Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Towers Rally

"You are at this University because you believe in magic. Because you know that it can be a force for good, and that it is a force for good."
"You are at this University for the good of the world. Yes, the sorcerer's staff comes with a great deal of power and wealth, but you could have had that be inheriting the lands of your fathers. You are here not for the benefit of yourselves, but for the benefit of magic, and of the world."
"But, magic can do great harm. The destruction of Old Etor was perhaps the greatest catastrophe in five hundred years. And many in this room have been persecuted because of it."
As the assembled students and Masters all stared at the nearest Etoran refugee, Taerin drew in a breath.
"Today, we face a much greater threat. A cataclysm of far greater proportions. And it the result, not of an accidental foray to to the frontiers of magic, but a single sorcerer's active malice."
"The mage Koteph is now the greatest threat in the world. A shade of unprecedented power. He commands an army of monsters, the largest ever seen. He has already killed or tortured several of our former colleagues. Ar-Alam, Kyotr, and Cabilon. All to one terrible purpose: Koteph wishes to seize the Green Tower, and free Ochekol'kan from her eternal prison."
Taerin paused once more for the surprised gasps. He allowed his students a moment of confused chatter, as they reminded each other that, yes,  Ochekol'kan did exist, they read in a book that there was some sort of special door.
"Ochekol'kan. The creature out of myth and legend. The Shaper of the World. The Mother of all the Monsters. It is still unclear what benefit- if any- Koteph intends to derive from this. But it is extremely likely that none of us would live to find out."
"In all of our tests, Ochekol'kan's malignance is matched only by that of Takenor himself. Her power is far beyond anything that exists in the world of men. Our entire race would be eradicated."
Taerin gauged his audience's reaction. "This leaved us with a choice. We might run away, and cower at the edges of the world. I hear that the Norgad Archipelago is nice this time of year." This drew a laugh. The Norgad Archipelago was not nice any time of year. "Or we could stay, and we could fight Koteph. We could attempt to stop him, and, in our attempt, prove that we do in fact believe that believe in magic. That we want to use sorcery to improve the world, not only when it brings us wealth and power, but when it may require some sacrifice."
Taerin paused, and allowed his speech to switch focus. "Classes will proceed as normal for at least the next two days. There is a great deal of discussion to be had, and a great many roles to be assigned. We will likely mount a defense of the Tower, as well as our two neighboring cities of Allus and Pire. You may now erupt into frantic conversation." The University obliged.

The Chamber of Communications was one of the most innovative parts of the University, rivaled only by the School of Talismans. Over the past forty years, they had developed several new forms of magical long-distance communication.
As it turned out, the entity most interested in this new magic was the Commonwealth of Condoran. The Commonwealth had many centers of power, spread out over a great distance. As a result, the University and the Red Tower had worked together to implement a series of magically entangled rocks, so that a dedicated operator could tap his stone in Tyral to send critical information to Bos or Condora.
The two Towers were also testing several more sophisticated means of communication, including a pair of polished glass surfaces that allowed two sorcerers to see each other no matter the distance. Hearing was still not possible.
There were also several sets of connected pens for transmitting written messages. Some of the Masters were working too remove the pens entirely, and use magically reactive paper. Needless to say, all of these inventions required a great deal of magical maintenance, which prevented more widespread deployment.
For the most part, these channels were used simply to provide technical assistance, as both Towers struggled to maintain the connection. The sorcerers on both sides would describe whatever bizarre behaviors they were experiencing, in case their counterparts had encountered something similar. At the moment I walked in, every person in the room was talking about Ochekol'kan. "They want to know why we are so confident."
"Tell them that we don't see why Dragoneyes, Dran, Amniel and Cassinder would all lie."
"They say they still haven't found Cabilon."
"Then you owe me four coppers."
"What's the name of the book that talks about the Shapers."
''They want a complete list of every Name Dragoneyes knows."
"They say they're considering sending someone."
"Tell them to do more than consider, the fate of the world is on the line."
"I know, I have trouble believing it too, but can we risk it."
"Is this thing on?"
Nearly every person in the room was talking about Ochekol'kan.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let Him Die

"What do you mean you can't tell me?"
"I can't tell you."
It was frustrating. And completely unexpected. My sister was refusing to tell me the future.
"You've had your gift for years. I've never known you to keep prophecies to yourself. Why can't you tell me the outcome of this battle."
"I can't tell you."
This had been going on for some time. I was out of ideas. I had tried everything from coaxing to pleading. My sister didn't want to tell me the future. I had tried every sort of indirect question. Everything I could think of, at least. I wondered if Dran might be more use in that regard. Or Dragoneyes, with his power to see into the minds of others.

Dran and Dragoneyes were busy, at that particular moment. They were addressing the Masters of the University.
"So you expect us to believe that a shade has gained unprecedented power, and now wants to release Ochekol'kan." This was Molano, a Master of Enchantment.
"Both Dran and I have seen heard him say it."
Dragoneyes could tell that Molano was doubtful.
"Of course," Dran said, "we will need to prepare the entire University for the defense, as well as calling in as many other sorcerers as possible."
"I will erect defenses. I already have plans for metal walls encircling the building. I can also use my power to create pools of fire and ice in front of the Green Stone Doors. More obstacles for Koteph to cross."
Dran looked the crowd over. He could still see a great deal of skepticism. "Let us talk specifics," he said. "Should we tell the students today or tomorrow?"
Molano laughed. "We will need for more time than that to mull this over, young man. You have yet to provide firm evidence for Koteph's existance."
"Dragoneyes and Dran and Amniel and Cassinder have all seen him," Taerin said. "They all attested to his formidable power."
"A collection of four less trustworthy people would be hard to find. Two who were expelled from the University, the disgruntled son of an exiled prince, and a girl more mad than sane."
"What are you suggesting," Dran asked. "Do you think the four of us got together and decided to fabricate some strange story in order to prepare you for a threat that does not exist?"
"You can forgive us for finding your story hard to believe. Nothing like Koteph has existed in all of recorded history."
The Archmage laughed. "Nothing like Dragoneyes has existed in all of recorded history. But part of the beauty of recorded history is that there is more of it every day."
"Why would anyone want to free Ochekol'kan," asked a different Master. There was a chorus of agreement.
"I have never known a sorcerer to harm anyone. But even if there were a cruel sorcerer, why would he wish for total destruction?"
"He would have nothing to gain."
"It just seems hard to believe."
Dran agreed with them. It did seem strange. It seemed unlikely that Koteph was merely mad. He wondered if the shade had some ulterior motive. It seemed unlikely that Koteph simply lying about his end goals. But at the end of the day, Dran didn't care. The truth didn't matter. Because Dran wanted this fight to happen. Dran wanted this battle. Because Dran wanted Koteph to die.
"It might be hard to believe. But he has already captured Kyotr. He tried to capture Ar-Alam. Cabilon seems to have gone missing. All of them know Names necessary to open the doors and free Ochekol'kan. What else could Koteph be doing?" He killed my mother and my father. Let him die.
"Just because you claim Kyotr was by his side doesn't make it so," Molano said. "As for Cabilon... infighting is not unheard of among the Red Mages."
''And what of the movements of monsters. Even you must have noticed the lack of terrors preying on the Little Lands. You must have realized that Sassiles have all but disappeared from the Commonwealth, almost overnight. What else could explain that?" He used me. Controlled my mind. Let him die.
"This school is a beacon of knowledge throughout the known world. We can't suspend teaching every time monsters act strangely."
"Really. When was the last time monsters acted this strangely. When was the last time there was this much evidence that a great evil was on the horizon?" He destroyed my entire world. Let him die.

A bolt of realization. "Is it the Destroyer," I asked my sister. "Is Koteph the Destroyer?"
She seemed to stare past me. I could tell she wanted to say something. Her entire body tensed, then relaxed. After a moment more of hesitation, she opened her mouth. "Yes."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Stacks

Dran had seen quite a few things these past few months. He had seen his first crowd. He had seen his first mountain, his first non-sorcerer. The first time he had seen someone younger than him. The first time he had seen poverty. None of those had made much of an impression on him.
This was not his first library. But it knocked him off his feet.
Stacks of books, floor to ceiling. Covering eight floors in the Anitax spire. Dran thought back to his father's library. Those lonely bookshelves had felt unlimited. After all his of years of voracious reading, Dran had never finished it. But this... a lifetime wouldn't be enough to make a dent in this collection.
Dran was there to find materials relating to Ochekol'kan. It occurred to him that he was completely unsuited to the task. He had no idea how the library was organized, no idea how to find the books. But he hadn't objected when Taerin assigned him the task. Because Taerin had assigned it with some sort of confident forcefulness. And that same tone of voice made it clear that Taerin expected Dran to do a very good job. Dran made a mental note to practice his order-giving if he ever found himself in a leadership position. In the meantime, he had work to do.
"Do you know where I could find books about Ochekol'kan," Dran asked the first person he saw.
The sorcerer turned around, his green robes twirling. "Excuse me?" He looked to be maybe half a decade older than Dran. He didn't seems especially tall, and had the complexion of one of the old Etoran families. Dran wondered if that
"I am new here. Do you know where I could find books about Ochekol'kan?"
"I do not. I am a student of potions, not superstition."
Dran saw no reason to continue their conversation. It would only lead to the two of them antagonizing each other further.
The next person he ran across was a redhead, about his age. "Do you happen to know your way around this place."
"Not really," the redhead laughed. "You might want to ask one of the arc's downstairs."
"Short for Archivist. Are you new here?"
"Afraid so."
"My name is Othin," he said, extending his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Dran." Othin had a firm handshake. "If you have any other questions, just ask. Do you think you'll be able to find the arc desk?"
Dran's mind raced. He didn't want to admit weakness. To admit that he didn't know what the arc desk looked like, or whether 'downstairs' meant down one flight or four. But he had a job to do, and Othin could help. "Sure, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
Othin looked down at his books. "An excuse not to study magic theory? That's the opposite of trouble."
So they walked together. "What do you plan on studying," Othin asked.
"Potions." Dran wasn't even sure if that was a lie. Did he planning on studying at the University after Koteph's defeat? Or would he return to his home in the Black Tower? Regardless, Dran knew better than to tell the whole truth. Later, Othin would find out why Dran was really here, and feel betrayed. So be it.
Othin looked at Dran, as if he expected Dran to say something. "What do you study," Dran asked, completing what he could only assume was the second part off the ritual.
"Honestly, I've gone back and forth a dozen times between charms and enchantments."
"Where do you stand now?" Dran was actually curious.
"Probably charms. They're just more logical, you know."
"And, frankly, more useful."
Othin laughed. "I'll admit useful has never been much of a concern for me. Magic for magic's sake has always been fine with me. My sister has always been the practical one." There was a pause. "Do you have any siblings," Othin asked.
"No," Dran said. He decided to change the subject before it reached more painful territory. "How long have you been at the University?"
"Most of my life actually. My father works here."
"What does he do?"
"Umm... he's the Archmage."
Interesting. Dran could see why Othin hadn't wanted to mention that earlier. And now the conversation had reached an awkward moment for both of them. But Dran was still curious. "What is that like... if you don't mind my asking."
"Good and bad. I'll be the first to admit that people treat me differently, and most treat me better. On the other hand... how do you measure up to that?"
Dran wondered about that. Phorius had been one of the strongest sorcerers in the world. But Dran had never worried about measuring up. The entire family had just assumed that it was a matter of time before Dran eclipsed his father to become far greater still. It was as if Dran had been balanced over a precipice, and just only just thought to look down.
His father may have been the greatest magical warrior of his time. He had certainly won more fights than anyone else. The Caesorium line was the most famous family of sorcerer-kings in  history. Actually, probably the most famous family of any sort in history. They claimed descent from the gods, and nobody was quite willing to argue. And on his mother's side, his family had ruled the Black Tower for several generations, and had famous mages on two continents. And Dran just cavalierly assumed he was the pinnacle of this line?
Dran steadied himself. He had become a mage before most people open their first book of enchantments. He was on track to be a match for any of his relatives. And what did it matter if they were better than him? They were dead, nobody was ever going ask him to duel his great-grandfather.
"That would be the desk," Othin said. "See you around."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Archmage

I'll admit it. I was flustered. I couldn't walk up to Taerin of the Valley, the Archmage, and tell him that a mad shade was going to attack his University in an attempt to destroy the world. Fortunately, I didn't need to.
"Taerin of the Valley," Dragoneyes said. "The Archmage. A mad shade is going to attack your University in an attempt to destroy the world."
"Excuse me. Who are you."
"I am Bashra Dragoneyes. I studied at this very University. After I was..."
"That's a word for it. After that, I fell in with my former classmate, Koteph. He had become a shade."
"A shade. A fusion of a man and a spirit. You'll forgive me if I remain incredulous."
"Well, then you're about to get even more incredulous. He was not a union of a man and a spirit. He had imprisoned dozens, maybe hundreds of spirits within himself. He had incredible power at his disposal. He could bind other men to his will, and cross the continent in an instant. He-"
"Do you have any evidence? And how did you escape this all-powerful menace," Taerin's voice sounded like a bottle of sarcasm potion had started speaking. "Or did he send you here to warn us?"
"No, no, I escaped. Due to a complicated sequence of events that I will explain later, I know about a dozen True Names."
Taerin opened his mouth to express disbelief.
"Yes. I know you don't believe me." In quick succession, Dragoneyes spoke a variety of strange syllables, creating a bolt of fire, a shaft of ice, a staff of wood, a stone wall, a rainstorm, a gold crown, an iron sword, some cloth, and a lightning bolt. "I could go on."
Taerin was still for a moment. In a moment of conversation, Dragoneyes had turned his world upside down.
He had spoken True Names. No doubt Taerin was thinking that, yes, he had heard those True Names. He was wondering if he somehow been fooled. Whether there was some sort of spell that could falsely convey the impressions of the True Name of water.
Taering was also probably thinking about Koteph. This was likely the greater shock. Like every other person educated at the University, Taerin though of magic as a force of good. As a boon to society, and a beacon of progress.
"You have my attention," the Archmage said. "Now, the four of you had better explain yourselves in much greater detail."

Dragoneyes did all the talking. He explained who we were, how he had acquired his powers. He had explained that Koteph was trying to free Ochekol'kan, and that he had raised an army of monsters.
He spoke of the five doors guarding the evil Shaper, and how Koteph could already open two of them. He explained how Koteph had already acquired Kyotr's aid, and would likely force more people into his service. He told Taerin about his own fight with Koteph, and explained how powerful both combatants had become.
Taerin took it all in. "I hate to suggest this, but, the True Name of air. It happens that everyone who knows it is currently at the University. If we kill them..."
"Excuse me," I said.
"I've considered the idea," Dran said. "But I don't think it would have much effect. Koteph isn't going to give up. He will do his best to storm the University and kill us all. So we might buy the world some time, but he is a brilliant mage on his own, and will eventually learn whatever True Names he needs on his own."
"You've considered killing me?"
"I decided against it."
"I know but just the act of-"
Dran rolled his eyes. "I decided against it. Why are you still whining about this?"
Taerin didn't let our argument progress any further. "Back to the matter at hand. I want more information on Koteph. I want Dragoneyes to build us some defenses. Iron walls enclosing the entire town, not just the Tower, understood? I will alert the University staff. We formulate a plan to tell the students. If Koteph really is coming, I want everyone to stand and fight, not panic and run. Amniel, ask you sister if she knows anything about what Koteph will do. Dran, start reading up on Ochekol'kan. I want to know as much about that threat as possible. More specifically, I want to make sure there is nothing Koteph knows that we don't. Does everyone know what they should be doing?"
Everyone did.