Read part 1 here!
Baird balked and turned on the spot, sprinting for the stairs, throwing himself down them three at a time. Like a clattering juggernaut, Baird hit the ground floor and rounded on Frenzy, sliding to a halt. Someone in a long, dark hooded cloak was softly patting the horse’s nose with one hand and feeding him a carrot with the other. The figure was startled and turned to him, dropping the carrot. An unperturbed Frenzy casually bent his neck down and retrieved it. Baird’s heart was doing triple time. He had finally seen his legendary adversary. It was a little underwhelming.
The sorcerer appeared to be a young man, about Baird’s age, slight and porcelain. He also appeared to be terrified, quivering like a rabbit. His eyes moved from Baird’s face to his chest and back again. Baird grinned deeply – the sorcerer must have recognised one of his protective sigils, one that was effective. His work had paid off.
“At last,” Baird said, deepening his voice to sound grand. “You, vile sorcerer, shall finally meet your e- HEY!”
The sorcerer raised his hands with a flourish and within the space of a second he disappeared from toes to head, as though he were a rapidly drawn up blind. Baird cursed and stomped his armoured foot. Frenzy shrugged.
“Bastard! Coward!” he spat. “I’ll find him Frenzy and I’ll kill him! You see his face?” He frowned, remembering sorcerer’s visage, and shook his head. “ONE of these trinkets works and HE knows it!”
“I just… Why did he give you a carrot?” Baird’s eyes went wide. He rushed to Frenzy’s side. “Was it poisoned? How do you feel?”
Frenzy blinked again, thinking he’d be a lot better if this idiot went and did his job so they could both go home.
Baird spent another anxious minute with the horse but it seemed more irritated by his fretting than it did sick so he resumed his climb of the tower. The first three floors were much of the same. The five after were simply deserted rather than derelict. There was nothing except a thin layer of dust across the hauntingly empty floors. The tenth flight of stairs took him to one that was both the same and different. Utterly deserted like its predecessors but absolutely spotless. The faultlessly clean windows meant that this floor was brighter than the others, only accentuating the difference. The floor glistened, pale stone marbled with blue tendrils. Baird’s steps echoed gently as he approached a window. The weather was fierce as always, battering against the glass and howling like a league of wounded animals. He had never been so high up but couldn’t see far before everything turned into dark grey haze.
Before today is through, he thought with conviction, I will stand at this window and see all the way to the Glen. So distracted Baird was by his fervour that he didn’t realise he was looking in the exact opposite direction to Glen Feen.
He continued to scale the endless supply of steps past many more pristine and empty floors until something was different again. A soft blue light came from the top of the next staircase. He carefully unsheathed his sword. With renewed caution, he carried on upward.
As he ascended the last steps, a large glass sarcophagus came into view alone in the centre of the room. He paced closer. Azure light radiated from it, soothing and peaceful. Inside lay an immaculate woman. The tint on her lips and the darkness around her eyes added to the unnatural stillness telling Baird she truly was dead. The faint thrum of magic was present. Preserving her, Baird guessed. He wondered if it was grief fuelling the sorcerer’s torment of the land and scowled at the thought. No good woman would want such suffering in her name.
He glared at the next set of stairs. He must be getting close now. The sorcerer clearly wanted her near him. He stepped past the coffin and started upwards again. Nearing the last steps, he rose up into a room so lavish it could have belonged to the Duke. Everything was rich, dyed and velvet. There was a creak above Baird and he looked up to see a bundle of extravagant furniture suspended over his head. Then drop. He dove forward onto the thick, spongy carpet, rolling and springing back to his feet. The furniture clattered against the stairs.
“Why aren’t you dead?” came a voice, deep and menacing.
Baird spun to face the sorcerer. “Ah-HA- …ah.”
The man before him was more than double the age of the one he’d seen before, with a long, greying beard and the trappings of an especially vain king, all jewels and finery.
“Give me some credit,” he said. “You’ll need more than a sofa to-“
A low coffee table shunted toward him, straight into back of Baird’s knees. His limbs flailed as he sprawled across the carpet. The man—the sorcerer?—sighed. “Just another fool with a sword.”
Baird raised his chin and sneered. “Not quite.”
He yanked one of the glass bulbs from his belt and hurled it at the sorcerer. There was a soft ‘thwp’ sound as it collided with the sorcerer’s glorious crimson robe and again as it impotently dropped to the carpet. The sorcerer raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him and Baird grinned before burrowing his face in the soft pile, covering his head with his hands.
The bulb exploded, showering the room in tiny shards of glass which tinkled against Baird’s armour. The sorcerer wailed and yellow streaks of wild magic crackled around the room. Shelves were sheared in two and cushions exploded in puffs of feather down. Baird sprang to his feet, darting for the only exit – the stairs leading up. He shot up onto a floor like the last but partitioned. Furious, uncontrolled magic followed him so he carried on, ignoring the separate rooms to his sides and running for the next set of stairs. He needed just a moment to compose himself.
With far less bounds than there were stairs, Baird was at the top of the next flight with his back pressed against the wall, breathing hard. It wasn’t the extravagant bedroom Baird was expecting. Before him was a latticework of cages, dark and shadowy with boarded up windows. It stank the foul, foetid stench of death, stinging at Baird’s nostrils. Some of the cages had skeletons or badly decomposing bodies. Some wore armour Baird recognised.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” said a small, shaky voice. Baird caught sight of the younger sorcerer. He looked afraid. “No one should.”
Baird raised his sword. “I can’t let you continue to torment the realm.”
“He’ll kill you,” the man said, backing away.
“I’ll kill you both first.”
“Tamin!” boomed the elder’s voice from Baird’s side. Startled, Baird stumbled deeper into the dungeon. “I told you to kill this wretch.”
“I thought he was leaving,” Tamin wailed, fear thick on his face.
“I said kill,” the elder spat, backhanding thin air. Tamin was lifted from his feet and launched across the room, slamming against a cage so hard half the room rattled. He slumped to the ground out of sight. The elder looked to Baird and shook his head. “Don’t have kids,” he advised.
He swatted the air in Baird’s direction. Nothing happened. He gave until the old sorcerer looked truly confused before allowing himself a grin.
“Some kids do their homework,” he said.
Baird struck at him with his sword but the sorcerer recovered quickly, conjuring a metallic staff from motes of light to block the blow. He was freakishly strong, stopping Baird’s arm dead. The shock through his limb was so painful he almost lost grip on his blade. The sorcerer grabbed him by the throat and shoved. Baird staggered backwards into a cage, tripping on bones and crashing against the bars. The door clanged shut and he felt sick with panic. He kicked at it but it didn’t even rattle.
The sorcerer’s shadow fell over him and Baird looked up into his sneer. There were a few bleeding cuts on his face and a burn on his chin. “On second thought, I’m glad Tamin didn’t kill you. Such an arrogant little boy. I look forward to hearing you beg.”
Baird went cold as the sorcerer turned away. He scrambled to his feet and shook at the bars. They didn’t budge. He watched with growing despair as the sorcerer disappeared to the lower levels. He had failed. The sorcerer had beaten him without even trying. And now he was going to die.
To be continued!