Sunday, December 27, 2015

Terix and Taerin

As it turns out, I had problems to deal with besides the giants. Larger problems, at least in a metaphorical sense.
Terix. Koteph's most able adviser. A Touchkill warped and altered by the shade's powers. Under his the tutelage of his master, the servant had grown more powerful than any mage in the world, save two. And neither of those mages was ready to step in and save me.
I had Neriel and Arelin to back me. Othin was off fighting a monster. Everyone was off fighting a monster. Just my monster was rather more formidable.
I was terrified. Mortified. So was Neriel. But it seemed like Arelin had her wits about her. She cast a spell, lifting up a small piece of rock and flinging it at Terix. Neriel did the same, with a much larger rock. Terix stopped them both in midair. Then he redirected them towards us.
It occurred to me that I ought to do something about that, so I summoned a wind and blew the stones off course. Which meant that they hit a building which was already ruined.
Terix waved his hands, and knocked the three of us off our feet. I spoke a word, trying to do the same to him. But it didn't work. "We've fought before," he said. "If I recall, your little sister saved you. You don't have a little girl to hide behind now." That's when Arelin set his robes on fire.

Terix screamed in either pain or frustration. He cast another spell, more in anger than in self-defense, and a great gash opened in Arelin's skin. Terix tried to smother his flaming robes. I had an idea.
There are several different substances that go into air. Most of them are rather inert. But one of them is responsible for fires, rusting, and quite a few other phenomena. I decided that Terix deserved an extra dose of that particular flavor of air. He burned a lot brighter than before.
Terix ran towards me. No, that isn't entirely accurate. Perhaps it would be better to say he blurred towards me. He was definitely moving through physical space. He was traveling between two point by occupying a sequence of intermediate ones. But I don't think his legs had much to do with it.
Strange modes of transportation or not, Terix was right on top of me. And I knew that if he touched me, his burning skin would be the least of my problems. So I suppose it is rather fortunate that Taerin showed up then.
Terix found himself squeezed between two exorbitantly large stones. "Hello, Arelin."
"Excuse me," Terix hissed. "Could you save your father-daughter chat for some other time? Like after you're dead?" He cast a charm, and the two boulders disintegrated. He was about to lash out against the Archmage, when Neriel hit him with a needle. Then another. Then another. My cousin was conjuring them at an impressive pace, and driving them into the creature's skin. I sucked the air away from the creature. Often when you do that to someone, their lungs explode. That didn't happen this time, but Terix was struggling to with a distinct lack of things to breath. Arelin hit the monster with a wide variety of painful spells, and her father bludgeoned the monster with every piece of rubble he could lay eyes on. Things were going well, until Terix blurred again. Out of sight.

"You could have died," Taerin said. "You could have been killed."
"So could you," his daughter responded.
"That isn't a valid comparison. I am old. Old enough to make that decision, and old enough that the world can go on fine without me. I am also powerful enough to handle myself."
"There are plenty of people out there younger than me. Less powerful too. You let Othin fight."
"Othin is-"
"A boy."
"I don't let Lothorin fight."
"Lothorin would be no use, unless you think the monsters would run from his performance on a lute."
"Even if he had begun his magical training-"
"Begun? Lothorin chose not to study magic. He is too old to be a student here."
"Don't try to change the subject, Arelin. My point is that you are risking your life, and I cannot abide by that."
"What would you have me do, father?"
"You could stay in the Tower, and care for the sick."
"That is not what I'm good at. And the Tower is already full to the brim."
"I could switch someone out."
"Oh, send someone else to their death."
I didn't exactly feel I needed to be present for this conversation. But I felt that leaving would only add to the awkward situation. It seemed Neriel felt the same way.
"Ariane, at your age, death seems like such a small thing. A sacrifice you can make. But please, Arelin, I cannot let you-"
That's when I left the Archmage's office. I really should have exited sooner.

"Interesting," Dran said, when I told him about the encounter. "I wonder why he didn't kill you."
"I think he rather tried."
"No, no. This blurring he described. If he had gone just a bit further, if he had touched you, you would have been killed. Why didn't he do that?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe he can't?"
"I assume he was just using an acceleration charm. No reason that would preclude him from touching me."
"You're probably right. Well, one possibility is that he was afraid of what would happen if he ran into you at such speeds."
"This is interesting news."
"How so."
"Let me show you."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Giant Problem

We settled into our stations. I was in the town of Pire. My garrison had three other sorcerers. And I actually had some connection to all of them.
There was Neriel. He was actually my second cousin on my father's side. This was his fourth year at the University, and he was already learning the True Name of stone. Since his branch of the family didn't own a Tower and an estate the size of a small country, he was planning to remain at the University, and hope to become a Master. Frankly, that was exactly the life I wanted.
There was Othin. Taerin's son, Arelin's brother. After three days of alternating boredom and terror, he had decided to become a mage. Othin asked Neriel about the True Name of stone. That was a good idea. Neriel explained that it was a complex subject, but a worthwhile one. Othin asked me about the True Name of air. That was something of a mistake. I launched immediately into a detailed explanation of the intricacies of the lightest element. But he was undeterred. If anything, he seemed to share my enthusiasm.
And then there was Arelin herself. The woman I had made a fool of myself chasing. She didn't mention it. But, then again, she didn't ever exactly talk to me.
"Can you really feel the tremors in the ground," Othin asked.
"Not very well," Neriel said. "I'm still a student. But I do practice. Symbule's book says to listen to the sounds of the soil eight times a day."
"Can I watch you? Would you mind? I mean, it's totally fine if you don't want me-"
"It is perfectly acceptable. I suppose I aught to do so right around now anyways." Neriel lay on the ground, and pressed his ear to the dirt. I'll admit I found it interesting. I wondered what he was hearing. I decided to do some listening of my own. I felt the air. First, I felt the currents moving over my skin. Then, I expanded my range. I could feel Othin breathing. I could sense the wind outside. "Neriel, do you hear something... big?"
"I hear a shaking. Could it be-"
I ran outside. And found myself facing a giant. That wasn't exactly what I wanted.
I spoke the True Name of air, as quickly as I could. The wind grew. It picked me up, and carried me to the top of a nearby building. I took a moment to get my bearings. It seemed that a host of giants had entered the city. I used the True Name of air, moving the suffocate them, one at a time. How long does it take for a giant to run out of air? I held my concentration, while the giant began to gag. Almost too late, I heard another of the lumber beasts approaching me. Perhaps standing on a rooftop in flowing white garb was not the best way to remain inconspicuous. How could I stop the second monster? I would need to truly draw upon the True Name for this. I concentrated upon the air. I was fully immersed in it. And, that's how I managed to suffocate a giant while lifting him up and throwing him into his brother.
I was panting. Fortunately, the True Name of air helped me with that too. I looked at the damage. One of the giants was clearly deceased. The first thing I had ever killed. I was wallowing in the magnitude of that, when I saw Neriel smash the other giant's head in with a rock. Not the sort of behavior one expects from a milquetoast academic.
I looked for another giant to fight. I found one chasing after what looked to be a family. I rode the winds to a better vantage point. I cast a spell, shooting a small bolt of fire at the creature. There. I had successfully acquired the attention of an enormous monster that now wanted to kill me. I felt very proud of myself. It took some work, but I managed to defeat this monster as well. Othin and I pelted it with spells while we waited for it to run out of air. I liked him. I liked his dedication to magic, and I liked his personality. Also, I liked his sister.

All in all, things were going well. The giants were falling one by one. I saw Dragoneyes in some other end of the town. I saw the giants flying through the air, as one by one they came to his attention. This wasn't him straining himself, of course. This was just him practicing. He only had one real fight. And it was with someone a lot harder to kill than a very tall man.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Family Reunion

The Etorans arrived. It was an interesting juxtaposition. Koteph and his monsters, versus Anaxus and his Etorans. The monsters were a rabble, barely organized. The Etorans considered military discipline the highest virtue. The monsters fought with their brute strength a bare claws. The Etoran wielded swords, and brought with them catapults and trebuchets. And then there wast the fact that the two groups hated each other.
Etorans hate a lot of things. They hate magic. They hate anyone who isn't Etoran. And they hate gigantic slobbering terrors created in the cold depths of the world. So you can imagine how they felt about Koteph's forces.
Meanwhile, monsters have a distrust of humans. Especially well-armed humans.
The two leaders tried to foster cooperation in their ranks. But the clearly magical Koteph was horrendously unpopular among the Etorans, and the mundane Emperor Anaxus was similarly viewed as weak by the monsters. So it was decided that the two attacking forces would keep their distance from each other.
More specifically, it was decided that the Etorans would lay seige to Allus, and the monsters would continue their assault on Pire. Once those towns had been taken, the armies would move in and overrun the Green Tower.

"This won't work," Dran said.
"How can you know that," I asked.
"You'll see in a moment," the younger mage said. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a patrol of Etoran soldiers. They looked at Dran's robes, and mine. Strange and flowing. Only a sorcerer or a circus performer would dress like us. And they suspected we weren't circus performers.
"Halt," one of them ordered. "Surrender."
"Told you," Dran said, speaking Irinian. He then turned and addressed our would-be captors in their native tongue. "My name is Dranarius Caesorium. This is my friend, Amniel. I would like to speak to my cousin, Anaxus. And, whether he knows it or not, he would like to speak with me."
"Pretty good," I remarked, speaking Irinian.
"Not good at all," Dran responded. "Look, they're getting out their swords. They probably think they're about to kill us."
I spoke the True Name of air, and Dran spoke the True Name of ice. Together, we swept the soldiers aside. "Consider that a prelude," Dran said, as we strode along our now-empty path. "Only next time, we won't be able to overpower them so easily."
We continued. Dran continued to announce his desire. The Etorans continued their enthusiastic refusals. Eventually, we made our way to the Emperor's camp. "Cousin," Dran shouted. "I come to parley with you."
"Stop there," Anaxus ordered. I stopped. Dran continued walking towards his cousin. "Who are you? A sorcerer I've never heard of who claims to be a cousin I've never met?"
"I am Dranarius Caesorium. My father was Phorius, and his father was Emperor Tosus III. We are cousins."
"So you claim, Dranarius. But how am I to believe you?"
"Well, I suppose I could put on your crown. Only a Caesorium can wear it."
"You presumptuous... You will never touch this crown." Anaxus sounded genuinely angry. I felt fear, both for Dran and myself.
"Very well, cousin. I meant to offense. What I am trying to say, Anaxus, is that, even though you yourself have never met anyone in the Green Tower, you still have reason to trust us. So, why do you ally yourself with Koteph?"
"Trust you? Like my grandfather, who you claim is your grandfather, trusted the Black and Violet Towers? How that trust paid off, when he was toasted alive, along with the rest of his city."
"And yet you trust Koteph."
"Koteph is an ally of choice. A tool to defeat your kind, Dranarius."
"I see. An ally is he. Tell me, was this invasion your idea, or his?"
The Emperor paused for a moment. "It was his idea. He came to me, and asked me for my help. I saw the opportunity presented, and agreed."
"You agreed to a proposition from a sorcerer you had never met?"
"I did."
"I see. Well, I regret to inform you that Koteph had an ulterior motive. The Green Tower houses a great many things. The most ancient and terrible of those things, by far, is an entity name Ochekol'kan. She is trapped in our deepest dungeons, behind doors of stone, water, fire, air and lightning. It is out belief that Koteph plans to unleash her. He told me this himself, before he killed my father, your uncle."
"That is impossible."
"He has told me and others that that is his plan. Why would he lie?"
"Get out of my sight, sorcerers, before I have you killed."

"I told you it wouldn't work."
"It was worth a try."
"I suppose we did get some useful information."
I looked at Dran quizzically.
"Koteph is pretty clearly blackmailing the Emperor."
"How did you know that?"
"I thought it was fairly obvious. Why else would my cousin be doing this?"
I thought about it. I couldn't think of a more likely reason. Between Cassinder and Dragoneyes and Dran, I felt like I was the last person to learn everything. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Last Chance

It was Taerin and Molano who retrieved Dragoneyes. As Molano fended off waves of monsters, Taerin shifted the rubble, using the Names of stone and clay to locate Dragoneyes' body.
The two Masters transported the fallen mage, and he was brought to the heart of the Green Tower. The best physikers devoted all their time to him. They gave him the best and strongest of their medications. I hesitate to inquire as to how many others must have died to that Dragoneyes may live.

That evening, I went to visit my old friend. He was covered in physiker's cloths. I wondered how much of our store had been depleted. The room was bustling with people who were supposed to be there, of course. But I also saw my sister, sitting silently in a corner. I sat next to her. "So seem to have been here for some time. Any news? How has he been doing?"
"The damage he did to himself is not enough to kill him."
That was good to hear. Especially from a Seer.
I watched them work for a brief while. But, frankly, it wasn't interesting, I had other things to do, and my sister had said that his wounds wouldn't kill him.
I visited Dran. He didn't seem surprised when he heard of Dragoneyes' condition. "What I'm thinking about," he explained, "is Koteph. It is possible he will recover before Dragoneyes."
"We will survive," I said.
"I suspect you're right. We have other great mages, Koteph's army is finite. It will take a great deal of power to kill him, but I expect it can be arranged. Someone other than Dragoneyes will simply have to do it."
That is when I first realized what Dran wanted. "You think you can do it!"
"No, Amniel. I know that I cannot. I know I am no match for Koteph. He killed my father and mother in front of me. He brainwashed me and bent me to his will. Some part of me even fears him, but most of me is simply aware of the fact that he is more powerful, more formidable than I can ever be. I know I will never avenge my father, just as you will never avenge yours. But I think that the combined power of all of the mages... it ought to be enough."
"I hope you're right."
"You should hope we don't have to find out."

Dran's words moved me to check again upon my injured friend. I didn't share the Etoran's confidence. I feared for what would happen if he should fall. And despite my sister's assurances... well, it couldn't hurt to check.
I entered the infirmary once again. It was nearly empty this time. Only the mage and the blonde-haired Seer. And me.
"He isn't strong right now," my sister said.
"I know. He isn't conscious."
"He is weak. This is the last time he will be weak."
Interesting. A part of me began to worry. That meant he would never grow old. It meant he would die quickly and suddenly. Could it be that even with Dragoneyes standing against him, Koteph would be triumphant? Or was I overthinking my sister's predictions?
"This would be the last chance..." My sister looked at me. "I can't choose."
I was taken aback. "Are you considering-"
"You don't know. You don't see. You don't know all that he will do!"
"He is my friend," I said. "He's your friend. You know he would never harm anyone. And, even in your scenario where he goes bad, he still couldn't be as bad as Koteph."
"He could be much worse that Koteph."
"Koteph will see every man, woman, and child dead to achieve his goals. How could Dragoneyes possibly be worse than him?"
"Koteph can be stopped."
I began to see Dragoneyes's potential. I knew he was a good man. A great man. But... he was powerful. Incredibly so. If we won the war... if he won the war... would anyone dare challenge him? Would anyone correct him? "No. That's ridiculous. He has always done his best to protect those he cares about. He is a hero."
"He will protect those he cares about."
I couldn't imagine what my sister was talking about. "Explain yourself. What will he do?" I wasn't yelling, but there was a certain amount of frustration in my voice.
"He will Destroy."
The Destroyer. The bogeyman, monster in the darkness who had haunted my sister's visions for years. "Is he... the Destroyer. You said Koteph-"
"You couldn't know."
"What will he do," I asked.
Dragoneyes stirred.
Dragoneyes began to breath heavily.
"What will he do," I asked softly.
Dragoneyes sat up. "Amniel. Cassinder. What is troubling you. You're afraid that some powerful terror is coming. Don't worry. I am ready to fight Koteph."
My sister hugged him. "I know."

I didn't understand. Thoughts swirled through my head that night, as I tried to sleep. My friend might become the greatest terror the world has known. My sister has been keeping this secret, even though she's been terrified of him for years. And, right or wrong, it's now too late to do anything about it. Dragoneyes is back to full strength.
For the first time in years, I had nightmares.    

Sunday, November 29, 2015


All things can become a manner of routine. This includes frequent attacks by an evil sorcerer and his army of monsters.
A pattern began to emerge. Every two days or so, Koteph would breach our defensive walls, usually in two distinct places. His armies would pour in, and the sorcerers would rush to fend them off. We spent most of our time in anticipation of these moments. We lived near the wall, and had prespecified sections to defend. I was stationed in the city of Allus, and my section intersected with Arelin.
I was surprised to see her. Even in the most progressive parts of Irin, you would never see a woman fighting. Then again, you wouldn't be likely to see a woman sorcerer, either. She really was a wonder.
Dragoneyes, too, was part of the pattern. He would rise up to meet Koteph. Dragoneyes would wear a suit of iron. But at the mage's command, it would become far stronger than any material had a right to be. The two of them would fight, standing on the sky as normal men would stand upon the ground, moving great masses of magic and matter like normal men would move a sword or an ax.
A pattern began to emerge. But patterns do break.

Koteph drew his enemy further and further from the cities he was defending. Dragoneyes was hesitant at first, worried that he was leaving his allies defenseless. But, after a few more moments thought. he began to cooperate with Koteph's strategy. He could use his power without fear of collateral damage. The balls of fire emanating from his hands became all the larger. The iron spikes and icy spires he threw like javelins became longer. The stones he and Koteph batted back and forth became faster, and more forceful in their collisions.
Dragoneyes was no fool. He saw the potential for a trap. He saw that Koteph wanted this. But also saw opportunity. The chance to use his power to its fullest extent. To annihilate Koteph, and end this was before it could progress. So he redoubled his efforts.
The fight continued. Soon, they were doing battle outside Koteph's camp. Monsters of all sorts were slayed where they stood. Koteph's lighting, redirected to hit a giant. A tongue of flame, flowing around its intended target to reduce a Sassile to so much ash.
The mage scanned his enemy's forces. What was his plan? Why had Koteph brought him here? Dragoneyes knew his opponent was no fool. But Koteph's mind was too complex to read like a book. Least of all in the heat of battle. So Dragoneyes was forced to spend a moment staring at each and every one of Koteph's monsters, all without losing focus on his duel with the shade.
But Koteph was on the retreat. Dragoneyes had the high ground, both literally and metaphorically. He pelted Koteph with a hundred types of missile. He forced his enemy downward. Deeper and deeper. Eventually Koteph was underground. It mattered not. Both Dragoneyes and Koteph could see through soil like water from a spring. Sure the dirt might absorb some of the strength of their impacts, but that disadvantage affected both of them equally.
Dragoneyes grew tired. His stamina was depleted. Koteph's body was a mass of cuts and burns. Both titans had endured enough to kill a hundred of the mightiest sorcerers in the world.
Koteph began to make a resurgence. He forced Dragoneyes upwards. The two of them neared the surface, preparing to reenter the world of air.
Too late, Dragoneyes saw what Koteph's plans must have been. Koteph wasn't trying to kill him with brute strength. Instead, the crafty sorcerer had surrounded him with more than a dozen Touchkills.

Touchkills are strange beasts. They look almost like men. Their most prominent distinguishing property is their namesake one. Their touch means death. It does not matter if you are the mightiest mage or the lowliest worm. It doesn't matter if you are a fair maiden or another Touchkill.
The rules are not well understood, perhaps because no sorcerer in his right mind would decide to study them. It is known that Touchkills need not make contact with bare skin, and that they can kill a man through a suit of armor. But it is also believed that they wear their linen coverings so as to avoid accidentally killing each other when they are forced to act in close quarters.
Stranger still, even magic cannot touch these beings without being extinguished. Any object in contact with a Touchkill will become inert, dead, devoid of any sort of enchantment.
Maybe, one day, an exceptionally foolhardy sorcerer will find out more about these beings. Then again, maybe not.

Dragoneyes was trapped. He was surrounded by these beasts. Koteph seemed to have disappeared, and the monsters were closing in.
Dragoneyes calmed himself. He could solve this problem. Created an iron barrier. The Touchkills began to tear it down. Did I mention Touchkills are strong?
Dragoneyes tried to force the Touchkills away with jets of water or stone, but the elements dropped to the ground upon touching the monsters. Dragoneyes only had one strategy remaining. To create something in such volume, such quantity, that it would kill the Touchkills upon expose. He knew just the thing.
The True Name of fire shone bright in his mind. The True Name of stone was solid in his thoughts. And with great effort, Dragoneyes drew those two names together. Stone and fire were one in his thoughts. Which mean that the Touchkills discovered, all to quickly, that each of them was standing on a small patch of dirt, atop a vast cavern of fire. The explosion was visible from the University. The large cloud, reminiscent of a mushroom, was bright enough that I could see it with my eyes closed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Attack

I might have been the first to hear about it. Cassinder told me while we were eating breakfast. "Koteph will come today."
I told Taerin, who told the Masters, who told their students.
It was a bit of a problem. We weren't expecting him so soon. Our defenses were far from complete. Dragoneyes strained himself, and was able to erect walls for the remainder of our perimeter. But the walls were purely material, without sorcerous backing. And the effort left Dragoneyes drained.
We began to notice strange creatures in the sky. I felt the air as it flowed over their wings. They were very much not birds.
A pillar of dust began to rise above the horizon. I heard someone say it was the dust kicked up by an army of monsters. Eventually, Koteph himself appeared. He climbed up our wall. I wasn't there for his big speech, but this is what I believe he said.
"Brothers of the Green Tower. I see that I was expected. I know not what lies you have been told, but I do not wish to harm you." Some bystanders say that his voice sounded sweet and melodic. It's not clear why Koteph would do this, since his looks were still somewhat... skeletal.
"I and my allies need only brief passage through your University. If this is granted, I swear you shall not be harmed. You have until sunset to agree to this request. If you fail to do so... I will destroy you."
It did not take until sunset. Very soon, Taerin approached Koteph's perch, Dragoneyes at his side. The Archmage amplified his voice. "We refuse your demand," he boomed. "And I believe that Dragoneyes would like to add a few words."
Sources differ on what happened next. Some say that Dragoneyes spoke a dozen Names, one after the other. Some say he alternated between them. Some say that he invoked several at once. I myself subscribe to the second theory.
At Dragoneyes' command, a storm of fire and water and ice and iron shot forth from the mage's hand, and slammed into Koteph. Koteph was knocked from the wall. There was a brief pause. Some of the more optimistic eyewitnesses say that they thought the battle was over. They must have been very disappointed when Koteph knocked down a section of the wall wide enough for ten unbathed men to walk through without smelling each other. But what came through was far worse than unbathed men. A horde of monsters came through.
Taerin fired stones at them, trying to slow the tide. The other sorcerers joined in. Soon, there was a full-on battle raging. For the first time in centuries, sorcerers fought giants. Taerin singlehandedly kept three at bay.
Meanwhile, Dragoneyes and Koteph were doing battle, using the most powerful magic ever wielded by men. Every now and then, one of them would miss a shot, and a beam of enchanted light or a ball of fire the size of an oxcart would crash into the ground, killing sorcerers and monsters alike. As I made my way to the growing battle, I saw the wounded fleeing. The physikers of the Green Tower would have many long nights ahead of them.

I realize many other people did important things that day. But it was a bit of a milestone for me. I ran into battle. I had never thought of myself as the sort of person who runs anywhere, let alone into battle. I was an academic, a scholar. I was never a warrior. Yet there I was, summoning great winds, sucking Sassiles into the sky where they would surely by annihilated by lighting or fire or the spells whizzing through the air. It occurred to me that I had never witnessed so much magic being done at once. At any moment, fifty sorcerers were casting a spell like their life depended on it. There were no fewer than eight mages, commanding six distinct elements (not counting Dragoneyes and his ocean of power.) The Green Tower had been like this before. Before the University, it was always in a state of conflict. And now, thanks to Koteph the Black, it was in a state of conflict once again.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Seer and the Mage

Dragoneyes was one of a handful of mages tasked with building up defenses for the towns of Allus and Pire. He spoke the Names of stone and wood and iron, and walls erupted from the ground. Working alongside him was Molano, the mage who had questioned Dragoneyes' integrity after he first arrived. He was tasked with enchanting the newly erected barriers, to make them still harder to pass. And, despite himself, Molano had to admit he was impressed. "I don't think I've ever seen a team of four mages work as well as you," he said.
"Have you ever seen a team of four mages that didn't immediately start bickering?"
Molano admitted that he hadn't.
Dragoneyes continued to order the elements to his bidding. He spoke the Names, not as Names, but as a music. A music never heard before by human ears. Dragoneyes found himself more and more in tune with his words. The power was his, and he was the power. Every bit of wood, of iron, of fire and water and stone and silver and glass, was his. And it was good.

The door opened, not because Dragoneyes touched it, but because he wanted it to be open. "This power," he said, "it grows stronger in me every day." He walked into the room, and sat beside Cassinder's bed, a stone chair forming beneath him.
"It does," Cassinder said. "And you fear it."
"I worry that I am changing. All of this knowledge, all of this power. I worry that I am gaining so much that I am losing what made me myself."
"You will," Cassinder said. "You were a man named Bashra. Now you are named Dragoneyes, and you are greater than any man."
"Am I? Am I greater? Does my power make me great, or does my knowledge make me a vassal to the forces of the world?" Dragoneyes' chair changed, first into a throne, then into a rickety edifice at the mercy of a passing draft. Dragoneyes seemed not to notice.
"Then what do you want," Cassinder asked. "To shirk your duties? To break with the order of the world, and to follow your own path?"
"I don't know what I want."
Cassinder put his arm around his shoulder. "It is a shame that we know so little."
Dragoneyes drew closer to her. His cloak was a brilliant red, contrasting with her white robes. "I'm sorry. I see the guilt you carry. You... so many terrible things you must have seen, but been unable to prevent. We both see, but when I dislike what I see..." Fire danced in the mage's fingers. "My complaints must seem hollow to you. Here I complain to be too fully in control of what I see, while you stand alone before a tempest visible only to yourself."
The mage stood. "I will wipe away the terrors from your vision. I will remove the darkness from your sight. I see my duty, and it is one I will carry out proudly. I will orchestrate the flow of the world, so that all may be well. I will turn Koteph to ash. I will end oppression in the Etoran Empire and bring eternal sunlight to the frozen north. I have the power, and I will eradicate the evils of this world, for you, for everyone."
Cassinder looked longingly at him, her heart filled with hope. But her expression hardened "You know that you cannot do any of those things."
"I know I can't do them yet," said the red-cloaked figure. "But the future is long and the world is wide, and I will find a way."

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I was sitting in a tavern in the city of Allus, a short walk from the Green Tower. Dragoneyes was next to me. Cassinder was next to him. I looked at Bashra's meal, expecting it to be his typical mutton. It was not. His third day in a row eating soup. "You don't eat meat," I realized. This was a new development.
"I don't want to see the tragic death of an animal every time I stare at my food."
"Truly, those eyes are a terrible curse," I joked.
"This soup isn't that bad."
A woman entered the room. Gracefully, beautifully. I didn't recognize her, but she looked familiar. "You should talk to her," Dragoneyes suggested.
"The woman you are eyeing like she's made out of history books. Don't deny it, I can see the true nature of things."
"Is she-"
"You and she would make a wonderful match," he said.
"You shouldn't tell him that," Cassinder said.
"I wasn't telling him the future. For all he knows, she'll be hit by a cart tomorrow morning. In fact, for all I know, she'll be hit by a cart tomorrow morning. All I'm telling him is her personality."
"Bad things power to those who know to much."
"No, knowledge is power. Power is good to have."
Their bickering faded out as I approached the woman. What should I say? I had never done this before. I could introduce myself. Or I could say that someone who could see into my soul recommended I talk to her. Perhaps I could mention my merits as Lord of the White Tower. I opted for none of these. "Heee. Uuuuuuh. Uuuuuh. Uh, hi." Frankly, still better than I expected.
"Are you okay."
"Umm. Uuuh. Yes. I'm, my name is Amniel."
"Arelin," she said, extending her hand. I shook it. A greeting used mostly in the Commonwealth, but a distinctly Irinian name.
"Wwwhat... are you a student here?"
"I am, although I've lived here all my life."
"The daughter of a Master."
"Yes. Taerin.?
"Taerin! Taerin of the Valley is your father?"
"He is."
"Huh. A friend of mine ran into Taerin's son recently. Your brother, I guess."
"Othin or Baelin?"
"Othin, I think."
"I see." There was a pause. "Did you have a purpose in coming up to me?"
"Umm, no. No. Goodbye."
I retreated. "That did not seem to go well," I speculated.
"Wow," Dragoneyes said. "A lover and a scholar. Any other brilliant insights."
"Why did you send me to talk to her?"
"Frankly, I thought it would work out better than it did. I see the true nature of things. The long arcs of people's lives, and the critical moments that change them forever. That doesn't mean I get to see your stammering before it actually happens.
"So now what?"
"I don't know. The winds of time blow people far and wide. You'll see her again. Perhaps you will do better next time."

I did see her again, of course. The winds of time blew us together. Also, I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to track her down.
I must have asked a dozen people before I found someone who knew where she would live. I hesitated before knocking on her door. This whole thing was a sort of invasion of her privacy. First Dragoneyes invaded her privacy by seeing into her soul, and now I was invading her privacy by chasing her across the Green Tower. But, if she was what Dragoneyes implied she was...
I rapped the door three times. She opened it.
"What brings you here," she said. I could tell that this was simply the politest possible pronunciation of 'get out of here'.
"A friend of mine, a person with an exceptional ability to gauge personalities, said that we would make excellent friends." That wasn't what he said. I believe the exact words were 'wonderful match.' But that seemed rather forward.
"Was your friend a mage with eyes like burning embers that give him power over all things?"
"Yes. One of those mages."
"Well, that is very interesting." She moved to close the door.
"Wait-" we should talk.
She sighed. I could tell this was not going well. "What do you wish to talk about?"
A question I had not seen coming. "Ummm..... What do you usually talk about?"
"My most recent conversation was about whether or not the University should be doing more to aid Etoran sorcerers."
"Interesting question. So, our current policy is that we will provide refuge to anyone who comes here and ask for it. Are you saying we should be more active."
"The Inquisition claims they killed six hundred sorcerers last year."
"What would you have us do? Try to find the sorcerers before the Inquisition does? Admittedly, we have a certain expertise in the subject that they don't, but the sheer manpower they have at their disposal..."
"Perhaps. Or we could simply topple the Emperor."
"Are you crazy? This is the University! We're not a political entity, much less a conquering nation."
"Who else can do it? Who else can stand up for sorcerers not powerful enough to stand up for themselves. Who else can ensure that every man and woman has the right to study and learn."
She made a compelling argument. But I was not compelled. "The Green Tower was a political entity long before it was a University. You know how that went. Some of the fields are still smoldering. If we tried to conquer the most powerful Empire in the world... even if we did succeed, the casualties on both sides would be tremendous."
"In the short term. But in the long term, we would bring the benefits of magic back to a third of world's people."
"That is a decent point."
"I do make them occasionally. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to."
"You don't want to talk more?"
"I do not."
"You may have heard that a fellow named Koteph is going to try to exterminate every living being. I was thinking I might do my job trying to stop him."
"That's... a good thing to do."
Arelin closed the door.
Not the best conversation. But compared to my other attempts to introduce myself to strangers, I called it a moderate success.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Potioners of the Green Tower

Dran was supposed to report to a man named Lencius. A Master of Potions. Dran hadn't learned to navigate the entire Tower, but he found Lencius' chambers without much difficulty. He was filled with no small anticipation when he entered. He been in his father's workshop, of course. But this, the domain of a renowned potioner, situated in the greatest center of magic the world had ever known. He beheld the bubbling beakers, the racks of ingredients, the cauldrons, the fumes, the books Dran had never even heard of. He also beheld the unfriendly green-robed sorcerer he had met in the stacks. Dran wondered whether this individual was Lencius. He seemed to young to be a Master. Dran hoped the other sorcerer didn't remember their previous encounter. He hoped that he was just an interloper, and that he actually worked in another part of the Tower.
"Dranarius Caesorium," came a voice from behind him. "Brewer of potions, and blocker of doorways."
Dran stumbled into the room, and a green-robed sorcerers followed him. This one was old, wizened almost. "Lencius, I presume?"
"You presume correctly. My assistant here is Marius Stanium."
Marius seemed to be in shock. "D-did you just say Caesorium?"
"Yes. Young Dran here is the son off Phorius Caesorium. I suppose that would make the current Emperor his cousin."
Marius couldn't have looked more shocked if Takenor himself had casually walked into the room. To him, it wasn't much different. A member off a half-forgotten race, an evil which his parents had warned him about but which he had never believe could harm him. He had only ever read about Caesoriums in books. And now, one was in a room with him, blocking his Master from getting in.
"Now, we three Etorans could spend the next hour talking about our family connections. But I would prefer if we actually brewed some potions. Marius, care to tell Dran what we are doing?"
"W- We... We've mostly been focused on solvents, before the war, I mean. Lencius had the idea that we could poor solvents on the invaders, but that would require scaling up a lot, so we've been looking over potion books trying to find something we can make in bulk but which is still dangerous enough that we can use against the people who are-"
"Interesting idea," Dran said. "Liquid or gaseous?"
"Why? A gas would spread much more quickly. Also, we have some people who know the True Name of air, so that could be helpful."
Lencius looked thoughtful for a second. "I suppose we could use the fumes from Allifer's reagent."
"We would probably want to tweak the mixture. Nightwater slows the process of vaporization, so we might want to take that out."
Lencius was impressed. "Very well. If can show that you can make your fumes in high enough concentrations to kill monsters from a distance..."
"I'll get to work," Dran said.

Marius was curious about this new sorcerer from the edge of the world. He had questioned Lencius. He had ideas of his own. And those idea... were good.  Marius assumed it was beginners luck. Dran might be bright, he might even be brighter than Marius. But he was young. He was inexperienced. He was out of his depth.
The subsequent days and weeks revealed that Dranarius was not the one out of his depth.
He was brilliant. He devoured one book after another, scribbling ideas in the margins. He would go up to Marius with his clever new recipe, excitedly explaining how this stabilizer would react with that charm and that energy source. he might as well have been speaking Darmashian for all Marius understood.
Everything Dran tried worked. And when it didn't work, it didn't work for a profound reason, and even Lencius would be puzzled, until Dran found his error, and laughed at the simplicity of it all.
Marius knew he wasn't the best. Only a fool would go to the Green Tower expecting to be the best. But now, he was the worst. 
Dran was the best. He was witty. He was handsome. He was royal. How could Marius compete?
Marius lay in bed, his mind filled with jealousy. His parents had been expelled from the Empire to study magic. They had worked hard to amass enough money to pay his tuition. And now it was all a waste.
Marius tried to be productive. He tried to learn from Dran. He tried to benefit from the wisdom of this wonderchild interloper. But, as he so often did, Marius failed. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Towers Rally

"You are at this University because you believe in magic. Because you know that it can be a force for good, and that it is a force for good."
"You are at this University for the good of the world. Yes, the sorcerer's staff comes with a great deal of power and wealth, but you could have had that be inheriting the lands of your fathers. You are here not for the benefit of yourselves, but for the benefit of magic, and of the world."
"But, magic can do great harm. The destruction of Old Etor was perhaps the greatest catastrophe in five hundred years. And many in this room have been persecuted because of it."
As the assembled students and Masters all stared at the nearest Etoran refugee, Taerin drew in a breath.
"Today, we face a much greater threat. A cataclysm of far greater proportions. And it the result, not of an accidental foray to to the frontiers of magic, but a single sorcerer's active malice."
"The mage Koteph is now the greatest threat in the world. A shade of unprecedented power. He commands an army of monsters, the largest ever seen. He has already killed or tortured several of our former colleagues. Ar-Alam, Kyotr, and Cabilon. All to one terrible purpose: Koteph wishes to seize the Green Tower, and free Ochekol'kan from her eternal prison."
Taerin paused once more for the surprised gasps. He allowed his students a moment of confused chatter, as they reminded each other that, yes,  Ochekol'kan did exist, they read in a book that there was some sort of special door.
"Ochekol'kan. The creature out of myth and legend. The Shaper of the World. The Mother of all the Monsters. It is still unclear what benefit- if any- Koteph intends to derive from this. But it is extremely likely that none of us would live to find out."
"In all of our tests, Ochekol'kan's malignance is matched only by that of Takenor himself. Her power is far beyond anything that exists in the world of men. Our entire race would be eradicated."
Taerin gauged his audience's reaction. "This leaved us with a choice. We might run away, and cower at the edges of the world. I hear that the Norgad Archipelago is nice this time of year." This drew a laugh. The Norgad Archipelago was not nice any time of year. "Or we could stay, and we could fight Koteph. We could attempt to stop him, and, in our attempt, prove that we do in fact believe that believe in magic. That we want to use sorcery to improve the world, not only when it brings us wealth and power, but when it may require some sacrifice."
Taerin paused, and allowed his speech to switch focus. "Classes will proceed as normal for at least the next two days. There is a great deal of discussion to be had, and a great many roles to be assigned. We will likely mount a defense of the Tower, as well as our two neighboring cities of Allus and Pire. You may now erupt into frantic conversation." The University obliged.

The Chamber of Communications was one of the most innovative parts of the University, rivaled only by the School of Talismans. Over the past forty years, they had developed several new forms of magical long-distance communication.
As it turned out, the entity most interested in this new magic was the Commonwealth of Condoran. The Commonwealth had many centers of power, spread out over a great distance. As a result, the University and the Red Tower had worked together to implement a series of magically entangled rocks, so that a dedicated operator could tap his stone in Tyral to send critical information to Bos or Condora.
The two Towers were also testing several more sophisticated means of communication, including a pair of polished glass surfaces that allowed two sorcerers to see each other no matter the distance. Hearing was still not possible.
There were also several sets of connected pens for transmitting written messages. Some of the Masters were working too remove the pens entirely, and use magically reactive paper. Needless to say, all of these inventions required a great deal of magical maintenance, which prevented more widespread deployment.
For the most part, these channels were used simply to provide technical assistance, as both Towers struggled to maintain the connection. The sorcerers on both sides would describe whatever bizarre behaviors they were experiencing, in case their counterparts had encountered something similar. At the moment I walked in, every person in the room was talking about Ochekol'kan. "They want to know why we are so confident."
"Tell them that we don't see why Dragoneyes, Dran, Amniel and Cassinder would all lie."
"They say they still haven't found Cabilon."
"Then you owe me four coppers."
"What's the name of the book that talks about the Shapers."
''They want a complete list of every Name Dragoneyes knows."
"They say they're considering sending someone."
"Tell them to do more than consider, the fate of the world is on the line."
"I know, I have trouble believing it too, but can we risk it."
"Is this thing on?"
Nearly every person in the room was talking about Ochekol'kan.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let Him Die

"What do you mean you can't tell me?"
"I can't tell you."
It was frustrating. And completely unexpected. My sister was refusing to tell me the future.
"You've had your gift for years. I've never known you to keep prophecies to yourself. Why can't you tell me the outcome of this battle."
"I can't tell you."
This had been going on for some time. I was out of ideas. I had tried everything from coaxing to pleading. My sister didn't want to tell me the future. I had tried every sort of indirect question. Everything I could think of, at least. I wondered if Dran might be more use in that regard. Or Dragoneyes, with his power to see into the minds of others.

Dran and Dragoneyes were busy, at that particular moment. They were addressing the Masters of the University.
"So you expect us to believe that a shade has gained unprecedented power, and now wants to release Ochekol'kan." This was Molano, a Master of Enchantment.
"Both Dran and I have seen heard him say it."
Dragoneyes could tell that Molano was doubtful.
"Of course," Dran said, "we will need to prepare the entire University for the defense, as well as calling in as many other sorcerers as possible."
"I will erect defenses. I already have plans for metal walls encircling the building. I can also use my power to create pools of fire and ice in front of the Green Stone Doors. More obstacles for Koteph to cross."
Dran looked the crowd over. He could still see a great deal of skepticism. "Let us talk specifics," he said. "Should we tell the students today or tomorrow?"
Molano laughed. "We will need for more time than that to mull this over, young man. You have yet to provide firm evidence for Koteph's existance."
"Dragoneyes and Dran and Amniel and Cassinder have all seen him," Taerin said. "They all attested to his formidable power."
"A collection of four less trustworthy people would be hard to find. Two who were expelled from the University, the disgruntled son of an exiled prince, and a girl more mad than sane."
"What are you suggesting," Dran asked. "Do you think the four of us got together and decided to fabricate some strange story in order to prepare you for a threat that does not exist?"
"You can forgive us for finding your story hard to believe. Nothing like Koteph has existed in all of recorded history."
The Archmage laughed. "Nothing like Dragoneyes has existed in all of recorded history. But part of the beauty of recorded history is that there is more of it every day."
"Why would anyone want to free Ochekol'kan," asked a different Master. There was a chorus of agreement.
"I have never known a sorcerer to harm anyone. But even if there were a cruel sorcerer, why would he wish for total destruction?"
"He would have nothing to gain."
"It just seems hard to believe."
Dran agreed with them. It did seem strange. It seemed unlikely that Koteph was merely mad. He wondered if the shade had some ulterior motive. It seemed unlikely that Koteph simply lying about his end goals. But at the end of the day, Dran didn't care. The truth didn't matter. Because Dran wanted this fight to happen. Dran wanted this battle. Because Dran wanted Koteph to die.
"It might be hard to believe. But he has already captured Kyotr. He tried to capture Ar-Alam. Cabilon seems to have gone missing. All of them know Names necessary to open the doors and free Ochekol'kan. What else could Koteph be doing?" He killed my mother and my father. Let him die.
"Just because you claim Kyotr was by his side doesn't make it so," Molano said. "As for Cabilon... infighting is not unheard of among the Red Mages."
''And what of the movements of monsters. Even you must have noticed the lack of terrors preying on the Little Lands. You must have realized that Sassiles have all but disappeared from the Commonwealth, almost overnight. What else could explain that?" He used me. Controlled my mind. Let him die.
"This school is a beacon of knowledge throughout the known world. We can't suspend teaching every time monsters act strangely."
"Really. When was the last time monsters acted this strangely. When was the last time there was this much evidence that a great evil was on the horizon?" He destroyed my entire world. Let him die.

A bolt of realization. "Is it the Destroyer," I asked my sister. "Is Koteph the Destroyer?"
She seemed to stare past me. I could tell she wanted to say something. Her entire body tensed, then relaxed. After a moment more of hesitation, she opened her mouth. "Yes."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Stacks

Dran had seen quite a few things these past few months. He had seen his first crowd. He had seen his first mountain, his first non-sorcerer. The first time he had seen someone younger than him. The first time he had seen poverty. None of those had made much of an impression on him.
This was not his first library. But it knocked him off his feet.
Stacks of books, floor to ceiling. Covering eight floors in the Anitax spire. Dran thought back to his father's library. Those lonely bookshelves had felt unlimited. After all his of years of voracious reading, Dran had never finished it. But this... a lifetime wouldn't be enough to make a dent in this collection.
Dran was there to find materials relating to Ochekol'kan. It occurred to him that he was completely unsuited to the task. He had no idea how the library was organized, no idea how to find the books. But he hadn't objected when Taerin assigned him the task. Because Taerin had assigned it with some sort of confident forcefulness. And that same tone of voice made it clear that Taerin expected Dran to do a very good job. Dran made a mental note to practice his order-giving if he ever found himself in a leadership position. In the meantime, he had work to do.
"Do you know where I could find books about Ochekol'kan," Dran asked the first person he saw.
The sorcerer turned around, his green robes twirling. "Excuse me?" He looked to be maybe half a decade older than Dran. He didn't seems especially tall, and had the complexion of one of the old Etoran families. Dran wondered if that
"I am new here. Do you know where I could find books about Ochekol'kan?"
"I do not. I am a student of potions, not superstition."
Dran saw no reason to continue their conversation. It would only lead to the two of them antagonizing each other further.
The next person he ran across was a redhead, about his age. "Do you happen to know your way around this place."
"Not really," the redhead laughed. "You might want to ask one of the arc's downstairs."
"Short for Archivist. Are you new here?"
"Afraid so."
"My name is Othin," he said, extending his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Dran." Othin had a firm handshake. "If you have any other questions, just ask. Do you think you'll be able to find the arc desk?"
Dran's mind raced. He didn't want to admit weakness. To admit that he didn't know what the arc desk looked like, or whether 'downstairs' meant down one flight or four. But he had a job to do, and Othin could help. "Sure, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
Othin looked down at his books. "An excuse not to study magic theory? That's the opposite of trouble."
So they walked together. "What do you plan on studying," Othin asked.
"Potions." Dran wasn't even sure if that was a lie. Did he planning on studying at the University after Koteph's defeat? Or would he return to his home in the Black Tower? Regardless, Dran knew better than to tell the whole truth. Later, Othin would find out why Dran was really here, and feel betrayed. So be it.
Othin looked at Dran, as if he expected Dran to say something. "What do you study," Dran asked, completing what he could only assume was the second part off the ritual.
"Honestly, I've gone back and forth a dozen times between charms and enchantments."
"Where do you stand now?" Dran was actually curious.
"Probably charms. They're just more logical, you know."
"And, frankly, more useful."
Othin laughed. "I'll admit useful has never been much of a concern for me. Magic for magic's sake has always been fine with me. My sister has always been the practical one." There was a pause. "Do you have any siblings," Othin asked.
"No," Dran said. He decided to change the subject before it reached more painful territory. "How long have you been at the University?"
"Most of my life actually. My father works here."
"What does he do?"
"Umm... he's the Archmage."
Interesting. Dran could see why Othin hadn't wanted to mention that earlier. And now the conversation had reached an awkward moment for both of them. But Dran was still curious. "What is that like... if you don't mind my asking."
"Good and bad. I'll be the first to admit that people treat me differently, and most treat me better. On the other hand... how do you measure up to that?"
Dran wondered about that. Phorius had been one of the strongest sorcerers in the world. But Dran had never worried about measuring up. The entire family had just assumed that it was a matter of time before Dran eclipsed his father to become far greater still. It was as if Dran had been balanced over a precipice, and just only just thought to look down.
His father may have been the greatest magical warrior of his time. He had certainly won more fights than anyone else. The Caesorium line was the most famous family of sorcerer-kings in  history. Actually, probably the most famous family of any sort in history. They claimed descent from the gods, and nobody was quite willing to argue. And on his mother's side, his family had ruled the Black Tower for several generations, and had famous mages on two continents. And Dran just cavalierly assumed he was the pinnacle of this line?
Dran steadied himself. He had become a mage before most people open their first book of enchantments. He was on track to be a match for any of his relatives. And what did it matter if they were better than him? They were dead, nobody was ever going ask him to duel his great-grandfather.
"That would be the desk," Othin said. "See you around."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Archmage

I'll admit it. I was flustered. I couldn't walk up to Taerin of the Valley, the Archmage, and tell him that a mad shade was going to attack his University in an attempt to destroy the world. Fortunately, I didn't need to.
"Taerin of the Valley," Dragoneyes said. "The Archmage. A mad shade is going to attack your University in an attempt to destroy the world."
"Excuse me. Who are you."
"I am Bashra Dragoneyes. I studied at this very University. After I was..."
"That's a word for it. After that, I fell in with my former classmate, Koteph. He had become a shade."
"A shade. A fusion of a man and a spirit. You'll forgive me if I remain incredulous."
"Well, then you're about to get even more incredulous. He was not a union of a man and a spirit. He had imprisoned dozens, maybe hundreds of spirits within himself. He had incredible power at his disposal. He could bind other men to his will, and cross the continent in an instant. He-"
"Do you have any evidence? And how did you escape this all-powerful menace," Taerin's voice sounded like a bottle of sarcasm potion had started speaking. "Or did he send you here to warn us?"
"No, no, I escaped. Due to a complicated sequence of events that I will explain later, I know about a dozen True Names."
Taerin opened his mouth to express disbelief.
"Yes. I know you don't believe me." In quick succession, Dragoneyes spoke a variety of strange syllables, creating a bolt of fire, a shaft of ice, a staff of wood, a stone wall, a rainstorm, a gold crown, an iron sword, some cloth, and a lightning bolt. "I could go on."
Taerin was still for a moment. In a moment of conversation, Dragoneyes had turned his world upside down.
He had spoken True Names. No doubt Taerin was thinking that, yes, he had heard those True Names. He was wondering if he somehow been fooled. Whether there was some sort of spell that could falsely convey the impressions of the True Name of water.
Taering was also probably thinking about Koteph. This was likely the greater shock. Like every other person educated at the University, Taerin though of magic as a force of good. As a boon to society, and a beacon of progress.
"You have my attention," the Archmage said. "Now, the four of you had better explain yourselves in much greater detail."

Dragoneyes did all the talking. He explained who we were, how he had acquired his powers. He had explained that Koteph was trying to free Ochekol'kan, and that he had raised an army of monsters.
He spoke of the five doors guarding the evil Shaper, and how Koteph could already open two of them. He explained how Koteph had already acquired Kyotr's aid, and would likely force more people into his service. He told Taerin about his own fight with Koteph, and explained how powerful both combatants had become.
Taerin took it all in. "I hate to suggest this, but, the True Name of air. It happens that everyone who knows it is currently at the University. If we kill them..."
"Excuse me," I said.
"I've considered the idea," Dran said. "But I don't think it would have much effect. Koteph isn't going to give up. He will do his best to storm the University and kill us all. So we might buy the world some time, but he is a brilliant mage on his own, and will eventually learn whatever True Names he needs on his own."
"You've considered killing me?"
"I decided against it."
"I know but just the act of-"
Dran rolled his eyes. "I decided against it. Why are you still whining about this?"
Taerin didn't let our argument progress any further. "Back to the matter at hand. I want more information on Koteph. I want Dragoneyes to build us some defenses. Iron walls enclosing the entire town, not just the Tower, understood? I will alert the University staff. We formulate a plan to tell the students. If Koteph really is coming, I want everyone to stand and fight, not panic and run. Amniel, ask you sister if she knows anything about what Koteph will do. Dran, start reading up on Ochekol'kan. I want to know as much about that threat as possible. More specifically, I want to make sure there is nothing Koteph knows that we don't. Does everyone know what they should be doing?"
Everyone did.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The University

First, we sensed a change in the towns. They became slightly wealthier as we progressed. You could tell from the dress, from the style of home. Farmers and tanners gave way to apothecaries and sorcerers. More educated too. You could tell that from the manner of speaking.
The towns became more magical. We started to see thatch roofs enchanted to keep from burning. Coats enchanted not to wear. Recreational psychotropic potions.
Eventually, we started to notice book shops. Stores selling larkweed, and waterstones, and all the other accouterments of sorcery. We started to see the staffs of sorcerers, and the rings of students. And then, as we reached the top of a hill, we saw the Green Tower.
It was enormous. Kings would feel privileged to live in homes a tenth the size. Moving up and down the Tower's exterior, platforms large enough to lie down on ferried students to their classes. Elevators, we called them. Their maintenance was one of the foremost duties of the School of Charms. The School took its job seriously. It had been decades since the last time one of the floating stone rooms had crashed into the ground. And Master of Charms responsible for overseeing the elevator had been stripped of his title within the month.
We passed the city of Allus. Allus and Pire were the two greatest cities which had grown in the shadow of the Tower. Each was a city of thousands of residents. It was said that Allus had more Etoran sorcerers than any other city in the world, and that the Prince of Pire had more sorcerers in his court than the King of Irin.
As we grew closer to the tower, we could see the vents. Fumes from potions, channeled into the sky. A wagon full of cloaks passed us, bound to cloth the next generation of sorcerers. We wandered through the new homes of students. The larger homes of the Masters. Those who didn't live in the Tower, that is.
Finally, we reached the base. The bottom of the world's most magnificent building.  We boarded an elevator. With us were two blue-robed individuals. Judging by their age, and their conversation, I would guess second year students of Physik. There was also an, older man. I vaguely recognized him. Was he a Master of Enchantment?
"Well," Dran said. "Now we find out if I'm afraid of heights."
"Don't worry," Dragoneyes chimed in, "Amniel got over it in just a few years."
The Tower was divided into eight shafts, arranged around a central courtyard. Each was a little over twenty paces across. They were all equipped with stairs. I wondered about that, as we rose into the air. Who built the Tower? And why did they find it desirable to walk up fifty stories worth of stairs?
"Hypothetically speaking," Dran asked, "if someone were to spit off the side..."
"There's a charm to catch anything falling off the elevator," the Master said. "I'm not sure if it would affect your spittle."
"Oh," Dran said. He spat off the side. "In case you were curious, my spittle was indeed affected." Dran spent the remainder of the ride casting spells on his own spit, trying to make it fall to the ground.
I checked on my sister. She seemed rather unimpressed by the most magnificent structure in the world. She barely glanced at the center of all magical learning. I suspected that with her gift, she had seen it all before.
We reached the thirty-fourth floor of the Anitax shaft. Like generations of great sorcerers before us, we entered through the window. "Three floors down from us, if I recall correctly," I said.
Like all the floors of the Tower, thirty-one Anitax had initially been one large chamber. It was exceptional in that it had remained that way. While most of the floors had been divided into smaller offices, or residences for students, filled with man-made walls, thirty-one Anitax belonged to one man. The Archmage. Taerin of the Valley. He had risen up from a small village in Irin. Through shear force of will, he had made his way to the University, and forced his way through six years of classes. He worked closely with Ar-Alam, and was about to be appointed a Master of Naming, when he left. He lived in the forest. He ran with the wolves, and communed with the True Names of clay and stone. Eventually, he returned, almost feral, dressed in rags, saying he was ready to be a Master. The University thought differently.
So Taerin went out into the world of men. He advised kings, and rescued sorcerers from the Inquisition in Etor. He married, and had three children. He returned to the University, wearing much nicer clothes, and found new employment. He tried not to spend more than a few days a year buried underground letting the smell of the soil fill his nostrils. And became the first Archmage in almost a century not to be born into a noble family.
And while he only had one room, it was, to be perfectly clear, a very nice room. It had paintings of battles and previous Archmages and famous moments in the history of magic. It had no fewer than seven bookshelves. It had all of the usual apparatus of magic. And it had a mage who very much valued his work.
"Excuse me," said Taerin of the Valley, not looking up from his desk. "This is my office. Classes are two floors down."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Emperor and the Monster

Terix regarded the human standing in front of him. The crown upon his head, which he denied was enchanted. The ring on his finger, worth more than the towns most of his subjects lived in. He looked at the sword hanging from the Emperor's belt. It was ornate, but it would be useless in an actual battle. Finally, Terix considered the man himself.
He was reaching the point where he could no longer be considered young. He was tall, and had a mixed complexion. The result of half a millennium of interbreeding between powerful families of a half dozen races.
The Emperor wore his hair short, and was clean-shaven, as was the style in New Etor. Terix was still amazed that powerful men wasted their time on such triviality.
But, at that particular moment, the Emperor's most noticeable feature was his facial expression. It was a combination of regal arrogance and utter indignation to which most men could only aspire. Terix wondered if the Emperor practiced such things in his spare time.
It was useless, of course. Terix wasn't a man. Human body language meant nothing to him. But it was interesting to watch.
"You mean to tell me your master butchered one of my monasteries for the shear pleasure of it?"
"His motivations are not your concern."
"You're right. My concern is that he killed my subjects."
"You fight another war every year. Your subjects die by the thousands every day."
They stood in one of the palace's dozens of meeting rooms. It was richly appointed, to be sure, with goods from around the world. But by palatial standards, it was a small room far away from the centers of attention. The Emperor wanted it that way. He wanted to keep these little conversations between him and his blackmailers... separate.
"This is different."
"This is someone who claims to be my ally sneaking into my country and murdering my people without my consent."
Terix considered reminding Anaxus that Koteph had never claimed to be his ally. That, rather, Koteph was his master, and could do whatever he pleased. But he sensed the human ruler might take offense. He also considered pointing out that Anaxus hadn't created these humans. They weren't connected by a true bond, like the one between Koteph and Terix. But he sensed that would not go over well either. Instead, Terix decided on tact. "My master meant no disrespect." This was technically true. His master didn't care. "He was simply conducting some business. Removing a vestige of magic from your kingdom, as it happens."
"He still should have consulted with me."
"My apologies."
The human seemed to place a great deal of significance on this half-hearted apology. "Good. Now, there is the matter of the treasure of the Tower. We will let you have all scrolls, books, talismans, and other purely magical items. But anything with intrinsic value, even if it is also enchanted, is ours."
Terix contemplated the Emperor's use of 'intrinsic'.
"You will cleanse these items of all enchantments, and they will be incorporated into the treasury, or distributed among the soldiers as loot."
"Of course."
"We will execute all of the sorcerers on sight."
Terix doubted the Etoran army could accomplish such a task. "Very well."
"Oh, and I want my soldiers to know that I am in command, some some night-dwelling monster. So you will make it clear during all stages of the conflict that I recruited you as allies, not the other way around."
This gave Terix some pause. Koteph had pride. Would he be willing to take part in the Emperor's little pantomime? "I will speak with my master on that matter."
"Very well. Go speak to him." The Emperor left their little meeting room. He left Terix to do whatever black rituals would return him to his master.

Terix allowed himself to picture the aftermath of their eventual battle. The scattered corpses of sorcerers. Of monsters and human soldiers again. He hoped Anaxus would still be alive. He would demand his paltry human payment. Terix would advocated that he receive it. Then, as the gold and treasure was piled before the Emperor, Koteph would release Ochekol'kan. She would tear through the walls of the Tower. Stones that hadn't been scratched since before the first human drew breath would shatter before her. She would roar. A sound no man had heard, but every man would understand. Her mouths would spit forth fire and poison. Her tentacles would tear the flesh off one man, and snap the bones of another. The ground would shift like the sea in a storm. Fire would rain from the sky, and monsters would spring first from the ground. That would be the last thing Anaxus would see.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What They See

"To think. I had such a magnificent power. And I just let it slip away."
"Terrible," Dran said. "Bashra Dragoneyes, utterly bereft of magnificent power. How many True Names do you know?"
"Sixteen. But this one was different."
"All of them are different. The True Name of fire allows you to turn your enemies to ash. The True Name of gold let's you buy us new horses whenever you want. The True Name of stone allows you to erect impenetrable barriers."
I disagreed. "All of those names have been known to hundreds of people throughout history. I can't think of a single case where someone called upon the True Name of flesh."
Dran thought back. "I think I read a story where an elf did it."
"Stories about elves are very rarely true."
As the three of us discussed history and magical theory, Cassinder rode in silence. She ran here fingers over her leg. It wasn't perfect. There were still scars, and bumps. Every now and then, she would look up at Dragoneyes. Very quickly, she would look back down again.
"The thing to remember," Dran said, "is that, in nearly all cases, it takes time for a True Name to be bully integrated into a mind. There is usually a period of weeks or months between when one first uses a True Name and when one can be said to fully know it."
"I'm not sure that's relevant," I pointed out. "Dragoneyes clearly acquires these names by a different process than the rest of us."
"He acquirers them by a faster process. And now, now that he's hit a bump in the road, you two are assuming that his power is gone, and that he will never again wield the True Name of flesh. I say you are a bit premature. How long did you spend watching leaves in the wind?"
"Six hours a day for two months."
"Exactly. Give it some time. Invest some effort."
Cassinder looked to the future. She saw Dragoneyes failing. She saw the result of that failure. A field of men, bleeding to death in a field of swords. Helpless bodies flung from the Green Tower. Innocents slaughtered by a power from beyond their comprehension.
"I think you are too optimistic," I said.
"Perhaps I'll take off my rose-tinted glasses one day," laughed the son of Phorius Terrorslayer.

Cassinder wept in the night. It was her fault. All of it. She was a killer. She knew what would come from her actions. But she did it anyway. Her fingernails dug into her flesh. She barely felt the pain. It was nothing compared to the pain that young Etoran boy would feel in six months, or what the old man in the Commonwealth had felt two years ago.
She heard a sound. No. No. She knew who it was. He couldn't come. She could feel him watching here, seeing right through her tent. He walked in, the cloth parting and reforming behind him.
"Are you alright?"
"Go to sleep."
He see the blood streaming from her palm. "You are hurt."
"I am fine."
Dragoneyes held the girl's hand. He looked at the wound. He could see so much, as he stared deep into the torn flesh. But not the True Name. That power was still gone.
So Dragoneyes used the True Name of cloth. He made a bandage and wrapped it tightly around Cassinder's hand.
"I do not need your help. Leave."
Dragoneyes looked into Cassinder's eyes. He saw the meaning behind her words. "What are you afraid of?"
Cassinder was silent.
"I wouldn't hurt you. You know that. And you know there is no man in the world who could harm you with me here to protect you. So what are you afraid of?"
"I see so much.  So much from the future and past. I am not twenty years old, but I have lived a hundred lives. But..."
"But what?"
"But it isn't enough. What is a hundred lives in a world that contains millions? There is so much I haven't seen. So much I don't know. I know where I will be five days from now. Three days from now... it is a mystery. I know where I am going, but not how I get there. But I suspect. I suspect that..."
"You suspect that my presence here will have negative consequences."
"I too see more than most mortal men. I can see memories etched on the inside of a man's skull. I can see the path the stars will take in the sky. I see the interior of my hand, and back of my head. I can see how water flows beneath the ground, and I can see the minerals it contains. But I cannot see anything bad coming from me staying here with you."
In retrospect, that was a bit short-sighted of him.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Monastery

Koteph was weak. He had lost. Well, perhaps that was stating things rather strongly. But he certainly hadn't won. He hadn't been able to kill Dragoneyes, or take what he wanted. He had failed.
Koteph paced in his chamber, at the apex of the Black Tower. How could he hope to succeed after such a meager performance? How could he hope to slay an army of enemies, free Ochekol'kan, and extract his reward?
As he shambled through his unlit Tower, the shade's doubts began to grow. He was a failure. He had always been a failure. He had been born a failure. The bastard son of a traveling sorcerer. A killer by age eight. Expelled from the one place that had ever accepted him. And now he wasn't even human. A walking corpse. Repulsive. His very body was a constant reminder that he was destined to die.
No. He couldn't let himself think like that. If he opened that door, it would be days before he could close it. If he could close it at all. Koteph needed to contain his misery. Hold it inside himself, as he always had. He needed to focus on the task before him.
Terix had just located a grimoire. The Book of Midice. It contained the knowledge of the Peren mage, nearly a millennium old. Midice's book was located in the library of a monastery in what was now the Etoran Empire. Koteph closed his eyes, flexed his power, and was transported.
Koteph was still recovering from his fight, and his power's had yet to fully return. His spell wasn't as precise as he would have wished. Another spell ascertained his location. Just a short walk to his quarry.
As the shade stalked through the night, he encountered small creatures. Rodents scurrying through a farmer's field. He burned them with lightning. He saw a rabbit. A quick spell, and the rabbit was immobilized. Koteph wondered whether it would starve to death or be eaten by wolves.
The dark sorcerer came upon the monastery. It was an ancient building, erected in honor of Orbius (or Ornum, as he was known among the Peren). It had been partially destroyed during the Etoran conquest, but pieces of it predated the founding of the University.
Koteph uttered the True Name of stone, and passed through a wall. Effortlessly, the mage cut his path into the heart of the structure. He traced lines of magic that would be invisible to all but the most capable of sorcerers, hunting for books which had been enchanted when Old Etor was a small town known for cheap horses and cheaper prostitutes.
Around him, the monastery was drab and dark. The last century and a half had not been kind to the Temple of Orbius. The Temple of Thacanarion, with their alliance with the Imperial house, now reigned supreme.
Koteph reached the library. It was quite different from the sparsely decorated walls outside. It had been sealed off through all the looting and trouble. And it had been built by a powerful and wealthy mage. Even centuries later, some of the walls still had a faint glow, nearly enough to read by. Koteph summoned a small fire, and ordered it to hover safely above the room. Koteph scanned the books before him. There was the Book of Midice, of course. That would bear a great deal of study. There was a copy of The Ossoniad. Koteph had no need of that, he already had one. Several books seemed promising, but turned out only to be history books about various dead sorcerers. Koteph had no interest in the King without Eyes, or the Twins.
One of them was called The Shapers and their Histories. It was damaged almost to the point of being unreadable, and seemed far older than even the ancient texts surrounding it. Koteph turned the pages by magic, making sure not to damage them. He reached a readable section

And the Lord of Light was Why do you do this
And the Lord of Iron was It is my desire

Koteph considered the strange sentences. Two years ago, he would have chalked up the strange grammar to the book's age, and assume the Peren language had evolved. Now, he knew better. He knew the Shapers didn't speak. They simply were.

And the Lord of Light was What do you seek from this
And the Lord of Iron was I seek power
And the Lord of Iron struck the Lord of Light
And it was the first strike
And the skies rained Iron
And the skies rained Light

Koteph couldn't read anything beyond that. He flipped through the book. Could he find information about Ochekol'kan, his powerful patron? He reached another legible passage.

And the Six cast judgment among them
And Orinium cast in favor of the elves
And Trrm cast in favor of the dwarves
And Ishii cast in favor of the dwarves
And Ouuli cast in favor of the elves
And Nuuok cast in favor of the elves
And Ochekol'kan cast in favor of the dwarves
And so the elves prevailed

It seemed to list six of the Shapers. Adding in Takenor, that made seven. Koteph had once heard the hypothesis of seven original Shapers given as an explanation of the seven shafts of the Green Tower. Interesting, but useless.
Koteph flipped through the book some more.

And Orinium brought his punishment down on Ochekol'kan. 
Just as she had deprived the Elves of their power, he deprived her of hers
Just as the Elves had been cast out of their Towers, she was cast from hers

Useless. It was all useless! Koteph tried to contain his rage. He took the Book of Midices, and left the rest of them to burn. As he locked the doors of the monastery, trapping the monks in their burning home, Koteph allowed himself a smile. The monks were powerless. Weak. He was strong.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Green-Eyed Sorcerer

Dran was jealous of the man riding beside him. Dragoneyes, the all-powerful mage.
Dran thought of how he had acquired his power. On the day Dranarius had turned thirteen, Phorius had taken him into a cellar. It had been largely empty. Phorius occasionally hunted, and Mauria occasionally cooked. The fruits of their labor were frozen in blocks of eternal ice.
Phorius had sat on the ground, gesturing for his son to join him. "Do you know when I first used the True Name of ice?"
"No, father."
"I was only a few years older than you are now. It was during the Wars of Reunification. I was in the reaches of the Empire, battling Norgad invaders. I spent the winter with Asilus, who was-"
"Your second cousin, and the treasurer to Anaxus I. He later joined Colix's uprising-"
"Correct. It seemed the Norgads had captured some Etoran seige equipment, or maybe bought it off a disgruntled general. They quickly ran out of stones to throw over the castle walls, so they lobbed ice and snow. I had been studying ice for some time, and that winter, I redoubled my efforts. I spent my days and nights in the courtyard, staring into the crystal depths. Then, one bright and frigid day, I heard it. It was beautiful." Phorius began to say the True Name of ice. Frigid spires rose from the ground. "Now it is your turn," Phorius said, as the icy spears bent into a cage around his son. "This ice will not melt. It cannot be broken. There is only one way for you to escape: the mage's way. You should be able to reach several weeks worth of food from where you are. I hope you learn the True Name of ice before then."
Dran was daunted by the task before him. "How could I do that? Learn the Name of ice in just weeks?"
"Both of your parents know it. You have been surrounded by the Name since you birth. Now, I strongly suggest you stop quibbling and start studying ice." And with that, Phorius Caesorium left his son.
At first, Dran had tried to recall the syllables his father had used when invoking the Name, but he already knew from his readings that such a thing would be impossible. So he applied himself. He looked into the crystal depths of the ice around him. Day after day, he ran his hands over the frozen bars of his prison. He began to numb, but there was an understanding in that numbness. Eventually, Dran began to see outlines. Something ancient, and powerful. He saw it when he looked into the ice. Sometimes, it burst into his mind, only to quickly recede. Eventually, he realized he was seeing the True Name of ice.
It was vast. Complicated. Far too intricate and beautiful ever to be spoken with human vocal cords. And, yet, he could say it. And after he did, he didn't remember how his lips had moved, or what sounds he had made. But he felt sure that he had just spoken the True Name.
Dran looked at his prison in new light. The ice was not as it should be. His father had changed its properties. He had ordered the ice to be stronger, to withstand the heat. He could see the ice slowly forgetting Phorius' orders. It would take years. And Phorius had made it effortlessly.
Dran tried to countermand his father's work. He couldn't. His will wasn't strong enough. Dran looked deep within himself, and deep within the ice. He called upon the Name once more. It came more easily every time he used it. Eventually, the ice began to liquify.
Dran felt elated. He create new ice. He moved it, and melted it, and froze it once more. It slowly began to dawn on him how much power he really had. He no longer needed to fear his father. With enough practice, Dran could match Phorius in power. Best him, and drive him away. So Dran did not emerge from his cavern. Instead, he strategized. He planned and practiced his father's demise. Never again would someone lock Dran in a dungeon with no regard for his safety. Phorius was a danger to Dran and his mother, and now he would be eliminated.
But Dran realized he couldn't do it. In both senses of the world. He couldn't overpower his father, and he didn't want to. As cruel as Phorius could be to Dran, and as callous as he could be to Mauria, the three of them were inextricably connected. They were alone in the frozen north. Alone together.
Or at least, they had been together. Koteph had destroyed that. And Dragoneyes would destroy Koteph. With power he received effortlessly, a gift from a dying dragon.

Jealousy is unbecoming in a sorcerer. It is unbecoming in anyone. Dran needed to focus on the positives. He had another power. Another gift. Potions. Something Dragoneyes could never do.
Dran had studied the myriad forms of mystical energy. He could bind the skin after a cut, or stay awake for a year. He could make a drop of liquid that could melt through bedrock, or a cauldron of fluid that would ignore gravity. That was his power. That was his strength.
So that night, while Dragoneyes forged his swords, Dran two began to make a weapon. Dragoneyes could hack all he wanted against Koteph's physical form. But only Dran could attack his mystical power. In a bowl left over from dinner, the Etoran brewed his concoction. A dozen different components, it would be able to break Koteph's power, and scatter the shade's immaterial form to the four winds. Dran began to grin at the power of his creation. It began to work. And then, it melted through the bowl and fell to the ground, spewing a cloud of noxious vapor. As Dran collapsed, he caught a glimpse of himself in the polished metal of one of his cauldrons. The gas had turned his eyes a sickly green.
Not bad for a first attempt.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Inquisitor

Anaxus III surveyed his hall. To his right were statues of the gods. Thacanarion, Orbius, Tormus, Oshus, Olia, and Nocia. To his left, great Emperors of the past. Argeus, Polasius I, Tormusus II, Polasius II, Conorius II, and Anaxus II.
The current emperor gazed at his father. When Old Etor had been destroyed, and Tosus III had perished, there had been War. No, there had been Wars. The south and west had demanded independence. The surviving royals had squabbled among themselves. The Norgads had invaded. As had the Giants, and the Irinians, and Condoran mercenaries, and bandits from the Little Lands, and every minor warlord and their mother. The statue showed Anaxus II as he had looked during those times. Brave and determined, sword in hand. That was not the Emperor who raised a son. The man Anaxus III had know had been tired, worn down by years of fighting. Miserable after killing his brothers, defeated after concessions to the Norgad Lords. He had kept his crown. But he had spent his entire life defending it.
Anaxus III was going to be greater than any of them. He was preparing to go on the offensive. To destroy the sorcerers in their home. Everyone knew of the treasures stored in the Green Tower. Most of it, of course, was blasphemous magic. But there would still be plenty in the way of good, old-fashioned gold.
Anaxus regarded the men in front of him. The Priests of Thacanarion. Anaxus had once heard an interesting theory regarding that god. The theory held that the legend of Thacanarion had begun as a dragon-god, milennia ago, when dragons still walked the world. As the dragons drove each other out, the myth of Thacanarion merged with those of other gods. That explained his bizarre hodgepodge of dominions, including dragons, swords, iron, fire, and war. Anaxus didn't know if this theory was true or not. He didn't care. All that mattered to him was that the priests endorse his next war.
"Truly, this war would be the work of the gods," he said. "Not only would we drive the unholy sorcerers from the world. but we would be able to offer up all sorts of demonic instruments to the gods."
"The gods have no need of demonic instruments," the high priest said. "That is no sacrifice."
"Well, the gods always have need of gold." Or at least, their priests do.
"That," said the high priest, "would be a true and honorable sacrifice."
"Very well. A million gold Conoris will be given to the war god once victory is achieved." Anaxus stole a look at Conorius. The Emperor so rich the currency still bore his name almost a century after his death.
"Thacanarion would be pleased by that sacrifice. We shall pray for your fortune during the war to come."
"It pleases me to hear it. The Temple of Thacanarion  has always enjoyed a close relationship with the Emperor. Even my crown, blessed by your order so that none but the rightful Emperor may wear it, and retrieved from the ashes of Old Etor. It is a constant reminder how helpful you are."
They exchanged pleasantries for some time more. Eventually, the priests left, and the next wave of visitors was brought in.
The Norgad Lords. Some of them, anyway. Lords Orin, Tong, and Bolar. The three who currently made their home in New Etor, instead of ruling from their citadels on the east coast of the Empire. These where the ambitious ones, the ones who wanted to work with the Empire. Many of their brothers thought themselves conquerors, ruling over the weak Etoran sheep. These three probably did as well, but at least they recognized that there were more sheep to be gained by following the Emperor.
They traded pleasantries. There was a complicated ritual about whether the Norgads could carry swords in the palace. Anaxus offered blessings in the name of the Six, and the Norgads offered blessings in the name of their own god, Ishdod.
"My lords, I am planning an invasion."
"One of the Little Lands," Orin asked. "Bathys? Darmash?"
"Irin," Tong suggested.
"No," Bolar said. "He wants to strike against the Norgad homeland. He needs our ships."
"The University of the Green Tower. A place weaker and richer than any of the lands you mentioned."
"And you want our men," Orin guessed.
"I do."
"Does the Emperor not have men of his own?"
"I do. I use them every year. You, on the other hand... when was the last time you used your soldiers. They forget their training, their loyalty even. That is what happens to soldiers who aren't given their share of... plunder."
The interest of the Lord was piqued. "Plunder?"
"Indeed. Sorcerers make good valued throughout the worlds. Lamps that need no fuel and no fire. Impervious to the wet. Potions to heal any sickness you care to name. The dark powers have many applications. My men, of course, would never touch these foul creations. It would fall to your soldiers to destroy them. I trust the Norgad armies could be trusted to make these items disappear."
The Lords smiled among themselves. They were about to benefit from Etoran superstition.
"I, Orindod," will support you, said Orin. He was using the Norgad suffix for lordship. A habit even they had not dropped in their time in the Empire.
"And I, Tongdod."
"And I, Bolardod."
More pleasantries, more nonsense about carrying swords in the palace, and the Norgad Lords were on their way out. The Emperor allowed himself a brief smile. Yes, he had his personal legions. But they weren't for invading foreigners. They were for putting down rebellions. When it came to fighting the scum of other nations, why, that was where the Emperor's disloyal noblemen could be counted on to fight. Yes, the legions would make their appearance. But the true fighting and dying, it would be Norgad men doing that. And another enemy of the crown would become just a bit weaker.

Several hours later, the Emperor was almost done procuring the support for war. He had talked to the treasurer. He had spoken with his generals. He had asked his spies whether New Etor would rebel in his absence. He had begun to draw up plans. He knew those plans would have to be abandoned. They were built entirely on guesswork,since nobody knew anything about the strength of Koteph's army of monsters. The current plans called for a month's march there and back, and a week to conquer the Tower and distribute its contents.
The Emperor had one more audience that day. It was with Quisus Stanium, the Chief Inquisitor of the Empire. The man responsible for removing any shreds of sorcery from the Empire, and burning them.
He was an older man. And a slight one. He wore the robes of an Inquisitor, and a medallion to show his rank. He bowed his head to the Emperor, as was proper. He was a high-ranking member of the court.
The Emperor ran his fingers over his rings. "You wish to speak with me, Quisus."
"I do, your Imperial Majesty. I have heard tell of a plan to attack the Green Tower."
"From whom?"
"As Chief Inquisitor, I work closely with all the priesthoods."
The Emperor weighed this news. The war wasn't exactly secret. He certainly couldn't blame Quisus for hearing about it. "I trust you will be more discreet."
"The Inquisition is always discreet." The Inquisitor looked at the ground, before returning his gaze to the Emperor. "Are you sure this war is a good idea."
"It will bolster our coffers, restore our prestige, and deny the Irinians and the Condorans the sorcerers they use against us. A powerful sorcerer bent on revenge has volunteered to lay down his armies beside mine. It is a very good idea."
The Inquisitor inhaled. "After Old Etor fell, there were eight mages- eight powerful sorcerers, left in the country. By the end of the Wars, there were five. Four of them were successfully expelled without a fight. One of them- Toroshash- stayed in his Black Tower. The Inquisitor of the time sent thirty men to expel him. A week later, a raven brought him a single tooth. There was a note saying that was all that was left of the thirty men. So he sent seventy more. More success. Three of them fled."
"It is a good thing I don't plan on bringing seventy men. Seventy thousand, perhaps."
"You have to understand, majesty, it isn't just the sorcerers. The Towers themselves are impregnable. The Violet Tower lies at the heart of your Empire. We have attacked it with swords, with fire, with battering rams, and with catapults. We have asked strong warriors and Priests of Orbius. And we might as well have stayed home for all we accomplished."
"Then it is a good thing siege warfare has been invented, Inquisitor. Are you done?"
"With all due respect, no, your Imperial Majesty. You have heard of the War of the White."
"Of course I have."
"Illiel of the White Tower, a single sorcerer, persuaded the King of Irin to launch an attack against our Empire. The one man killed four thousand legionnaires. Many of our men flocked to join the Irinian side. Had Illiel lived longer, we would likely all speak Irinian today. As it was, we were left defenseless, with no armies. It was that defenselessness that allowed your family to take the reigns from their predecessors."
"And you mean to compare me to those weak Emperors? The last of the Legium kings?"
"N-No, my lord. I meant to praise you for being different. In your years as ruler you have kept the throne because you know who you can break, and who is not worth the risk."
"I do. I know that you, for instance, are very breakable." Anaxus gestured towards one of his guards. "Do you think he is breakable."
"Like a twig, majesty."
"Indeed." He motioned again, and the guard grabbed Quisus.
"No. No, have mercy, my lord!"
"Cut off his left thumb," the Emperor ordered. He addressed his Inquisitor. "Wear the thumb around your neck for ten days and ten nights. Let it remind you what I can and cannot break."

Later that night, Quisus Stanium lay awake in his bedchamber. His wife was beside him, finally asleep. Good.
Quisus snuck to his study. He opened a locked box, and retrieved a book he had confiscated over a decade earlier. He flipped through until he had reached the desired page.
He pulled out his bandaged hand. Slowly, but surely, he unwrapped the bloodied white cloth. He looked at where his thumb used to be. He consulted the book, and followed its instructions. Wards against infections, spells to dull the pain, an enchantment to help it heal over faster.
Quisus had meant what he said to the Emperor. He knew better than anyone that the army could not handle five hundred sorcerers. Even the Inquisition hadn't been able to handle sorcerers. At least, not without becoming sorcerers themselves.
It had been a gradual process, at least for Quisus. He had joined the Inquisition an idealist, just like all the rest. Intent on stopping the unholy monsters who had killed so many of his countrymen. But as he had hunted sorcerers, he had begun to realize that they were people. People with a certain knowledge, a certain talent, a certain skill. Put people, nonetheless. He had executed a Seer who had visions of the return of the King without Eyes. He had arrested wise-women, leaving sick men to die. True, some sorcerers were evil. Raiders from other countries hoping to prey upon a defenseless population, or black priests of the Cruel Goddess. But, during his long years of service, Quisus had come to the conclusion that magic was a tool, and in the right hands it could be a useful one.
So Quisus became curious. He opened the forbidden books. He read them. And he discovered he had a bit of a talent.
Quisus told himself that his advice to the Emperor had been an act of charity. A boon to the Empire, and an offering to the sorcerers he had so often wronged. But he knew that to be a lie. It had all been a failed attempt to protect his son.
Quisus had never been much of a father. Never even knew his son, accept from a far. Inquisitors weren't permitted to marry.
But even though Acanus didn't know his father's name, he had inherited his father's talent. Quisus just hoped it would be enough.