Chapter 39

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Chapter Thirty-nine

Kaine hurried to his old dormitory, fending off journeyman mages here and there along the way. Their magic was no match for his but when he tried to go enter the building he was pushed backward. Someone had placed a ward over the entrance. When he placed his hand against it, he felt the power of many mages running through it. Without the blood magic, touching it would have knocked him all the way back to the forest, but he only felt a gentle buzzing. He squeezed his eye shut as he pushed his hand through the ward and it fell away.

The rooms inside were empty. He sniggered. They were trying to trick him. No one would ward an empty building so heavily. He paced the hallways, seeking any sign of hidden mages. At the dining hall he found a group of young apprentices huddled together in a corner, trying to cast an invisibility spell. He spat on the floor, disgusted at how ineffective their spells were.

"Please, sir," an apprentice said, his voice quavering, "don't kill us."

Kill them? What was the boy talking about? Kaine had never killed anyone. Every dead mage had died from his own spell bouncing back at him. It was not his fault. He started to explain what had happened but his mouth snapped shut. He had a better idea.

He puffed out his chest and lifted his chin. "You will not die if you pledge yourselves to me, Just give me a drop of your blood and promise to take my side against my enemies and I will protect you." He paused for effect. "You must pledge or die." He would not kill them, of course, but he thought it sounded much more convincing than if he had said 'please'.

The apprentices looked at each other and then at Kaine. Slowly, one by one, they knelt in front of him. One of the young mages found a knife and each mage pricked his finger to offer Kaine a drop of blood. When the last mage had made his offering, Kaine felt the magic shift inside of him. It seemed to finally be satisfied.

When the final apprentice had given his blood, he handed the knife to Kaine and his face paled. He stepped away from him, trembling.

What's wrong?" asked Kaine.

"Your eyes." said the apprentice, cringing. "They are black. And your hair. It's gone completely white."

Kaine turned toward a window to check his reflection and was taken aback. The apprentice was right. His appearance had changed completely. He was much taller than before, with white hair flying crazily around his head and black eyes that looked like dark shadows in his skull. He liked it. He smiled, revealing long, pointed teeth.

"What are your orders, sir?" asked an apprentice, interrupting Kaine's thoughts.

"I must see the Archmage," said Kaine. "You will all accompany me. If you are with me he will surely listen. And know this; you are bound to me now. If you even think about turning against me in any way, I will know and you will be punished."

Kaine's pledges gathered around him like a human shield. They went to the Archmage's office but no one was there. He rubbed his chin.

"They must be in the Council Chambers. No doubt they are looking for a way to defeat us," he told his followers.

They marched across the courtyard and Kaine opened the door to the Council Chambers. They were greeted by a blast of magic so strong it knocked the entire group backward.

"That was rude," Kaine said. He stood and wiped the dust from his robe before pressing forward.

The Master Mages stood in a circle around the Archmage, chanting. Their faces registered shock when they saw Kaine's new form and realized he was the one who was attacking the Academy.

"Kaine?" the Archmage said, his voice hoarse. "What has happened to you?"

"I came here to ask for help," Kaine said, "but I can see that you need more help than I do. Pledge to me, like the others have." He made a sweeping gesture with his arms. "Or are you willing to risk the lives of these apprentices to fight me?"

The chanting from the Master Mages grew louder. The Archmage raised his staff. "I will only warn you one time," he said. "Surrender now and I will see that you are not harmed."

Kaine laughed. Not harmed, indeed. What made the Archmage think he could harm him? "Pledge yourselves to me," he said, "and I will let you live."

The Archmage uttered a single word and tapped his staff hard on the ground. The Master Mages turned towards Kaine as one and pointed their staffs at his head. The combined power of all the strongest mages in the land surrounded Kaine. His orb collapsed and the Master Mages smiled in victory but their expressions quickly turned to horror when he laughed and raised his arms.
Kaine used the power from the mages' own spell to capture their magic. They waved their arms frantically, trying to reverse the spell but it was too late. As their magic drained from them, their skin dried and cracked and their bodies shriveled.

The Archmage and Master Mages fell where they stood, paralyzed but not quite dead. Kaine considered his options. He could continue draining them until they died, of course. That would be easiest. But maybe he would need them later.

"Today is your lucky day," Kaine said. "I will let you live." He turned to his followers. "Tie their hands behind their backs and gag them." The apprentices scurried to obey.

Kaine bounced on the balls of his feet, unable to stand still with so much energy inside of him. It was too much magic for him to hold. He would have to store it somewhere. He spotted a blank grimoire near the window, similar to the one he had found in the cellar months ago. He opened the cover and laid his palms across the pages. The magic from the Master Mages slid out of him and into the book, each sheet filling with strange marks.

When the grimoire was full, he placed it in a cabinet and warded the door. He and the apprentices filed out of the room, locking the door behind them. Kaine performed a containment spell, turning the Council Chambers into the Master Mages' prison. It was sweet revenge after the way they had stripped him of magic the Binding Ceremony.

With the Master Mages now under his control, it would be a simple matter for Kaine to convince the rest of the academy mages to pledge to him.

He and the apprentices advanced to the arena where he had been denied his dream of becoming a Dragon Mage all those months ago. His followers called to the other surviving mages to join them. When everyone had gathered, he climbed the podium in the center of the arena and looked skyward, arms outstretched. His body rose into the air and he floated, watching the mages gather below him.

"Do you pledge your loyalty to me?" Kaine said, his voice sounding like thunder.

"We do," answered the mages.

"Do you promise to obey, for the good of all mages everywhere?"

"We do."

"Kneel before me and give me your offering."

As one, the mages dropped to their knees and bled their palms. They stretched their arms toward Kaine. He floated among them, accepting their gifts of blood and magic.

"You are mine, now," Kaine said, "and I will protect you. Together we are too strong for anyone to defeat us."

The mages cheered.

Kaine sighed in satisfaction, but the feeling was fleeting. He was the new Archmage of the Academy of Magic but that was not enough. He also wanted to become Lord of Llanwynn. He looked around the arena at the dozens of mages who were now pledged to him and waiting to follow his orders.

"Are you with me?" Kaine said.

"Aye," the mages shouted.

"Then follow me now and fulfill your destiny!"

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