“I must object to this, your majesty.”
“You have made your feelings quite clear, Sur Tipan.”
“He is a Mage. Not to be trusted. You should execute him before he can do any harm.”
The king looked at his Sur. The man showed no indication of humor or irony. “You are a Mage, Tipan. Should I not execute you as well?”
The Sur’s face paled. “Surely I have proven myself loyal. I do not plot against you as the others have. I even revealed to you information that has helped you against them.”
The king waved his hand in dismissal. “Yes, yes. You serve me well. But this mage was discovered near the castle. I will discover his intent.”
Tipan bowed, obviously eager to maintain his good standing. “As you will, your majesty.” He turned to the soldiers near the entrance of the throne room. “Bring in the prisoner.”
Two Terrgat came through the door, a rather disheveled man between them. He appeared to be in his middle years, but looks were rarely to be trusted when mages were involved. King Cepheus looked at his Sur, and wondered how old he really was.
“Well, Tipan, do you know him?”
Tipan had been studying the mage closely, but shook his head. “I do not, your majesty. Just another mage. To be dealt with like all of the others.”
Cepheus nodded. Every since elevating the man to Sur, he had been loyal. Justified or not, he could not help but feeling suspicious. But that was something to be considered at another time. At this moment, however, he needed to deal with this unknown. “Where did you find him?”
“Your majesty,” the Terrgat on his left bowed, “he was just outside the gate. He was waiting there. Perhaps hoping to ambush…” He cut himself off.
The king nodded. “What is your name, mage.”
As the king addressed him, he looked up, a startled expression on his face. “Me? You are talking to me?”
“Yes.” Cepheus was already bored. “Who else?”
“Ah. Well, those who know me call me Ice.”
“What sort of name is that?”
“The name others have given me.”
His ire rising, Cepheus struggled to keep his voice in check. “What is your real name?”
“Ah. True, true. That is not the name I was given at birth. But it is the only name you will get.”
Tipan took a step forward. “Terrgat, kill this man!”
The king immediately held up his hand. “Sur Tipan! You do not give orders here. Do not forget yourself!”
“But your majesty…!”
“Enough! Why are you so intent on silencing this mage?”
“I am not…”
“If I may, King Cepheus.” The mage Ice had stepped forward. “What the traitor is trying to do is warn you.”
“Warn me? About what?” As he spoke the king watched his Sur slump to the ground. The guards fell, too. Only he and the Terrgat remained upright. “What is this?”
“That is me.” Ice took another step forward. “You will feel the effect soon. I believe your slaughter men already are.” Both Terrgat seemed to be straining to stay upright. One of them turned and ran out of the room. “Whatever you use to protect yourselves from magic will not last long. All life in this castle will soon be snuffed out, fed into the vortex I have created in this room. Do you not feel it?”
Cepheus did. The medallion around his neck acted as anchor, but he was being pulled at from all sides. The magic of the medallion was already having trouble keeping up with the assault. “Tipan was right. I should have killed you.”
“It would not make any difference. The runes are inscribed on the walls of your castle. I am merely the trigger. Alive or dead, your reign ended the moment I was brought inside.”
He felt heavier in his chair.. “You will die, too.”
“I never intended to live. You and your Terrgat have already taken everything. I will be content to watch you die.”
“My family… The servants…” He struggled to find something to reach the mage before he slipped away.
“They should have killed you before I had to. They accepted you as king. They have earned their fate.”
“Children…!” The remaining Terrgat had already fallen.
“What concern have you shown for the children your men have killed? I bring you the harvest you have sown. Goodbye, King Cepheus. May you rot.”
The world went dark.
* * *
As the king slumped down and stopped moving, Ice just stared. It had worked. Yet he needed to be certain. He searched the body, but the only thing unusual was a medallion around the king’s neck. As soon as he touched the disk, the runes on his arms went silent. He pulled the chain off of the king’s neck. Then he searched the Terrgat and pulled off his chain as well.
The runes protected him, but they should be reaching their limit. Still, he felt no effects from the ritual. He had accepted his own death as the price for putting an end to Cepheus, but perhaps he had been spared after all. Placing the medallions in a pouch, he left the throne room and began making his way to the front gate.
As he turned down a hallway, he found a maid on the floor, the linens she had been carrying were strewn about. More of the price he knew had to be paid, though it was difficult to remember that when it lay in front of him. On his way, he found several more scenes like the first. Each one struck him. Each time he reminded himself of the horrors he had sought to prevent.
Every step he took, he expected to feel the pull and succumb to the ritual, but it did not happen. Finally he made it outside the castle. In the courtyard, he saw others collapsed, including animals. A mother sat against a wall holding her young son. He forced himself to keep moving.
Outside the gates, the scene did not get less disturbing. Bushes and trees were dying. The effect was spreading. This was far more than he had expected. He had researched the ritual for months, and spent more than a year preparing it. Nothing suggested it would spread beyond the boundary of the runic circle.
He felt for the magic, and it was not hard to find. It was a tremendous storm centered in the castle and spreading outward. There was no hope of stopping it. He had a better chance of halting the sun. All he could hope to do was get beyond it, assuming it would not envelope the whole world.
Over the next few days, as he moved further south, the blight seemed to slow. It was still moving, he knew, but he got ahead of it. It would eventually stop, though he did not know how long the storm might last, nor how much damage would be done in the end. Damage he had caused. Cepheus was dead. That was the main thing. Few mages remained, but they would be free from the tyranny of the king.
Ice had no idea what to do now. He had not expected to live. Perhaps he could find an apprentice and rebuild. For now, he needed to put even more distance between himself and the horror he had brought about.