"Yargon has been resistant to all of my overtures of friendship so far, but I'm sure in time I can persuade him to take me on as an advisor," Alluvian replied.
Daerphantis scowled. "Your excuses are as weak as your spellcraft, Alluvian. It's important that Yargon is kept on a tight leash, or he'll undue all the progress we've made in the eastern provinces. The Council speaks, and Kings obey, or have you forgotten that?"
"Of course not. I'll be sure to double my efforts in the future," Alluvian said. He turned to Ralaneer, who was sitting beside him, and they continued their discussion from before.
Daerphantis flushed red and his body trembled. No one would have dared treat him with such contempt when he was younger!
"You are all dismissed," Daerphantis said, but the Council kept talking as if they didn't hear his command.
"Leave here now!" Daerphantis shrieked, and slammed his fist on the arm of his chair.
The Council turned to Daerphantis in surprise and several members snickered at his outburst of anger before standing up to leave. They left the Council chamber slowly, refusing to be intimidated by Daerphantis. Many bowed their heads in respect to Alluvian, who everyone knew would become the new Archmage when Daerphantis died.
Daerphantis frowned as he watched the Council slowly shuffle out of the room. It was at times like this that he bitterly regretted not abolishing the Council when he was still young and had the strength to do it.
The last of them finally left and Daerphantis took a deep breath. Of all the great things he'd accomplished in his long life, he never would have thought that simply getting out of a chair would be the hardest. He gripped the worn armrests tightly and gritted his teeth before pushing himself up. His knees cracked and screamed in protest, but he bit back the pain and stood. He looked around to be sure that no one saw how difficult it was for him to get out of his chair, then began the long journey to his laboratory.
As he walked down the hallways, servants and novices scuttled by, bowing and muttering greetings. Those few who dared to glance up at his face, paled and hurried away, nearly tripping over their own feet in their haste to depart. Daerphantis was glad that at least they still feared him, yet he couldn't spend any time dwelling on that small victory. He was engaged in a vicious struggle, a struggle against his ailing body and the inexorable tide dragging him into the waiting arms of death. No amount of magic spells or deals with devils had been able to stop the tide so far.
The stairway to his laboratory loomed before him, promising pain if he dared to come any closer, or perhaps an ignominious death if the stairs proved too difficult to overcome. He frowned and not for the first time considered simply uttering the words to a spell of teleportation and materializing in his laboratory. He couldn't though, not tonight, he needed all of his strength for what was to come.
He raised his right leg and his knee cracked painfully, like a withered branch snapping off a tree, too tired to cling to life any longer. He put his foot down on the stair, then gripped the guardrail with his left hand and brought his other foot up. The pain made his hands shake and beads of sweat roll down his back, but he endured, and placed his left foot down beside the right. "One down, five hundred to go," he muttered darkly.
A hand closed around Daerphantis' arm and his heart skipped a beat. He assumed it was an assassin, sent by one of the other Council members, or an old enemy coming to settle a score. His mind grazed the Quintessence and magic filled him.
"Allow me to help you, master," Craylen said and offered his arm to Daerphantis.
Daerphantis exhaled in relief when he realized it was only his assistant. "Everything is ready?"
"Of course, master. I've had the room prepared for quite a while, and grew worried when you didn't arrive at the agreed upon time. Lean on me, I know how these stairs vex you," Craylen rumbled.
Daerphantis nodded and reluctantly released the magic coursing through him. He heard Craylen mutter the words to a spell, then the pain in his knees and back lessened just a bit. Craylen's spellcraft was undeniably weak, yet Craylen did have his uses now and then.
Daerphantis thought back to the night he saved Craylen from death at the hands of his parents. It was only chance that had brought him to the Skvalt village that night the Craylen was to be sacrificed. Daerphantis was going to hire the tribe of giant barbarians to fight for him in a war to the east, but instead they all died in magefire, and Daerphantis gained a loyal servant for life.
Daerphantis smiled at the memory as they made the long and painful ascent up the stairs. It was difficult, but manageable with Craylen's help. When they finally reached the top and saw the door to his laboratory, Daerphantis sighed in relief, and pushed Craylen away. He let a small amount of magic flow into him and checked his wards, making sure they hadn't been disturbed by any of his fellow mages. Craylen was attuned to them, so that he could come and go as he pleased, but anyone else would die screaming if they tried to enter the room without permission.
Daerphantis ran his gnarled fingers along the runes etched in the wooden door and nodded in satisfaction. "Open the door, Craylen."
Craylen pushed open the thick double doors, revealing the brightly lit laboratory behind them. The walls were lined with old tomes that were meticulously dusted and cared for by the Skvalt. There were two stone tables covered with runes of protection, and loaded with vials and jars containing the spell components needed for the powerful magic that was wrought within the room.
A naked young man was gagged and strapped to a pillar in the middle of the room. His eyes were wide with fear and frantically shifted from side to side. A sheen of perspiration glistened on his tanned body and his muscles strained as he tried to break free of his bonds.
Daerphantis nodded his head in satisfaction, then took a shambling step forward, before turning to Craylen. "You must leave me now. The part of the Quintessence that I'll be tapping into is wild and hungry. If I lose control of the magic for even a moment, it could claim your life, or worse."
Craylen opened his mouth to protest.
"Do not press me, Craylen," Daerphantis growled. "I don't have the patience for it, not tonight. Now go!"
Craylen bowed his head. "Forgive me, master. I worry for you, that's all."
"I know," Daerphantis said quietly, and the scowl on his face melted into a smile. "You've already done so much, without you none of this would be possible."
Craylen smiled. "I trust the specimen meets your requirements?"
Daerphantis turned and gazed at the young man. "He's perfect, so young and strong," Daerphantis murmured. "You have outdone yourself."
"Thank you, master. There's nothing else?" Craylen asked.
"No, leave me to my work," Daerphantis replied, and Craylen left the laboratory, quietly shutting the doors behind him.
Daerphantis glanced at the tome he unearthed a few months back, and read over the words to the spell once more. It summoned magic from a dark part of the Quintessence that Daerphantis hadn't even realized existed. When he first learned of this new font of power, he'd felt like a man whose wife brought a new trick to their bedchamber after years of marriage. Excited and surprised, but also a little suspicious. Yet, it had been revealed to him just when he needed it most, so the lateness of the discovery could be forgiven. A few words, some parted flesh, and he'd be whole once more.
He tore his gaze away from the spellbook and lifted a bowl containing a sticky paste made up of ground up bones and womb blood. The paste smelled metallic and putrid, like an old forge where the fire has long been cold and everything turned to rust. He stuck his hand into it and carefully smeared the concoction around his lips.
When he was finished, he examined himself in a mirror, and nodded in satisfaction. Daerphantis slowly walked towards the specimen, ignoring the throbbing ache in his knees, and started to draw circle over the specimen's heart. The specimen struggled to break free, but Craylen had done his job well, and he was fastened to the pillar too tightly to escape.
As Daerphantis drew the circle he whispered the words of power. Old forbidden words, that invoked and summoned powers from the Quintessence that hadn't been seen on this plane in millennia. When he completed the circle his body hummed with the power coursing through him, and his blood sang with a need to use it. He cackled and chanted louder, then placed the bowl down and unsheathed a dagger from his belt.
The magic flowing through him steadied Daerphantis' hand and he carefully cut complicated arcane patterns and designs into the flesh of the young man's chest. Muffled screams contrasted with the rhythmic chanting of the Archmage and each rune glowed red when completed.
Daerphantis finished the last rune and cried out the final word to the spell. The man burst into flames that burned black and filled the room with a brimstone stink. He became a dark inferno that sucked all the light and air out of the room, and Daerphantis fell to his knees as he struggled to breathe.
"Something is wrong," Daerphantis croaked, and tried to end the spell, but the spell had tasted life and refused to go back to the nothingness that came before. The magic was a searing blaze of darkness devouring everything in the room. He tried to scream, but had no air, and wordlessly cursed the fates that had brought the spellbook to him.
Daerphantis could feel oblivion's kiss upon his neck and shuddered. If he died here there would be nothing after, his soul burned up by the magic. He mouthed the last words to the spell again, somehow finding breath to give voice to them. As he spoke, the magic pulled at him and he pulled back, fighting for control. He sucked in the darkness, the flame, and the horrible sentience giving life to the magic. He was an all consuming void, pulling power and life into him. The magic was his to command.
Two days later Daerphantis awoke in his private chambers, amazed that he was still alive. He opened his eyes and slowly stretched, enjoying the feeling of strength and utter lack of pain in his youthful body. His stomach growled and he opened his mouth to call for Craylen, but saw the Skvalt sitting in a chair beside him, patiently reading.
"Craylen!" Daerphantis exclaimed, surprised at how thick and full his voice sounded. "What do you see when you look at me?"
"I see a young man with ancient eyes," Craylen replied. "You look younger now than I've ever seen you. If I had to guess I'd say you were in your early twenties, but I have a hard time guessing the age of humans."
Daerphantis laughed and pushed his blankets away. A crippling fear conditioned into him after spending years trapped in the body of an old man, warned caution. He must get up carefully or he could trip and fall, and maybe break a hip. Daerphantis burned away the fearful voice of his old self and leaped out of bed, smiling gleefully at the strength in his muscles.
"We must summon the Council," Daerphantis said and grinned. "Those circling vultures need to be made aware that my impending death has been cancelled. I have a whole new life to live, and I don't intend to be shackled down by them for a second time. They've grown bold since old age weakened me, but I'm back now."
"Yes, of course, master," Craylen said, then paused a moment. "Master, now that you are young and strong again, do you think I could do what we spoke of long ago?"
"What did we speak of?" Daerphantis asked absently, as he quickly dressed.
"My becoming a novice," Craylen said and fidgeted with a button on his shirt. "I asked you if it was possible, but you said that I was too important to you and that you needed me too much to donate my time to studies. Well, I thought that now since you've regained your youth, I could pursue my interest in magic."
Daerphantis scowled as he remembered their conversation about this years ago. He'd thought that Craylen had forgotten this foolishness and the matter was over.
"I'm sorry, Craylen, but that's impossible," Daerphantis said.
"But, master, you said--"
"I know what I said!" Daerphantis snapped. "I lied to a young, naive, Skvalt, hoping that he'd grow up and forget his foolish dreams of becoming a mage. Only humans are allowed in the Order, you know this."
Craylen's face turned dark with anger and Daerphantis thought that the Skvalt would attack him, but the moment passed, and the anger faded, and Craylen bowed his head. "Of course, master, please forgive my foolishness."
Daerphantis nodded and looked at his assistant thoughtfully. "After you summon the Council to meet with me, why don't you take the rest of the day for yourself? I'll be fine on my own for one day, and you've earned the respite from your duties."
"Thank you, master, that's most kind of you," Craylen said, and smiled. "Will there be anything else?"
"No, that should be fine," Daerphantis replied, and Craylen turned and left.
Daerphantis walked to the full length mirror in the corner and gazed at his reflection. "This is really happening," he breathed. His face was young and unlined and his eyes were clear, without the rheumy whiteness that used to cloud his vision. It never made sense to him that magic couldn't reverse the affects of old age. It could summon lightning to fall like rain, give a man wings to soar through the sky like a bird, but restore a man's youth? Impossible they said. Yet, it obviously was possible. Daerphantis couldn't help but wonder how long this spell had rested there, hidden away in that old cave, waiting for him to find it. More importantly, who had hidden it there in the first place?
Daerphantis shrugged away these disturbing thoughts, then left his private room and made his way to the Council's dining area. He once again considered simply casting a spell and teleporting to his destination. He could feel the Quintessence, beckoning him, yearning to be used, but he shrugged away the temptation. Too long he'd been stuck in a broken old body and he wanted to test out this youthful one. He raced down the stairs to the lower levels two at a time, and leaped down the five stairs at the end with childish abandon.
The familiar hallways leading to the dining area were filled with people, but none so much as glanced at him. There were few outside of the Council who had known him as a young man, and to most he would simply look like a young mage on an errand for his master. Daerphantis spotted the door to the Council's dining area and walked towards it. He flicked his wrist, and the door slammed open with a muttered command.
Alluvian was sitting at a large table in the center of the room, when he saw what he thought was a young mage sauntering into the Council's dining area. "Let me guess, you're lost?" Alluvian asked.
"Hello, Alluvian," Daerphantis replied with a smile.
Alluvian raised an eyebrow at the familiar form of address. "If you know who I am, you know that I have little patience for games, boy. Now beg for my forgiveness and be on your way, or I'll make you curse the day your mother invited your father into her bed."
Daerphantis let his eyes roam over the table, which was covered in exotic fruits from all over the world. He selected a bright green apple and bit into it, savouring the taste and laughing quietly as juice ran down his chin and onto his neck. "You know, I used to love apples, but it's been years since I've eaten one. It hurt my jaw to bite down and chew them. Craylen would often mash them up into a fine paste and I could eat them that way, but there is nothing quite like biting into a crisp juicy apple," Daerphantis exclaimed, before biting into the apple again.
Alluvian had a curious look on his face and his lips moved as he cast a spell. Daerphantis could feel magic flow over him, gently probing and searching for his identity. He could have stopped the spell at anytime, but it served his purposes to let it finish.
"Incredible," Alluvian whispered in awe.
Daerphantis bowed his head in acceptance of the compliment.
"May I inquire as to how you did it?" Alluvian asked.
Daerphantis smiled enigmatically and whispered, "magic."
"Is this the end then? Am I to die at the breakfast table, burned to death in magefire?" Alluvian paused and licked his lips. "It's no secret that I was next in line to be your successor and I have no doubt that you plan to kill me. I remember you as you were before old age quenched the fire inside you. You were unforgiving, remorseless, a tyrant in every sense of the word, but you tolerated the Council as a necessary evil. I'm sure you won't make that mistake twice."
"How very perceptive of you," Daerphantis said, then poured himself a glass of orange juice, and drank it all in one long sip. "It's true that I have no love for the Council, but I would rather not waste resources needlessly. Tomorrow I will be abolishing the Council, and if you and the others accept this, then you can go on existing as tools to be used as I see fit."
Alluvian's eyes widened in surprise. "Thank you, Archmage."
Daerphantis frowned at the interruption. "I warn you now, Alluvian, if you tell anyone about my transformation before the meeting tomorrow, I'll make your nightmares seem like the sweetest of fantasies. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, Archmage," Alluvian replied, and bowed his head. "May I withdraw? I've eaten my fill and have things to do before the meeting tomorrow. Yargon resists me and I fear that I'll have to do away with sweet words and use force instead."
"You're dismissed," Daerphantis said.
Alluvian stood, and bowed once more, then hurried out of the room. Daerphantis grinned as he saw his rival scurry away like a frightened rat. He bit into another apple, and sucked out a mouthful of sour juice. It seemed that even the sour things tasted sweet, now that he was young and had his whole life ahead of him.
The next day Daerphantis sat alone in the Council chamber, mentally preparing himself for the impending confrontation. It was almost time to start, so he opened himself to the Quintessence and whispered an incantation. Soft darkness wrapped around him, concealing him from sight, but leaving his own vision unobstructed.
Several minutes later Council members began to fill the room. First Iolan and Ferloan, who were never far apart. Then Ulen, Hovast, and Ralaneer, each fighting to be the first one through the doorway. Alluvian came striding in next, as proud as ever with his head held high. His eyes lingered on the shadows concealing Daerphantis for a moment, as if he somehow knew what was hidden behind them, then he seated himself with a grin.
Next came Maz, nearly tripping over the hem of his robes as he struggled to get to his seat. Last were the triplets, Havara, Laylin and Aslin, whispering to each other and giggling as if they were still novices and not venerable mages.
Daerphantis let the Council sit for a while, impatiently waiting for him to appear. Many of them scowled and glanced at the doorway, and angry mutters could be heard throughout the room.
"Where is he?" Ralaneer growled. "He summons us here, then makes us wait on him like servants. I tell you I won't take much more of this!"
"Calm yourself, I'm here," Daerphantis said, and released the spell cloaking him in shadows. There were surprised gasps and cries of outrage as the Council saw a young man sitting in the Archmage's chair.
"Are you crazy?" Iolan asked.
"Someone teach this boy some manners," Laylin said, and her sisters began to giggle.
"That is no boy, but Daerphantis restored to his youth!" Alluvian shouted. "He's discovered the secret of eternal life!"
Shocked silence filled the room and Daerphantis reveled in their surprise. "It's true. I am Daerphantis, a youth once more, but with all the power and wisdom that I gained during a lifetime of study."
"This is ridiculous!" Ralaneer declared, and stood. "Why should we believe such a thing?"
Daerphantis smiled. "You have more courage that I thought, Ralaneer, but little sense. Use your magic to glean the truth of my words. It's a simple enough spell."
Ralaneer did as Daerphantis suggested, and the rest of the Council followed suit. Each of them cast the same spell that Alluvian had the day before and Daerphantis sat patiently as nine different probes grazed his essence, trying to discern the truth of his identity. Startled gasps rang out through the chamber.
Ralaneer's eyes took on a feverish gleam. "You must teach us this spell!"
"Perhaps I'll share the spell with some of you, perhaps not. It isn't your place to make demands of me, Ralaneer. Now sit down," Daerphantis warned.
Iolan rose to stand beside Ralaneer, then whispered something into his ear, but Ralaneer pushed him away. "I will not sit down, Daerphantis. None of us are young, and many feel death's fingers resting upon our shoulders. You must share this knowledge with the Council. We demand it."
Several members of the Council shouted their agreement. Each wanted what Daerphantis had, a second chance at youth.
"No," Daerphantis growled, and tapped into the Quintessence. Magic flowed from the Quintessence into him and pulsed through his veins, mimicking the beat of his heart. Lightning danced between his finger tips, and he whispered a spell.
A sharp crack resounded through the chamber, then Ralaneer screamed, and fell to the ground. Ribbons of darkness crawled over him, delving into his skin, and sapping the strength from his bones. Ralaneer's wrists snapped, and he cried out wordlessly. Next his shins splintered in half, then his knees shattered, and each breaking bone brought a shuddering wail out of him. It became an endless scream, interrupted only by the snap and crack of his bones shattering, that seemed to last forever. Finally, there was one final crack, then blood leaked out of Ralaneer's mouth, and he fell silent.
Daerphantis saw Iolan start to cast a spell, and cast his own in reply. His mind was younger and faster, and he finished his spell first. Iolan burst into flames and started to shriek, as the fire engulfing him burned red, then blue, and finally white. Within moments there was only melted stone floor where Iolan had once stood. The rest of the Council backed away fearfully.
"The Council is no more," Daerphantis said. "There will be no more arguing, or questioning of my commands. You will all do as I say, when I say it, or you will suffer the same fate as Iolan, and Ralaneer."
The remaining Council members glanced around, none of them wanting to be the first one to speak. Alluvian stepped forward, then fell to his knees. "I pledge my loyalty to you, Archmage, now and forever!" The others quickly kneeled down and repeated the oath.
"Good," Daerphantis replied. "In the coming days I will call on each of you, with orders that you must carry out without question. I have plans for our Order, and a new path to set this world upon. We have a great future ahead of us, a wondrous future."
Several mages looked up at Daerphantis, caught up in his enthusiasm. "What would you have us do?" Havara asked.
"Nothing for now. It's enough that you all know your new place in the Order. Now go, all of you, I have plans to finalize. You will be hearing from me," Daerphantis promised.
The Council rose from their knees unsteadily, then quickly exited the room. Alluvian was the last to leave, and bowed to Daerphantis on his way out. "He's taking this all too well," Daerphantis growled as he watched Alluvian leave.
"What did you say, master?" Craylen asked, startling Daerphantis. He hadn't realized that Craylen was in the room.
"I didn't see you enter," Daerphantis said, and rose from his chair.
"I came in through the servant's entrance when I heard the screams. That was beautifully done, master. They are all quite terrified of you, and I expect that they'll give you no trouble from now on," Craylen said, then rang a small bell. Within moments servants entered the room and Craylen set them to cleaning up the remains of the two dead mages.
"Yes, it seems that way," Daerphantis said, and left the Council chamber. Craylen followed a step behind and the two of them made their way down the hall. "I don't trust Alluvian, I think he's plotting something."
"He most assuredly is," Craylen replied, and Daerphantis' head exploded in pain.
Daerphantis awoke in darkness, with a burning numbness in his mouth. He tried to speak, but his words came out garbled and inhuman. Bile rose up from his stomach and he vomited in shock as he realized that he had no tongue to speak with. Someone pulled the blindfold from his eyes and he saw Craylen standing in front of him wearing novice robes. Alluvian walked up and stood beside the Skvalt, grinning at Daerphantis.
"You have no idea what a treasure you had in Craylen," Alluvian said. "He is intelligent and loyal, but you misused him by refusing to grant him his one request. When I saw him wandering the hallways utterly distraught, he told me how terribly you treated him."
"All I ever wanted was to be a mage, like you Daerphantis, but you crushed my dreams even as I helped make yours come true," Craylen growled.
Alluvian patted Craylen's arm, then walked towards Daerphantis.
Daerphantis tried to get up, but found he was strapped down to a wooden table, in what appeared to be Alluvian's private chambers. He glanced at his chest and saw the familiar marking over his heart, then noticed a circle around Alluvian's lips. He summoned the Quintessence and it responded immediately, filling him with raging power. He tried to use the magic to burn away his bonds, or freeze Alluvian in place, but nothing worked. Without the words of power, the magic was useless.
Alluvian unsheathed a dagger from his belt. "Craylen tells me that the man you siphoned your youth from was burned to a crisp. He made me promise that I would be more careful, and be sure to leave you alive when the spell is through." Alluvian chuckled. "Of course, you'll once again be an old man. I can only imagine how terrible it will be for you to return to your old age, without the comfort of magic to ease you into your grave."
"Help me, Craylen!" Daerphantis tried to scream, but it came out as an incomprehensible wail. Daerphantis strained at his bonds and tried to break free, but he couldn't so much as budge them. Craylen had done his job well. The blade came down, piercing his flesh, and blood and youth flowed out of Daerphantis, and into Alluvian.