of the participant's eyes to water. None of them had expected this much energy to be pouring through the pattern. Gortas and Shareena had predicted excess energy, and had included a way for excess energy to escape the Spear by converting it into light, but never had they expected this much. If the pattern overloaded because it couldn't convert the magic fast enough, they would likely all perish in the blaze of uncontrolled magic. Nevertheless, they all kept their chants in perfect time following the lead of Shareena.

They did not realize the passing of time. Not one of them cared. They were deep in the magic now, and any distraction could prove fatal. Thus it was that full dark came and went in the crooning and droning of words. Their energies interwoven to a point where it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. Spirits continued to gather and weave themselves into the pattern, alchemagic continued to coalesce into multi-colored spectrum frantically pulsing with light. Magic flooded against the sheer rock wall in front of the pattern, etching itself deeper and deeper into the face. It was carving out the seal according to the instructions provided by the geometry of the key below their feet and the careful invocation of their words. Magic filled the spaces carved away from the rock with brilliant purple, and the Spear continued to glow brighter below it. Night drew its inky blackness over them once more, and still not one stirred from their confines within the magic below.

As the sun rose on the third day, their magic could be seen from several miles as a bright purple light in the sky. The magic was holding itself now, and yet the haunting song continued with the droning intonations. Voices were going raw and still they could not dream of stopping. It was only when the sun dimmed unexpectedly that Gortas even looked up while chanting. He gazed in fear and wonder as the sun went black. Nothing was normal about the means either, he was certain this was no eclipse. They were out of time, the Althenar had arrived. Only a red haze was left around the dark sphere that had appeared. Almost as immediately as it had appeared, the entire structure of magic around them pulsed and flared. Lines of purple magic arced upward as they forged a connection between the Spear and the being which had appeared in the sky above them. Song and chant ended, there was no more direction they could give their magic that would affect the outcome of the next several moments. The world seemed to lean in all around them, waiting on the outcome.

Purple magic flared against the darkness, tendrils encircling the great black mass started to pull it down towards their seal. A shudder ran through the entire island, an earthquake triggered by the massive amount of energy being released from its surface. Several of the vents around them released a fresh wave of the sulfur laden steam. Streamers of energy continued to wrap themselves around the Althenar in the skies above the island, pulling it faster and faster towards the seal. If the Althenar were to be let loose, there was no telling what destruction would be wrought on the world at large. No records had survived the last sighting of an Althenar except for the stories that had been convoluted and passed down the generations. Another tremor rumbled through the island, stronger than the first. Gortas had expected that as more energy was released from the structure at their feet, the more violent the tremors would become. There was nothing that could be done about them now, all of them knew the dangers of even attempting to layer another spell over the one that was currently coursing through the pattern.

What none of them could have predicted was that even with all of the power flowing through the magical construct was that it would not have been enough to contain the entire mass of the Althenar. Much of the magic that had contained itself in their structure had already wrapped itself around the sphere, and yet there were still areas which were open to the sky. Thus it was that when part of the exposed area flared brilliant white, none of them had anything they could do to combat the release of energy. It arced out over the oceans to the east, streaking across the sky in a radiance far greater than that of the sun. There was nothing they could have done to prevent it from reaching the continent even had they the magic to do so. After what seemed like an eternity, the purple tendrils of their spell had finally pulled the Althenar to within range of the seal on the sheer rock face at the point of the spear. Light flared from the rock face, from the key in their sigils below, and from the ribbons of magic which still encircled the destructive being.

Part of the Althenar began sinking into the rock face while another massive tremor rocked the island. They could hear the splintering of rock above them, but none had the magic to counteract what came next. Sand and gravel came sliding through the Althenar as if it wasn't a presence which was physically in their world. Kastilley, standing as close as he had been to be in position as the head of the Spear had no place to move as the thundering of a landslide could be heard tearing down the slop of rock above him. He gave a quick sad smile to Gortas, who tried to withdraw himself from the pattern. So it was that the first of their number fell to the Althenar as more massive rocks started falling through. It was quick, the boulder which landed on Kastilley was large enough to have caused instant death. Spacing in the pattern allowed the others to avoid the rest of the tumbling rock, but Gortas heard a soft gasp escape from Oronaia behind him. He knew that she and Kastilley had been close, but perhaps they had been closer than he had thought.

The Althenar was halfway into the solid rock when several of the purple tethers pulling it seemed to fracture and dissipate. It was already caught in the seal, and nothing it could do now would change that fact. Gortas knew they were all doomed though, for as the Althenar turned, a small section its black exterior came into view. It flared into its blinding white radiance once more. Ilthanian, my love...I will not forget you...

Everything evaporated around Gortas' awareness. There was no light, no heat, nothing to discern which direction was which. Blackness was all that remained, and into this blackness he faded. On that island, a black orb slowly faded from existence into black rock with none left to witness its demise. Leagues away a plain lay in ruins, nothing but smoldering ash and crystallized sand. Spirits howled their sorrow to a people who were no more. A draconian bowed his head and wept, for he could feel that his heart was no longer on this world. The world was safe from the Althenar, but the price had been far too high.

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