Qualzath and Romnan had given up the city without much of a battle. They knew that the walls had been breached long before the forces under Hadrax poured out of the tunnels. They gave orders to their own soldiers to stand down and surrender, then turned and fled into the shadows. They knew that resistance was futile. It would serve no other purpose than to destroy the city.
They fled to the abandoned mines, where the soul eaters had long awaited new prey. But they could slip past them with their magicks. They could make the soul eaters believe that they weren’t really there. But first, they needed to make their tomes of magicks disappear. Those beyond the gates did not deserve to know their secrets. Neither did the emperor who’d betrayed them.
Half the library within the palace ceased to exist seconds before the would-be victors entered. There would be nothing left to ransack. Nothing left to send back to the emperor. This victory would be empty.
Behind them, they heard Hadrax bark the order to follow and execute them. They smiled. Let the soldiers attempt it. Once inside those mine tunnels, anyone who had no knowledge of magick would be turned to stone.
But first, non-magic folk would have to open the door that sealed the tunnels shut. Not so with the twins. They could cast the shade spell or transport themselves to the great chamber beyond the tunnels. Once beyond the soul eater infested tunnels, the twins could set up wards to hide their existence from their unwitting protectors as well as any who would search them out.
Hadrax was livid. How could his men allow the rulers of the city get away? Where could they have gone that his men could not? Was there some strange unknown place that had not been discovered?
“Search the city!” He ordered. “If they be found in any home, execute the residents. If you find something out of the ordinary, investigate it! Go! Spread out and fond those old men!” He paused. “And find those tomes!”
His soldiers scattered in search of the missing mages and their mysterious tomes. What could be so important about either? The disappearance of the mages had, after all, made the taking of the city far easier and had spared more lives than would be the case otherwise. The tomes, though greatly desired by the emperor, were another problem altogether. One question rang in the minds of those searching: had they existed at all? And if so, why were they so important? What secret did the emperor believe he would learn?
Noraq, one of Hadrax’s lieutenants, pondered these same questions as he set about looking for both the missing books and the missing mages. While he could not conceive why the finding of either was really so important. As long as control of the city had been ceded to his general, that was all that really mattered. Books of magicks, however, were things best left alone. They were possessions of mages and sorcerers, not emperors or generals.
Like all soldiers, he believed that tomes of magicks were cursed. Those curses were meant to keep any who sought to use the magicks unwisely or for the wrong purposes from opening them. Like most soldiers, he preferred not to incur the wrath of those curses. Only a mage was capable of dispelling them.
Noraq knew that the emperor was no mage. None of the nobilis were. They were lazy, drunken, drugged up sots who made war as a way to pacify their bloodlust. They had been the class within the Renge who’d risen up against the gods.
Whatever honor they had once held, they no longer possessed. They had lost their interest in the people they’d claimed to be saving from the whims of the gods. Now, as then, they were non-magic folk. They would die if they dabbled in it. It would consume them, body and soul.
“Alright, you laggards,” he commanded, “let’s find these cowardly mages and their cursed books. Don’t want to suffer the wrath of our regent now, do we?”
A soldier appeared from the shadows. He seemed to be completely spent, but stopped directly in front of Noraq and saluted.
“Sir,” the young man stated, seemingly out of breath, “we have found something…that might be of interest to you and the general.”
“Catch your breath, soldier,” he turned to another soldier, “Take a message to Hadrax. Tell him that we need his presence. Tell him we have found something of interest.”
“Aye, sir,” the soldier bowed, then left to find the general.
Qualzath and Romnan set their wards at the mid-point in the maze that was the abandoned mine. Dwarves had created this mine long ago as a gift to the previous lord, the father of the twin mages. One hundred years prior to their rise to governorship, the mine’d had to be shut down because of the emergence of the soul eaters. But the soul eaters only seemed to reside in the first half of the mine’s shafts, those that led to the surface.
Dwarves, being miners who dwelled deep within the mountains, knew where no to seek gems of precious metals. Man, not being as wise in mining, had a stubborn streak and thought that the veins ran everywhere. And so he dug everywhere, despite the precise instructions of the dwarves. His lack of wisdom set loose the soul eaters.
Soul eaters. Shapeless and without form, they seemed to be a swarm of flying insects and a mass of writhing lizards or snakes all at the same time. Five shifts of miners had been lost before anyone realized something was wrong. The Dark Ring had sent a mage to investigate. That mage had been Zarange. She had been the one to create and enchant the seal door so that the soul eaters could not leave the mines.
Now, those soul eaters were all that separated them from their pursuers. The wards were meant to hold the soul eaters at bay, and maybe mask their presence from unwanted intruders lucky enough to get by the soul eaters. There was no way to tell whether it could or not, but it was possible in theory. And right now, they had only theory.
The twins set about creating as comfortable a home for themselves as possible. Granted it wasn’t the same as the palace, but it was now home. Their tomes had been given a place of honor upon new shelves. None would dare venture this far into the mines. No one.