Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Journey Continues

I didn't like having Dran around. I had a lot of reasons. Some were legitimate, some were rather petty.
My more legitimate concerns were about his trustworthiness. Sure, he had every reason to hate Koteph, but that didn't necessarily make him our friend. He was a shade. He was the son of a dark sorcerer. He had lived his entire life in the Black Tower, and, according to him, literally every person he had ever cared about was dead. "All five of them."
Also, I was worried that he would slow us down. Larger groups travel more slowly. And we were kind of in a rush to get word to the University before Koteph's army mobilized.
He was from the Black Tower. I was the heir to the White Tower. Quarreling with him was my ancestral duty. You wouldn't expect Tylus the Blue to get along with the Red Mages, would you?
But my biggest objection, by far, was that he was a reminder. A reminder that I had left the safety of my tower. That I was being hunted by forces more powerful than me, and that those forces wouldn't hesitate to kill me. Or worse. I didn't like that kind of stress.
Dran seemed to get along best Dragoneyes. The two of them continued talking long after we were finished asking him about Koteph's most recent doings. "So, your powers allowed you to identify me as a shade, defeat me, contain me, free me from Koteph's control, create clothing for me, pick out a horse for me, and pay for it with gold you made yourself?"
"Well, Amniel did most of the work on the amulet, but yes."
"Can you kill Koteph?"
"I'm going to have to." We rode away from Eriat. Dragoneyes examined the look on Dranarius' face. "It's a city."
"I've never seen so many people at once."
"And that's not even a major city. Wait until you see Condora, or the Yellow City. Or one of the great Etoran settlements."
"What makes this even stranger is that I know all about all of those cities. Eriat has five thousand people. The Yellow City has about twenty times that. My father made sure I received a full education, and would know all about the world that he never let me see." He choked up a bit. "Sorry. I'd prefer not to talk about my past."
"That's perfectly fine, since I like talking about myself regardless." I perked up. Dragoneyes had never told me the details of his past. "I was born in one of the Little Lands. Darmash? You heard of it?"
"Well, I was a bastard. Literally and figuratively. The bastard son of the court magician and the king's junior wife. You can imagine how popular that made me at court."
"I think I can."
"Well, I was a constant reminder to everyone that the king was a cuckold. The king didn't want to kill me. That would just mean admitting he was a cuckold. So, when I was sixteen, he sent me off to war."
"Yes. Your cousins, the Etorans, were invading the Little Lands a few countries to the north, and the king of Darmash wanted to get an early start at losing to the Etorans. And he decided his bastard not-a-son would love fighting and dying for his country, far away from the attentions of the court."
I had never heard this before. "So how did you end up at the University a year later?"
"Well, I never actually reached the front. I deserted. Wandered around for some time, doing odd jobs. Eventually, I came across the ruined camp of some neighboring princeling. Torlus, I think his name was. He was headed off to the Green Tower when some bandits showed up, killed him, and took his money. But they didn't take his letter of admission to the University. So I showed up, pretended to be Torlus, told them I went by 'Bashra,' and wrote to Torlus' parents for more money."
I was flabbergasted. "You got into the University on false pretenses, and stole money from the parents of a dead child."
"I needed it more than them. Torlus was a prince."
We bickered a bit. In the end, I admitted that Dragoneyes was probably right in doing what he did, and he admitted that it was dishonest. Dran kept quiet.

The conversation shifted to our next destinations: The Blue Tower and Lake Loria.
"We should split up," Dragoneyes said. "We can meet up afterwards, and it doesn't take long to bear a message."
"Splitting up seems like a bad idea," I countered. "Could be a recipe for trouble."
"I see your point. But there isn't much that could trouble me. And if you and Dran are together, there won't be much troubling you either. Unless Koteph arrives with all his army."
"Which is a possibility."
"No it isn't."
"You seriously think that a pair of sorcerers is a match for whatever fate may throw at us?"
"This is Irin, not the Land of Giants. If we let our fear affect us that much, we will be paralyzed."
"Fine. Me and Dran. I assume Cassinder will come with us."
"I assume so too."
Dran spoke up. "It seems like Dragoneyes is stronger than both of us put together."
"I am."
"And, I don't mean to be harsh, but it seems like Cassinder is a bit of a liability."
"I am." I didn't even know she was listening.
"So you're saying I should be in charge of Amniel's sister?" Dragoneyes thought for a second. "Actually, that is a good idea. The two of you will head off to the Blue Tower, and explain things to Kytor. I think Cassinder would prefer to come with me and talk with the river-dwellers."
"Why do you say that?"
"You know, She's odd. They're odd. I'm sure everyone will get along splendidly."
I considered pointing out how embarrassingly optimistic that was. "Fine."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Awakening the Shade

The intended innkeeper wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of rooming three highly destructive sorcerers. But he also wasn't thrilled at the idea of turning us away. In the end, he reached an internal compromise. He would give us a room for the night, but the extremely unfriendly and hostile so as to discourage further patronage from such dangerous customers.
Then, he woke me up in the middle of the night. "Why is there a gigantic boulder in front of my in?"
"That's a difficult question. My guess is that Dragoneyes has finally gotten bored of forging broadswords."
I went outside. "Oh," Dragoneyes said. "You fetched Amniel for me." He offered a tip. The innkeeper reluctantly accepted.
"There's a shade in that boulder," he said. "Sent by Koteph. Any way you could un-evil him?"
"Well, there are techniques to 'un-evil' people, as you put it. But it isn't like I know them off the top of my head-"
"Well that's inconvenient-"
"Which is why I always carry around a few hundred books."
"Well, that's convenient. Also, I saw that coming. I see everything."

I went into my room. Cassinder was still asleep. She was smiling. Good. She deserved some pleasant dreams.
I picked up one of my packs. I opened it, and reached in. I requested a copy of Durun's compendium on the subject.
I marveled a bit as I pulled out the book. How wonderful it was to be a sorcerer. I had made that pack as a project even before being admitted to the Green Tower. Years later, it could still hold the equivalent of several complete shelves.
I spent much of the day reading. Different incantations, and their effects on shades. It seemed that for most of them, the primary effect was 'make the shade angry.'
In the end, I designed an amulet that could weaken the spirit's power.
Dragoneyes looked over my shoulder. "Wow," he said. "That is one clever bit of sorcery."
"You see what I'm doing? Oh, right. You see everything."
"I do. And while that mechanism could work in theory..."
"You question whether it would be strong enough."
"Well, that's because you don't see everything. The weakest part of the spell is the binding. And what you don't seem to realize that we can put in multiple bindings in tandem."
"Oh. It wouldn't be a linear effect-"
"Because of interference. Nice. But still, Koteph is powerful. I worry about going head-to-head with his handiwork."
"Well, if it doesn't work-"
"I'll tear him in half."
"I was thinking something a little less gruesome, but yes."

Dragoneyes and I were casting spells, trying to create an amulet powerful enough to save Dranarius Shade. Cassinder wandered in. "You need more spells," she said. She snatched the amulet from my hand, held it for a moment, then returned it. "It will work."
I waited for my sister to wander off. "Did she do anything?"
"She added a spell. As far as I can tell, it's to help people wake up in the morning."
"Oh. Well, that seems relevant."
"It was put there by someone who can see the future."
"True. We'll know what she saw soon enough."

Dranarius woke up. He felt different. Refreshed.
He opened his eyes. There were three other people in the room. One was short and bookish, with light hair and a white tunic. Standing behind the bookish one was his polar opposite. Tall and dark, with a brightly colored tunic. He had a ridiculous number of swords strapped around his waist. In the back of the room, not really paying attention, was a woman. She had dark hair, and another white tunic. She seemed to be entertaining herself by playing with a burning stick.
Dran cleared his throat. "You wouldn't happen to be sorcerers, would you?"
The colorful one spoke first. "My name is Bashra Dragoneyes. My friends who have never heard of dyes are Amniel and Cassinder of the White Tower. I am fairly certain I know the answer, but I'd like to ask just to check: are you currently an evil shade bent on my destruction?"
And that's when the past all came crashing back. His parents' deaths. Dran's slow enslavement, as a suitable spirit was brought into the world and given dominion over Dranarius of the Black Tower.
"What have I done?" Dranarius sat up, in horror. "I've killed people. I killed four people getting here. That's like a tenth of all the people I've had a conversation with!"
"How do you know that," the blond asked.
"I've met my parents, four of the Red Mages-"
"No. How do you remember killing people while under the spirit's influence. That shouldn't be possible. Unless the spirit still retains-"
"It was a dream," the girl said. "If you wake up fast enough, you can remember."
"I hope that's it," said the mage of the White Tower. "I really hope that's it."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The City of Eriat

We entered the town of Eriat. This city was firmly out of my dominion. The White Tower was just another spectacle that existed somewhere below the horizon. If they knew of me at all, I was a distant figure, on the same level as the King of Kollun.
"How does it feel," Dragoneyes asked, "to set foot in a town you don't own?"
"I assume you would know, never having owned so much as a fallow field in the country."
Dragoneyes didn't react to my witty response. He was busy examining his sleeve.
"Something wrong with your shirt? Sorry, my shirt that I'm lending to you?"
"When did your sleeves become so interesting?"
"I'll talk in a second."
"What could you possibly be doing?"
"I almost had it," he snapped. "The True Name of cloth. It's gone now. I'm sure it will come back to me, but it will come back faster if you shut up, and quit obliterating my thought with your annoying voice asking trivial questions!"
I decided to be quiet. Cassinder didn't. "The Destroyer," she whispered. "He grows more powerful."
"I see."
I evidently didn't see to her satisfaction. Cassinder got off her horse and started spreading the word to the good citizens of Eriat. "The Destroyer. We need to stop him." She ran through the streets. I chased after her. Dragoneyes continued to ponder his pants.
I ran in pursuit of my sister. But it was hopeless. I wasn't exactly an expert at running. Turns out that spending most of your waking hours reading and experimenting didn't make me a paragon of physical fitness.
So my younger sister raced through the town. She accosted a stranger. I later learned his name was Lerren. "Stop him," she demanded. "Stop him!"
Lerren assumed Cassinder was being chased by some sort of criminal. "Slow down. Who is chasing you?"
"Horrors. Blood! Death! He killed them all! They never threatened him, and he tore them apart."
"What are you talking about?"
"He burned a city to the ground. A camp of refugees, washed away in a flood."
Lerren began to back away.
"You don't care! You won't try to stop him. I knew you were cold, uncaring, like the rest of them. I tried to persuade you. I did! But I can't stop the Destroyer. I need help. Somebody help me!"
At this point, I showed up. "Cassinder! Are you okay?"
"He's still there! Why won't he leave me alone?"
I think Lerren misunderstood who Cassinder was talking about. "Are you hurting this girl?"
"No, quite the opposite. I'm her brother."
"Hell of a good job you're doing."
"I'm sorry. How are you doing protecting your clairvoyant loved ones from terrible visions of the beyond?"
"All I know is, my daughter doesn't run through town crying."
I was about to do say something foolish when Dragoneyes showed up and said something even more foolish. "Go away, Lerren. Otherwise, you'll be the one running through the town.
"Are you threatening me?"
"Yes. Cassinder's problems are not your business. Leave now."
The two of them were busy staring each other down, when Cassinder bolted. Even before I had started to give chase, she disappeared completely.
"What was that," I asked.
"Quick bit of sorcery on her part," Dragoneyes responded. "Don't worry, I see her."
Powerful as Dragoneyes was, I was doubtful of his ability to move fast. It turns out those doubts were mistaken. He didn't invoke his power as a mage. He was just more fit than me.
Cassinder reappeared, flying through the air. She was propelling herself with the might of her own sorcery. I didn't even know that was possible.
"You're in the air," I said to her. "Now I can help you."
I spoke a fragment of a Name. I called forth a great gust of wind. My sister's sorcery couldn't function against such a headwind. She was held in place, prevented from getting any further away from us. I steeled myself, and invoked the Name again. The air before me hardened, and I walked on a staircase of air, climbing into the sky.
I caught ahold of Cassinder. "Did I hurt you?" It occurred to me that going head-to-head with a sorcerous gale couldn't be a fun experience.
"He's chasing me," she said. "The Destroyer. He knows I see him, and he wants me quiet."
"The Destroyer is not trying to kill you." Presumably. "And nobody is chasing you. And there is Dragoneyes." Finally. Standing in the sky on hardened air is difficult. I welcomed his nice, solid spire of stone.
"We finally show up someplace where you aren't a famous sorcerer. And within half an hour of entering the town, we're local celebrities." He turned his attention to Cassinder. "You okay?"
"For now."

Dragoneyes was out drinking. He was curious. How would his new senses function while drunk. He had heard many mages say that True Names came more easily when inebriated. That didn't ring true, but, again, Dragoneyes was curious.
A stranger came up to him. "Were you the one who tore up the market a few hours ago?"
"I really need to get some clothes that aren't a wizardly white."
"Mind if I drink with you?"
"Not in the least."
"The two of them drank a while, and chatted about trivialities. The stranger had some pretty negative opinions about the Etoran Empire. "There they go, expanding into the Little Lands as if nobody but them had any right to self-sovereignty."
"Look on the bright side. At least they've stopped making war with Irin."
"Only because they know that Irin has powerful sorcerers, who would be a trouble to conquer and a trouble to execute once defeated."
The conversation wore on some more. Dragoneyes cleared his throat. "I actually have a problem you might be able to help me with."
"Come with me. I'll show you."
The two of them left the bar. "I don't see a problem."
"I do. I see a shade who thought he could poison me. Want to plead for your life, or should I kill you now?"
Dran didn't actually respond. Instead, he invoked the True Name of ice, and began to encase Dragoneyes in a frozen block.
"You aren't the only one who knows that Name." Dragoneyes began muttering icy syllables. The block's progress slowed. Dragoneyes concentrated. This was his ultimate test as a master of ice. He drew upon his full command of the True Name. The ice continued to advance.
Dran, too was calling upon every ounce of will in his body, forcing the ice to push forward. This was his only chance. He could freeze Dragoneyes. Administer poisons into his cooled body. He could succeed.
Dragoneyes saw the outlines of the plan forming in Dran's skull. All the more reason not to be frozen. He redoubled his efforts.
Dranarius let out a harsh chant. "I.. will... defeat you."
"Whatever." He drew upon the True Name of fire, and the ice became so much warm water. Dran's frozen daggers bounced off stone barriers. A sword materialized in Dragoneyes' hand. He pointed his weapon at the shade.
 Dran knew that he was beaten. "How did you know I was a shade?"
"I see everything." Dragoneyes looked harder at his defeated assailant. "Interesting. I see the internal conflict, human fighting spirit for control. Perhaps I can find a way to shift that balance."
"I doubt it."
"Well aren't you smarmy for someone I could incinerate, eviscerate, drown, or pummel to death?"
"Am I wrong? I don't hear any bright ideas."
"That may be the case. But I know someone who specializes in bright ideas regarding esoteric magical phenomena. His name is Amniel."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Eye of the Beholder

Flying through the air on the back of a Leatherwing, Dranarius Shade considered his options. To understand where he should go, he needed to put himself in the mind of Dragoneyes, and deduce what the fugitive had done as he escaped Koteph's clutches.
Where would he go? A teleportation would be incredibly dangerous. The subject would most likely come out injured on the other side. So he would go somewhere he could expect care. That would either mean a friend, or a hospital.
The hospital at the Green Tower seemed to be the best course of action. Dragoneyes would likely travel to the University regardless, to warn them of Koteph's plans.
But Dran remembered something. The Green Tower was enchanted. It was impregnable even to those who could pass through walls and stride across continents.
The hospital of Narens' citadel was too far away. That meant that Dragoneyes would have to visit his nearest friend. And according to Koteph, his only real friend was Amniel of the White Tower.
So Dragoneyes would have paid Amniel a visit. Assuming he survived such a traumatic spell, he would probably head off for the University on foot.
Dran would intercept Dragoneyes. For that, he would need to determine the man's route.
Would Dragoneyes cut directly for the University? Or would he try to amass allies along the way?
Dran simply didn't know. But he did know that there would be considerable debate as to which path between the two Towers would be fastest. Whereas if Dragoneyes tried to amass allies, he would have to talk to Tlon. Who else would he talk to? Dran's father had made him memorize a list of all the sorcerous powers of the world. Who else of significance lived in the Kingdom of Irin? The Blue Mage. And the water spirits. Where would he visit first? Dran had no idea. He didn't know well enough where Tlon lived. He would just find the largest city in the region, and wait for Dragoneyes to pass by. If he went through the city itself, so much the better. But even if he didn't Dranarius guessed a major urban center would be the best place to hear about a powerful traveling mage. He guessed, because he had never actually been in a city himself.
The Shade pondered what he would do when he caught up with Dragoneyes. His best course of action would be to trick his enemy into drinking some powerful poison. How could he accomplish that? Kill off a small-town bartender, take his place. Did Dragoneyes drink? Some sorcerers didn't. Dran would just have to wait and see.
The spirit portion of the shade was fearful. Dragoneyes was powerful. If he survived the assassination attempt he would turn the shade into a pile of ash.
The human portion of the shade was hopeful. Dragoneyes might put an end to Dran's suffering. Put an end to his enslavement at the hands of his parents' killer.

We exited the forest. "We should have spent more time with Tlon," I said. "More time coordinating. How are we even going to send him messages?"
"Why would we want to send him messages? He's the spy. He'll be sending information to us. Besides, he's been a spy in a dozen wars in a dozen centuries. I think he knows what he's doing."
"You could see through his various forms. Could Koteph do that as well?" Another question occurred to me. "And what did Tlon really look like?"
"I have no idea if Koteph could see through his disguises. You're the expert on shades, but as far as I know, they are a human and a spirit inhabiting the same body. A lot of the time they are at war with one another, and most of the rest of the time they are united in madness. They are typically incredible sorcerers, but I've never heard anything about them seeing through illusions." His eyes flashed. "Only dragons can do that," he added, smugly.
"And what did your dragon eyes see when they were set upon Tlon?"
"I can't explain it. It was shape I had never seen before, a color I never seen before. And I saw all the forms he had ever taken, the thousands and thousands of forms. But I saw more. I saw his feelings. Some of his memories. I saw the best way to persuade him."
"Oh," I said. Another question. "What do you see when you look at me?"
"I see how you look. I see that you know the True Name of air, and I see how the Name has shaped you. I see your sorcery, and the years of study you have put into refining it. I see the day you first read a book, the day you first cast a spell, your first day at the University, and the day your father died. I see that you fear for your mother and sister. And I see that you are a man of thought, not a man of action."
"Sounds about right. What do you see when you look at Cassinder?"
"She is scared. That thing she's seen. that Destroyer. She is scared. She has seen fields of corpses and rivers of blood. That does things to you." I wondered how Dragoneyes knew so much about seeing rivers of blood. I had a sneaking suspicion it might be from personal experience. "But more than that, she is frustrated with the world around her. Just by starting a conversation, she can see how it will end. She hates that everyone else has to actually talk it out. She knows what everyone else will say, what they will do, almost all of it. To her, everyone else is a piece of clockwork. She sees the future, tries to change it, tries to surprise herself, but then she has another vision and we once again become clockwork."
"What about Koteph?"
"He was raised in one of the Little Lands, by an uncle. The uncle was a sorcerer, but not a good one. He grew resentful of Koteph's superior talents, and cast the younger sorcerer out. Koteph went to the University, and enrolled at a remarkably young age. He killed once during his time at the Green Tower, a librarian who tried to keep him out of the forbidden stacks. He grew to treasure that memory, the feeling of power it gave him to destroy another life. So when the two of us got in a, ahem, argument with Sorrin, he joined the fight. When the three of us were suspended and staying at the White Tower, he saw your father's work, saw that it had the potential to make him a shade. And he decided to kill the Lord of the White Tower. I see that he is full of megalomania fermenting into madness, and I see the vast power of fifty spirits."
"You see that much with every glance?"
"I do."
"Paragraphs of information every time you see the world."
"I see enough that I learned the True Name of water after looking at a brook for an hour." Water is one of the easier Names to learn, it often only takes a few years of work.
"One last question. What do you see when you look in the mirror?"

Thursday, February 5, 2015


"Start again. You thought we could track down Tlon in a forest larger than your native country thanks to some map you saw which was made before our grandparents were born."
"Sure did," Dragoneyes said.
"He is near," Cassinder chipped in.
Dragoneyes smiled. "See?"
"The Destroyer. He grows close. He grows more powerful. So... horrible. Blood. Rivers of blood! Mountains of corpses! Stop it! Stop!" My sister began sobbing.
"Who is the Destroyer," Dragoneyes asked.
"Some demon from the future," I said. "Whatever he will do, it's bad enough that Cassinder is scarred by it already."
"Is that we she..."
"Until she saw her first vision of the Destroyer, she was a bright young sorceress whose biggest problem was enchanted a teacup to boil its own tea."
I tried to calm my sister. Dragoneyes scanned through the trees, his eyes glowing orange. It took about ten minutes to calm Cassinder to the point where we could reasonably continue. By that time, Dragoneyes thought he had found Tlon's cabin.
He led us there, branches swinging out of the way before him.
"So, what exactly can you do with trees," I asked. "Can you make them grow."
"No, I have power over wood. Wood is actually a non-living structure. People don't realize it, but a tree is actually a thin lifeform that lives around the edges of a tower it builds,"
We walked in silence for a while as I reevaluated everything I knew about trees. Finally, we reached a cabin. It was surprisingly small. More a shed than a cabin.
We entered. It seemed empty. "He isn't home," I said.
"He will be," my sister responded.
"Tlon has an enchantment on the house to alert him to intruders," Dragoneyes explained. "He should be here soon."
Indeed,  we soon saw a bear lumbering towards the house. Dragoneyes approached him, hands raised (this was the standard gesture to denote that one carries no weapons. A silly notion, of course, since a mage like Dragoneyes could kill a man without ever touching a sword.)
"Tlon Formchanger. Greetings. I am Bashra Dragoneyes."
The bear became a wizened man. "What were you doing in my house, sorcerer?"
"We simply wanted to speak with you."
"Well, I'm flattered. But I don't want to speak with you."
"Shame. Now, here's what we are going to say. The world is threatened by a being named Koteph, shade with the powers of scores of spirits."
"Best of luck."
"He is planning an assault on the Green Tower. The most powerful sorcerer in the world, along with an army of giants, shades, and other monsters. He seeks to capture the tower, and release Ochekol'kan."
"Hmmph. Well, I'm sure you have it well in hand, Dragon-nose."
"For your information, I do. But I would have it even better in hand if there were a shapeshifter on my side."
"No. No. You are going to try to persuade me otherwise, and then the answer will be no."
"Well," I stepped in, "you would be very useful to our cause."
Tlon growled. It wasn't a human growl.
I  continued. "You would be a very effective spy. Nobody would notice a cat crawling amid enemy-"
Tlon took the form of an eagle.
"There would be almost no risk to yourself, and it would be of immeasurable benefit-"
The eagle flapped its wings. Before it could leave the ground, however, a wall of stone erupted from the ground, forming a great stone prison. Dragon eyes used the True Name of fire, and illuminated the  stone cavern's four inhabitants. "You cannot run from us," he said. "And you cannot run from this fight. If Koteph succeeds Ochekol'kan will kill you. She will kill all of us."
"Oh," Tlon said, taking human form. "Kill everyone will she. You think this is the greatest threat the world has ever faced? The arrogance of the young, thinking they live in important times."
"You're right," Dragoneyes said. "Nothing important about a shade of unprecedented power threatening to release a monstrous goddess from inside her ancient prison, that she may annihilate all the peoples of the world."
"Unprecedented. Unprecedented, you say. He is entirely precedented. If you had been alive three hundred years ago, you would know of Orebor the Unclean. He made an army of shades.  Tried to conquer the Red Tower, if I recall."
"I do know of Orebor the unclean," I said. "And you know that he was nothing compared to Koteph. A loose coalition of shades, unable even to oppose the Red Mages."
"Oh, we're bringing up the Red Mages, are we? Well, not two centuries before their valiant battle against Orebor, the Red Mages laid siege to the then-infant kingdom of Irin."
"Simply part of their feud with the Blue Tower. And they wouldn't have done nearly the damage that Koteph is planning. They were simply conquerors, and had no interest in ruling a pile of bones."
"Millennium and a half ago, the sorcerer Duron created a race of wolf-men. They conquered most of what is now your Etoran Empire. A millennium before him, you had Ethnis, the Dragon king. He's the reason this forest is so small. He burnt the rest of it down. And don't get me started on Endnwyn, or Takenor before him."
"An impressive list," Dragoneyes said. "I'd only heard of half of them. But I don't see how this is relevant. How does the existence of even more terrifying conquerors in the past mean that we don't need to stop Koteph?"
"Because if Ethnis couldn't destroy the world, then neither can Koteph."
"It seems like Ethnis did destroy a significant fraction of the world," I countered.
Dragoneyes went on. "And besides. What more pressing engagements do you have? Cowering in the ashes left by Ethnis's defeat? Hiding in the forest where the Red Mages killed your wife?"
"Making this personal, are you?"
"No. Koteph made it personal. He made it personal when he decided to kill every person in the world."
"The world has survived a lot."
"There is a chance it will survive this. A large chance, I like to think. But that chance goes up if you join us now, rather than waiting until he chops down your forest for firewood or kills your cousin for disobeying him."
"First of all, both of my cousins turned into fish and haven't set foot on land for three thousand years. Second of all. I see your point. I will join your silly quest, Dragonsnout."
"Excellent." The great stone enclosure crumbled away, and we found ourselves once again in the middle of the forest.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Windmill

Dragoneyes spent around half an hour correcting my horse-riding stance. I had no idea there were so many wrong ways to sit on a horse. Cassinder, apparently, got it right the first time.
As we walked, I argued with Dragoneyes about the ideal route. "Passing through the Forest of Irium is a fool's errand," I insisted. "We should just go around it."
"That would slow us down."
"More than the rugged terrain of a forest so dense that only the edges are inhabited?"
"Probably, yes. Besides, trees won't be much of an obstacle for me."
Of course. "This is about the True Name of wood, isn't it. You want to see if the trees will part before you."
"I do. And I strongly suspect that they will. Which means that going through the forest would actually be faster."
"What will we do for food," I asked.
"All the biscuits you packed will be exhausted by then... Hunting wouldn't be that much of a pain. I'll need to put together some spells to track down the things we can eat."
"And once you've tracked them..."
"I know the True Name of stone. I can send a pebble through a deer's brain with a thought."
"Where will we sleep?"
"Probably on the ground."
I had never slept on the ground. "What if we encounter trouble?"
"If the two of us can't handle a solitary giant or biteworm then we are going to lose anyway."
"It might slow us down even more."
"It might."
"So, it will be inconvenient, and the only benefit is that is might possibly not slow us down."
"There are other benefits," Dragoneyes said. "Tlon lives in the forest."
"Tlon? The shapeshifter? Older than the human race? That Tlon?"
"What other Tlon would I be talking about?"
"You think we can persuade the shapeshifter to take our side."
"I do. He is ancient. He was personally made by Shapers of the World. He is older than the first men. He would remember Ochekol'kan. He would fear her even more than we do."

We reached Warifnif-town. "What a terrible name for a town," Dragoneyes laughed.
"It was named after one of my great uncles."
"I stand by my statement."
"I actually come to this town every couple of months, to fix up their mine. It is always flooding."
"Couldn't you just enchant it to keep the water away?"
"You know how hard water-enchantments are. We didn't learn to make our cloaks water proof until our third year at the University. Making a mine waterproof would be almost unfeasible."
I went straight to bed. I was awoken several times by the clang of metal striking metal. Apparently, one of the other guests went into Dragoneyes' room to see what the noise  was about, and saw him operating a full-sized forge, with pile of swords lying in the corner. The mage was holding a red-hot sword in his bare hands. He flashed his yellow eyes. "Scram."
I woke up. I got dressed in my white tunic, and checked the status of my personal protection spells as I shaved and washed. Unsurprisingly, nobody in this village had magically attacked me in the night.
Then, I set out to awaken my two companions.
Dragoneyes woke up to the sound of a sorcerer knocking on his door (which is pretty similar to the sound of a normal person knocking on a door). He considered invoking the True Name of wood, and making the door fall silent. But he decided to go with the more difficult option, and get out of bed.
He dressed himself. All of his clothing was on loan from the White Tower, which meant that it was too small for him, and also that it was a bland white. Which was a terrible color for travelling, even if it was fixed with dirt-repelling enchantments.
"What do you want," Dragoneyes asked as he opened the door.
"We should get going. Cassinder and I already ate." I looked at the pile of swords. "Is that what I heard all night?"
"Yes." He spoke a string of syllables that made me think of iron, and they disappeared. "And it wasn't all night. I got several hours of sleep. Let's get going."
As soon as we were out the door, someone went up to Dragoneyes. "Are you Amniel, of the White Tower?"
"No, why do you ask?"
"Mayor said Amniel was in town, staying at the inn, wearing white."
"That would be him."
"What do you want," I asked.
"Mayor wanted to talk. He's getting here, told me to go on ahead. Says he's worried about what we'll do if you leave."
"Sorry," Dragoneyes said. "Pressing business to attend to. We'll be back soon enough."
"No," I said. "My father was a vassal of the King of Irin. I am lord of these lands, and I have a responsibility to protect them."
"From the gigantic monstrosity living under the Green Tower."
"And also from whatever the mayor wants to talk about."
Cassinder wandered around, never venturing too far. Dragoneyes and I squabbled until the mayor showed up. He bowed to Dragoneyes. "Amniel of the White Tower, it is an honor that you pass through our town."
"Actually, I'm Amniel," I said. "We've met four or five times." I'm not going to lie, I was a little hurt.
"It's been happening to me all week," Dragoneyes said. "People see my mysterious physique, radiating power and authority, and just naturally assume that I am their liege."
The mayor flushed. He sputtered something about how he was bowing to both of us, and of course he knew who Amniel was.
"Are you leaving the White Tower," he queried.
"Yes. I have an important message to deliver to my allies at the University."
"We wish you the best of luck. May I request when you will return?"
I hadn't really thought about it. "It could be some time. The journey and battle will likely take months. But I may choose to stay and resume my studies at the University afterwards." If I survive.
"We wish you the best of luck. But would that mean that there will be no sorcerer in the White Tower?"
"No sorcerer of any significant power." 
"Are you worried about what will happen in your absence?"
"No. If I had lived a few hundred years earlier, I may have been worried about some other sorcerer trying to steal my tower in my absence. But now, there are no real bands of roving sorcerers. No single sorcerer or small cabal has the will and power challenge Amniel, with his clear legal entitlement and the sorcerous ability and allies to enforce it."
"Your lands might languish. This town, for instance, will suffer without you to clear our well."
"Is that what this whole conversation was for" Dragoneyes asked. "You could have gotten to the point a little faster."
"Apologies. Yes, I am worried. The mine floods twice a year, and we need you to help clear it out."
"Well," I said, "this journey is pretty important."
"I can't think of any sorcery strong enough to handle this," Dragoneyes said. He turned to me. "I thought about it after we talked yesterday. You're right, it's a challenging problem."
"You are mages," Cassinder said. Then, she wandered off again.
"That's no help," Dragoneyes called after her. "There is no way to invoke a True Name without being there and holding it in your head."
"Well, no," I said. "That's not entirely true. I have been working on sorcerous spells which can hold a True Name. It's the principle behind my Aeronautic shaft." I was actually pretty proud of this. I was one of the first people to blend the powers of sorcerer and mage.
"Would it work with the True Name of water?"
"Yes, but you need to have the same person handling the sorcerer end of things and the mage end of things. So either I pick up the True Name of water, or you learn about all of the sorcerous techniques I've come up with over the years."
"The first is impossible, the second unpalatable. Maybe I could use the True Name of stone, make the rocks more permeable to water. No, the water would have to go somewhere, I'd need to make a whole underground river."
"I have an idea. I read about an Etoran invention called a windmill. They use it to process grain, but some scholars speculate it could power pumps." In order to increase my knowledge of the True Name of air, I read up on all air-related discoveries.
"Sounds like a pain."
"You stayed up all night making swords that nobody will ever use. Consider this a more practical exercise for your power." I started fishing a pen out of my many pockets. (Another benefit of sorcery: keeping a pen and inkpot in you white robes). "I'll draw up some plans. While you make the mill, I'll throw together some enchantments so the wind will keep blowing the right way.

The mayor instructed a mason and a carpenter to tag along with Dragoneyes, in case he needed their expertise.  "You know," the mason said, "I don't remember you being so tall."
"Or so dark-skinned," the carpenter added. You don't look like you're from Irin at all."
"Do you know who I am," Dragoneyes asked.
"The mayor said we would be working for Amniel of the White Tower."
"Why is it that everyone mistakes me for Amniel?"
They reached the outskirts of the mine.
"You aren't going to want to use the stones we find here," the mason began.
"Do not lecture me about stone. If you knew as much as me, you'd be a mage."
Dragoneyes stared at the great piles of rock. Silently, he let the True Name of stone percolate his thoughts. The rocks reformed themselves, changing from gypsum to granite at the mage's command. They fused into great blocks, which combined, with much grunting and muttering on Dragoneyes' part, into a towering structure.
"Amazing," the carpenter said.
"I know. I hope you were paying close attention, that was probably the most interesting thing you will ever see in your life. But keep your cries of amazement to a minimum for now, that pile of rocks has the structural integrity of a tree after a forest fire. Strike that, a tree during a forest fire. I'm holding it up through shear strength of will." The mage closed his eyes. When he opened them, they glowed a deep red. He scanned the building, seeing how lines of stress would run down the walls. Cracks made themselves apparent, and potential weak spots became obvious. Dragoneyes worked the stone, making a building strong enough to last a century.
He saw some trees with which to make the blades of his new mill. No, he could do better. He thought of the True Name of wood. It was difficult to summon, but he held it in his mind. A beam of wood shot forth from his hand. He uttered arcane syllables, and more beams formed. He arranged them. using the True Name of iron to form nails and braces. Within an hour, he had completed his windmill.
"Now, I don't care whether Amniel has done his part or not. I'm getting back on the road. A world needs saving."