Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Cave of Twelve Winds

Our small convoy rode through the mountains. Dragoneyes was focused on a clump of soil he was carrying with him. Every so often, he would drop it, and pick up a new one. He was trying to commune with the True Name of soil.
I was doing much the same. Feeling the breezes. Their air currents. I could feel a hawk the next mountain over. I could feel a storm brewing to the west. And I could feel something else, too.
"Someone is using the True Name of air."
Dran was suspicious. "I thought every other person who knew the True Name of air was a Master at the Green Tower."
I tried to see if I could recognize the signature of the mage responsible. I had spent time with both Ar-Alam and Taminer when I was a student at the university. In fact, Ar-Alam had been something of a mentor. But at the time, I was only beginning my studies into air. I couldn't tell their magic apart, certainly not from a distance. But... "It feels like he is fighting someone. The winds howl with his pain."
"Any sense for who he is fighting," Dran asked.
"Perhaps I can tell," Dragoneyes said. "What direction is it?"
I pointed. He closed his eerie yellow eyes. "There is so much moving through the air. Being blown around.  Wooden branches... Small rocks... and water. A lot of water." He exhaled. "Someone is definitely using the True Name of water."
"Should we investigate," I asked.
"Two mages are creating a small storm in an attempt to destroy each other," Dragoneyes said. "Why wouldn't we investigate?"

We arrived to see Kyotr floating inside a giant sphere of water, trying to chase down Ar-Alam, while my old Master flew as fast as he could. The two of them seemed rather beaten down. Kyotr's water had a reddish tinge I suspected was from blood. Ar-Alam's breathing was haggard at best.
I was about to intervene, but Dragoneyes beat me to it.
He spoke the True Name of water. For a moment, he was locked in conflict with Kyotr. Dragoneyes was no veteran when it came to water, but Kyotr was injured and tired, and was never much of a mage in the first place. Dragoneyes managed to burst his bubble.
I rushed towards Ar-Alam. "What happened here?"
The old sorcerer stumbled. "Amniel? What are you doing here?"
"Traveling with Dragoneyes- with Bashra- to warn the University that Koteph seeks to free Ochekol'kan. Do you remember who Koteph is?"
"Yes. It seems Kyotr is now serves him."
I looked over. Dragoneyes seemed to have already deduced as much. He and Dran were tying Kyotr up.
"Are you hurt," I asked.
"Very much so."
"Dran knows quite a bit about potions. I'm not sure if he is a capable physiker, but if not-"
"I won't be requiring medical attention."
"I don't understand. You said you were injured. Now you're saying-" then, I understood his meaning. "Don't give up, Ar-Alam. You are strong."
"My magic is as strong as ever. But my body is barely powerful enough to stand. I am old, and I am tired, and I just fought a shade."
"We can prolong your life. I'm sure that-"
"I thank you for the offer, but I must refuse. I can tell that there is a storm coming. I will likely have succumbed to these wounds before I can be of use to you. At the same time, I worry I may be of use to Koteph. If he bent Kyotr to his will, he may do the same to me. If he truly needs to True Name of air, my death would be my greatest contribution to our cause."
I didn't like the logic. Not least because I too knew the True Name of air, and I didn't consider myself a liability.

Koteph was only beginning the long process of bending Cabilon to his will. As he stirred potions and prepared for the next phase, the Red Mage stared at him.  Cabilon was an older man, closer to seventy than sixty. So hanging from chains in some gods-forsaken dungeon didn't appeal to him.
The expensive dyes in Cabilon's cloak were now mixed with a more primal red. He knew he should be terrified. He had already thrown fire at Koteph, and the blue flames had bent around him. His chains were similarly enchanted. Such power suggested a truly dangerous shade. But Cabilon just didn't have the capacity for fear. It was a result of years of being a master of fire, a powerful mage, one of the most important men of the Commonwealth. "Tell me. How many times do you think you can lock horns with other sorcerers before you die."
The black-robed shade looked back. He looked more like a skeleton than a man, with white skin pulled taught over his bones. He didn't dignify Cabilon's bravado with a response.
Terix arrived. The Touchkill bowed. "Lord Koteph. Kyotr still has not returned. He has not been spotted in our camp."
Koteph took this in. "When did you send him on his mission."
"I visited him nearly a day ago. He spent the bulk of that time preparing to jump from the Blue Tower to the Cave of Twelve Winds. The spells we use to track him indicated he met with Ar-Alam about four hours ago."
"You should have come to me sooner. A fight like that should not take four hours."
"I shall go and remedy the matter at once."
"No. Kyotr knows the True Name of water. Ar-Alam knows the True Name of air. Two invaluable assets may be at risk in one place. We cannot allow either to die. This will require both of us. Get one of the monsters to look after our guest. Perhaps Bleos and the Sloo will be up to the task."

I was with Dran, keeping watch over Kyotr. Dran had worked up a potion to keep him in a semi-conscious state. Apparantly, it was a subject on which his father had constantly drilled him. Phorius had used the technique frequently as he dissected monsters in his Tower. I was beginning the sequence of spells that might undo Koteph's work. I kept my eyes on Kyotr. I couldn't bear to look at Ar-Alam.
Dragoneyes and Cassinder were tending to him. "I can cauterize your wounds. I know the True Name of fire."
"That is unnecessary."
"I can see the nature of your wounds. See how they will poison your body. If I don't do anything to help you, you will die in-"
"Shh," my sister interrupted him. "People don't like to know that."
Ar-Alam looked at Cassinder as if for the first time. "So you must be Amniel's sister. The Seer."
"I am."
"Interesting. I always wanted to meet a Seer. I suppose my life his now complete." He stifled a laugh.
I rejoined the conversation. "Is there anything you might need us to fish out of the cave. It seems most of your possessions have gotten rather wet."
"I suppose I could use my staff. And my books." Ar-Alam caught my look. "Of course the books are water-proof. It's a simple spell."
"Well," Dragoneyes said, "I suppose I aught to fish it out."
Cassinder went with him.
I looked at Ar-Alam. My teacher. My mentor. One of the most learned mages in the world. The leading expert on air and the wind. I didn't want to lose him. I didn't want his death to be on my hands, on my watch, surrounded by me and my allies. "Are you sure you want to die? To bleed out?"
"Yes. Once your friend gets me my staff, I want you to leave. Go to the University. Warn them. Leave me to make my peace with the gods." He cocked his head. As if listening for something. "Do you hear that?"
Dragoneyes emerged from the cave, Ar-Alam's staff in one hand, a flaming sword in the other. "Koteph. It seems like we won't be making peace with anyone."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Storm

Kyotr appeared about a mile from Ar-Alam's home. That was deliberate. He didn't want Ar-Alam to know what had happened to him. How Koteph had expanded his sorcerous powers.
As he approached on foot, he considered his strategy. Ar-Alam was old, and physically frail. But the last time anyone had seen him, his magic had been as strong as ever.
Kyotr knew he wasn't the mage Ar-Alam was. Ar-Alam had devoted his life to the wind and the sky. He knew air as much as anyone knew anything. It was said that he first uttered the True Name of air at age twelve. That Ar-Alam could summon vortices and storms.
Kyotr would have to rely on the tools Koteph had given him. The gift of powerful sorcery. So he began to enchant himself. He always carried magical safeguards, but it was time to improve them. He enchanted his lungs to go without air if necessary. He hardened his skin, preparing himself for great gusts of wind, powerful enough to shear trees from the ground. He enchanted himself so he couldn't be blown off course, so he couldn't be frozen by chilling wind. All he had to do was defeat Ar-Alam before his enchantments were worn out. He could do that. He was the Lord of the Blue Tower, after all.

It had been some time since Ar-Alam had spoken to another human being. But he still remembered how. "Hoo arr yooo?" No. That didn't sound quite right.
Kyotr examined his surroundings. A fairly substantial cave, with a complicated network of stalactites hanging from the ceiling. The Cave of the Twelve Winds was legendary for the intricate air currents that circulated among those stony teeth. It attracted only the higher caliber mages, seeking to deeply understand the True Name of air. "I am Kyotr of the Blue Tower."
"Wie arr yoo heerr?" The right sounds. But Ar-Alam couldn't make them sound like words!
"I was sent to pay you a visit."
"Yoo no hoo I am?" Better. Ar-Alam's tongue was being persuaded to actually speak.
"I do. You are Ar-Alam. You taught me Advanced Pneumatic Sorcery."
"Hoo- Who sent you?"
"A fellow named Koteph."
Ar-Alam searched his memory. "He was also a student of mine."
"He was." Kyotr was reaching into the ground, and pulling water. He could make more if necessary, but it was nice to tap into his surroundings as well. The ground became muddy as Kyotr drew in more and more of the fluid.
Without warning, he pulled the water from the ground, and flooded the cave. Ar-Alam watched with some interest as all of his possessions were ruined. It wasn't something one saw every day.
Ar-Alam began to exhale. He breathed out more air than was possible for a man his size. Ar-Alam and his bubble floated upwards, bursting onto dry land. Kyotr emerged from the cave, standing on a plume of water. His hands were fountains, shooting jets of water at Ar-Alam, knocking the older mage over. Ar-Alam created a wind and blew the water to the side. "Stand down Kyotr, or I will draw the air from your lungs."
"That wouldn't hurt me."
"Very well." Kyotr was surprised to feel air forced into his body. His nose, his mouth. He felt the pressure building his lungs. He felt his body beginning to burst. He hadn't prepared for this! Kyotr felt the True Name of water receding, as his body entered a state of agony. He began to fall. He needed to distract Ar-Alam- and do it fast. As his entire body screamed, Kyotr focused, and found the True Name of water. A ball of water hit Ar-Alam in the back of the head.
"Did you think that would distract me?"
Kyotr was lying in the mud, body in pain, as his lungs were torn apart from the inside. Even a shade couldn't survive much more.
With a power that came from desperation, he knocked Ar-Alam off his feet once more.
For a moment, the two sorcerers lay there, bleeding. Then, Kyotr got to his feet. He coughed up some blood. And he remembered the True Name of water. Ar-Alam took a different strategy. He used the True Name of air before he got up.
Kyotr found himself lifted into the air. He was blown about, almost like a leaf, then slammed back into the ground.
Kyotr's body had nearly recovered. The benefits of Koteph's tampering. He used the True Name of Water again, this time, to the full extent of his power. A blue titan rose from the ground. He reached for Ar-Alam, but the old man was already somewhere else. Ar-Alam danced on the wind, avoiding Kyotr's grasp. The Blue Mage tried again and again to grab his former teacher. "Like trying to hold the wind in your hand," Kyotr muttered.
A gale lifted up trees and branches. The water titan began to lose mass. Ar-Alam dodged the debris without missing a step. Kyotr didn't have as much luck. He tried to maintain a wall of water. A tree crashed into the wall, reducing it to droplets. Kyotr barely managed to duck in time.
But the water was flying everywhere now, carried by Ar-Alam's storm. Kyotr used the True Name of water, and the droplets became daggers. Too many to dodge- they cut against Ar-Alam's skin. The hermit was forced to let his wind die down.
"Had enough," Kyotr asked.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Koteph's Apprentices

Kyotr was in his Blue Tower. He was feeling good. Feeling strong. The True Name of water was fresh in his mind.
He reflected on his life. He was the scion of a fairly successful family of sorcerers. His uncle. Liolon, was the master of the Blue Tower. His parents had been merchant-sorcerers in Varaliens, in the Etoran Empire, when the capital had been destroyed. They had their son in exile in Irin. As far back as Kyotr could remember, he had lived in his uncle's home, the Blue Tower. Kyotr's father had been melancholy. He never overcame the loss of his home in Varaliens. Eventually, he hurled himself off the tower. Kyotr lost him mother soon after.
Kyotrs uncle had taken the lead in actually raising him. It had been Liolon who had sent Kyotr to the university. Who had trained him. Who had sent him from river to lake, who had shown him rain and puddles, until Kyotr had seen the True Name of water. Eventually, Liolon had passed, leaving the Tower to Kyotr.  
Kyotr felt the presence of another. He could hear their water, the blood in their veins. "Terix."
Koteph's lieutenant took a seat near Kyotr. "Our master has need of us."
"What does he want."
"Koteph has power over stone and lightning. Now that he has bent you into service, he has power over water as well. But he still needs control over fire and air if he is to free Ochekol'kan."
"What does this have to do with me."
"It has come to our attention that Amniel came to you, trying to recruit you too join the fight against Koteph."
"He did."
"And yet you allowed him to leave."
"I did."
Terix stood up, and took a step closer to the mage. "Amniel is one of three people in the world who can use the True Name of air. Did it even occur to you that we could have used him?"
It hadn't. "Yes?"
"Oh. Well, tell me how you determined that he could better serve Lord Koteph out in the open, recruiting others to fight us."
"He wasn't alone. Dranarius was with him."
"Oh, yes. So it wasn't one boy. It was two."
"It was the heirs of the White and Black Towers."
"And you are a shade! Koteph invested great power in you, and when opportunity literally walks through your door and into your study, you squander it."
Kyotr knew Terix wouldn't kill him. He knew True Name of water, which made him valuable. But he suspected Terix could come up with things even less enjoyable than death.
"This is what will happen," Terix said. "I will recruit Cabilon, the Red Mage. I would ask you to acquire Amniel. But he is most likely with Bashra at this moment. You would die, and for the moment, we need your worthless hide intact. So, instead, you can sidestep the mess you have made. You will hunt down Ar-Alam."
"Ar-Alam is a Master at the University."
"You fool. He is that no longer. He is a hermit, living in the mountains. The Cave of Twelve Winds."
Terix took a step, and disappeared. Kyotr couldn't do thatt. Even with his power as a shade, it would take time for him to arrange a transportation spell and reach the Cave of Twelve Winds.
As Kyotr drew diagrams in the floor of his home, he considered his mission. To battle a master of air, and bring him to Koteph. No. To battle a master of air in his own domain, and defeat him quickly enough not to raise any alarms, and bring him to Koteph. He knew there were risks.

The Red Tower was somewhat different from the others. It acted as the headquarters for all magic within the Commonwealth of Condoran. The Red Mages policed everyone from the humblest street-sorcerer to the most powerful mage. They were also represented in the Chamber of Lawgivers. Specifically, they had three representatives in the Low Chamber, and their delegation was headed by one member of the High Chamber. That member was Cabilon, and was said that he was second only to the Chancellor in terms of power within the commonwealth. And the Chancellor couldn't command balls of fire.
The Mages ensured that there were magical channels to allow constant communication between the Red Tower and the city of Condora. But a certain amount of travel was still necessary. Cabilon was en route to the annual convocation in the Red Tower. He never arrived.
While travelling through open fields, he was accosted by a bandaged monster. "Cabilon of the Red Tower?"
"Who wants to know."
"My name is Terix. I have a proposition for you."
"I am reluctant to accept of proposition from a hissing stranger who won't show me his face." Cabilon kept moving, riding his horse right past this Terix. Terix reached out his hand, and grazed the horse. It collapsed, dead.
"That was a nice horse," Cabilon said, as he called upon the true name of fire.
"Apologies. But we need to talk."
"No. We don't." Terix burst into flames. His bandages provided additional fuel. Cabilon pelted him with fireballs. He was going to have to walk to the nearest town, and he wanted to express his frustration.
But Terix didn't down. He didn't scream in pain. And his flesh didn't seem to be burning. Instead, with deliberate slowness, he peeled off his bandages. And it became clear that he was not remotely human.
"You're a Touchkill."
"I was a Touchkill. Now I am a shade, in the service of Koteph. Soon, you will join me."
Terix raised his hand. Glowing chains shot forth, and wrapped around Cabilon. Cabilon tried to burn through the chains, but found he couldn't. He tried again to burn Terix. The monster shrugged it off. He paralyzed Cabilon. "Koteph will see you now."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Tangled Web: Part II

"Well," I said, "we seem to have a problem."
"You mean the problem of having lost the world's most powerful mage to an army of spider-like monsters."
"Yes, that is the problem I was referring to."
"Excuse me," Lius interrupted. "Who is Dragoneyes?"
"Dragoneyes is a companion of ours. He is a powerful mage, and he will help us stop an evil shade from seizing the Green Tower and destroying life as we know it."
"I see," Lius said.
Dran turned his atttention back to me. "Should one of us go in and get him?"
"Well, Amniel of the White Tower, do you have any better ideas?"
"No... not yet? Why don't we both take some time to think. See if we can't come up with something."
"And if we can't come up with something?"
"Then one of us will have to take a huge risk."

I was thinking about what we could do. I could move air. Dran could control ice. Cassinder was a powerfull sorceress. I thought about what we needed to accomplish. We needed to find Dragoneyes, and extract him. Could Cassinder's powers locate him? I doubted it. I could sense air currents, but he likely wasn't breathing. And I couldn't detect him more than a few dozen paces away regardless. What about moving him? How would we do that? Could I blow him out? No. Winds strong enough to move people... without a line of sight... probably at a great range... impossible. Could Dran do it? Somehow?
I wasn't getting anywhere. Time to start over. What can we do?

Dran was jealous. He had lived the first nineteen years of his life in the Black Tower. He had spent the vast majority of time with just two people: his mother and his father. At times he had hated his imprisonment, at times he had reveled in the solitude. But the fact remained, the Black Tower was more than his home. It was his universe. Phorius and Mauria had been more than parents. They were the only people with whom he had conversed more than four times. And they were dead. And the Black Tower was in the hands of the man who murdered them.
Dranarius hated Koteph. He wanted the man- the shade- dead. He wanted to take everything from Koteph as Koteph had taken everything from him. But he knew that wasn't possible. He was no match for Koteph. Instead, he would have to watch as Dragoneyes fought the shade. Dragoneyes, who done nothing to deserve his power. Dragoneyes who had no right to kill Koteph.
But Dran was realistic. He knew it would have to be Dragoneyes. He knew he was being petty. And he also had a pretty nice idea to free Dragoneyes.

"Could you force air into the tunnels," he asked. "And squash the bugs."
"No." I tried to imagine how much air that would be. Many times the amount normally in the tunnels. But it did give me an idea. "Do you know what air is? It is a mixture of different substances. Only one of those substances is necessary for life."
"So, I can remove that substance. Suffocate the bugs. The people aren't breathing, so they will be fine. Then, we can just go in and rescue Dragoneyes."
We talked the idea over. We couldn't come up with anything better. Dran, Cassinder, and I walked to the edge of the cave. Lius followed.
I began to speak the True Name of air. Gasses moved, and the air in the cavern became less and less breathable. I continued to chant. I could feel the air shifting. I could sense as one by one, the monsters ceased breathing. They suffocated quickly. Insects don't have lungs with which to hold their breath.
"It is done."
"Congratulations," Dran said. "You just slayed a whole cavern full of monsters with one word."
I returned the air to its former vitality. I was about to enter the caves. "Wait." I turned to Lius. "There is a dark sorcerer. Koteph. He plans to launch an attack on the Green Tower. Do you understand?"
"Koteph. Green Tower."
"Yes. If Dran and I don't make it out, I want you to take Cassinder to the University, and warn the Masters of the impending attack. Can you do that?"
"I don't know."
"That will have to do."
We entered the caves. Dran and I created luminous spheres to stave off the dark. Dragoneyes' passing had left footprints in the webs, and we had little trouble tracking him.
Eventually we found him. His eyes were closed, and his copper skin was covered in a thin layer of white webbing. We roused him from his slumber.
"The monsters. They drew you in. They had the power to lure people into their lair."
"And I fell for it."
"Yes," Dran said. "Fortunately, we were able to save you."
"Well," he said, "if it is any consolation, I now know the True Name of spider silk."
He spoke the Name, and the cocoons around us began to thin. I could see the toll the spell was taking on him, but it was working. By the time we left, people were beginning to wake up. Dragoneyes stumbled on the way out. "There are thousands of people in those tunnels. They are going to need food, and water."
"We need to move."
"We will," he said. He invoked the True Name of stone, and created four large cisterns. He collapsed from the effort. Cassinder helped him up.
I knew what he was planning. "Save your strength, Dragoneyes."
"These people are going to need water."
"Although," Dran said, "they could probably make do with ice." He waved his hand, each trough was filled with frozen water. "There. Now I'm exhausted too. Let's get moving."