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Mary Kirchoff

The Medusa Plague

The memory that had haunted Guerrand DiThon for months came to him in the eerie way of dreams, and he was both main character and witness to events. The Dream, as he'd come to call it, was always as painfully vivid as when he'd reenacted the historical event during his magical Test in the Tower of High Sorcery.

Guerrand was the black-robed wizard, Rannoch. He watched himself standing in secret shadow on the Death Walk that encircled the beautiful Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas. Below him, an angry and avaricious mob had gathered with the regent of Palanthas outside the tower's gate, waiting for the Council of Mages to turn over the key to this center of magical knowledge. These ordinary citizens had come, anticipating their first glimpse of the magical wonders inside. None had foreseen witnessing one mage's desperate act of love for the Art, a love all wizards shared.

As a gesture of his beneficence, the Kingpriest had promised all users of magic sanctuary from persecution at Wayreth, the last and most remote of the original five towers of sorcery. But Rannoch had no intention of retreating to the wilds of Wayreth, no faith in the charlatan's oath of safety there.

The Conclave should never have given in to the zealots' demands. In doing so, they damned magic, the current of Rannoch's life. Like blood to the body. Like water to the earth. What will feed my soul when the magic is gone?

The answer was, simply, nothing.

The Head of the Conclave, a wizard of the White Robes, used a silver key to close the gates of the tower for the last time. As Rannoch, Guerrand could see the eyes of the regent, who would take the key, linger on the tower greedily. The sight of the Conclave's most powerful mage standing shoulder to shoulder with an agent of their greatest enemy made Rannoch's blood boil. The regent reached out his hand, eager for the key.

Rannoch's voice rang clear and cold from atop the Death Walk and echoed across the tower's courtyard, to the Great Library itself.

'The gates will remain closed and the halls empty until the day when the master of both the past and the present returns with power!'

In the body of Rannoch of the Black Robes, Guerrand raised his arms like the wings of some great raven and let himself plummet from the walk. The spikes atop the silver and gold gates spun dizzily toward him, like talons eager to tear at his chest

Esme woke Guerrand with a kiss to his fevered brow. 'The Dream again?' she asked, honey-colored eyes filled with concern. She brushed his damp, dark bangs to the side. 'I came back from the construction site and found you mumbling, with your arms spread.'

Guerrand's eyes were wide with fear until he recognized the small room he shared with Esme in the temporary housing built by the Conclave of Wizards. Guerrand breathed his relief in a huge puff of air and pushed himself up onto his elbows. 'Yes, the Dream again.'

Esme shook her auburn head. 'I don't know why you've let just one aspect of the Test bother you so,' she said, sorting through the tangle of his clothing on a nearbv chair. She handed him a rumpled tunic and trousers. 'Here, put these on. Justarius intends to finish the last granite wall in the Red Order's wing today. He needs all six of his representatives to accomplish the task.'

'We're starting early,' muttered Guerrand. With the heels of his hands, he rubbed the seeds of restless sleep from his eves.

'The Council of Three are anxious to get Bastion in place The young woman chuckled. 'If you ask me, I think there's an unspoken competition between them to complete their wings first.'

Guerrand nodded absently. Dipping his hands into a basin of cold water, he splashed his face and reflected on how much had changed in the year since the destruction of Stonecliff's magical pillars. Solinari, Lunitari and Nuitan had made it known to the Council of Three that they were most displeased, furious even. Belize's actions had been a flagrant violation of the etxis decree that no mortals attempt to enter the Lost Citadel. To appease the gods and prevent future attempts to enter this most sacred of magical places, Par-Salian, Justarius, and LaDonna had agreed that the Conclave of Wizards would construct a fortress to stand between the mortals on Krynn and the storehouse of all magical knowledge that was the Citadel. The Council gathered the members of the Conclave and drew up plans for an impenetrable fortress that would serve as the final line of defense before the Lost Citadel.

But the death of the Master of the Red Order and the promotion of Justarius to Belize's position had left the Conclave of Wizards two members short. In appreciation for their courageous and skillful efforts at Stone- cliff, Justarius had offered Guerrand and Esme positions on the Conclave during the building of Bastion. The two had just passed their magical tests at Wayreth and were eager to participate in such a historic event.

Guerrand's gaze wandered out the window of their room to the construction site. Bastion was teeming with activity, mages and monsters working side by side to create history. Even months of backbreaking labor had not inured him to the majesty of the panorama.

Bastion was being constructed in a remote area of the Kharolis Mountains, hidden by the lushness of summer trees. When the Conclave had first arrived at the site, the only remarkable thing about it was the smooth gray rock that pierced the valley floor. The stone was taller than Guerrand-taller even than the elves now working around it. Clearly it had not always been there, because the ground was torn and churned as if the stone had just recently erupted through the turf.

Inscribed upon it in the language of magic was this message: 'Whoever accepts the power must bear the responsibility.' The Council of Three had made it known that the gods of magic had left the missive as both inspiration and threat. Some of the mages debated the precise interpretation of the stone's inscription, but all agreed that further angering the gods would carry grave consequences.

Towering behind the stone and dominating the flat, green valley were three enormous architectural wings, incongruously designed by the magical orders to reflect their differing temperaments. Modeled after the cathedral- like Palace of Palanthas, the porcelain white wing comprised the right side of the structure. Par- Salian's design was all intricate spires and flying buttresses fired with a glaze that gave the section a seamless appearance, one ornate joint flowing into the next. White-robed wizards, elves, and humans directed the efforts on the white wing.

Guerrand watched as earth elementals, enormous creatures of dirt and precious stones, called forth the finest clays from the soil. Water imbued with the essence of magic was added to the purest of this clay, then spun at terrific speed until the mixture resembled a towering tornado of mud. When the whirlwind ceased, a wet section of porcelain wall stood. Fire elementals, tall sheets of living flame, then set to work baking the wall to an unearthly hardness.

Summoning and controlling such powerful elementals was exhausting work for the white mages, but the grace and beauty of their wing was proof that the effort was worthwhile.

In contrast, the black wing seemed an odd, artificial- looking endeavor. The onyx edifice felt as cold and imposing as LaDonna herself. More concerned with secrecy than practicality, the members of the black council had designed seven separate, unadorned rooms that couldn't be reached through each other. Splayed out in a semicircle to the left of the white section, the black wing resembled the spokes of a double- rimmed wheel.

Onyx from rich veins of chalcedony mined in the Kharolis Mountains were carried night and day by stone golems, who were themselves made by dwarven masons of the evil, magic-wielding Theiwar race. Next, rock- fleshed xorns, which always reminded Guerrand of six-limbed fish heads, painstakingly polished the onyx to a high gloss.

As Guerrand looked on, stone golems were making slabs of the lustrous onyx for the wing's final room. Working tirelessly under the enchantment of the black wizards, the monstrous golems were silent save for the steady thudding of their feet.

Guerrand shifted his gaze back to the center of the site. A smile of pride lit his face. Without a doubt, he mused, Bastion's red wing was the most distinctive for its expert craftsmanship and its simple but practical design. The wing jutted back between the white and black wings, a simple rectangle made of red granite blocks mined by stone giants summoned from the Khalkists. A battalion of these smooth, gray giants, three times the height of a human, were under the direction of stalwart Daewar dwarves. The behemoths carried blocks of granite on their

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