Escape From Arhals

Published by Lindsay Wardell on 09/19/2018

Lindin’s heart pounded in his ears as the terrifying, timeless moment passed. What power remained in the spellweave seemed to pool, small waves moving slowly in his mind. He rose carefully from the road, rubbing his head and restraining a moan. Never had he experienced anything like that.

He glanced around to see if anyone else had been struck by… whatever just happened. Commonfolk continued about their day, oblivious to any disturbance. A few broke with tradition to glance at him but did nothing to acknowledge his presence. Perhaps, Lindin thought, they considered him mad rather than a wizard.

Looking around the courtyard, he noted subtle signs of the change that had taken place; enchanted fountains no longer flowed, etched runes no longer glimmered. Automatons moving about their business stopped mid-step, their instructions lost. Every enchantment is broken, Lindin realized in horror. He needed to inform Harsen at once. But how?

In the center of the courtyard, a merchant was kicking his enchanted cart, which had stopped in the center of the road. Cursing, he shoved it, trying in vain to make it move again. He ran his hand through his blonde hair, looking up at the sky. Rather than continue to berate his misbehaving cart, however, he continued to stare upward. He pointed upward, crying out, although Lindin didn’t hear what he said. Others nearby looked upward as well. Some covered their mouths, their eyes wide with fear. Others scooped up their children, taking their loved ones’ hands, and tried to pull them away from the sight.

Lindin followed their gaze, and as he saw what they had, his heart skipped a beat. The wonder of Arhals, the City of Wizards, was its usage of and reliance on the arcane. Not merely content with the limits of a traditional city, the wizards had long constructed buildings and towers to float over the city. Supported directly by the ley lines, they remained fixed in the sky, unmoving, without the direction of the wizards.

Now, lacking that support, the floating wonders of Arhals began to plummet to the ground.

Lindin panicked. On instinct, he summoned the runes to his mind to teleport. As he reached out for the energy to cast the spell, he found nothing, as if he had jumped off a cliff. His mind reeled as the first structures began to crash into the city around him. One struck the Senate directly in front of him, knocking the wizard to his knees. A cloud of broken stone poured over and around him, filling his lungs with fire.

He shook his head, knocking dust and rubble out of his hair. Screams rose up around him as structure after structure fell upon the helpless city below. Light posts, once enchanted to float above the streets, now fell as spears upon the ground, shattering on the cobblestone streets. Towers, large and small, tumbled into their terrestrial neighbors, tearing both into pieces. Lindin looked upward, realizing the sheer number of towers yet to fall.

There was no time to contact Harsen, Lindin realized. If he didn’t leave now, he wouldn’t be able to escape the city. Without further hesitation, Lindin bolted from the courtyard. A few moments later, he looked back to see the Senate collapse completely, a sinkhole opening under the ancient building. Despite the constant cries of the commonfolk and roars of the devastation, he didn’t turn back again.

Lindin turned down a side street, his way blocked by rubble. To the side, he saw a small arcane shop that appeared intact and abandoned, its door hanging wide open. The wizard glanced upward, and, seeing that no towers were immediately overhead, he ducked inside.

He smiled ruefully as he looked around. Arcane shops like this traded in wares enchanted to help the commonfolk with their lives. Animated brooms, flying toys, crystals enchanted to allow speaking across distances, these things were prized among those without access to the arcane. Perhaps a few crystals still had enough power for him to escape.

He began his hunt. A few larger crystals lay in shards upon the floor, shattered from the calamity. Most of those he found weren’t powerful enough for anything he needed to do. He threw his arms in the air, frustration boiling over. Around him, the sounds of destruction echoed throughout the city, smothering any cries from those caught beneath. He sighed, closing his eyes in resignation. Whatever madness had struck the city, there was nothing left he could do.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a glimmering gem in the ceiling, brimming with power. He didn’t even have to touch it to know, such was the relief he felt just recognizing the comforting warmth of the arcane. Without a second thought, he reached out with his mind, pulling the energy into himself. His tension eased at the familiar feeling of arcane power within him. Perhaps this wasn’t the end quite yet. He closed his eyes, once more concentrating on the spell he sought to cast. The world around him began to fade, as he conjured the runes in his mind.

Until he felt a sharp crack against his head from a makeshift club.

Lindin toppled to the ground, so stunned by the sudden assault that he could do nothing. He rolled ungracefully, then looked up at the figure towering above him. At first, it seemed like one of the city automatons, dressed in full silver armor. Perhaps it was one of the Senate guards, now acting without direction. The smooth, silver armor was marred with dust and scratches, caused by falling debris. One shoulder was severely dented, and the left arm was uncovered. Most surprising of all, the silver helmet that adorned the statue was missing, revealing a grotesque mockery of a face.

It was a dull green, with long, black hair. The hair wound around itself and the figure’s face, as if it had grown within the helmet for years. Its eyes were pitch black, filled with rage – could it truly be feeling emotion? Its mouth was set in what could only be described as a scowl, at best. In its right hand was clenched a metal rod. When Lindin looked back into its eyes, the creature howled, a curdling, pained sound.

Lindin concentrated on the monster before him, pouring a precious fraction of power into shoving against it. The spell shot forward, flinging the creature against the front wall. It fell to the ground, dropping its weapon. It scrambled to rise, but Lindin was faster. Without thinking, he took up the metal rod. Channeling more power into it, he flung it at the creature. The rod flew, enchanted for accuracy, straight into the beast’s chest. It punctured the armor, embedding itself soundly. With an agonized cry, it again fell to the ground, impaling itself further. It didn’t rise again.

Lindin cursed. The scuffle had drained some of the power he required. The wizard hurriedly began to drain the remaining energy from the shop. He took what was left from the automaton as well. When he was finished, he grimaced. Not enough. He tried to think of another source, another place with power. The creature’s body within the automaton tempted him. Blood magic, though potent, was forbidden. Even the archmages of Argantin had limits to their ambition. No, he would do no such thing, not even now.

Then what? All around him, the sounds of collapsing buildings reverberated, shaking the very ground. New sounds, more like those the monster had made, joined the cacophony. Looking down at the creature, Lindin whispered, “What are you?”

As he stood undecided in the ruined shop, voices echoed outside, screams throughout the city. Lindin realized that since he had entered the shop, he had tuned them out. At once, a thought occurred to Lindin that made him cringe. The citizens of Arhals were dying, and here he was, attempting to escape alone.

Lindin had no family, no heir, no apprentice, nothing. His home, on the western edge of the Nivalien plains, was almost foreign to him, so long had he been in Arhals. The people of Halslad had never been his kin, nor even his friends. And yet those voices pierced him, and he saw, for at least a moment, the arrogance of the wizards. Of himself. They had relied on so much, now it appeared all lost. Those who had relied on them ran through the streets, their safety replaced by utter terror.

Argantin taught that power was beyond worth, for with it one could shape destinies. It was the duty of the wizard, beyond anything else, to sacrifice everything for power and control. That was why he had no family, no real bonds. The wizards were more important than anything, and each more important than another. But now, in the chaos, he saw that while he had lost all, the commonfolk of Arhals had not. Not yet. He didn’t deserve the power he possessed – they did.

He cursed his choice, even as he made it. Even so, he ran out the broken door onto the street. Before him, a father stood over his son, shielding it from another of the beasts. With a gesture, energy poured through his body into his hand. The energy condensed, then flew across the distance into the creature’s bulbous head. With a crack, it fell to the ground. The father winced, but soon realized what had taken place. He turned towards Lindin, words of thanks forming on his lips. As the sight of robes became clear, he hastily pulled his son in front of him, and the two bowed formally. They did not utter a word as Lindin approached.

Commonfolk didn’t speak to wizards; Argantin said they were not worthy. Forget worthiness, Lindin decided. Forget protocol, and everything else Argantin taught. This was no place for it.

“What is your name?” Lindin asked sharply, surprising himself in his tone.

The father was clearly stunned. Wizards do not speak to commonfolk, either. He recovered and said, “My name is Gabin, master.”

Lindin nodded. “Do you understand what is going on?” he asked.

Gabin shook his head. “No, master,” he responded, lowering his gaze. Lindin sighed. Apparently, it would take more than even a catastrophe to break the customs of the past. The man took his sigh as displeasure, and he buried his chin in his chest. “Forgive me, master,” he added quietly.

More cries rang out from the direction of the Senate, followed by more screaming. By this time, most of the buildings of any size had fallen from the sky, with only a few small towers and edifices careening downward. One limped along, and Lindin could feel the energy being wasted to ease it downward rather than crash. He coughed as smoke from a nearby fire covered the walkway. At the side of the father, the young boy clutched at his parent’s legs. “Will you save us?” he asked, untrained in proper etiquette.

Lindin smiled faintly. Could he do it? Could he save this father and son? He doubted so. But what else was there to do?

“I will try,” he responded.

Together, the three of them made their way from the center of the city. The streets were filled with haze, both from fires as well as the dust thrown into the air. Many of them were destroyed, the cobblestone broken down into dust. Others were filled with creatures, stalking through them. Each of them seemed to wear the armor of the statues of Arhals; couriers, guards, each dressed in pristine silver. Their helmets lay scattered across the ground, smashed to pieces.

“What are they?” Gabin’s son asked, as they took shelter behind a broken wall while two more of the creatures walked by. He held a cloth to his face, ripped from Lindin’s robe. Gabin looked almost to correct the boy, his glance disapproving. Reality, however, set back in before the words left his mouth.

“I’m not sure,” Lindin responded, watching their movements. The voice of Harsen repeated softly in his mind: Speculation based on observation is part of being a Watcher. But as he watched another of the creatures stalk through the streets after the first two, he wasn’t quite sure where to begin. “Maybe they were created by the collapse of the spellweave,” he mused aloud. Neither of his companions ventured to ask what that meant.

Eventually the beasts moved on, and the three could continue on their way. On three more occasions, they were required to take shelter, as the monsters made their way through the ruins of the city. They seemed disorganized, almost without intelligence. They struck whomever they found, be they human or otherwise. Lindin never waited to see how their victims fared.