Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Slaves in the Mine

The night passed, as nights are wont to do. The sun rose, the milksellers sold their milk, the beersellers sold their beer, and Dragoneyes woke up, his clothes still wet from the previous night's storm. "Did you know that rainwater is actually water from streams, that turns into gas and enters the sky?"
"No, I didn't." It seemed slightly implausible, but I decided not to argue with him.
"Sorry. You stare at rain long enough, you start to see things." He stood up. He closed his eyes for an instant. When he opened them, his clothes were dry and clean. "By the way, I have decided not be become a herbologist when I grow up. I must have scoured the whole forest without finding anything useful."
At this point, Quadi joined the conversation. "Most disinfectants need to be imported. Usually from the Commonwealth."
"I wish I had known that."
"How did Quadi know that," I asked. "I still don't understand how a slave imported from the Etoran Empire became an expert in medicine."
"To avoid working in the mines," Quadi explained. "When I first came here, I worked in the salt mines."
Well, that was a partial explanation. But it explained the 'why' more than the 'how'.
Dragoneyes anticipated my question. And he anticipated Quadi's answer. He spoke quickly. "As you can imagine, the slaves were frequently sick. They were left to die. But when one of them was pregnant, the mine owners would usually call a midwife of some sort. The prospect of another worker in a few years was enough to wring a few pennies from their hearts. Quadi did his best to observe these visits. He asked questions. In time, he began to prescribe remedies for some of the myriad infections that were rampant among the slaves of this city. He grewed skilled. Lack of formal training was made up for by copious experience. When the mines changed ownership, Quadi was sold to the local apothecary."
Dragoneyes took in what he had said. "That is horrible."
Quadi didn't say anything.
"Terrible. They treat you like animals." The mage began to pace around the room. "What, fifty, a hundred of you? And none of you can expect to live past what for us is middle age. You are fed gruel, you are given no rest, no respite." Flames danced around his fingers. "How is this allowed to happen?"
Quadi backed away from Dragoneyes. He glanced towards the door. He didn't fully understand what was going on, but he knew something about him was angering a powerful sorcerer.
He decided to leave.

Dran and I found that we agreed on something. That Dragoneyes was being irrational. "Listen," I said, as he stormed down the streets of Salous, "this could take days. Doing it properly would probably take years."
"Yeah. Amniel snaps at me every time I take a piss. Imagine how he must be feeling now that you're taking a stroll down the town square in order to pay a visit to some salt mines."
"Thank you, Dran."
Dragoneyes didn't stop. If anything. He sped up. Dran, Cassinder and I struggled to keep up. "You two will soon agree with me. Once we reach the mines. When you see how they are forced to live."
"Alright," I said, trying to reason with him. "What do you plan to do."
"I can pull gold out of the air. I'm sure we can reach some arrangement."
"Gold cannot buy everything," Cassinder cautioned.
"Besides," I added, "that would need to be a significant amount of gold. Thousands of coins, most likely. You would essentially need to buy the mines."
"I could do it."
"Perhaps," Dran said. "But then what. Where would they go? Who would feed them?"
"I'm trying to end slavery. Why are you focusing on this logistical trivia?" I noticed Dragoneyes was transforming. Making himself more formidable. His eyes were glowing an eerie orange. On his left hand were rings of fire, water, and stone. In his right was a staff. Not an oaken staff of a student of the Green Tower, but a staff of what looked to be glowing hot iron. I understood that he could hold it without burning his hand. He knew the metal's True Name, and it couldn't hurt him. I was more curious about what would happen if someone else brushed against it. Finally, I noticed that Dragoneyes was wearing not two, not three, but four swords around his belt. Presumably in case he needed to duel four people at once after growing two more hands.
Dragoneyes concentrated as we approached the mines. As the stench of salt grew in the air, bags materialized in his hands. I began to hear the clinking of what I assumed was gold coins.
Dragoneyes reached the entrance to the mine. Two guards stood in front of it. Presumably to stop any laborers who attempted an escape.
They could tell that Dragoneyes was not the sort of person you wanted entering your mine. But they could also tell that Dragoneyes was not the sort of person you wanted to block from entering your mine. They weren't sure whether it would be worse to try to stop this clearly magical man or not. Fortunately he stopped on his own. He stood there, with maybe seven or eight people looking on. "I'm here to buy slaves," he shouted, as the gold erupted from his sacks. "I will pay whatever price is necessary."

It took a surprisingly small amount of time for the mine's owners to assemble. There were three of them. Alic. He came from an old Irinian family. His principal interest was the acquisition of money at the expense of human dignity. Loiran. An Etoran. His principal interest was the acquisition of money at the expense of human dignity. And Ror. He hailed from the Commonwealth. His principal interests were the acquisition of money at the expense of human dignity and drinking.
Alic began the conversation. "I understand you want to buy some labor." He knew to fear this strange sorcerer. But he was not above making a deal with a demon if the demon paid upfront.
"I want to buy all the labor you have. For this, I can offer you seven thousand gold pieces."
The three misers took a moment to consider. Before they could make their decision, Cassinder ran up to the negotiating mage. Their conversation didn't make any sense to me at the time, but later I got them to explain it to me. It referenced things that only they could see.
"They will sell for more," the said. She meant that the three owners would sell their slaves for more than Dragoneyes offered.
"I know."
"But they will also buy." She meant that they would simply use the money to buy more forced labor for their living hell. In fact, slavers would come to town in about a week. And as soon of news of the demand began to spread, even more would arise. The owners of the mine would simply start again.
Dragoneyes looked at them. "Even if I threaten." He could threaten kill the three of them. To grind their bones and boil their blood. He could strike fear into their hearts. He could force them to agree never to trade in human flesh again. But eventually, he would have to leave, and they would revert to their old ways. There was a greed in their hearts that could not be denied.
"Even if you kill." She meant that even if Dragoneyes killed the three of them, the mine would pass into new hands, and those knew hands would be just as cruel as the old ones.
"So what to do?"
"What to do?"

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Single Slave

It began to drizzle. It began to rain. It began to pour. Dragoneyes didn't let a little thing like that stop him. The True Name of cloth made his clothes impervious. The True Name of water kept him dry altogether. "Is that the best you've got," he screamed into the sky.
Dragoneyes wasn't sure if it was just a coincidence, or if the sky was responding to his challenge. The words of mages have power, and Dragoneyes was a mage like no other.
Regardless, the sky crackled. Lighting arced, and obliterated a tree.
Dragoneyes thought for a moment. He had no defense against lightning. The True Name of fire wouldn't block it. Neither would his spells of protection. Those just weren't powerful enough.
Dragoneyes considered the danger. He considered heading back to see if maybe Amniel and Dran had sorted things out. But that would be cowardice. Cassinder's life might be in danger, and Dragoneyes was afraid of a little lightning?

Meanwhile, Cassinder was fine. Dragoneyes was wasting his time. All that he wanted had already been accomplished by an apothecary's slave. If he had known that, he wouldn't be risking his life in the pouring rain. Rather unfortunate for him.
The apothecary's slave in question, whose name was Quadi, by the way, was filled with fear. He hadn't realized that he had fallen in with powerful sorcerers. Although he had lived in Salous for decades, he had been born in Old Etor. Quadi had been fortunate enough to leave before the city's destruction. But he knew that it was a plot by evil sorcerers to bring down the empire.
He heard then discussing the ingredients of their latest potion. Were they going to destroy Salous as well?
Quadi didn't know what to do. He didn't want them to destroy his adopted city.
He tried to be reasonable. He knew that there were a lot of cities, and a lot of sorcerers, and the sorcerers had only destroyed their city once. But Quadi still felt compelled to act. And, since every moment he spent away from the apothecary increased his chance of a beating, he should act sooner rather than later.
He gave some thought to which sorcerer to confront. He decided on the Irinian. He seemed to be the gentler of the two.
Quadi walked up yo the white robed sorcerer. He seemed to be crouched very a diagram of some sort. It didn't look nefarious.
"My name is Amniel. You're... Quadi, right? I really should know, seeing as you saved my sister."
"Are you going to destroy this city?"
I stiffled laughter. "No. For a great many reasons. First of all, even the original destruction of Old Etor was purely unintentional. A group of sorcerers trying to forge stronger connections between our world and the world of spirits. Second, I don't have anything close to the raw power needed to accomplish such a thing.  It took all the great sorcerers of the most important city in the world to bring about that catastrophe. Regardless, that sort of innovation has never appealed to me. I prefer a more incremental type of magical research."
Quadi didn't seem entirely satisfied. "What are you doing?"
I was writing a letter to Dragoneyes. I was pumping it with energy. Once it reached a certain critical threshold, Dragoneyes would see it. It had to do with the fact that we had just recently spoken, and also his geographic proximity. It was often called the Etoran letter spell, after the sorcerers of Old Etor who used it to transfer lengthy memos across the city. "Trying to contact a friend of mine. Tell him that you saved a Cassinder."
"Which friend?"
"A mage named Bashra Dragoneyes."
"Will he destroy the city?"
I realized he might actually have the power to raze a place like Salous. And he was not the incremental research type. I decided not to answer.
Quadi, judging he had done his part, decided to leave. "I must return now. I have stayed away from my master for too long as it is."
I stared at him. "No you don't. I'll pay for your freedom."
"I sort of feel obligated to, seeing how you helped Cassinder."
"What will I do?"
I hadn't really thought about it. "You seem to be very skilled in the art of medicine. I imagine that could become a career."
It was at this moment that Dragoneyes burst through the door, dripping wet. For someone who knew the True Name of water, he seemed to be very wet. "I got your message."
"I didn't send it yet."
"I know. But I felt you writing it. Cassinder is alright?"
Dragoneyes collapsed.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Dran and I were arguing. "We are on an important mission," I said. "Time is of the essence. There is a reasonable chance that every living person will die because we were delayed. Did you even think of that?"
"Sorry," he said. "Next time, I'll just do it in my pants."
"That is a possibility. Or, you could do it before we get moving, just like everyone else."
"Sorry. I don't control when I have to pee."
"That's an interesting idea," Dragoneyes interjected. "Perhaps I should search for the True Name of urine."
"You aren't helping," I said.
"Don't be so irritable, Amniel. I was actually partly serious. I'll have to look into it next time I have to go."
"You know the True Names of fire and stone. And you seriously want to add urine to your repertoire?"
I don't think he heard me. "It might be fairly difficult actually. Most of what comes out of the human body is complicated."
That brought me back to the ultimate source of my irritation. One of Cassinder's wounds had become infected. I had tried a few folk cures, but, like many folk cures, they proved to be entirely ineffective. Dran's vast knowledge of potionry was little help. We had no ingredients on us.
So, we forged ahead. The nearest city was Salous. It was a border town, with a large Etoran population. Maybe it had a mine? Or was it a trade city? I was always getting it confused with Boloan, across the border.
As we approached the city walls, Dragoneyes seemed pensive for a moment. He stopped, said a word, and the solid parted beneath him, making a small hole. He reached in and pulled out a root. Dragoneyes stared at this small bit of plant material for several seconds. Then, he threw it away. "Useless."
Dran scoffed. "Really? How could a random root picked up at the side of the road be useless?"
"What were you hoping for," I asked.
"I saw that it had medicinal properties. I thought it might help stop your sister's arm from swelling. No such luck."
"Hopefully the town will have an apothecary, or a physiker."
"Unlikely," Dran said. "Half the citizens are Etorans. My people are characterized by two things. Their hatred of sorcery, and their love of imposing their will on others. They would have run any physikers our of town."
"You three go and check," Dragoneyes said. "And, at the very least, find her a decent bed. I will see if I can rustle up some plants with useful properties."
So Dragoneyes had become an instant expert in herbology. Interesting. I considered what that meant. It took people years, decades to master the subject. He had mastered it without even trying.
Well, not necessarily master. But, still.

Dragoneyes thought about the legends he had heard. About the Shapers of the World. Of the elves. He had heard that elves could speak with trees. That they would ask the wind for news of goings-on in distant lands. Dragoneyes decided to try it. He walked up to a tree, the True Name of wood fresh in his mind. Dragoneyes struck what he suspected was a dashing and dramatic pose. "Speak," he ordered.
Nothing happened.
"I am Bashra Dragoneyes. I know the Names of stone, fire, and everything in between. I have spoken with spirits, walked between worlds, and done battle with dragons. Speak!"
Nothing happened.
Dragoneyes decided that the tree just wasn't impressed with his credentials. He started to make things up. "I have been the downfall of kings, and the savior of temples. I have saved a thousand virgin princesses. I slept with over eight hundred of them. I knew the Shapers of the World, and they knew me. Speak!"
There was a slight rustle in the wind. It quickly died down.
Dragoneyes felt foolish. Here he was, trying to talk to a stack of wood, while Cassinder was lying in pain somewhere. He ran through forests and clearing, eyes darting. Trying to find something that could help her.
He found lots of things that wouldn't help her. He found shrubs that he thought could ease stomach trouble. A type of bark that could increase fertility. A weed that, when boiled properly, could cure some types of cold. He also found a lot of totally useless grass.

At the same time, Dran was busy getting into an argument with an apprentice apothecary. "Listen. I have no trouble believing that your master isn't here. I have two eyes that do an excellent job confirming that. And I also have no trouble believing you don't know where your master keeps his herbs. What I want to know is when he will be back. Sick people are often very impatient individuals when it comes to receiving help."
"All I know is that he isn't here. Probably out getting drunk. My job is to mind the shop and supervise the slaves."
"Oh, well, that helps me." Dran thought for a second. "Actually, it does. I'll talk to the slaves. They'll have to be more helpful than you."
He brushed the apprentice aside, approaching a man squatting in the back.
"Do you know where your master is?"
"No, sir."
"Do you know when he will come back?"
"No, sir."
"Well, then a mostly innocent girl will have her arm rot off."
"Green rot, blue rot, or white rot."
Dran had never actually spoken to a slave before. But he was raised by two Etorans, which meant he had been hearing Etoran stories since before he could walk. He had been immersed in the best facsimile of Etoran culture they could create. So he knew that slaves did not ask questions.
The slave continued. "If it is blue, we can fix it with what's in this pot. White, we would have to go do some searching. Green, we would need to call the local sorcerer."
"It is white. When did you become such an expert in the field of arm rot?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Behind Enemy Lines

Tlon Formchanger cruised through the sky. He flapped his wings as he flew above one of Koteph's camps.
For what must have been months, monsters from the four corners of the world had been congregating around the Black Tower. Tlon had only been observing for a few days, but he guessed they numbered in the thousands, with dozens more arriving every day. Add that to the rate at which Koteph created new palemen, and you got quite a large force.
The monsters were, of course, a very diverse group. But there seemed to be three main types. There were the Giants. Twice as tall as a man. Ten times as strong. They were organized, under the leadership of King Gurgal Stonecrusher.
There were the Sassiles. Venomous, almost reptilian beings. Their legs had claws that could kill a man with a graze, and their blood was acidic enough to dissolve lead (although they might suffer from heavy metal poisoning afterwards). They were inherently pack animals, and arrived in large groups.
The last group was something Tlon hadn't seen for a very long time. Stoneflows. Beings of liquid rock. They could merge together and separate at will. They didn't need to breath (or if they did, they could do it just as well in air, water, or under the ground). They had no speech, as far as Tlon knew, yet they seemed to always work in perfect unison.
In addition, there was a flock of Touchkillers. Tlon had almost taken them for owls, until he saw one of them get into a dispute with a Giant. It had just taken one tap to bring the Giant down.
There was an individual named Lunul, who was so fearsome even Koteph respected him. Tlon didn't know what Lunul was. Tlon had never caught a glimpse of him. Nobody had ever caught a glimpse of him. But, one night, he had heard screaming from the Sassiles. The next day, there had been a hole in the ground ten paces across. Tlon overheard the giants blaming Lunul. Saying that he had gotten hungry.

Lunul wasn't the only one worrying about food. Koteph was spending far too much of his time thinking about the logistics of feeding his troops.
Giants required an incredible amount of feed. And the Sassiles weren't light eaters. The local population of deer and rabbits was now depleted. He was sending out foraging missions to nearby woodlands. He was considering launching attacks on farmland. Either that or start eating the palemen.
Part of Koteph thought that it was time to start marching. True, every day that went by was another spirit he could control, another level added to the depths of his Shadely power. But every day that went by was also another Name that Dragoneyes would learn. Another layer of defenses the sorcerers of the Green Tower could put up. And another day he would have to feed this army of mouths.

The Giants, too, were concerned with the issue of food. Gurgal was holding a meeting so that the Giants could together decide what to do. Which meant that everyone else would complain about the problem for a while, and then Gurgal what do whatever he pleased, with the rest of the Giants following along.
One Giant was especially vocal in the day's complaining. "It's the Sassile's fault. They go, volunteer to do the hunting, and what happens when they bring food back? It's poison. Three good Giants died because of them." Durd's voice was very loud. Among Giants, that made him a master of rhetoric. He was also tall. This meant that he was a natural leader. Gurgal had never heard of his tribe in the Land of the Giants, but presumably, he had had followers there, and was using the turmoil of war to seek advancement. "Here we are, leaving our homes in order to save Ochekol'kan, and what happens to us? We're forced to play second string to a race of lizards."
"I'm hungry."
"So am I."
"I'm hungry too."
"Enough," Gurgal said. "I didn't hold this meeting to listen to your pathetic whining." Debatable. "I held it because I have a solution. I will speak to Koteph. He will begin a march to more bounteous territory, with plenty of human settlements to raid."
"And what if he says 'no'?"
"You heard me," Durd said. "What if Koteph doesn't do what you ask. What if he decides that as long as his precious Sassiles have food, we can stay right here?"
Gurgal knew what to do when challenged. Threaten violence. "Then we'll see if Sassiles are good to eat." This was empty rhetoric. Sassiles were poisonous.

The Sassiles, too were growing resentful. Whisperings were forming in their camp. "Did you hear about the Giantsss latesst missssdeed? They have sssslain three of our young."
"Thatssss terrible. Why would sssssomeone do ssssuch a thing?"
"Nobody can ssssay. Ssssome ssussspect it was for ssssport. Othersss sssssupossse that it wasss an attempt to deny usss the extra rationssss."
"They kill our young and exssspect to take our feed? We should resssieve recompensssse from them."
"Indeed. Perhapssss it should be usss who learn the tasssste of Giantsss flesh."
"Mossst likely, it tassstesss of greed and sssstupidity."
In case you couldn't tell, tensions were on the rise.