Monday, October 15, 2012

Renard's Promotion within the Arcane Assembly

Here is a look into the history of one of my key characters in Legacy of Magic.

Renard flipped through the velum pages of the ritual with his left hand as he walked down the newly exposed passageway.  Although he had been to the Assembly's labyrinth many times, he had never been to this particularly dark region. An orb of light preceded him, chasing shadows and frightened creatures alike deeper into the corners and hidden realms. The metallic tick-tock of his staff on the stone as he walked reassured him that the floor was solid. Any change in tone would allow him to react before he was falling or worse, impaled. Each time the Assembly had called him before them, the ritual required to get through the maze was different as was the layout, but Renard had given up on memorizing any route. It was best, and often life saving, to relax and let the ritual guide his steps.

With a ritual this complex, the event he had been called to attend promised to be far more important than anything he should be doing for his father's kingdom, including helping his brother take their father's place some day. Renard enjoyed the ripple of excitement that ran across his body at the thought of what awaited him at the end of this ritual, but there was no way to know what was planned. The Assembly never communicated their actions to the members until they were called. The orb of light ahead of him exposed a long dead and stripped corpse. The physical reminder of how serious this situation was sobered Renard’s thoughts. With the end of his staff, he slid the unrecognizable mass out of his way while looking for what might have killed it. Scanning the walls and floor for the possible trap, he also looked for clues that he was being followed.

When he resumed his course, satisfied that there was no trap and convinced he was being followed, he picked up his pace. To survive the labyrinth, it was important to listen to the warnings and something was telling him he needed to get out of this passage. Although time had little meaning in the labyrinth, if he spent too much of it in any one place the shadowy inhabitants would grow brave and that could quickly become dangerous. However, it was not the danger that drove Renard forward; he was far too excited about what the Assembly had planned and the nagging warning that he was being followed was frustrating him.

Renard stuffed the ritual into the bag at his waist and drew his wand from the slit pocket in its strap that crossed his chest. In a single motion, as the wand cleared the leather strap, he turned to face his follower while voicing the power word to activate the protective barrier his staff commanded.

With a sweeping motion he described the top left and bottom right anchor points for the barrier. The invisible shield covered the entire passage that had been behind him. The orb, adjusting to his change in direction, shot over his shoulder and stopped just before barrier, dispelling the shadows around what was following him. The sudden brightness captured a puff of dust as whatever had been there vanished. His pursuer was small, but that realization did not make him relax his grip on the wand. Size was meaningless when the follower was one of thousands of magical creatures the Assembly had imprisoned in the labyrinth throughout their history. An abyss beetle, for example, was nothing to ignore and it would fit in the palm of your hand. Luckily that little beast was not what was following him today; they didn’t bother with teleportation.

He reviewed what he knew and decided that the follower was most likely a sprite or an imp of some type.  They were usually not dangerous unless they felt mischievous. As with everything trapped in the labyrinth, the sprites wanted to escape. They often tried to get out by stowing away in open bags or pouches. Renard had remotely watched several try, without success, a few years back when the Assembly had tested another wizard for entry. Neither the pixies nor the wizard left the labyrinth that day. He relaxed his grip on the wand and rolled his weight back onto his heels. A sprite following him in the maze would not normally have caught his attention.  

With a flourish of his cloak, Renard turned his back on the barrier and his miniature follower to focus on his goal. The memory of watching the wizard in the maze answered his question. He didn’t have time to worry about the inhabitants of the labyrinth, because the care takers and all of the Assembly’s members were watching him complete this ritual. In his mind he could clearly see them all sitting around the chamber where he had watched the trials that year. The importance and difficulty of the ritual in his bag suddenly settled in and a shudder and cold sweat asked the question. What had he done to deserve their individual attention? Without giving away anything to the gallery of watchers, he shook off his concern; he had to follow the ritual and stay on target. His life and death were both written in its pages. He shrugged his shoulders to shift the invisible weight that had just landed on them, slipped his wand back into its place and retrieved the ritual from his bag. If they wanted a show, he would give them a good one.

At the end of the chamber there was a choice between a descending path to his left and a path to his right on the same level. He consulted the ritual for a moment, reading through the lines of magical text in his mind to see if there was a clue about which path to take. After a short pause he elected to delve deeper into the labyrinth and took the path to his left. The sloping chamber was as dark and foreboding as the last but he paid little mind to it as he followed it to its end. It did not level out again before ending in a rough stone wall. Sure he had made the correct turn; he voiced the words awaiting him on the current page of the ritual.
As he spoke, the words on the page glowed as if they were burning off the page. Green, red and blue flashes followed the strokes of the writer as the words were laid down on the page. Tendrils of smoke wafted off the vellum and ash slipped down it as the words released their power. The wall in front of him transfigured and exposed the rest of the chamber that descended a little further into a much larger room. Caught up in the magical cadence, Renard walked into the room trailing an enchanted mist that fluttered around his feet. Stones that had transfigured to allow him into the room slammed back into the wall after he passed through the portal. That was not his exit.

The first thing to attract Renard’s attention in the room was the naked female elf standing in the center of the room. She did not move as he entered and he took in the contents of the room with a quick scan. To his right were tables stacked with vials, flasks and silver piping. To his left was an operational iron maiden and rack. In the very center of the room, in front of the elf, a stone table projected out of the stone of the floor. It had been carved as the room had been formed. The table’s flat surface was a polished plate of silver that reflected the light from his orb around the room. Troughs lined with silver ran from the foot of the slightly angled smooth surface and descended around the table until they ended in a funnel pointed into a silver pot suspended over a metal ring. Hanging over the silver pot was a funnel with a retort that would direct the distillate into the condenser coil before dropping the concentrate into the crystal alembic at the end of the cold fire distillery. Renard now knew the purpose of the ritual. He would be distilling the essence of a magical creature down into a potion. The actual use and character of the philter would be defined by the specific creature to be sacrificed and the ritual performed during the distillation. The first question, the creature, had been answered already.

The elf was held magically within the boundary of a pentagram inscribed on the top of a raised stone circle on the floor. Another spell, which he would be dispelling, held her in a state of suspended animation. She had been bathed in pure oils and delivered to the chamber where she waited her fate. She was the sacrifice. Renard felt a sudden surge of pity for her. As the emotion surged through him he cursed his weakness. He could not allow his emotions into this ritual, the effects on the concentrate would taint it and forever color any magic performed with it. He quickly cleansed his mind of any concern or care for the subject.
Renard took his place at the table, now very sure of his role in the ritual. The Assembly planned for strong magic to come from this ritual. Based on the base ingredient, virgin female elf blood, he would be making ink for inscribing and illuminating spells. He had never produced the level of magical alchemy that was represented by ritually draining the blood from an innately magical creature. A tingle of excitement raced up his spine.  The ceremony would produce something that only he could use and the only wizards allowed to create rituals and inscribe spells into scrolls and books were masters of the Assembly. He had to admit that he had campaigned for a place on the council of masters for the Assembly, but he had not expected it to come this soon. After indulging in the sudden flash of excitement, Renard felt the rush of fear drench his linen shirt. This was a true test as much as it was a ceremony. If he failed, there was no second chance; this ritual would either promote him to the highest level of human magical attainment or destroy him.

For the third time he chastised himself to control his emotions. He had to treat this like any other process. It had to be a recipe that he followed exactly. Any deviation would destroy him and any emotion would color his ultimate character on the other side. It was critical that he maintain control throughout the ritual. He sat his guide on the podium next to the table and inhaled a cleansing breath to chase all thought out of his body. He had to surrender himself to the ritual and be nothing but its conduit.

With his eyes closed he felt the first words appear. He voiced them in monotone. The magical power released from the words obliterated the script on the page. The barrier containing the elf on the dais broke and invisible hands lifted her onto the table. Life returned to her eyes as the hold was dispelled.  
Renard continued with no emotion as enchanted bonds wrapped her arms and legs on the table. Fear and then anger rippled across her face as she realized what was happening but Renard maintained his emotionless chant as the words continued to vanish from the page. With the last word of the first stanza, Renard exhaled and stepped back from the table. His head was spinning. He felt as if he could not stand. The powerful ritual threatened to overcome him and leave his rotting corpse on the floor of the labyrinth for some other mage to find. With a few breaths to stabilize himself he returned to the job at hand.

The young woman thrashed on the table against her invisible bonds and screamed at him to stop as he stepped back up to the table. He again closed his eyes and imagined the words on the page before he spoke them to rip their bonds to the physical page. With every word, the spell merged with the fear and anger of the subject forming a cloud that hovered over her. Flashes filled the cloud like a small thunderstorm. Each line of the spell vanished into vapor that mingled with the energy he could feel rushing out of his body to build the tempest that churned above the screaming form. The final word of the spell struck him like a hammer and threatened to send his sprawling to the floor. He reached out to grip the podium. His fingernails dug into the wood on the underside as he leaned into it to remain standing and focused. It was critical that he remain in the flow of the magic as he lifted a ceremonial spike from the podium next to the ritual guide. Reaching down to the young girl, he placed his left hand over her mouth and nose. Fear and finality met in her eyes as he positioned the spike against her jugular. Her eyes widened with the unspoken request for mercy that he could not grant. A feeling at the base of his spine raced up to the back of his skull and he felt the suppressed joy explode through his body as he inserted the razor sharp spike into the rapidly pulsing artery. A hot stream of the subject’s blood raced out of the silver tube attached to the spike. It rushed in unison with the rapid beating of her heart that he could feel in his fingers where the tool exited her neck.  Her essence rushed into the trough resonating with the elation he felt crashing over his body. He released her mouth and the scream that had been trapped behind his hand.

Trembling, Renard turned the page and began the final incantation. The cloud that had formed over her descended in tendrils to mingle with the blood as it flowed around the table. Bright flashes of blue lightning encased the stream as it circled the table. Renard’s words teased magical fire from the ring at the base of the cauldron as the first essence poured over its edge. The cold fire reacted with the infused blood and a whirlwind of color and fire exploded upward to be trapped in the funnel where it disappeared into the silver piping of the distillery. The screaming had reduced to cursing and whimpering as the elf fought with her own death. Each reaction imbued the cloud and the essence with more power as did a tendril of mist that was forming around Renard. It was nearly invisible but he knew that he had introduced an emotion into the recipe. He didn’t care as he continued to voice the ritual. He would not be destroyed by a creature that had kept humans in the dark so long when they had asked for help over generations. The elf dying under his hands represented all of the races who had cursed humans into subservience to all magical races. They had relegated his race to begging for magical gifts and implements just to survive in the magical world they lived in. Over time the human race had become slavish consumers of the magic dispensed freely so long as they remained subjects to their magical masters. All of the races had refused to help humans stand up and join their magical ranks. Renard could not help but be happy about her death. It was proper and it was what needed to happen to them all for how they had kept humans dependent on them for so long.      

The last tendril of mist and smoke joined with the last breath and beat of the heart as Renard spoke the closing word. When the terminal drops of blood completed their cycle and filled the crystal alembic Renard would finally be a part of the only human coalition really working to change the face of the magical world and carve a place out of the magical hierarchy where humans could stand equally with the magical races. He was nearly where he needed to be. Now he could focus on completing and escalating the Assembly’s plans to exact justice and eliminate all of the other magical races so that humans could stand on their own feet and rule their lands without the interference of meddling magical creatures like the one on the table before him.

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