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AuthorA Stab in the Sinciput
The sun had long since sunk beyond the horizon and its corona had just vanished from sight from the height of the cloud settlement. The midnight was closing in, and so was the lifespan of the cloud portal, so the Heroes and Lords of the Empire, escorted by the Warlord himself, hastily marched towards the portal to return home. Unfortunately, the campaign was not a complete success, for none of the heroes managed to reach the top cloud level and to behold the capital city of the cloud settlement. Nevertheless, the amount of cloud essence collected by the academics would for the very least ensure extensive research, and with due luck even allow opening another, more powerful cloud portal in future.

Abu-Bakir stood right next to the portal, musing upon the latest events. Somehow he was getting a feeling that some big part was missing from his knowledge of the cloudbound wizards. Powerful magic capable of hosting a city up in the clouds beyond the bounds of life, a research of his own locked down in the Cryptorium. Armaments, a theoretical work of his overseas colleague that had unexpectedly found such a thorough practical application. All kinds of suppositions, both quite real and absolutely fantastic, roamed the court wizard's head when a dwarf hero, one of the distinguished trio of heroes who managed to get right on the doorstep of Cloud level 40, ran screaming towards him. Those heroes discovered something unusual and offered Abu-Bakir to take a look. Grammith, a stern air on his face, immediately started to dissuade Abu-Bakir out of it, but given his stubborn curiosity, it was clear he could not be stopped. With a heavy sigh, Grammith broke into a run, barely managing to conserve the distance between himself and the wizard.

The discovery was unusual for a fact, it was an ancient portal cluestone, a magical seal floating in the air concealing the entrance to a portal that only a keen eye could seize at its altitude. Abu-Bakir tried several spells to drag the cluestone down, constantly snarling at Grammith who was trying to prove his point about the lack of time, until one of the spells worked and the cluestone jumped into his hand. As the court wizard crushed it in his grip, a whirlwind of mana raised above them with a whoosh and soon, a glittering surface of a narrow portal shone in front of the group. All there was to do was to step into the opened portal and to learn the secrets beneath it, which all five did, Grammith stepping in last.
They found themselves in a luxurious throne hall adorned with ivory statuettes and bejeweled tapestry by all walls. Majestic carpets on the ground would probably have even caused admiration of Her Majesty the Empress Herself, but the group didn't even notice the carpets. Ahead of them, on a throne sat Cyrus, King of Wizards himself, and at both his sides stood powerful wizards, each of whom Abu-Bakir knew in person. They all were his alumni once, among the best ones; king Cyrus personally selected them for some of his elaborate missions and sophisticated research tasks. And now, they all stood against their former instructor.
"What is the meaning of this all?" Grammith's thundering voice broke the silence.
"I have made a mistake once", Cyrus spoke in an unruffled tone. "This time, the Empire must be defeated!"
The warlord unsheathed his sword and charged forward along with the heroes trio when all Cyrus' henchmen raised one arm each in front of them, and an impassable barrier threw the brave ones back.
The king of wizards stood up and made a few steps forward. "I could end it all here right now", he turned his look to Abu-Bakir, "But for the sake of our long friendship, I shall let you leave this place once and for all".

Cyrus drew a small glass orb from his pocket with a tiny model of the cloud settlement, a true maze of clouds leading to the very apex where a fascinatingly gorgeous building of white marble, obviously their present location, stood sunlit. He mouthed a spell unintelligible to the present Empire subjects including Abu-Bakir. At that moment, the clouds inside the mysterious orb began to darken, just as in the court wizard's eyes darkened the once bright image of the greatest of wizard kings, a former ally who had just betrayed the Empire, betrayed his own people, betrayed their friendship...

A thunderbolt burst outside made it clear for the heroes trio that it was time to fall back. They rushed out shouldering Abu-Bakir and hurried to leave the cloud settlement while there was still a chance to do so. A true lightning storm quickly grew around them as they ran, pretty much carrying Abu-Bakir on their arms as the Academic was too astonished, still refusing to fully believe in the most recent turn of events.
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