Sunday, April 3, 2016

Blood and Empire

Dragoneyes entered the Green Tower. He didn't speak to the other sorcerers. Not to the admirers, not to the countless hundreds who only wished to know what had happened. He walked past them, exhausted. He entered his chambers. He rested for most of the day. And then, he paid me a visit.
He handed me a sword. A full-length sword. "Do what you need to do," he said. "So that Cassinder can live again."

I didn't want to stab my Dragoneyes. He was my friend. But, more than that, he was the most important man in the world. He had the power to stop wars, to end famines, and to push the boundaries of magic. I couldn't stab that power in the heart. I couldn't stab all those possibilities in the heart.
I had another option. I had spent the day investigating it. I didn't think it would work. It probably wouldn't work. But there was a chance that I would save my friend's life, and the lives of all the other's he would save. So I took the sword, and did what I needed to do for my sister.

It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. The pain wasn't all that bad. No, the worst part about being stabbed in the chest is the fear. The fear that comes from knowing that your probably made a mistake, and that you'll bleed to death, and it will all be for nothing.
I had only the vaguest sense of what was happening around me. I barely understood as Dragoneyes caused the sword to dissolve to nothingness. I could barely understand his cries of anger and frustration. His rage that he had allowed me to do this to myself.
The world began to turn red, and my mouth began to taste like blood. Not an enjoyable experience.

Emperor Dranarius Caesorium sat in his throne-room, alone except for a single messenger. "And after Dragoneyes defeated Koteph, he returned the Green Tower." The man's voice echoed through the vast hall. Bat Dran had no fear of eavesdroppers. He had put spells in place to prevent such things. And he expected that, for the time being, he was the most powerful sorcerer in New Etor.
"He met with the sorcerer Amniel- Amniel is the Master of the White Tower. He is a-"
"I know him," Dran said. "Continue."
"And Amniel stabbed himself in the heart."
Dran felt a brief jolt of surprise. "Was Dragoneyes able to save him?"
"Yes. It seems that the experience allowed Dragoneyes to learn the True Name of flesh."
"And what happened next?"
"Dragoneyes healed his lover Cassinder. The two of them went off, to wander the world."
"I see. So this great new magical power is loose in the world. The Etoran Empire will need magical strength to match."
"But the Empire has no sorcerers, majesty."
"Oh, really? Has the my family been systematically eliminating all traces of magic in the Empire for half a century? I had no idea." Dran laughed at the messenger's lack of vision. "Well I shall simply need to undo their efforts. We shall found a new school of magic. The Black Tower will become the Empire's greatest center of learning. Go back to the University. Get as many of the old Etoran sorcerers as you can. Offer them riches, prestige, whatever will convince them."
"Yes, Majesty."
"And be sure to get two of them in particular. Marius and Lencius. Two of their brightest potioners."
"Yes, Majesty."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Battle Ends

Dragoneyes didn't need a mirror to know what he looked like. He was still on the border between childhood and manhood. He didn't look like a great warrior. He didn't look like a powerful mage. He looked like a bastard plucked from the Little Lands.
But Dragoneyes was not a bastard plucked from the Little Lands. He was the most powerful man since the time of the Shapers. His powers meant that those around him looked to the young mage for wisdom and guidance. And when they looked, they needed to see something more impressive than a flashy child in the robes of a student.
With the True Name of cloth, Dragoneyes created an elaborate robe of red and gold. With the True Name of iron, he forged a suit of armor that no arrow could pierce, no fire could burn, and- most critically- no spell could penetrate. At least, no simple spell.
Dragoneyes wanted to be with Cassinder one last time. To gaze upon her, to touch her, even if she could not return the gestures. But Dragoneyes had a purpose. And he would better serve that purpose if his mind was clear. So he suppressed his desires. How much more satisfying it would be, he told himself, when he next saw Cassinder. He would heal her with a word, and they could be together once more. Each of them set apart from mankind by power and Sight. Each of them drawn toward the other by the same.

Koteph glowered in his tent. Terix was dead, the Etorans had abandoned him. His more impressive monsters were all but extinguished.
But Koteph had no need for company. No interest in companionship. It was for the weak. Only by focusing on oneself could one achieve greatness. 
So Koteph sat, adding another layer to the protective spells upon his body. With each bit of magic, his form became a bit less human. He didn't care. Humans had always been a weak and pitiful afterthought by the Shapers of the World. Koteph would never be an afterthought. If he lived.
Koteph knew that each day bore a significant risk. He knew that Dragoneyes grew stronger every day. He should have eliminated the mage earlier. Same with the Caesorium boy. But they had both grown powerful, and both been formidable enemies.

It was easy for Dragoneyes to locate his enemy. Not concealment could hide Koteph's power from the mage's prying eyes. He strode toward his enemy slowly and confidently. Any who dared challenge Dragoneyes found themselves burnt or sliced in half. Eviscerating a giant was child's play.
The two enemies struck at almost the same time. Dragoneyes emitted a great belch of flame, Koteph a searing blast of mystical energy. They were upon each other, summoning boulders from the ether and knocking them aside. Outshining the sun with brilliant blazes of hard light and heat. Jets of water hit walls of magic, colliding with sounds that made thunder seem timid in comparison. And, all the while, Dragoneyes gained the upper hand.
At first, it was evident only to the combatants. Felt only in the balances of brief pauses between counterattacks. Then, it became evident to the scholarly sorcerers watching from a distance. That the balance of the fight was shifting toward the side of self-proclaimed good. Finally, the battle devolved to Dragoneyes striking one powerful blow after another, and Koteph struggling to hide or shield himself from the attack.

Dragoneyes stood above the shriveled man in tattered robes. "It did not have to end this way. We could have been allies. There could have been a place for you in the world that I will create."
"Save the morality lesson for the people who are going to live," Koteph gasped. "I have no interest in hearing you lecture me."
Dragoneyes spoke the True Name of fire, and walked away from the corpse of his greatest enemy. Nobody disturbed him on the way back.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Night Before

I was awoken in the night by the sound of steel boots on a stone floor. Dragoneyes didn't need to make that sound. Steel and stone were his to command, and they would be silent if he willed it. But will it he did not. Perhaps he wished to give me some warning, however slight, before his arrival.
"Amniel," he said. "I am a Destroyer. I am a nightmare, a greater one than Koteph. I have butchered so many... I need to stop. I need to finish this, and learn what I must learn."
I didn't know how to respond to my friend's confession.
"Tomorrow. I will fight Koteph. It will be our last fight. And, if I win, I want you to stab me in the heart."
"Why? Why would I do that. You don't need to die-"
"I won't die. I don't expect to at least. But after tomorrow, the world will have no use for me. No need for me. Unless I can become their savior. If I die... so be it. But if, as I watch death close in around me, I gain the power I need over it... I would end all of human suffering. All the flaws and weakness the Shapers imposed upon us, I could remove. For that, I will risk my own life."
"Do you think this will work?"
"I can see many things, Amniel, but the future isn't one of them."
"Why does it have to be me. I don't want to stab you, why must it be me?"
"Because I trust you."
It took me a moment to understand his meaning. After I stabbed him, he would lay in the dirt, bleeding, hoping for a True Name to come to him. He would be vulnerable. He would be open to attack. And I was the only person he trusted not to-
"You think anyone else would kill you."
"I think there is a risk. There are many who would fear the future I bring."
"I fear the future you bring."
"I know. But I can see into your heart. I know you would not betray a friend."
I thought about my sister's prediction, when Dragoneyes lay wounded after an early fight with Koteph. That we would never again have the chance to end his life. But now my friend was offering me that very chance. What did it mean?
Dragoneyes spoke a word, and handed me a knife. "We both need rest," he said.

It isn't exactly easy to go back to sleep after your friend wakes you up asking you to kill him and make him a god. I tossed and turned. This was a huge responsibility. The fate of all men rested on my actions. I never wanted that. I never asked for that. I wanted to be an academic sorcerer, study complicated spells that nobody would ever understand. I didn't want to do... this.
I tossed and turned for hours. What would Dragoneyes do with this power? Should I try to get a healing potion, just in case? Should I let him die? Should I kill him? I didn't know. And, somehow, I went to sleep. Pondering the future of mankind is tiring.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Destroyer Among Men

A horde of monsters had attacked Pire, a town bordering the University. An sizable fraction of Koteph's remaining forces. The sorcerers assigned to defend the town rushed from their beds and watchposts, and began to fight back against Ochekol'kan's creations. I wasn't there, but I heard that a many humans, magical and mundane, gave their lives to stem the incursion. Then Dragoneyes arrived. "Disperse," he ordered in what was no longer an entirely human voice. "I can deal with these monsters." Deal with them he did. He began to shred the creatures alive. He pulled the blood from their bodies. He cracked their skulls and their bones. And, once the other sorcerers had left, Dragoneyes began to do those same things to the men who lay dying in the streets.
He hated it. He hated that he had to become a butcher. But the suffering these humans faced was nothing. It was meaningless, compared to what Dragoneyes would do with the Names of flesh and blood. With the True Names of Life and Death.
He began to see glimpses of the Names. Fragments. He tried to hold on to them, tried to use them. Tried to keep them in his mind so he could use them to save his beloved Cassinder. But Dragoneyes couldn't do it. The Names were too large, too complex.
He turned to another of the bleeding men in the road. A sorcerer. Dragoneyes looked at the man for a moment, to find his given name. "Yoshka," he said. "I regret what I must do to you." Dragoneyes spoke the True Name of iron, and a knife appeared in his hand. He began to cut into Yoshka, examining the man's entrails, hoping to see a Name. Then, he turned around. "You cannot sneak up upon me, Koteph."
Koteph was well enough cloaked that he could walk undetected anywhere in the world except the most carefully guarded portions of the Green Tower. And right behind Dragoneyes. The shade saw no reason to keep maintaining such a draining spell, so he let it unravel, and focused his efforts on sending a beam of magic through Dragoneyes' armor and into the mage's heart.
But Dragoneyes had created his metal suit to withstand such attacks. His knowledge of the True Name of iron was vast and powerful, and even Koteph couldn't cut through such strengthened material.
"I know what you want," Dragoneyes said. "We should be on the same side."
"The same side." Koteph was no longer human enough to laugh. "We can never be on the same side."
"I seek the True Names of flesh and blood. Of life and death. With that, I can grant you the very thing Ochekol'kan promised you. Immortality."
"So Dragoneyes sees into my heart. So he offers me my greatest desire. But he must see it is worthless. To live forever at your mercy. That is nothing. That is worthless. Can you speak your own True Name, Dragoneyes? Can you bind yourself, and swear to never revoke the eternal life you give me? Because until I hear that promised in the True Speech, you are empty."
"Then wait. Let me gain that power, and I will let you live, if it stops the bloodshed."
"Your power grows faster than mine, Dragoneyes. Every day I wait is another advantage you gain over me. This fight cannot continue much longer. And someday, someday soon, it will end with one of us dying."
"Very well."
They fought once more. And it was clear, painfully clear, who was winning. Dragoneyes didn't need to out-wait Koteph. He was already stronger. Koteph's desperate attacks fell flat, as Dragoneyes did ever more damage. It was only at the last moment that Koteph cast a spell and disappeared, beyond Dragoneyes' range of sight. Dragoneyes looked at the fresh set of broken bodies around him. He had work to do.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Run Through

Dran felt a combination of fear and exhilaration. One which he imagined every Emperor before him had felt on the eve of their first challenge.
He had intimidated his people. Forced them into grudging acceptance that this stranger was- for the moment- their Emperor. But this was his real test. The moment that would determine is Dranarius Caesorium was born to be an Emperor or a corpse. Because Terix had taken notice of the upstart king.
Dran returned himself to the ground. Levitating was a challenge, even as he wore his icy armor. The mage had no need of distraction during this fight.
Some part of him was wishing for Dragoneyes to swoop in. For the man he still considered a friend to save him with his unknowable power. But most of Dran wished to do this on his own.
Dran had stood helplessly by, watching Koteph destroy his father and mother. Dran didn't expect to ever inflict that sort of pain in return. But if Koteph lived to see his greatest lieutenant dead, his largest army retreating- well then Dran could sleep a little easier at night.
Dran wielded an icy sword so flawless it was hard to see. His armor was even more perfect. The True Name of his preferred substance was strong in him, and he knew he could stick his sword into a furnace without fear of it melting. But he would much sooner plunge it into Terix's heart.
"Surrender," Terix ordered. "Surrender to me now."
In other circumstance, Dran might have accepted. He might have lied, feigned surrender, waiting for Terix to come close and trying to catch the monster off guard, with the element of surprise. But such trickery wouldn't work in front of Dran's subjects. He needed to be honorable and strong. He also really needed to win.
Dran fingered his sword. "I don't think I will, fiend. Please, do your worst. Maybe attack me from a distance, with one of your spells. Wouldn't want to get in range of my sword." Would the taunt work? Did monsters feel pride the same as men did?
It appears they did, because Terix rushed toward Dran, moving at his inhuman speed. He sent out a spark of energy nearly strong enough to knock the young mage off his feet. Then he reached out, wanting to end the man's life with a touch. He was disappointed when his fingers instead touched lifeless ice.
Dran smiled. He swung his sword with far more speed than any normal warrior could. To him, the heftiest sword of ice was nothing but a feather. But Terix was faster still. Dran swung again, putting more magic behind this swing. But again, the monster dodged.
Terix must have sensed he could not continue that fight forever. So he retreated, taking a spear from an unfortunate soldier as the Etoran fell lifeless to the ground. The monster barely managed to get out of the way of an icicle moving at speeds any trebuchet would struggle to match. The icy cone buried into the chest of some unknown Etoran soldier. Dran didn't care. He had already thrown two more.
Terix grew tired of dodging his enemy's projectiles. He cast a spell, immobilizing his enemy. He moved in at great speed, carrying his spear. But it wasn't the mage who found himself impaled.

Dran's heart pounded as he shrugged off the dead monster's enchantments, and regained freedom of motion. He looked at Terix. Run through of a shaft of ice he hadn't been able to see. It is dripping with blood, too dark to be that of a human. The crowd began to murmur. They began to cheer. The shouted Dran's name. And the sorcerer realized something. This was the first time anyone had ever cheered for him.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The New Emperor

"I don't need you to come with me," Dran said. He stood in a room of perfect ice. Crystals grown over the course of hours, so flawless they were transparent.
"This is important," Marius responded. "You need all the help you can get."
"Marius, I know you want what is best for me and the cause, but your presence will be counterproductive. When the time comes, I will be sure to make use of you, just as I will use every resource at my disposal."
Dran spoke the True Name of ice. The crystals around him reassembled themselves into a suit of armor, covered in protruding spines, so transparent a casual observer might not even see it. Dran spoke the name again, and the spines receded.
"Marius, in a few hours I will either be commander of the world's largest army, or else dead. Either way..." Dran thought about his fellow potioner. His rival, his student, and his friend. "Goodbye, Marius."

As Dran walked through the Etoran camp, he could feel his heart pounding. He knew the danger he was walking into. A few people had approached him, wanting to confront the strange outsider. They were dead. Dran was not in a mood for distractions.
As he walked, the tents grew bigger. They grew grander. Dran was no longer surrounded by foot soldiers. He saw officers. Then nobles. Finally, he reached the center of Etoran command. A large tent. Dran stood outside for a moment, savoring the last moment of life as he knew it. Then, he stormed in, a flurry of snow at his back, his voice booming with the sounds of magical enhancement. "My name is Dranarius Caesorium. I am your rightful Emperor."
The generals drew their swords. "You are no Emperor. You are a sorcerer. Prepare to-" The man had trouble finishing the sentence with a shard of ice lancing through his skull.
Dran approached his cousin's corpse. It was dressed in a frankly absurd quantity of regalia. Dran wondered who had decided to bring that much royal clothing to a field of war.
The crown rested upon Anaxus' head. The Caesorium's were a powerful family of sorcerers, and their magic would not allow someone from another line to wear their crown. Dran cracked a smile at his countrymen, who thought that simple charm was a blessing from Thacanarion.
"Let this be a lesson to anyone who doubts my lineage," Dran proclaimed, as he lifted the crown from his cousin's head, and placed it upon his own.
There was a look of moderate surprise from the onlookers. "We leave tonight," Dran ordered. "My cousin's senseless war is over. Without this army, Koteph will break. We will rebuild the Empire. It will be strong in war and wealth and magic. Get to work."
By this point, the generals had begun to come to terms with what was happening. They knew that explicit rebellion dissent would get them killed. Better to play along, leave, and crush this pretender beneath the entire Etoran army.
Dran knew what they were thinking of course. "You," he said, pointing at an unlucky general. "You would rebel against me. Don't deny, I saw it in you mind." Dran could do nothing of the sort, but he expected this crowd lacked a detailed knowledge of what magic could accomplish. "You die." The man died.
Dran waited, as the generals got their word out. There was a new man, a stranger, who seemed to be of the Caesorium line. He was the Emperor. For the moment at least. After waiting what he judged to be the optimal amount of time, Dran flew into the air to address his subjects. He did not get the chance.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Poisoner is Called

Emperor Anaxus III had finally done it. He had ordered the death of the shade Koteph, and the order had gone through. News of the death in the enemy camp was quick to reach the Tower. It was the talk of everyone.

"I suppose it was inevitable," Dran said. "But, nonetheless, it is a surprise."
"For someone to die like that," Marius said. "It must be horrifying."
"Death is horrifying enough. Additional theatrics are for the simple-minded."
"Evidently Koteph thought it was necessary."
"He was sending a message to simple-minded people. He had a clear message for the Etorans. Their leader had resisted Koteph's commands, and he wanted to make sure no other Etoran would do the same."
"Do you know who is going to succeed him," Marius asked.
"Well, he has no living relatives except some bastard children back in New Etor. And me, I suppose. I expect the Empire will fall apart within a decade."
"You... you're his heir."
"In the sense that my banished father was his uncle, yes, I am the heir the Etoran Empire. I suppose I should make you call me 'majesty'."
"You should rule, Dran. This is your chance. You have the potential to be the greatest member in the greatest line of  Mage-Emperors ever to exist."
"The Etorans aren't exactly looking for Mage-Emperors, my friend. The bastards in New Etor have better chances than do I."
 "They don't have a fraction of your power and intelligence."
Dran stood up. "I'm going to go use my power and intelligence to whip up another batch of skinmelter. If you have anything to say that isn't goading me into a suicidal power grab, you're welcome to join me. Actually, you're not. Someone needs to re-calibrate the Aeolin balance for the thigmoturges we're making."

Dran was absorbed in his work, so he hardly noticed the Master of Potions walk in behind him. "Marius is right," Lencius said. "You could be your cousin's successor."
"Really," Dran laughed. "You know, my father spend the better part of his life trying to take back the Empire. But even he wasn't foolish enough to act on that urge. And he was far more powerful than I. A fact he demonstrated to me on a great many occasions."
"Koteph's monsters are nearly gone, thank in no small part to your poisons. If you pick up the Etoran crown and deprive him of his second army, it will be him alone against all the sorcerers of the Tower. You will save the world, Dran. Is that not worth risking your life for?"
"Only if I have a chance at succeeding. My father never thought he could succeed, why should I think I can do better."
"Because your father thought you could do better."
"Excuse me? What do you know of Phorius Terrorslayer's thoughts?"
"I know exactly what he thought of you, Dran. All the ingredients for all the potions you brewed every year of your life, they came from me. Your traveled the world, you must have realized that. But perhaps you never appreciated how frequently those travels brought him to the Green Tower. He would come to the hub of the world's sorcery, and I would supply him with ingredients and books, and he would tell me how brilliant his son was. He would speak of your cunning, or how quickly you had mastered the True Name of ice. He would go on for hours about your adventures in potionry. To hear him talk, no sorcerer in the world was a match for your mind. The Etoran Empire was hardly large enough for you. You would rule your family's land and more. When you came to the University, I asked to have you as an aide. I wanted to see this prodigy Phorius was so proud of. And you are every bit as capable as your father described. Phorius was lacking in a great many regards, Dran, but he never lacked confidence in Dranarius Caesorium. It seems only you have that lack."
Dran pondered his mentor's speech. He took a moment to decide if he believed it. He took a moment to evaluate what impact he could have on the war.
"Very well, Lencius. I shall consider how best to reacquire my family's crown."