Sunday, March 29, 2015

The White Tower

Koteph, Bashra and I were three men, nearing twenty years of age, who had just been ejected from the world's premiere center of magical learning. This presented a very different problem for each of us.
Bashra was poor, and had nowhere to go and nobody to pay for him. He could go to some minor town and set himself up as the village sorcerer. He could try to become court magician to a very decrepit king. Or he could starve.
Koteph had some family money to fall back on, but his outlook was just as bleak. His was the scion of a dying noble house that had been stripped of its lands and titles by the dying royal house it had served for centuries. It was hoped that if a member of the family became a powerful sorcerer, the whole clan might manage a resurgence. That seemed a lot less probable now.
Meanwhile, I was heir to the White Tower. For centuries, my family had inhabited one the most venerable and prestigious of magical locations. And now, their only son had been booted out of the University before he could complete his training. Would I be able to maintain my residence their upon my father's death? Would the king of Irin still accept me as a vassal if I didn't carry a Sorcerer's staff?
Now, my problems were much smaller than those of Bashra and Koteph. For instance, I still had two parents, both of whom were wealthy and powerful. I had a place to live and things to do.
"Would you like to come live with me," I asked Bashra.
"Do you have somewhere better to go?"
"Then why not come with me? My family can put you up until you find somewhere to go."
"I will be fine on my own."
"That is debatable. You got into this fight thanks to me. You can at least accept my help."
Bashra had a taste for the finer things in life. But he didn't want to be dependent on others. I thought I could see those instincts at war inside him before he agreed to spend time at the White Tower. "This does beg another question."
"Will Koteph be staying with you as well?"
"Well," I said, "I suppose he is also in this situation on account of me."
Bashra grinned. "I'll tell him the good news."
"Why you?"
"Do you want to do it?"
I did not enjoy spending time with Koteph. "No."
A few hours later, Bashra and Koteph came by to ask when we would be leaving. I can't say I was thrilled. I did not enjoy spending time with Koteph.

My parents had mixed feelings about me returning home. They were glad to see their son after his years studying magic half a continent away. But they wished I had stayed long enough to get my staff.
"It shouldn't be a problem," my father said. "Everyone knows you are a competent sorcerer. Our family was great long before the University rose to prominence. It will continue to be great." But still, did I have to be suspended from the University for such an asinine reason?
"I'm sure they'll let him go back," my mother said. "He is a good student, and plenty of young sorcerers get into fights like this." Just not the smart ones.
My parents seemed to like the charming Bashra, and they tolerated the distinctly non-charming Koteph. My father even took Koteph to see some of the research he was doing into the spirit world.
There was one member of the White Tower household, who was not happy with the three half-baked sorcerers who had taken up residence.

The day that we arrived, Cassinder was in the stables. She knew to be there, in order to wait for us. She was unaccompanied. She had only recently come into her powers, and my parents did not yet realize the amount of trouble she could get into on her own.
She noticed me first. "Amniel."
"Cassinder! Great to see you. You've grown."
"You haven't."
"And what's this I hear about your new magical powers?"
"I see the future."
"That's amazing. Only a few people in history have had that ability." I should know. After I received my father's gleeful letter, I consulted the University library on the subject. I could only find four credible reports of people who could see the future. None of them predicted happy endings. But I knew my sister could be different.
"He's a monster!" It took me a moment to see that my sister was pointing behind me. Koteph and Bashra stared at each other.
Cassinder ran off without explaining her outburst.

I asked my mother about it. "She's been doing that lately. Talking about a monster who would come. Something about a Destroyer."
"Have you tried to find out anything more specific?"
"I assume it didn't work." Based on my reading, Seers were not into times and dates and useful geographic instructions. Just vague and terrifying predictions that were spot on, with the benefit of hindsight.
"You're right."
"Anything at all? Any hints about what form this Destroyer might take?"
"If I knew anything useful, I would tell you."

We should have tried harder. We should have demanded that Cassinder explain herself. It wasn't that she was being deliberately obscure. She just had trouble communicating with us. With the people trapped in the past and present.
The last time she saw her father, she grabbed his hand. "Why are you doing this?"
"I developed a new spell that would actually allow me to summon and study a spirit. Koteph will help me. The boy has some of the best raw sorcerous talent I've ever seen."
"He moves stones."
"I know. He has already learned the True Name of stone."
"Why are you doing this? I don't want you to go!"
"Don't worry. I'll be back in a few hours."
"You will?"
He wasn't. A day or so later, we found his body. A small stone was driven through his skull. All of his notes were gone. So was Koteph.      

Sunday, March 22, 2015

In Younger Days

"You killed him," I asked.
Dragoneyes turned his attention from his horse to me. "Yes." He didn't seem incredibly troubled by this.
"You killed him in cold blood."
"I don't see why you are complaining. He was attacking your sister. I wasn't about to start negotiating with him."
"But, still. Killing someone in a cold. Killing a person like that..."
"Grow up," Dran interjected. "Dragoneyes did exactly the right thing. He didn't kill a person. He killed some twisted creation of Koteph's. And, in doing so, he probably saved Cassinder's life."
"Besides, we were going to kill him eventually anyways," Dragoneyes said. "It's not like we are going to fight a war against Koteph without killing anyone."
I didn't really have a good response to that. We rode on in silence.
I contemplated the killing we would have to do. Did I have that capacity? To destroy someone who threatened me? Or to destroy someone who was helpless against me, but still an agent of the other side? I was no warrior. I never killed anyone. I had never gotten into a serious fight. Well, I had gotten into one serious fight...

The University doesn't have bars. Sorcerers are supposed to be too good for that sort of thing. Instead, the University had philosophical taverns, where learned people of all ages could discuss a wide variety of topics. And drink alcoholic beverages.
I was at such an establishment. Dragoneyes was with me. Of course, he was called Bashra then.
We were both upper-level students. In fact, I had just taken my examinations to graduate. Which was why we were out drinking.
"Look at you Amniel. Soon to be a full-fledged sorcerer."
"Assuming I passed."
"In Garion's Grimoire, how many spells are there for fire-proofing."
"Nine. Ten if you count the one to summon moisture."
"You passed." Bashra looked behind us.
"Four people took the exam. Only two can pass."
"Yeah. You and Koteph."
"How could you possibly know how Koteph did on an exam? You haven't spoken to him in about a year."
"Because he is getting drunk and laughing, while Crasys and Nershal are over there trying not to cry."
"You claim to be very good at reading people. I don't think you really are."
"Of course I am. Tell you what. I'll go over there and ask Crasys how he did. Whoever was wrong will buy the next round."
Yes. This was a stupid idea. Bashra was foolish to think he could get away with asking someone how badly they had done on the test they had studied for for years. But, in his defense, he was drunk.
"You're on."
In my defense, I was drunk as well.
We made our way over to Crasys. "So," Bashra asked. "How did your little exam go? Are you about to be a sorcerer?"
Crasys didn't respond with words. He responded with a sneer that said go-away-you-miserable-peasant.
"I see. Well, better luck next time."
Bashra turned around to leave.
"You think you're so special, don't you?"
"I think I'm pretty great, yes."
"You think that just because you spend time around the great sorcerers of the age, you too might amount to something. But I've seen the way you grub money, holding on to every penny. I see your low-born nature, and your serfdom taints every word you speak. You claim to be a princeling, but we all know what you really are."
"Yes. And everyone tolerates my lowly origins because I am more talented than a dozen of you spoiled brats put together."
"Perhaps you would like to put that to the test, you miserable wretch."
"I know the True Name of Fire. I could kill you."
"Oh, yes. The prodigy. Spent so much time raking coals you became a mage."
Nershal joined in the conversation. "And you should see how he lords it over us. He slept all through Master Girgis' lectures on charms, and got away with it because he could speak a word and make something fireproof, or lift it in the air on a tongue of flame."
"I have half a mind to life you in the air on a tongue of flame."
"I would like to see you try."
Koteph joined in the conversation. That was a surprise. None of the four of us spoke much with him. Nobody spoke much with him. He was a bit of a loner. Probably because he was a murderous monster with a deep hatred for his fellow man. "It would be foolish to tempt Bashra. Mages are dangerous men."
"Oh, says the other child-mage. Maybe he will make some rocks fly around."
I have to say I don't remember much of what happened after that. But I do know that the bar burned down, and Bashra, Koteph and I were suspended from the University, pending expulsion.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Written in the Clouds

Dragoneyes and Cassinder were riding back. About to meet back up with me and Dran. Dragoneyes was working with the True Name of cloth. Trying to deepen his understanding. He already knew enough to reshape it. Even create it. But he wanted to see how the fibers bonded together. It taxed his mind. So he was grateful that Cassinder wasn't the talking type.
That's when he realized that Cassinder had been gone for at least half an hour.
"This is embarrassing," he muttered to himself. He had lost her. He could see a man's soul, or the path of a leaf on the wind, but he had lost the person riding next to him.
He wondered what to do. He knew that he should go to Amniel and Dran, ask them to help look. But he was too embarassed. He bargained with himself. "I'll give myself two hours. After that, I'll ask for Amniel and his tracking spells."
Dragoneyes turned his horse around. He slowly retraced his path, looking for all signs of human influence. He saw those signs. Every broken twig, every trampled leaf, shone before him, glowing with something other than light, which nobody save the dragons had ever seen.
He saw all these signs of travelers. And they were all signs of his own passage. He grew anxious. How far back could Cassinder have slipped away from him? Why hadn't he spotted any signs of her? Were his eyes deceiving him? He began to grow fearful. Cassinder was a powerful sorceress. Who knew what she was capable of, how hard finding her could be? Who could say that he and Amniel could even win this silly game of hide and seek?
Dragoneyes cursed his carelessness. He cursed Cassinder for disappearing. He cursed Amniel for doing less to control his sister. He was halfway through cursing the rest of the White Tower household when he finally picked up on Cassinder's trail. Yes!
He followed her. He raced after, trees and branches parting before him. He was going to find her!

As Dragoneyes stalked the countryside looking for Cassinder, a shade was stalking the countryside looking for him. The shade had been created by Koteph. He had been sent off, instructed to destroy Dragoneyes. Koteph hadn't put much effort into this one. He had just taken one of his palemen and bonded it to a spirit. The resulting being didn't even have a name. He had a purpose.

Cassinder was looking at the clouds. That one looked like a rabbit. That one looked like a boot. That one looked like a painting she would see one day. It was a sad painting. Too much blood.
Cassinder waited for the man to find her. She wasn't looking forward to seeing him. She new he was horrible, nasty, and that he would try to hurt her. She couldn't see if he succeeded. But she did know that it was necessary. She knew what would come of this encounter. And  she knew it was worth the price. It was written in the clouds.
She saw the man. He was wearing a cloak. A black cloak. Good people don't wear black cloaks on sunny days.
"You're the sister, aren't you?"
Cassinder didn't answer.
"I was sent after Dragoneyes, not you. He's the one Koteph actually cares about. So here is the plan. I will hurt you. You will feel pain as nobody has ever felt before. Your screams will be so terrified that Dragoneyes will rush to save you. Rush to his death."
"You think you can cause me pain as nobody has ever felt before." Cassinder didn't make eye contact. "You are wrong. I have seen fields of bleeding corpses. Cities with fire falling from the sky."
"Well," the shade said, "prepare for the second worst thing that ever happened to you."
The shade stretched out his hand. Tendrils of magic extended towards Cassinder. She swatted at them. "Go away."
"I don't think I will." He spoke an incantation, binding Cassinder in place.
Cassinder sent a wave of pure sorcery at the shade, nearly knocking him over. "You are powerful," he remarked. "Especially for someone so untrained. But I am a shade." He hardened the air in his hand until it formed a blade. "Now, why don't we have some fun?"
Cassinder did not think she was going to have fun.

Dragoneyes could see it before he got there. He could see the monster cutting into Cassinder. He could see her screaming in pain. Then, another vision came to him. A version of the past where he had noticed Cassinder leaving, stopped her, and protected her from the shade. He swatted the visions away, and ran.
He could see how long it would take. He couldn't see what the shade would do in that time. Seeing into someone's intentions was difficult from a distance.

The shade continued to draw blood from his victim. This was the first time he had ever held a life in his hands. He like watching that life trickle out into the ground. It was intoxicating. He pondered making another cut. He never got to make it.
Dragoneyes emerged from over a hill, screaming the True Name of fire. The shade was reduced to ash.
Within seconds, he was on top of Cassinder. He called forth cloth to bind her wounds. With the knowledge of an expert physician, he applied sutures. "Are you okay," he asked. "Are you okay?"
"You have saved me," was all that Cassinder said.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Blue Tower

The Blue Tower was slightly smaller than the White one, slightly larger than the Black one. But it looked a lot bigger than either. It was surrounded by trees, and it dwarfed them. Kyotr, the resident sorcerer, had an interest in plants.
I didn't knock. I had the wind howl.  I made it bite against the door. This was how sorcerers did things. Powerful mages let inanimate objects announce their presence.
Kyotr opened the door. "Amniel of the White Tower?"
"Yes. And this is Dranarius, Phorius' son."
"Oh. How's the old man doing?"
"And that's what we came to talk to you about," I added. "The man who killed Phorius, and the danger he represents."
Kyotr stared at me for a second. "Perhaps we should take this conversation into my study."

Although slightly smaller than my own tower, the Blue Tower was still large. Frankly, it was too big for a single sorcerer living alone. The rooms were filled with trinkets, old furniture that existed only so that Kyoter could lie to himself. So that he could convince himself he used half the rooms of his estate.
Kyotr's study took the theme of eccentric decorating to an extreme. It was filled with water. The mage opened the door, and the liquid didn't splash out. It stayed in place. He walked in, the water parting around him. Dran and I looked at each other. "Neither of us knows the True Name of water."
"Oh," Kyotr said. "Sorry. I don't get visitors often."
"That's a surprise," Dran said. "And here I thought you just had some trouble with flooding." I rolled my eyes.
"What was it the two of you wanted to tell me about," Kyotr asked.
We told him about Koteph, and how he had pushed the boundaries of magic to become the most terrifying and powerful shade in history. Dran spoke of Koteph's growing armies. His palemen. Also Giants, Horned Ones, and monsters so dangerous nobody had survived to name them.
Kyotr listened through all of this. He nodded along as we told him about Koteph's plan to release Ochekol'kan.
"So," I asked. "Can we count on your help?"
"Yes," Kyotr said. "Yes, of course. I imagine that you'll need me to help defend the University. I will be there."
"Excellent," I responded. "I assume that you will travel with us."
"Unfortunately not. I do have some business to attend to here. But I will be close behind."
"What business," I asked.
"Some spells I need to complete. I wouldn't want to slow you down. It seems like you have important information to carry."
"Well, we will see you soon."
"We had better," Dran added. We walked out.

Meanwhile, Cass and Dragoneyes were riding to the Lake of Loria. "I assume you know all about the lake," he said. More to make conversation than anything else.
"It was made out of water. Then, spirits came."
"Yes. The occult kind, not the alcoholic kind. Nobody really knows why, but the lake has a very strong connection to the world of Spirits. It is a border between realms. And, as such, it has a rather large immigrant population."
"It has forty-eight spirits," Cassinder said.
"Forty-eight. I hadn't appreciated that it was that many."
"It is forty-eight." Cassinder looked ahead. "You want them to be warriors. You want to persuade them to fight a shade."
"Talk to the gray one."
That was a pretty cryptic statement. Spirits don't have colors anymore than bubbles do. But Dragoneyes didn't look for clarification. He could see how much that would frustrate Cassinder, explaining what was so clear to her. "The gray one. I'll know him when I see him."
They reached the lake. To the unaided eye, it looked like... a lot of water. But neither Bashra nor Cassinder saw the world through unaided eyes. "Over there," Dragoneyes said.
"What are they doing," Cassinder asked.
"Celebrating," Dragoneyes said. "The start of spring."
"It will still be cold here."
Dragoneyes looked at the sky. He looked at the lake. He saw how the water effected the region's climate and weather. "You're right."
They approached the gamboling spirits. "I am Bashra Dragoneyes," the man shouted. Let the spirits be cryptic. He wouldn't be.
The spirits appeared. To a normal human, they would have been shifting masses of color. But Dragoneyes could see their histories, their abilities. He could see their personalities. And he could see which one was 'the gray one'.
The spirit in question was old. How old, exactly, would be difficult to say. The world of spirits was different from the material one. Some sorcerers speculated that it was like a second moon, moving around the world for its own mysterious reasons, creating its own strange tides. But nearly everyone agreed that things like time were different there. Dragoneyes was able to determine, however, that this spirit had crossed over about eighty years previously. From what Dragoneyes could tell, that seemed fairly typical.
"Bashra Dragoneyes," another spirit said, in a strange and ethereal voice. Amazing that it had even learned to speak a human tongue. "Why do you here?" It hadn't learned to speak well.
"I am here to talk about a shade named Koteph." Dragoneyes explained the situation, using simple worlds and giving this speaker time to translate.
"Why do bother us with story of angry human?"
"Because if Ochekol'kan is freed, she threatens you as much as she threatens us."
"She no can harm spirits."
"That is not true. The Shapers have as much power over the spirit world as they do over the material one."
At this point, the spirits seemed to start arguing among themselves. And while Dragoneyes couldn't follow the words of the conversation (because spirits didn't use words when communicating with each other), he could still get the general outlines. The grey spirit did seem to agree with him. Most of the others didn't. Eventually, the grey spirit left in disgust. The only one who spoke a human tongue.
Dragoneyes looked at Cassinder. "What now? Do we pantomime the rest?"
"No. Talk to the gray one."
Dragoneyes looked at the spirits. They were afraid. Afraid of what Koteph might do to them. Dragoneyes looked into the heart of the gray one. He had once seen a shade. This shade hadn't been very powerful, but he had invoked the True Name of wood. The gray spirit had been so impressed that he still entertained his companions with tales of that day. Dragoneyes spoke the True Name of wood. Posts shot forth from the ground. A spear materialized in his hand. He spoke another Name, and the the spear burned to ash. The spirits seemed impressed.
Dragoneyes continued to show off. He made a great spout of water. He froze one half, and turned the other to steam. He ached from the strain of using three Names at once. He wondered if anyone else had ever done that before. He continued. He forged a hail of iron sword. He made large piles of gold. Then, he melted them.
Once he was satisfied that he had the spirits' respect and support he left. "I am going to need to sleep for several days," he muttered, as he staggered off.