Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Black Tower

Ownership of the Black Tower passes from person to person. Sometimes, the master was a disgruntled sorcerer there to inflict vengeance upon his former enemies. Sometimes, the master was a mage who wanted nothing but a life of solitude, slaying any who came too close, Once, a dynasty of sorcerers had taken it as their home, making it the seat of their empire for the better part of a century. Until three days ago, the Lord of the Black Tower had been Phorius Caesorium, a mage who had used his tower as a laboratory, conducting horrifying experiments on all manner of beast, trying to gain power over them.
Phorius' son, Dranarius, sat in his cell. The cells on either side of his contained mother and father. Dran occupied himself by chipping away at the spells that made his prison impregnable. He wished he could make a potion. Channeling the ambient energies of the things around him, that was his kind of sorcery. Not worrying away at charms older than most civilizations.
The cells weren't part of the original tower. They had been added by Marius the Mad eight hundred years previously. Every occupant of the tower had added his own improvement. Dran recognized some of his own father's handiwork holding him prisoner.
Dran heard someone approaching. He strained his ears. It didn't sound like a human. The being unlocked Dran's cell. It looked vaguely like a man. Pale, and far too thin, but it was clearly modeled on the human form. It wore armor. Dran was no expert, but it looked shoddily made.  "Come out," it rasped. Dran saw several more of the creatures, holding his mother hostage. They carried badly made swords and spears. Dran watched silently as another of the almost-men released his father. Phorius noticed the icy dagger in his son's hand. "Put that away," he hissed. "There's no use killing these pawns. We need to confront Koteph."
"We should kill them now and make a break for it."
"And then what? We have no allies. We are better off standing our ground here."
"Come with us," the soldiers said.
The three captives were escorted through what was once their home. They passed Phorius' prized library. They passed the desecrated corpses of the monstrosities Phorius had studied. And they passed vats and vats filled with an off-white sludge. Finally, they entered the great hall, in the original Tower.

Koteph had only just taken up residency in the Black Tower, but he had already had time to redecorate. Gone were Phorius' immaculately preserved animal organs. Gone were the swords and shields of warriors Phorius had killed. Dran suspected that those weapons were in the hands of Koteph's pet soldiers.
The shade sat on the black throne. The throne was as old as the tower, making it older than recorded history. Its occupant rose. He had dark skin and bright eyes. He looked out of place amid his pale bodyguards.
"Do you like them," Koteph asked. "My palemen. Hastily done, I admit. And you can tell by looking that I was going for quantity, not quality. Quality soldiers will come later."
"They are repulsive," Phorius spat. "They take after their maker." Even after being beaten and locked in one of his own cells, Phorius was still unfazed by the enemy before him. It was not in his nature to be fazed.
He was the younger son of the Etoran Emperor. He had been tutored by some of the greatest sorcerers of his day. When a magical accident resulted in the destruction of Old Etor, Phorius had fought in the resulting Wars of Reunification. After the wars had been won, Phorius and his fellow sorcerers were given a choice: leave the Empire or die. Phorius chose the first option. He had been eighteen at the time.
Phorius had spent some time at the University, but found the sorcerers there to be dull compared to the thrill of battle.
So Phorius began a career slaying monsters. He tore through the ancient terrors, and their more recent offspring. When there were no monsters about, he contented himself with slaying humans. He left corpses everywhere from battlefields to taverns. Eventually, he made a corpse of Toroshash, Lord of the Black Tower, and fell in love with Toroshash's daughter, Mauria. That's when he decided to settle for a quiet life of desecrating corpses and childrearing.
Now, fifty years after he had first struck out on his own, some young Shade thought he was a match for Phorius Terrorslayer?

"I know the True Names of stone and lightning. That is very fortunate. It means that in order to open the five doors and free Ochekol'kan, I only need three other Names. Until recently, I had thought my ally, Bashra Dragoneyes, would supply the Names of water, fire, and ice. But that is beginning to seem unlikely." Inwardly, Koteph cursed himself for allowing Dragoneyes to escape. He should have known the mage was growing too powerful, seeing too clearly the blackness within the shade's heart. He should have known that the man who picked a fight with a dragon could not be kept cowering forever. Dragoneyes had grown tired of Koteph's threats. The ground had opened up, swallowing Dragoneyes, two giants, and a dozen palemen. The giants and palemen and turned up dead. Dragoneyes hadn't.
Koteph returned to reality. "The three of you are all mages. You all know the True Name of ice. That is completely useless to me. So, I will use this as an opportunity for some practice. I invite the three of you to try to destroy me. Please, try your hardest. Perhaps I will actually be challenged."
Phorius' heart stopped. Until then he had been biding his time, waiting to attack. Now, all hope was gone. It is a well-known fact that when an evil sorcerer challenges you to a fair fight, it is only because he is overwhelmingly more powerful.
Dranarius didn't wait for Koteph to strike first. With a word, crystals of ice began to form. Frozen shards flew towards the shade. With a sorcerous thought, the icy daggers vanished. "Taking the initiative, I see. How nice."
Koteph stood up, electricity crackling around him. A bolt of lightning issued forth from his hand, arcing towards Mauria. For a second, the electricity circled around her, held back by enchantments to ward of lighting. Then, the enchantments died. An instant later, so did Mauria.
Phorius lashed out. He screamed the True Name of ice. The palemen felt their water blood freeze in their veins. Then, an army of frozen statues began to advance upon the shade. "Wow," Koteph said. "Impressive. You won't be able to keep it up for long. Then again, you wouldn't have the chance." Koteph twisted one of his enchantments, and the icy soldiers crumbled to the ground.
Even before the icy mist had settled, Dran was upon Koteph. A sword of pure ice in one hand, he pressed against Koteph's protective wards. Phorius joined in. Slowly, Koteph's hours of sorcery gave way. The blade ran through Koteph's heart. Koteph laughed, and pulled it out. The sword shattered as it hit the floor.

Phorius was terrified. They weren't facing a mortal sorcerer. They were fighting a mass of spirits stuffed- barely- into a man's body. Could he even die anymore? "Please," Phorius begged, "have mercy. We could be of use to you."
"Perhaps. That was an impressive tour de force."
"No," Dran spat. "He killed my mother."
"I'll kill you too if you don't come up with a compelling reason not to."
"Dragoneyes. We can capture him for you."
"No. You can't. And I wouldn't want you to. At this point, I'd prefer him dead to alive."
"We can do that too. My son, his potions are amazing. We can track him down, and kill him before he ever has a chance to call upon his True Names."
"You raise an excellent point. I now have use for your son. What use do I have for you?"
"Killing Dragoneyes is a two-man job."
"No, it's not. Goodbye." Dran screamed as the charred corpse of his father fell to the ground. "Now, Dranarius, is it? You're going to get acquainted with some of my friends from the Spirit World."

A day later, the shade Dranarius strode forth from the Black Tower. The human component was furious, resisting Koteph's will with all his might. But the spirit was too powerful. With Koteph's help, it had assumed full control. And if the spirit fulfilled its mission, Koteph would help it stay in control. Forever.

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