Dragon of Twilight

 

Part Three

 

After Summoning: Year 736

 

The hallways in the Black Tower were unusually crowded for that early in the afternoon. Krylancelo moved around students and teachers alike, impatient to reach his destination. He wasn't late yet, and he didn't plan to be.

Not when Azalie's waiting for this! His fingers tightened around the scroll he was carrying back to the older woman. I'll be as quick as I have to be.

Most of the boys in his year had long since given up on running errands for older Tower graduates. Finals would be the following month, after all, and then they'd be earning levels along with the rest of the full sorcerers. But Krylancelo's relationship with Azalie went beyond respect - it was about bonds between them, built up over time until he was certain he'd at least earned a place in her heart.

Even if it wasn't the exact place he'd coveted.

"Back already?" Azalie set down the scroll she'd been studying as he came back into her room. The fond smile she gave him as she rose from her seat to take the new scroll was more than thanks enough. "That was fast."

Krylancelo grinned. Praise from Azalie - this was a prize worth gloating over. She fed him only enough so that he could feel its value when he received it. "Why are you studying crystals again?" he asked, looking for an excuse to linger before he had to leave her to her studies. "Didn't you say that there was nothing else we could do to figure out the power of the blood crystals?"

Azalie looked up from the scroll she'd just unrolled. "This has nothing to do with blood crystals, Krylancelo," she explained. "I'm looking into the properties of the black crystals. I want to see if there could be more of a use for the lining of that room on the top floor."

He nodded, understanding. Black crystal could channel or enhance the use to black sorcery - and the room on the top floor of the Tower was a circular chamber with walls lined entirely with that smooth, unblemished material. With that much crystal… "You think we could find a way to reverse the effects on the Great Dragon, don't you?" It was an awe-inspiring prospect; sorcerers of all kinds had been trying to find a way to achieve that end for centuries.

In Krylancelo's mind, if anyone could do that, Azalie could.

"You'll be the second person to hear about it if I do," she promised.

He nodded again. Childman will be first. Strangely enough, he'd never really been jealous. But he'd made sure there wasn't a journeyman or novice who would dare to suggest that Azalie's relationship with their teacher had increased her advancements - not while he was present. Even if she were involved with Childman, Azalie had earned her rank.

"Do you need anything else?" he asked, to be sure.

"Not right now." She gave him another smile. "You should be enjoying your afternoon off, Krylancelo. Let me do the studying."

"All right." He was reluctant to leave, but it was worse to disturb her. Without another word - Azalie didn't care for goodbyes - he turned and left the room.

If there is a way… He smiled to himself. Azalie will be the one to find it.

It rarely took a long time to track down the two he considered his closest friends. Krylancelo smirked a little, pushing open the library doors both at once. A few students glanced up, recognized the cocky 17-year-old, and went back to their studying. The dark-haired boy wandered around a couple of shelves, smirk widening as he recognized two hushed voices coming from the corner at the back.

Maybe they'd be harder to find if they actually spent time somewhere else for a change.

He slid between two bookshelves that had been arranged in a triangle with the wall. The way they were placed effectively kept that corner of the library from anyone's immediately view - which was convenient if you didn't want anyone eavesdropping on you. Two boys occupied what they considered to be "their" hiding spot, one with his head resting comfortably in the other's lap. The boy sitting upright was studying what looked like one of the advanced textbooks, pausing every now and then to uselessly try and brush aside the huge hank of bangs that obscured almost half of his face. The boy in his lap, on the other hand, was reading a comic book.

"Thought I'd find you guys here." Krylancelo eased himself down with his back to the opening in the bookshelves.

The seated boy didn't look up from his book, but his mouth quirked up in a smile. "Where else would you find us?"

"If either of you had any shame, in the bedroom with the door bolted shut."

"Why? So you won't come in and bother us while we're reading?" The second boy set the comic down across his chest, still open, with the cover facing up. "I thought you were getting something for Azalie."

"I already did that." Krylancelo snorted. "And if reading is all you're doing, then the two of you need to quit wasting time, Hartia."

"Don't answer that." The first boy finally put his book down, setting a calming hand on Hartia's shoulder as the redhead flushed. "I don't think we need to tell you what we do in our spare time," he said, glancing up at Krylancelo.

The dark-haired boy shrugged. Rai tended to have an almost inhuman calm about him - a stark contrast to Hartia's excitable nature. Sometimes he wondered if it might have something to do with the Seeing art. There was no way to tell for sure, considering that Rai was the first pure Seer to study at the Tower for almost fifty years - but the fact of his power was enough to explain why he was almost constantly concerned about his schoolwork. The weight of the expectations piled on the teenager's shoulders was staggering even to contemplate.

"I'm only suggesting," Krylancelo reminded them. "Don't listen if you don't like it."

Hartia appeared mollified. "Here," he said, picking up another comic from a short stack beside him. "I finished the latest volume. Want to look?"

The shorter boy reached out for the offered item, but never got a chance to take it. From somewhere deeper in the Tower, there was the sound of a vicious explosion, and the ground heaved. All three boys pitched forward, sprawling out on the floor in a surprised heap as the sound of books falling and people crying out reached their ears.

Then it was still.

Hartia was the first to sit up. "Wh-What just happened?"

"I think… someone must have used a powerful attack spell." Even Rai seemed shaken up; his face was a bit pale. "It came from the dungeons… where the dangerous artifacts are kept!"

"Let's find out then." That was more or less inevitable. Krylancelo hauled himself to his feet and shoved his way back through the bookshelves again.

"Hey, wait! Krylancelo!"

Ignoring Hartia - he could catch up later - the teenager threaded his way through the disoriented students and the heaps of books that had fallen from their shelves. Out in the hallway again, he had to push through the crowd that had gathered, making his way inch by hard-earned inch toward the stairs. Pausing to catch a breath, he could hear the confused babble around him: nobody knew yet what had happened.

"White sorcery!" A young man was pushing his way up the staircase, face flushed and eyes wild. "The Tower was attacked! And they stole the blood crystal!"

Krylancelo reeled back, barely hearing the outrage being voiced around him at the news. The blood crystal… that was Azalie's find!

"One of the teachers…" The speaker faltered, then tried again, struggling to make his breaking voice heard over the babble. "One of the teachers was killed!"

Killed! He couldn't believe it. The teachers were some of the most powerful…

"Killed!" Hartia unconsciously echoed his friend's thought, finally making his way through the crowd to catch up. "Who? How? What happened?"

But the talkative young sorcerer had already been engulfed by the flow of curious bystanders, and there was no way to tell if he even had the answer to any of those.

"It's going to take forever to get through there," Hartia noted, tensing up as he studied the thick wall of people barring their way.

Krylancelo frowned thoughtfully. "Well… maybe we don't have to." He turned to look at the quiet boy standing beside them. "Rai, do you think you could find out? I know you have a crystal on you somewhere."

"Krylancelo!" Harti protested. "He can't use his talent for personal matters unless it's an emergency!"

The shorter boy scowled. "Well, this is an emergency situation, and I want to know which one of our teachers just died! Don't you?"

The redhead glanced at Rai, uncertain.

"I can do it," the Seer assured him. "It won't take much, and no one should be able to tell in the middle of this excitement." He pulled a small, rounded black crystal out from somewhere in his robes.

Seeing was one of the talents that required crystal, and not for power enhancement. It had been discovered centuries ago that true Seers who attempted the act without such a focus ran a serious risk of pulling more images than they could handle - and into their own minds. Many of Rai's predecessors had gone quite mad from it.

But at the present time, the boy himself was not at risk. He stood with both hands braced on the small black stone, an aura of power seeming to surround him as he re-focussed his entranced stare. The crystal glinted slightly, as if something moved within it.

Then he abruptly rocked back. "Ah!" Rai blinked, like he was trying to wake himself up from a particularly strong daydream. His expression was dazed.

Hartia was at his side in a heartbeat to offer his shoulder. "Are you all right?"

Rai didn't seem to hear him, though he leaned against the redhead. "I saw," he breathed out, still looking like he'd just come up from a massive shock. The other two leaned closer, anxiously awaiting the news. "Childman…"

Hartia gasped, face blanching as he absorbed that. "No!"

Krylancelo's thoughts ran in a different direction. He'd been close to the older man, too… but neither he nor Hartia had been nearly as close as… "Azalie!" he cried in concern, and shoved back into the crowd.

Behind him, Hartia was calling his name, but in the midst of his concern, he barely heard it.

~~~~~~

"I'm fine." The words escaped Azalie through gritted teeth. She was hunched over one of her scrolls again, as she had been for the entire three days since her lover's death. The bags under her eyes suggested nights of work as well. "Why does everyone keep asking?"

Krylancelo winced a little, more at his idol's haggard appearance than from her scathing glare. She might as well have been a statue of painted marble during the funeral that morning, but now that they were alone, her emotions were openly displayed. And fury was clearly the most prominent.

"I could help," he offered boldly.

Her eyes flashed. "I don't need help!" But she pressed her lips together tightly after that outburst, and struggled to keep her following words controlled and reasonable. "I will send for you if I need your help. For now, I only want to be left alone. Can you understand that, Krylancelo?"

He didn't… but he wasn't the one who had just lost a lover, so he nodded anyway. Whatever Azalie was planning - and she was clearly planning something - he knew it centered around the stolen blood crystal. That had been the "prize" which the white sorcerer had won by killing Childman, and Azalie was clearly determined to deny them the right to it.

Among other things.

Krylancelo left the room with one last, worried glance at the young woman who was sitting on her stool, absorbed in the scroll and dead to the world.

~~~~~~

"I don't blame her, really." Hartia's face still seemed to hold traces of shock, even then. The loss of his beloved teacher had not been easy for him to swallow. "I heard people do that when they lose someone important - try to keep busy like that."

Krylancelo frowned. "If Rai were killed, would you lock yourself up in your room and become obsessed with spells and revenge?"

Hartia flushed. "I don't know," he said awkwardly. "I'm not like Azalie… I'd try to do something, but I'm not the vengeful type. I just… I don't know. It'd be hard."

That wasn't much of an answer. Krylancelo made an annoyed sound and walked faster, forcing his friend to keep up with him. "Why do you think they want the blood crystal, anyway?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Maybe they want to study it," Hartia suggested.

"Enough so that they'd kill to get their hands on it?" That was a little far-fetched.

Hartia shrugged. "You'd be surprised," he remarked. "If you don't think that's plausible, maybe they thought we'd found a way to summon the Dragon of Light, and so they had to prevent it somehow."

"Or maybe they found a way to summon the Dragon of Dark," Krylancelo pointed out, darkly. "They killed Childman to get it; that doesn't seem like a defensive tactic to me."

"They could've just been desperate," Hartia argued.

"Excuse me?" The adolescent tones of a novice's voice interrupted before the discussion could continue. A short, pale-skinned boy stood almost right in front of them, blocking their path. "Are you Krylancelo?" he asked, somewhat nervously.

"Yeah." The dark-haired teenager frowned. "What do you want?"

"I have a message for you," the boy said, and held up a folded piece of paper he'd had clutched in his hand. "A girl told me to give it to you."

"A girl?" Krylancelo snatched the note up eagerly. Only one girl would be sending him messages. "Thanks," he told the novice, then pushed past him with Hartia almost jogging to keep up.

'I think I've come up with something interesting,' the note read. 'Meet me in the crystal-lined room at the top of the Tower after lights-out. Azalie.'

"What do you think she's come up with?" Hartia asked, reading over his shoulder.

"I don't know." Krylancelo stuffed the note into a pocket on his robe. "But at least she's letting me help."

And maybe I can do something to prove I'm worthy of helping.

~~~~~~

Krylancelo had left his shoes behind before leaving his room and hurrying up the six flights of stairs that would lead to the topmost floor in the Tower. He also chose to move in the darkness, without a mage light to aid him when he passed by the various levels. The reason for this wasn't secrecy - at least a dozen people had to have passed him on his way up - but rather the strict rules dictating courtesy. If he disturbed anyone by making too much noise or shining a lot of light around, he'd be sent back to his room by the next teacher who caught him and not allowed back out.

And with a meeting between himself and Azalie at stake, he wasn't about to risk that.

The top floor of the Tower was deserted - which wasn't surprising. Visitors found the useless old relics and carvings up there interesting, but it was rare that any of the sorcerers ever bothered to take a look around. As far as magic was concerned, most of what was up there was pure junk.

Except for the black crystal room, of course.

Krylancelo wandered down the hallway. Unlike on most floors, there were no lights of any kind, but huge windows let the moonlight in to guide him. He caught a glimpse of the pale sliver that remained of it that night as he made his way toward the circular room that was his destination.

You would think that a spell like the one Azalie probably has in mind would be best used during a full moon…

The dark-haired sorcerer shook his head at his own foolishness. What did the moon matter where magic was concerned? That was a stupid notion.

There was a strangely potent feel to the air, though. Krylancelo frowned. Had Azalie started without him? It didn't feel like a spell… more like some kind of residual energy. But it made him edgy for some reason.

I wonder what she came up with, he thought, to distract himself. It has to be something that has a good chance of succeeding. And she wanted my help… so it's something she can't do on her own.

It was far too much. Krylancelo shivered. The closer he got to the crystal-lined room, the stronger the feeling got. Really, it was like someone had just finished releasing an inconceivable amount of… power…

He froze, breath catching in his throat. No… she wouldn't…

"Azalie?" He was moving again, jogging around another curve in the stone hallway, gradually slanting upward. There was no reply to his inquiring call.

She would!

"Azalie!" He was running at full speed now, not caring who he disturbed with his cries. This was wrong… there was that horrible feeling… Why wasn't she answering? "Azalie!"

At the end of the hallway, a doorway opened into the last small set of stairs - the ones leading up into the center of the black crystal room. Krylancelo took them without slowing his pace, and emerged into a nightmare scene.

It was Azalie's face… Azalie's eyes, and smile. Her familiar robe flowed around her as she moved, almost floating. The look on that face was not that of a normal human; the smile she gave him was the serene expression of one who had accepted the madness in her eyes as payment for her glimpse of heaven.

And she was behind the crystal. Not as a reflection or an image.

Inside it. Trapped.

Krylancelo sank to his knees. Beside him, unnoticed, was the dull red circle of the Tower's stolen blood crystal - but that was hardly something he cared to be concerned about. The sight in front of him was agonizing. He clutched at his chest, unable to stand the pain - and screamed.

"AZALIE!"

~~~~~~

"They found the white sorcerer." The voice sounded far away. "She was an Elder from the White Tower. Her body was ripped to pieces."

"God!" Even the shock and revulsion in that tone couldn't pierce through the haze to generate a response. "I suppose the White Tower is denying any involvement in her actions."

"That doesn't necessarily make them guilty."

"No, but I'd really like to know for sure, wouldn't you?"

Krylancelo was lying on a flat surface - a bed, or the floor; he couldn't really tell. They kept talking around him as if they didn't know he could hear them. Not that what they were saying mattered. He couldn't care at all.

"What about Azalie?"

"She did it herself." Rai's calm, steady voice was barely enough to get through. "It's an exchange; in order for her spirit to have the strength to take back the blood crystal, her body - and soul - had to become part of the crystal."

"Then…" That was one of the teachers in the room. Everyone seemed hesitant and uncertain about the whole business. "We can't get her out? There's no way?"

"You could dismantle that part of the Tower completely, and it still wouldn't do any good."

"But we can't just leave her there!"

The talk seemed so abstract. Krylancelo stared dully at the ceiling. They'd had to wrestle him down and heavily drug him, but now he was calm. What was happening around him hardly seemed to register, so he allowed his body to lie still, and half-listened to the discussion. He didn't even know what it was about any more; the words made sense, but he couldn't quite take them in.

"There's nothing we can do." There was a new note to Rai's voice - a softer note. Hopelessness. "A spell that could reverse the effect doesn't exist; we don't have any power to save her."

Krylancelo stopped struggling to listen. What was the point? He returned his attention to the grey stone above him, letting indifference flood over his mind until the blank state of consciousness gave way to sleep.

~~~~~~

"They say she's insane, you know." Hartia ventured this information hesitantly, standing in the doorway of his friend's room as if he weren't sure he'd be welcome. "She can't really feel anything."

"How would they know?" Krylancelo's tone was biting; he topped the question off with a bitter laugh. "I don't see any of them stepping into the crystal to find out."

"Well, there's not a whole lot they can do!" the redhead shot back, frustrated. "What do you want them to try? They could get sucked in themselves, and what good would that do Azalie?"

Krylancelo turned away from the window, just slightly. "There is one thing we could do."

"What?"

"We have one blood crystal already." The idea was a crazy one, but he was willing to try anything for Azalie's sake. "All we have to do is gather the rest. They say the Great Dragon could do just about anything, after all."

Hartia was staring at him in horror. "Y-You can't be serious!"

"It's for Azalie!" Krylancelo whirled on his friend, fresh anger replacing the cold fury that he'd been nursing since the night of Azalie's spell. "Are you going to be like the rest of them and tell me to sit back and do nothing!?"

The redhead retreated a step, eyes widening slightly. "But… we can't summon it without eliminating black sorcery!"

"I'll find a way," the dark-haired boy said hotly. "For Azalie, I will."

"The Tower's never going to agree!" Hartia went on, almost desperately. "The Elders would never let you summon the Dragon. Anyway, Rai says that as long as Azalie's in the crystal, a white sorcerer won't ever be able to attack the Tower. Maybe it's - "

"Don't you dare say it's a good thing!" Krylancelo fixed his finger with such a furious glare that Hartia shut his mouth, not finishing his sentence. "I don't care what the Elders think, or what Rai says! I'm going to find the blood crystals, and then I'm bringing Azalie back out of that crystal!"

Hartia sighed. "I can't talk you out of it?"

"You might as well save your breath. You'll need it if you plan to keep me from leaving."

For a moment, the redhead was silent. Then when he spoke again, it was with a certain amount of determination. "I'll help."

"Help?" Krylancelo looked to him for an explanation.

"You'll need a safe place to keep the crystals when you find them, right?" Hartia offered a lopsided smile. "If Rai's right and the white sorcerers can't attack the Tower any more, this is the safest place for them."

Krylancelo studied his friend for a moment. Hartia had never been good at lying; his face was too open to let him get away with the untruth. And there was nothing but sincerity in his expression now. "All right, fine."

"Rai could try and find the location of the crystals," the redhead continued. "You wouldn't have to spend all that time searching. He could just tell you where to go. It'd be easier that way, Krylancelo."

"Don't call me that."

Hartia blinked, taken aback. "What?"

"I was an orphan when I came to this place." The dark-haired boy frowned. "Azalie was the closest thing I had to family. But I've got nothing now."

"Krylance - "

"From now on," he said, talking right over Hartia's protest, "I'm not going to use the name they gave me. From now on" - He fixed the taller boy with a determined stare - "I want to be called 'Orphen'."

 

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