Keruin picked her way through the rough tufts of grass, long black hair tied up and out of her face in a neat bun. She wore a simple cloth blouse and trousers in plain fabric. Easier than robes. In the distance, she could see the glade she’d been directed to. The sun was beginning to set in the distance, casting the tranquil Heartland surroundings in a dull pink light. A brook babbled in the distance, and birdsong drifted down to her on a gentle breeze. Quite beautiful, she thought. Casting an eye over her shoulder, her Black Tower dominated the landscape, its dark stone edges softened by the evening light that played off it.
As she approached the clearing, there was a flash of blue light, and three figures stood there with her. Telara had a grim expression on her face, obscured somewhat by the charms suspended from her wide brimmed hat. She leaned on her staff, the crystal orb in its head pulsing gently with a soft white light. Her usually sharp demeanor had given way to something more somber. The copse of elms that edged the clearing fluttered in the wind.
Animus looked much as he always did. Elaborate blue robes festooned with gilding, gems, and intricate embroidering. His smooth steel face revealed nothing. No view into his machine will. No glimpse into what arcane logic drove the Abjurer.
Eidolon…was Eidolon. Today, they were a large black knight, ten feet tall and towering over their associates. Keruin hadn’t seen that one before.
The four wizards stood silently for a long moment, observing the scene before them. A few minutes passed with no sound but that of the crickets chirping in the distant fields. The summer air was warm.
The silence was broken by a crack of blue lightning from Animus’ outstretched hand, and one of the nearby elms creaked as it fell. There was movement in the underbrush as a squirrel darted from the impact. The arch-magus stood stock still, watching the destruction he had wrought.
“There’s no need for that,” said Telara quietly. Animus turned.
“Gods be damned. Haven’t I enough to deal to do with, without contending with the blasted chirans?” he said. A quiver ran through his monotone voice as he spoke.
“Perhaps, if you might tell us what is going on—” said Telara, cut off.
“What is going on?” the Abjurer said, crossing to the pit in the ground, “what is going on is that damn oselan—”
“It is not her fault and you—”
“Has doomed us t—”
“No!” burst Telara, her face red. She paused, a grimace upon her countenance as she composed herself. “She did not do this. She did her best. We let her down when she needed us.” She punctuated each statement with a stab of a slender finger.
Animus stared the Diviner down, his smooth face expressionless.
“Why doesn’t everyone just calm down a little,” said Keruin. “It’s a difficult situation. Tensions are high.”
Animus held Telara in his gaze. The Diviner reciprocated. “You would not think it such a luxury to know what I know,” Animus said.
“Why don’t you tell us and we can decide for ourselves?” said Telara with a withering look.
Animus shook his head. “It is my burden to bear.”
“Oh spare me the tragedy, Animus, get over yourself.”
Eidolon spoke at last, a great booming voice of a jolly cavalier, “Brave comrades! Let us dispense with such foolish arguments and turn to the quandary at—”
“Will you cut that out, we are not apprentices to be intimidated,” Telara said with a wild gesticulation. Eidolon silenced, and the knight gave way to a reflection of the Diviner. The Illusionist raised both eyebrows as if expecting a response.
Telara turned back to the abjurer. “You listen to me, tinhead, the Eight are supposed to be a council of equals, not some damned cult to ‘Animus the Mighty’. What did you see when you looked at Stoneward today? Hmm? If you had a damned shred of compassion in those circuits you’d have seen a girl that was frightened. Scared. Scared of what she was having to deal with alone. A girl that’d been let down and abandoned by the people she trusted to help her.” Telara shook her head. “And you march down there and you guilt her into thinking she had failed for not being able to stand up to a god!” There was venom in her voice.
“She did fail.”
“No! We failed. Us! Us. Not her. She was right. She should not have been left to deal with that on her own. No one could have.” Telara’s eyes were wide.
“She could have.”
Telara shook her head, then pinched her brow between finger and thumb before speaking. “Your expectations are too high. We are not infallible like you. We make mistakes. You cannot hold us to your standard. She’s barely more than a child.”
“She has reached adulthood. Her aptitude is—”
“Could we get back to the issue at hand please—” Keruin began, stopping short at a wild look from the Diviner. The charms on her hat jingled as her head whipped round.
“Not until he apologizes. First to me, then to Stoneward.”
“Apologies are predicated on wrongdoing. I have committed no such—”
Animus stopped as Telara let out a wordless bellow. The Diviner spun round to face away from Animus, falling to her knees for a moment before standing upright once again and stalking towards him. “You have. You have! Not a logical one, no, perhaps you don’t understand, but an emotional wrongdoing. That young magician trusted us and we betrayed that trust. You betrayed that trust, and now we may very well lose her! Perhaps you cannot compute such a thing but let me assure you that you have made a grave mistake.” Telara punctuated the last word with a forceful jab to the center of the aetherforged’s shapeless face. It gave a muted ring. He stared her down and said nothing.
Eidolon’s Telara spoke. “If we’re quite finished, perhaps we should turn our attentions to the situation we find ourselves in.”
Telara and Animus kept each other in a fixed gaze, neither speaking.
“Well, we were too late, evidently,” said Keruin, gesturing to the empty pit in the center of the clearing, “my suggestion now would be to attempt to find the Eye before He can.”
“Do you really wish to know what I know, Diviner?” whispered Animus. He stood straight-backed, but seemingly calm. Telara’s face was flustered, her hat lopsided, and she was breathing deeply.
She narrowed her eyes. “Please,” she spat.
Animus breathed deeply, or at least pretended to, and did not speak for a few moments. The three other wizards watched.
“The Spire is dying,” he said slowly.
Telara held her gaze.
“The Spire. Is dying,” he said, now with more volume, his flat voice dripping with something Keruin felt was like rage. “The Spire is dying and I am plagued by visions of it. Every time I sleep, every time I pause to think, every time I relent in my search for answers. I cannot stop it. I do not know what must be done, only that one day I will kneel before it, powerless, a ruined tower and a dark shadow over the world and a damned oselan at the center of it all!” His speech was picking up speed and intensity. “The Horsemen would not tell me. No divination or oracle, no tome, no Constant, no Lord of Change will give me the answers that I seek!” He paused a beat. “I do not know when, or how, or why, only where. And who. So forgive me, Telara,” he said, stepping forward until his smooth metal face was inches from hers, “if I have more pressing concerns than a magician’s feelings.”
Telara took a step back. She stared at the Abjurer, shaking her head, an expression of raw fury upon her face, then turned and walked away. She drew a circle in the air with her staff, creating a window of magic, a glimpse into the bustle of Meriden’s streets, and stepped through.
The three remaining wizards looked at one another, and at the empty pit before them, silent.