Check and mate… I imagine no more appropriate expression sums up Rush’s latest game with the Sirabazi. For what else could it have been to him than a game? Not else explains the effort and expense. And as hindsight is oft the cipher to the present mystery, past wonders now lie obvious in its wake. My assessment surely reads true. Yet, I expect I am unique in possessing the necessary perspective, a singular view developed over these many years by having fallen victim to Rush’s countless attacks across the checkered landscape.
All the same, I should have seen the endgame coming. Seen it unfolding sooner. Not that it would have mattered. Looking back I am now able to appreciate each action for it’s net worth. Every element of play reminiscent of a well-orchestrated chess match, complete with subtle manipulations, feints, and planned sacrifices. And in the end, per Rush’s usual custom of play, the challenger was deposed in a most glorious fashion.
It was a finishing move his adversary never perceived. I am sure of it. The shock plastered upon the trespasser’s face when Rush suddenly materialized in the gardens at his side was proof enough. Whereby milord single-handedly seized the mage by the throat and plucked him from the ground like so much offending weed from a perfect lawn. Surprise quickly yielding to terror as the meddlesome mage recognized his peril.
To see such emotions amongst one of the Sirabazi is rare. Priceless, if you ask me. How reassuring such may still be coaxed forth. It only serves to emphasize the level of conceit and false invulnerability Sir Oliver and his ilk have managed to blanket themselves in. But just how this interloper thought to continue his infringement upon milord’s domain and not suffer his displeasure is beyond me. For all their foibles, I’ve never known one to be truly suicidal or careless to such mortal fault.
What vexes me most though, is not knowing exactly when the first move was made. Or for that matter, by whom. How long has this contest been in play? Who laid down the initial challenge? Had Rush grown bored or the Sirabazi too curious? Is Sir Oliver merely a pawn in what could prove to be a much larger game? All quesitons that need answering.
That the Sirabazi have taken such overt interest in the Rush Estates is enough to give pause. Thankfully their efforts don’t seem directed towards the boy, who recently returned from the highlands, much more his mother or myself. Instead, the object of their attention seems to have fallen upon the girl. But I must admit to little surprise there.
If this Sir Oliver or his cabal possess any real designs upon Sarah, they should have spirited her away in their initial encounter. Of course, their second visitation and eventual attempt was doomed to failure. By that time, the girl had already undergone Rush’s ministrations. As such, I’m certain no amount of crafting could have breached the barrier milord had so carefully constructed. Sarah was truly cut off. Untouchable! If but for only the briefest time.
In truth, I believe the period Sarah spent in magical isolation to be rather short. Given the effort and expense in securing the barrier, I will admit to a bit of disbelief when Rush so casually dismissed it at the child’s request. It had been less than a month since its creation. Surly the girl had yet to reach a point of permanent harm, though clearly suffering from its effects. Initially I thought Rush might be responding to some small measure of pity for Sarah’s misery, for such unnatural conditions cannot be long tolerated by the magically gifted. But now I understand differently. Pity? Rush knows and cares little of the concept. To my knowledge he has ever failed to act upon it. I must be growing old and foolish to have considered the notion plausible. However, being Sirabazi, I’m sure Sir Oliver reasoned it was only a matter of necessity before the shield around Sarah was abandoned. He must have been waiting for the moment she was no longer protected. Just one of his many mistakes… allowing Lord Rush to dictate the time and place of his next attempt at procuring the child.
I could make a rather lengthy list of errors Sir Oliver made in coming to the estates, but one flaw was particularly fatal… that of reappearing in the same general location each time. For in his previous visits he had left an unmistakable calling card, a signature most would be unable to read. But the obvious goes without saying. Rush is unlike most. Undoubtedly, the Sirabazi believed his final appearance would go unrecognized until too late, yet his third visit was being heralded with nothing less than the full pomp and circumstance of royalty holding court.
With a seemingly unprotected Sarah acting as bait, Sir Oliver soon made his move, emerging from the neither in a false sense of security and the misguided belief of his superiority over the situation. But such are the machinations of milord’s deceptions. The trap was sprung.
Striking like a coiled sea serpent, Rush latched firmly onto his prey. No doubt the Sirabazi attempted to flee by similar means of which he had arrived, but milord’s grip is liken to the grandest of anchors meant to hold sure in the strongest of gale winds. There was no release, no escape. And though free to seek safe harbor herself, Sarah’s fear kept her similarly rooted to the nearby bench. None made to move save that of Vaush to the side of the terrified girl.
Now shouts by angry men are nothing to be feared. They are more oft than not, an attempt to mask the speaker’s own doubts or ineffectuality with bravado. By contrast, it is the whispered words of the truly powerful that should make one quake in their stockings. And if ever words were uttered to turn a man’s bowels to water, they must have been those whispered by Lord Rush to Sir Oliver in that moment. For in their passing from lips to ear, the color fairly drained from the captive’s face, to be replaced by such a pale look of total dismay that can only come from the realization of one’s greatest fear come true.
Though I failed to receive the full measure of Rush’s words, whispered as they were, they were clearly couched in threat and irrevocable violence upon the Shirabazi should any others attempt to pilfer what he perceived as rightfully his. And having tampered with Rush’s treasure and patience as he had, I believed death to be the mage’s sole reward. The only questions needing answering were by what means and how long would it take for him to die? As such, an immediate death was not milord’s chosen option. Instead, he opted for a far more elegant course of action.
Crafting the powerful and complex, sidestepping time and subtlety for expediency, the nauseating pressure of a substantial spell quickly made itself known. The physical evidence of Lord Rush’s efforts soon revealed itself as a sucking, black hole at Sir Oliver’s back. But before folding and stuffing the entirety of the mage’s body through what was certainly an impossibly small hole, Rush offered these parting words to the now horrified man, “Should you survive long enough, give my regards to your Yellow Emperor.”
Reflecting upon those words as I do now, I can almost feel sorry for this Sir Oliver. Almost, but not quite.