The Tower [not GW related] Part 2

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-2-

Training


The dreams were more frequent now, two months later. The coven had been training him in the use of runic and chaotic magics. The day after he had gripped the dagger they had sensed within him a channel for very specific magics, magics that would help immensely to further his quest. No matter how hard he worked, or how late he was home, Stella was always there to greet him with a purr and a rub against his ankles.

"I'm sorry I'm so late girl," he said to the cat. "But they wanted me to learn this spell, then that spell, then the runes that made them work together. And here's your dinner, got a little something from the fishmonger, a trice of silvers. Enjoy it while it lasts."

Stella took the meat from his fingers before dragging it across the floor to part of the wall that always lay in shadow when the lamps were on. Much purring could be heard in the darkness. Tori fixed up his own supper, a fish stew with what vegetables the grocer had late in the day, a simple affair. All his meals were simple things now, his money having gone into the manufacture of his weapons and armour and now training in various magics.

His former life as a game and bounty hunter had generated a modest income, most of which he had stored for this time. He knew that one day he too would have to attempt to break the Tower's curse, just as all young warriors did. None of them had returned, unless they had disgraced themselves by not travelling into the Tower's lands. Tonight he would see all of those lands again.



The ground was covered in ash from magical fires used to keep the woods at bay. Skeletons littered the earth, the bones of those that had come before. Steel gleamed, weapons half hidden by the ash. Rust stained the ground like blood, spreading from truly ancient weapons. It was said that the Maiden was timeless, unable to age because of the Tower's curse.

She was also appearing in his dreams more frequently. He could not see her face; she always turned away. White clothing of thin fabrics and many layers fluttered behind her like angelic wings, helping to obscure her further. Her voice was like the wind, soft, powerful, everywhere and nowhere at once.

One night, in the dream, as he lay dying, her fingers had sadly traced the contour of his cheek. It was by far the most disturbing version of the dream, and it was also the first in which she had featured prominently. A week later he died in the dream again, and then she spoke the first words he had heard her say.

"No. You cannot die here."



As soon as the last word drifted to his ears he had awoken. It was before dawn, but only just. A subtle light washed over everything, spilling in through the windows and small cracks in the walls. Stella was curled up on Tori's chest, purring. There was nothing quite like waking up to a cat's inscrutable gaze inches from your nose.

"Stell-a," he complained. She just looked at him, purring heavily. "Fine, lets get you fed, otherwise you're not going to stop bugging me, are you?"

The cat replied with a meow and jumped off his chest. It was raining lightly outside, an early morning sun shower. The rain didn't last long, but before it had finished Tori was already on his way to the Sacred Grounds, wearing both armour and sword. Breakfast could be had there, if one knew how to trap properly.

This marked the first time he had been allowed to wear his armour during the magic training sessions. The coven had called it an object lesson in magiophysical interaction. Having studied for some time now he knew that that meant how magic and physical items interacted.

"Try casting Break," said one of the warlocks.

Tori obliged, drawing his fist towards his shoulder before throwing his arm out straight, towards the target, palm flat, fingers outstretched. The rippling trail he expected did not appear, and the stone target did not shatter. Instead a small cracked area appeared, roughly where he had been aiming.

"Now try Shatter," the warlock bid him.

Tori concentrated on the stone target, drawing his hand into a fist. With a flourish he opened his hand. Small chips of stone flew from the edges of the target, nothing more.

"The armour makes magic weaker?" He asked.

"Some magics, especially gesture and thought cast magics. Others, such as spoken or ritual are unaffected. Rune magic is a special case."

"How?"

"It depends on when and how a Rune is invoked. Try Barakin now."

With his left hand Tori drew the Rune in mid-air, using a tiny amount of essence to make it visible. With his right hand he pointed towards the target. It collapsed, falling into dust on the light breeze.

"With time you can make your Chaos magics as powerful as the Runes you can cast. You must attune your Essence to your armour."

"And just how does one go about 'attuning' their Essence to anything?"

"Practice. All Warmages must practice for months in their armour before their magic becomes as potent as it was when they cast unarmoured. However, when unarmoured they lose potency, as more Essence flows towards defense, as is the natural state of all things."

"So their casting out of armour is weaker than when in armour?"

"Essentially, yes. When in attuned armour more Essence is free to flow towards offense, as your defense is covered by the armour itself. However, initially all armour forces Essence towards defense, and we don't really know why.

"Some postulate it could be Essence seeing armour as shackles, something seeking to bind it, so it fights to free itself, reducing its power. Others say that the armour itself is absorbing the Essence, becoming one with the mage within."

"So what you're really saying is that no one truly knows why, that's just how it is. Just like everything else there should be some justification for."

"Well," the warlock was slightly uneasy. "Yes, that's about the size of it. Most Mystics have tried to find an answer, but they still gain nothing. It appears that simply studying the arcane enough is enough to make it work. Questioning how it works, now down that road lies only madness."



In the dream the devils around him shimmered and shifted, changing form from black shadow to black shadow. The dream was so real, the ache in his arms so strong. It felt like something or someone was trying to train him for his assault on the Tower. Whether that someone or something wanted to help or hinder him he was unsure. He died often in the dreams, but usually after getting a little further than the last time.

He shifted his weight slightly, goading the devils around him in to attacking. As he had fought in the dreams before, his mind, or perhaps something else, had given names to the nameless horrors that stalked the Tower's lands. Devils, Beasts, Demons, Gargoyles, Shadows, Black Ones, Guardians. Each was unique, each had to be fought a different way. Devils were easy. A flourish of his blade and they were devoured by whatever realm they had come from, disappearing with a ripping noise as they burst into blue flame.

A single Gargoyle swooped down on ragged wings, foot claws extended to strike. Tori threw out his arm, a rippling trails of smoke and sparks crashing into the thing, throwing it aside with a gaping hole where its ribs should have been. It staggered to its feet, wings flapping feebly. The point of Tori's sword drove deeply into its chest, silvery smoke pouring from the wound as the Gargoyle collapsed into a pile of dust.

A Demon surged from the ground behind him, an ethereal weapon clenched in its claws. The blade forged from pure darkness scored a deep line in Tori's pauldron as he turned. A dagger thrust turned the second strike aside as his sword hunted for the Demon's heart. The runes on the blade glowed with baleful light as he rammed it home. The Demon convulsed, in pain, before falling backwards, slowly seeping back into the earth.

He had breached the first line. For the first time in the dreams he was past what he considered the first major collection of enemies. The Shadows were all around him in an instant. Scratching, clawing, ripping, denting and scoring his armour, leaving bright silver streaks where their claws and beaks and wings and tails struck it. Then he did something he had never seen or heard of before. He seemed to be outside his body as he watched the event.

He jumped, as high as he could in the ornate looking armour, drawing his legs up and seeming to punch down towards the ground with his right hand, the motion turning his whole body. He noticed that the action was not a direct attack, instead he saw the essence streaming from his palm. As he landed, the spell hit, seeming to smash the Shadows, and sending chips of stone and ash flying in all directions. A small ripple seemed to race through the ash when he hit the ground, but that could just have a been a trick of the light.

Tori stood, preparing his next attack. Once again he seemed to fly outside his body for the barest fraction of a second. Then he felt a Guardian's blade rammed savagely through his chest, shearing straight through his armour as if it weren't even there. He collapsed, falling backwards, sending a small plume of ash drifting on the breeze.
He could feel the blood, warm, sticky, flowing from the mortal wound. He could sense his vision blacking out. He could hear the soft sigh of the breeze, and on it, a voice.

"No," it said softly, sadly. "You cannot die here."



"But what do they mean?" Tori demanded of the old warlock.

"They could mean anything. It could be a dream, a vision, or even something trying to attack your very soul."

"So helpful you are."

"Have not taught you the power of Chaos, the Runes. Have not inscribed your blades, your armour. We have made your equipment ready. You have made your body ready. We have tried to prepare your mind, but only you can prepare your soul for such a task."

"And have you any news for me?"

"The last warrior who tried to best the Tower now lies rotting in the field beside it."

"Such a ray of sunshine. Do go on."

"We simply say what we know. We do not dress it up as others might. We talk simply, such that others may understand the truth of what exists out there. We also have news of one who could bless your armour."

"I was beginning to think it an impossible task, even for you."

"To be truthful, so were we. We looked at all the combinations, all the patrons, the saints, the deities. In the end, there is only one suitable to bless such a piece of spellwork and craftsmanship. Morrde."

"Morrdean blessings, are you insane?"

"Quite the contrary. If our reading is correct, then you will in fact be charged with Morrde's duty while wearing the armour. You will be a harvester of souls. That assumes, of course, that those guarding the Tower even have souls."

"Still, Morrde… that is very… well, I don't like it."

"Like it or not Salvatore, Morrde is the only patron whose blessing will not damage the runes upon the armour. Black is also his holy colour, which you well know."




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