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The Fall of

the Sharuk

and the

Raising of

the Tower

by Scott M. Sands

Five thousand years before Everest …

Limanth stretched his sorcerer’s staff to the whitetail chick, lifting the fallen animal from the mud beside the stream. It chirped near his ear as though sounding a horn for war, until his magic raised it from the death sentence on the ground, slowly up to its feathered nest.

“There, young one. Do not stray again. Next time I may not be here to help.” With the animal safe, Limanth rested on his staff, amusing himself at the thought of the chores he performed, even as a High Synod member. Light flashed through the violet crystal enveloped in the tip of his staff and caught his eye.

Rains from further north ensured a flurry of life in the stream and thick surrounding forest. Limanth had walked this land many times since his youth, and few things required his attention—exactly the way he liked it. A Sharuk sorcerer should rarely need summon their powers, and only then to restore peace.

Herriwyle, the land he share-protected with two fellow sorcerers, lay perhaps a thousand paces southeast, by his counting. The white sun had begun its descent toward rest, and Limanth decided he should do the same. But he lingered by the bank of the stream, squatting to run his hand through it, listening to the water trickle with memory. The cool flow against his fingers drew him into a shallow meditation.

A snapped twig pulled him from his peaceful state of mind.

Gazing across the water, Limanth stood and gripped his staff firmly in his right hand. Most likely, some other animal—a marsh fox, lizard or crocodile—had attempted to remain hidden, but accidentally broke the twig.

Yet curiosity got the better of him. He parted the tall grasses on the other side of the bank with magic. When the act revealed nothing, he cast a seeing spell, already resigned to freeing another baby animal if he …

A shadow form appeared in the shape of a man. First legs, then a body and head, as the seeing spell took hold. It looked like a man, but had only moveable stumps for hands and feet. The only features on its face were slits for eyes and a small, upturned mouth. Seeing Limanth staring, the creature tilted its head up and gave a feral shriek.

“Don’t be alarmed!” Limanth said. He held up his left palm in surrender, even while his gaze studied the strange form. “I am Limanth. I greet you on behalf of—”

Another shriek. This time the creature’s entire body burst ablaze.

“Blood of kings!” Limanth stumbled back.

It started toward at him, sending the blood to his staff hand. He pulled the weapon in front of his body. No such beings appeared in the Euland annals. Where did it come from?

“Please,” Limanth tried again, “we need not oppose one another.”

The burning thing launched what looked like a piece of its arm at Limanth. A quick chant deflected the attack. It gave no verbal response to his words, nor gave any sign it understood them. Just a mindless, flaming shadow that appeared hostile. Limanth sighed. There would be no discussion, which meant force. Clearly, this burning thing had never met a Sharuk sorcerer. He sent a lightning bolt the creature’s way to be done with it.

The bolt had no effect. It dissipated completely in the fire covering the creature.

While Limanth still wondered how that could be, he dodged another volley of fire with magic. He shuffled backward, his full intent on the burning creature. He shot more lightning, even raised the stream bed up to its knees to hold it in place. Freezing spells, confusion, laceration. Nothing hindered its potent fire magic.

An eerie coldness fell upon Limanth like winter’s chill falling early. As a Sharuk, he’d sworn to protect Euland—his village had selected him alone for the task. All of which would be for nothing if he couldn’t detain this flaming shadow.

A red oak trunk might have been Limanth’s downfall. He backed right into it, stealing his attention long enough for his adversary to close the gap. The burning one stretched out a stump, wreathed in unquenchable flame.

Another noise—a crow cawing loudly from a nearby perch—caused the burning creature to look up. It scorched the bird, and gave a guttural growl as the small, lifeless body plunged into the stream, before its gaze landed back on Limanth.

“Helios, helium, enchanto carabrosa.” Limanth teleported to the first safe place he thought of; the High Synod chambers. Whatever this new threat was, his order would help deal with it. They’d have to.
He didn’t want to think what might happen if they couldn’t.

#

Eight pairs of wizened eyes, knowing as the day was long, studied Limanth as he materialized in the High Synod chambers. Fourteen wooden seats arranged in a perfect circle, with no particular head. The wide hall’s sides rose over thirty feet, decorated with protection runes and tapestries, gifts received over the order’s many years protecting Euland. The intensity of magic aura in the room created such an unusual sense that the air felt neither hot nor cold on one’s skin, but heavy, as though crushing temperature itself.

Limanth gazed over his fellows, leaders among the dozens of sorcerers in the order. Ordinarily, he would have shared their calculating confidence. Not today. He spat words out quickly, his bones a flurry of movement to match his mouth.

“Brothers! Sisters!” he said. “I have encountered a new evil. A shadow that became fire. I struck it several times, but my magic had no effect. We must discover this creature’s weakness before it harms the kingdoms.”

Old Herioth, whom some called more ancient than the hills but many looked to as leader, raised a steady hand. “Calm yourself, Limanth. Shadows and fire? What are you talking about? Euland possesses no such beings.”

The same thought had occurred to Limanth. He didn’t know what that meant, but could surely not be good.

Another sorcerer, Eth, injected herself into the conversation. “You said you used your magic on this creature?” Her braided blond hair rested over one bare shoulder.

“Yes.”

“And the effect was … ?”

“Nothing. With lightning, binding and mental intrusion. The fire absorbed it all.”

Skeptical faces gawked around the hall. Did they think he’d grown weak? He may have been young among the High Synod’s members, but he would not have his aptitude questioned. Of all the youth in his home village, the elders had selected him to study as a sorcerer. He would not have his aptitude questioned.

Limanth held his palm up and summoned a small flame at the center, its outskirts dancing softly above his skin. Another simple chant darkened the room.

“Enough theatrics,” Herioth said. “Tell us where you saw this burning one and let us have a look at it.”

Yes. The High Synod, powerful sorcerers, well-practiced in their craft. No being could withstand such enormity. They would find this strange new evil.

And stop it.

#

All Limanth’s peers could shapeshift. It wasn’t a particularly difficult spell to cast, though it quickly drained magic from unseasoned hands. Yet few achieved the grace and fluidity Mcath reached when he shifted; particularly in his favored hawk form, where he could remain almost indefinitely and only the most powerful magic wielders would detect him. Mcath plowed the skies as though he was a hawk, who occasionally appeared as a man. He scouted ahead.

The rest of the Synod teleported to the outskirts of the forest Limanth had been exploring that morning. The same picturesque location he’d come to love these past years, filled with tulips and bunnies in the spring—and now flaming shadow men. Seven Synod members went, plus Mcath, above.

Green pastures flourished as the sorcerers closed in on the forest. Insects buzzed in sun-kissed bushes, until swallows or the stomping of boots drew near. Wind breathed life over the gently rolling hills, from the Synod chambers behind to the oaks that marked the forest’s edge ahead.

Limanth’s pleasant thoughts ceased. He could make out the closest trees; their bases had been scorched black as wizard’s darkness. Smoke trails lifted above, warning of danger.

“Come,” Herioth said. He clung heavily to his staff, the ravaged tree line erasing his confidence from an hour before.

A hawk dove in at speed and landed in front of the group, talons piercing the ground. It stretched out of its body. Mcath took shape.

“What news?” Eth asked.

“Half the forest this side of the stream smolders. The fire spreads this way. At the head lies some man—or the shape of one—who burns. A walking furnace. Never have I seen its like.”

Wasn’t that exactly what Limanth had told them at the chambers?

Herioth set back aging shoulders. “Let us be rid of it.”

Eth accompanied two others across the stream, with a mind to strike the creature from as many directions as possible. Mcath took one man; they shapeshifted into majestic birds and circled behind it, putting out some of the fires that already burned. Herioth led those remaining, Limanth and one other, to face their foe head on.

The burning one shrieked before anybody reached it. A hollow thing, a cry that pierced like arrows and gripped the mind. It seemed to sense its adversaries had grown in number; it abandoned the forest and charged at Herioth’s group, trailing fire in the grass behind.

“Sorcerers of Sharuk! Send this wretched creature to the abyss,” Herioth said. With that, he cast a spell that shrugged off his slow, elder body and stepped forward with the ferocity of a champion youth. He pointed his staff’s tip at the burning one, arm never wavering. A purple lightning storm streaked forth from the oblong, silver crystal atop his staff. It struck the enemy in the shoulder.

The blow did nothing. The fire burned.

The burning one shrieked again, surging in swiftness and outrunning the breeze that whipped against the grass.

An elemental maelstrom assaulted the creature then. Telekinesis from Mcath, lightning from Eth, solidification and ice from Herioth. The space surrounding the wicked foe lit up with sparks and colored aura from the plethora of spells. When the cloud cleared, not one spell had any effect, save enraging the creature. Its eye slits locked onto Herioth.

Eth’s group forsook the stream bank opposite the fight. She shouted over the fray, “That fire! We must put it out!”

“The merging!” Limanth said. “It might be the only way.”

Recognition pulsed in old Herioth’s brown eyes- one moment he spun his staff, the next his body teleported a dozen feet behind Limanth. The old man’s body went rigid as a red oak.

Limanth prepared himself. Herioth’s aged body might not withstand a merger for long, and Limanth was the next closest. The merger wasn’t a spell often rehearsed in their order, for rarely did so great a threat arise. But in direst need, multiple minds could combine inside a single consciousness, adding their power to the wielder. So long as the receptive body was healthy enough to withstand the added pressure, and those merging kept their dormant bodies close by, the strength from several sorcerers could be amplified into a single dominant force.

A weight pushed into Limanth’s chest from the sides. When it happened, he imagined himself a mighty river, flowing to sea. Each new merged presence was a sister river connecting in, strengthening the volume and current. Herioth, Eth, and one other added their strength to his.

Dim its fire, Eth’s voice whispered inside Limanth’s mind.

Heavy under the merging’s power, Limanth faced the burning one. It sensed him and charged. He lowered his hands, palms out, and chanted a cold spell. The fire on the creature waned.

It started at the head. The flames extinguished. Then the shoulders and arms, until finally the creature stood flameless, a hot coal ready to burn anew. Its head pointed towards its doused arms and hand-stumps, as though witnessing a new event for the first time. When it finished, the burning one shrieked again and lunged at Limanth. He fell sideways, anticipating the next blow; it never came. The creature darted past toward the only other body nearby, Herioth’s aging form, stationary in the grass. Limanth sensed Herioth’s presence leave him.

Too late.

The shadow creature struck his gut, a giant elphont stampeding into its prey. Herioth crunched over. His hand released its staff.

“No!” screamed Eth into Limanth’s mind.

From the ground, Limanth shot purple lightning at the creature. Without its flame, the bolt carved a hole that almost severed it at the waist. Another bolt to the torso, and it fell, shrieking beside its prey. A deep moan wisped along the grass stalks, then the burning one went silent.

The river in Limanth’s mind slowed as those merging with him departed. His strength lessened, as though an adult becoming a child again, but his movement speed greatly enhanced, as the heaviness from the spell lifted. He approached Herioth’s body and that of the creature. He could not rid the scent of burned flesh from his nose.

Herioth’s weak hand raised. He pulled Limanth close by the collar. “Their fire is not our fire,” he whispered. He coughed once and his head fell back, limp against his own neck.

Eth came and hovered over the old man’s body, shaking him as though the act might wake him from slumber. While they could take no solace in the knowledge, the group had accomplished their task, and protected Euland once more. But who would the Synod look to to lead now?

The stars only knew when another threat would return.

#

The following month saw turmoil amid the High Synod chambers. Five of the fourteen seats now sat empty, their masters fallen in battle to burning ones. Those remaining mostly discussed how best to deal with this rising threat, of which eleven creatures had been discovered. Younger sorcerers in the order looked to fill the vacant chamber spaces. The thick air of magic that defined the room had vanished. Now it just felt cold.

A particularly heated debate arose. Limanth listened for three hours before he finally ignored the harsh words and angry sorcerers on the cusp of unleashing magic tossed. That was one thing that had been simpler as a villager: the elders were decisive and fair and people quickly followed their lead. The High Synod sometimes behaved like cockroaches, bees and ants sharing the same nest. Limanth moved himself next to Mcath.

“Have you learned where these burning ones originated?” he asked.

The sorcerer nodded. “West. Beyond the valley and the Core Mountains.”

“How far west?”

“I traced them for two weeks, at least fifty days’ journey on horseback. A presence pushed emptiness into my soul the further I went. It wasn’t awful, just … nothing. After I lost awareness of myself a few times, I turned back. But the fire trails arrive from that direction.”

Interesting. This new foe hadn’t flown in or invaded different points in the kingdoms. Thank goodness. The Core Mountains, no the valley, was the bottleneck. If they could stop the creatures there, perhaps they could keep the rest of Euland safe.

Across the room, Stoith ignited a small flame on his palm, his irritated gaze tearing shreds of the sorcerer a few seats down. Limanth wasn’t stressed. That sort of thing happened regularly enough, and sorcerers rarely released their power inside the chambers. Not just because Synod law forbid it, but because everybody understood on some level that if a whole room filled with the world’s most powerful sorcerers started unleashing magical hell, they’d all be dead in seconds.

“My Sharuk brothers and sisters, hear my words,” Limanth said in an effort to unite them. “We must join together and decide how best to deal with the threat of the burning ones. We need to scout further, to set defenses.”

I say we get the kingdoms’ armies to aid us, Stoith said. “About time they did their part.”

Another chorus of opposing views erupted. Stay, go. Fight, study. Too many options and no one to set the course, now that Herioth had died. The Synod members would likely bicker well into the night.

Limanth tapped Mcath’s leg, indicating the door with his head. His shapeshifting friend nodded. They rose. Two seats down, Eth, who’d always had a sensible head on her shoulders, noticed them and followed. The three Synod members used magic to lift the heavy bar that locked the chamber door, feeling it scrape against the wood like fingernails on a sword. Limanth followed the others out, the rest of the High Synod’s cries echoing on as before, as though they didn’t even notice.

Limanth and Eth took a horse each from the stables. Limanth chose a hefty Millstone bay with white face markings. Mcath could rest behind him, although he strongly doubted that need would arise. The bay’s strong legs powered out of the stable. Eth selected a white quarter horse that would more than keep pace.

When they arrived at the Core Mountains, Mcath cast a seeing spell and spotted two burning ones leaving the cusp of the valley side by side, where it petered out into flat land. Fortunately, the creatures did not notice his presence and stalked forward without igniting their flames, as the first had done with Limanth. Mcath blasted both with lightning.

The three Sharuk sorcerers stood upon the mountain peak deepest in the valley. Eth kept tightening her grip on her staff and scanning behind them. She wanted to speak, Limanth could tell. Perhaps recent events had stolen her words. She had always been especially close to Herioth. Mcath, on the other hand, had shifted back into human form, and looked content to gaze ahead and say nothing.

The horses neighed behind them as the voice of the valley lifted up over the mountain’s edge and rushed past their ears. Where the Synod chambers’ air lay heavy, here it rushed, swift and agile, untamable as the sky.

Limanth filled the void. “The creatures are coming in greater numbers. We’ve tried reasoning with them; they responded how they always do, shrieking and burning.” Poor Meregoth’s had tried reaching them only three days prior. His would be the last attempt at negotiation; Meregoth’s charred remains pointed to the mindless hate of the burning beasts. There would be no peace between them. “What should we do?”

“Well, we’ve tracked where they’re coming from,” Mcath said. “If we hold them here, their numbers have to dwindle eventually. I say let us turn watchful eyes to the horizon.”

Eth nodded. “And be vigilant. Scout rosters, lists of compatible mergers.” She probably knew they all realized that, but sorcerer’s learned early that to state a thing was to gain power over it.

Limanth could only agree. “Then let us be strong and not let a single creature pass. For Euland.”

Together, the three mages stood upon the rocks on the mountain clifftop and extended their arms, palms raised to cast a seeing spell over the valley. The red oaks and river far below shimmered with an invisible aura as their seeing spell spread like a blanket across the landscape. All through the valley, shadow forms marched, first in threes, then fives, then dozens. Limanth shuddered, Eth gasped. Their keen eyes discerned the black mass at far valley’s end, across the River Sky; hundreds, maybe thousands of burning ones. No question which way they headed. Only when the fell creatures would arrive.

And if Limanth and the other Sharuk had any hope of stopping them.

#

Limanth slid his toe to the precipice of the Core Mountains that fateful morning and gazed out over the valley. The day had arrived. The seeing spell had long since faded, but he remembered how the coming shadow had filled the forest like the dead of night. He tried to hide his shudder, for it would do no good if the army of Sharuk sorcerers saw weakness in their latest chosen leader.

Worse—they might catch wind of his doubts. Could the Sharuk win? Maybe. But why did Eth and Mcath have to convince the High Synod that Limanth was the best man to champion their efforts?

All surviving High Synod members took their places at cliff’s edge, and formed the tip of the spear for the younger and inexperienced sorcerers behind them. Over seventy in number, those behind lacked the strength of will to become conduits for a merger, but if they stayed close they could add their power, such as it was, to the Synod members at the fore. Together they would quell the rising flametide. A small armed guard also stood around the sorcerers whose bodies would become dormant. Swords and shields were not an ideal defense, but the best they had. Their weapon hands already shook with the weight of dawning battle.

An oak leaf floated on the breeze and settled at Limanth’s feet, the wind stilling unnaturally. Shrieks resonated below. Limanth swallowed. Mcath cast a seeing spell.

Live or die, the stage was set.

“Now!” Limanth said. He drew from the presence of other minds inside his own and sent the first bolts into enemies. Two shadow men dropped to their knees. The other Synod members quickly followed, shouting battle cries and decimating the closest wave of burning ones.

Below, deep amid the red trunks, shrieks erupted as to shatter the eardrums of the sky. The flames began. The creatures had seen the resistance against their kin, stepped over the fallen bodies. Their flames set the entire forest ablaze as a flaming sea, and made it difficult to discern individual movement. They charged the cliff base.

“Stand your ground,” Eth reassured her brethren. “We can defeat them. We are Sharuk!”

Heads nodded on the mountain top, though confidence had forsaken the expressions of all but the surest. The flaming valley caused many sorcerers to gape in horror. They would fight their own fears now, before ever facing the enemy.

Burning ones ran at the cliff base and climbed. The fire on many cooled and lightning took them as sorcerers above rained down hell. Ten creatures down. Onto the next, the next, the next, until the sheer number of burning figures overtook the cliff edge. Limanth shuffled back as burning hand-stumps rose over the cliff face.

“Hold! Left to right!” Limanth yelled.

The Synod members dug in, dodging blows and fire as the burning ones crested the mountain peak. Sharuk reckoning smite the creatures down. Limanth was proud to stand among them.

The sorcerers looked like forcing the burning ones back off the cliff edge, till a hefty sandstone caused Limanth to lose his footing. Several flaming creatures broke the line. He cried aloud as the burning ones turned their focus to the stationary army of younger sorcerers behind. The armed men brought swords upon them—to little effect. While a few blows landed, the swordsmen were quickly burned and overcome. Limanth cast a duplicate spell that created many illusions; false bodies, the shells of sorcerers nearby. The burning enemies shrieked all the louder as their flaming arms past through the illusions, but rage brought them too quickly to the real Sharuk.

Within ten breaths, a third of the sorcerers merging their power with the High Synod lay charred in the mountain dirt. Another third ran for sheer terror.

Limanth couldn’t swallow. The weight of deaths under his direction stung like cuts with fire pouring into the exposed flesh. Those poor acolytes …

Several presences slipped from his mind as the acolytes died. Limanth cursed the sun for rising. He remained a pool beneath a waterfall; the acolyte’s deaths forced their minds deep below, beyond his reach. Eth’s body jolted. Others beside them suffered the same.

Desperate, Limanth cried over the sadistic shrieks of his enemies, “Eth! Mcath! To me!” For a long and frightful moment, nothing changed. Then Limanth’s friends merged inside his mind. Fueled by their power, he extended a hand and cooled the burning ones ravaging the young sorcerers. But he did not strike with lightning. While effective, it fell short of what he required. He closed his eyes and pictured Old Herioth. ‘Their fire is not our fire’ he had said. Limanth hoped he was right.

Limanth planted his feet. “Let these demons burn.”

Shrieks, louder than before, erupted. Limanth’s white fire tore at the creatures. They burned. Scarred. Set into a horrific frenzy, until, at last, they tumbled over the cliff. The burning ones who remained atop the cliff stopped.

Seeing the opportunity, Limanth stretched his staff to the sky and summoned the greatest purple bolt of his life. It crashed down upon the cliff edge, breaking a chunk away. It slid, crushing all below. Limanth had bought the Sharuk reprieve. At his bidding, all external presences fled his body and returned to their own.

The Sharuk, young and experienced alike, gathered by the new cliff edge where dust from broken-off rock hung in the air. They stared at the flaming creatures below, then at Limanth, as if their leader should be the one to save them.

He cleared his throat. “The merger works. It works, but it won’t save us.”

A shaky voice spoke, the sorcerer so far into her youth her body had not fully developed. “Why not?”

“Because we thought we could protect the bodies adding their power to the wielder. We can’t. Not indefinitely.” Recent engagement with the burning ones had made that clear.

Another question, rife with fear. “So what can we do?”

Limanth studied the clifftop, pictured the rocks in his mind that had broken loose. Ahead lay the enemy, but he had not forgotten the people of Euland in the cities and villages at his back. There had to be a way to protect them. And he had to find it.

A step back from the edge; the stone that caused him to overbalance in the first place. A stone, the curse that broke the Sharuk. Or perhaps a blessing in disguise.

Limanth considered: what if he merged inside a stone? The flames would not take him then. But there was a reason the Sharuk had forbidden merging with objects; it trapped the user. He would be forsaking his body—his life—forever. As leader, that was his duty.

For the people and home he loved, he would have done it, anyway.

He stretched out both hands. His gaze collided with the others, whose faces lay wracked with fear. “What if defenseless bodies were no longer a concern?”

Slowly, he moved forward and bent down to retrieve the stone, large enough that the weight drooped his arm as he lifted it one-handed, convenient enough to move. “Here lies our salvation.”

Eth was among the first to catch his meaning. “No, Limanth. You’ll be bale to wield magic, but you won’t be able to leave.”

“Cast your gaze over that cliff face, Eth. If we don’t stop that horde, it won’t matter.”

A few voices around the group protested. Limanth barely heard them. An unstoppable enemy at their feet, the world he’d sworn to protect, behind. His family, his village, his friends. Right now, he could save them. He’d made his decision.

Mcath stepped beside him with his own large stone, placed a hand on Limanth’s shoulder. Clearly, his friend had decided, too. Eth was a little slower—she groaned, producing a frown Limanth knew well. But she found a stone. Without another word, the Sharuk sorcerers of Euland organized themselves, five supporting minds behind the three leaders.

Limanth turned on his heel, meeting the gaze of as many as he could. “Those who do not join the merger, think not that your task is done. We do not know where the burning ones came from. We do not know why they came. Only that they arrived through this valley. If we who are about to merge should become fixed within these stones, do not waste our sacrifice. Build chambers, build altars—lift us high upon this mount, so we may evermore keep the creatures at bay.”

Mcath and Eth wrapped their arms over Limanth’s shoulders.

“Watchful …” Mcath said.

“…vigilant …” from Eth.

“… strong.”

The three Synod members, proudest and fair among the Sharuk, cast a simple spell to unbind the crystals from their staffs. These they fused with magic to the stones. It would allow them to leave their bodies behind and continue casting magic from within the stone. Such a fragile form as their bodies abandoned, they would be near indestructible.

Around them, sorcerers chanted spells of the highest blessing upon the mountain breeze, mixtures of tonal utterance usually reserved for the noblest kings and queens.

His stone in place, Limanth turned his attention to the five Sharuk behind him. They had his gratitude. Likely, they were embarking on a task that would see them share each other’s presences for a long time. He turned to his friends. Naught but determination steeled their gaze.

Finally, Limanth faced the enemy, their burning mass stretching well into the valley forests. They’ll not have Euland, he told himself. Not while our foundations hold.

Drawing his final breath, he leapt his presence into the stone, feeling more in tune with his violet crystal than ever before. The five sorcerers merging with him added their power. He allowed himself to sink into the stone, and, slowly, like a closing door, lost all sensations to his former body. Now could he cast magic unbidden. The burning ones would not tear him down. A strange weightless feeling came over him as hands carried him to the cliff’s edge.

He drew upon his new power, pouring magic through the crystal, and devastated the enemy as they approached.

#

Five thousand years later …

A young mage in an ebony cloak sought solitude in the Core Mountains one chill winter afternoon. Already his skills had grown, yet many condemned his dark magical persuasion. Regardless, he was of a mind to pursue it as far as could be pursued. He needed only a place to rest his head at night as his power grew.

His almond eyes, the same his own mother had described to expose his true cruelty, gazed across the desert. Nothing that way that would serve his purposes. The valley below lacked the magnitude worthy of a dark master. And following the Core Mountains would only lead to more pathetic villages who shunned his ways.

A man-made heap in the distance caught his attention. Sharuk Tower, an abandoned stack of ruined sandstone and moss. Four levels high with a spire at the peak. But little more than ruins now. Some said it was haunted.

The mage pulled up his thoroughbred and tied her to a thin stone pillar. He entered the tower steps, and a distant, indescribable energy passed through the fingertips on one hand, up his arm and across his body to exit the opposite hand. The place did not seem abandoned.

A small notion bit into his mind. He couldn’t name it, couldn’t shape it; a shadow twisting through smoke. He understood that something here was amiss, a glimmer unseen. It tapped at his awareness, as though bidding him onward. He cast a seeing spell from his right hand and focused it on the tower door, then the pillars, the steps. Nothing. He looked up.

And witnessed Sharuk Tower in full glory.

Beneath the heavy shroud, now exposed, the tower stretched as a tunnel high into the clouds. Residual blue magic, the kind young mages only dreamed of, pulsed around each building stone. Four floors? There had to be a hundred! Such a place would bestow power untold.

Farahul grinned wickedly, imagining the scope of his dark future. He lowered the seeing spell; the tower’s ruined four-level appearance returned. Yes, a mage could grow strong here.

Heartrate quickening, he entered Sharuk Tower.

END