Sunday, September 27, 2015

The University

First, we sensed a change in the towns. They became slightly wealthier as we progressed. You could tell from the dress, from the style of home. Farmers and tanners gave way to apothecaries and sorcerers. More educated too. You could tell that from the manner of speaking.
The towns became more magical. We started to see thatch roofs enchanted to keep from burning. Coats enchanted not to wear. Recreational psychotropic potions.
Eventually, we started to notice book shops. Stores selling larkweed, and waterstones, and all the other accouterments of sorcery. We started to see the staffs of sorcerers, and the rings of students. And then, as we reached the top of a hill, we saw the Green Tower.
It was enormous. Kings would feel privileged to live in homes a tenth the size. Moving up and down the Tower's exterior, platforms large enough to lie down on ferried students to their classes. Elevators, we called them. Their maintenance was one of the foremost duties of the School of Charms. The School took its job seriously. It had been decades since the last time one of the floating stone rooms had crashed into the ground. And Master of Charms responsible for overseeing the elevator had been stripped of his title within the month.
We passed the city of Allus. Allus and Pire were the two greatest cities which had grown in the shadow of the Tower. Each was a city of thousands of residents. It was said that Allus had more Etoran sorcerers than any other city in the world, and that the Prince of Pire had more sorcerers in his court than the King of Irin.
As we grew closer to the tower, we could see the vents. Fumes from potions, channeled into the sky. A wagon full of cloaks passed us, bound to cloth the next generation of sorcerers. We wandered through the new homes of students. The larger homes of the Masters. Those who didn't live in the Tower, that is.
Finally, we reached the base. The bottom of the world's most magnificent building.  We boarded an elevator. With us were two blue-robed individuals. Judging by their age, and their conversation, I would guess second year students of Physik. There was also an, older man. I vaguely recognized him. Was he a Master of Enchantment?
"Well," Dran said. "Now we find out if I'm afraid of heights."
"Don't worry," Dragoneyes chimed in, "Amniel got over it in just a few years."
The Tower was divided into eight shafts, arranged around a central courtyard. Each was a little over twenty paces across. They were all equipped with stairs. I wondered about that, as we rose into the air. Who built the Tower? And why did they find it desirable to walk up fifty stories worth of stairs?
"Hypothetically speaking," Dran asked, "if someone were to spit off the side..."
"There's a charm to catch anything falling off the elevator," the Master said. "I'm not sure if it would affect your spittle."
"Oh," Dran said. He spat off the side. "In case you were curious, my spittle was indeed affected." Dran spent the remainder of the ride casting spells on his own spit, trying to make it fall to the ground.
I checked on my sister. She seemed rather unimpressed by the most magnificent structure in the world. She barely glanced at the center of all magical learning. I suspected that with her gift, she had seen it all before.
We reached the thirty-fourth floor of the Anitax shaft. Like generations of great sorcerers before us, we entered through the window. "Three floors down from us, if I recall correctly," I said.
Like all the floors of the Tower, thirty-one Anitax had initially been one large chamber. It was exceptional in that it had remained that way. While most of the floors had been divided into smaller offices, or residences for students, filled with man-made walls, thirty-one Anitax belonged to one man. The Archmage. Taerin of the Valley. He had risen up from a small village in Irin. Through shear force of will, he had made his way to the University, and forced his way through six years of classes. He worked closely with Ar-Alam, and was about to be appointed a Master of Naming, when he left. He lived in the forest. He ran with the wolves, and communed with the True Names of clay and stone. Eventually, he returned, almost feral, dressed in rags, saying he was ready to be a Master. The University thought differently.
So Taerin went out into the world of men. He advised kings, and rescued sorcerers from the Inquisition in Etor. He married, and had three children. He returned to the University, wearing much nicer clothes, and found new employment. He tried not to spend more than a few days a year buried underground letting the smell of the soil fill his nostrils. And became the first Archmage in almost a century not to be born into a noble family.
And while he only had one room, it was, to be perfectly clear, a very nice room. It had paintings of battles and previous Archmages and famous moments in the history of magic. It had no fewer than seven bookshelves. It had all of the usual apparatus of magic. And it had a mage who very much valued his work.
"Excuse me," said Taerin of the Valley, not looking up from his desk. "This is my office. Classes are two floors down."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Emperor and the Monster

Terix regarded the human standing in front of him. The crown upon his head, which he denied was enchanted. The ring on his finger, worth more than the towns most of his subjects lived in. He looked at the sword hanging from the Emperor's belt. It was ornate, but it would be useless in an actual battle. Finally, Terix considered the man himself.
He was reaching the point where he could no longer be considered young. He was tall, and had a mixed complexion. The result of half a millennium of interbreeding between powerful families of a half dozen races.
The Emperor wore his hair short, and was clean-shaven, as was the style in New Etor. Terix was still amazed that powerful men wasted their time on such triviality.
But, at that particular moment, the Emperor's most noticeable feature was his facial expression. It was a combination of regal arrogance and utter indignation to which most men could only aspire. Terix wondered if the Emperor practiced such things in his spare time.
It was useless, of course. Terix wasn't a man. Human body language meant nothing to him. But it was interesting to watch.
"You mean to tell me your master butchered one of my monasteries for the shear pleasure of it?"
"His motivations are not your concern."
"You're right. My concern is that he killed my subjects."
"You fight another war every year. Your subjects die by the thousands every day."
They stood in one of the palace's dozens of meeting rooms. It was richly appointed, to be sure, with goods from around the world. But by palatial standards, it was a small room far away from the centers of attention. The Emperor wanted it that way. He wanted to keep these little conversations between him and his blackmailers... separate.
"This is different."
"This is someone who claims to be my ally sneaking into my country and murdering my people without my consent."
Terix considered reminding Anaxus that Koteph had never claimed to be his ally. That, rather, Koteph was his master, and could do whatever he pleased. But he sensed the human ruler might take offense. He also considered pointing out that Anaxus hadn't created these humans. They weren't connected by a true bond, like the one between Koteph and Terix. But he sensed that would not go over well either. Instead, Terix decided on tact. "My master meant no disrespect." This was technically true. His master didn't care. "He was simply conducting some business. Removing a vestige of magic from your kingdom, as it happens."
"He still should have consulted with me."
"My apologies."
The human seemed to place a great deal of significance on this half-hearted apology. "Good. Now, there is the matter of the treasure of the Tower. We will let you have all scrolls, books, talismans, and other purely magical items. But anything with intrinsic value, even if it is also enchanted, is ours."
Terix contemplated the Emperor's use of 'intrinsic'.
"You will cleanse these items of all enchantments, and they will be incorporated into the treasury, or distributed among the soldiers as loot."
"Of course."
"We will execute all of the sorcerers on sight."
Terix doubted the Etoran army could accomplish such a task. "Very well."
"Oh, and I want my soldiers to know that I am in command, some some night-dwelling monster. So you will make it clear during all stages of the conflict that I recruited you as allies, not the other way around."
This gave Terix some pause. Koteph had pride. Would he be willing to take part in the Emperor's little pantomime? "I will speak with my master on that matter."
"Very well. Go speak to him." The Emperor left their little meeting room. He left Terix to do whatever black rituals would return him to his master.

Terix allowed himself to picture the aftermath of their eventual battle. The scattered corpses of sorcerers. Of monsters and human soldiers again. He hoped Anaxus would still be alive. He would demand his paltry human payment. Terix would advocated that he receive it. Then, as the gold and treasure was piled before the Emperor, Koteph would release Ochekol'kan. She would tear through the walls of the Tower. Stones that hadn't been scratched since before the first human drew breath would shatter before her. She would roar. A sound no man had heard, but every man would understand. Her mouths would spit forth fire and poison. Her tentacles would tear the flesh off one man, and snap the bones of another. The ground would shift like the sea in a storm. Fire would rain from the sky, and monsters would spring first from the ground. That would be the last thing Anaxus would see.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What They See

"To think. I had such a magnificent power. And I just let it slip away."
"Terrible," Dran said. "Bashra Dragoneyes, utterly bereft of magnificent power. How many True Names do you know?"
"Sixteen. But this one was different."
"All of them are different. The True Name of fire allows you to turn your enemies to ash. The True Name of gold let's you buy us new horses whenever you want. The True Name of stone allows you to erect impenetrable barriers."
I disagreed. "All of those names have been known to hundreds of people throughout history. I can't think of a single case where someone called upon the True Name of flesh."
Dran thought back. "I think I read a story where an elf did it."
"Stories about elves are very rarely true."
As the three of us discussed history and magical theory, Cassinder rode in silence. She ran here fingers over her leg. It wasn't perfect. There were still scars, and bumps. Every now and then, she would look up at Dragoneyes. Very quickly, she would look back down again.
"The thing to remember," Dran said, "is that, in nearly all cases, it takes time for a True Name to be bully integrated into a mind. There is usually a period of weeks or months between when one first uses a True Name and when one can be said to fully know it."
"I'm not sure that's relevant," I pointed out. "Dragoneyes clearly acquires these names by a different process than the rest of us."
"He acquirers them by a faster process. And now, now that he's hit a bump in the road, you two are assuming that his power is gone, and that he will never again wield the True Name of flesh. I say you are a bit premature. How long did you spend watching leaves in the wind?"
"Six hours a day for two months."
"Exactly. Give it some time. Invest some effort."
Cassinder looked to the future. She saw Dragoneyes failing. She saw the result of that failure. A field of men, bleeding to death in a field of swords. Helpless bodies flung from the Green Tower. Innocents slaughtered by a power from beyond their comprehension.
"I think you are too optimistic," I said.
"Perhaps I'll take off my rose-tinted glasses one day," laughed the son of Phorius Terrorslayer.

Cassinder wept in the night. It was her fault. All of it. She was a killer. She knew what would come from her actions. But she did it anyway. Her fingernails dug into her flesh. She barely felt the pain. It was nothing compared to the pain that young Etoran boy would feel in six months, or what the old man in the Commonwealth had felt two years ago.
She heard a sound. No. No. She knew who it was. He couldn't come. She could feel him watching here, seeing right through her tent. He walked in, the cloth parting and reforming behind him.
"Are you alright?"
"Go to sleep."
He see the blood streaming from her palm. "You are hurt."
"I am fine."
Dragoneyes held the girl's hand. He looked at the wound. He could see so much, as he stared deep into the torn flesh. But not the True Name. That power was still gone.
So Dragoneyes used the True Name of cloth. He made a bandage and wrapped it tightly around Cassinder's hand.
"I do not need your help. Leave."
Dragoneyes looked into Cassinder's eyes. He saw the meaning behind her words. "What are you afraid of?"
Cassinder was silent.
"I wouldn't hurt you. You know that. And you know there is no man in the world who could harm you with me here to protect you. So what are you afraid of?"
"I see so much.  So much from the future and past. I am not twenty years old, but I have lived a hundred lives. But..."
"But what?"
"But it isn't enough. What is a hundred lives in a world that contains millions? There is so much I haven't seen. So much I don't know. I know where I will be five days from now. Three days from now... it is a mystery. I know where I am going, but not how I get there. But I suspect. I suspect that..."
"You suspect that my presence here will have negative consequences."
"I too see more than most mortal men. I can see memories etched on the inside of a man's skull. I can see the path the stars will take in the sky. I see the interior of my hand, and back of my head. I can see how water flows beneath the ground, and I can see the minerals it contains. But I cannot see anything bad coming from me staying here with you."
In retrospect, that was a bit short-sighted of him.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Monastery

Koteph was weak. He had lost. Well, perhaps that was stating things rather strongly. But he certainly hadn't won. He hadn't been able to kill Dragoneyes, or take what he wanted. He had failed.
Koteph paced in his chamber, at the apex of the Black Tower. How could he hope to succeed after such a meager performance? How could he hope to slay an army of enemies, free Ochekol'kan, and extract his reward?
As he shambled through his unlit Tower, the shade's doubts began to grow. He was a failure. He had always been a failure. He had been born a failure. The bastard son of a traveling sorcerer. A killer by age eight. Expelled from the one place that had ever accepted him. And now he wasn't even human. A walking corpse. Repulsive. His very body was a constant reminder that he was destined to die.
No. He couldn't let himself think like that. If he opened that door, it would be days before he could close it. If he could close it at all. Koteph needed to contain his misery. Hold it inside himself, as he always had. He needed to focus on the task before him.
Terix had just located a grimoire. The Book of Midice. It contained the knowledge of the Peren mage, nearly a millennium old. Midice's book was located in the library of a monastery in what was now the Etoran Empire. Koteph closed his eyes, flexed his power, and was transported.
Koteph was still recovering from his fight, and his power's had yet to fully return. His spell wasn't as precise as he would have wished. Another spell ascertained his location. Just a short walk to his quarry.
As the shade stalked through the night, he encountered small creatures. Rodents scurrying through a farmer's field. He burned them with lightning. He saw a rabbit. A quick spell, and the rabbit was immobilized. Koteph wondered whether it would starve to death or be eaten by wolves.
The dark sorcerer came upon the monastery. It was an ancient building, erected in honor of Orbius (or Ornum, as he was known among the Peren). It had been partially destroyed during the Etoran conquest, but pieces of it predated the founding of the University.
Koteph uttered the True Name of stone, and passed through a wall. Effortlessly, the mage cut his path into the heart of the structure. He traced lines of magic that would be invisible to all but the most capable of sorcerers, hunting for books which had been enchanted when Old Etor was a small town known for cheap horses and cheaper prostitutes.
Around him, the monastery was drab and dark. The last century and a half had not been kind to the Temple of Orbius. The Temple of Thacanarion, with their alliance with the Imperial house, now reigned supreme.
Koteph reached the library. It was quite different from the sparsely decorated walls outside. It had been sealed off through all the looting and trouble. And it had been built by a powerful and wealthy mage. Even centuries later, some of the walls still had a faint glow, nearly enough to read by. Koteph summoned a small fire, and ordered it to hover safely above the room. Koteph scanned the books before him. There was the Book of Midice, of course. That would bear a great deal of study. There was a copy of The Ossoniad. Koteph had no need of that, he already had one. Several books seemed promising, but turned out only to be history books about various dead sorcerers. Koteph had no interest in the King without Eyes, or the Twins.
One of them was called The Shapers and their Histories. It was damaged almost to the point of being unreadable, and seemed far older than even the ancient texts surrounding it. Koteph turned the pages by magic, making sure not to damage them. He reached a readable section

And the Lord of Light was Why do you do this
And the Lord of Iron was It is my desire

Koteph considered the strange sentences. Two years ago, he would have chalked up the strange grammar to the book's age, and assume the Peren language had evolved. Now, he knew better. He knew the Shapers didn't speak. They simply were.

And the Lord of Light was What do you seek from this
And the Lord of Iron was I seek power
And the Lord of Iron struck the Lord of Light
And it was the first strike
And the skies rained Iron
And the skies rained Light

Koteph couldn't read anything beyond that. He flipped through the book. Could he find information about Ochekol'kan, his powerful patron? He reached another legible passage.

And the Six cast judgment among them
And Orinium cast in favor of the elves
And Trrm cast in favor of the dwarves
And Ishii cast in favor of the dwarves
And Ouuli cast in favor of the elves
And Nuuok cast in favor of the elves
And Ochekol'kan cast in favor of the dwarves
And so the elves prevailed

It seemed to list six of the Shapers. Adding in Takenor, that made seven. Koteph had once heard the hypothesis of seven original Shapers given as an explanation of the seven shafts of the Green Tower. Interesting, but useless.
Koteph flipped through the book some more.

And Orinium brought his punishment down on Ochekol'kan. 
Just as she had deprived the Elves of their power, he deprived her of hers
Just as the Elves had been cast out of their Towers, she was cast from hers

Useless. It was all useless! Koteph tried to contain his rage. He took the Book of Midices, and left the rest of them to burn. As he locked the doors of the monastery, trapping the monks in their burning home, Koteph allowed himself a smile. The monks were powerless. Weak. He was strong.