At Round's End
A large explosion ignited the sky in a vibrant display of color. Osric looked up and smiled as he walked into the market district. A crowd of upturned faces surrounded him, all with expressions of awe and excitement at the sight. Three giants were hurling boulders a hundred strides into the air, while an enchantress waved her wand to trigger the eruption of the rock into light and ash. Osric took a few more steps toward the square and felt a tug from under his boot, accompanied by a loud squeal.
"Hey, watch where you are stepping! Damn humans!"
Osric looked down in embarrassment and lifted his foot off of the tail of an angry squirrel. It took a swig from a thimble of mead and staggered away, obviously intoxicated.
"My apologies, with all that is going on, I allowed myself to be distracted for a moment." He would have to pay more attention to where he was walking through the remnants of the merriment.
The morning parade had left remains of jubilation on the ground. Food vendors wheeled their carts wherever a crowd could still be found. The entertainment and creativity displayed at such an unprecedented occasion were spectacular. The duels and displays of unique magical gifts were awe inspiring. The noise could be heard for miles, and crowds here and there were amused by the activities still taking place.
There were wizards and witches trying to make a name for themselves with their most impressive feats of magic, giants arm wrestling, and kids playing carnival games. A crowd of children surrounded the most popular game which involved levitating a shaking bucket full of water and trying to fill up a moving bottle.
Near the end of the market district on the way to the palace, Osric slowed to watch as a lion demonstrated his ability of fire telling. His deep voice rumbled as it captured the imagination of the children watching his story come alive in the flames of the nearby fire. He was walking around the fire pit near the middle of the square, placing his massive paws carefully to avoid the toes of the children that eagerly awaited his words. The inflections of his voice guided the figures and images created by the flames, and shadows played on the buildings and shops surrounding the show. The lion was telling a traditional story of how men and lions learned to respect each other from witnessing the hunt that each performed.
Osric had been captivated by fire tellings since he was a child, and it was one of his favorite stories. He had loved watching it each year at the start of hunting season. As young boys, he and Kenneth had been taught by the traditional fire tellings to always behave honorably in a hunt and to respect the last wishes of their prey. They had loved to sit for hours watching the figures of flame act out the narration in the fire. Then they would sneak away with their fathers' spare bows, and practice until their mothers called them in for bed. His childhood had been fun and carefree, although brief.
The scene brought back memories of his parents, who had both been killed when he was fifteen by a lion hunting to feed his family. They had been traveling to Lothaine, the small town just a day's walk from Stanton where Osric's parents had been raised. Once a year they had traveled back to the Lothaine Temple to give thanks to Archana for their blessings, and confer an offering of gold to the Temple Attendants.
That year, they had left Osric behind in Stanton, and prey had been scarce on the grasslands. Osric had been in the training arena, sparring with Kenneth at DuJok; a form of unarmed combat that all Vigiles had to be proficient in, when the lion had come to thank him for his sacrifice to feed his family. He had brought Osric his father's short sword and returned the gold that they had planned to leave in tribute at the temple. It had been a considerate gesture, maybe, but a devastating moment for a young Vigile recruit. Osric had acknowledged the lion's gratitude stoically, while inside he wailed with the agony of being left alone to face the world. His parents would never see him achieve his goal of becoming a Vigile, or be there to guide him when he had children of his own. Osric was glad he had been training in DuJok, for if he had been armed he may have given into the temptation to avenge his parents, rather than afford the lion the respect of a grateful hunter.
Osric had mourned his parents in private, then poured his grief and frustration into his training. He had quickly become the best swordsman in his class of recruits; and with his best friend Kenneth training with him, he soon had his sense of humor back, along with a sense of purpose. Kenneth's skills with bow and arrow always surpassed Osric's, and they made a formidable pair. Later that year, they had both joined the force of Stanton's Vigiles.
Osric had matured under the guidance of his Vigile superiors in the absence of his parents. Mid-way through his twenties and half a head taller than most people in his town, Osric was the Contege; the leader of the Vigiles. He swept his sandy hair back from his jade green eyes and paused to watch his favorite part of the tale dance through the flames. Resuming his patrol through the square, he stretched his arms behind his back. His lean muscular build from years of DuJok and swordsmanship, paired with a personable smile, made him stand out in the crowd. The eyes of every available young woman followed him as he crossed the square to the outpost, and he nodded his head to the lion as he walked by.
His promotion to Contege had come abruptly. Contege Thamas had gone missing just after Stanton's Ryhain, Domnall, announced the Ratification Ceremony would be held in their palace. Osric was contacted by the Hain of Domnall's staff, and informed that he was being promoted to Contege for his outstanding performance and loyalty to the Vigiles. As Ryhain, Domnall was the highest authority; it was an honor to be called into his company and accept the position directly from him.
He did, at times, feel as though the position was a bit much for a young man to handle, but his concern was quickly dismissed by his superiors. They assured him that he would grow into the job. Still, he sometimes wondered why they had chosen him to lead an elite team of security officers.
Osric had been serving with the Vigiles, in one form or another, for ten years. Although he felt confident in the performance of his job, the leadership was not something he was accustomed to. The Vigiles were professionals, and they carried out their duties relentlessly. Commanding men more than ten years his senior was not an agreeable feeling, and Osric would rather be taking the orders than giving them. His skill in sword play and hunting had contributed, yet if promotions depended on skill alone, they would have chosen his friend Kenneth. There was, of course, his innate magical ability to consider. It had certainly served him well as a Vigile.
His magical gift was of great use as a security officer, and he was superb in its execution. Osric was a Portentist. He had the ability to know when something was about to happen; something momentous, or dangerous. He could even feel the threatening intentions of others. A Portentist was a rarity and most often they were found in security of some sort.
Several murderers had been caught due to his diligence and an attempted assassination of the Chancellor of the Wizardly Union had been foiled by him, just months before. That, more than anything else, had led to his new position. He was proud of his advancement, even if he couldn't quite shake the suspicion that his superiors weren't telling him everything.
The night was cold, but that was to be expected in early fall. He wondered if he would wake up to snow the next morning. Osric was looking forward to warming up after his rounds with a hot mug of rulha. His broad shoulders fit well in his new, dark brown tunic. The ornate letter V stitched on the upper right breast indicated his rank, and paired with his standard issue tan breeches, he cut an impressive figure. His heavy, leather boots crunched on gravel as he skirted the crowd, preferring to scan the shadows with both his gift and his highly trained eyes. Most criminals could easily blend into a crowd, but they tended to slink along the perimeter where there were multiple escape routes and less people to bring attention to them. That kept them isolated and made it easier to pin-point them as the source of a potential threat.
Passing by the cart of a young Wand-Maker, he ran his finger along the hilt of his short sword. He had gotten into the habit of making sure his stick wand was still securely bound to the hilt. It was an Eni wand; a gift from the Chancellor for saving his life. He had been meaning to buy a leather pouch to carry it in, but since the promotion, he had been tied up with all of the preparations and had neglected to buy one. So, he bound it to the hilt of his short sword by winding leather cord around them both. Unfortunately, it had a habit of coming unbound. He made a mental note to seek out a leather vendor after the signing; the new wand was too expensive to risk losing. His wand securely in place, Osric felt the pride of the day coursing through him. He walked into the last security outpost on his way to the palace and warmed his hands at the fire by the door.
"Report!" He demanded with a stern look. Osric watched as the two Vigiles, dressed in light tan tunics with a small brown V on the breast, jerked around with wide eyes. They had been watching the lion's fire telling out a back window, across the small room from the door.
"Archana's bones!" Gordyn's voice rumbled from his barrel chest as he swore at Osric. He had been standing guard since before his new Contege could draw a bowstring, but Osric knew he meant no disrespect. Gordyn had never been one to hold Osric's age or inexperience against him. "You shouldn't sneak up on new recruits, sir, they may wet themselves."
By the nervous look on the other Vigile's face, Osric was afraid that may have been more truth than jest. He allowed a smile to return to his face and let out a warm laugh. Slapping the young man on the back, Osric felt a pang of pity for the harassment the recruit likely suffered from Gordyn.
"Relax gentlemen; it's been a long day. It won't hurt to enjoy the last few hours." He kept his hand on the young man's shoulder. "What is your name?"
"Dru, sir, from Dangsten."
Osric hadn't heard of the town, but he imagined it must be small. He got the impression that Dru wasn't used to the city yet.
"Well, Dru from Dangsten, if Gordyn gives you too hard of a time, you just let me know and I will deal with him. It wouldn't be the first time. He may have helped train me in DuJok, but it's been years since he could beat me." Gordyn's only retort was a loud grunt and an exaggerated roll of his eyes.
"Yes, sir," Dru replied, grinning shyly.
As Osric crossed the room to warm his hands near the hearth, he heard Gordyn grumbling under his breath to Dru.
"Don't believe that dribble, I let ‘im win to build his confidence. I could pin ‘im with one hand behind me back. Taught ‘im everything he knows, and look where it got ‘im. He should be thanking me for that pretty new tunic." Dru laughed, and they went back to watching the celebrations out the window, both with one eye on the door. They wouldn't be caught off guard again.
Running the security for the peace ratification was a great endeavor. Osric was proud of his men; they had done a superb job. Thankfully, there had been only minor issues. One irate woman had caused a scene when she caught her large, hairy husband looking at another witch. It took five Vigiles to get her off of him. The witch's wand was confiscated until the next morning, when she could pick it up after paying her fine.
There was a theft of herbs at one of the shops, as well as a stolen wand at another, but both crimes had been resolved quickly. The culprit had been discovered when an odd limp was witnessed by an observant Vigile. It turned out to be a man with an umbrella wand stuffed down his pants. In a strange turn, he had stolen the herbs as well. Massive puss filled boils covered half of his body as the result of an anti-theft charm at the herb shop. He had then stolen the wand from the esteemed Wand-Maker Eni, because his own wand would not channel magic well enough to heal himself. Yet, why had he chosen an umbrella wand? Osric thought he would have been better suited stealing a quill, spatula, or knife wand; he may have gotten away with the theft if he had. Osric could understand the man's desire to have an Eni wand. He had owned a wand from an unknown maker; no wonder he could not heal himself. It looked as if it were a child's attempt at a wand; just a stick by any true way of measurement. No finish, no style, and no autograph.
Most of the best Wand-Makers liked to leave their autographs or initials on their product so people knew who made them. Well, except for Gus, of course. Though Gus didn't need to sign his wands, one could tell a true Gus by the bolt symbol. A few peddlers here and there claimed to sell them, but the bolt never looked quite right. Everyone knew that a true Gus wand could only be purchased from Gus himself. He could afford to be that picky, as he was the world's best Wand-Maker, and his wands were quite valuable.
Osric had spent enough time by the fire. His hands were warm and he needed to be to the throne room before the signing took place. All was well at the outpost, so he would leave the men to enjoy the story.
Gasps of excitement and awe came from the crowd, which Osric guessed was due to a display in the fire. He pulled his leather gloves on tighter, hoping to keep the warmth in longer on the last stretch up to the palace.
He approached the cart of a portly man he knew well; James had red cheeks and big brown eyes with more eyebrow than mustache. He waved and smiled at Osric, drawing attention to a disproportionately small chin for such a large man. He had an odd looking cart that he had made himself years before. It didn't look terribly sturdy, but James liked to brag about how he had reinforced the corners and walls with metal bars. That had allowed him to make a larger cart, and have it be much lighter than that of his competitors. The sign, however, simply said "MEAT". When Osric had asked about the sign several years back, James told him he had made the sign as a child with the help of his father. It was out of sentiment that he had never replaced it.
Frequenters of his cart knew that James sold a whole lot more than meat. His four course meals were known to be the best in the region. James was, in fact, also a trustworthy source of intelligence for Osric. He had provided him with a great deal of information on the assassination attempt that led to his promotion to Vigile Contege. Nobody is afraid to talk to a man behind a cart.
"I'm not used to seeing you so far from the dragon platform, James, but a scent that enticing can only come from one cart. How are you my friend?"
"Thriving, sir! I haven't seen a crowd this merry, or this hungry, in years. It was well worth rolling this beauty to the market. Have you time for a meal?" James motioned to a large slab of meat and a pot of vegetables. Osric's stomach grumbled at the scent of succulent tubers, sweet young corn and earthy green beans mingling together in the pot, with the subtle aroma of thyme and rosemary, and just a hint of lemon.
"To my despair, not now. It's about time for the signing, so I gotta head up to the palace." Osric smiled back and leaned in to appear to examine the food, and he whispered, "Have you heard anything of note?" In a city the size of Stanton there was always a criminal population. Most of them were rather boastful of their intentions unless there was a Vigile nearby.
"Not a peep, good sir, are you sure you are not hungry?" James was a great salesman and had worn down many customers with tenacity alone, as if the food was not good enough already. "As you can see, I have one of the best cuts of meat I have had in some time, as well as greens. I'll even throw in a honey cake. For you, free of charge; for the cake that is."
"I never said I wasn't hungry." Osric shook his head while speaking. "To be truthful, I am famished. However, I don't have time, that is the issue. Would you mind coming up by the palace in a bit? I am sure there are more than enough customers up there for you, and when I am done with my rounds, I will be one as well."
"Thank you, Osric, you are a good man. I will be there. You can count on me." James put a thick hand over his heart in a dramatic display, and smiled his most thankful smile. After all, no carts had been allowed up by the palace all day; just another layer of security added for the occasion.
Osric said his farewell and began to walk to the palace, his stomach objecting to leaving behind such impressive fare.
"Good sir!" James shouted after Osric. When he turned around, James tossed him a piece of dried meat; a thank you for the business he knew awaited him at the top of the hill. None of the food would go to waste that night.
"Thank Archana, and thank you." Osric said as he walked away and took a bite.
"And thank you, my friend!" Said James from behind the meat cart.
Osric was starting to feel as though he should be at the palace. Something was not quite right, but the feeling was not urgent, so he thought it must be nerves. It was, after all, a very important day. Ambassadors from every tribe, tongue, and species in the world were attending. The Ratification Ceremony had been almost a thousand years in the making, and he was in charge of the safety for everyone in attendance. Osric was taking the responsibility seriously.
He had personally met with each of the representatives gathering for the signing and had sensed no danger. If any one of the ambassadors had any desire to bring an end to the treaty signing, he would have known.
Osric took a bite of the meat James had thrown him, and savored the texture and taste as he walked. It had a rich, smokey flavor, and he looked forward to seeing the man again later for a real meal. The rough gravel path would soon turn to gray stone and be easier on his tired feet. Right then, he would welcome any comfort.
The night was not yet over and Osric had a nagging feeling, something isn't right! His pupils contracted, and his muscles tensed as he slowed down and looked around. He tried to focus with his gift to locate the source of the feeling, but it was vague, and he saw nothing out of the ordinary. The feeling passed and he felt his muscles relax and his heart rate slow. Maybe it had just been his nerves, as the time for the signing was fast approaching. He would stay alert for anything unusual, but he hoped nothing would go wrong so close to the conclusion of the day.
He passed an old witch, and overheard her teaching a group of children, "We are all granted the same measure of magic. It is how well you use it, and your wand, that make you a better witch or wizard!" She put much emphasis on the word ‘wand', and continued to explain that each of their magical gifts were different, "The gift is what separates everyone, and you are born with your ability; a Wand-Maker is the only one who can make wands." She went on describing different gifts as Osric trailed out of earshot.
He had to dodge out of the way of a woman chasing her children, shouting, "If you don't get back here right now, I'm going to sick a paun on you!" Osric laughed. The boys must have really been misbehaving for her to say that. To imply the threat of a supernatural beast was the way of most mothers, and even Osric's mother had attempted to scare him into good behavior on occasion.
The paun were something of a myth; nobody had ever even proven their existence. They killed quickly, regardless of the size of the group, and never left survivors; or so the story went. The trouble was, nobody had ever actually seen one. So anytime someone came across a gruesome scene of unexplained death, they blamed the paun.
The truth of the matter was that not every creature lived by the Hunter's code. It was popular, and most societies upheld the practice, but there were the occasional offshoots that killed more than they needed and left the remains to rot in the sun. They killed without honor, and refused to thank families for their sacrifice. It seemed unnatural, but it happened.
Shortly afterward, he passed by a heated scholarly debate on why unicorns could not, or would not, speak. Two elderly gentlemen had strong feelings on the subject; it was a common topic at any celebration. Only one fact was known and agreed upon by all; unicorns could not be killed.
He took a short detour around a scuffle over a game of lucky dice. One man felt that the other had used his wand to influence the roll. His Vigiles had that in hand quickly, however, impressing Osric with their prompt response.
At last, he could see the door to the palace. Osric's best friend Kenneth stood to the left side of the entrance. His Profice, Toby, second in command to the Contege, stood on the right. They saw him approaching and quickly ended their conversation, squaring their shoulders and gazing straight ahead. Osric was looking forward to the warmth of the palace, and he had to school his expression to hide his eagerness as he walked the last few yards on gray stone worn smooth over the years by the passage of many feet.
"Toby, Kenneth, is it safe to assume that you haven't had any trouble up here?"
Kenneth casually waved his hand in the air, and leaned back against the cool stone of the palace wall. "A couple deliveries are all we have seen in the last three hours, Os. Not even a dancing lady or a fire teller. Could you move a meat cart up here at least? We're withering away to nothing while you enjoy the festivities." He indicated the meat in Osric's hand with a nod of his head, wiping imaginary drool from his chin.
Kenneth was lean with dark features and brown eyes, and his corded muscles were a little too close to the surface of his skin. He kept his long, black hair tied back, and he usually had enough weapons on him to arm a small army. Between the sharp blades and his thickly veined, broad neck he could appear dangerous when he chose. His fellow Vigiles would fear him if it were not for his disarming smile and quick sense of humor.
Whoops and gasps could be heard in the distance where the crowds were gathered. Osric looked at Kenneth with feigned sympathy and took a big bite out of the meat in his hand.
"It's true, it's been all dancing girls and feasting for me today. I'm sorry you missed it." Then with a wink, "Toby, how do you put up with this guy?"
Toby was several inches shorter than the other two men, but his intimidating presence made up for what he lacked in stature. His smooth shaved head was oiled to a high sheen, in stark contrast to the thick mustache and beard that shadowed his jaw. A thin scar crossed his cheekbone just below his right eye and two thirds of his first finger was missing from his left hand. He liked to tell new recruits an elaborate tale of how he lost his finger, and nearly his eye, hunting drogmas in the swamps east of Catrain, but an Empath friend of Osric's had discovered it had really been a drunken brawl with an angry dwarf. An empty bottle of spirits is no defense against a sharp axe. Around his neck was a twist of colored thread his son had made for him, and a gold unity chain adorned his left wrist. Toby's skin may have been hard as nails, but he had a soft spot for his family.
Toby shot Kenneth a sarcastic grin. "After years of listening to Old Thamas grumble about his aching bones and tired feet, Kenneth's immaturity is a refreshing reminder of his youth, sir." Toby had been Contege Thamas' Profice for seven years prior to his disappearance. After his promotion, Osric was afraid that Toby would resent him for passing him up in the chain of command. Toby was more than qualified for the position, and would have been the obvious choice for Contege. Osric's first day in his new post, Toby had stood across from him, placed his palms flat on the surface of the desk, and looked intently at his new Contege. Osric had tried to appear less nervous than he had felt, but after a few moments of regard, Toby had smiled and said, "I am sure you are wondering why I am not sitting in that chair. They offered me the position, and I declined. I would much rather leave the joy of dealing with our superiors, and the responsibility for any failure, on your young and capable shoulders. I would be happy to advise you, but let there be no doubt, I do not envy you this promotion." Osric wasn't sure if he had meant it at first, but Toby had been an able and willing source of advice on everything from new recruit training to social etiquette.
"Well gentlemen, it won't be much longer and you will be able to go chase off the last of the fire tellers and head home for the night." Osric said, with a slap on Toby's shoulder, and he couldn't help adding, "This is the end of my rounds and my feet are killing me!" Then he walked through the large oak doors, standing open to let the crisp evening air inside. "Hey Kenneth," he turned back and motioned up the path, "James will be here soon. I made arrangements for after the signing for myself."
"I knew I could count on you, sir." Kenneth laughed.
"How many times do I have to tell you; don't call me sir."
"Sorry, sir!" Kenneth said with feigned fear in his voice. The men laughed as Osric walked into the entrance hall, shaking his head.
The sound of Osric's footsteps echoed back to him from the arched ceiling high overhead. In the short time it took him to cross the room, he took in each detail around him. Smooth white granite walls climbed thirty paces into the air to meet the unique stone ceiling. Pale colored stone was intricately layered to create an elaborate scene of wooded hills, yet the stone was so delicate that the sun illumined the scene, adding depth and shadows to the detailed carvings, and its path could be traced across the ceiling to mark the time of day. At mid'day, sunlight streamed in through a great domed skylight, casting a halo of golden light upon the throne on the raised dais in the next room.
Behind him, to either side of the wide oak doors, hung elaborate tapestries. Each told its own story with richly dyed threads. One had been woven by the women of Stanton to depict The First Hunt; Braya with his head bowed and a drogma at his feet, offering its heart to his blade. The other was woven by elven hands and had the haunting illusion of movement in its pastel depiction of Er'amar entering the Grove of Unicorns.
Directly in front of him, a wide staircase led up to a balcony that spanned the width of the room and overlooked the adjacent throne room. The brown marble stairs were wide enough at the top that four men could walk abreast, and they widened gracefully to three times that at their base. Oak hand rails curved majestically alongside the steps, anchored by twisted columns of white marble. The wall behind the stairway, separating the entrance from the throne room, was punctuated by four arching doorways; two on either side of the staircase. A massive crystal chandelier was suspended in midair above the stairs, holding hundreds of lit candles, and torches lined the walls, casting a golden hue to the air itself. Servants went about their business, whisking platters full of food between the throne room and the kitchens.
He ascended the steps to get a good look at the throne room and oversee the Vigiles from the balcony. He noticed a discreet couple standing in the shadows on the far side of the balcony, exchanging whispered endearments over goblets of mulled wine. A young boy sat on the bench before an elegant grand piano. It took a second glance for Osric to realize that the boy was not playing the piano, but rather watching entranced as the keys danced before his eyes of their own accord.
As Osric approached the railing to view the proceedings, he again felt an alarm within him. His muscles tensed, his eyes focused, his hearing sharpened, and it was as though his skin was on fire. Something was not right, and the Portentist gift ignited within him. All the joy of the few moments with friends at the door disappeared. As the banquet went on, preceding the greatest peace treaty signing the world had ever seen, Osric gave hand signals to the Vigiles to begin subtly searching the room. He would not be a good custodian of this new post if he did not act when he felt his gift surge within. Having them search in a non-invasive manner would hardly be noticed by the high-society guests.
He watched the ambassadors' tables as they went about eating and drinking. The magical harp in the corner behind the head table was producing a soft, soothing tune, but it grated on Osric's nerves. He needed all of his senses focused on finding the source of the warning that kept building within him. His men were busy searching now, and he could not get their attention. He knew there was a threat, and he must stop it. Something dangerous would happen any moment.
Time seemed to stop in that moment as he took in the scene. The faces of every ambassador showed joy; representatives of the irua and weasels; who always seemed to side with each other, the councilors for the elves, lions, Wizardly Union, dwarves, and the groundhogs; who had stayed united as long as stories had been told. Down the line, every face, every voice filtered through his gift; no danger was present. He needed to get down into the room and search himself. His Vigiles did not have his gift. They could look right past something, and it had to be small. He made the choice; there seemed so little time.
His Portentist gift prodded him along with an urgency he had never experienced. His heart raced as he approached the stairs at a run and jumped. His legs slid over the highly polished oak railing. Lightning fast, his body propelled down the length of the rail as he tore off his right glove. He slid along on his right hip until he was near enough to the ground for his legs to have a chance to carry him on after the drop. He gripped the railing hard with his right hand, his momentum swinging his body around to face the doors to the throne room. His feet hit the ground smoothly and quickly propelled him through the opening. He could hear a gasp from Kenneth back at the entrance, and his gift enticed him in that direction, as well. Two pulls? That's a first. Osric never hesitated, he knew he needed to continue toward the threat. The pull from behind him was peaceful, but the draw from the throne room was danger, and it was his job to deal with it. The strength of his gift was just as great in either direction, and his head felt like it was splitting in two.
The crowd was loud as he entered the room, and many people looked up in response to the way he ran in. He allowed his gift to guide him toward the danger, and it led him straight toward the head table. The pull from behind him was getting closer, and he thought he heard hoof beats coming up the path. Panic rose up inside of him as he rushed deeper into the room. There were so many people there, all joyously awaiting the signing of the treaty. He felt the danger rising, but could not locate the source. The faces of the seated crowd to each side of him lit up with amusement and they began to gasp and point. It all seemed to move so slowly, as he finally spotted the danger. A soft glow was coming from a goblet full of pearls on the head table. The crowd erupted in applause.
"The pearls!" Osric yelled as he slid to a stop and reached for his wand. The exclamations of awe continued from the crowd. He had no time to see why. His Portentist gift told him it was important, yet non-threatening; it would have to wait until he dealt with the threat. He planned to cast the pearl out of the windowed dome, high above their heads. As his hand felt for his wand, despair filled his heart. His wand was gone! He looked down at his side to see if it had fallen. He heard the sound of hoofs seeking purchase on the slick marble, and saw the tip of a ringed horn just miss his shoulder. He was propelled forward a few feet as something collided with his right hip. Light filled the room from the direction of the pearls, and a concussion wave ripped through the palace. Osric felt the cold marble floor, smooth against his cheek, as the blast forced him down. This can't be the end, Osric thought, as he felt consciousness fading. Panic, frustration, pain and fear overwhelmed him as everything went black.