By Eric Zawadzki and Matthew Schick
“First-degree wizards wear bright green cloaks. As a wizard rises from first-degree to seventh, the color of his cloak changes to reflect his rank — green, auburn, blue, amber, cyan, lavender and yellow. A wizard who reaches the highest rank, eighth-degree, wears red.”
— Nightfire Tradition, The Magical Tradition of Marrishland
Eda Stormgul walked the broken stone streets of Domus Palus, the capital and largest city in Marrishland. Swamp grass grew from cracks in the street, and to one side, a tree grew in the crumbled remains of a centuries old building’s foundation.
Even in the midst of high civilization, the swamp encroaches, she mused.
The wizard wore thigh-high leather boots over her thick brown pants. Her tan shirt clung to her body in the early summer heat, and the clean leather utility vest and thick cyan-colored wool cloak she wore only made her sweat more. Heavy leather gloves hung from her belt, and the hilt and gouger of a marsord peeked through a slot in her cloak just above the knee.
The suffocating night air only added to the sense of being smothered as the crumbling stone buildings leaned in around her. Eight lesser wizards followed her in loose formation, the colors of their cloaks — six wore bright green and two auburn — barely visible in the light from a dozen constellations. None of the lesser wizards carried a marsord, the rare, two-bladed weapon that only the rich and powerful could afford to have crafted from what little metal was found in Marrishland. Eda knew she wore hers at the pleasure of her eighth-degree patron. She had no delusions about her status.
The patrol walked the night-shrouded streets with no torches. Eda glanced up, feeling watched. Overhead, the constellation of Marrish stared down at her from the moonless sky.
The stars, souls of our greatest heroes, Eda thought, remembering her father’s stories. He had believed they continued to guide the Mar in death as they had in life. Most of the wizards living in Domus Palus regarded it as superstitious nonsense only taken seriously by rural mundanes, and Eda had lived in the city long enough to question her beliefs.
At home, we shunned slaves and wizards. Here, I am a wizard, with two slaves, and though my father might be watching me from above, he might also be feeding the swamp.
The gaze of the stars felt accusing now. Her boot caught on a crooked cobblestone, and she stumbled. One of the green-cloaked wizards caught her before she fell. She thanked him and turned her attention from the stars to the path ahead.
A flash of white light, like a lantern suddenly lit, filled the square. Shielding their eyes, the wizards hesitated.
This is what we have waited for, Eda thought, grasping the hilt of her marsord and drawing the finely sharpened slasher from its sheath. A form materialized in the light. A man crouched on the ground in the center of the light, his red cloak tight around him. He kept his head down as he recovered from teleportation sickness.
Eda reached for a bottle on her belt, nodding to her wizards. She poured a few drops of the bitter brown liquid onto her tongue and blinked her eyes a few times as the torutsen took effect. The wizards followed suit.
All around, a sea of colored motes appeared — green, blue, auburn, amber, cyan, lavender, yellow and red — drifting lazily across the square like dust caught in the sun. Near the wizards, it whirled as they gathered it with silent will. This was the myst, the source of magic, and though Eda knew it was always there, only torutsen allowed her to see it like this. She had heard some people say that, with enough training, one did not need torutsen anymore.
The man rose to his feet before she was ready.
Some of the greens shot small bursts of fire that quickly turned parts of his cloak black. The auburns hollered for a direct attack, but Eda shook her head.
He recovered too quickly, she thought, raising her marsord.
The first real flame erupted from the stone near the man and immediately went out. Other bursts exploded against an invisible shield thrown up absently even as the red wizard expanded the circle of white light surrounding him.
Eda joined the attack, tearing at his defenses with counterspells.
The explosions and steam drew six more auburns and two more greens to the square. They were seventeen against one as the new wizards created a cocoon to entrap the man. He disappeared from view in their cloud of smoke and flame.
Eda stepped away from the cocoon, nodding to the auburn in charge of the reinforcements. They will take care of the rest. She ordered her patrol to fall back, but kept her eyes on the white cocoon surrounding the intruder.
“He must have suffocated by now,” someone said.
Eda nodded grimly. At least his blood is not on my head.
“Where is that light coming from?” a green whispered.
The white light had not faltered.
“Get back!” she shouted to the auburns, raising her marsord.
Too late. A circle of green flame exploded from the cocoon, engulfing the reinforcements in a wall of fire that stopped just short of Eda and her patrol.
When her vision cleared, the man was already moving toward her with incredible speed.
She cut at him with the hacker and he swept the blade aside with his arm. Leaning in, she reversed the marsord and lunged for his ribs with the gouger, but he caught the short blade with his left hand, lifting his right hand at the same time as he met her eyes.
Eda’s eyes widened as she saw his clean-shaven face.
The greens in the square picked at his back with sparks and skin rashes — weak attacks were all they could manage, right now.
“Is it you?” she started, and he closed his fist.
An unseen hand slammed her down to the uneven stones. The marsord was wrenched from her hand, clattering to the stony pavement.
Stunned, she watched him calmly pick up the weapon and turn his back on her — one red-garbed wizard against sixteen greens and auburns, who howled as they charged with knives. He lowered the loosely held marsord and raised his left hand as if such a gesture would halt them.
She shouted at them to stop, but they didn’t hear her.
The wall of flame they ran through was white-hot. Their screams turned from rage to agony as they writhed on the ground.
She reached for the myst through the wall of cyan motes that their adversary had built around her. The motes of green and blue passed through the barrier in an insignificant trickle. The red wizard took two quick steps toward her and pressed her marsord against her throat.
“Surrender!” he demanded, his face clearly familiar to Eda now that the fight had subsided. His head whipped up as someone groaned in the square.
She swallowed. “Yes.”
He glanced at her two auburns, who were healing the wounded. In a few more minutes, someone might be able to fight.
“Tell the others to do the same.”
“Obey him,” Eda called to them.
The auburns nodded and continued their healing.
He helped her to her feet and handed her back her marsord as though giving a bowl of soup to a guest. Then he helped the auburns heal the injured. She followed him. Two of the greens had died, their faces seared to the bone. Eda turned away.
How hot is his fire, she thought, if it cut that deep? Mar magic was best at healing surface wounds, and fire seldom burned to a deadly depth.
“What is your name?” he asked her after all the wizards had been healed. “And why did you attack me?”
She cleared her throat and met his green eyes. Maybe it is not him. No, it is him. How could he forget me?
“Eda Stormgul,” she said. “Our master has ordered us to kill all eighth-degree wizards entering Domus Palus until the Chair is secured by his allies.”
Rage flashed across his face, but it wasn’t directed at her. He glanced at the dead greens. “Who sends greens and auburns to fight reds?”
Eda had been asking herself that question all day. “We have received many strange orders lately. Rumor has it one of Nightfire’s apprentices intends to try for the Chair — the one man the Dux of Flasten fears.”
The red smiled at the flattery. “He does not fear me, yet, but he will.”
She had to ask. “You are Weard Sven Takraf, yes?”
He nodded. “Inform your peers and master that the one they hoped would not come to Domus Palus has arrived. There is no further need to attack arriving wizards.”
She raised her right hand to the level of her cheek. “By the Oathbinder and with the heroes as my witnesses, we will do just that.”
Sven weighed her with a glance.
She met those hard green eyes. “I, too, studied at Nightfire’s Academy.”
He lowered his gaze. “I remember you from Rustiford,” he said softly.
“Horsa and Katla are also in Domus Palus.”
He glanced up, eyes wide, although Eda couldn’t tell which name had surprised him. He recovered quickly, seeming to digest this news. “You always liked to be on the winning side, Eda. If you would stand with the victor, stand with me after I take the Chair.”
“If you seize the Chair, I will follow you into the Fens of Reur. Remember me when you are finished.”