DargonZine 23, Issue 4

Hubris

Mertz 16, 1019 - Mertz 18, 1019


Tanbry Cortinas walked across the yard outside the retired stables being used by the Esoterics as their base of operations and living quarters. The morning was fresh and carried an excited energy on the northern wind coming in from the Valenfaer Ocean.

Dyann Taishent, Dargon’s preeminent mage, was walking with haste the opposite side of the courtyard to meet her.

“My dear Tanbry, are you alright? Kalen sent a guard to my house this morning and told me you had returned to Dargon strapped to your saddle and near death.” Dyann wrapped his tender arms around the young mage.

Tanbry returned the embrace. “Gross exaggerations, Dyann. Where is the lieutenant?”

“He’s gone off to see to your brothers and the contingent of guard. What happened?” The mage took Tanbry’s arm in his and escorted her back toward the Guard House.

“It’s all a bit hazy, but Kiev escaped. I remember he tried talking to me. I think it was him who tied me to the horse. What do you know about Kiev?”

“Just what I’ve told you before: a powerful, violent mage. Every time he’s been in Dargon, a storm cloud of violence darkens the city.”

“Why didn’t you tell us he’s Kalen’s cousin?”

Dyann was silent for a moment. Tanbry was unsure if he was ignoring the question.

“Would knowing that stop you from doing what needed to be done?” Dyann asked at length.

“I think it would have directed us to act differently had we known.”

“Family ties in this situation have no bearing on what Kiev has done or his fate.”

“You’re a liar,” Tanbry replied. Her voice was gentle and without malice.

“Excuse me?”

“If I had to hunt down either of my brothers, family ties would change everything. If it was your son or grandson you had to hunt down and haul back, your ties would alter the hunting ground, your methods,” Tanbry explained. “Family ties play a large role here.”

Dyann was silent once more.

“Perhaps you’re right.” The elder mage conceded.

“I think that … I think Kiev’s actions were justified.”

“One more remark from you may just send me to the asylum.”

“We questioned him. Vable didn’t want to, but Arvyn and I are academics, we need to know everything. Kiev had a very compelling facet to the situations he was in and I feel he has a good, strong case to take before the duke.”

“For whatever his reasons or circumstances, he still killed those people. The law needs to be satisfied, as do the families who suffered the loss of their loved ones.”

“Do you even know what happened?”

“Perhaps you should tell me.” Dyann sat on the stone and wood bench in the courtyard. Tanbry joined him, pouring out the events of her journey.

***

Kiev and Jaxon finally stopped their marathon through Baranur late in the afternoon putting much-needed leagues between them and the Dargon Guard. Their journey took them to the coast south of Dargon and off the beaten path, eventually making camp at the base of a small embankment. Jaxon was laughing riotously, roasting a skinned rabbit over the fire.

“When do you think they’ll wake up?” he asked.

Kiev was laughing slightly at the memory of what they had done to the guards when he had escaped.

“They probably already have. I kind of wish I could be there to see their faces when they do,” Kiev admitted.

“I’d like to be there when they stroll into Dargon.” The two companions burst out even louder at the thought of Vable and his men walking stark naked into Dargon and explaining what happened.

“Hey, do you hear that?” Jaxon asked, sobering quickly and listening.

“What?” Kiev was still snickering and laid back against the bank of earth they had stopped by.

“It sounds like a horse coming up the path.” Jaxon started to climb the embankment.

“Don’t let that rabbit burn.”

“You don’t hear that?” Jaxon was standing at the top of the mound searching the trees. He let out a grunt then toppled back down, rolling through the fire.

“Jaxon!” Kiev grabbed him, pulling him from the fire quickly. There was a gash on his forehead bleeding into his eyes.

“Jaxon, wake up!” He was non-responsive. Kiev turned to head up the embankment when he saw Vable flying down at him.

“Where is she?” he screamed. Vable tackled Kiev, bearing him to the ground.

Kiev slammed a fist into the dirt, calling forth a small pillar of earth that collided with Vable’s face, sending the angry man to the side. Kiev stood and brought his maces to bear. Vable took the hit in stride, rolled to his feet and set his batons in front of him defensively.

“I guess you’re here to arrest me. Right?” Kiev snickered.

“Where is my sister?”

“Who?”

“Tell me!”

“Well, I don’t have her. I mean,” he looked at Vable with a sinister, lustful eye, “I *had* her — *we* had her — of course, but not any more.” His smile peaked at his ears and he brought his tongue slowly across the edge of his top teeth.

“Bastard!” Vable came in, leading with his batons.

“Wait, I give up. Please, arrest me and take me back to Dargon,” Kiev laughed, parrying the vicious onslaught Vable was delivering.

“I will kill you! Tell me where she is!” Vable spun around, his left hand bearing the baton toward Kiev’s head.

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you, but you won’t believe me.” Kiev blocked the attempt and sidestepped Vable’s follow-up jab.

“Where?” Vable kicked at the taunting mage.

“After I was done with her, I couldn’t take her with me.” Kiev’s smile was noxious even though he was sorely pressed by Vable’s fury. Kiev was fast, but his maces were heavier than the ebony batons and that gave Vable an advantage.

“Where!”

“Dargon,” Kiev laughed.

“Liar! What have you done with her?”

“Really. Stop, stop now,” Kiev retreated a few steps, feigning submission. Vable paused his attack. “I sent her to Dargon.”

“Really? You sent her on to Dargon?” Vable’s fury subsided slightly.

Kiev snickered again, sending another wicked grin across his face and Vable into another fury.

Vable was done fighting with his batons. He opened his mind to the boulder next to him, feeling the hum of the universe siphoning through it and his body. The boulder cracked into smaller, jagged pieces the size of a man’s head.

Kiev took note of what was about to happen.

“So be it,” Kiev whispered. He slipped his thumb into his belt on the small ruby mounted there. The attributes of the hard mineral washed over him as the first missile made to collide with his face. He brought both maces to the granite as he spun to the side, shattering it into rubble. He spun, ducked and leapt over the missiles as they came angrily from Vable. The last of rocks sent Kiev to a defensive crouch with his back exposed to Vable.

Dreading his position in relation to Vable, Kiev spun back around to face him. The rooted stump of a fallen tree hit him in the chest, embedding him into the bank now lined with the boulder fragments. Kiev’s exposed hand faded back into flesh, the ruby tune receding.

Part of the embankment collapsed in on Kiev burying him completely. Vable could feel pieces of his essence shredding away as the energy he funneled passed away back into the living world around him.

Vable fell to his knees overwhelmed by the buzzing pain in his head and the fear of his father’s fate grasping his soul. The raw energy he manipulated ripped through his body eroding away his mind. The time at the docks with the crab was a mere whisper when compared to what he had just done.

The buzzing increased, dementia took a firm root into the crevices of the mage’s hyper-extended mind and everything that was Vable in a mental sense was shattered.

Dark madness enveloped the mage while his consciousness spun out into the aether. Decades, sennights, menes rushed past him when a faint light eventually appeared. It called out to him inspiring the shards of his soul to regroup and reassemble fitting together as best they could under the stress of being on the edge of oblivion.

Finally the forest came back to Vable as Vable came back to himself. His eyes landed on the pile of tree and earth that buried Kiev without initial comprehension what he was looking at but an irritating hint that it had some profound importance danced on his mind.

As he became more aware, realization of his actions knitted his brain together. He was physically exhausted, and felt hollow, from the arcane exertion combined with the guilt of Kiev’s death.

More than that, Kiev had been right and that truth stung more than the degrading mental condition and the blood on his hands.

***

Kalen and his men had just found the trail where Kiev and Vable had veered from the path. The sun had passed its zenith and was bearing its spiteful heat on the weary group. About a bell had passed when they happened upon Vable riding the recovered horse. He was dragging Jaxon, tied up and gagged, a few cubits behind him along with the other horses.

“Where’s Kiev and who is this?” Kalen asked.

“This is Kiev’s traveling companion, he helped him escape. Kiev is …” Vable trailed off.

“Is what?”

“I killed him.”

“You what?” Kalen asked, shocked.

“He had … done things to my sister and fought me. The situation escalated.”

“Tanbry didn’t tell me anything about this. What had he done to her?”

“Tanbry told you? Where is she?”

“Dargon. She rode in early this morning; it’s why I’m out here. What did he say he did to her?”

“He said, I mean it was the way he — he led me to believe he had violated her.”

“He goaded you into a fight, you mean.”

“Yes.”

“Take me to his body.”

They quickly made it back to the scene of the fight, Vable walking them through what had happened.

“You will answer for this. I expect more from my men, especially one in an already precarious situation. What do you think this has done for the Esoterics?”

“Lieutenant –”

“We took you on as a resource for the rare circumstances involving magic, not as a troupe of vigilantes. We had this very conversation before I sent you to Armand to retrieve him. Is your memory that dull?”

“This was self defense,” Vable responded weakly.

“This,” Kalen pointed at the large tree embedded into the bank, “is a fair bit more than self defense.” He turned to his men.

“You three, take the extra horse and stay here. See if you can dig out the body. I’ll need that for the duke. Get the lad on a horse and ensure his binds are tight. We ride for Dargon. Mount up.”

***

Arvyn and the others had been given the sparest of clothing and were sent back to Dargon on foot. The sun was about to dip below the western horizon when they finally made it back to the city. They had trickled into the city in small groups. Those that could, made their way to their proper homes or homes of their kin to get clothes and food before heading to the Old Guard House. Arvyn and one other weren’t so fortunate and had to walk through the city clear to the Old Guard House with naught but a shirt wrapped around his waist.

Tanbry was at her desk, putting the last of her writing supplies away under the last of the dusk light when Arvyn crossed into the stable.

“It feels good to finally be home, such as it is,” Arvyn sighed.

Tanbry stood and hugged her brother. “I’m so glad you’re back. Are you okay? What happened? Where’s Vable?” She pulled back from him. “Why are you naked?”

“Whoa, settle. All in due time, like after I get dressed, fed and in bed. I’ve never been this tired in my life.”

“Where is Vable?” Tanbry asked, more concerned.

“He went after Kiev.”

“After everything –”

“He thought he had taken you,” Arvyn explained.

It dawned on Tanbry then. “Kiev was right.”

“Let us hope not. Kiev might be a good fighter, but Vable is … well, he’s Vable. His hubris runs deep.”

***

Colton Swilman was standing a distance away from the tree that buried the mage. They had spent the better part of the afternoon removing the rocks that pinned the tree and were now trying to pull it free with the team of horses.

“Roan, get those horses moving!”

Roan was coaxing the horses forward with a few shouts and a well-placed sapling. The tree scraped the ground, finally breaking free, which sent more dirt and rocks to fill the void. The team pulled it out a ways when Colton called them to stop.

“Good. Get the horses off the tree then get over here and help us dig.”

“Gong of a thing,” Trent, the other guard left behind, commented. “What I wouldn’t give for a spade.”

“Straight,” Colton agreed. “Well, let’s get to it. We’ll lose our light soon.”

They turned in unison toward the mound of earth and found Kiev standing there, dirty, busted and bleeding. Colton and Trent drew their swords only to be buffeted in a maelstrom of dirt, rocks and maces.

***

Kalen and the others rode in late the following afternoon. With a scornful, disappointed eye he dismissed Vable to the old stables. Tanbry, Arvyn and Dyann were there, waiting eagerly for him to return. He embraced Tanbry first and intensely.

“I thought I lost you,” he whispered.

Tanbry pulled back. “What did you do?”

Vable avoided her gaze, kept his eyes to the ground.

“Kiev is no longer a threat.”

“What did you do?” Tanbry knew in her heart what Vable had done, but wanted, needed, to hear it from Vable.

“Kiev is dead.” Vable found his resolve once more and looked his sister in the eyes. “I killed him.”

Tanbry’s eyes squinted with spite. She slapped her brother twice then walked resolutely back inside the stables.

“It doesn’t matter too much now,” Arvyn started, “but you should know that Tanbry took Kiev’s case to the duke.”

“Is that so?” Vable was still staring after his sister.

“He issued an order for Kiev’s release. It was hard pressed, but the testimony of that girl, Rynn, sealed it.”

“You’re right. It doesn’t matter.” Vable walked toward the stables.

“What happened out there?”

“Nothing.”

Arvyn caught up to his brother. “Stop. Look at me.” The brothers locked stares and Arvyn could tell right away the light was diminished in Vable’s eyes. “You did it again, didn’t you?”

“The situation escalated,” Vable muttered.

“The situation always escalates. Piss, Vable! You saw what happened to dad and you aren’t half the mage he was.”

“I’ve already killed one man, you want to make it two?” Vable fingered his batons.

“That’s not ok.” Arvyn glared at his brother, unfazed by the comment.

“I’m sorry,” Vable sighed. He shook his head coming back to the moment.

“That’s a terrible, ugly thing to say. Do you see what you’ve done to yourself?”

“I need to meditate and renew.”

“I’m going to forgive you for saying that because I know it’s not my brother talking it’s your damaged mind choking out reason and common sense. Vable, get your head right.” Arvyn turned away from his brother and went to the stables.

The light of the full moon shone into the stable bright on Vable’s face. It was about the third watch and he had just recently been able to get to sleep, the battle with his conscience finally ending in a draw.

His world tipped and jolted. The hammock was torn from its moorings and wrapped around his neck. The mage made to scream out but all that would come forth was a rasping whisper.

“Struggle and die,” the voice whispered vehemence carried on the back of a breath that smelled foul, full of dirt and bile.

“Kiev?” Vable rasped.

“Where’s Jaxon?”

“Who?” Vable asked honestly, not knowing the boy’s name. The hammock tightened around his neck, threatening to tear his head off.

“The boy you brought here. Where is he?”

“Locked in the Guard House. The cells are in the –” The binding tightened.

Kiev sniffed lightly a few times right next to his ear.

“Do you smell that, Vable? That’s the rotting corpse of your morality. I had your life in my hands that night I escaped. I could have done anything to you, your brother and your men. You repaid that favor — that benevolence — with killing me.”

“You live,” Vable retorted.

“You thought me dead. You left me there not caring about my fate leaving me to be crushed, feeding the worms. I wonder if I should be as benevolent now.”

“Please,” Vable pleaded through his crushing larynx. The hammock tightened more, sending him to darkness.

Vable slipped away haunted by images of being crushed under the tree that buried Kiev. Dirt, rocks and roots spinning wildly around him as he was crushed deeper and deeper into the earth. Somewhere his name echoed back to him through the turmoil of the debris. He grabbed onto it mentally and pulled himself toward it.

He woke with Arvyn shaking him awake, repeating his name and Tanbry muttering imbued phrases over him.

“Vable, can you hear me?” Arvyn asked.

“Kiev!” Vable bolted up, scanning the stable as if expecting the vicious battle mage to come out at any moment to slaughter them all.

“Kiev?” Tanbry asked. “He was here?”

“That can wait,” Arvyn insisted. He thrust Vable’s gear into his brother’s arms and shifted his own pack to his shoulder. “We’re needed at the docks. A fire has broken out that means to claim the entire port.” He pulled Tanbry along with him as Vable stumbled behind, putting his boots on as he rushed.

They caught up with the tail end of the guard flowing from the house with all haste to the pier. People were rushing every which way, mostly toward the fire, but some away in fear and ushering those not able to fight the fire to safety.

Sven Behrens was there, directing his men and women to aide in fighting the fire and escorting others to safety. He saw the Esoterics arrive and rolled his eyes.

“You three have done enough. Get out of here,” the gruff sergeant scoffed.

“We can help,” Arvyn offered.

“Your kind of help I don’t need right now.”

“Sergeant,” Vable started, “my brother and sister will be crucial. Don’t let the pier be lost due to a grudge.”

“Grudge? I have to constantly remind my recruits that we are the enforcers of peace, not the judge. They all know what you did and it’s caused nothing but discontentment amongst my ranks. Everybody thinks they can go off killing whenever they damn well please to.”

“I’ll leave to help the others retreat a safe distance. But you would be foolish not to use Arvyn and Tanbry in your efforts,” Vable conceded.

Sven leveled a look to Vable, then to his siblings. “Very well. But you get out of here. Where can you two help?”

Vable caught up to a retreating octogenarian limping away from the fire as his siblings took up the cause.

“Tanbry, let’s get the tides shifted a bit,” Arvyn started. “I’ll start there where the fire is the most intense. Keep directing the efforts and we’ll find the rhythm where we’re needed most, sergeant.”

Sven nodded. “Hop to. Neilson!” he barked. “By the mustache of our duke, get your men into a semblance of order!” He marched away, leaving Tanbry and Arvyn to their tasks.

Tanbry ran down a dock that wasn’t on fire. Once satisfied with her position, she knelt down to the water. It was just barely out of her reach. She sighed, stood, stripped her outer robe off then dove into the ocean.

Arvyn ran up to a group of guard and citizens who were in a water chain sending buckets up and down the chain. He reached into his pack and produced a few leather balls and eyed the building, the fire licking up the walls.

“Who has a good throwing arm?” he called out. Two guards motioned toward him and left their position in the line.

“Good, here is one for you and another for you.” He handed them each an orb. “Throw these into the upper window, both of you. On my mark.” He palmed two more, eyeing the doorway. “Three, two, one, now!” They all hit their prospective targets. As soon as the orbs hit the flames they ignited and burst, small explosions flared up then stole the air from the fire, knocking down the flames.

Tanbry broke the surface of the water with her eyes closed. She bobbed there momentarily then started to lift with the rising tide. The edge of the dock came inline with her brow and then disappeared under the ebbing waters of the Valenfaer. Fire and salt water met in fierce battle, sizzling discord throughout the building.

The young woman thrust her hands up sharply, sending a thin curtain of water up to the sky. It arched over the building, showering down to extinguish the majority of the wicked flames.

Sven looked on, impressed despite his earlier apprehension.

“Well, I’ll be a bearded sow.” He looked around at the others, town folk and guard alike, staring in the same disbelief. “Alright, you one-handed monkeys. Get back to the fight. The fire’s been knocked back for sure, but let’s not let this advantage go to waste.” The others spurred forward to the burning building with a renewed vigor.

Vable had helped the old man to the other retreating group and stepped in beside a guard carrying a child beside a mother and her other children.

“Some kind of luck, hey,” the guard commented. “We jut get the docks rebuilt from those Beinisons then this happens.”

“Yeah,” Vable absently agreed.

“I was about to get off shift too. At least I can get first dibs on the comfortable cot, hey.”

“See, its not all gong and woe,” Vable offered.

“Yeah. And I’ll bet I can get to sleep before everyone else comes back.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, every last man is down at the docks or the old causeway. The bunkhouse will be nice and quiet for a bell or two, allow a person to fall asleep right quick.”

“Everyone is at the dock.” Vable took a moment and thought about Kiev’s visit. “No one is at the Guard House.”

“That’s what I’m saying. Peaceful quiet.”

Vable quite gruffly sent the old man to another guard and rushed through the throng toward the Old Guard House. Menes flew by, his feet taking him through the door and downstairs to the hold. Lamps had been put out and the thick dark was an obsidian curtain. He drew his batons and eased forward to the bottom of the steps. The mage set a hand gingerly on the wall and imbued a large stone with a soft white light, illuminating the room.

On the floor was the sole guard left behind to tend the prisoners, unconscious. Only one cell had a man in it, the others were empty. Vable rushed to the cell, recognizing at last the man who had been brought in for public nuisance. Jaxon was gone.

The mage knelt by the guard to see if he was dead or alive. The man grunted and rolled to his side, thankfully alive.

“Where did he go? I’m going to bash the bastard’s face through the back of his thieving head,” the guard vowed.

“Can you stand?” Vable wrapped an arm under the guard’s armpit and lifted.

“No. The chair is just there.” They made it to the chair and the man slumped with a huff and a groan.

“What do you remember? Did they tell you anything?”

“There was nothing. The lad started in about my weight and being vulgar. I turned to give him a lesson in respecting his elders and authority and the like, then the room went dark. Everything went dark.”

“I know where they’re going,” the man in the cell said.

“Where?” Vable walked to the bars. “Where have they gone?”

“Let me go and I’ll tell you.”

“You aren’t getting out of here that easy, Gareth. Ignore him, sir mage. He’ll naught but tell you lies.”

“Where?” Vable pressed again.

“You let me go?” Gareth asked.

“Yes, you’ll get your freedom.”

“They thought me sleeping. The large man makes for the keep.”

“Piss my rotten fate. Let him go.”

“Sir?”

“Let this man go then get word to Darklen that Kiev is headed to the keep.”

“Breaking into the keep is going to be a fair bit harder than breaking into the guard house, sir mage.”

“Just do it!”

***

Jaxon and Kiev walked along the bank leading north from the Doravin encampment. They tripped along the foliage until Kiev was satisfied with his position.

“Here we go. Jaxon, get to the shadow boys and hide.”

“The gong you say. I’m not leaving you.”

“Things are about to get hairy.”

“Hairier than they have been? Besides, I’m too old for the shadow boys and when I left … well, I didn’t exactly leave on positive terms.”

“Piss.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, just to say that you are the paragon of bridge burning.”

“Straight,” Kiev laughed.

“How are we going to get across?”

“It’ll get wet. Get your pack off, we’ll need to arrange some things.” The battle mage started to remove his clothes and armor. “Get all my gear into the pack. I need to take a moment.” Kiev walked to the edge of the river.

“What are you doing?”

“This isn’t as easy as the other rhythms I fall into. This takes a lot more willpower and discipline. Shush.”

“Shush?” Jaxon started folding and shoving Kiev’s gear into the pack. Once it was all secured he tied the pauldron onto the exterior of the pack.

The teen walked down to sit beside Kiev who was kneeling and in a deep trance. His knees were touching the water and his hands were pressed together at his chest as if in prayer. Jaxon had a look of slight surprise when Kiev started to glow. Well, became transparent, reflecting the light around him as would a pool of water.

“Quickly now, I haven’t much time,” Kiev stated in an urgent, splash-filled tone.

“Whoa,” Jaxon gasped reverently.

“Yeah, it’s a divine sight to be sure,” Kiev quipped. “Hold on.” He grabbed the straps of the pack and the two waded into the river.

Once the mage was submerged, they quickly flew through the water. Jaxon found it easier to turn to his side to find breath around the spraying water. A few menes passed and they were on the other side. A great splash of a puddle landed on the bank revealed a whole Kiev and a very wet Jaxon.

“That was fun,” Jaxon coughed up water.

“Speak for yourself,” Kiev panted and puked up his share of the river. Jaxon started digging out Kiev’s gear, that was now wet.

“So much for keeping the stuff dry.”

“The point wasn’t to keep it dry, it was to keep it together,” Kiev replied, taking his pants. “Where’s my belt?”

“Uh, it’s there with your pants,” Jaxon stammered, digging through the pack.

“If it were, would I ask for it?”

“Well, it isn’t in here,” Jaxon offered.

“Piss.” Kiev stared at the far bank.

“You don’t think it’s at the –” Jaxon stared off at the bank as well.

“That’s more than annoying.” Kiev’s ire floated on the back of his voice.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Inconvenient, but it’ll be fine. Let’s move.”

Jaxon closed the pack and followed Kiev along the wall of the keep. The mage finished up the last adjustments on his brass and iron pauldron and let out another curse of frustration at the loss of his belt.

“Kiev, what are we doing? Let’s just leave, head back to Armand.”

“We can’t. Not while the duke has it in his head I’m a fugitive. I can’t rely on the duke being so bogged down by regal duty that I’ll just be forgotten. I had a life worth living before all this and I want that back, unhindered by the judgments of Dargon.”

“Okay. Then why are we *sneaking* in?” Jaxon asked.

“You think after what happened on the trail I’ll just get face time with the duke? It should be here somewhere,” Kiev muttered.

“What?”

“There is a tunnel that leads into the keep. Some secret escape, sewage tunnels or something.”

“If you know about it, how secret can it be?” Jaxon scoffed.

“Straight,” Kiev sighed. “Here.” He peered over the cliff facing the Valenfaer. “Go hide at the base of the wall and keep an eye out. I’ll scout it out a little and come back for you. Any sign of more trouble than we can handle and I want you to get out.”

“But –”

“Jaxon,” Kiev scolded softly. “If things get carried away they aren’t going to mince about with us. They will kill us. Of all the blood on my hands I don’t want yours too.”

“Okay.” Jaxon nodded, conceding the point.

“But,” Kiev stated sharply, “remember to look out and that I will be right back. Okay? You ditching me is just a contingency, get it?”

“I don’t know,” Jaxon purred, stroking his chin. “You already said I could leave.”

“Nice.” Kiev smiled.

“I’ll be here.” Jaxon sprung off toward the base of the wall. Kiev peered over the side, found a few holds on the slippery rock and started down.

The mouth of the cave entrance was just a few cubits down and even though there was a close call that nearly sent him to the rock and beating surf, he managed to enter the cave.

He got his footing and took a step toward the bowels of the keep when a light emanated from deeper within the tunnel. A few blinks adjusted his eyes to see the glowing rock.

And an angry Vable.

“I can’t say that I am overly surprised,” Kiev admitted. “But I am curious how you knew to start here?”

“Kalen told me this is how you broke in the first time,” Vable said, voice steady. A slow stream of blood flowed from his nose, unchecked to cover his shirt.

“Ah. Creatures of habit, I suppose. So,” Kiev sighed, holding his hands out wide. “What now?”

“Now I take you in,” Vable said.

“Really? Just you? I thought you would have a vast contingent of men. Just like last time.”

“They’re dealing with this Doravin crisis.”

“Right, right. So it’s nothing to do with what happened last time you were given charge of the duke’s resources?” He smiled.

“No,” Vable spit.

“I’m not going to let you arrest me.” Kiev had his maces at the ready. “Know that if you stand against me, I will kill you. And your little magic trick of a detector won’t be able to register any guilt on my conscience for it either.”

“Put your weapons down.” Vable had his batons out, swinging them in a sharp, elegant dance.

“Step aside,” Kiev warned. He recognized what Vable was doing. It was a rune dance similar to his that usually called on an element. Similar, yet different enough that Kiev was unsure what element Vable was calling on.

A small pillar of light erupted between the mages. It danced to and fro until Vable finished the dance, upon which the pillar attacked Kiev.

Recognizing the threat too late, Kiev fell into the brass tune of his pauldron. The tune held right when the white fire clung to his armored arm. The pain was excruciating, the white fire burned brighter and hotter than anything Kiev had ever witnessed. He wound his one mace around, grasping with every ounce of his will to focus on the task and not the burning. He finished and a gust of wind burst through the tunnel, chasing the sentient fire off his arm toward Vable.

The other mage ducked, focus failing on the fire and the lit boulder, wrapping the cave in darkness once more. All light was gone save for the slight moonlight washing in.

And the glowing metallic arm of Kiev.

A hand wrapped around Vable’s neck, lifting him to the wall of the cave and choking the life from him.

“You win. I guess I *don’t* understand you as well as I thought.” Kiev’s voice was filled with pain, wavering to be held together. “This makes the third time I have held your life, literally in my hands. This time you will be given a reminder of my grace and your station, Vable.”

A glowing hand came up to Vable’s face with its finger extended. The finger placed three scorched divots on his forehead. When the finger was done, the hand moved to his chest, fingers splayed out wide. Brass met with shirt and ignited it, burning through to connect with flesh.

Vable tried to fight back, but the pillar of brass was unyielding. Fighting to regain his focus he called out mentally to a rock. The rock shifted, he could feel it. Just when he felt he could get a good mental hold on it, the searing stopped and he was dropped to the cave floor.

“You will always remember me,” Kiev rasped. “Three times I had you, three times I have let you live.”

“Toss off,” he growled. A boulder crashed through the cave and connected with the metal mage, rolling him up in its angry velocity and out the entrance to the sea floor.

An explosion sounded off in the distance. It was hard to tell from where in relation to the keep for the crashing waves and insulation of the stone tunnel.

The shards of Vable’s delicate psyche shattered into the vast oblivion on the rapids of madness. The mage sat there bleeding, losing his identity and sense of reality while the dementia found an easier hold on his mind. The little portion of him that was mildly aware wondered how long he would be in the tunnel before someone realized he was there.

Then that small conscious light was snuffed out by the enveloping madness.

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