Chapter 16: Making An Archmage Laugh
“They’ll stop him.” The lich stared into the scrying-spheres, where images of a thief with a whirlwind of snarling energies for a head capered and reeled in unison. “They are many, and there’s only the one of him. And when they destroy him, we’re safe.”
Kadreth Whitecloak shook his head. “Though I should not have to repeat it: Count no victories ere they’re won. I’ll welcome the passing of Darrance Oroon, to be sure, but—”
Something gray, that smiled a cruel smile at the last of the Nine, erupted out of one of the crystals floating in front of the two archmages—and raced right through Lord Brethniir of the Brazen Tower—
—who in an abrupt instant, after centuries of cold scheming, was no more than a collapsing rain of bones and a swirling, empty black cloak.
Kadreth Whitecloak recoiled, hurling himself back from the polished table where bones were bouncing so swiftly that he left his own rain of writhing worms in the air.
They scarcely had time to begin their various falls to the hard and patiently-waiting floor before the Oroon that had destroyed the lich plunged into Kadreth—
—who stiffened, shaped a mouth that gaped in agony or astonishment, and stood flickering and tottering, arms of writhing worms outspread as if to claw the air, for a long moment before Kadreth Whitecloak, two glows that had not been there before now serving him as eyes, shook his sleeves back briskly, faced the scrying crystals squarely, and cast a mighty spell into them.
With a singing of unseen crystal, ruby-red fire burst out of the air and rolled across the chamber, whirling the bloody remnants of Damryn, Thornan, and Halorn up into a spinning soup that circled the struggling, collapsing thing that had been Ransur.
If Jallana had still been able to see anything at all, she’d have seen the thief’s flesh plucked and tugged from his bones, wriggling as he slumped into shapelessness that the whirling spellwinds prevented from falling as it started to burn. Oroon were struggling in those winds, too, torn out of Ransur but still clawing and plunging at each other, their grey glows lit weirdly by the ruby-red flames. All of the remains were blazing with that red fire, now, in the roiling conflagration.
Across the chamber, Jallana was dimly aware of heat and crackling on one side of her.
She felt almost nothing when tentacles and claws lifted her, carried her far across the room to a stone table near a wall, and laid her down on it with deft gentleness.
Other tentacles tore open the wall that bore the horned-head carving, fetched forth the dark and powerful bracers, and slid them onto Jallana’s bruised and bloodied arms.
Then she felt everything, and started to scream.
In a room that held a polished table and a scattering of bones, a figure of countless writhing, quivering worms stood facing a glowing cluster of scrying-spheres, arms outstretched as ruby-red fire flowed from them to the singing, floating crystals. The figure’s eyes were two searing white flames, and seemed to quiver as one of the crystals abruptly burst, showering the room with glass shards so fine they might have been dust.
The song of the remaining spheres rose into a keening scream.
Jallana Stormbright twisted and arched on unyielding stone, gasping and sobbing as the pain slowly—aahh, so slowly—left her.
She could see again, she had two arms that worked again, no arrows bristled from her…. Feeling weak and sick, Jallana looked up at a ring of beasts that stared back at her. They were looming over her, some of them glaring over fearsome tusks, some of them goggling through clusters of eyes beyond her counting. Some of them had bare talons, some had hook-nailed paws, and some had tentacles that writhed lazily. She saw fangs and sucking maws and—
With a sudden howl, three Oroon came streaking out of nowhere, passed through a monster on Jallana’s right (causing it to stagger and grunt in pain, almost toppling onto her), raced right over Jallana, and lanced through a thing of many mouths and tentacles on her left.
It slumped, quivering and spasming… and through the gap where it had stood tall, Jallana saw the three wraiths speed across the room and plunge into the raging, ruby-red spell conflagration that filled the far end of the chamber.
It seemed to whirl around them in a tunnel as they bored in, and begin to howl.
Three scrying crystals burst as Oroon erupted out of them, right in front of what had been Kadreth Whitecloak, and plunged right into him.
The Worm That Walks staggered helplessly, his worms darkening and falling away from fingers flickering with a feverish array of stillborn spells. One of his glowing eyes flared, even as the other flickered and went out, and his mouth gaped open in a great, ragged hiss.
Gray flashes whirled and spun in that sagging mouth as Oroon waged furious war inside the last archmage of the Nine, striving for control of his body.
He did not stagger for long.
When he started to sag to the bone-strewn floor, the screams issuing from his mouth were not his own.
Nor were the cries of triumph, as the victorious trio of Oroon emerged from the mindless husk, saw ruby-red fire curling from the last few scrying-spheres, and raced back into them.
Or tried to.
As their surging selves met the red flames, the last crystals exploded with a roar, spilling the entire fury of the conflagration from that distant chamber in Staelghast into the archmages’ tower.
The long, polished table was plucked up like a leaf and hurled down the room, chairs whirling and shattering around it, as wraiths shrieked faintly and a tumbling thing of worms lost an arm to the flames, and the thumb and fingers of its other hand—and then fetched up wetly against a wall and slid down it amid the smeared gore of a thousand crushed worms…
…only to reel, work its mouth soundlessly several times, and rise stiffly, as three Oroon took refuge in the husk they’d just left.
“Cramped in here,” that which had been Kadreth Whitecloak hissed.
“Our prison until someone breaks in, through the wardings. They were cast by the other,” he added, his voice somehow subtly different, and turned his head to regard the shards of bone now strewn the length of the chamber.
“Can we shatter the room?” a third voice hissed from the worm-thing’s jaws. “Use magic to lure living ones here?”
“Not with this pitiful remnant. We must be patient.”
Unsteadily the Oroon guided the unfamiliar worm-body to the only upright and unscathed chair in the room, and moved it to sit down.
The archmage sat—and the chair promptly collapsed, spilling what it held onto the floor.
That which had been Kadreth Whitecloak started to laugh.
To be continued...