As the clock struck the fourteenth hour, Bram sat quietly staring down at the flaming pyre in the center of the room. It had been hours since he had returned from Valturm. He thought the dragons would be here waiting for him, but so far there was no sign of them anywhere near Sorrowdown. Where could they be? With his mystic flame, he had searched Vasagi, the home of the Vampires and the forest land of Tir Na, the Werewolf haven. With great care he had sent his probe into Winterhaven, being very careful to stay clear of the council building. Though he knew Insa wouldn't be, there were others that he knew would detect his presence. Others of both the dark and the light persuasion.
From Winterhaven, Bram moved on to Aspara Bough, the land of the Fairies and Elves. The first village he spotted was busy with life. Both male and female fairies buzzed around going from place to place. The air was full of the sound of bells and chimes. Bram cringed at the sound of the Fairies hated music language. It always set his nerves on the edge. From high above, Bram slowly sent his probe down into the glade of the Fae. He kept a careful lookout to be sure he hadn't been detected. Moving slowly with care he went from flower to flower listening intently for any news. First, he heard of the Gremlin invasion to the Blueberry patch. A young fairy dressed in green and yellow with a daisy headdress said it was touch and go for a while, but when the red and black armored warriors arrived to back up our forces, the dark little beasties had no choice but to run. The daisy said right after that, Queen Nula arrived and set about to heal the wounded. She thanked the Red and Black warriors and promised her aid whenever they needed our help. The little brown oak fairy seemed pleased to hear that. It mumbled something Bram didn't understand, then nodded and was on its way. Bram started on heading toward a village by a small pond hoping for more news. In his head, the voices were arguing over what he should do. Most of the voice said he should just give up. They said what little power he had would never be enough to defeat the Fairy Queen. But Bram cared nothing about the fairies unless they got in his way. Then they would all see his anger.
Satisfied that the dragons hadn't been there, Bram pulled his probe back to Sorrowdown. On his throne, he opened his eyes and stepped down and walked to the huge mirror that had been set in the audience chamber of the Sorrowdown empire. This was the biggest mirror in all of the empire. Midoa had it made special just for his throne room. The glazer that made his mirror was a master sorcerer and he linked the mirror with two of his enemies. Their souls to this day were still trapped in the speculum, looking for a way out.
As Bram stood in front of the mirror, he watched as one of the spirits rammed and beat at the glass trying to escape. Bram just smiled as he relished the pain in the spirit's eyes. He knew it wanted its freedom. Maybe one day he would free them. But they would have to earn their freedom. Right now what he needed was information. If they could supply him with the right answers, he might think about granting their wish.
"Mirror mirror on the wall.
I call those who are trapped to tell me all.
Information is what I need.
From those who wish to beg or plead.
As Bram stared into the looking glass, it started to ripple and blur. The mirror grew hazy as two faces appeared. One was old with a long black beard and a scar above his right eye. The other was younger with a very pale look on his face. Bram could feel the fear pouring from him like heat from a torch. The younger spirit started to wail and cry as he was called forth. With a snap of his finger, Bram silenced the morose phantom and sent him back into the mirror. The other one stared out at Bram looking as if it were annoyed with his intrusion.
[So you are the new master of Sorrowdown.] He said turning his nose up. [Well don't expect me to bow down to you, it's not going to happen. I didn't bow to that fool Midoa, I won't bow to you.]
"You will bow if that's what I want," Bram said as he twitched and snarled at the specter. "If you ever want your freedom, you will do my bidding."
[I've been here in the mirror a long time.] He said with a dismissive look. [I've heard many promises over the years. Win or lose, you will be the same as all the rest. So why should I bother helping you?]
"Who are you?" Bram asked.
"You'd like me to tell you my name wouldn't you?" The spirit sneered. "Then you would have power over me. You will have to do better than that,"
Bram thought for a minute. He was right. This mage has been in the mirror for years. Maybe over a thousand years. There was not torture Bram could use that would force him to follow his commands.
No lie would convince him either. The was only one way, only one thing that the spirit wanted that could make him obey. Bram would have to free him from his mirror prison and then trust him not to run. As Bran stared into the mirror deep in thought, the spirit moved closer staring back at him. From the table that sat right next to the mirror, Bram pulled a dagger with an 8-inch blade. He took a step forward to stand right in front of the mirror and held out his arm. After pulling back his sleeve Bram put the blade to his pale wrist.
"I swear to you on this, the tenth day of Sular. I Bramble Tiberius Thorn will free your soul from its eternal prison in the mirror on the completion of the tasks that I set for you. I pledge this with my blood and my soul. Do you accept?"
[Yes.] The spirit smiled with a devious grin. [I accept your offer. Now what is it you want me to do?]
"First. what do I call you?"
[You may call me Drekkar." The spirit bowed to him. [Drekkar Manzati.]
Bram smiled, for he knew that was not his real name. It was only a moniker he was using for the time being, but he would obey his orders and that was the what he wanted.Turning away from the mirror, Bram stepped back then faced Drekkar.
"You are free." He said. "You can come out of the mirror now."
Drekkar stepped closer to the mirror and raised his hand to touch its glassy surface. Usually, the intense pain would radiate out causing Drekkar to fall back screaming. But this time there was no pain. He felt a slight resistance, like stepping out from water into the air. But no pain. Smiling, he pushed on through to stand on the other side free at last. Seeing Drekker step out of the mirror, the other spirit tripped there made a mad rush to get out. Unfortunately, the spell that Bram had used was only for Drekkar. When the young spirit crashed into the mirror, the spell that had been keeping them there snapped back on and tore through his body sending wave after wave of pain into him. He fell back away from the mirror screaming as Bram pulled the curtain down to cover it.
As Bram turned back to Drekkar, the voices in his head were screaming out at him, taunting him and scolding him what he had done.
"SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!!!!"
Drekker stared. At that moment he knew Bram was another madman that was in control of him. He smiled thinking this might not be as he thought. All he had to do was to tell him what he wanted to hear and Drekkar would get his freedom finally.
"I thank you for my freedom as limited as it is." He bowed. "I'm grateful to be out of the mirror."
"Limited is right." Bram as he sat down behind the emperor's desk. "I will give you a chance to earn your freedom. Follow my orders and do everything that I ask and I will give you your freedom and much more."
"How do I know I can trust you?" Drekkar asked.
"You can't." Bram as he smiled up at the wizard. "I'm very unpredictable. Hot-headed and impulsive. At least that's what I've been told."
"You're just misunderstood." Drekkar with a sly smile. "They just don't understand your point of view. You're right and everybody else is wrong and you're going to show them all the great mistake they're making by taking over all of Keanna. Then they'll all see."
"Don't patronize me!" Bram slammed his fist down on the desk. "I know what I'm doing and it's not insane. I'll show them all. I'll make them all see what I can do!"
"Yes, you will. What is it you want from me? Why I'm I here?"
"I what you to find the rest of my rings." Bram held up his hand to show him the three rings on his hand. One was gold with a ruby fitted in the center. Another was silver with an emerald. The last ring was either brass or bronze with a large topaz crafted into its center. Drekkar leaned closing to examine them. He could feel the power radiating out from them.
"Interesting." He said, "Very powerful. With these, you just might able to even beat the Dragons. I'm guessing that is what you have planned,"
"Not just the Dragons." Bram sat back in his chair. "I have much higher aspirations."
"I see." Drekkar stroked the hair on his chin. "I will do what you ask. My only request is that when you do face your final battle, I want to be there to see your enemies defeat. Do you agree?"
"Fine," Bram said in a dismissive tone. "Just find my rings and get them back to me."
It was dark by the time Caius arrived at the gates of Sorrowdown. Most of the fires had burned out and the city looked deserted. Caius climbed down from his horse and pulled his sword from its scabbard. The rider had said there was a slave revolt that tore the city apart, but Caius had a feeling there was more to it than that, There was somebody here. He could feel the eyes watching him from behind the dark ruins. With his sword drawn and ready, Caius slowly made his way into the city. He kept a close watch as he stopped at the gatehouse and took one of the unlit torches. From his bag, he took a fire kit and struck the stone to the flint. In two strikes the torch caught fire and Cauis was ready to go see what still lives in Sorrowdown. He walked down the main avenue keeping a close watch on the three store buildings that lined the street. Every now and then he saw a flicker of movement in the window. He wasn't sure if it was man or beast up there, but he did know that it was dangerous. From the city gates, Caius moved in through the ghettos that surrounded the outer areas of Sorrowdown. These were three or four story buildings that house the lower class citizen and the workers of the city. Caius moved quickly through there avoiding all the blocked lanes and climbing over any downed and ruined buildings. The next part of Sorrowdown was the marketplace. Once this was a flourishing metropolis with vast amounts of commerce. You could find almost anything you needed from the slave market to the stalls that sold the spring harvest and livestock. There were numerous blacksmiths, cartsmiths, builders, carpenters, silversmiths, tinker, tailors, and jewelers. But now all the stalls were empty with whatever wares that had been there, gone or smashed into the dirty floor of the stall. It was quiet as Caius looked around. There were no barkers calling out their wares, no scruffy kids there pickpocketing or stealing from the stall. There was nothing here now except rats, stray dogs. Sorrowdown was a dead empire. But most of the buildings were still standing, the fires hadn't totally destroyed the city. If Caius could lay claim to what was left of the empire, then he could be Sorrowdown's new emperor.
From the marketplace, Caius moved on into the housing part of the city. He walked down the lane passing house after house. He passed the old Herkalus estate and his parent old home. Looking at the front gardens of the manor, he remembered sparring with his friends in the back courtyard. Back then, he and his friends were real bullies to some of the younger children. They harassing them at school, in the bathhouse, and in the market. Nowhere in Sorrowdown was safe, there were even times when they could bully at their own homes. But that seemed like a long time ago, though it was only last month.
From the housing estates, Caius moved on until he came to the gates of the governor's manor. The gates hung open swinging in the breeze. Caius remembered that once he swore this would one day be his home. He had dreams of the day when he would come and force Pius and his entire house out and into the stadium to face the gladiators and whatever wild beast they had that season. Then the crowds would cheer as they watched the old fool Pius get torn to shreds while he cried for mercy. But there would be none. Not for him or anyone from his house.
As he made his way through the gates, Caius stopped inching his sword out as he searched the court. His ears were sharp for the sound of warriors moving through the burned-out remnants of his palace. His eyes were searching all around for traps or an ambush. Once he was convinced there was nothing there, Caius continued on. From the palace, Caius headed on and into the dilapidated building where Sorrowdown's Senators use to argue over the new law. The building was three stories tall and made of marble that had been shipped down the river by Stone Elves from the quarries of Thewis. As Caius stepped into the auditorium. he felt the remnants of past arguments being screamed across the floor by long-dead Senators, his father included. Sorrowdown had better days. It was Caius's plan to bring that all back some day with himself as the new Emperor.
"I don't think so!" Echoed all through the auditorium as Bram appeared from a great flash of smoke and lightning.
With his hand on the hilt of his sword, Caius stepped up to challenge the Warlock.
"Who are you?" He said with a demanding voice.
"Don't you recognize me?" Bram said as he stepped closer to Caius. "I am Sorrowdown's emperor. You should be on your knees when you address me."
Caius looked at the wild looking Warlock. His hair was frizzled and he had a twitch in his dark eyes. His robe looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. No court Warlock would ever present himself looking so dirty and shabby. But there was also a spark of power that blazed in his eyes. Caius thought he'd better be careful dealing with this one.
Kneeling, Caius took his hand from his weapon, but his eyes never left the Warlock.
"My apologies great one, How can I serve you?"
"Go kill yourself you sniveling suck up!" Bram shouted. "Shut up!"
Caius stared at the Warlock. He didn't know what to make of his last statement. Is he crazy, or is it some plot to throw me off? Either way, Caius couldn't trust him, but he had better follow his instructions.
"My Empress," Bram said conjuring a vision in the air of his wife. "She is missing. I want you to find her and bring her to me."
"Do you know where I can find her?" Caius stared at the vision of beauty and wondered how he had managed to get her to marry him.
"Look in the Underworld!" Bram laughed almost choking on his own spit. "