“A gift?” Maxwell stammered, the skin around his iron bound wrists numb from the cold. “Not from me Gods damn it. I didn’t order nought and definitely not from you!”
His tormentor smiled, the cold reptilian grin gleaming in the studies weak light. The man leaned forwards, one gloved hand tracing the outer edges of the crude package laid before them. Behind the tormentor the brazier light flickered, its meek light reaching out in starved desperation. Maxwell tightened his jaw at the sight, desperate trying to still the frigid dance of his chattering teeth.
“Oh, but my dear Magister Maxwell” the man whined, false sadness baked into his every mocking word “that is so strange. In these times of holiday splendour can a servant not offer so much as a meagre gift to so highly placed and magnanimously generous a master?”
Maxwell hissed, stopping as he felt the staccato dance of chattering teeth resume. He glared across the table, fixing the ugly little man with utter contempt. Locke simply smiled back at him, one hand rested on the lid of the parcel he had brought to the study with him. Locke adjusted the collar of the great coat, the air around growing a sudden smudge as the heat managed a momentary escape. The magister shivered, his eyes widening at the sudden waste of heat within the cold chamber.
“You know something, good magister?” Locke said, his eyes breaking from his captive to search the vaulted chamber around them. “I have always wondered why magisters like your great and kindly self build your keeps so darn high? Every day me and mine sculk through the streets, minding through the pox wreaked streets and the pig pens and all we can see if your damned tower. Gods, my good sir! that tower glares at us all even more than your ugly little watchmen do!” The servant turned from surveying the study then, the mirth on his ruddy face growing predatory “do you do it out of coldness, little magister? Do you do it so you can feel oh so much better than us, so much more in control?”
Maxwell shuddered, feeling the cold glare bore into his cold body. He tensed, trying to squeeze some vestige of heat into his limbs. Locke drummed his fingers on the box and Maxwell felt his gaze fix upon that odd little parcel. Something was wrong about that box, something that scraped at the back of Maxwell’s mind as nails are drawn across a chalk board. His eyes watered, the moisture quickly freezing in the high-altitude coldness of the chamber. Gods above but he couldn’t get warm.
“I will bet you build the towers this high out of spite really” Locke continued, cold amusement lancing every word at the magister. “I know I would in your position. I am no saint, dear magister. If I controlled all the magic in this world, if I could click my fingers and drag the heat from the city below to swallow me up, I'm sure I would do that just as you boys do. Afterall, what is the discomfort of the masses to you? You who eat from our fields and take what you will for your stores? What does a child’s discomfort matter to you when he'll die in your petty wars soon anyway?”
The magister ground his teeth, feeling his anger still the aching chatter. He tried to glare at Locke, tried to give the ugly treacherous little stable boy his darkest most hateful stare. He wanted to shout, to rave, to scream at the little man who had somehow dragged him from the lower halls and pitched him, him, into his own study in chains.
His eyes did not move. His face twitched but never bloomed into a hateful glare. Maxwell’s eyes remained fixed, trapped at the sight of that box. Something pitched within him and Maxwell felt the beat of his heart tremble at the sight. The ghost of a childhood memory, of a dark shape in the waters above, cold black eyes gazing down at him as it swam languidly before the blessed touch of open breathable air. Maxwell gasped, watching the weakening heat haze shudder within the predatory cold of the chamber.
“I’ll bet you are wondering why you can't use your magic, art you good magister?”
Maxwell shuddered. The ach of his jaw had grown too great, forcing him to release his muscular control. the staccato crack of chattering teeth exploded from his mouth, all control lost. Still his eyes refused to move from the box before him.
“I mean, of course you are wondering that. Silly question I know. You are of course very used to using your magic up here that it must be the only thing chasing around that little head of yours.” there was a scrap of wood on stone as Locke shifted in his chair. “You see, sweet magister, there are places in this world not ruled by manipulating mages and wizened old warlocks. Now I know that is a fact that you mages really try to keep from us, but even the inquisitors can't stop every odd whisper, not in a city this big of course. Especially when you let so many of their traders through the front door after all.”
The magister was fully shivering now. Every part of his body shook violently. He tried to tense his fingers, to twitch the extremities of his toes. His hands and feet refused to reply. They trembled at the edge of his limbs, heavy and numb with the screaming cold of the high chamber. Locke shifted again in front of him, lightly pushing the simple box closer. Maxwell felt the shivering suddenly grow across his body.
“Turns out that these little corners of the world have found something which prevents you mages burning us all alive. When I first heard of it I could not believe my luck. Of course, actually obtaining the item was even harder to achieve than learning of its existence. Still, you would be amazed at the enthusiasm those foreign traders have for the idea that your overthrow is a great possibility. That I think was the real clincher in this.”
Locke came forwards then, both hands grasping the box before him. Grubby hands tore at the brown paper wrapping, parsing it to reveal a crude cuboid chape beneath. Maxwell felt his heart stop at the sight.
“You will be aware of Cold Stone of course?” Locke said and Maxwell could hear the growing grin even through the thunderous chatter of his own teeth. “It blocks all magical use, cutting you off from the source of your natural manipulations. From there its really just a matter of catching you unawares and showing you just how like us you are.”
Maxwell couldn’t feel his arms now. He slumped forwards, his limbs cold dead weights at the periphery of his awareness. The corners of his vision had grown blurred, indistinct as his body fought to keep hold of even the barest measure of heat.
Locke stood then, his silhouette dark behind the cold stone nothingness before the magister.
“Now don’t you see, magister? I was fighting your wars before I was even a man. I have toiled in your halls and in your keep ever since. I’ve seen how you treat people, puppeting and stealing like all the rest of your kind across this little empire. I'm going to stop it, dear sweet magister. I am going to stop it. I’m going to grind this whole system into the earth, until all that’s left of your petty mageocracy are the tattered embers. How fitting, don’t you think? That it would be you to go first?”
Maxwell tried to move, tried to rise. He wanted to roar at the traitor, to grab him and hurl him from the yawning window beyond. He groaned, feeling the leaden weight his limbs draw him to the cold stone floor. His vision blackened, a creeping hazy darkness which swallowed his sciences. Even after he hit the floor the distant sensation of falling still proceeded.
“What a wonderful thing it will be don’t you think?” came Locke’s distant mocking voice from somewhere above him. “A world with no mages, no warlocks, no treacherous witches. And I will make that world, sweet Maxwell. Count on it.”