Tuesday, January 27, 2015

War Council

Aria, Lady of the White Tower, wasn't a sorceress. She wasn't a noble. She was the daughter of a wealthy farmer. My father had actually caused quite a stir when he married her. People had thought he had tainted the family's magical bloodlines, and brought ruin to the House of the White Tower. The worriers didn't stop my dad, and they didn't stop my mom either. She went on to have two of the most powerful children ever born to the House.
After my father's death, she had taken over our lands. She had proven adept at managing our farms (what a surprise, from a farmer's daughter), and our little patch of the world had prospered under her. She was confident, and supportive. Which is why my first reaction upon hearing about the rise of an all-powerful evil shade was to talk things over with her.
"So, explain what makes Dragoneyes and Koteph so special."
Explaining magic to laymen is one of the great joys in life. There are so many fascinating details. But I had a feeling my mother wanted me to be brief. "There are two main branches of magic. There are sorcerers, people like Allos. Sorcery is often a pain, but with enough work and preparation, you can do lots of things. You can enchant objects to come together after they are smashed. You can cast levitation charms to move stacks of hay. I once set someone's shirt on fire."
"And the other branch?"
"Some sorcerers, after enough effort, become mages. Mages know True Names of things, which gives them incredible power." There are actually cases of non-sorcerers become mages, but those are very rare. "I know one True Name. I spent months listening to the sound of the wind as it rustled through leaves. I dropped myself from great heights, and felt the air rush past me." And four of the five times, my levitating charm stopped me from hitting the ground. "In this manner, I have come to understand the true nature of air. And I have gained power over it. With more work, I might gain an even stronger understanding of the nature of air, and my power would increase. A few people have expended a tremendous amount of time to learn two True Names. The Archmage, at the University knows clay and stone."
"Okay. And mage powers are much stronger than plain old sorcerer powers?"
"Absolutely. If a dozen sorcerers spent a month enchanting the air out of this room, I could undo their work in a few minutes."
"And Dragoneyes knows several names."
"Yes. He knows more True Names than any other person, making his magic more versatile than any other mage's. He also knows the Names more deeply than most mages, giving him several times the raw power of an ordinary mage."
"So he is the most powerful man in the world."
"No. The most powerful man in the world is the one who killed your husband."
"And you say he wants to become even more powerful."
"Yes. His sorcerous abilities have already been raised to incredible levels. And he is likely summoning more spirits every day. But it is important to remember the terrible cost he is paying. A shade is an unnatural union between man and spirit. Prone to insanity. Before Dragoneyes escaped his clutches, Koteph was gathering allies. Breaking bread with the monsters of the world. We think he may be planning to release Ochekol'kan."
"Wait? Is Ochekol'kan real?" My mother placed the emphasis on the second and fourth syllables. Other legends place it on the first and third. Different scholars have different opinions on this. "I'm not trying to be rude," my mother said, "but I thought Ochekol'kan was a story to scare children. Like Eye-Eaters and the Winged Ones."
"The Eye-Eaters are real too. The Winged Ones likely went extinct a few hundred years ago. But Ochekol'kan is worse than any of them. She leaves hordes of monsters with every step. Her breath is a hurricane of poison and her tentacles are great rivers of spines. We really, really, don't want her to escape."

Dragoneyes pushed Allos away. "I can walk without your help."
"You are probably right. But wouldn't it be embarrassing if you fell down the stairs because you refused my offer?"
"If that happens, you have my full permission to laugh every time you see me."
Dragoneyes stumbled a few times, but he managed to get up three flights of stairs without major incident. "Excellent. At last, we meet in the council chamber."
Council chamber. How like him to say that. "This isn't the council chamber. It's my study. You just insisted that we meet here so that you could show off your stair-climbing abilities."
"You're the one who has to consult with his mother in order to decide that the return of the Mother of all Monsters might spell trouble."
"Whatever. It is time to get down to business."
"Shouldn't we have Cassinder here before we conduct business?"
"Because of her powers. They don't really work on demand."
"She sees more than you suspect."
"How could you possibly know that?"
"I, too, see more than you suspect."
Just like that, Cassinder walked in, as if she had known we were talking about her. Actually, she probably did.
"So," I said. "Ochekol'kan."
"She of Ten Thousand Eyes. The Devourer of all Things. The Mother of the Monsters." Dragoneyes rattled off a list of names.
"She was one of the Shapers of the World. Long before the development of written language, she was imprisoned beneath the Green Tower."
"Yeah," Dragoneyes said. "One time when I was sneaking around their cellars, I saw this gigantic green door. The first of the five. The lock had all sorts of carvings in it."
"Do we know where the key is," Allos asked.
Dragoneyes snorted. "Nice one."
"The lock has no keyhole," I explained. I had read all about this door in books. Plenty of scholars at the University had studied it. Some had even had the nerve to touch it. "Most of the people who have studied it agree that it can only be opened if commanded to in the True Speech."
"Which would be very hard for Koteph to do, since the only words he knows are lightning and stone."
Time for another Amniel-style lecture. "Maybe if you'd actually shown up to Master Arnarian's history class, you would know this. Stone is the word to open that door. It has actually been opened several times. The door after is made of water. It has been opened once. Behind it was a door of fire. Legends says that behind that are doors of air and lightning. So Koteph already has two of the doors in his pocket."
"Sounds like you two should head off and warn the University," Allos suggested. "Tell them to keep a lookout for suspicious behavior."
Dragoneyes sneered, his yellow eyes flashing. "That would accomplish nothing. At any given time, the University has maybe three hundred sorcerers of varying levels. There is suspicious behavior going on every hour of every day. Now, if we warned the three hundred sorcerers to begin preparing for a full-scale invasion, and to start sealing off access to Ochekol'kan's prison behind several layers of defenses, that might be a good start."
"A good start," I said, "but we would do more. We could recruit other allies. The combined armies of the world."
"Normal human soldiers against sorcerers and giants. I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"It is a good idea," I said. "It will be useful if Koteph decides to raise an army of his own. Not to mention that the scholars of the University aren't necessarily bright strategic minds, and we could probably benefit from having a few generals around." I thought for a second. "Any of you know any good spells to send word? Or are we going to have to go the long way? I suppose we could ensorcel a letter."
"You think you can persuade them by letter," Allos laughed.
"Once they know that Koteph is-"
"Do you think they will believe you without me there? Even with me there, it is a tough story to sell. And any organization larger than eight people is guaranteed to be inefficient, so even if they do believe you, they won't get their defenses together in time. We need to go there in person, and tell them, and persuade them, and constantly remind them." 

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