Alastair Archibald: Dark Priory

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Alastair Archibald Dark Priory
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    Dark Priory
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Alastair J. Archibald

Dark Priory

Chapter 1: Betrayal

Grimm Afelnor, Mage Questor of the Seventh Rank, called the Dragonblaster, waited in the woods beside Merrydeath Road, deep in worry.

At the tender age of seven, soon after being sent to the forbidding Arnor House to be trained in the ways of magic, Grimm learned that his blacksmith grandfather, Loras, had once been a powerful Mage Questor, too, but he had been stripped of his powers. He was exiled from the Guild of Magic-users, Sorcerers and Thaumaturges four decades before, for the attempted murder of the ailing Prelate Geral.

He thought he had come to terms with his grandfather's disgrace; however, recent information he had obtained indicated that Loras had been betrayed by one close to him in the Guild. Grimm now burned with desire to exonerate his grandfather in addition to proving his own worth as a mage.

Another worry was his current Quest to destroy the influence of the powerful witch, Prioress Lizaveta. After she had attempted to seduce Dominie Horin, the ruler of the Guild, by her magic, Grimm had felt overjoyed at persuading Horin to give him command of the Quest, instead of to his rival, the overbearing, sarcastic Questor Guy-Lizaveta's embittered grandson. However, the enterprise's beguiling glamour soon faded, after desperate struggles in the town of Yoren and the bizarre dream-city of Brianston. Victory over Brianston's dragon-god, Gruon, came only at great cost: the swordsman, Harvel, was dead; the half-elven thief, Crest, had quit the party in grief for his fallen friend; and the giant albino, Tordun, had been all but blinded by the dragon's fiery demise.

Before destroying Yoren's Mansion House, Grimm learned that Lizaveta's magic was behind Loras’ sudden downfall, reinforcing his determination. His grandfather was no traitor, and Grimm would do anything to prove that.

His paramount concern was for his lover, Drexelica. He had already transgressed the Guild's strict rules of celibacy by coupling with her, but he wanted far more than a casual, furtive relationship. However, to declare his love for her might see him stripped of his rank and condemned to menial service in Arnor House for an unspecified period. Added to this, he knew that Drexelica had gone missing, and he believed she was in Lizaveta's clutches; this gave him additional determination to attack as soon as possible.

Although he was a mighty Guild Questor, Grimm was still only an eighteen-year-old youth, and his worries weighed as heavy on him as it would on any adolescent.

Grimm started from his morose reverie as he heard a faint rustle from the bushes behind him. Straining his ears, he heard the unmistakable crunch of a human footstep on fallen leaves.

He jumped to his feet and shouted, “Who goes there? Show yourself!"

His two Technology-wielding soldiers, General Quelgrum and Sergeant Erik, ran towards him from the camp-fire, their metal weapons at the ready as a small, dishevelled, dirty figure burst from the undergrowth, straight into the Questor's arms.

"Grimm! It is you!” The shabby creature sobbed into his right shoulder and Grimm's heart leapt in his chest.

"Drex! Thank the Names! I was so worried about you!"

"I escaped,” the girl said, her voice steadying. “It was horrible! Prioress Lizaveta's witch-nuns kidnapped me from Crar. They beat me and tormented me, but I wouldn't submit."

"It's good to see you alive, Miss Drexelica,” Quelgrum said, “but I'm a little surprised that they were so lax in their attentions they let you escape-"

"Are you implying something, General?” Grimm interrupted, feeling a hot rush of blood flooding into his face.

"Of course not, Lord Baron. I just thought it a little odd."

Drex disengaged herself from the mage and confronted the warrior. “I grew up in a tough town, General. I learned to defend myself at a very young age. I tried to fight them, but it got me nowhere. After a while, I pretended they'd broken me. I acted all demure and submissive, the way they wanted, ‘til I found a way out. That's all."

Quelgrum's brow furrowed, and Drex's face contorted into an expression of rage. “If you really want to know, I was trained by an utter cow called Sister Melana. She took her eyes off me for a moment while she ate. I punched her in the back of her neck. She fell to the ground, and I brained her with her plate. She stopped moving. I hope I killed the little slut. I kept to the shadows ‘til I found my way down to the coal store. There was nobody there-there almost never is-and I escaped through the delivery chute."

The intensity of her scowl stunned Grimm, and he felt his heart swelling with pride at his beloved's fortitude and resourcefulness. “You see, General? There's no conspiracy here. This is Drex, for goodness’ sake!"

Guy Great Flame sauntered into view, twirling his Mage Staff in the manor of a bandmaster. “Hullo!” he said, his mouth crinkling in a half-smile. “What do we have here, a drowned rat? Be careful you don't catch anything off it!"

Grimm felt his dislike of the proud Questor fulminating into sheer, scarlet hatred. “Don't you dare talk about Drex like that!"

He realised his protesting squeak sounded more callow adolescent than Seventh Rank Mage, but he did not care.

Guy raised a sardonic eyebrow. “So, this is your vaunted housekeeper? I must say, Dragonblaster, I insist on a stricter dress code for the hired help in my house."

The younger mage took his own Mage Staff, Redeemer, in a two-handed grip and stepped forward, his face contorted in rage.

"Think you can handle it, youngster? If so, feel free; I'd love you to try."

Grimm felt Guy's cool, self-assured manner fanning the fires of wrath within him to such intensity that they threatened to consume him.

I'll kill him! he raged inside his mind. Guy is just a primping peacock and no true mage! I'll squash him once and for all, like the bug he is!

As the older Questor braced himself and lowered his staff, War-maker, still smirking, Grimm began to gather the golden tendrils of thaumaturgic energy into a tight, ordered knot, ready to unleash them against his hated adversary. He knew Guy must be doing the same, but he felt more than capable of overcoming the foppish mage. In the instant he drew in his breath, ready to let forth a stream of patterned power, Drex stepped between the two would-be combatants.

"What's the matter with you?” she screamed, stamping and raising a small fist to Guy's face. “Fighting like silly schoolboys; you should be ashamed of yourselves!"

Grimm felt his anger dissipate like a puff of smoke in a strong wind, and he stepped back from Guy, realising how idiotic this confrontation was.

We have a job to do, he thought. We can't afford to have stupid arguments like this; either or both of us could have been injured, incapacitated or killed!

Drexelica withdrew, frowning.

Grimm drew a deep breath. “I apologise humbly for my outburst, Brother Mage,” he said at last, extending his right hand. “No, I don't want to fight you."

Guy looked at the proffered member as if he feared it might be diseased. “Thought better of it, eh? I'm not surprised you backed down."

Grimm felt blood rush anew into his face and fought to suppress his emotions.

Don't say anything to inflame the situation further, he thought, his entrails churning and his hands trembling from the effort of his inner battle. Whatever I think of him, we-I-need Guy.

"You're right, Great Flame.” The words felt like ashes on his tongue. “I… I acted rashly when I turned on you, and I've apologised for it. Please take my hand in the spirit of comradeship in which I offer it."

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