Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Emperor of Etor

"Anaxus III Caesorium, Emperor and Lord, our Protector, has spoken," the man bellowed. He stood in a vast hall, surrounded by men and women, of all colors and nationalities. Perhaps that is an overstatement. While all colors and nationalities were represented in such a crowd, they were primarily light- and copper-skinned Etorans.
Near the center of the hall was Sallustius of Varalens. A year ago, he had been a powerful general, battling Irinian brigands in the West. Half a year ago, he had declared himself Emperor, and made his hometown the new capital. Things began going downhill for the upstart once word of his succession reached New Etor. He had mustered a few victories, suffered several defeats, sown dissent in Anaxus' ranks, and killed rivals within his own. Now, he was kneeling on the ground in Anaxus' throne room, weeping and begging for mercy.
Anaxus felt no temptation to offer mercy. This man had torn at the fabric of the Etoran empire. He had betrayed his nation and killed his former comrades. And now he was going to lose his genitalia and his head.
It seemed that there were threats to the Empire in every direction. In the south, the warlords of the Little Lands were making constant incursions into Etoran territory. In the west, Irin grew increasingly aggressive. In the north, there were attacks from giants. In the east, the Norgad raiders were growing ever more aggressive. Meanwhile, a new generation of sorcerers was being born, some taking up occupancy in the Violet Tower. A Tower that Anaxus II claimed he had burned to the ground during the wars of reunification. The inquisition killed most of these budding students of evil, but it seemed every week another found refuge at the University. Trouble had been brewing for half a century. And it was up to the current Emperor, Anaxus III Caesorium, to end this trouble, and restore the Etoran Empire to its full greatness.
Anaxus stood before his courtiers. He knew that some among them were considering revolts of their own. He needed to make sure that every single one of them knew the consequences of rebellion.
"Look at him," the Emperor said. It was a carefully calculated volume. It would echo throughout his chamber, yet still sound like a whisper. "Look how he has been brought low by the empire. Many have been brought low before us. My own father, Anaxus II, exiled my traitorous uncle Phorius." Of course, he had made Phorius his lieutenant before then
 Phorius had saved his life during the Wars of Reunification. But, ultimately, Phorius was a sorcerer, and that made him a traitor. "Like my father before me, and his father before him, I have no tolerance for traitors. I have no tolerance for bandits in the Little Lands who presume to raid our borders. I have no tolerance for Irinian spies, or demon sorcerers. All enemies of the crown and the gods will be vanquished. The Etoran Emperor shall reign eternal!"
Anaxus had done his governing for the day. He was free. Unfortunately, he didn't have much to do.
It was always good to circulate among the nobles. Doing favors, sniffing out dissent, making allies. But after the speech he had made, everyone would be on guard. There would be no dissent to sniff out, and nobody would dare ask him for a favor.
Anaxus had no real companions. His wife, Glaravere, was the eldest sister of the King of Irin. He had first met her on their wedding day. Since then, he had done his best to avoid her.
He had children, but none were legitimate. And it wouldn't be fitting for the most powerful ruler in the world to take a hand in the rearing of a bastard child. Even if it was beginning to look like one of those bastard children might succeed him.
Anaxus had once had friends. Back when he was young, when his younger brothers called him Nax and they played war games and seduced women together. Now, his brothers were dead. Two had died in battle. Anaxus had had the other three executed.
The Emperor had tried to cultivate hobbies. He had been a student of history, but he had found the events tame compared to his own life. He had tried to collect a library, like his ancestor Lescius. But a man steeped in censorship cannot in good conscious preserve books. He had tried to become a sportsman, but rulers are not suited for competitive sport. For instance, he could never be allowed to lose.
So Anaxus sat alone, in a golden chair, in a marble hall, in an ornate building, in the most important city in the most powerful nation in history. He had guards on either side of him. He didn't pay close attention to his guards. Yes, his great-grandfather had been murdered by treacherous security, but Anaxus had protections in place. There were watchers, and people to watch the watchers. Those people, unbeknownst to them where also watched, and those watchers reported directly to the Emperor.
These guards were skilled. Many had been trained from birth. Trained separately, so as to avoid too much camaraderie. They were supposed to be loyal to the Emperor, not each other.
The life of an emperor was a solitary one. But it still had its luxuries. He ordered a bath to be drawn. The finest Etoran engineering allowed for water to be stored right above the bathhouse, and for the bath itself to be heated by wood fires. Anaxus inhaled the scent of burning rosewood as he sat alone in his private sea. Yes, there were still things to be enjoyed in life. Anaxus was woken from his reverie by a monstrous cloaked demon screaming at him and threatening to kill him.
"I am Terix," it spat. The creature stood at the edge of the pool, It looked vaguely human. It appeared to be covered in bandages, save for its eyes, mouth, and fingertips.
The Imperial Guard rushed to defend their master from this strange creature. Terix carried no weapon, yet, somehow, they all ended up dead soon after they reached him. "I serve Koteph, the mage of the Black Tower."
"Who?" Anaxus had heard of the Black Tower. He had even heard a rumor that his uncle Phorius had lived there.
"My master is the mightiest sorcerer in the world. He seeks to march upon our mutual enemies, the University."
"You invade my home, kill my guards, and talk about mutual enemies. Leave this place!"
"You fool," Terix seemed to sneer. "I could kill you just as easily. And I will, unless you prove yourself useful."
"Do you want money?"
"Do I want money? I am a Touchkill, a monster birthed by the great Ochekol'kan. Both Koteph and I are shades. We have no need of your money."
"Then what?"
"We want your army. You will join forces with Koteph's force, and we will take the Green Tower."
Anaxus considered his options. He was alone with this monster, who, it seemed, could kill men by touching them. It seemed best to play along. "Very well. Together, we shall plunder the Green Tower."
"Yes," Terix said. "Plunder."
Anaxus began to plan the Etoran Empire's next campaign. Now that the traitor Sallustius had been vanquished, it was time for a new war. The Empire would topple the University. A foolish northern sorcerer had even offered his aid. Anaxus was confident he could spin this situation to his advantage. Destroy the University, kill this Koteph, and show everyone that sorcerers always lost against the Emperor of Etor.

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