"How dare they do this!" Batho choked down his scream to something less than earsplitting.

The star spun silently in its pedestal.

"Holding Aril hostage to threaten me?" Batho snarled, "how did it come to this?"

The star spoke up, "I suppose you wish to save her?"

"Of course I do!" Batho yelled, "but they are coming here to capture me and then they have no reason to fulfill their promise to release her!"

"An interesting gambit, if they have the power to uphold their threat," the star said, "there is a way. "

"What way?" Batho asked, abruptly icily calm, "they have her trapped somewhere we don't know. Probably with guards ready to kill her the moment we act. "

"They are attempting to bargain with you, trading her life for yours," the star said, "so we just need to acquire some tokens of our own. "

The spell flashed out the top of the crystal tower like a blast of flame. The army below cowered amongst the trees but it did not touch them. The huge wave of magic sailed overhead, heading north towards the city.

Faster than a bird, faster than any horse, the magic arrived in a shower, piercing the ground all around the city. Lines of light appeared from the ground where they struck, pillars of magic that rose into the sky. Then from the pillars, flat planes of deadly force ground outwards slowly, giving people time to get away. In less than a minute, the entire city was surrounded by a glittering wall, cutting it off from the world.

Far above, a ominous globe of magic hung in the sky. It could be felt through the walls and roofs of even the deepest dungeon. Even from the outlying farms. The oppressive power that felt like a mountain was pressing down on them. The pitch black ball flickered with dark lightning, blotting out the sun entirely and plunging the land into an eerie twilight surrounded by a circle of day in the distance.

Then an image appeared on the imprisoning walls, an image of the insides of the leading guilds. It was mirrored by similar images on the walls of the rooms of those leaders, all of whom were pinned to the ground with shackles of blue crystal. And one set on the outside of the besieged crystal tower.

"Despite all this power, you have still managed to strike at me," Batho's voice resounded from a hundred images. He was nowhere to be seen in any of them however. "Unfortunately, Aril is not someone fit for your filthy hands. You thought to capture her in order to threaten me? Well then, hear my terms. Release Aril to me unharmed and withdraw your army. If I do not see her alive and well in one hour's time, the city of Arc will cease to exist and I shall hunt down every last man, woman and child in the entire duchy and rip them to pieces. Consider your actions carefully and I hope you do not make the wrong choice. "

The blue lines of crystals pinning all the men and women of power in the duchy suddenly faded away, as if laughing at their frantic efforts to cut, dispel or wriggle out of their bonds.

The images were replaced by a single round face of a clock. The hands were set to one hour and began to count down.

Batho leaned back in his seat, sighing after giving the little speech. "What about the army outside?" he asked.

The star showed him the armed soldiers swarming around the base of the tower, smashing, hammering and climbing. All futilely of course. "That army?" was the star sounding amused? "The tower is beyond them," it said simply, "their struggles will merely feed us. " Indeed, the only thing Batho could hear from his room near the top was the occasional crash when the Hero attacked. Everyone else couldn't even make a sound as the crystal absorb their power easily.

"So now we wait," he said.

"We wait," the star agreed.

The panic was of course inevitable. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the huge black ball was up to the task of wiping them all from existence.

The soldiers hurried through the dark corridors, heading to the dungeon relaying orders.

"Quickly! Get her out!" the commander of the guard shouted, "we have to use her to stop his madness!"

The soldiers rushed onwards.

Down in the dark cell, Aril huddled away from the cold stone, trying to find some warmth in the bedding. Despite being in the depths of the most secure dungeon of the Duke of Arc's castle, she could still feel the magic far overhead. Even through the supposedly impregnable wall enchantments of the cell.

"Batho, what are you doing?" Aril muttered. But there was no one to hear her. Betrayed by her own people, the guild of adventurers. The prospect of being used as a pawn to fight Batho was not what she had in mind when she became the Flower.

There was a clatter from the corridor outside and the door swung open to reveal the soldiers of the Duke.

"Get-" was all her jailer managed to say.

The spark of magic hiding in his shoe had descended from another spark in the shoe of his superior. And that spark came from the panicking nobles in the castle above. Hiding amongst clothing, personal objects and small dark spaces, the sparks duplicated themselves whenever they came into contact with another person.

And now it had found its target.

The defensive enchantments on the room wailed in alarm. The alarms had triggered when the enchantments were compromised but the sparks were unforgiving. In a second, before the soldiers could even react, the entire enchantment had been forcibly drained of magic.

A clear bubble of force snapped into being around Aril, and she blinked as her weight seemed to disappear. Then, right in front of the soldiers, she began to float into the air.

"Eh?!" Aril choked back a little cry as she rose towards the roof.

The soldiers rushed forwards without waiting for any commands, but their hands and later, weapons, were simply repelled by the clear bubble of force. Then the bubble reached the roof and... simply continued.

The stone gave way to her inexorable rise, breaking and falling away. The cell in the level above hers rang out in alarm as its perimeters were breached, but a spark darted out and it was similarly silenced. The bubble grew thicker.

Helplessly floating inside, where her magic didn't seem to work, Aril could only stare at the panicking soldiers and mages that tried to free her or stop her ascent.

Strangely enough, she didn't feel like she was in that much danger. Aril knew Batho wouldn't hurt her.

Despite all that had happened, she believed in that at least.

Then she got close enough to the surface and a sudden spear of light descended through the remaining floors and walls of the castle to wrap around the bubble like gentle fingers picking a delicate flower.

Above, the oppressive ball of magic shrank down and disappeared.

"Aril!" Batho exclaimed as she appeared on the screen, still floating in her safety ball.

"You see, it is a simple task," the star said, "one merely has to disturb them enough to make them find her for you. "

Batho snapped his eyes back towards the castle. The place full of people who would threaten her. "I need to make sure this will never happen again," he muttered.

"You have the power," the star said, "we shall let you do this yourself. "

Batho grinned, "I wouldn't have it any other way. "

Like the star had taught him, he extended his senses through the network of magic it had built. The arrays of magic flexed and twisted under his touch, until the star stepped in and stabilized it. He observed it and concentrated, narrowing down his presence to one thread of magic.

With a thought, the magic converged at the castle, penetrating through the defenses. He scraped away the magic on the walls, ate the magic on their weapons, feeling the small spark of power head upwards to join the thundercloud waiting at his beck and call.

With another thought, a few more balls of force rose into the air, their squirming occupants on screen for all to see.

"The Duke, the Lord of Swords and Senator Itil," Batho said, feeling his voice go out to the linked screens. "Since I retrieved Aril myself, it would appear you did not fulfill your part. "

He paused for a moment to let them bathe in their terror. "But I am kind enough to forgive the city. They have little to do with this. You however, are the masterminds of this plan. "

Batho tapped them with the magic and their lifeforces popped out from their bodies. Like plucking grapes from the vine. He grinned as the tendrils caressed their souls, draining their knowledge. The magic reached down to the castle again. "Next in command was the captain of the Duke of Arc's guard," he said, as another three bubbles rose into the air, "and two of the Duke's personal guard who detained her. "

Their souls interrogated, the magic reached down yet again.

After a few more rounds, Batho was satisfied that he had gotten everyone in the entire chain of command, all the way down to the jailer hiding at the bottom of the dungeon.

"Hear me well," Batho said, turning up the volume of the screens, "these were the people who had threatened that which was important to me. Know that I have no mercy for you who would do me wrong. It is simple. It doesn't matter if you have been ordered. It doesn't matter if you are threatened. It doesn't matter if you were tricked. If you help them do this, you die. "

With that, he released the bubbles, letting the limp lifeless bodies rain down onto city below.