The Beggar Prince

Excerpt

“And here we are, at the final part of our tour,” Archmage Drakesong called out as the gathered surrounded her at the entrance. Grinning, she walked in, gesturing for the others to follow her in, but to do so quietly. Stopping at the centre of the library, she gestured for the others to cluster before her.

“And this,” she began once all were gathered, raising her voice for all to hear, “is the most important place in all of the Shimmering Tower. For this is where all our knowledge is kept, and where much of our research is conducted and confirmed. This hallowed room contains the thoughts and recordings of every single high elf to have ever called the Shimmering Tower home. Each piece of knowledge, each breakthrough, noted here for posterity.”

But Marshalla and Tip heard not one word of what was said as they stared open-mouthed at the room itself. From floor to ceiling, each wall was covered with tomes, tomes of various shapes and sizes, colours and forms. If that were not enough, on the far wall stood rows of shelves, each filled to overflowing with tomes. And from where they stood, both could see corridors on both sides of the far wall, corridors both were convinced led to rooms filled with even more tomes.

“How do you find anything in this place?” a voice from the crowd asked.

“It does look a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it. Well, allow me to show you.” Smiling, she looked at Tip, who had made his way towards the front along with Marshalla and Davian.

“Tip, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Tip replied, his voice soft and subdued.

“Come.”

Tip hesitated, looking at Marshalla.

“It’s ok, I won’t bite,” Archmage Drakesong said. “Unless you wish me to, of course.”

Ripples of laughter drifted through the crowd, but this merely served to confuse Tip, and it showed.

“Come, Tip. Please.”

Once more, he looked at Marshalla, who finally nodded at him. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to the archmage. Clasping him by the shoulders, Archmage Drakesong spun him round to face the gathered, holding him close as she did so.

“Now, Tip. I would like you to look upwards.”

He did, and so did everyone else. As they all did, Archmage Drakesong whispered a single word in a tongue he did not know, and as they all stared, a creature leapt off one of the shelves and hung briefly in the air before slowly flying down towards Tip. To Tip, it looked like a butterfly, or some such winged insect.

“Now, isn’t this interesting,” a voice whispered to Tip.

“Hunh?” Tip asked, looking from the descending creature to Archmage Drakesong. The archmage looked down at Tip.

“Look up, Tip, you don’t want to miss this.”

“Oh, do look up…Tip, is it? We don’t want that stupid cow to become suspicious, do we?” The voice, it was in his mind. The hairs on the back of Tip’s neck stood rigid as a knot formed in the very pits of his stomach. Looking briefly at Marshalla, he at last directed his gaze upwards, his heart threatening to burst out of his chest.

“Who are you?” he thought.

“The name is Anieszriel, but you may call me Ani.”

Gasps from the crowd broke Tip from his thoughts, and as he stared upwards, he soon realised that the creature was no insect, for it looked much like an elf, though vastly smaller, and with wings.

“What’s that?” Tip asked.

“Why, it’s a sprite, Tip!”

“That, Tip, is a sprite!” Archmage Drakesong exclaimed.

“Told you.”

“She, along with her kin, are charged with the safe-keeping of our tomes. Each and every tome in here is known to them, and all you have to do is ask them for one and they will bring it to you.” Gently, Archmage Drakesong held out Tip’s left hand, and the sprite soon landed on his open palm. Hugging Tip closer, Archmage looked from Tip to the sprite as it stared expectantly at Tip, its wings waving lazily behind it.

“Now Tip…” Archmage Drakesong continued.

“She’s going to tell you to ask about me.”

“…you’re going to ask her for a specific tome…”

“She does this every single time.”

“…it’s a very special tome…”

“You’d think she’d be bored of this parlour trick by now.”

“…a tome about our most prized relic. Ask her for a tome on Anieszriel, Kin-Slayer.”

“Ani,” Tip said distractedly. As he did so, the sprite took flight and flew towards the west wall.

“What did you say?” the archmage asked.

“Careful, Tip.”

“How did you know she’s called Ani?”

“You don’t want her to know you can hear me, trust me.”

“Uh…” Tip said as he forced a smile, his mind racing. “Lucky guess.”

The archmage stared hard at Tip in silence for a spell.

“Who is Ani?” a voice from the crowd asked.

“That was close.”

Breaking her gaze from Tip’s face, Archmage Drakesong turned to the crowd. But as she spoke, Tip turned his attention inwards.

“Where are you?” he thought.

“I’m behind you. Well, behind her and you.”

Tip moved to look behind the archmage.

“Don’t!” the voice exclaimed, forcing Tip to stand rigid. “If you look, she’ll definitely know you can hear me.”

“You’re not supposed to talk to me?”

“No, I’m not. Arenya sealed the runic circle, and I’m supposed to be able to speak through it to only those possessing an attuned runic key.”

“So, how come you can talk to me?” But even as he asked, a cold chill filled Tip’s heart as he snuck his fingers into his pockets. What his fingers found in there sent the chill spreading all over him.

“I wish I knew,” Anieszirel continued. “Though I’m glad I can. You have no idea how good it is to be able to talk to someone other than these self-righteous bastards.”

Just then, the sprite returned, several tomes of varying thickness and size floating behind it. Archmage Drakesong turned to stare at Tip.

“Hold out your hand.”

Tip did as she bid, and as he did so, the sprite flew into into Tip open palms, the tomes floating behind her. Smiling, the archmage turned her gaze to the crowd.

“And that is how we are able to find anything in here.”

Returning her gaze to the sprite, she bowed to the fair creature before whispering another word in the same tongue as earlier, and in response, the sprite bowed and flew away, all the tomes in tow.

“And as for the Kin-Slayer herself, behold!” With a flurry, the archmage stepped aside, pulling Tip with her, revealing a stepped podium unlike anything Tip had ever seen. Circular in nature, its base was wide enough to allow most present to stand side-by-side about it with ease, while its topmost step was higher than Tip was tall. But it was the orb that hung eerily above it that drew Tip’s gaze. It was of a deep violet hue and roughly the size of a newborn ogre child, its surface reflecting the runes etched into the stone upon which it floated, runes pulsing in rhythm to the runes in the circle drawn upon the lowest step of the podium. Though, while the runes themselves clearly held great power within, the power emanating from the orb itself was far greater.

“Now, unlike the other artifacts, I must ask you to keep your distance from this one. The runic circle you see below it will hurt any who gets too close, and the runic stone above which the void sphere floats will, unfortunately, kill any who get really close to it and are not permitted to.”

An uncomfortable silence fell on the group as all eyes went on the orb.

“What’s a void sphere?” Tip asked.

“It’s my prison.”

“It’s a prison, created to trap the souls and essences of any creature. Given the power involved in creating one, we only ever use them to trap creatures that are too hard or too important to do away with, but too dangerous to be left free.”

“And Ani is too dangerous?”

“Were you not listening?” Archmage Drakesong asked, frowning.

“She lies! Don’t listen to the stupid bitch! They’ve held me here against my will all these millenia for no other reason than to gawp and gawk, to poke and prod! I’m no more dangerous than a wolf!”

“There are very few recorded uses of void spheres,” Archmage Drakesong continued, “and with good reason, for those trapped within are unable to free themselves. And if someone were to try and free them, void spheres are designed to collapse in on themselves, destroying the souls of those trapped within.”

“That’s horrible!” one of the gathered exclaimed.

“You’ve forgotten what she did?” another asked. Shaking her head, Archmage Drakesong raised her hands for calm, but as she did so, she stared at the door, and staring right into the eyes of the young elven male standing at the doorway, she nodded once, then returned her gaze to the crowd.

“Now that we are at the end of our tour, for those of you who would like to learn more about the Kin-Slayer, do feel free to remain. I will return here after a short spell, and will be happy then to retrieve tomes on her for you.”

She looked at Tip and Marshalla. “You two can stay if you wish. Davian knows his way around so there’s no need for you to return with the rest of us.” And turning, she made her way towards the door, the rest of the gathered going with her.

“Well, shall we stay?” Davian asked as he and Marshalla walked over to Tip.

“Might as well, looks really nice here,” Marshalla replied, nodding. But Tip was far less pleased with the idea.

“Let’s leave,” he begged. “Please.”

“You can’t leave!”

“You ok, Tip?” Marshalla asked. But before he could respond, an ear-splitting crash reverberated about the room, and shrieking, all three turned to the doorway, only to see the door slammed shut.

“Everybody on their knees!”

There was a fair number of those on the tour still within the library along with Tip, Davian and Marshalla, but there were now six others within the library. The six were all masked, with the one standing at the fore shouting.

“I said everybody on their knees!” he bellowed. The three friends looked at each other, their fear rising rapidly.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lady Runestone demanded. The masked intruder stormed over to the noble, lightning dancing between his fingers. But as he reached her, one of the gathered stepped into his path, swinging a fist at his temple. Only the fist never found home, for in an instant, the ringleader touched the man before him, and as he did so, the unmistakable crack of lightning filled the air as the poor man was flung across the library. At this, the room erupted in a cacophony of screams and cries.

“Everybody on their knees!” the ringleader bellowed once again. This time, all obeyed, including Lady Runestone, and as they fell to their knees, the other five began swiftly going through the kneeling crowd robbing them all. As for the ringleader, he hurried over to Tip, pulling the poor frightened little boy to his feet before rifling through his pockets.

“Leave him alone!” Marshalla yelled.

“Shut up, whore!” he spat back as he searched Tip. Snarling, Marshalla jumped to her feet and shoved him off Tip.

“Leave him al–” But that was as far as he went, for the ringleader spun round and crashed a fist into Marshalla’s stomach before sweeping her feet out from underneath her. And as she fell, he kicked her in the stomach again and again and again.

“Leave her alone!” Tip shrieked. Stopping, the ringleader stared at Tip, before turning and kicking Marshalla in the face, her blood spraying across the carpeted floor. Tip screamed, racing over to where Marshalla lay. Unrepentant, the ringleader grabbed him once within reach, pulling him away from Marshalla before resuming his rifling through Tip’s pockets.

“Hurry up!” one of the invaders yelled at their ringleader.

“What does it look like I’m doing? The stupid whore got in the way!”

But Marshalla was never one to give up so easily, and as he yelled, she crawled up to him, wrapped her arms about his legs and bit into the back of his right leg just above his heel. With the roar of an injured lion, the ringleader looked down at Marshalla wrapped around his legs and, raising his hand to her, unleashed a lightning bolt of quite some venom at her, catching her square in her shoulder. Shrieking in pain, Marshalla let go of his legs as she squirmed away from him.

“You stupid little whore!” he shrieked as he limped after her before finally sitting astride her even as she squirmed still.

“He’s going to kill her,” the voice whispered into Tip’s mind.

“Marsha!” Tip called out in tears.

“He’s going to kill her, Tip.”

“No!” he cried as the ringleader placed his right hand on her bosom. As he did so, the smell of burnt flesh quickly filled the air as Marshalla screamed for all she was worth.

“Stop it!” Tip yelled. “Stop it, please!”

“I can stop him.”

“Leave her alone!”

“I can stop him, Tip.”

“Leave her alone!”

“Release me. Release me and I’ll stop him. I’ll stop them all.”

“Leave her alone!”

“Touch the sphere. Touch the sphere and release me.”

“Damn it, just get the blasted key and let’s go!” one of the invaders yelled. But the ringleader refused to listen. Instead, he raised both his hands, and as lightning flashed between them, he slowly lowered them towards Marshalla, his hands wide enough to fit aside her head. It was then that Tip turned and, hurrying over to the podium, began scrambling up the podium’s steps.

“Tip, what are you doing?” Davian called out. At his words, all within stopped to stare at him, including the ringleader. Emboldened, Tip continued his scramble.

“Tip!”

Tip ignored his friend. Once near the top, he raised his right hand. But then, another lightning bolt ripped through the air, this time striking Tip’s outstretched hand. Screaming in pain, Tip looked over at the ringleader as he stood glaring at Tip. Glaring briefly back at the brigand, Tip returned his gaze to the void sphere, before lunging at it just as the ringleader brought his hand up to strike Tip once more. But he was too late, for as the lightning danced between his fingers, Tip slammed his left palm upon the void sphere.

“Thank you.”

As all within stared, the void sphere sank slowly into the runic stone.

“What have you done?” Davian whispered once the sphere was gone from sight.

Tip turned to stare at him, his mouth agape, but no words came. There was an energy about him, a force that seemed to still his tongue and bind him where he was. Shaking his head, he turned his gaze back to the runic stone, not knowing what to expect. Then, all at once, a roar like nothing Tip had ever heard echoed thunderously about the library, deafening all within as a mighty wind blew forth from the runes upon the lowest step of the podium, its raging currents forcing away all that was near as it circled the podium, leaving Tip cowering in wide-eyed terror.

“Marsha!” he cried as he stared at his dear friend, his eyes pleading.

“Tip,” Marshalla whispered as she scrambled to her knees, her terror raw and palpable. Then, the howling winds began to climb the podium, its ascent steady and sure.

“Marsha!” Tip shrieked as he clambered up to the zenith of the podium, his gaze now upon the encroaching winds.

“Tip,” Marshalla said. To stand was beyond her, her legs were not her own, but every fiber of her being willed her to race over to Tip, to vault up the podium and snatch her dear friend from the clutches of…whatever now held him captive. And so, in her desperation, she sought to crawl to him. But then, as the winds touched the runic stone upon which poor Tip now stood, it all suddenly collapsed in onto Tip, sending the little boy to his knees.

“Tip!” Marshalla screamed. As she reached out to him, Marshalla watched as Tip threw his head back and, clenching his fists tightly near his chest, roared at the heavens. But it was not this that stopped Marshalla and forced her blood to run cold. No, it was the sight of the great ghostly azure dragon that rose above him. With its wings stretched up to their highest, its own great maw raised skyward, it too roared at the heavens, a single heartfelt roar that shook the room to its very foundations, before finally falling into Tip just as the little boy crumpled upon the stone. Then, there was silence.

“Tip?” Marshalla called out. There was no response. With her heart in her mouth, Marshalla sat where she was, waiting with bated breath for some sign, anything. Then, with a smirk upon his lips, little Tip rose, his eyes azure and without pupils. He stared at the ringleader stood behind Marshalla.

“Now, where were we?” he said as he floated down from the podium.

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