Rhys Highridge should know better than to play with a cursed sword. But he doesn’t, and now Tyrevane has disgorged its occupant. Reborn by the might of vampire mist, Wrenyvar, a half-giant nightmare, will stop at nothing to exterminate the human population of Sularil. Thankfully, Archmage Halla Haeron traps Wrenyvar in an experimental bubble of time, giving the B-Team a chance to grow in knowledge and power, recover the Banishing Blades, and find the courage to face this foe of their own making.
Praise for the B-Team
“Always my first second choice.”
–Halla Haeron, Archmage of the Sularin League
“They eat all my food. Seriously, every time.”
–Lord Sondal Day, Minister of League Affairs
Gripped in his hand, the gleaming sword Tyrevane pulsed purple against the darkness, full as it was with the blood and mist of an ancient vampire. He looked down at the blade, set his teeth against each other, and his lips curled back in triumph.
He had a hand.
He had eyes to see that hand.
He had lungs to breathe in the shock of recognition.
He had a body…again.
For so long he had been elsewhere, an unplace of essence without presence, both timeless and tedious, like a recurring dream. He had known only the dull ache of hunger – not the hunger of the stomach, but the rapacious ambition of a mission unfulfilled. How he had come to be trapped in the sword he did not know. All he knew was the One Made of Many calling his name from across the planes, granting him the power to do what must be done.
His name: Wrenyvar of the Moon Howl Clan, warchief and protector of the descendants of the Olon.
He held his shining sword against the darkness and saw many bodies lying like rag dolls around the bone-strewn chamber. But one remained standing, fangs bared and raw magical energy held in her fists. He could not be delayed in this tomb, fighting a vampire of unknown strength and ability. He reached up and felt the ironwood crown biting into the pale, hairless skin of his head. A halo of jagged stones orbited the crown, each throbbing with potential magic. He touched one stone, and a portal ripped open behind him.
“My time is near,” he said to the vampire, his voice deep and full of gravel.
Stepping backward through the portal, for an instant he was bodiless again, and then his feet touched solid ground. He stood atop the burial mound where he had instructed his followers to lay his bones.
The night sky was heavy with clouds, and the moon was nothing more than a faint haze of light illuminating one small sliver of the starless expanse. Wrenyvar raised his sword and howled a piercing note of triumph towards the hidden moon. At long last, he had returned – not in the way he had planned, but nonetheless he was here to finish what he started. And by the looks of the settlement spread out before him, he had work to do.
Wrenyvar snarled in disgust at the town built so close to a sacred site of his people, even one that housed a thorn in his side, Ashlyra of the Forever Sky. If his followers had fulfilled his instructions, his own bones were buried with hers. Something must have gone wrong, though, for he was supposed to return through the magic of skeletal undeath. But here he was, living, breathing, howling, with every ounce of muscle he had ever possessed stretched tight against his ten-foot-tall frame.
Now to put that muscle to the test, along with the magic of his crown. He touched another jagged stone, and the sky ripped open above the sleeping town. Fire and brimstone rained down, a red slurry of death and destruction that lit Wrenyvar’s ghostly face like stained glass. The blaze leapt from roof to roof, setting alight the dry thatch. Wails and screams of the awakened humans mingled with the roar of the fire.
As they fled the conflagration, Wrenyvar met them with the point of Tyrevane: three hundred dead before the moon had reached its zenith, and this sum did not include those the fire claimed. Wrenyvar spoke no word during the slaughter, but his blade sang as it sliced through the air, a whirring whistle of warning come too late to aid his victims, humans all, the scum of the lands to the east.
In the light of the burning town, Wrenyvar stacked the bodies in a great heap and then, one by one, moved them into position. He began with twelve of his victims, arranging each one at the cardinal and secondary directions with himself at the center. He connected these bodies with more from the heap, making a ring of gruesome slaughter. From there, he extended each of the twelve lines, like the spokes of a wagon wheel, until they were twelve bodies long. These spokes took about half his supply, and he began to worry he would not have enough. But his concern was unnecessary. With the remaining bodies, he connected the spokes with three more concentric circles at regular intervals, the largest encompassing the wheel’s entire circumference.
By the time he was done arranging his horrible display, the fires in town had burned low and the moon was gone. It was the darkest hour of the night. Dawn would arrive soon. Wrenyvar stood in the center of his wheel of the recently dead and began chanting. If they were words at all, they came from a language never before spoken in Sularil. The One Made of Many had whispered them to Wrenyvar before, and during his bodiless exile, the chant had played interminably through his recurring dream state.
On the twelfth repetition of the guttural song, the blood streaking the bodies began to glow scarlet and rise into the air. The blood gathered like tributaries flowing into swollen rivers and rushed towards Wrenyvar. They converged in a spot above his head. A crimson crack splintered the material of reality, a new fault line between worlds.
The rivers of blood fed the crack.
The crack grew and grew.
Archmage Halla Haeron startled from her trance. Her hands flew to her chest where her old heart beat faster than it had in many a long year.
“Imral, come back to me.” She shook her caregiver’s knee. “Imral!”
The young elf opened their eyes. “Is it time to return from Karanathan already, Archmage? I was having a –”
“Something has happened,” Halla hissed, her creaky voice crisp and direct. “A tear in the Weave of magic. I felt it like a crashing wave.”
At Halla’s no-nonsense tone, Imral leapt to action. Their bo staff was in their hands before they finished asking, “Where did this happen?”
“Due south,” Halla said. “The Crossroads, I believe. Fetch my robe and cane, quickly, please.”
Imral dashed to the next room. While they were gone, Halla shuffled to a shelf and opened an iron box resting there. She drew forth a thin piece of slate and a scroll and stowed them on her person. Imral returned in seconds and helped Halla dress.
The archmage gripped her young friend’s hand and looked up into their eyes. “While in my home, you protect me from myself,” Halla said, her normally playful voice full of gravity. “Where we are going, you must do no such thing.”
Before Imral could reply, Halla squeezed their hand and stepped into the endless blue of the Ethereal plane.
Wrenyvar raised his arms as if to embrace the crack forming above him. The black lines and whorls of his patterned tattoos stood out against the bare limestone skin of his thickly muscled arms. His hands could nearly grasp the crack, if there had been anything physical to grab.
He opened his mouth to howl again, but the muscles around his face would not move. His arms, too, were frozen in midair. There, standing before him in the crimson glow of the bloody rivers, was an ancient elf, her hand held out towards him. Wrenyvar grunted with effort to break the magic, and the spell’s energy surged upward from his body into the ironwood crown. He brought his arms down like two hammers ready to pound the elven nail below him. But his fists glanced off a shimmering blue shield around his sudden foe.
“Who are you?” Wrenyvar roared.
“I would ask you the same thing,” Halla called back. “Your people have been gone for more than twice my lifetime.”
Wrenyvar pulled Tyrevane from his belt and held it at a low guard, as his enemy barely came up to his waist. She probably weighed less than one of his arms, but he could sense the magical might contained in her Long-Lived bones. It was a good thing he wore Ashlyra’s crown.
The elf reached back and gathered a crackling spear of pure energy, which she hurled at Wrenyvar’s chest. He merely bowed his head and allowed the crown to consume the spell. With his head bent low, he could make out the fear and confusion in the face of the ancient elf. Now to add pain.
Wrenyvar took one giant step toward Halla and slashed his sword. The shimmering shield faltered and his blow took her in the arm, a shallow cut only, for the shield had slowed the blade. Without the magical barrier, Wrenyvar would have taken her arm off.
“Very well,” he said. “I’ll cut you up piece by piece.”
The elf backed away, but her small, shuffling steps were no match for Wrenyvar’s long strides. He circled her like a wolf toying with its prey. With each swing of Tyrevane, he dispersed more energy from her magical shield. Another slash cut her from side to navel, a third across her right thigh.
Suddenly, her body flickered, and the elf appeared a dozen strides away, back in the center of the grotesque circle. She looked up at the crack and began speaking a spell. Wrenyvar took two running steps and leaped.
Halla took her eyes off the nascent portal and gathered a storm’s worth of lightning in her hands. The branching bolts arced away from her and found the leaping Wrenyvar. A deafening crack of thunder sounded over the Crossroads as the lightning sizzled from Tyrevane’s tip and down into Wrenyvar’s body. The ironwood crown siphoned off a portion of the energy, but Wrenyvar bore the brunt of it. Such a lightning strike would have killed any normal person. He was far from normal.
Wrenyvar landed next to Halla. He jabbed with his sword. Halla fell back. He stalked towards her, the lightning having done little more than enrage him. A final whistling slash of Tyrevane broke the elf’s shield. She brought up her cane in time to deflect the blow, which glanced off her scalp. Blood flowed from her head, her arm, her side, her leg. Wrenyvar raised his sword to finish off the ancient wizard.
But his death blow clanged off a metal staff. In the blink of an eye, another elf had interposed themselves between him and his quarry. The new elf was younger and faster, and if they were afraid of him, nothing in their demeanor betrayed it. Before Wrenyvar could bring Tyrevane to a defensive position, the elf’s staff had hit his shin and torso. The blows were precise and strong.
But he was stronger.
He swung Tyrevane down with all his might, and the elf met the sword again with their staff. Wrenyvar was ready this time, and he steeled his grip on his sword, sending painful vibrations through the other weapon. It was enough to make one of the elf’s hands fly off the staff. Wrenyvar made to stab Tyrevane into the young elf’s chest, but they danced away.
“Imral!” the ancient elf shouted. “I told you not to interfere!”
The young elf did not answer. Instead, they rushed at Wrenyvar again. He braced for the whirlwind staff. But it never reached him. The ancient elf cast a spell, lifting the young elf off their feet and sending them hurtling out of harm’s way beyond the circle of bodies.
Wrenyvar turned back to the old elf. She lay before him below the cracking portal. Her cane was broken, her body bleeding. She held nothing but a thin piece of slate between her gnarled fingers. He raised Tyrevane to strike.
Halla used the last of the telekinesis spell to send the mage slate into the sky. She knew whatever spell she cast directly at her foe would be eaten by his crown. So she cast her most powerful magic not at him, but at reality itself. A bubble of frozen time spread out from her, encasing Wrenyvar, the portal, and the circle of bodies in a grisly tableau of death. Halla staggered out of the bubble, unaffected by her own magic. She craned her neck to see the mage slate stabilizing the spell, a successful field test of her experimental design. She could not defeat the creature frozen at the center of the time bubble, but she could capture him for an uncertain slice of the future.
Imral caught Halla as she fell from the shimmering orange glow of her magic. There was blood everywhere. The young caretaker bound her wounds as best they could, but their ministrations were a delay only. Halla was dying.
“My pocket, Imral, the scroll,” Halla gasped.
Imral ripped it from Halla’s robe. “A teleportation spell?”
“Get them and bring them here.” Halla grabbed Imral’s sleeve with her bloody hand, opened a portal right behind her caregiver, and shoved them through.
“Get who?” Imral asked as they stepped backward into Ethereality.
The portal closed as Halla slumped backward and whispered to the predawn sky, “The B-Team.”