It had been a dull day. The drills had been especially tiresome and mundane, and there had been no wind to cool the sun-baked plain they stood on.
What an impressive row they make. Thought Khaal Wraath. And what a formidable foe we are. What havoc we wreak. What destruction we lay to land and town. Truly, we are the pride of the Great Kingdom.
Khaal Wraath stood with his arms extended, head tilted slightly to the wind trying to catch whatever breeze might grace the open plain. From here, hundreds of yards from the city walls, the tall spire of Karoolk’s tower could be seen, spiraling into the clear sky, threatening to pierce what clouds might wander by. It’s black, polished stone was a wonder in the sunlight, reflecting the light in a circle of radiance that almost made it look inviting.
There was a day when Khaal Wraath had walked that long, twisted path up to its great wooden doors. The path no one would walk if not requested to do so by the Master of Mages. But he had walked it at his request, he had shivered at the shrivelled bushes and dead trees decorating the gardens with their twisted limbs. There had been no end to the questions from the others when he returned, but he dismissed them as he was told he should.
I want to go back… He thought.
A sudden, earth-shattering explosion rocked the ground, and Khaal Wraath spun, and saw Dellaren, one of the younger wizards detonate a Fireball in the distance. Dellaren was young, younger than Khaal Wraath, but he worked very, very hard. He was inducted into the ranks of the Combat Mages under the immediate supervision and insistence of Aranek. The first son of another Naelax family, he considered himself the first of the ‘next wave’ of sorcerers to lead the Combat Mages to the glory and dominance in the Flanaess they once knew.
Perhaps that’s why Aranek favours him like he does… Khaal Wraath mumbled under his breath.
And despite his obvious ‘lack of the gift’ as was widely whispered, Aranek always seemed to support Dellaren and rarely reprimanded him for clear errors in the art. Still, Dellaren was to be admired for his steadfast resolution that he would indeed one day step into Aranek’s role, but there were surely a number of Khaal Wraath‘s colleagues who all would like to claim that title.
The sun was almost unbearable today. Khaal Wraath detested these drills, conducted on the open plains that would never again host grass or tree or flower. These hills were the desolate wasteland the Combat Mages of Rauxes had used since Khaal Wraath‘s youth, and undoubtedly before that to test their destructive art. And through it all, Khaal Wraath choked and coughed, shielding his eyes and squinting against the accursed sun that hated him so…
To what end must I endure this discomfort… Khaal Wraath could not think in this heat. His cloak was pulled tightly around him, but his chosen black could not accompany him on the plain, so he had pulled tightly around him a cloak of light grey. The hypocrites that surrounded him in their white robes sickened him and made him despise them more for their comfort.
But everyone on the plain knew that Khaal Wraath attended these drills solely for the purpose of bragging, to size them up and to remind them of his ‘chosen’ status. All knew he was not required to endure these drills as the others were. Long ago excused from them by Aranek’s only superior, Khaal Wraath made a habit of watching his competitors toil to prove their worth, and considered it an opportunity to size up those who were rising quickly in the art.
They bored him terribly, the struggling, the fumbling; all things that Khaal Wraath knew in his much younger years. He was the youngest mage is Rauxes; cause for more resentment, but it was only through making those mistakes himself that he could have come to wield this power, this standing…
But what really caught Khaal Wraath‘s interest was the art that few were allowed to practice.
There were no Combat Mages in Rauxes that practised the ‘dark art’. It was forbidden. Necromantic spells were allowed to be incorporated into the Combat Mages’ spell books only under the direct supervision and with the written permission of General Aranek or his superior. For what reason, few of the mages knew, but Khaal Wraath knew. He knew because he asked the man who made the rule…
And then, as if to command Khaal Wraath‘s attention directly, an icy wind swept over the sun-baked plain. Shaking his head, Khaal Wraath looked back to the long, slender line of mages and saw Dellaren waving his arms frantically in the air. A great cloud had gathered high in the air, and rain poured down from it, scattering dust and mud as it slammed into the ground in front of the contingent of mages.
Khaal Wraath quickly realized that Dellaren had successfully cast an Ice Storm, but in this unforgiving heat it quickly turned to rain and mud on the barren plain. Applause erupted from the chorus line of Combat Mages as Dellaren bowed graciously to accept their applause. Even among those who strove to conquer others, the accomplishments of a fellow mage did not go unnoticed. This was Dellaren’s first successful casting of a spell in the fourth circle.
Khaal Wraath turned to return to the cover of the shadows of Rauxes.