Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Night of Four Stories: Part II

Dran had finished his story. It was my turn to speak. "Hello," I said. "I will be telling the story of how the University was founded."
Dran commented that my story sounded boring.
Dragoneyes commented that Dran should shut his mouth.
"The seven towers predate humans. They have several properties that make them attractive homes. First of all, they are each brightly colored towers, all with ancient and illustrious histories." At this point, I bit back the urge to explain why the White Tower's history was in fact slightly more illustrious that the Black Tower's. "They are invulnerable. No tower can be damaged by either sorcery nor brute force. Even mages who know the True Name of stone cannot move the blocks of the Towers. As such, they grew rather prestigious. For a sorcerer to make his home in a Tower- it meant he was one of the most powerful men on the planet."
"The Green Tower was obviously the largest and most impressive. Each of its eight shafts dwarf any other tower. It was more centrally located. It quickly became the most prestigious- and the most hotly contested- of the towers. Whenever the Green sorcerer grew weak, be it from age or sickness, the others would be upon him, ready to tear him apart and take his land. If he ever grew distracted, be it from love or magical research, his more vigilant rivals would take him by surprise. People say that mages tend to live remarkably long lives. But the lifespan of a Green sorcerer was surprisingly small."
"There was one particular Green sorcerer who wished to break that trend. His name was Anitax, He was getting on in years, and knew that it was only a matter of time before someone eclipsed him in power. So he decided to step down."
"No sorcerer had ever voluntarily given up the Green Tower. Anitax was considering just running away. But he knew that would result in a bloodbath, with a succession of weak and powerful sorcerers swooping in, attempting to occupy the vacant Tower." I paused
Vacant was a relative term. By the time of Anitax, the Green sorcerers had taken to renting out many of the Tower's hundreds of rooms. Some had become nobles in their own right, carving out empires in the surrounding lands. Not that the surrounding lands had much to offer.
"Anitax decided to spare the world a sorcerous war. He invited three of the world's most respected mages to compete for the Green Tower. Whoever most impressed him with a feat of magic would be given control of the tower. The three he invited were Tarean, of the White Tower; Uilim, a sorcerous warlord in the north and east; and Colocon, a mage who knew three True Names. They all noticed the airs of old magic as they approached the Tower. Centuries of sorcerous battle had created a stark landscape of eternal flames and gashes in the ground. Anitax's subjects did not have easy lives. The three sorcerers each vowed that they would come to rule the land from the Tower Green."
"Tarean killed a monster, a giant being that could be found only during the black of night. Uilim raised a mountain. Colocon, meanwhile taught two other mages the True Name of water-"
"And Anitax was impressed," Dran interrupted. "He gave Colocon the Tower so he could teach sorcerers for ever and ever, the end. Boring."
"Actually, you are completely wrong. Anitax was impressed by Tarean, and decided to make the former White Mage his successor. But Tarean had scarcely moved into the Tower when Uilim launched an assault. Their battle lasted for days. By all accounts it was remarkably destructive. The Green Tower, needless to say, remained undamaged, although the same could not be said for its residents."
"Colocon and his disciples decided to seize the moment. Colocon issued a decree: the Green Tower was open to all. It was too much for any one sorcerer to defend. So it would be defended by a multitude. Any sorcerer might come, and his compatriots would teach him all they knew."
"And thus, the Green Tower became a center for learning. Colocon, the first Archmage, invited magic users from every kingdom. But he also invited those with no talent for the mystic. A small city began to grow in and around the Tower, one which exists to this day. The University became a center for everything from sorcery to poetry, with innumerable small shops needed to support the more academic population."
"And now, Koteph threatens this great peace. Even if he is stopped, who is to say that this grand tradition of learning will live on? Who is to say that the Green Tower will not once again rise over a bleak landscape of magical doom?"
"We do," Dragoneyes responded. "I do."    

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Night of Four Stories: Part I

We rode through the foothills of the mountains. Specifically, the large, unnamed mountain range in the middle of the continent. I call them the Green Mountains, since that's what people at the University tend to call them. They weren't green, but whoever came up with that name evidently did not care.
Dragoneyes was still entertaining himself with the creation of swords. But he had also developed the hobby of erecting small houses every night. "Tents are rather primitive," he explained.
At one point, after watching him create an especially intricate structure using nothing but his own power as a mage, I was burning with curiosity. "How did you get like this? How on Earth did you manage to kill a dragon?"
"I'll tell you later."
"Tell us now," Dran insisted.
"Why not?"
Dragoneyes sat down as a wooden chair erupted from the floor. "How about each of you tells me a story, then, if we haven't fallen asleep, I'll tell mine."
Cassinder returned from wherever she had wandered off to, responding to Dragoneyes' proposal before Dran or I could. "They will agree."
"Umm, yes, I will," I stammered.
"So will I," Dran said.
"Well, in that case," Dragoneyes said, "I think Cassinder should tell us a story as well."
"I will."
"The stories don't have to be about us," I clarified.
"Of course. I've been present for every interesting event in your life."
"Well, that's not entirely true..." I struggled to think of an exception. "One time, when I was doing research into the history of irrigation in the Etoran Empire..." I thought for a moment. "Actually, maybe Dran should go first."

Dragoneyes summoned chairs. He even made a campfire. I cast a charm to keep the smoke under control. Then, Dranarius began to speak. "I'm going to tell you what we know about Ochekol'kan. My father was an authority on her monstrous children. He found this story in a book called The Ossoniad."
I couldn't help but interrupt him. "Your father had read The Ossoniad?"
"He owned a copy. Read it several times. Said I could have a look when... never mind" Dran didn't want to talk about his late father. "He told me this story to help me sleep at night. It was not effective."
"As we all know, Ochekol'kan was one of the Shapers of the World. The beings who spoke in True Names and made the universe with their power. What many people don't appreciate is that she wasn't very high in their pecking order. She was dwarfed by an even greater evil, Takenor."
"Takenor was probably the greatest of the Shapers. He created the Dragons, and probably also the mountain range we are all enjoying right now. We don't know the name of his primary rival. Translations of translations of Elven texts call him 'Our Maker'. More recent scholarship calls him the Elfshaper. That's how I'll refer to him."
"Takenor decided he didn't want this Elfshaper challenging him. He decided it was time to show the other Shapers who exactly ruled the universe. But he knew that he couldn't battle all the rest on his own. So he made more Shapers. Most of their names are lost to history. Actually, all of their names are lost to history except one: Ochekol'kan."
At this point, Dragoneyes interrupted. "I am no scholar of history, but I'm pretty sure Ochekol'kan and Takenor were lovers."
"We don't know for sure about that," Dran responded. "We do know for certain that he was her creator. Infer from that what you will." Dran returned to his story. "Now, Takenor was defeated. One bit of writing says he was chained to the far side of the moon, although that may have been a metaphor."
"Most of his offspring were killed in the battle. But the Elfshaper argued for lenience for the rest. He pointed out that they couldn't really be blamed for being loyal to their creator, and they shouldn't be punished for it. So they joined Shaper society. They even shaped some forests and valleys of their own."
"Now, let's talk about the elves. They were probably like humans. Probably taller, and fairer. We know they were immune to age and sickness, and that they spoke the True Speech and knew only True Names."
"They created six towers from which to govern the world, while the Shapers ruled the heavens. White, Black, Red, Blue, Yellow, and Violet. One fateful day, the Lord of the Red Tower, and elf name Aelaian, decided to hold a great celebration of his daughter's beauty. Some of the Shapers elected to attend. Elves and Shaper's alike marveled at the lovely elf. As you can imagine, the other women were rather jealous. Most of them swallowed their bitterness. But one didn't, Ochekol'kan. She... Well, you might say she overreacted. She destroyed the entire Elven race in one bloody day."
"The other Shapers were outraged. The Elfshaper, especially. He destroyed most of her creations as recompense. But that was not enough. He ordered that she be imprisoned. He created a final Tower, green, in memory of the elves, and buried her beneath it. And, to prevent her escape, he caused her to forget the True Speech. What we know from her few visitors suggests that she quickly lost all ability to reason."
"The Elfshaper wanted to recreate his children. But the other Shapers of the World urged him not to. The Ossoniad said Ishii and Noouk gave impassioned speeches on the subject. They said it was folly to create a race that could challenge them in knowledge and power and greatness. So instead, men were made. Mortal men, who could never compete with their creators, never arouse their ire. Men who must now contend alone against the god who destroyed their predecessors."
"And that's who we're fighting to stop. Someone who destroyed a race in a single day. One who has been driven beyond reason, beyond the ability to be reasoned with. One who has had thousands of years to grow very resentful of everyone else."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Koteph's Army

In Koteph's camp, things were coming to a head. The Giants were demanding to meet with Koteph, to arrange a move to greener pastures. Koteph was busy. Although his body remained in the Black Tower, watched over by palemen and protective spells, his mind was, quite literally, wandering. He journeyed through the realm of spirits. He hunted them down, captured and enslaved them. Some were malevolent, some had been friends to humans. Perhaps if they were to organize and band together against him, they could triumph. But the idea of organizing was a strictly human one. Only men, and the other creatures of the material world, were capable of such a thing. Spirits, especially those with little exposure to the world of men, were not.
Koteph did not tire. His body was not capable of such a thing. He was a creature made of bones and screaming spirits, held together by his own magical power. He was awake, he was focused, and he was enjoying himself. He was hundreds of times more powerful than any other shade in history. He could cross a continent with a single step. He could call storms and reverse the flow of rivers. He felt confident that, given adequate motivation, he could reduce a mountain to rubble.
On his corpselike face, a smile formed.

Meanwhile, the Giants were having another meeting. This meeting hadn't been called by Gurgal Stonecrusher. It was the upstart, the firebrand, Durd, who had ordered the convocation, without Gurgal's knowledge. "It has been days," Durd complained. "And Koteph has done nothing. And Gurgal has done nothing." There was a smattering of boos. Many of the Giants knew better than to boo Gurgal. And they all knew better than to boo Koteph.
"Now, we face a question. Will we do nothing? Or will we go, and force the Sassiles to give us our food." There was a general consensus that this was a good idea.
Gurg continued riling the crowd. He railed against all those who had wronged them, past and present.   The Gaints cheered him.

Giants are not very sneaky. They aren't very secretive. So the Sassiles had plenty of warning that a gigantic mob was tromping towards them. The began to mount their own defense.
Other creatures of Koteph's army began to congregate. The Stoneflows and Touchkills seemed to side with the Sassiles. But many of the stranger creatures sympathized more with the Giants. One of a kind creations of Ochekol'kan. Bleos, the tentacled beast. The Slooo, a creature of water. Ghakshaksh, An amorphous blob with hundreds of mouths. He did not appreciate the food shortage.
The two armies were arrayed on the same field. They were waiting for the slightest excuse to start killing each other. Even the smallest disturbance would ignite conflict.
At this point, Koteph entered the situation in an explosive flash.

Koteph paralyzed the monsters all of them. The thousands of Giants and Sassiles and Stoneflows and other beings. He held them in place with his sorcerous power.
"This violence is pathetic," he snarled. His voice was amplified. It sounded strange and terrifying. It gave the distinct impression of being a very loud sound spoken a great distance away. "Go back to your duties. And rest assured I will punish those responsible."
Koteph addressed the different groups specifically. He told the Giants to go back to their forges. He put he Stoneflows in charge of foraging. The Sassiles were to resume training exercises.

Tlon needed a new tactic. He had tried to breed resentment between the different factions. In his role as Durd, he had nearly succeeded. But now, Koteph had struck fear and loyalty back into his troops. Tlon would need to start over. And now, he knew that Koteph could end tensions with a wave of his magical hand.
Tlon considered leaving. He had done his part. He had tried and failed. If he told enough people about this, he would become a footnote in some fat history manuscript. What more could anyone expect? Tlon could retire to the woods now, and nobody would bother him for another thousand years.
But as much as he wished it, the Formchanger knew that wasn't possible. He had seen Koteph's powers first hand. The shade was a serious threat to the world. And if he failed, if he were killed by the Archmage or Dragoneyes, that would mean that a very powerful man would hold a grudge against Tlon for not doing more. So Tlon would need to continue his work and sabotage.
Would could he do? Well, he was a shapeshifter. Maybe he could shift into a shape Koteph would trust, ask him some questions, give him some bad advice, or try to kill him. That would make a for a fun couple of days.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Mind's Eye

The problem seemed insurmountable. Dragoneyes had approached it from every angle. He could bribe or threaten the mine owners. But they would lapse into their old ways, or new men, just as evil, would take their place.
Dragoneyes could use his power to free the slaves. To break their chains. Maybe even transport them somewhere else. But it would do no good. An army if Etoran slave traders would rush in to undo the mage's action.
If Dragoneyes took the most extreme route possible, forcing his way into the mine, invoking the True Name of Stone, and destroying the evil mine, someone would simply start a new one, and the very same salt deposits would be extracted by the very same slaves.
"Not to hurry you," I said, "but we really do need to hurry."
Dragoneyes look up at me with his eldritch eyes. He was sitting in a chair, and it was clear I had interrupted his thoughts."If we can't save a hundred miners in an Irinian border town, we cannot stop Ochekol'kan."
"True, but if we spend all of our tune saving a hundred miners in an Irinian border town, we won't be able to stop Ochekol'kan."
"The people in the mines need me."
"The people in the world need you."
"Think of this as practice," he said. It was nearly dawn, and I could tell he hadn't slept. "I need to think of creative ways to use my power. Not just forging a lot of swords."
"I'm not sure I buy that," I said. "Wouldn't you be better off applying your creativity to making creative defenses for the Green Tower?"
"It's not just about the Green Tower," he snapped. Flames danced around his fingers.
I was a little intimidated. Honestly, I considered abandoning the topic. But the fate of the world rested on my shoulders, and I didn't think me friend would hurt me. "As long as the Green Tower hosts a monstrous goddess as old as creation, and as long as a powerful shade is marching on the Green Tower to set her free, yes, it is just about the Green Tower."
Dragoneyes knew I was right. But he couldn't abandon the people in this mine. Not after he had seen their suffering. "A compromise," he suggested. "I have until sunrise."
I looked outside. I could already see the beginnings of dawn. "Very well," I said. "We leave tomorrow morning."

As the sun rose over the horizon, Dragoneyes made his way into the mines. He stared at the white piles around him. He looked into the crystals, the cubic systems formed when the world was young. He saw the the nature of salt, and he saw the True Name. He spoke a name. Not the name of salt, but that of wood. A staff formed in his hand. He pondered the staff, the knots and whorls. Then, only then did he speak the True Name of salt. He bound that Name to the staff. He infused it with power.
He needed to write. To leave a note explaining this staff. He could make thin sheet of wood or... a tapestry.
Dragoneyes thought about the True Name of cloth, and a tapestry formed. It explained the use and purpose of the staff. It had detailed diagrams explaining how to make more. It would be easy to make more, given the first one. The power had been set free.

"What did you do," I asked.
"Well," he said, "I saw your Aeronautic Shaft back at the White Tower, and again when we made the windmill. I remembered what it looked like. I focused on the image in my mind, and I knew how to make one. I made a shaft that could control salt. I made it so that it could be split in two. There will be no need for slaves in the mines. It can all be done with magic."
This gave me some measure of satisfaction. The relentless progress of magic want improving lives. But I also saw the bigger picture. "You could understand a complex piece of magic, not even by seeing it, but by remembering what it looked like?"
"Yes." That made me realize something. It wasn't just his eyes that had changed the day he blinded that dragon. His mind, too, had been transformed. He was connected to the world in a fundamentally different way from the rest of us. I remembered a few days ago when he had read a letter before I had sent it, arriving already knowing that Cassinder had been cured. Would his vast senses continue to grow? I had a strong suspicion that they would.
Dran interrupted my thoughts. "So, what do you think will happen to the slaves now."
Dragoneyes frowned. "They will likely be sold into some other conditions. Likely better conditions, but this is still not ideal. When this is over, when Koteph is defeated, I will return for them."

That night, Cassinder couldn't sleep. But she didn't want to. She waited.
The door to her tent rippled, and Dragoneyes stepped through it. Just like she knew he would. "Sorry for showing off," he said. "But the thought of actually walking through a door was tempting." He spoke a fraction of a Name. "It should be back to normal."
Cassinder knew that Dragoneyes would ask her a question. And he knew that she knew. And she knew that he knew that she knew.
"What happens to them?"
"The slaves? They are resold. Most of them will work in houses. They will be cooks and cleaners. Some will starve." Cassinder shuddered.
"Was I right? Was I right to do what I did."
"I don't know."
The two of them regarded each other. One could see the future. One could see the past and present. But neither of them could see what was the right thing to do.
"Have you ever seen the stars," Dragoneyes asked.
"I don't know how they will end."
"I do." Dragoneyes walked outside. Cassinder followed. "They are great flames, like our sun. Some much larger, some much smaller. They dwarf the powers even of the Shapers of the World. They are ancient beyond reckoning, and will survive long after the last man has breathed his last breath. But one day, they will run out of fuel, and those great flames will go out. But seeing the lifetimes of the stars, it gives you perspective."
"If they were merely endless, that would be one thing," he continue. "But they have a definite lifespan. A set number of days. A number too great to hold in the mind. The world isn't endless. It is a speck inside a speck inside a speck."
"The world is wide, and the future is long. Both unimaginably so. It boggles the mind's eye."
Cassinder was confused. "What is your point?"
"I don't have one. I just thought it was interesting."