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"Narrel! Narrel, wake up!"
Cullus' voice pierced his slumber and drew him up from his deep
sleep. He sat up slowly. The lantern hanging inside his tent was
waving erratically in the cold breeze wafting through the open
flap. "What's going on?"
Cullus gestured out into the woods surrounding them. "The sentries have come back from their rounds early - they've detected a force moving through the forest towards us. Coming on fast, too."
Narrel was on his feet in an instant, grabbing the Psycho-Wand
and Eclipse Torch. "Wrens?"
Cullus shook his head grimly. "No. Espers."
A few moments later, when Narrel and Cullus emerged from his tent, the rest of the Espers had already been aroused. Narrel could feel the tingle of magic signifying that magical defenses were being woven around the camp. The night was still young.
Be prepared. Narrel broadcast to all the Espers in the camp. There are Espers approaching the camp, not Wrens. They are worshippers of the Profound Darkness and seek to destroy us. A moment passed, and Narrel sensed fear and confusion. Be not afraid, brothers mine, and now he quoted the great Noah himself, for the sun is behind us.
A moment later, the other group emerged from the forest, shedding shadows and slipping free of their few concealment spells.
Marching at the head of the other Espers was Jaln, clad in the same dark armor as Tarik had been. The other Espers were all arrayed in black, but there were few, mostly older Espers, who wore the armor.
In his hand, Jaln cradled a long slender Laconium staff, fully as tall as he. It was topped with a crystal sphere, the same kind of crystal as Tarik's blade. Narrel could sense it pulsing with energy, and a moment later, discovered its source.
For whatever reason, Jaln was feeding his own magical power into the crystal.
Whatever suspicion the Espers in the camp had harbored about Narrel's wild 'evil Esper' claims, they were dispelled when many in the approaching force drew and brandished swords. No Light-fearing Esper dared wield a blade. An angry murmur wound through the Espers.
Pushing his way to the front of the crowd, Narrel regarded Jaln coldly. "What do you want, Jaln?"
Jaln laughed, and Narrel was surprised at the change in his voice. This was not the same meek, timid little man Narrel had known from the mansion. The voice was a deep bass, and getting deeper. Jaln's frame seemed to enlarge considerably, his limp, pale hair becoming chestnut brown and full. His face became longer, more angular, handsome, in a haughty sort of way. His entire body and posture seemed to change.
An illusion, one so subtle Narrel hadn't even detected it, was being shed. Jaln - or the man who had been Jaln - straightened, tightening his grip on the staff.
"I, Morovin Lan'Tearin, of the Chosen Espers," he said in that uncannily deep voice, "demand your surrender, Speaker Narrel Chantnir of the Unenlightened. You are to be killed. If you and yours come quietly, we shall see that you are slain quickly, and with as little pain as possible."
Narrel quickly called the most powerful spell he could think of on short notice to mind. "And if we choose not to surrender, what then?"
"Then I shall kill you," Morovin replied. "But I will take great pleasure, and greater time, in doing so." He shrugged. "I would enjoy that, to be honest, Narrel. Truly, that tribute would do my God justice. All I desire is the Eclipse Torch and the Psycho-Wand. Once I have those safely in my hands, I will end your suffering. That is all."
"Your tributes are hollow," Narrel said levelly. "The Profound Darkness died long ago."
Morovin's eyes went hard as steel. "So be it. Espers, kill."
Pandemonium ensued. With a gesture, Morovin unleashed the power he had charged the crystal with. Enormous amounts of energy assaulted the defenses the Espers had hastily erected about their camp. In an instant, Morovin had single handedly wiped out their defenses as if they had never been. Both ranks of Espers charged.
Morovin gestured with his staff towards Narrel and cried out his name. The black-armored Esper began shoving his way through the battle towards Narrel, ignoring the blasts of magic exploding around him.
Withdraw! Narrel hurled the message to every ally in the area. Back towards the forest! Surrender the camp! Hurry!
A blast of fire collided with Narrel's chest, straining to kill him through his own potent defenses. The force of the explosion was enough to hurl him backwards into one of the Esper's tents. The world went white and he blacked out for a second.
When he came to, seconds later, he was lying in the remains of the tent, a huge smoking hole burned in the front of his tunic. His mantle was torn and shredded. Rising, he undid the clasp and let the wind take the heavy cloak, sending it skipping across the clearing to snag in the undergrowth. Casting about wildly, he saw Morovin, forcing his power through his crystal again, preparing for another blast. Pointing the Eclipse Torch at him, Narrel manipulated nature at it's basest level, placing his enemy at the center of a miniature hurricane. Though the clumsy spell lacked sufficient power to do more then buffet Morovin around, it's power was strong enough to hurl the other Esper a fair distance away. Slammed into a tree at the edge of the clearing, Morovin sank to the ground, stunned.
Before his enemy could fully recover, Narrel tossed a simple enough binding spell at him, momentarily immobilizing him. Despite his wishes to the contrary, this wasn't the time to kill him - the Espers were laying down a hail of magic that was holding their enemies at bay and it was time to join them.
Just as he rejoined the Espers, he felt Morovin shake off the binding spell. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see the black armored man rising and shaking off the grogginess that the spell Narrel had used always caused. Half turning, Narrel tossed a ball of force from the tip of the Psycho-Wand, catching Morovin in the shoulder and knocking him to the ground again.
Morovin was enormously powerful - Narrel could see that by the effortless way he had stripped away their combined defenses with a gesture and a word. He knew the only reason he had won was the control over nature granted by the Eclipse Torch and the augmentative powers of the Psycho-Wand, increasing his magic. Otherwise he wouldn't have survived.
"Cullus!" he yelled, seeing the other Esper nearby. "Catch this!" Quickly, Narrel lobbed the crystalline sphere of the Eclipse Torch towards his friend. Cullus caught it effortlessly, and Narrel could already feel him commanding it's power. With the Psycho-Wand and the Eclipse Torch working simultaneously, it would be easy enough to evade or even destroy the attackers.
Lay down a fire wall, Cullus, between us and the betrayers. Give us enough time to- Narrel cried out as Cullus sent a shock of magic down the link into his brain. Reeling, Narrel collapsed, but he wasn't too stunned to miss the sudden sense of the Eclipse Torch being used.
The forest towards which the Espers had been retreating was burning, lit by an eerie blue fire that could only be caused by the magic of the Dezolisian holy artifact. Cullus was laughing wildly, and above them, thunder rolled. Lightning arced downwards from the heavens, striking the Espers that Cullus had supposedly been allied with. A bolt struck near Narrel, frying an Esper and hurling him into the air.
Gasping, Narrel rose, watching helplessly as lightning struck thrice more, destroying the Espers. The forest was a wall of fire now, and only Cullus could stop the flames.
Hold, Cullus, hold! Narrel sighed. We surrender.
Cullus cackled, but the lightning ceased falling.
We surrender. Narrel broadcast the thought to everyone nearby, friend or foe. Stop the killing - we surrender.
"A wise choice," Morovin laughed. Cullus was walking across the clearing now, towards Morovin, the Eclipse Torch held in his hand, pale and glowing. None of the Espers dared try to stop him.
As Cullus walked, he too shed an illusionary guise. His frame slimmed and became taller, his hair growing long and becoming night black. He - she - was slender as a whip, and dark skinned, clad in a dark gown the fell to her ankles and trailed in the dust behind her. At her waist was a heavy silver belt. Exultant face uplifted, she handed the torch to Morovin. Her green eyes, as she turned to face them, were piercing.
"Excellent work, Morgan," Morovin told the woman. He then addressed the Espers. "We have erected a small stockade on the ruins of an older fortress in the mountains to the north. You will accompany us there now, until we may decide what information you may have that is useful to us. Once we have gained all we can from you, we shall kill you quickly." The woman Morgan's face darkened at this in displeasure. "Morgan," he gestured to Narrel.
The woman crossed the clearing towards Narrel, standing slightly
isolated from the other Espers. "The Psycho-Wand, Narrel,"
she demanded. "Give it to me."
Narrel reluctantly extended the Psycho-Wand towards Morgan. She grasped it, but for a moment Narrel retained his grip. "How long has Cullus been dead?"
"Long enough, boy." Releasing the Psycho-Wand, Narrel watched helplessly as Morovin was given that precious artifact also.
There was no rest on the long walk that night, out of the forest and up into the mountains towards the peaks. The area that Morovin and Morgan lead them too was a wide plateau in a mountain valley. Recalling a map of Motavia to mind, Narrel remembered that this area had been at the center of the seismic distress caused by the Great Collapse and also the Great Rebirth. If he recalled correctly, the sizable, ancient ruins that sat in the center of this valley had once been the town called 'Paseo'.
At the center of the shattered remains of the town, there was the base of a tower of some kind, the top of which lay scattered about it's base in several large chunks. Morovin lead them over the rubble the was all that remained of the eastern wall. There were several rooms still remaining and shielded from the elements, but they had been looted long ago of anything valuable.
In one room, Morovin directed them to a series of wide stairs, leading down into darkness. He took Morgan aside for a brief, whispered conference, then addressed his prisoners and traitor Espers alike.
"I must remain for a time to check on our sentries and examine the perimeter myself. Morgan will conduct you all below. If any of the prisoners try to escape, do not use lethal force. Death is too easy for these heretics."
Morgan gestured towards the stairs, and the traitor behind Narrel shoved him roughly, making him stagger. As he descended the stairs into blackness, he glanced at Morovin and Morgan once again, just in time to see him pass her the Psycho-Wand.
Darkness engulfed him like a shroud.
A few moments of blind staggering, then a pause at the point where the stairs leveled out. He sensed a resident enchantment being activated, and torches burst into flame along the wall, with flickering magical blue fire.
The cavern beneath the tower was once a large room, now fallen into decay. The floor had given way in the center of the room, and there was a sizable natural cavern below. Shimmering steps, seemingly as delicate as gossamer, lead down into the pit.
"Down there," Morgan gestured with the Psycho-Wand. She remained behind, but the traitorous Espers hustled their prisoners downwards.
Within the cavern were many groups of smaller caves, into which the Espers were shoved roughly. Narrel was forced into a separate cave, alone and away from his fellow Espers. A moment later, and the traitors wove their magic about the cavern. Glowing yellow bars of energy shimmered into existence at the doorway of the caves, sealing them in.
Two guards stood positioned at the mouth of every cave, each weaving a spell. A moment later, Narrel felt an anti-magic shield slide into place around him, cutting him off from his magic. He cursed.
It took him only a few minutes to examine his accommodations in their entirety. The cave was roughly ten paces wide, twenty paces from one end to the other, and shaped roughly like a teardrop, with the widest end at the sealed mouth. There were no fissures or apertures in the cave he might have used to escape.
Sighing, he settled down to wait.
Narrel dozed, off and on, for how long he didn't know, before Morovin returned. "Bring him," the man ordered.
The guards nodded and the bars on the cave shimmered away. Narrel was grabbed roughly by his arms and hoisted out into the center of the cave. A moment later, his body was paralyzed by a binding spell. How he wished for his magic!
"Speaker Narrel," Morovin said contemplatively, circling his immobilized prey. "Speaker?" He scrubbed his hand across his chin. "Young, aren't you, Narrel? How old are you, boy? Twenty, twenty-two?"
He felt Morovin probing him. "Twenty five!" Morovin chuckled. "So, the Espers select whelps like you to lead them, do they? Didn't do very well, did you, child?" Morovin stopped directly before Narrel, looking him in the eyes. "You don't deserve the office." Reaching out, Morovin took hold of his tunic and grasped it, then tugged it. It tore and came free in his hand. "Ask yourself how well you served Lutz, and then think about whether or not you deserved to be Speaker!"
Morovin gestured, and the guards descended, tearing at his clothing and stripping him naked. Unable to do anything, Narrel simply stood helpless.
"That is more suiting, isn't it Narrel?" Morovin laughed. "You couldn't honestly think you deserved the office of Speaker, did you, child?" He was circling again, like a vulture. "You were a fool to think you could stop the invasion, and you were a fool to think you could fight us." He turned to face the imprisoned Espers, watching in horror. "Let this be a lesson to you all. Defiance is death." Gesturing, he made for the filmy stairway. Narrel was seized by the shoulders and brought along, still limp in the grip of the binding spell.
Morovin lead them up into the remains of the tower, into an office that might once have belonged to the leader of Paseo. The wall behind the desk at which Morovin seated himself had been destroyed, and a chill wind caressed Narrel's bare skin, making him shiver. Morgan stood off to one side, cradling the Psycho-Wand and Eclipse Torch. Her eyes glistened as she took in Narrel's body.
Abruptly, Narrel was released from the binding spell, and he sagged. Momentarily he groped after his magic, but found the shield still firmly in place. He rose slowly to his feet, still stiff as an after affect of the binding. His gaze, as he met Morovin's eyes, was as defiant as he could make it.
"Boy," Morovin said with a voice like iron. "Where is Lutz?"
Narrel was silent for a moment. "If I don't tell you, you'll just pick through my mind anyway, Morovin. There's no point in me telling you anything."
Morovin shrugged. "I'm not here for information, Narrel. I'm going to break you before I kill you. I ask again, where is Lutz?"
Narrel didn't respond.
Leaning back, Morovin smiled thinly. "Very well then, Narrel. So be it." A moment later, Morovin entered his mind.
Pain! Narrel shrieked as Morovin flailed at his brain, setting his body alight with agony. He convulsed, collapsing against the desk, then falling to the floor, unable to stop shaking and screaming. He could sense Morovin tearing, not sifting, through his thoughts and memories until he found what he was looking for. After a few moments that seemed like a lifetime, Morovin withdrew. Narrel curled up on the floor, sobbing helplessly. That hadn't been telepathy - it had been mental rape.
The guards knelt and seized Narrel by his armpits, dragging him to his feet to stand before Morovin.
"She has gone to the space shuttle that the Wrens are coming from. Is that right, Narrel?"
The Speaker nodded, still gasping and sobbing in pain.
"That's better," Morovin replied soothingly, "that's much better." A moment later, Narrel felt a gentle, calming touch upon his mind, a balm for his pain. Slowly, the fire in his body ceased, drawing away to a dull, throbbing ache. He slowly relaxed as that gentle touch lulled him into lethargy.
"Do you see?" Morovin asked. "I can be kind." Narrel's face, hollow after his torments, turned up to look at his torturer. "Now, are you prepared to continue?" When there was no response, he shrugged. "Very well." He gestured to the Eclipse Torch in Morgan's hands. "I'd like it if you'd tell me everything you know about the Eclipse Torch, Narrel. Every little detail."
Narrel shook his head slowly. "Never," he gasped.
"Narrel, Narrel," Morovin chided.
The pain began again, lasting eternally. Through his convulsions, the guards held his arms firmly at his side, and he raged against the restraining so hard that he became bruised where they gripped him. Screaming and crying and raging and hurting and it all blurred.
When it was over, Morovin rose and rounded the desk towards Narrel, who was weeping like a child. "Now, shall we try again?"
Several hours later, Narrel was dragged through the halls of the tower, sobbing incoherently. He was tossed into a cell in the tower proper, one of the few remaining cells in the tower's small penal facility that still had functioning security.
Screaming in fear, Narrel dragged himself as far from the cell door as possible, and curled up in a ball, naked and helpless and wishing he could die.
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