“If you don’t catch him, the Grand Inquisitor will have your head on a spike before sunrise,” Ryder said, the corners of his mouth curling into a wicked smile. “It really is too bad we lost track of him.”
Emery ignored the half-wit, his comments were no more help than his tracking skills had proven to be. As the Grand Inquisitors lapdog, Emery knew Ryder would do anything he could to see Emery fail. If Emery had to put a number on his least favorite people in the world, Ryder would be a close second, right behind Grand Inquisitor Hellier, for it was hard to hate anyone more than the man who killed one’s parents.
Emery looked back out into the gloomy forest, scouring the ground for any trace of the Intrinsic. The trees peered up out of the swampy water, like the weathered remnants of a grounded ship. Emery was glad to be on solid ground again after trudging through the swamp for the last hour. He knelt down and tried to stay as low as he could to the ground. The only sound he could hear was the occasional call of a bird somewhere off in the distance.
Crack. Emery heard the distinct sound of a twig snap. He looked back at Ryder but saw he was standing in a patch of snow. Emery stopped and peered over a fallen tree. As his head slowly peered over the branch he heard a loud crack, like a thunderclap, and saw a terrible flash of swirling light shoot through the mist. It passed inches from his head. Instinct kicked in, and in an instant Emery was belly down on the snow. He looked over at Ryder and grinned, “I think I found him.”
Quickly Emery slipped the wand from his waistband and got to his knees. He waited for a moment, then looked at Ryder.
“Move to that tree,” He said.
“What?” Ryder asked, his eyes growing wide.
“I said, move to that tree, I’ll cover you.”
“He’ll kill me.”
“I’m a better shot that you, I’ll get him first, now move.”
Ryder closed his eyes, took a breath, then sprinted across the gap, leaping toward the closest tree. Nothing. It was quiet. Emery slowly peered over the branch again. This time there was no bolt of light or anything at all.
“Do you see anything?” He said to Ryder.
Ryder shook his head frantically.
“Alright, Follow me, I don’t want you mucking it up again,” He said.
Emery got to his feet and made his way around the fallen debris and headed toward where the assailant had shot from. The air smelt as if something had been burnt. This was dangerous untrained magic.
He knelt down. All around him were footprints crushed into the fresh snow. Emery pointed to a patch of disturbed snow, now muddied from foot falls. Around it, small crimson droplets of blood stained the crisp white snow. “It looks like you at least managed to wound him,” Emery said, “He took off in a hurry it looks like.” He said to himself, then turned to Ryder, “This time let me take care of him, otherwise we might be out here for another six hours.”
Emery stood and ran his hands back up over his blonde hair, pulling it from his eyes. Even in the cold he was sweating, they had been running through the Skaggs, a jumbled mess of swamps pockmarked by little islands of dying forests, for the past three hours. They had been shot at, and almost hit three times now. His back ached, and his hands and feet were so cold they had stopped hurting over an hour again. He flexed his hand, trying to get some of the feeling back. No luck. He quickly fumbled with the high collar of his black duster, clasping the last of the buttons shut, then pulled the hood of his cloak up to try and shield himself from the cold, then, took a deep breath.
“Let’s go.” He said, and broke into a light sprint, tracing the path of the blood along the ground. He could hear Inquisitor Ryder quickly falling behind. Emery nimbly lept over trees that had fallen during the harsh winter storm the night before, while Ryder was crawling over and squeezing his way under every other branch that happened to block the fat oafs path.
After about five minutes of running Emery heard Ryder call after him. “Wait up!” he shouted from behind, his chest heaving. Emery stopped and knelt down in the snow. “What’s going on?” Ryder asked as he came up behind Emery.
Emery pulled Ryder off his feet and pinned him to the ground. He looked down at the fat man’s beet red face and raised one finger to his lips. With one hand on Ryder’s chest, Emery peered up from behind one of the fallen tree branches and saw their prize. Not fifty feet away, Emery saw him. Dressed in furs, leaning against one of the darkened smoke pines of Rad’Rill, sat a man. His charcoal cloak matched the hue of pines and nearly concealed the man from Emery’s hawk-like gaze.
“There’s our man,” Emery said, looking back down at Ryder. “Wait here in case he circles back.”
Ryder scowled at Emery but nodded. Emery slapped Ryder’s cheek then slid his hand off the man’s chest and made his way around the fallen tree. Keeping the man’s back toward him as he did so, Emery drew closer. From his position, he could see that the Intrinsic had tied some sort of bandage around his leg, and it had bled through. A dark pool of blood now sat under the man. Emery leveled his wand at the man and advanced. He slowly made his way toward him, until he was not more than an arms length away from the rogue mage.
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” Emery said. The man didn’t move. Emery narrowed his eyes, “By order of his August Imperial Highness, Emperor Kanus, you are hereby found guilty of sorcery and conspiracy to unlawfully use magic for personal gain.”
The man didn’t move. Emery edged closer. His heart pounding in his ears. He kicked the man with his boot. He was frozen solid. From the feel of him, he had been here for more than a day at least, maybe two or even three. Emery looked down and saw a pair of tracks around the dead man. Small drops of blood trailed away from the body. He was not alone. He looked up, following the tracks out of the clearing, and at the edge of the ring of trees, he saw him. The man was standing with his arms outstretched at Emery. Without warning another blast of sizzling light shot forth from the mans hands, Emery cried out in pain. His left arm convulsed, and began to contract uncontrollably. His first formed into a ball and became completely useless. His mind raced, and Emery focused inward, numbing the pain. Before the other man had a chance to cast a second bolt, Emery leaped sideways bringing his own wand to bare on the Intrinsic. Sizzle, pop. Emery watched in a strange delight as a bright, almost translucent orb of pure energy flew at the man. It detonated a foot from his chest and sent him flying back five feet, only stopping as he crashed into a tree.
Emery landed in the snow and slid a few feet before coming to a stop. His arm was slowly relaxing, and he could feel his fingertips again. He was lucky the man was a bad shot, but even more lucky he was a novice in the art of elementalism. He got to his feet, brushing the snow from his duster, and tucked his wand into the belt.
“It’s safe now Ryder.” Emery said, rolling his eyes.
The fat man, peered up from behind the tree, then slowly made his way around the branches.
Ryder tisked Emery, “Looks like he hit you there pal.” He said.
“Yes, I should have let you handle it.” Emery said, in a reassuring voice, “That way I could have watched as you forgot to dodge out of the way and instead were struck in the chest. That would have indeed been a funny story to tell the Grand Inquisitor, or maybe you can tell him how you heroically hid behind those branches while Inquisitor Emery fought off the deadly mage.”
Ryder narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. Emery walked over to the man and knelt down beside him. “Well, he’s still breathing.” Emery said, “Get some rope and the horses, I’m sure Hellier will want to have a chat with him.”
The ride back to camp took only about two hours, even through the muck of the swamp. It was not easy going, but with Emery leading the way out of the swamp, they managed cut the journey in half, avoiding the false trails and clues that Ryder had been too dim to understand. Upon arriving in Skagos , Emery left it to Ryder to take the Intrinsic to Hellier, he needed a drink. A quaint little establishment called the Hearthfire Inn caught his eye, and he made his way in through the double doors. Inside it was almost as muddy as the streets outside. Aside from a drunk passed out near the hearth, the place was deserted. Just how Emery liked it. He had just taken a seat at the bar, when he heard the doors open, and looked over to see Ryder. He had that stupid smug smile on his face again as he made his way toward Emery.
“He wants to see you in his tent.” Ryder said, glaring down at Emery.
Emery didn’t look up, but rather took a long pull from his stein, then slammed it down on the counter.
“What now?” He asked, sighing heavily, “I got his damned Intrinsic, what else does he want?”
“I don’t know.” Ryder said sardonically, “Maybe you should go talk to him.”
“That’s a great idea.” Emery said, grinning. He got up and made his way toward the door of the tavern and threw three silver marks on the bar as he left. “Thanks for the drink.” He said, and pushed open the door.
Emery held up his hand to block the blazing sunlight. He had not been ready for the onslaught. It had been a dismal grey ever since they arrived in Rad’Rill weeks ago, and this was the first sunlight he had seen. The sun had once again chosen to show itself at the most inopportune time. While the small town was almost free of snow, thanks to all of the foot traffic trampling it into the ground, the remaining snow was now piled against the sides of the road. Thanks to the run off of water, the streets of Skagos had turned into a pigs dream, mud everywhere.
In his brief time in Rad’Rill Emery had collected more mud than he had ever thought possible. It was stuck on his boots, his trousers, his cloak, his cassock, his duster, even his wand had mud crusted to it.
Emery squinted his eyes, and blindly stepped into the street. He felt the ground give way and looked down to see he had stepped into a mixture of mud and horse manure. “Perfect.” He said, sighing, and tried to kick it off his boots. By the time he reached Hellier’s tent, he was brown from the calfs down, splatters of mud and other unpleasantries running up the back of his duster. Outside a young boy stood waiting patiently. On his right arm Emery saw the black tattoo inked into the boys’ skin, and rubbed at his own arm. A Neophyte, Emery knew, and a spark of anger flared inside him. The boy was dressed in white tattered rags and was shivering in the cold holding a dirty rag. By comparison the rag looked cleaner than what the Neophyte wore.
“Clean your boots m’lord?” The boy asked, “Grand Inquisitor doesn’t want mud on his carpets see?”
If he didn’t want mud on his precious rugs he should not have come to this hell hole then. Emery thought, but obliged the boy, and set his boot on a wooden post so he could wipe them down. After he had cleaned both boots as best as he could, the neophyte waved Emery inside the grandiose tent. It was made from a thick canvas dyed the color of Inquisition crimson. Plush pillows and chairs were set up all around the tent, and tapestries with images of men being beaten, torched, and burned, decorated the walls. Lovely, Emery thought to himself.
“I like what you’ve done with the place.” Emery said, trying to mask his contempt.
“Oh? It’s quite lovely isn’t it?” Hellier said as he rounded his desk and took a seat in an ornate leather chair, its back reaching a full two feet higher than Hellier’s head. Emery uneasily approached the desk and took what he assumed to be his place next to an older man wearing brown leather armor.
A silver breastplate covered his chest, and a steel handled longsword sat snug in its sheath around his waist. On the table in front of the man was a map, and a helmet with a blue crest running perpendicular along the length of the helm. It was different than the others he had seen. Emery recognized the design as that of an officer in the Imperial Legions.
“Inquisitor Chevallier.” Hellier said, “This is Captain Delorme.”
Delorme turned to face Emery, and snapped to attention then saluted, his fist quickly snapping to his chest. “Inquisitor.” He said sternly.
Emery nodded then turned back to Hellier. “You wished to speak with me Grand Inquisitor?”
“Yes.” He paused, looking toward Captain Delorme. “I have an assignment for you Emery.”
“Of course Inquisitor, what would you have of me?” Emery said.
“The man you brought to me was quite helpful. Once he started talking, well he just couldn’t stop.” Hellier smiled, his beady eyes focusing on Emery. “That was some fine work you did on him Chevallier, but it takes more than just spells to break a man.” He said, “I had to do a little, shall we say, persuading, but once I got under his skin, he quickly told me where his friends were hiding. He said on the outskirts of the Skaggs there is a small mine, some place called Deeprun Mine. It’s surrounded a small mining village, Basmore I think. It’s filled with worthless peasants and the like.” Hellier said, waving his arms in the air. “Before we send the whole company north, I want you to investigate it for me. You will be taking Captain Delorme, and a small squad of men to see if the Intrinsic is telling the truth.”
“As you command.” Emery said.
“Good, you leave immediately.”
Emery raised an eyebrow, “Grand Inquisitor, I just-”
“I don’t care.” Hellier snapped, “You are dismissed, Inquisitor.” With that Grand Inquisitor Hellier looked back down at his table and began sorting through piles of paper, paying no more attention to the two men in front of him.
Emery ground his teeth together, but gave a curt bow and turned to leave the room, Captain Delorme right on his heels. He brushed aside the tent flaps and walked out into the mud. The young neophyte was busily loading bags onto Emery’s mount.
“Thank you boy,” Emery said, “that will be all.”
The boy nervously smiled, and began to back away from Emery and Delorme. From inside the shouts of Hellier could be heard. The Neophyte turned, and ran as fast as he could into the tent.
“Do all you Inquisitors have slaves?” Delorme asked gruffly.
“No Captain, none of us have slaves. You know as well as I do that the Emperor outlawed slavery in his lands.”
“I thought maybe, you Inquisitors were above the law.”
“Alas Captain, no one is above the law, not even the Inquisition.” He let out a drawn out sigh, “We should get going Captain, before the Grand Inquisitor adds more to our plate.”
Delorme nodded and mounted his horse, a strong black Kalandar. The horses were originally from the Rakhair kingdom of Kalur, and were used as pack animals by the Rhakhari. Hundreds of years ago the southern men had purchased and bred them for war. Their rugged frame was well suited for long battles, hard riding, and the harsh conditions of the far north.
“We’ll be taking a small group to form up our vanguard Inquisitor.” Delorme said, as they neared the end of the camp. There were ten legionnaires grouped up in two tight lines of five. Their large shields bearing the Imperial lion and sun. Each of them wore the same silver breastplate, with brown leather armor, and a silver helm with the tufts of Imperial blue running along their length. One man, at the front of their line, had a helm similar to that of Captain Delorme’s, a corporal or a sergeant Emery assumed.
The Captain stopped at the front of the column. As he reigned in his horse, it stomped feverishly in the mud as he spoke, “Alright men, we are escorting Inquisitor Chevallier to Basmore. It’s a small mining town on the outskirts of the Skaggs. Our main objective is to serve as a scouting party, and to give what ever aid and assistance we can to the Inquisitor, he will now fill you in on the details.”
Emery turned his horse toward the group of soldiers. He eyed each and everyone of them before he spoke.
“Your company has been assigned to this godforsaken hunk of rock to help the Inquisition capture or kill a very dangerous group of Intrinsics. They escaped the Conclave four fortnights ago, and have been rumored to have taken passage to Rad’Rill by ship from Arasfalls. These men and women are very dangerous. Do not attempt to take one by yourself.” He turned to look at Delorme half expecting a look of fear, but he was not shaken, and if he were, he showed no sign of it. None of the men seemed to be shaken. He rode up close sneering down at the legionnaires. “These people could rip you in two with a word. They could melt your shield, or make you drown in your own blood.” None of the men even batted an eyebrow. He wished that he had that sort of courage. He half wished he was in the place of the Intrinsics, at least that way he’d have a fighting chance at freedom, but he was too much of a coward. The use of magic was illegal in the Empire, along with the crime of being born an Intrinsic. The only salvation, if you could call it that, was living a life of servitude in the Conclave. It was join them or die, and that was no choice. The thought made him sick. He was snapped back to reality by the Captain.
“Excuse me Inquisitor,” Delorme said, “My company has hunted mages before. These men have all seen their fair share of magic.”
“Well then,” Emery said coldly, “We should not have any problems, should we?”
“Of course not sir.” Delorme said.
“Good. Lets move out.”