Iliar the Solitary sat alone in his room atop a high tower in Dhereshu. He was the Lord Keeper of the City of Magic, the most senior magician in all the realms. He was in charge of the education of those who were found to contain the spark within them. Desert folk from both East and West came here to learn. Some were assigned to work for the Empire, in accordance with the Pact signed by one of Iliar’s predecessors.
Today, he was glad that the Pact left the discretion of whom to send up to the Lord Keeper. While those outside the family of magicians knew some of the powers available, no one who wasn’t trained in Dhereshu knew them all. One carefully kept secret was that some of the most powerful magicians could communicate with each other with nothing other than the power of their minds. This communication was accurate and instantaneous.
For that reason, powerful mages were always assigned to serve the royal families of the realm and several were dispatched to serve the Emperor directly. It was one of these who had contacted Iliar the day before, to let him know of the attack on the Imperial family and the Emperor’s subsequent reaction.
Word had quickly spread across the realms and magicians had started to make their way home to the deserts, collecting as many of their kind as they could on the way. Now, Iliar was preparing to do what hadn’t been done in over two hundred years – take a stand against the Empire.
He knew that in a direct fight, his people were no match for the combined forces the Empire could bring to bear. It was only their usefulness that had allowed the desert folk to retain their autonomy this long.
He was disturbed by the reports that the attempt on the Emperor had been orchestrated by one of his kind. He knew that no one within the hierarchies of either Kolam Robak or Yometh Robak had been behind it. That was one of the first things he had ascertained. But if he didn’t act quickly, he would not be able to get to the bottom of this mystery.
He stood and walked out onto the stone and wattle parapet that looked out over his city. The white of the adobe reflected the bright sun into his eyes. He raised them and looked to the west, toward danger. Then, he turned his attention to the men and women standing in the courtyard below.
“My fellows,” he said, not needing to raise his voice to be heard. “After nearly four hundred years of peace, danger has come to us at last. We have strived to serve the Empire well and true and now the Empire has turned against us.” He paused, letting this sink in. There were few in the city who didn’t know this already, but it still needed to be absorbed.
“Right now, they send their griffins against us. Against this host, we cannot stand. But fear not. We need not give in to despair. For I have a plan. Imperial troops have not set foot on our sands in centuries, and no griffin has spied our city in that time.
“That does not change today.”
He looked out over the faces of his people and saw only grim determination and trust.
“Although rarely used, we have the power to cloud men’s minds. Today we will do that to wipe our city from the face of the earth. Let the griffins come. And let them think we have been swallowed by the sands.”
With that, the men and women below gave a great cry and moved to positions around the city. It would not be easy. There were many minds to fool, both human and not. The griffins would not depend on their eyes alone, but on their superior sense of smell to root out the location of Dhereshu. By the end of this day, the men and women under Iliar’s command would be exhausted. But if successful, the men of the Imperium would be leaving unsatisfied.
Iliar only hoped it would work.