For a moment he could only stare at what lay before him. Beleger had been unable to sleep for the past two days, working on combining the spellform fragments four and five times per day instead of one or two. At last, it was complete. There was a twisting in his lower abdomen, a mixture of fear and excitement. Before him lay the way out but one mistake, or bad timing, would be the end of it.
He knew he needed to wait. It was nightfall, but the Keep was still fairly active. He would have to wait until the halls were mostly empty, when a great deal of Arandil's inhabitants were either asleep or at least retired to their rooms. He would bypass the first sets of wards before removing the collar from his neck. He had a feeling that some sort of trigger, an arcane alarm of sorts might set off once he had taken it off. Another thing that occurred to him, was that he would not be able to take much of anything with him, considering the way he would be traveling.
There were too many things he would miss, his books, he would not even be able to bring clothes. It was then that he began working on a modified version of a spellform used for summoning a single object. The way the original spell worked, was that a single item, often a mage's staff, or a particular book, was enchanted to have some sort of link with the bearer. The second enchantment allowed for it to be called either to the mage's hand, or to the general area in some cases when the summoning spellform was cast.
Beleger had taken the spellform, and then created a similar one that allowed for any object within a small designated space to be relocated. There were limits to it, he found. Go beyond about a three foot across circle and there was a change not everything would show up, or some of it might get damaged. Some of his favorite books, and a few changes of clothing, and some other odds and ends he deemed important now rested in an old barrel in the catacombs. He realized that after he had breached the vault, he would have to get some of the stuff taken from it, down there somehow. That was when he made a reverse version of the spell, allowing him to send objects touched by a spellform, into a designated location. He had the spells already prepared. He would have to take what he needed quickly, and then flee, from there to the garden. The vault was where he would ditch the collar as well.
Beleger had also for some time debated taking anything from the vault,and if he did, then how much to take? He had learned that most of the heavily Keep involved mages were paid a sum of gold, some monthly, some yearly for their contributions. Artefacts and books that were brought in, translations of older works into other languages, the development of spellforms, new teaching methods. The Arandil paid well for those mages who increased the Keep's collection of knowledge and relics. Beleger had in fact, done many things that were considered simply too tedious. He had completed translations that had taken years.
He had written down most of his work with developing various spellforms, which he had written down in detail, how they were done, even drew diagrams showing where and how they were done differently to both be stronger, and use less energy. Copies of over two centuries of such work was in his room. He had calculated about how much he had heard of the other mages being paid, with how many years of his time here he had spent where he was doing a great deal of work that could benefit the Keep. There had even been times when some of the mages had actually, in an indirect way come to him with questions. He assumed that his upkeep had cost them money, and so he reduced the total he would have been owed had he been a normal Keep tied mage, by half.
It made him feel somewhat better about 'stealing' as he could take far more than he had planned on taking and in a sense it could be justified. Had he like the others, the Keep would have owed him, anywhere from two thousand five hundred gold, to closer to four thousand. Considering he could not even carry a thousand with him, he did not consider it all that wrong. Perhaps his logic was not flawless, but at the same time, it lessened the worry over taking something that was not his.
He had spent thirty seven years planning for this night, thinking about it every day. He had thought it through, tried to think of other ways it could go if something went amiss. He wanted to hole up in his room the entire evening, some sort of illogical fear that they might somehow know what was going on just by seeing him, or less illogical, that someone might pick up on his strange (stranger than usual) mannerisms and suspect something was amiss. He left the room, went to the kitchen to request some tea, too on edge to eat, although the cook, placed a couple biscuits and some sliced fruit on the tray along with the requested tea. He went to the indoor garden, picking at the food, reading a bit, although he couldn’t quite focus on it, which in itself was completely unlike him. He pretended to read at least, as there were still some mages and various inhabitants of the Keep filtering through here and there.
He spent about two hours wandering the halls as he often did, first a visit to the catacombs to double check his barrel, and add a few books to it, then just through the main hallways and chambers of the Keep, and something occurred to him, that he never expected he would feel. It seeped in slowly, a heavy sort of feeling.. He realized then, he would miss Arandil It had been his prison, but it had also been his home.
What if leaving was a mistake? He thought on this for some time, as Arandil at last grew quiet. What if it was as terrible, or worse as Dani had made it sound? What if he could not handle being on his own, homeless more or less, and away from the Keep and the life he had always known? He moved outside onto one of the balconies. The fear has set in, the anxiety. Countless what if's flowing through his thoughts. Leaning against the rail, he gazed out. There were lanterns still lit here and there, but Arandil Commons was mostly dark.
It was a clear night, and an endless expanse of stars stretched out across the sky. It was clear enough that he could see off on the horizon the tops of towers, another city? Was it the one Dani had come from?
If he did not leave, he knew he would regret it. He would always feel that pull, the feeling that he was being suffocated slowly within the walls of Arandil, that he was missing so much, being limited in what he could learn and accomplish. A road leading away from the Keep seemed to stretch and wind endlessly, over rolling hills, off into the unknown. He turned back inside, heading for his room. He pushed aside his misgivings, fears, the attachment he felt for the place he had spent the last three hundred years of his life.
He closed his door. From a little used drawer he took out a leather drawstring bag, large enough almost to be a pack, the dark brown oiled leather was thick as well. It would stand up to a lot. He pulled out as well, several maps, folded, and shoved them down into the bottom of the bag. He attached it to his belt, to keep his hands free.
Moving to the wall, he crouched and unveiled the still shielded spellforms. It was here that it would get complex. He stood, and they were like faint shimmering orbs around him.. if he removed the 'veils' too soon, someone would sense the powerful spellforms being wielded and it might draw attention to him. But shielding everything he did would take more time and energy. His heart was pounding and his legs felt slightly rubbery as he moved to the door, and stepped back out into the hall. He gazed at his room one last time before closing the door. There was a finality somehow to the click of the shutting door. He drew in a deep breath, and hurried towards the Vaults.
The one he needed was three floors above him. The first ward, did nothing to stop intruders, but it would hold an 'energy signature' of whoever had passed through there. They would find out soon enough he had been in the vault, but parting the spellform would delay them in figuring out just what all he had done. He used the first 'orb' there, parting the strands, invisible to most, senseable only by those who could wield the Aether. He left it for now, but like the other wards, he would seal them on his way out.
The door to the vault was heavy, nearly a foot thick, and eight foot tall. Rounded, almost a halfmoon, it was inscribed heavily with runes. The wards around it hummed faintly. Sweat beaded on his brow as he wove a spellform to muffle what he was doing, and unveiled one of the orbs. The spellform arched out, already in the correct pattern to lift back key strands of the ward. There were nine enchantments on the door of the Vault. Only a handful of Keep members had access to bypass them, anyone else needing something from them, had to get special permission. One by one the wards peeled back in layers, until at last, he was able to pry the door open, heaving his weight against it. A small cantrip brought enough of a soft light to the room to see by.
The chamber, from wall to wall was dozens of chests of gold, and some bulging sacks briming with coins. There were statues, figurines of solid silver and gold, and smaller chests of gems in every color imaginable. The guilt over taking some coin with him vanished. He picked up one of the smaller bags, he guessed it might have had around two hundred gold in it. Still, a fortune, but it was a miniscule amount compared to what was there. He sent the first bag to his barrel hidden deep in the catacombs. He sent a smaller bag, about have that size, of silver coins as well. From his pocket, he pulled out some small drawstring bags, mostly used for storing tea, herbs and such. He scooped out about twenty gold and put it in one of the bags, closed it and placed it in the larger leather bag,. He did the same with silver. A small bag of various gems was sent to his barrel. The final bag. He thought back to Dani. He had maps, with luck, maybe he could find where she worked? He knew he was putting himself in danger stopping anywhere, but he wanted to see her again. He filled another small bag of gold coins, this one he placed about thirty in, and shoved down on top of the other bags and the maps.
A couple months before, he had gotten everything ready, hiding the things he wanted to take. He ended up having to remind himself that he did not have to take all of his clothing, or his quill, inkwell and parchment, he could buy them, in a city or town somewhere. He had to travel as light as possible until he was somewhere safe.
His hands were shaking slightly as he brought forth the three orbs that would remove the collar. It was heavily enchanted, taking a vast amount of magic. He opened the first orb, a counterspell that stripped away the first layer of magic. The second orb, was more delicate work, and he manipulated the unveiled spellform carefully, as it unwove the more intricate enchantments. The final layer, took several very long minutes to slowly strand by strand, slice away at. At last, he was fumbling with the catch of the device that had been around his neck for three centuries. His hands trembled so badly, that at first he could not even get it open. At last, there was a click, and then a sudden clatter as it slipped away and fell to the floor.
Fingers traced along the slightly uneven skin. There was a scar there, faint, but a scar from where it had rubbed against the skin over so much time, even though it had been made to be comfortable, and had not fit flush against his flesh. At first it was just the sensation of having it gone. He felt exposed, like something was missing, but at the same time, free of a heavy burden. He slumped to the ground for a moment, his breath catching, vision blurring for a moment.. so overwhelmed. His magic was no longer bound, limited. He felt it beckoning to him, vast in comparison to what he was accustomed to. He fought against the urge to draw in deeply on the Aether right there. He had to keep moving, no matter what.
He was mildly perplexed by the wetness around his eyes, and he scrubbed at them lightly, before standing on legs that were still a trifle unsteady. He drew in a deep breath and exited the vault, closing the door, wincing at the low rumbling thud it caused.
He sealed the peeled open spellforms behind him. It was a useful trick, being able to hold the spellforms open without destroying them. He could not have replaced them, well technically he could have, and made them stronger even now that his power was not limited greatly by the collar, but it would have easily been sensed by others that the spellforms were done by someone else.
He started for the outside garden, and ended up darting down another hallway when he heard footsteps. He took the long way around, going up one set of stairs and down another. He darted into one of the sitting rooms, used for relaxing, reading, and small conferences, to avoid someone else. He did not want to be seen if he could avoid it, most of the Keep recognized him, and it was quite likely any one of them would notice he was without his collar. He had left it, and he realized at that point that was a mistake, something he had overlooked. He should have left it on, until he reached the garden.
At last he made it outside. The air was crisp and cold, he was breathing like he had been running half a mile. Only two major wards, and half a dozen lesser enchantments stood in his way now, but they were highly complex. One that would cause a great howling and the sound of horns should he try to pass the wall, and another that would force him back to the ground as though by a giant hand. Over them were shielding spells, that he slashed through hastily. They fell away quickly, as he used up the last of the orbs.
At last, there was nothing in his way but a thick fifteen foot stone wall. He tossed the leather pouch onto the ground. There was one other thing he had kept a secret, in addition to learning how to form and preserve the partial spellforms. He drew in on the Aether, forming the correct spellform with ease. His form twisted and seemed to diminish, He shifted smoothly into an owl. Caught up in his clothes briefly he soon struggled free.
He was around a foot and a half tall as an owl, feathers a soft silvery color, some darker grey markings, face almost white. He had only used his ability to shift briefly before. The collar had been made to take a mage's ability to shift into consideration, and it had changed in structure and shape and size with him when he had tried before melding to fit to his smaller body. Originally over a century ago he had thought that learning to shift would be the key to his freedom, and while it was not the key, it was certainly useful and would serve him well.
He had practiced flying when no one was around to see, he had flown enough to stretch his wings, strengthen them, learning how to gain height, and control his direction with subtle movements of his wings. He had even learned to land smoothly, although that had taken some practice. He drug his clothes over to some bushes and shoved them off under them, tugging with his beak, and then nudging with his head. He would have to summon from the barrel when he got somewhere far away. There was no turning back now, he knew he would not have long before someone noticed something was amiss, and not long at all before they realized he was gone. And then not long after that before he was being fervently searched for.
He flapped over to the leather pouch, and seized the top of it firmly in his talons. He flew upwards at an angle, clearing the top of the wall, he gained height, as he turned towards the West, the winding road, and the distant city on the horizon.