Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Tangled Web: Part I

After telling his story, Dragoneyes went to forge some weapons before going to sleep. Frankly, it was somewhat bizarre. It was almost an obsession. He claimed it was necessary practice.
Afterwards, we returned to the road. We were approaching the University. This was good, because it meant that we could soon begin to rally the forces against Koteph. But it was bad, because it meant that we were crossing a dangerous mountain range.
"You know," Dran said, "I'm pretty sure that this is where Scipius and his legion disappeared."
"Are you talking about the Etoran general," I asked.
"No, the traveling circus performer," Dran sneered.
"I understand that the Etoran army is essentially a traveling circus," I retorted, "but Scipius might not appreciate that description."
"Make fun of the Etorans all you want. They are a backwards people who exiled my father because they feared him. I feel no kinship with them."
We continued squabbling for hours. Suddenly, with no warning, Dragoneyes stopped. "What's the holdup," I asked.
Dragoneyes gestured to a patch of dirt colored slightly differently from the surrounding dirt. He muttered the True Name of stone, and that section of the ground was shifted to the side. "I'm going to have to learn the True Name of soil soon. That trick wouldn't work if we weren't in such rocky terrain."
The four of us gathered around the hole Dragoneyes had created. It was maybe two stories deep. It seemed that he had uncovered part of a tunnel. I used to True Name of air to glide to the bottom. Dragoneyes created stairs of stone. He created a ball of flame for illumination. We looked around us.
The cave was covered in cobwebs. From the ceiling to the floor. I noticed what seemed to be mummified humans dotting the walls. I felt the movement of the air. "They aren't breathing."
"They are alive," Dragoneyes said.
"We should get moving," Dran interjected. "This is very interesting and all, but we do need to save the world."
"There are hundreds of people here," Dragoneyes said. "No, thousands. These caves are centuries old, and the monsters inside have trapped travelers as long as there have been people navigating these mountains. Like spiders... or ants... bigger, though..." He addressed me and Dran. "You two, stop squabbling and start taking these people to safety. I am going to track down the creatures responsible." With that, he wondered off into the dark.

"Well, any ideas how to lift hundreds or thousands of people out of these tunnels?" I knew I didn't have any.
"I suppose we could just carry them."
I was reluctant. Physical labor was never an interest of mine. "My winds couldn't carry the bodies. I think we would need to use sorcery."
"My father could have made men out of ice. Strong, untiring men. But I never learned that."
"We probably have an hour or so before Dragoneyes comes back. Not enough time to make a significant spell." Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Cassinder running her fingers over the webbing.
"I have an idea. We revive five or six of these guys. We let them revive the rest."
That seemed unheroic. But did we really have time to excavate the whole cavern by ourselves?
Dran pulled out a knife. I found a sharp rock. We each cut cocooned men and women off of the walls of the cave. With much effort, we lugged them up to the surface. "Should we start untangling them," I asked?
"I suppose so," Dran said.
I felt an obligation to go back into the cave and get more people. I told Dran. "I see your point," he said. "I'll join you."
Neither of us noticed Cassinder staying behind.

By the time we came back to the surface with two more bodies, Cassinder had untangled a young man. "Who are you," I asked, in Irinian.
"Who are you," he asked, in Etoran.
I switched languages. "I am Amniel of the White Tower. Who are you?"
"I am Lius Quirus. I am Lieutenant in the glorious army of Etor."
I looked at Dran. I spoke quickly, in Irinian "Does that sound like normal Etoran to you?"
"No, it sounds archaic. Like some of the old legal articles my father made me read. The History of the Republic and such."
I turned to Lius. "What year is it?"
"The four-hundred-sixteenth year of the Republic."
Dran and I looked at each other. That republic had become an empire almost three centuries ago.
A thought struck me. "Are you... a member of Scipius' legion?"
"Do you know that you were trapped underground?"
"Well, you were trapped for almost six centuries."
"I apologize. I have trouble understanding your speech. You say I was underground for six hundred years?"
"I do."
Lius thought about this. "So, the Republic..."
"An Empire," Dran said. "My family has been sitting on the throne about a century and a half."
"The people I knew..."
"If they weren't trapped with you, they are probably dead."
"How many do you think that would be," I asked. "Did the monsters kill most of your men in the struggle?"
"What struggle?"
"When they dragged you into their tunnels."
"Oh," he said. "There was no struggle. They make you want to go in. Then, they make you tired. Then, when you go to sleep, they wrap you up."
Dran and I exchanged glances. "Dragoneyes..."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Emperor of Etor

"Anaxus III Caesorium, Emperor and Lord, our Protector, has spoken," the man bellowed. He stood in a vast hall, surrounded by men and women, of all colors and nationalities. Perhaps that is an overstatement. While all colors and nationalities were represented in such a crowd, they were primarily light- and copper-skinned Etorans.
Near the center of the hall was Sallustius of Varalens. A year ago, he had been a powerful general, battling Irinian brigands in the West. Half a year ago, he had declared himself Emperor, and made his hometown the new capital. Things began going downhill for the upstart once word of his succession reached New Etor. He had mustered a few victories, suffered several defeats, sown dissent in Anaxus' ranks, and killed rivals within his own. Now, he was kneeling on the ground in Anaxus' throne room, weeping and begging for mercy.
Anaxus felt no temptation to offer mercy. This man had torn at the fabric of the Etoran empire. He had betrayed his nation and killed his former comrades. And now he was going to lose his genitalia and his head.
It seemed that there were threats to the Empire in every direction. In the south, the warlords of the Little Lands were making constant incursions into Etoran territory. In the west, Irin grew increasingly aggressive. In the north, there were attacks from giants. In the east, the Norgad raiders were growing ever more aggressive. Meanwhile, a new generation of sorcerers was being born, some taking up occupancy in the Violet Tower. A Tower that Anaxus II claimed he had burned to the ground during the wars of reunification. The inquisition killed most of these budding students of evil, but it seemed every week another found refuge at the University. Trouble had been brewing for half a century. And it was up to the current Emperor, Anaxus III Caesorium, to end this trouble, and restore the Etoran Empire to its full greatness.
Anaxus stood before his courtiers. He knew that some among them were considering revolts of their own. He needed to make sure that every single one of them knew the consequences of rebellion.
"Look at him," the Emperor said. It was a carefully calculated volume. It would echo throughout his chamber, yet still sound like a whisper. "Look how he has been brought low by the empire. Many have been brought low before us. My own father, Anaxus II, exiled my traitorous uncle Phorius." Of course, he had made Phorius his lieutenant before then
 Phorius had saved his life during the Wars of Reunification. But, ultimately, Phorius was a sorcerer, and that made him a traitor. "Like my father before me, and his father before him, I have no tolerance for traitors. I have no tolerance for bandits in the Little Lands who presume to raid our borders. I have no tolerance for Irinian spies, or demon sorcerers. All enemies of the crown and the gods will be vanquished. The Etoran Emperor shall reign eternal!"
Anaxus had done his governing for the day. He was free. Unfortunately, he didn't have much to do.
It was always good to circulate among the nobles. Doing favors, sniffing out dissent, making allies. But after the speech he had made, everyone would be on guard. There would be no dissent to sniff out, and nobody would dare ask him for a favor.
Anaxus had no real companions. His wife, Glaravere, was the eldest sister of the King of Irin. He had first met her on their wedding day. Since then, he had done his best to avoid her.
He had children, but none were legitimate. And it wouldn't be fitting for the most powerful ruler in the world to take a hand in the rearing of a bastard child. Even if it was beginning to look like one of those bastard children might succeed him.
Anaxus had once had friends. Back when he was young, when his younger brothers called him Nax and they played war games and seduced women together. Now, his brothers were dead. Two had died in battle. Anaxus had had the other three executed.
The Emperor had tried to cultivate hobbies. He had been a student of history, but he had found the events tame compared to his own life. He had tried to collect a library, like his ancestor Lescius. But a man steeped in censorship cannot in good conscious preserve books. He had tried to become a sportsman, but rulers are not suited for competitive sport. For instance, he could never be allowed to lose.
So Anaxus sat alone, in a golden chair, in a marble hall, in an ornate building, in the most important city in the most powerful nation in history. He had guards on either side of him. He didn't pay close attention to his guards. Yes, his great-grandfather had been murdered by treacherous security, but Anaxus had protections in place. There were watchers, and people to watch the watchers. Those people, unbeknownst to them where also watched, and those watchers reported directly to the Emperor.
These guards were skilled. Many had been trained from birth. Trained separately, so as to avoid too much camaraderie. They were supposed to be loyal to the Emperor, not each other.
The life of an emperor was a solitary one. But it still had its luxuries. He ordered a bath to be drawn. The finest Etoran engineering allowed for water to be stored right above the bathhouse, and for the bath itself to be heated by wood fires. Anaxus inhaled the scent of burning rosewood as he sat alone in his private sea. Yes, there were still things to be enjoyed in life. Anaxus was woken from his reverie by a monstrous cloaked demon screaming at him and threatening to kill him.
"I am Terix," it spat. The creature stood at the edge of the pool, It looked vaguely human. It appeared to be covered in bandages, save for its eyes, mouth, and fingertips.
The Imperial Guard rushed to defend their master from this strange creature. Terix carried no weapon, yet, somehow, they all ended up dead soon after they reached him. "I serve Koteph, the mage of the Black Tower."
"Who?" Anaxus had heard of the Black Tower. He had even heard a rumor that his uncle Phorius had lived there.
"My master is the mightiest sorcerer in the world. He seeks to march upon our mutual enemies, the University."
"You invade my home, kill my guards, and talk about mutual enemies. Leave this place!"
"You fool," Terix seemed to sneer. "I could kill you just as easily. And I will, unless you prove yourself useful."
"Do you want money?"
"Do I want money? I am a Touchkill, a monster birthed by the great Ochekol'kan. Both Koteph and I are shades. We have no need of your money."
"Then what?"
"We want your army. You will join forces with Koteph's force, and we will take the Green Tower."
Anaxus considered his options. He was alone with this monster, who, it seemed, could kill men by touching them. It seemed best to play along. "Very well. Together, we shall plunder the Green Tower."
"Yes," Terix said. "Plunder."
Anaxus began to plan the Etoran Empire's next campaign. Now that the traitor Sallustius had been vanquished, it was time for a new war. The Empire would topple the University. A foolish northern sorcerer had even offered his aid. Anaxus was confident he could spin this situation to his advantage. Destroy the University, kill this Koteph, and show everyone that sorcerers always lost against the Emperor of Etor.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Night of Four Stories: Part IV

"You wanted to know how I got these eyes. How I came to see things the way dragons do. How I gained their knowledge and power."
"You are curious how I acquired them. Did I outwit a dragon? Overpower it? Did I win these eyes in a game of chance? No."
"Before I acquired these eyes, I was a slave of Koteph. I was a shade. He sent me to wander the myriad worldlets that bordered our own. Many of those worlds had last been visited by elves, or dragons, or the Shapers themselves. Koteph hoped that I might find some great power for him. I did find a great power, of course, but it didn't end up helping him."
"During one of my journeys, I was accosted by a herd of horsemen."
"A heard of what," I asked.
"Horsemen. Their upper bodies were those of men, and their lower bodies were those of horses. I expect that they were made by a Shaper. Possibly as an alternative to men. But that is just speculation."
"I was walking towards a large tree. It reached the ceiling of this little world, and I thought it might hide something of interest. The horsemen were all galloping the other way. They seemed to be running from something."
"Now, common sense says that if a couple dozen horsemen are all going the same way, running from something, perhaps you should join them, if you value your life. But I didn't value my life. I wanted to find something for Koteph. So I ran towards the tree. And came face to face with a titanic dragon."
"The dragon saw the spirit possessing me. It invoked the spirit's True Name, freeing me. It spoke to me in the True Speech, which I somehow understood."
'A lesser elf. Is that what they got up to after I left? How peculiar.'
I, of course, didn't speak the True Speech. 'The term is human. I am a human. I know the True Name of fire, and my sorcery can-'
'You are pathetic. Not even an elf. Sorcery? A poor excuse for magic.'
"The dragon was not very impressed. But he had never seen a human before. He had been wandering minor worldlets since before we had existed. He decided that I would tell him all the news he had missed. I told him how his creator, Takenor, had been imprisoned. The man in the moon. The dragon wasn't happy about that. I told him how elves didn't exist anymore, and men had been made to replace them. I told him that the Shapers had disappeared millennia ago, and nobody knew why. I told him that men had cities and magic that rivaled the elves at their greatest. He laughed, and told me not to flatter myself."
"He kept me there for several weeks. He let me sleep, and hunt. I used the True Name of fire to cook my food. I noticed the fire came up easier. He said that it was because of another dragon, a few worlds away, who was dying. Apparently, the two dragons had come into conflict, and my dragon had been the victor. The loser was still alive, but his power was depleted and his injuries would soon kill him. His mighty throes were spreading flames throughout the worlds. Only a few of the great beasts were left, apparently."
"We talked more. I told him stories of great heroes. I told him about the ancient rivalries between the Violet and Yellow Towers, or the Black and White ones."
Dran and I shot each other glances.
"I told him about Koteph. How the shade was gaining power in the north. I did not yet know his plan, but I suspected he wanted to conquer the world. Eventually, the great dragon tired of me. He flew off, and disappeared to another world. I never saw him again."
"But, as you have likely surmised, the story does not end there. I was alone in a distant world. I only half remembered the spells I had used to get there. For the first time in months, I was free of Koteph's influence. I knew that the shade was growing more powerful by the day, and he threatened the world. I thought about the power that had freed me. The dragon. And it occurred to me that for the first time in all my wandering, I had met something mighty enough to challenge Koteph. I knew that no dragon would ever return to our world to do battle with a shade. But I did have an idea."
"After days of experimentation, I reconstructed the spells too travel between the worlds. I used the True Name of fire, and divined the location of the dying dragon. I walked between the worlds, drawing closer to it. Eventually, I landed there. A world on fire. It is fortunate my power protected me, because everything else was turned to ash. I approached the dying dragon. It looked at me with its orange eyes. It knew what I was planning to do. It couldn't stop me. I got to work."
"I returned to Koteph. Impressed him with my power as I gained information. I used these eyes to see his creations, to gauge his strength. I used my eyes for good."
"That's why I took this power. Because I needed it. I pried it out of a dragon's skull to protect the world. And I will always protect the world."     

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Night of Four Stories: Part III

It was Cassinder's turn to tell a story. I admit, I was more than a little curious to hear what she would say.
She stood, and spoke in short sentences. "Once there was a seer. His name was Teres. He lived in a little house near a big ocean. He liked to stare at the ocean, watching the waves. One day, another man came to join him. His name was Aculion. Aculion used to be a student at the University, but he left. He was a mage. He knew about water."
I had never heard this story before. And I had done extensive research into seers. This could mean that Cassinder was using her power to tell stories from the distant future or past. Or it could mean that she was making stuff up.
"Aculion didn't like the people at the University. He thought they didn't do anything-"
"How could anyone possibly think that," Dran exclaimed. He bent over laughing.
"Aculion wanted to become king of the ocean. He thought if he looked at the ocean enough, he would learn things. He would learn the True Name of the sea. So he joined Teres. Every day, they would look at the ocean."
Cassinder's voice began to crack. "They lived together for a long time. They did some things together. They stopped some pirates. Aculion became more powerful. He made it easier for ships to move. He asked for money in return. He became very rich. But he still lived by the sea. One time, a war started. He liked the king of one country. He didn't like the other king. So he sank all the other king's ships. He flooded the other king's city. He stopped the other king's rivers."
I saw that Dragoneyes looked concerned. More concerned than when he heard the story of Ochekol'kan.
"One day, Teres had a vision about Aculion. He saw that Aculion would be bad. He would become king of the world. He would kill anyone who disagreed with him. He would kill a lot of people."
This story was beginning to seem very unlikely. A mage who could end wars and threaten the world, who I had never heard of?
"Teres didn't know what to do. His only friend was a monster." Cassinder began to cry. "He thought about killing Aculion. He wanted to stick a dagger in between Aculion's ribs while he slept. But he didn't want to lose his only friend."
"So he told Aculion. He asked Aculion to never do this."
Cassinder went silent.
"What did Aculion do," Dragoneyes asked.
"He killed Teres. He didn't want anyone to try to stop him."

"Well," Dran said, "I guess it's time for Dragoneyes to tell his story. Time to find out how exactly he acquired his namesake trait."
But Dragoneyes had already gotten up. He opened the door, and left our makeshift home. I ran after him. I caught up with him about ten paces outside. I'm not a very fast runner.
"You have power of sound, correct?"
"Yes," I said. "Sound is carried by air. Many who know the True Name of air actually develop superior hearing, or the ability to change their voice."
"Interesting. Make it so nobody can overhear us."
I used the True Name of air.
"What did you think of Cassinder's story," he asked.
"It seemed pretty unlikely. It made a reference to the University, so it must be comparatively recent. But there is no record of anyone like Aculion."
"I'm worried," he said. "I'm worried... that I am Aculion."
Sudsdenly, the story made a lot more sense. The seer. The stranger hungry to expand his power. It also shed new light on the amount of time those two had been spending together. Did that mean... It wasn't important. What was important was that my powerful mage friend thought he might someday threaten the world. I considered my options.
"No, you can't kill me."
That was one option.
"You couldn't kill me even if you asked Dran for help."
That was another option.
"Even if you did rally a dozen or so sorcerers to kill me, that would leave Koteph unopposed."
That option had never been viable anyways.
"Maybe it was just a coincidence," I said. "No reason to think what she was saying had any bearing on reality."
"Maybe," he said, looking hopeful.
"Anyways, why would she do this. Why would she tell you this, when it works out so badly in the story."
"With my power, she couldn't have kept it secret long anyway." He paced around angrily. "I would never do that. I wouldn't kill her."
"You also wouldn't try to take over the world."
Dragoneyes seemed to ignore me. "I'll explain things to her. Make them right. I'll explain everything. To all of you."