Sunday, November 29, 2015


All things can become a manner of routine. This includes frequent attacks by an evil sorcerer and his army of monsters.
A pattern began to emerge. Every two days or so, Koteph would breach our defensive walls, usually in two distinct places. His armies would pour in, and the sorcerers would rush to fend them off. We spent most of our time in anticipation of these moments. We lived near the wall, and had prespecified sections to defend. I was stationed in the city of Allus, and my section intersected with Arelin.
I was surprised to see her. Even in the most progressive parts of Irin, you would never see a woman fighting. Then again, you wouldn't be likely to see a woman sorcerer, either. She really was a wonder.
Dragoneyes, too, was part of the pattern. He would rise up to meet Koteph. Dragoneyes would wear a suit of iron. But at the mage's command, it would become far stronger than any material had a right to be. The two of them would fight, standing on the sky as normal men would stand upon the ground, moving great masses of magic and matter like normal men would move a sword or an ax.
A pattern began to emerge. But patterns do break.

Koteph drew his enemy further and further from the cities he was defending. Dragoneyes was hesitant at first, worried that he was leaving his allies defenseless. But, after a few more moments thought. he began to cooperate with Koteph's strategy. He could use his power without fear of collateral damage. The balls of fire emanating from his hands became all the larger. The iron spikes and icy spires he threw like javelins became longer. The stones he and Koteph batted back and forth became faster, and more forceful in their collisions.
Dragoneyes was no fool. He saw the potential for a trap. He saw that Koteph wanted this. But also saw opportunity. The chance to use his power to its fullest extent. To annihilate Koteph, and end this was before it could progress. So he redoubled his efforts.
The fight continued. Soon, they were doing battle outside Koteph's camp. Monsters of all sorts were slayed where they stood. Koteph's lighting, redirected to hit a giant. A tongue of flame, flowing around its intended target to reduce a Sassile to so much ash.
The mage scanned his enemy's forces. What was his plan? Why had Koteph brought him here? Dragoneyes knew his opponent was no fool. But Koteph's mind was too complex to read like a book. Least of all in the heat of battle. So Dragoneyes was forced to spend a moment staring at each and every one of Koteph's monsters, all without losing focus on his duel with the shade.
But Koteph was on the retreat. Dragoneyes had the high ground, both literally and metaphorically. He pelted Koteph with a hundred types of missile. He forced his enemy downward. Deeper and deeper. Eventually Koteph was underground. It mattered not. Both Dragoneyes and Koteph could see through soil like water from a spring. Sure the dirt might absorb some of the strength of their impacts, but that disadvantage affected both of them equally.
Dragoneyes grew tired. His stamina was depleted. Koteph's body was a mass of cuts and burns. Both titans had endured enough to kill a hundred of the mightiest sorcerers in the world.
Koteph began to make a resurgence. He forced Dragoneyes upwards. The two of them neared the surface, preparing to reenter the world of air.
Too late, Dragoneyes saw what Koteph's plans must have been. Koteph wasn't trying to kill him with brute strength. Instead, the crafty sorcerer had surrounded him with more than a dozen Touchkills.

Touchkills are strange beasts. They look almost like men. Their most prominent distinguishing property is their namesake one. Their touch means death. It does not matter if you are the mightiest mage or the lowliest worm. It doesn't matter if you are a fair maiden or another Touchkill.
The rules are not well understood, perhaps because no sorcerer in his right mind would decide to study them. It is known that Touchkills need not make contact with bare skin, and that they can kill a man through a suit of armor. But it is also believed that they wear their linen coverings so as to avoid accidentally killing each other when they are forced to act in close quarters.
Stranger still, even magic cannot touch these beings without being extinguished. Any object in contact with a Touchkill will become inert, dead, devoid of any sort of enchantment.
Maybe, one day, an exceptionally foolhardy sorcerer will find out more about these beings. Then again, maybe not.

Dragoneyes was trapped. He was surrounded by these beasts. Koteph seemed to have disappeared, and the monsters were closing in.
Dragoneyes calmed himself. He could solve this problem. Created an iron barrier. The Touchkills began to tear it down. Did I mention Touchkills are strong?
Dragoneyes tried to force the Touchkills away with jets of water or stone, but the elements dropped to the ground upon touching the monsters. Dragoneyes only had one strategy remaining. To create something in such volume, such quantity, that it would kill the Touchkills upon expose. He knew just the thing.
The True Name of fire shone bright in his mind. The True Name of stone was solid in his thoughts. And with great effort, Dragoneyes drew those two names together. Stone and fire were one in his thoughts. Which mean that the Touchkills discovered, all to quickly, that each of them was standing on a small patch of dirt, atop a vast cavern of fire. The explosion was visible from the University. The large cloud, reminiscent of a mushroom, was bright enough that I could see it with my eyes closed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Attack

I might have been the first to hear about it. Cassinder told me while we were eating breakfast. "Koteph will come today."
I told Taerin, who told the Masters, who told their students.
It was a bit of a problem. We weren't expecting him so soon. Our defenses were far from complete. Dragoneyes strained himself, and was able to erect walls for the remainder of our perimeter. But the walls were purely material, without sorcerous backing. And the effort left Dragoneyes drained.
We began to notice strange creatures in the sky. I felt the air as it flowed over their wings. They were very much not birds.
A pillar of dust began to rise above the horizon. I heard someone say it was the dust kicked up by an army of monsters. Eventually, Koteph himself appeared. He climbed up our wall. I wasn't there for his big speech, but this is what I believe he said.
"Brothers of the Green Tower. I see that I was expected. I know not what lies you have been told, but I do not wish to harm you." Some bystanders say that his voice sounded sweet and melodic. It's not clear why Koteph would do this, since his looks were still somewhat... skeletal.
"I and my allies need only brief passage through your University. If this is granted, I swear you shall not be harmed. You have until sunset to agree to this request. If you fail to do so... I will destroy you."
It did not take until sunset. Very soon, Taerin approached Koteph's perch, Dragoneyes at his side. The Archmage amplified his voice. "We refuse your demand," he boomed. "And I believe that Dragoneyes would like to add a few words."
Sources differ on what happened next. Some say that Dragoneyes spoke a dozen Names, one after the other. Some say he alternated between them. Some say that he invoked several at once. I myself subscribe to the second theory.
At Dragoneyes' command, a storm of fire and water and ice and iron shot forth from the mage's hand, and slammed into Koteph. Koteph was knocked from the wall. There was a brief pause. Some of the more optimistic eyewitnesses say that they thought the battle was over. They must have been very disappointed when Koteph knocked down a section of the wall wide enough for ten unbathed men to walk through without smelling each other. But what came through was far worse than unbathed men. A horde of monsters came through.
Taerin fired stones at them, trying to slow the tide. The other sorcerers joined in. Soon, there was a full-on battle raging. For the first time in centuries, sorcerers fought giants. Taerin singlehandedly kept three at bay.
Meanwhile, Dragoneyes and Koteph were doing battle, using the most powerful magic ever wielded by men. Every now and then, one of them would miss a shot, and a beam of enchanted light or a ball of fire the size of an oxcart would crash into the ground, killing sorcerers and monsters alike. As I made my way to the growing battle, I saw the wounded fleeing. The physikers of the Green Tower would have many long nights ahead of them.

I realize many other people did important things that day. But it was a bit of a milestone for me. I ran into battle. I had never thought of myself as the sort of person who runs anywhere, let alone into battle. I was an academic, a scholar. I was never a warrior. Yet there I was, summoning great winds, sucking Sassiles into the sky where they would surely by annihilated by lighting or fire or the spells whizzing through the air. It occurred to me that I had never witnessed so much magic being done at once. At any moment, fifty sorcerers were casting a spell like their life depended on it. There were no fewer than eight mages, commanding six distinct elements (not counting Dragoneyes and his ocean of power.) The Green Tower had been like this before. Before the University, it was always in a state of conflict. And now, thanks to Koteph the Black, it was in a state of conflict once again.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Seer and the Mage

Dragoneyes was one of a handful of mages tasked with building up defenses for the towns of Allus and Pire. He spoke the Names of stone and wood and iron, and walls erupted from the ground. Working alongside him was Molano, the mage who had questioned Dragoneyes' integrity after he first arrived. He was tasked with enchanting the newly erected barriers, to make them still harder to pass. And, despite himself, Molano had to admit he was impressed. "I don't think I've ever seen a team of four mages work as well as you," he said.
"Have you ever seen a team of four mages that didn't immediately start bickering?"
Molano admitted that he hadn't.
Dragoneyes continued to order the elements to his bidding. He spoke the Names, not as Names, but as a music. A music never heard before by human ears. Dragoneyes found himself more and more in tune with his words. The power was his, and he was the power. Every bit of wood, of iron, of fire and water and stone and silver and glass, was his. And it was good.

The door opened, not because Dragoneyes touched it, but because he wanted it to be open. "This power," he said, "it grows stronger in me every day." He walked into the room, and sat beside Cassinder's bed, a stone chair forming beneath him.
"It does," Cassinder said. "And you fear it."
"I worry that I am changing. All of this knowledge, all of this power. I worry that I am gaining so much that I am losing what made me myself."
"You will," Cassinder said. "You were a man named Bashra. Now you are named Dragoneyes, and you are greater than any man."
"Am I? Am I greater? Does my power make me great, or does my knowledge make me a vassal to the forces of the world?" Dragoneyes' chair changed, first into a throne, then into a rickety edifice at the mercy of a passing draft. Dragoneyes seemed not to notice.
"Then what do you want," Cassinder asked. "To shirk your duties? To break with the order of the world, and to follow your own path?"
"I don't know what I want."
Cassinder put his arm around his shoulder. "It is a shame that we know so little."
Dragoneyes drew closer to her. His cloak was a brilliant red, contrasting with her white robes. "I'm sorry. I see the guilt you carry. You... so many terrible things you must have seen, but been unable to prevent. We both see, but when I dislike what I see..." Fire danced in the mage's fingers. "My complaints must seem hollow to you. Here I complain to be too fully in control of what I see, while you stand alone before a tempest visible only to yourself."
The mage stood. "I will wipe away the terrors from your vision. I will remove the darkness from your sight. I see my duty, and it is one I will carry out proudly. I will orchestrate the flow of the world, so that all may be well. I will turn Koteph to ash. I will end oppression in the Etoran Empire and bring eternal sunlight to the frozen north. I have the power, and I will eradicate the evils of this world, for you, for everyone."
Cassinder looked longingly at him, her heart filled with hope. But her expression hardened "You know that you cannot do any of those things."
"I know I can't do them yet," said the red-cloaked figure. "But the future is long and the world is wide, and I will find a way."

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I was sitting in a tavern in the city of Allus, a short walk from the Green Tower. Dragoneyes was next to me. Cassinder was next to him. I looked at Bashra's meal, expecting it to be his typical mutton. It was not. His third day in a row eating soup. "You don't eat meat," I realized. This was a new development.
"I don't want to see the tragic death of an animal every time I stare at my food."
"Truly, those eyes are a terrible curse," I joked.
"This soup isn't that bad."
A woman entered the room. Gracefully, beautifully. I didn't recognize her, but she looked familiar. "You should talk to her," Dragoneyes suggested.
"The woman you are eyeing like she's made out of history books. Don't deny it, I can see the true nature of things."
"Is she-"
"You and she would make a wonderful match," he said.
"You shouldn't tell him that," Cassinder said.
"I wasn't telling him the future. For all he knows, she'll be hit by a cart tomorrow morning. In fact, for all I know, she'll be hit by a cart tomorrow morning. All I'm telling him is her personality."
"Bad things power to those who know to much."
"No, knowledge is power. Power is good to have."
Their bickering faded out as I approached the woman. What should I say? I had never done this before. I could introduce myself. Or I could say that someone who could see into my soul recommended I talk to her. Perhaps I could mention my merits as Lord of the White Tower. I opted for none of these. "Heee. Uuuuuuh. Uuuuuh. Uh, hi." Frankly, still better than I expected.
"Are you okay."
"Umm. Uuuh. Yes. I'm, my name is Amniel."
"Arelin," she said, extending her hand. I shook it. A greeting used mostly in the Commonwealth, but a distinctly Irinian name.
"Wwwhat... are you a student here?"
"I am, although I've lived here all my life."
"The daughter of a Master."
"Yes. Taerin.?
"Taerin! Taerin of the Valley is your father?"
"He is."
"Huh. A friend of mine ran into Taerin's son recently. Your brother, I guess."
"Othin or Baelin?"
"Othin, I think."
"I see." There was a pause. "Did you have a purpose in coming up to me?"
"Umm, no. No. Goodbye."
I retreated. "That did not seem to go well," I speculated.
"Wow," Dragoneyes said. "A lover and a scholar. Any other brilliant insights."
"Why did you send me to talk to her?"
"Frankly, I thought it would work out better than it did. I see the true nature of things. The long arcs of people's lives, and the critical moments that change them forever. That doesn't mean I get to see your stammering before it actually happens.
"So now what?"
"I don't know. The winds of time blow people far and wide. You'll see her again. Perhaps you will do better next time."

I did see her again, of course. The winds of time blew us together. Also, I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to track her down.
I must have asked a dozen people before I found someone who knew where she would live. I hesitated before knocking on her door. This whole thing was a sort of invasion of her privacy. First Dragoneyes invaded her privacy by seeing into her soul, and now I was invading her privacy by chasing her across the Green Tower. But, if she was what Dragoneyes implied she was...
I rapped the door three times. She opened it.
"What brings you here," she said. I could tell that this was simply the politest possible pronunciation of 'get out of here'.
"A friend of mine, a person with an exceptional ability to gauge personalities, said that we would make excellent friends." That wasn't what he said. I believe the exact words were 'wonderful match.' But that seemed rather forward.
"Was your friend a mage with eyes like burning embers that give him power over all things?"
"Yes. One of those mages."
"Well, that is very interesting." She moved to close the door.
"Wait-" we should talk.
She sighed. I could tell this was not going well. "What do you wish to talk about?"
A question I had not seen coming. "Ummm..... What do you usually talk about?"
"My most recent conversation was about whether or not the University should be doing more to aid Etoran sorcerers."
"Interesting question. So, our current policy is that we will provide refuge to anyone who comes here and ask for it. Are you saying we should be more active."
"The Inquisition claims they killed six hundred sorcerers last year."
"What would you have us do? Try to find the sorcerers before the Inquisition does? Admittedly, we have a certain expertise in the subject that they don't, but the sheer manpower they have at their disposal..."
"Perhaps. Or we could simply topple the Emperor."
"Are you crazy? This is the University! We're not a political entity, much less a conquering nation."
"Who else can do it? Who else can stand up for sorcerers not powerful enough to stand up for themselves. Who else can ensure that every man and woman has the right to study and learn."
She made a compelling argument. But I was not compelled. "The Green Tower was a political entity long before it was a University. You know how that went. Some of the fields are still smoldering. If we tried to conquer the most powerful Empire in the world... even if we did succeed, the casualties on both sides would be tremendous."
"In the short term. But in the long term, we would bring the benefits of magic back to a third of world's people."
"That is a decent point."
"I do make them occasionally. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to."
"You don't want to talk more?"
"I do not."
"You may have heard that a fellow named Koteph is going to try to exterminate every living being. I was thinking I might do my job trying to stop him."
"That's... a good thing to do."
Arelin closed the door.
Not the best conversation. But compared to my other attempts to introduce myself to strangers, I called it a moderate success.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Potioners of the Green Tower

Dran was supposed to report to a man named Lencius. A Master of Potions. Dran hadn't learned to navigate the entire Tower, but he found Lencius' chambers without much difficulty. He was filled with no small anticipation when he entered. He been in his father's workshop, of course. But this, the domain of a renowned potioner, situated in the greatest center of magic the world had ever known. He beheld the bubbling beakers, the racks of ingredients, the cauldrons, the fumes, the books Dran had never even heard of. He also beheld the unfriendly green-robed sorcerer he had met in the stacks. Dran wondered whether this individual was Lencius. He seemed to young to be a Master. Dran hoped the other sorcerer didn't remember their previous encounter. He hoped that he was just an interloper, and that he actually worked in another part of the Tower.
"Dranarius Caesorium," came a voice from behind him. "Brewer of potions, and blocker of doorways."
Dran stumbled into the room, and a green-robed sorcerers followed him. This one was old, wizened almost. "Lencius, I presume?"
"You presume correctly. My assistant here is Marius Stanium."
Marius seemed to be in shock. "D-did you just say Caesorium?"
"Yes. Young Dran here is the son off Phorius Caesorium. I suppose that would make the current Emperor his cousin."
Marius couldn't have looked more shocked if Takenor himself had casually walked into the room. To him, it wasn't much different. A member off a half-forgotten race, an evil which his parents had warned him about but which he had never believe could harm him. He had only ever read about Caesoriums in books. And now, one was in a room with him, blocking his Master from getting in.
"Now, we three Etorans could spend the next hour talking about our family connections. But I would prefer if we actually brewed some potions. Marius, care to tell Dran what we are doing?"
"W- We... We've mostly been focused on solvents, before the war, I mean. Lencius had the idea that we could poor solvents on the invaders, but that would require scaling up a lot, so we've been looking over potion books trying to find something we can make in bulk but which is still dangerous enough that we can use against the people who are-"
"Interesting idea," Dran said. "Liquid or gaseous?"
"Why? A gas would spread much more quickly. Also, we have some people who know the True Name of air, so that could be helpful."
Lencius looked thoughtful for a second. "I suppose we could use the fumes from Allifer's reagent."
"We would probably want to tweak the mixture. Nightwater slows the process of vaporization, so we might want to take that out."
Lencius was impressed. "Very well. If can show that you can make your fumes in high enough concentrations to kill monsters from a distance..."
"I'll get to work," Dran said.

Marius was curious about this new sorcerer from the edge of the world. He had questioned Lencius. He had ideas of his own. And those idea... were good.  Marius assumed it was beginners luck. Dran might be bright, he might even be brighter than Marius. But he was young. He was inexperienced. He was out of his depth.
The subsequent days and weeks revealed that Dranarius was not the one out of his depth.
He was brilliant. He devoured one book after another, scribbling ideas in the margins. He would go up to Marius with his clever new recipe, excitedly explaining how this stabilizer would react with that charm and that energy source. he might as well have been speaking Darmashian for all Marius understood.
Everything Dran tried worked. And when it didn't work, it didn't work for a profound reason, and even Lencius would be puzzled, until Dran found his error, and laughed at the simplicity of it all.
Marius knew he wasn't the best. Only a fool would go to the Green Tower expecting to be the best. But now, he was the worst. 
Dran was the best. He was witty. He was handsome. He was royal. How could Marius compete?
Marius lay in bed, his mind filled with jealousy. His parents had been expelled from the Empire to study magic. They had worked hard to amass enough money to pay his tuition. And now it was all a waste.
Marius tried to be productive. He tried to learn from Dran. He tried to benefit from the wisdom of this wonderchild interloper. But, as he so often did, Marius failed.