The four men burst into the Procession Hall, breathless and elated. There were skirmishes going on all throughout the castle, but they four were the first to have reached the heart – they would be the ones to bring an end to the corruption. Blood dried on their swords as they pulled in great lungfuls of air.
After a moment the shortest of the four spoke, solemnly and in a low voice, 'Do we dare, us four alone? The throne?' His eyes bright, he looked at each of his companions in turn.
It was another brief moment, in which the boldest amongst them nodded sharply, 'We can do this. The Royal Guard have been caught unawares and are reeling – he will be hiding behind but a few -' A clacking sound interrupted him, and the group nearly dropped their swords in shock. They whirled as one, their weapons suddenly at the guard, their forms shimmering behind quickly spoken Armors. The dreadful sound, the beat to three of the men's youthful nightmares, stopped as a figure stepped out from behind one of the pillars flanking the great doorway that lead into the throne room at far side of the room.
Senishai Markis, clad in the pale blue vestments of a member of the privy council, sword hanging loosely from his left hip, the wax tablet he used for communication from his right, brought his open hands up to his eyes before spreading them in front of himself, who is before me?
'Tutor, you know us! You must -'
A hand chopping into an open palm before sliding off, the cleaning of a schoolboy's slate, a worthless answer, remove it. And again the sign, who is before me?
Robern glanced at the faces of his friends, his eyes wide with questions, 'What are we waiting for? It's just the old mute? He can't even say the words!' he shouted, before turning to the man blocking their path to the throne, 'You,' he said, pointing with his sword, 'Stand aside or put up your blade.'
A hand settled on the red-faced youth's shoulder, 'Silence Robern,' was said quietly, and then louder, 'General Senishai, it is I, Hormond Gild, your former student. Though Robern was coarse, he was correct – you must step aside.' Gild then stepped back, pulling the belligerent Robern with him. The Councilor nodded to his pupil before turning to the two men who had yet to speak. The thinner of the two, dark haired and dark eyed spoke, 'Master, it is your student Ruain of House Tornis and my younger brother Feneld.' Ruain waved his hand to indicate the blonde giant at his side.
Silence reigned in the long, opulent room, for one because he could no longer speak, for three because they had lived most of their lives with fear and respect for the man set in their path, and for Robern, because he could not understand the hesitation of his companions. Finally, Gild spoke, 'Tutor,' Senishai's clear green eyes locked onto the small, brown haired man, 'I know you are a man of honour and loyalty, but this is a fight you cannot win. We are four and you…' Gild gestured in his direction, and continued in a gentle tone, 'and you are just one old man without a tongue.'
The stony set of the General's face did not change, his shaved head and thin features giving him a skull-like visage in the fading light of dusk. He reached down to his right and collected the wax slate and stylus that invariably hung there. He wrote, carefully and clearly,
I SWORE OATHS.
'Yes, yes,' Gild accepted, 'But when a monarch does not - ' His voice was cut off by the sound of Senishai forcefully wiping clear the tablet, on which he wrote again,
AS DID YOU ALL.
The two parties stared at each other defiantly, and Gild knew in his heart that this confrontation would end only in blood. He was shocked at his own reaction to this realization, the amount of hurt it could cause him, as if the knowledge that reasonable men could not discuss away their differences was somehow new, as if he were not on his way to slay the king he had once vowed to serve.
Robern had had enough, 'Brothers!' he bellowed, turning to face his fellows, 'you shame me and you shame our cause. Did we not just last night swear that we would end the lunacy or die trying? We may be traitors to the crowned madman, but we serve a higher purpose now. That man,' an accusatory finger pointed towards Senishai, 'is a traitor to his people and his nation. If you three cannot summon the courage to do what is right in the face of sentimentality, well…' Robern paused, his emotional features setting into a mien of righteous purpose, 'I will have no man call me a coward.' With that, ignoring the looks on his companions' faces, Robern loosened his shoulder and strode off towards the waiting General.
Who let his tablet drop to his waist as he raised his right hand, fingers outstretched.
Robern did not slow his march as Senishai's fingers blurred into motion, tracing an intricate pattern that the three observers could not interpret.
Suddenly there was a distortion in the air and a blinding flash of light as the massive, invisible fist pounded against Robern's crude Armour, sending the man hurtling backwards onto the polished marble floor, gasping for breath as he slid to the feet of his three companions.
Gild's heart was hammering in his chest, and he felt as if it were he, not Robern who had been hit by his old tutor's incantation. 'B-but,' he mumbled, 'you cannot speak…you cannot say the words!'
Senishai smiled, not unkindly, and his fingers flickered again, causing his index finger to glow brightly. In letters that burned themselves into the air, the old councilor wrote, in the same script that had taught three of the young men almost all they knew about magic; THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO LEARN.
Tornis Feneld was the first to react, the giant young man's voice strong as he reeled off defensive cants, the Halo of Ayelma and the Walls of Dadel. The chorus of his companions joined his song, as they hastily recovered from the shock of the mute man's attack. Their nervousness evaporated with the flush of divine power that soon noiselessly swirled through their bodies and into the air. Despite the unprecedented ability of Senishai to work magic without words, and whatever his past glories, one mage could never stand against the combined might of four.
Gild, who had paid more attention to his studies than his friends, felt safe behind his more advanced Heiryllic Shell, as well as, of course, the Ayelmaic Halo. He was racking his brain for the most devastating war cants he could remember when he glanced up at his opponent. Gone were the burning letters, and gone was the old man dressed in the robes of a councilor. In his place stood the rough approximation of a man, four limbs and a head, but no distinguishing features and whose skin appeared to be molten silver. Vilisen's Mirror, Gild thought, it can be done. He had seen the theory, Senishai himself had tried to explain it to him during one of their late night talks, but he had never seen it cast. Pulling his gaze away from the shining figure, Gild noticed the telltale sheen to the air around Senishai that made him swear out loud. Enclosing Senishai, with about a nine-foot diameter was an Impenetrable Globe, the most complex and powerful of the arcane Armours.
Robern, standing at his side, sensed his growing hesitation, 'Be at ease, Hormond, he can't win, not against all of us.' His friend's cheeky grin that Gild knew so well was wiped from his face when the first of Senishai's cants erupted against their Armours.
When those who know the metaphysics of sorcery battle, each combatant is traditional trying to balance their offensive capabilities against their defensive needs. Since the Armours, the wards which are the only things keeping the mage alive, will falter under enough offensive pressure, they must be maintained. However, when one is speaking the incantations of defense, one cannot be attacking their enemy, which gives them time to recover and counter-attack. In most instances, the victor is the one with the greater vocabulary of incantations or with greater battle experience, knowing when to attack and when to defend. The skill most required of a mage wanting to survive a battle was a cool head, the ability to speak the words while being bombarded by powers that could reduce them to dust.
Gild remembered all this as Senishai's magic hammered again and again into his wards, throwing up dust and marble chips like the rage of an infantile god. However Senishai was conjuring his magic, it was faster than speaking, as Gild was endlessly singing strength into his Armour, afraid that it would collapse at any moment. He looked to his companions, and they were the same, hunched low behind their wards, their lips whispering without cease. In a brief lull to the violence, when lesser spells flickered against the arcane shields, Gild shouted to his fellows, 'We must move apart from one another. We must make him target us separately, give us time to attack.' One by one the others nodded and the group spread across the room.
Gild began the conjuring of his own war cants, careful to choose ones that would not be reflected by Vilisen's Mirror, and as he did so he sent a small prayer for Feneld and Ruain, the brothers who were now bearing the brunt of the silent, silver figure's deadly sorcery.