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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 18

Man vs Mage.

Chapter 18 - The Battle of the Conclave

The war between Priest and Mage, of inquisition and enlightenment, was mostly a ware of skirmishes, fought in small villages and large city-states, but with only a few pieces on either side. The Battle of the Conclave, however, was the exception to this rule. For many it has been cited as the greatest victory of the church. Other texts says that this was the beginning of the end of church power. Interestingly enough, both sides of the issue mention a figure named Jodah as being the key to the battle.

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

And army of slingers, pikemen , shieldbearers, and swordsmen lay siege to the Conclave. The white-painted ballistae are a good enough sign to know that the once cowed towns and villages of the area have rallied against the mages thanks to the intervention of the Church of Tal. Barl tells Lord Mairsil that while they do have the advantage, the walls weren't meant to stand up to a well-organized attack. If only the maze had been completed...

Mairsil will have none of Barl's observations and doubts. This isn't an army they face. It's pathetic rabble that will crumble under the power of the Conclave's mages.

But the army is more formidable than the mages of the conclave first realize. They rain down fireballs, and lightning bolts, they sent powerful gusts of wind, and animate the vines of the unfinished maze as well as summon dark creatures from the swamp, but when five mages fly above the army they're caught completely off guard.

In the front line, one large warrior was dressed in white, rallying the troops. No, Mairsil corrected himself, the warrior was a priest, or rather a priestess. She seemed to glow with her own radiance in the dying light of the sun. As he watched a flaming bolt arched from the Citadel's ramparts and caught her directly in the side. She did not wince or stagger from the attack but continued to bellow orders.

But the fact that the revelation that some within the army had magical protection wasn't the surprise began to turn the tide in the battle. It was the archers. A line of shieldbearers drop down to reveal the bowmen behind, and a volley of arrows as the mages fly in close takes three of them in and instant. The surviving pair of mages immediately retreat.

Then the army charges the walls.

Despite the large amount of dead, the army charges ahead armed with ladders to scale the walls, while a group led by the priestess herself charges the main gate, with every spell raining down upon her dissolving before having any effect. As she reaches the gate, it isn't battered down and it isn't opened, instead one moment they're there, and the next, they're gone.

The Conclave has been breached.

...In the arnea...

Jodah asks Sima if she's okay, and Sima comments that he's learned a few spells since they last saw each other, then the says it's time for the to get out of here. Jodah tells her that he can't leave quite yet. There's someone imprisoned down below that he has to set free first. Recalling the incident when he saved her the first time, she knows there's arguing with him on this matter and tells him to just hurry and lead they way so they can get to escaping.


Some mages die quickly, some flee, and some others put up a fight. Sister Betje leads a small band of townsfolk and chases a lone figure to a dead end within the castle hallways. The man is short, but has an aura of power about him, although not the magical kind. The man admits that he doesn't have any magic of his own, but he refuses to take the miracle worker's suggestion to turn on his masters.

Betje tells him that he's just one man, and he can't hope to kill them all with nothing but a crossbow. But as she's just about to signal the attack, four arrows strike her in quick succession, and villagers do nothing but cry out disgust at the "magic" crossbow and turn back the other way.

"I can only shoot one of you," Barl said, "so I had damned better shoot the right one."

...Back to our heroes...

Jodah leads Sima upward through the castle until they reach the end of a hallway where he reveals a secret door. As it opens, the looming form of the Rag Man with the rune-carved blade in hand fills the doorway, and Jodah has to pull Sima back before she attacks him. He's a friend... he thinks.

Jodah's word is good enough for her, and the Rag Man turns around and heads down the secret passage.

"Before we go any farther," she said, reaching into her blouse, "I believe this is yours." She produced the mirror from within the blouse.

Jodah frowned at the mirror. "You saved it, and not me," he said at last. "In the storm."

Sima took a deep breath, then said, "I know. I thought you could take care of yourself."

She tells him that Voska taught him well and she believe he was quite capable. Jodah doesn't relent and wants her to say if that's all that he's going to get from this apology from her. She tells him that she still believes he has more potential than any mage she's ever met... and he can breath however he wants. He's proven himself as a spellcaster already and that's precisely why she came after him. So if he's done pressing they issue, it's best they get going.

Jodah tells him he's satisfied with her answer, and tells her that he was worried for her too back there, and tells her that it was good she saved the mirror.

...Within the secret passage...

The glowing sword of the Rag Man lights the way, and they follow him down the passage until they reach the pit with the cage and the screaming man. The figure screams and throws himself at the bars, and Jodah tells Sima who he is and what's been happening to him. And if it's true that Lord Mairsil has been draining power from him, the battle above must require more power than ever before. Jodah reasons that if there was ever a time that he needed to be freed, it's now.

Jodah breaks open the cage with Sima's help, by creating a wedge made of mana of infinite thinness between the bars. Just like what she had taught him when he broke her shackles.

At first nothing seems to happen, and Lord Ith slams into the bars, once, twice, and then a third time. Then the cage falls apart, and Lord Ith falls with the pieces into the pit.

(Whoops! Maybe that wasn't the brightest of ideas.)

The screams from the madman quickly fade and Jodah can only say that he didn't mean for it to happen that way. Then the scream returns. And it gets louder. A mote of light appears within the pit and it grows larger.

A ball of fire of all all the colors of mage flies free from the pit. A ball of fire with Lord Ith's face.

Sima started to say, "This doesn't-"

"Treacherous Mages! Die for your sins!" shouted the figure, and a long, almost skeletal arm appeared from the ever-changing ball of magical energy.

Th Rag Man moved forward then, lurching from his watch post and staggering between the pair of mages and the flaming figure. He had his sword raised as if to ward off a blow.

Ith's magical bolt struck the Rag Man and coursed through his body, lightning dancing and arcing at every joint. The run-covered sword began to melt under the energies, and the Rag Man shuddered, then sagged, and finally collapsed to the ground. Sima went to his side, but Jodah only watched as the transformed figure of Ith rose up through the chamber, laughing insanely and shouting threats.

For the first time since he's known her, Sima looks confused and unsure of herself. Both of the legs and one arm of the Rag Man had been shaken loose from his body, and his corpse lay on the ground broken and twisted. He's dead.

Sima looks toward Jodah, and tells Jodah that the Rag Man was able to tell her one last message. Even though Ith was the one that killed him, his final words were, "Save Ith."

* * *

Rag Man

I don't believe he's dead. The entry by Arkol in Chapter 6 said this:

Enigmas seem to attract enigmas. Viewed from our safe position in the future, the Dark was but an instant, a short prelude to the Time of Ice, and it makes perfect sense that Vervamon should have known Primata Delphine, who should have known Tivadar of Thorn who should have known the Rag Man. In reality, the continent is wide and the years long, and few if any of these people ever met, regardless of the later legends.

The Rag Man is being put on the same level as Delphine and Tivadar of Thorn and Jodah and Mairsil and Ith in these entries. Yet almost no one has ever seen him, and no one has witnessed him do anything. How can he be remembered so well in the history books if this is all that he's done?

It's true that we know nothing about what he's done prior to Lord Ith summoning him... but that only makes me want to believe that he'll reappear again in the future. This is part of a trilogy after all.


I like that Grubb took the time to show that bands of humans that didn't even have Delphine's magical protection could take down mages through mundane means. No matter the level of anger that the preacher cultivated within them, if it looked like there was no chance at all for the attack to succeed, I can't imagine them still wanting to storm the castle. There is only one Delphine and she can't protect them all, especally because the battle devolved into small bands of people wandering the halls.

This whole chapter was good stuff. I certainly can't wait to see how it all ends. Only two chapters left!

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