The horse protested noisily as its rider kicked it hard in the flank, spurring it ever faster. It panted hard as it half-ran half-leapt over the pine-covered undergrowth., grateful for the shade of the overhanging eaves of the forest. Zardock laughed gleefully, as his horse galloped, enjoying the feel of the wind against his face. Hed done it. Hed actually done it. Not that hed ever doubted his own ability, not for a moment. But the journey had been long, and hed been growing more and more irritated and impatient. Now, at last, his prize was won.
He looked at the horn, which he still gripped tightly in his hand; his one friend, his traveling companion. It had certainly made his life easier. It glowed brightly now, a deep blue colour, due to its proximity to the Vale and the other horns, stowed away in Zardocks backpack. With the horn, it had been easy to enter the forest, despite the strong enchantment which lay around it. The Guardian had been no difficulty either. When presented with the horn, the creature merely crouched on one knee, and called Zardock Master. Master! Zardock liked that. Soon, everybody would call him master. Everybody! That bumbling bumpkin Grendel would clean Zardocks privy, Morandor would pick the lice out of his hair, and Maree- she would do whatever Zardock commanded! Anything! She would love him!
Zardock scowled. Love? Where did that come from? The thought confused him, and he shook it away quickly. But then, why not? He could make everybody love him!! He would make the whole world follow his every word. Even Tor, Great Kyzak Tor, his once-master. Yes, the Great Green-Eye of Dral would also bend His knee to Zardock!
Zardock fondled the lone-horn lovingly, as his horse broke through the edge of the forest, and began to ascend upwards, climbing a steep hill. The sun was directly overhead, shining brightly, and casting few shadows. Zardock raised his head, and felt the heat on his face, and laughed loudly. The world was his now. The power of Gods was at his fingertips. He could feel the power, even now, emanating from the horns in his bag. Twelve, in total; small trinkets no larger than a wand, yet more powerful than the combined might of the Anno Sila! Of course, there were more than twelve unicorns in the Vale, hundrerds of them; but most horns were fragile indeed, and ceased to exist when removed from the unicorn. Like the unicorn itself. This reality is too harsh for such delicate, compressed magic to maintain form for long. But the twelve he had managed to secure- they were the ones he had came for; from the largest mares, the Twelve Queens of Rinex. They were ancient and powerful enough to withstand anything, from the harsh fires of Vancumar to the Great Shadow of Carakum. Zardock relaxed, and let the power seep into him.
He had to find somewhere safe, where he could attune himself to the Twelve. He was not yet familiar with their essence, and it could take him many days or even weeks to learn to direct the flows of such powerful artifacts. But he would learn. Yes, a haven was needed, somewhere where he could control such power without bringing the entire Inquisitor priesthood down on him. Or even the combined armies of the Empire. Not that he had much to fear, but caution was needed, at the moment. Caution, till he could wield the power effectively.
Zardock cringed again. He was beginning to think like that bastard Morandor.
Zardock stopped the horse suddenly, and gazed into the valley below the hill. Was that .? No, it couldnt be. He stared harder, examining the sight not just with his eyes, but with his power, stretching out his consciousness. Yes, it was, he was sure. There, sat on the edge of the forest, his back to a large rock, was Morandor. The old wizards eyes were closed, and his pipe wasnt lit, but there was no mistaking that hunched and decrepit form, and that wishy-washy essence. It was Morandor. Well, think and ye shall summon, Zardock thought to himself.
Zardock looked around quickly- there was no sign of Grendel or his moronic friends. And Zardock couldnt detect any other magic, though it was difficult to differentiate between the strong flows emitting from the forest and from the horns on his back. But the old Wizard definitely seemed alone.
Zardock laughed to himself, and pulled his dagger from his belt. This was a perfect chance to get rid of the meddling bastard once and for all. He dismounted quietly, and began to walk down the hill, using the trees as cover. He knew, deep down, that he should ignore Morandor, and continue with his original plan, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. Hed dispense with the old wizard once and for all, and watch the fear in Morandors eyes as he felt the last blood leave his body. Trying not to grin with glee, Zardock continued his descent, leaping from cover to cover, silent as a mouse. He watched the old man carefully for any sign of stirring, but Morandor didnt move. His essence was subdued. The old man was fast asleep.
When he reached the bottom of the hill, he maneuvered himself behind the wizard, and began to stalk slowly towards the rock. He felt the blade of his dagger with his finger- still sharp. It would slice him up like butter. Zardock wasnt stupid enough to confront Morandor with magic- he would surely lose (or at least he would, until hed mastered the Twelve), but he also knew that Morandor wouldnt risk using magic here, in Rhutalath. The old snake was powerful, but predictable. And a knife in the back kills a lion as easily as a shrew.
Zardock crept closer; the wizard was snoring quietly. He gripped the dagger tightly in one hand, and placde the horn in his belt. He was close enough now to see the tobacco stains in his beard. Biting his lip, to stop himself breathing, Zardock stalked forward, and raised his knife.
"I wouldnt do that if I were you, you little maggot," Morandor said suddenly, his eyes still closed. "It might make me a little angry."
Zardock leapt back, in surprise and fear. He cursed himself for being scared of such a decrepit has-been, and forced a smile onto his face. "Master," he said sarcastically. "Glad to see your dementia hasnt blunted your senses."
"Foolish boy," Morandor said, standing slowly, with no fear or surprise. "Youre carrying the magical-equivalent of the Atlantean army on your back, and you dont expect me to notice you? A headless toad could see you coming! And would probably have more sense ..Have you any idea how much energy you unleashed once those horns left the confines of the forest? I bet they felt your essence all the way in Normearc."
Zardock scowled at his former master. Even now, he was treating him like some na´ve apprentice who still wet his bed. "Its no matter," he said. "I still intend to kill you, and at least this way you can see me smile as I do it." Zardock studied Morandor; the old man looked weary- maybe he was telling the truth about how much essence hed released; that much power would take its toll on any wizard. He wondered briefly why he hadnt detected anything himself, then simply decided that the horns had made him so powerful, he was above noticing such trivial things.
"So, it comes to this," said Morandor, simply shrugging. "I was hoping that you may have just been a little misguided. I thought there was still hope for you. But I see the Green-eye has gotten to you. It is a shame, because you had potential."
Zardock dived at Morandor , stabbing viciously, but Morandor deftly avoided him, moving fast for such an old man. "Potential?" Zardock screamed. "Youve not even seen the extent of my power!! Youre a has-been, Morandor! A victim of the past! The power is mine now. Youre not a mentor, Morandor, nor a master. Youre nothing."
Morandor simply sighed. "All are nothing, in the end," he said, picking up his staff. "Ill give you one last chance, Zardock. Give me the horns, and end this. Dont spur me to action Ill regret."
Zardock laughed again. "Thats it? Thats your plan. A threat? Youre weak, old man." Zardock, raised his dagger again, and dived towards Morandor. The old wizard responded, dodging aside and sweeping his staff along the floor. The staff collided with Zardocks legs, knocking him over. Zardock sprawled on the floor, his dagger falling from his hands. Morandor casually walked over to Zardock, and put a foot on his chest, forcing him to the floor. The staff hovered menacingly over Zardocks throat.
"You still have a lot to learn, young man, but Im afraid it wont be from me," Morandor said. "Give me your bag, and be on your way."
"Never," spat Zardock. "You dont tell me what to do! Youre not my master!" Zardock screamed in rage as he moulded the essence into a ball of wizards fire, and hurled it at Morandor. The fire hissed as it struck, engulfing Morandor in green flame.
The fire died, and Morandor stood unscathed, his foot still on Zardocks chest, smiling. "Give me the bag, apprentice, or Ill spank your worthless arse!"
"Go to hell!" said Zardock, unleashing another fireball. This time the fire dissipated as soon as it left his fingers.
Morandor didnt smile this time, and simply stared at Zardock. The pressure of his staff on Zardocks throat made it difficult to swallow. "Give it to me, or Ill take it," Morandor said, no emotion in his voice. The look in Morandors eyes was vacant, as if he was looking at something of no more interest than a centipede. There was no anger or contempt, just the knowledge that he wouldnt lose any sleep if he stood on you. Zardock began to feel fear rising in him. Angrily he tried to surpress it, but the fear grew and grew. He tried to stammer never but it came out as a whine. Zardock, angry and humiliated, felt like a naughty apprentice again. He reached for his dagger, but Morandor kicked it away.
"No words of defiance?" Morandor asked. The old wizard raised a hand and Zardock slowly began to rise, against his own will. He tried to resist Morandors spell, but the old man was too powerful. Up he rose, higher and higher, till his feet were dangling in front of Morandors face. He tried to kick, but the spell held him tight. Suddenly the whole world became a blur, and Zardock flew backwards, landing solidly against a tree. He felt himself slide to the floor, his back twitching in pain. Through bleary, tear-filled eyes he saw Morandor holding his backpack. The old bastard had won. The old predictable bastard was using magic! Damn him to hell.
Morandor looked at Zardock, not unkindly. "I hereby banish you from the Order of Dral. From now on, you are a refugee, and any wizard who discovers you using the essence will hunt you down and kill you. Go, now, and if you have any sense, youll stay in Rhutalath where you wont be tempted to use the Essence."
Feeling wretched, and weeping shamelessly, Zardock stood, slowly, and began to back away from the old wizard. Oh, how he despised him. How he hated him. He would pay for this. He would suffer! He walked backwards, slowly, watching Morandor with contempt. Morandor stared back, sympathy in his wizened eyes.
At the last moment, Zardock laughed again. Grabbing the Unicorns horn from his belt, he hurled it, hard and fast at Morandor. The horn struck Morandor, its point ripping through his arm as easily as paper. The wizard screamed in pain, and dropped the bag. Morandor dropped to his knees, still screaming, as the magic from the horn began to invade his body. His arm began to glow with an icy blue light, and it slowly spread, first to his chest then to his head. Finally, he let out one last scream, before slumping forward. He lay there, unmoving, magic still crackling along his prone body.
Zardock stared for a while, breathing heavily. At last he walked over to Morandors body, and glared at it. No movement. No breathing. The old fool was dead! He laughed loudly, and joyfully. He had won!! Zardock had won!! He skipped over to where his bag lay, glowing slightly due to its hidden Treasures. He picked it up, and skipped back to Morandor whistling. He looked down at the old wizard. An odd feeling came to him- he wasnt sure what it was, but it was a strange feeling. He didnt like it. To make him feel better, he kicked Morandor hard. The wizard didnt respond. He kicked him again, just for good measure.
Then, happy once more, his prize back in his hands, he ran up the hill, laughing insanely, towards his waiting horse ..