Khaal Wraath blinked.
It was still dark. The moon outside shone its silver light through the small window of his bedchamber, and the sounds of the night mingled with the crackle of the fire dwindling in the adjoining room. He was rested now, very rarely did he sleep the entire evening anyway. He stood, arms folded across his chest against the cold, stone wall with the small flicker of his desk candles blinking in the darkness. The candle sagged and bent like an old man. No bed stood here, Khaal Wraath could never sleep lying down; an uneasiness filled him when he asked himself why.
His eyes hurt; today his studies were taxing. Khaal Wraath found today the first of the breakthroughs in reading magic that would help him to grasp concepts of even greater power; the second time he had noticed a significant change in his understanding of his arcane art. He pursued his studies with renewed vigor today, he would rise in the ranks after his displays, this he knew. Aranek would be pleased, no doubt. With a faint smile, he chuckled at the thought.
There was a particular incantation that intrigued him; its simplicity and its tenacity. He had studied it long and hard all week, and was anxious to put it into practice, but he could not do it alone… he must plan this carefully. It was only through the intervention of his teacher that he was able to learn this spell, one he was sure no other Combat Mage in Rauxes knew.
After dressing, Khaal Wraath fastened his full-length robe, and pulled his hood over his bleach-white hair, tucking his long hair over his shoulder. With a quick verse, Khaal Wraath stepped to the window of his tower chamber and lowered himself to the cold, wet ground below, straightening his collar as he strutted off into the night…
“A moment there!” came a hurried cry from a familiar voice. Khaal Wraath spun around, and the short, stocky figure of his commander, General Aranek, swaggered out of the foyer of the tavern. The warm, yellow glow of the tavern torches washed over his shoulders, and if it weren’t for his familiar silhouette, Khaal Wraath might have mistaken him for a foolish bandit or drunken guard.
Lucky I didn’t.
“What are you doing out this late at night without an escort?!” Aranek demanded of Khaal Wraath. “You know what the streets are like when the sun no longer hangs in the sky! If I were to ask the guards on duty, I’d bet I found you made no such request, eh? I’ll bet you snuck out of your room again and are going to be melancholy somewhere else!”
This was easily what tired Khaal Wraath most about his position in the ranks of the Combat Mages of Rauxes. It was commonly thought that he was the favourite pupil of the Imperial Court Mage. A mage of power and position that ruled Rauxes with an iron fist and a tenacious temper, The Master of Mages almost never showed himself, and rumours abounded as to what he busied himself with. But Khaal Wraath and he were almost tutor and pupil, and had spent much of Khaal Wraath‘s lifetime in lesson, and Khaal Wraath fairly attributed some of his success to his teacher’s tutelage and expertise.
It was because of this that Khaal Wraath was always watched. He and no one else had THAT privilege. Unfortunately for him, Aranek was placed in charge of this responsibility, one that he took very seriously due to the nature of who made its request. Leader and primary Combat Mage himself, Aranek still cowered at the idea of his superior being displeased and wisely took his duties very seriously.
The general approached Khaal Wraath, and it was easy to tell that he was taking his steps carefully. Khaal Wraath stood at attention, never once making eye contact. He didn’t have to. The spirits floated through the air to Khaal Wraath as though he was in the tavern himself.
I wonder how drunk the old man is now.
He knew that their training general had a habit of indulging too often, but no one would dare make mention of it, or even think it in his presence. As well as being a formidable mage, he would demonstrate his skill with his favourite mace if one the Combat Mages were to have a loose tongue.
He certainly has earned himself a wide berth. I wonder if my teacher knows about Aranek’s methods of combat training… maybe I…
“Why is it that you only come outside during training and at night?” Aranek asked. “I’ve never asked you that, have I?”
He looked Aranek deep in his eyes. Khaal Wraath knew that Aranek felt uneasy around him. If there was one person in Rauxes who knew as much about Khaal Wraath as his teacher did, it was probably Aranek. Provided with almost any information he wanted, Aranek could blackmail, barter or boss any of his sub-servients around without an ounce of guilt and less effort. But Khaal Wraath knew by the way he acted that he didn’t know everything. Khaal Wraath could see the fear in his eyes,… or was it awe…?
Khaal Wraath knew when he cast his spells during training that everyone wondered what was happening. They obviously knew that Khaal Wraath never ate anything, and demanded only the finest of red wines. He knew that he was widely whispered about, and that no matter how he tried, that he could never feel at home here. Never had.
In fact, Khaal Wraath was surprised at how quickly he had snapped back into the old habit of standing at attention after so much time. It had been weeks since he had attended any formal training sessions, and had heard nothing from Aranek or the lieutenant. It wasn’t for any good reason but the fact that he didn’t really want to go. Never had Khaal Wraath seen Aranek’s anger directed towards him.
Come to think of it, Aranek’s never even raised his voice to me…
“Are you afraid of the sun?” Aranek’s voice snapped Khaal Wraath out of his daydream. “Or do you fear the commoners who roam this horrific town? I watch, you Khaal Wraath. I watch you closely,” his pudgy hand was waved high in the air at Khaal Wraath at this point, barely reaching his chin, but it did not diminish the weight of the message. “And I don’t like you. You’re sketchy, and you’re quiet. You don’t talk to anyone unless you have to, and you do weird things. I don’t like you for who you are, but I respect your relationship with The Master of Mages.”
At this, Khaal Wraath notably raised his eyebrows.
“Oh yes, I know about you and him, I know about your lessons and your time together…” He crossed his arms as though having played an excellent poker hand.
“And what do you know?” Khaal Wraath asked. This was too tempting.
Time to test the waters…
“I know why he favours you,… and I know of your plans.” Aranek faltered somewhat upon utterance of that last part.
What plans is he talking about? Khaal Wraath wondered. We have no plans. Wait a minute… “Then you know why I leave every night, don’t you?” Khaal Wraath wondered if he could lie as easily as when he was a boy.
Aranek obviously was startled at this. His arms came limp to his sides, and he nodded unknowingly. “Of course.” He lied. “And I don’t like it.” His finger adopted its scolding motion again. “If I had my way with you… and I don’t… you’d be sorting books and scrolls day and night!”
“And goodnight to you, as well, general.” Khaal Wraath wanted to bring this to a close as soon as possible. He was always amazed at how boldly he could talk to the general without any hint of a reprimand. It was almost as if he held a higher rank than the others. No complaints. Thought Khaal Wraath. But why… The thought lingered as he turned to leave.
Aranek stood there, his mug of ale almost empty, with a small smile of his own on his face. And Khaal Wraath could have sworn he heard Aranek mumble under his breath.
“Two more days. Then things will be different. Two more days…”
And then Khaal Wraath faded into the shadows of the night.