WiP 17 (2018)

His first instinct was a spell to find his way out of the temple.

Then second thoughts kicked in.

His camera was gone.  He needed proof or no one would believe him.  They didn’t want to and there’d been millennia of hoaxes.

Knowing how many dragons were sleeping in the refuge would help too.

Maybe he could do something to stop them, or delay the awakening.

Someone had indicated, he thought, that the waking process took a while.  Months, maybe.  It was possible that he could make that longer . . . if he knew what they did, and had months to years to study the process.

No, bad idea.

Too many thrillers and action stories.

He was a scholar and researcher.

His best bet was to get information and get himself out.

So far, Alaric knew he had been lucky not to run into any priests or servants.  Or maybe there just weren’t that many.  How many people did it take to maintain a mothballed refuge and care for comatose dragons?  Accounting for a place mage and automatons too.

Hopefully not many.

Alaric gulped a little, realizing just how much he depended on hope and luck in the situation.

Not for the first, or last, time, he wished he’d brought a team.

Who might have been captured with him.  Or set the priest-caretakers into full blown paranoia, triggering violence.  At the very least they would have been potential hostages, and planning an escape would be much more difficult, in its own way.

He shook himself.

Time to move.

He formed a simple, generic seeking spell, indicating dragons when it was appropriate.

The effect manifested as a muted neon green arrow in his mage sight, pointing to his left.

After a few turns down long corridors, Alaric paused to catch his breath.  He hadn’t been jogging or running in years.  Bent over, hands on his knees, the sorcerer heard heavy thumps on the scale-tiled floor.

He rose quickly and flattened himself against the wall as the sounds grew louder.

Moments later, a troop of four statue-guards marched down the cross hall.  Alaric prayed to any deity that there were enough shadows, as a single priest strode behind them.

The woman glanced down his hall, but it seemed some divinity was listening as she passed by without looking too closely.

Alaric released the breath he had been holding with a rush of relief.

Unfortunately, his arrow pointed directly after the escorted priest.

Double shite.

He risked a glance down the hall.

The guards were gone, but the hall took a sharp right after a couple dozen feet.

After looking the other way to ensure the coast was clear, Alaric did his best to sneak down the hall.  He kept to the wall, practically brushing it with elbows and back at every step.  Unlike the others, this one was bare and undecorated.  On one hand, he thought, less to run into.  On the other, there was no cover, and there were no doors or alcoves.

Probably a service hall, he decided.  One of those passages no one lived on and no visitors saw.  Just a practical space the servants used to move around and do their jobs.  There was a tangle of those halls at the Tower, for servants.  He and some other students had snuck into them a few times to avoid teachers and others.  The faculty pretended to forget about their existence, though they had probably all used the servant halls as students.

Maybe, if the spell was right, this was the one that the staff used to check on the dragons.

It was far too small for dragons to use themselves, if the stories and Jdal’s tapestries were right.

He crept along increasingly utilitarian halls or what felt like hours, sloping ever gradually down.

Finally, Alaric stood at the mouth of a tunnel that showed signs of being hastily dug out of the living rock.  The entirety was bare stone, smooth all around.  The polished gloss spoke of regular usage or, since it was all around, the use of earth sorcery.  Where the more finished halls were rectangular and made of blocks of stone covered in something like plaster, the new one was almost entirely circular.  It looked like a refinement of the spell he’d used in his suite, just done by someone who knew what they were doing.  And had more time and a lot more raw power at their disposal.

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WiP 16 (2018)

For his part, Alaric went along quietly, certain that even at two to one odds he had no chance of fighting free.  Those odds plummeted once they reached the corridor.  There, they were joined by four life-size statues of stone men.  Two took the lead at the priest’s gesture, and two took the rear.

As they walked, Alaric noted the statues moved with an almost natural grace and ease.  He saw no hint of stiffness or awkwardness.  They were unlike the handful of constructs he had seen as a student.  The scholarly side of his mind wondered whether they were animated differently or if the art had lost its potency or finesse as it fell out of favor among modern sorcerers.  Maybe place mages could experiment . . . he added that thought to the long “If I Get Out of This” list.

His thoughts were replaced by a mental sigh and flood of relief as his escort returned to his rooms.  They were the same, he thought.  The stone men simply turned to face the center of the hall, two flanking his door and the others opposite them.  One of the priests caused the door to fade, a heartbeat after Alaric remembered to suspend his wards.

They waved him in, but did not follow.

He watched as the door re-solidified, and he reactivated the wards.

To test, Alaric thought of the door opening.

Nothing happened.

The door remained solid.

So, Jdal had already changed it, probably while they had been talking in his office.

Suddenly, his plans to create a back door did not seem so silly or paranoid.

The priests were still nearby, probably.  They could not have walked very far.  Plus, Jdal was, he had to assume, concentrating pretty hard on the room and his movements.  The statues didn’t strike Alaric as being very high on the intelligence or free will scale.  Which meant they were probably for intimidation or would be activated should he somehow open the door or otherwise draw the head priest’s attention.

Patience and waiting.

It was a good thing, Alaric thought, that he had built up the former over years of research.  Finding the best resources often took painstaking research, especially for ancient primary sources.

Since he did not wish to appear suspicious, or draw more attention, the sorcerer found a spot on a particularly plush and soft rug. There he sat, closed his eyes, and began his meditation, as if he were outside recharging.

Within minutes, Alaric had himself in a light trance, just deep enough to relax yet remain aware of his surroundings.

He quickly decided to wait until after a servant brought dinner.  Maybe even an hour or two later than that.  Then, no one would be coming to his rooms for several hours, maybe a bit less.  Waiting a little longer should, Alaric hoped, divert Jdal’s attention.  The priest might expect something right after the meal, but he had to sleep sometime.

Meanwhile, meditating helped him rest, kept him from getting too bored, and should bore anyone watching.

Hours later, with no contact beyond the servant who had brought a tray of food, Alaric gave in to his boredom and nerves.

He walked into the bath and checked his spell one last time.

Before activating the latent magic, Alaric drew on the energy stored in his ring.

He shaped it into a few detection spells, for locating and seeing a person from afar.

Then he twisted the mental patterns, redrawing them in ways that he hoped would serve to reverse their effects.  Once they seemed right, Alaric imagined the patterns draping themselves over his body.  With luck, he thought, they would work as expected and might fool even place magic.  That was the part he was really uncertain about.  And how quickly Jdal might realize he had disappeared.

Alaric drew in a deep breath.

As he released it, he activated the spell on the wall.

The rock within the circle of symbols began to rapidly dissolve, leaving a thick layer of sand behind.

It was a simple digging spell, but he had had to enlarge it.

Within seconds, enough stone had been eroded for the sorcerer to begin crawling through.

Maybe eight feet later, Alaric found himself standing in a bedroom.  The layer of dust on the room indicated that the place had not been used in a long time.

Too late, it occurred to the sorcerer to wonder if the suite’s door would open for him, from the inside.

Certain he was merely jinxing himself, Alaric strode through the abandoned suite to place his hand on the door.  A series of dust born coughs interrupted his concentration.  After they passed, he focused on the door opening, as with his own room’s.

And nothing happened.

Alaric looked for a couple seconds to be sure.

When there was no change, he shrugged.

On to Plan B, he thought.  It was more energy use than he wanted, but there was no other, quick, option.

Touching the wall with his palm, the sorcerer shaped a smaller version of the earth spell he’d used in his suite.  Within seconds of the spell being released, he had an opening to the corridor, far down the hall from the sentry statues.

Alaric stuck his head out to see if the guards had responded.

Once he saw they were standing at attention, still as, well, statues, he boosted himself through the hole and into the corridor.  He speed walked to the nearest corner and ducked around it, just trying to get out of sight.

Minutes later, he was crouched in an alcove.

WiP 15 (2018)

The obligatory scale patterned floor tiles were covered by rugs that put his rooms’ to shame.  The walls were concealed by brilliant tapestries depicting what appeared to be the same five or six dragons in different poses.  But the room was dominated by a heavy, ornately carved desk in a deep silvery-grey wood that Alaric could not place.  The surface itself was at least the size of a double bed, he guessed.

Jdal stood, hands clasped behind his back, a few feet away, staring at one of the tapestries.

Alaric followed his gaze to see the woven art showed a dragon in flight.  Its red-gold scales somehow managed to appear to shine in the setting sun’s light.  The sorcerer was no art connoisseur, but, judging solely from the intricate detail and lifelike effect, he thought the weaver had to be a master.  The beast had to have been, scaled, over a hundred feet in length, if it had been real.  He guessed.

“This is Getorix, scion of Clan Thaliess, and the eldest and highest ranked of our charges,” Jdal said, as if discussing the weather.  “Should, when, we wake the Great Ones, he will be the one who leads us.  At least until his sister awakes, if she and her temple survived the ages.”

The priest turned and gestured for Alaric to take a seat.

“The questions that I find I must ask myself are: what kind of world are we in?  And should I wake the Great Ones?  If I do wake them, will the world be one in which they should be revealed immediately or in which they need to bide their time?  The responsibility for these choices are ultimately mine, as Agrum.”

Alaric shifted in the chair, once again undefinably uncomfortable.

“The title means both head priest of a temple, protector, and advisor,” Jdal continued, apparently seeing the sorcerer’s confusion.  “It is neither bestowed nor accepted lightly.  And it comes with great responsibility as well as being bound to the temple for life.”

He sat opposite Alaric and leaned back in his own, rather more magnificent, chair.

“I lack necessary information, Al.  About the changes, the races, and the politics of the world.  Many things are unclear to me.  And this disturbs me.  For instance, I see the grey aura of low magic about you, but a stronger aura of green that is unfamiliar to any of our priests.  There are also, it seems, new intelligent races in the world.  And you have not been entirely honest with us.”

Here we go, Alaric thought.  He finally got to the point.  Without knowing exactly what the priest was speaking about, the sorcerer decided to remain silent.  Better that than to accidentally say too much.

A wave of the priest’s hand summoned a woman clad in the same black robes as the servant who had brought his food.  With a rush of concern, and some fear, Alaric recognized his collection of pocket notebooks as she set them on the desk and retreated.

“It took some time,” the priest said, after a moment, “by our standards, but we are not without our own magics.  And spells related to language have always been a particular specialty of the Great Ones and their kin.  One of our priests is especially skilled and interested in such things.  The intensity and interests of youth, you see.  He found the correct combination of spells to make these texts readable and has been studying them all morning . . . Perhaps you could clarify what happened at the end of the War and after?  Just in case his translation or understanding is flawed.”

Alaric shrugged, “Records of those eras are sparse and fragmentary.  Most of what has come down has been oral history, covered in myth, legend, and fable.  We have no reliable histories of either era.”

“But, you have good guesses?  You suspected this temple’s location and were correct.  And you thought there could be ‘free dragons’ or ‘hidden dragons.’  What do you mean by this?  Are we to assume there are, what, captive dragons?”

His tone remained level and calm, measured.  But, there was a growing something, wildness or anger maybe, in his eyes that told Alaric he should run, fast and far.

Too bad the door was closed and he was stuck in a maze of a temple, underground.

The sorcerer sighed, “Ok.  The dragons, the great ones, lost the War.  Afterwards, as far as we can tell, many were hunted down and slain.  The most powerful were captured and contained.  Somewhere secret and safe.  Magic and humans were left to develop and evolve unconstrained by dragon tyrants.  Both have grown in a variety of ways since the War.  Dragons were largely reviled as monsters, in most cultures and among magicians, for millennia.  Only recently are those views starting to change a little, so my colleagues have said.”

“So the usurpers eventually won,” Jdal said, with a nod.  “Or so they thought.  The Great Ones were correct in their concerns.  I sense the truth in what you say, perhaps not the whole truth, but more than before.  And it fits with the little we have gleaned from your books.  Unfortunately, that also means you are an enemy of the Great Ones.”

He rose and stood staring at the tapestry of Getorix again, his back to Alaric.

“We were constructed as a temple, with chambers for the reposing Great Ones added much later.  As such, we have no official places to confine prisoners.  That being the case, and because we cannot set you at liberty, you will be confined to the rooms assigned to you.  Your door will open only for the senior priests and a single servant.  Guards will be posted outside at all hours.  They will be instructed to kill, should you try to leave the room.”

As he spoke, Alaric heard footsteps and turned to see two of the priests who had escorted him enter the room.

“Go.”

Each priest took an arm and led the sorcerer out of the room at their senior’s command.

WiP 14 (2018)

Alaric looked over the rough design an hour later.

It was simple and looked like a child did it.  But, it should, he hoped, hold well enough.

Back in the sitting room, he closed the bath door and sent little bits of wizardry to see if there were any secret doors like in the waiting room.

Finding none, Alaric collapsed in a chair and tried to relax a bit.

He had a defense, and, hopefully, an escape route.

Nothing definitive, but both enough to guarantee a head start.

When a knock at the door turned out to be food, he suspended the wards, sent away the middle aged servant, and proceeded to demolish the food tray.  In his hunger, Alaric was heedless of the unfamiliar flavors and textures.  The important thing was mundane fuel for his body.  They wouldn’t recharge his magic, but the body needed its own power.

Even in his hunger and exhaustion, Alaric had noted the two statues across the hall when the servant left.  They were different from the others at the waiting room, but he assumed they were animate guards to oversee and limit his movements.

The priest should not be aware of the wall’s defacement, he thought.

Probably.

No matter what, he would have to deal with the statues, and probably worse, to get out.  If he could even find the way out.  In theory, he knew a couple direction spells that could lead the way, if the priest and temple did not include ways to counter them.  Assuming Jdal had not been lying, the place could be huge.  So far, Alaric had only counted three priests and servants that he had seen.  The ‘Agrum’, whatever that title meant, implied there were many more of both, so did Nica.

Plus they had to be keeping the dragon or dragons somewhere.

If they weren’t lying about that.

According to the old legends about the War, the dragons could exceed . . . he did some conversion math in his head . . . maybe two hundred feet in length.  Even accounting for probable exaggeration in the primary sources.

Another knock came from the door.

“Yes?”

“The Agrum respectfully requests your presence,” a voice, muffled by the door, said.

With a furtive look to ensure the bath door was closed, Alaric suspended his wards again.

He opened the door to find four men and women, all in the same robes the other two priests had worn.  Each carried a short staff, though, of white wood, about as thick as his thumb.

Shite.

“He is not coming here?”

“It was felt that this subject would be best broached in a more formal setting,” the one nearest the door said.

Double shite.

And Alaric noted a distinct lack of bows as he stepped in the hall, closed the door, and reset his wards.

The missing bows did not bode well.

Not if his previous experiences with the priests were typical.

The quartet formed a square around him as they set off down the hall.  The two who seemed older took the lead.  Despite the sticks, their manner did not read as threatening to him.  They were certainly, Alaric thought, aware of him and on-guard, but did not appear to be looking for a reason to beat him, or like they intended harm at all.  Yet.

Several opulent halls, and a couple turns he thought were meant only to confuse him, later, the quintet stopped before an ornate door of wood.  The gold fittings seemed appropriate against the dark wood.  There were no images, only an abstract pattern of lines.

The lead guide pushed the door open to reveal a room that practically defined elegant opulence.

WiP 13 (2018)

Left to his own devices, and imprisoned, again, Alaric decided to put the time to good use.

Only then did he realize that all his pockets were empty.

Alaric went around the three rooms he had been in, methodically taking them apart as he looked for his camera, notebooks, pens, even his keys.

An hour later, he was forced to conclude that someone had taken everything . . . and the rooms were a mess.

He perched on the edge of a chair, head in his hands.

They had his camera, pens, and house keys.  Nothing problematic there.

But, they also had his pocket notebooks.

Those could be an issue, as they held all the notes pertaining to his research on the site.  Most of which had been conducted on the Island and referenced texts in the Island’s libraries.  The rest were his on-site notes.  He couldn’t recall if there was anything in them that would damage his current situation.

Assuming the priest’s facility with spoken language also included written language.  And the man could decipher his handwriting and abbreviations.

Those being false assumptions could save any sensitive information.

The question was whether he could safely assume a best case scenario.

An old adage ran through Alaric’s head: hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

At least he still had his ring and they didn’t seem to know he was a sorcerer.

For what good those did him.

Still.

Alaric went to the door and ran his hand along the frame.  As he did so, he tapped his personal reserve of energy to shape sorcerous wards around and on the door.  He was no specialist, and they probably would not withstand a determined magical assault, but he hoped they would buy some time if he needed it.  He set seven, of different types, in layers, thinking that might further slow down any attacker.

He did a quick spot check to see if there were any obvious holes once the seventh was complete.

Convinced they were the best he could hope for, Alaric considered the room

In a flash of inspiration, he ran into the bath and placed a hand on the wall.

Beneath the façade, he felt stone.

And if there was one thing earth sorcery was really good at, he thought, it was elemental magic.

Not his specialty, but what he had in mind should only take the basics.

He looked around the room for something he could use to set a spell in place.

Eyes flashing around, Alaric spotted a razor.

It wasn’t ideal, he thought, but it could work.

With the sharp edge, he began carving symbols and connecting lines in the wall.  The half-remembered designs and theory caused the drawing to take time, but he hoped it would anchor the spell’s energy for several hours.  It was an old technique, but could hold the spell without his concentration.  His makeshift form might hold half a day, if he was lucky.

WiP 12 (2018)

Assuming that he was always being watched, the sorcerer explored the suite.  He found, first, a bath suitable for four, in black veined white marble.  White gold fixtures completed the look around the vanity and tub.  Still, when he turned one experimentally, steaming water poured into the basin.

Moments later, Alaric’s travel worn clothes were in a pile on the floor and he sank into the near scalding water.  A brief exploration found all the necessary toiletries, or things he hoped would serve.  The necessities dealt with, Alaric allowed the steam and warmth to loosen knotted, tense muscles and slough away the day’s dirt.

Some time later, lulled into drowsiness, he rose and drained the tub.  Lacking obvious towels, Alaric risked a minor cantrip to dry off.  Another little spell caused his dirty clothes to float behind him as he padded barefoot and naked across the sitting room to the bedroom.

There, he had eyes only for the magnificent king size bed outfitted with pale blue bedclothes.

Seconds later, his piled clothing forgotten on the floor, Alaric collapsed, passed out, on a plush, down filled comforter, unaware of the world.

When he woke, it was to find himself beneath heavy covers.

As the initial disorientation faded, Alaric assumed he must have gotten himself under them during the night.  That wasn’t entirely unusual.  He rolled out of the overly large bed and walked toward the room’s door, careful to keep his feet on the carpets that matched the shade of the sheets.

During that short trip, he spotted his clothes.  They had been cleaned and neatly folded on a chair near the door.  The delicate, alabaster piece of furniture looked out of place as a resting place for worn jeans, t-shirt, and boots that had seen better days.

The sorcerer dressed in silence, studiously avoiding thoughts about how the clothes had been moved.  The important thing was that they were ready for wear.  He preferred to face whatever was coming in the familiar, comfortable attire rather than whatever the room’s ornate wardrobes held.

Back in his own clothes, Alaric decided he was ready to face the prospect of breakfast, even one composed of the half-forgotten oddities of the previous day.

The bedroom door swung open at a light touch, revealing the sitting room beyond.

And Jdal sitting in a chair facing his room.

The priest’s expression fit what Alaric thought of as “The Mom Look”—the face all moms made when they caught you misbehaving.

Shite.

Alaric tried to stay impassive, even as he felt everything beginning to crumble.

Without preamble, the priest simply said, “We sent a junior priest out during the night.  To look around the area.  She was attacked by several . . . creatures.  She described them as humanoid, tall, and green-gold in her mage-light.  Explain.”

Oh.

“Ah.  That would not be entirely, ah, unexpected,” Alaric said, stalling to let his pre-caffeine morning brain catch up.

“You know these creatures?”

“I’m familiar with the species, a little.  Not sure if they’re creatures or people.  But, they did seem to think the stone circle was cursed.  Probably stories from the War,” he paused for breath.  “I hope your colleague is alright?”

“She will recover.  This . . . species is new to us.  You knew they were nearby?”

Alaric nodded, “I saw some a few days before I found you.  Didn’t know they were still around.”

Jdal closed his eyes for a few moments, lost in thought.

“You say you thought they moved.  You knew of them but said nothing to us.  What are they called, what do you know of them?  Do they oppose, or threaten, the Great Ones?”

“We call them eldren,” Alaric shrugged.  “No one really knows much of anything about them or what they can do.  Given that they consider the site above to be cursed, I would assume they don’t care much for dragons.”

“I see.  Is there anything else you have not told us?”

Alaric forced a laugh, “A lot.  Six thousand years’ worth of things.”

The priest did not seem amused.

“Remain here, please, Al.  I will see that food and other necessities are sent to you.  My . . . colleagues are upset by current events.  They do not wish to trust you.  I have told them we must be patient, for now.”

He rose in one fluid motion and glided out the door.

WiP 11 (2018)

“Greetings, Al,” she said, with a shallow bow.  “Agrum Jdal sent me to show you to more comfortable and . . . expansive rooms.  The discussion of what to do, after your news, shows sign of being . . . extensive.  The Agrum does not expect it to end today, perhaps not for several days.”

Good, but also . . . shite.

Alaric did his best to imitate the bow.

“Thank you, and . . . Agrum? Jdal for your hospitality.  It’s been great.  But, I have my own place, and things, back on the surface.  I should really, probably, get back to them.  And the people who are with my team.  They’re probably getting worried about me.”

The woman’s face furrowed in confusion.

“Agrum Jdal assured the others that his spells detected no other humans, or Great Ones, for some distance from our temple.  Perhaps your . . . team?  Left?” she smiled.  “I may not understand.  The Agrum did speak for me so I might learn, but it is possible he and I misunderstood.”

Her tone indicated that she thought the possibility highly unlikely.

Deception was not his strong suit, any more than athletics.

“Alright,” Alaric gave in to the inevitable.  “After you . . ., uh, what is your name?”

“Polnica,” she said, waiting for him to exit the room, “but I prefer Nica.  Polnica was my great-aunt, surly and disliked by most.  If you will follow me . . .”

Nica led him down the corridor at a brisk, yet unhurried, pace.

He was quickly turned around and lost in the maze of halls and rooms.  From what Jdal had said, this had to be an area that was only open to the priests, dragons, and influential laity.

“Apologies,” his guide said.  “We are only a modest temple, at a remote settlement.  Or we were.  We were not used to guests and lack the guest quarters the more important temples host.  Agrum Jdal has ordered one of the unused priests’ quarters to be made ready for you.”

Being lost did nothing to diminish Alaric’s observation of his surroundings.  In fact, he seemed, to himself, to be hyperaware of the number of statues that decorated the halls.  It was his inspection of some of these that caused him to miss most of Nica’s statement.

“It’ll be fine,” he muttered, still distracted.

There were a lot of statues.

The woman apparently took his distraction as rudeness, since the rest of their walk passed in silence.

They came to a halt in a corridor that looked like all the others, save only that it had several doors on either side.  Nica stopped in front of one, though Alaric could see no difference.  She touched the door lightly with her fingertips for a few heartbeats.

The featureless door emitted a faint gold-silver glow for a couple seconds.

As he watched, the solid rectangle became translucent, then faded from sight.

Nica stood aside to usher him in.

“This door will open only for you or one of the higher priests,” she said.  “The Agrum has said that he warned you of the dangers of walking the halls alone.  Touching this spot here,” she indicated a discolored oval on the ivory wall, “will summon a servant, should you need anything.”

Alaric stood a couple steps inside a sitting room that was larger than a New York apartment.  He saw three doors off the well-appointed room, done in a restrained opulence.  There was no sign of gold or anything ostentatious like that.  If anything, the room was plain and understated.  But, even he could sense the wealth that the room represented.  His eyes took in the furnishings, more seats and tables than he would ever need, while his ears clamored for attention.

He had missed something.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“Does the suite meet with your approval?  It is not much, but . . .”

“No, no.  It’s fine.  Small temple, remote, right?”

“Yes,” Nica agreed.  “To the left is a bath.  To the right, the front is a study and workspace.  The back right is the bedroom.”

Alaric nodded his understanding.

As Nica turned to leave, he said, “Before you go, one question?”

The woman bowed, a hint of concern touching her eyes.

“Is the room wrong?”

“No, not at all.  Better than I’d expect, really.  No . . . about the agrum.  His perception, I am somewhat familiar with the theory, but how far does his perception extend?”

A light dawned in her eyes.

“You are concerned about privacy.  Of course.  The quarters are not outside his realm of knowledge.  But, he says he is only vaguely aware of activities in the temple in a general sort of way, unless he concentrates his attention on a particular place.  Which he rarely does.  The bath and bed are perfectly private, the Agrum would never intrude on either.”

“Thank you, Nica.”

So, he had only the word of a dragon priest that he would have privacy.

Good to know.