Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Green-Eyed Sorcerer

Dran was jealous of the man riding beside him. Dragoneyes, the all-powerful mage.
Dran thought of how he had acquired his power. On the day Dranarius had turned thirteen, Phorius had taken him into a cellar. It had been largely empty. Phorius occasionally hunted, and Mauria occasionally cooked. The fruits of their labor were frozen in blocks of eternal ice.
Phorius had sat on the ground, gesturing for his son to join him. "Do you know when I first used the True Name of ice?"
"No, father."
"I was only a few years older than you are now. It was during the Wars of Reunification. I was in the reaches of the Empire, battling Norgad invaders. I spent the winter with Asilus, who was-"
"Your second cousin, and the treasurer to Anaxus I. He later joined Colix's uprising-"
"Correct. It seemed the Norgads had captured some Etoran seige equipment, or maybe bought it off a disgruntled general. They quickly ran out of stones to throw over the castle walls, so they lobbed ice and snow. I had been studying ice for some time, and that winter, I redoubled my efforts. I spent my days and nights in the courtyard, staring into the crystal depths. Then, one bright and frigid day, I heard it. It was beautiful." Phorius began to say the True Name of ice. Frigid spires rose from the ground. "Now it is your turn," Phorius said, as the icy spears bent into a cage around his son. "This ice will not melt. It cannot be broken. There is only one way for you to escape: the mage's way. You should be able to reach several weeks worth of food from where you are. I hope you learn the True Name of ice before then."
Dran was daunted by the task before him. "How could I do that? Learn the Name of ice in just weeks?"
"Both of your parents know it. You have been surrounded by the Name since you birth. Now, I strongly suggest you stop quibbling and start studying ice." And with that, Phorius Caesorium left his son.
At first, Dran had tried to recall the syllables his father had used when invoking the Name, but he already knew from his readings that such a thing would be impossible. So he applied himself. He looked into the crystal depths of the ice around him. Day after day, he ran his hands over the frozen bars of his prison. He began to numb, but there was an understanding in that numbness. Eventually, Dran began to see outlines. Something ancient, and powerful. He saw it when he looked into the ice. Sometimes, it burst into his mind, only to quickly recede. Eventually, he realized he was seeing the True Name of ice.
It was vast. Complicated. Far too intricate and beautiful ever to be spoken with human vocal cords. And, yet, he could say it. And after he did, he didn't remember how his lips had moved, or what sounds he had made. But he felt sure that he had just spoken the True Name.
Dran looked at his prison in new light. The ice was not as it should be. His father had changed its properties. He had ordered the ice to be stronger, to withstand the heat. He could see the ice slowly forgetting Phorius' orders. It would take years. And Phorius had made it effortlessly.
Dran tried to countermand his father's work. He couldn't. His will wasn't strong enough. Dran looked deep within himself, and deep within the ice. He called upon the Name once more. It came more easily every time he used it. Eventually, the ice began to liquify.
Dran felt elated. He create new ice. He moved it, and melted it, and froze it once more. It slowly began to dawn on him how much power he really had. He no longer needed to fear his father. With enough practice, Dran could match Phorius in power. Best him, and drive him away. So Dran did not emerge from his cavern. Instead, he strategized. He planned and practiced his father's demise. Never again would someone lock Dran in a dungeon with no regard for his safety. Phorius was a danger to Dran and his mother, and now he would be eliminated.
But Dran realized he couldn't do it. In both senses of the world. He couldn't overpower his father, and he didn't want to. As cruel as Phorius could be to Dran, and as callous as he could be to Mauria, the three of them were inextricably connected. They were alone in the frozen north. Alone together.
Or at least, they had been together. Koteph had destroyed that. And Dragoneyes would destroy Koteph. With power he received effortlessly, a gift from a dying dragon.

Jealousy is unbecoming in a sorcerer. It is unbecoming in anyone. Dran needed to focus on the positives. He had another power. Another gift. Potions. Something Dragoneyes could never do.
Dran had studied the myriad forms of mystical energy. He could bind the skin after a cut, or stay awake for a year. He could make a drop of liquid that could melt through bedrock, or a cauldron of fluid that would ignore gravity. That was his power. That was his strength.
So that night, while Dragoneyes forged his swords, Dran two began to make a weapon. Dragoneyes could hack all he wanted against Koteph's physical form. But only Dran could attack his mystical power. In a bowl left over from dinner, the Etoran brewed his concoction. A dozen different components, it would be able to break Koteph's power, and scatter the shade's immaterial form to the four winds. Dran began to grin at the power of his creation. It began to work. And then, it melted through the bowl and fell to the ground, spewing a cloud of noxious vapor. As Dran collapsed, he caught a glimpse of himself in the polished metal of one of his cauldrons. The gas had turned his eyes a sickly green.
Not bad for a first attempt.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Inquisitor

Anaxus III surveyed his hall. To his right were statues of the gods. Thacanarion, Orbius, Tormus, Oshus, Olia, and Nocia. To his left, great Emperors of the past. Argeus, Polasius I, Tormusus II, Polasius II, Conorius II, and Anaxus II.
The current emperor gazed at his father. When Old Etor had been destroyed, and Tosus III had perished, there had been War. No, there had been Wars. The south and west had demanded independence. The surviving royals had squabbled among themselves. The Norgads had invaded. As had the Giants, and the Irinians, and Condoran mercenaries, and bandits from the Little Lands, and every minor warlord and their mother. The statue showed Anaxus II as he had looked during those times. Brave and determined, sword in hand. That was not the Emperor who raised a son. The man Anaxus III had know had been tired, worn down by years of fighting. Miserable after killing his brothers, defeated after concessions to the Norgad Lords. He had kept his crown. But he had spent his entire life defending it.
Anaxus III was going to be greater than any of them. He was preparing to go on the offensive. To destroy the sorcerers in their home. Everyone knew of the treasures stored in the Green Tower. Most of it, of course, was blasphemous magic. But there would still be plenty in the way of good, old-fashioned gold.
Anaxus regarded the men in front of him. The Priests of Thacanarion. Anaxus had once heard an interesting theory regarding that god. The theory held that the legend of Thacanarion had begun as a dragon-god, milennia ago, when dragons still walked the world. As the dragons drove each other out, the myth of Thacanarion merged with those of other gods. That explained his bizarre hodgepodge of dominions, including dragons, swords, iron, fire, and war. Anaxus didn't know if this theory was true or not. He didn't care. All that mattered to him was that the priests endorse his next war.
"Truly, this war would be the work of the gods," he said. "Not only would we drive the unholy sorcerers from the world. but we would be able to offer up all sorts of demonic instruments to the gods."
"The gods have no need of demonic instruments," the high priest said. "That is no sacrifice."
"Well, the gods always have need of gold." Or at least, their priests do.
"That," said the high priest, "would be a true and honorable sacrifice."
"Very well. A million gold Conoris will be given to the war god once victory is achieved." Anaxus stole a look at Conorius. The Emperor so rich the currency still bore his name almost a century after his death.
"Thacanarion would be pleased by that sacrifice. We shall pray for your fortune during the war to come."
"It pleases me to hear it. The Temple of Thacanarion  has always enjoyed a close relationship with the Emperor. Even my crown, blessed by your order so that none but the rightful Emperor may wear it, and retrieved from the ashes of Old Etor. It is a constant reminder how helpful you are."
They exchanged pleasantries for some time more. Eventually, the priests left, and the next wave of visitors was brought in.
The Norgad Lords. Some of them, anyway. Lords Orin, Tong, and Bolar. The three who currently made their home in New Etor, instead of ruling from their citadels on the east coast of the Empire. These where the ambitious ones, the ones who wanted to work with the Empire. Many of their brothers thought themselves conquerors, ruling over the weak Etoran sheep. These three probably did as well, but at least they recognized that there were more sheep to be gained by following the Emperor.
They traded pleasantries. There was a complicated ritual about whether the Norgads could carry swords in the palace. Anaxus offered blessings in the name of the Six, and the Norgads offered blessings in the name of their own god, Ishdod.
"My lords, I am planning an invasion."
"One of the Little Lands," Orin asked. "Bathys? Darmash?"
"Irin," Tong suggested.
"No," Bolar said. "He wants to strike against the Norgad homeland. He needs our ships."
"The University of the Green Tower. A place weaker and richer than any of the lands you mentioned."
"And you want our men," Orin guessed.
"I do."
"Does the Emperor not have men of his own?"
"I do. I use them every year. You, on the other hand... when was the last time you used your soldiers. They forget their training, their loyalty even. That is what happens to soldiers who aren't given their share of... plunder."
The interest of the Lord was piqued. "Plunder?"
"Indeed. Sorcerers make good valued throughout the worlds. Lamps that need no fuel and no fire. Impervious to the wet. Potions to heal any sickness you care to name. The dark powers have many applications. My men, of course, would never touch these foul creations. It would fall to your soldiers to destroy them. I trust the Norgad armies could be trusted to make these items disappear."
The Lords smiled among themselves. They were about to benefit from Etoran superstition.
"I, Orindod," will support you, said Orin. He was using the Norgad suffix for lordship. A habit even they had not dropped in their time in the Empire.
"And I, Tongdod."
"And I, Bolardod."
More pleasantries, more nonsense about carrying swords in the palace, and the Norgad Lords were on their way out. The Emperor allowed himself a brief smile. Yes, he had his personal legions. But they weren't for invading foreigners. They were for putting down rebellions. When it came to fighting the scum of other nations, why, that was where the Emperor's disloyal noblemen could be counted on to fight. Yes, the legions would make their appearance. But the true fighting and dying, it would be Norgad men doing that. And another enemy of the crown would become just a bit weaker.

Several hours later, the Emperor was almost done procuring the support for war. He had talked to the treasurer. He had spoken with his generals. He had asked his spies whether New Etor would rebel in his absence. He had begun to draw up plans. He knew those plans would have to be abandoned. They were built entirely on guesswork,since nobody knew anything about the strength of Koteph's army of monsters. The current plans called for a month's march there and back, and a week to conquer the Tower and distribute its contents.
The Emperor had one more audience that day. It was with Quisus Stanium, the Chief Inquisitor of the Empire. The man responsible for removing any shreds of sorcery from the Empire, and burning them.
He was an older man. And a slight one. He wore the robes of an Inquisitor, and a medallion to show his rank. He bowed his head to the Emperor, as was proper. He was a high-ranking member of the court.
The Emperor ran his fingers over his rings. "You wish to speak with me, Quisus."
"I do, your Imperial Majesty. I have heard tell of a plan to attack the Green Tower."
"From whom?"
"As Chief Inquisitor, I work closely with all the priesthoods."
The Emperor weighed this news. The war wasn't exactly secret. He certainly couldn't blame Quisus for hearing about it. "I trust you will be more discreet."
"The Inquisition is always discreet." The Inquisitor looked at the ground, before returning his gaze to the Emperor. "Are you sure this war is a good idea."
"It will bolster our coffers, restore our prestige, and deny the Irinians and the Condorans the sorcerers they use against us. A powerful sorcerer bent on revenge has volunteered to lay down his armies beside mine. It is a very good idea."
The Inquisitor inhaled. "After Old Etor fell, there were eight mages- eight powerful sorcerers, left in the country. By the end of the Wars, there were five. Four of them were successfully expelled without a fight. One of them- Toroshash- stayed in his Black Tower. The Inquisitor of the time sent thirty men to expel him. A week later, a raven brought him a single tooth. There was a note saying that was all that was left of the thirty men. So he sent seventy more. More success. Three of them fled."
"It is a good thing I don't plan on bringing seventy men. Seventy thousand, perhaps."
"You have to understand, majesty, it isn't just the sorcerers. The Towers themselves are impregnable. The Violet Tower lies at the heart of your Empire. We have attacked it with swords, with fire, with battering rams, and with catapults. We have asked strong warriors and Priests of Orbius. And we might as well have stayed home for all we accomplished."
"Then it is a good thing siege warfare has been invented, Inquisitor. Are you done?"
"With all due respect, no, your Imperial Majesty. You have heard of the War of the White."
"Of course I have."
"Illiel of the White Tower, a single sorcerer, persuaded the King of Irin to launch an attack against our Empire. The one man killed four thousand legionnaires. Many of our men flocked to join the Irinian side. Had Illiel lived longer, we would likely all speak Irinian today. As it was, we were left defenseless, with no armies. It was that defenselessness that allowed your family to take the reigns from their predecessors."
"And you mean to compare me to those weak Emperors? The last of the Legium kings?"
"N-No, my lord. I meant to praise you for being different. In your years as ruler you have kept the throne because you know who you can break, and who is not worth the risk."
"I do. I know that you, for instance, are very breakable." Anaxus gestured towards one of his guards. "Do you think he is breakable."
"Like a twig, majesty."
"Indeed." He motioned again, and the guard grabbed Quisus.
"No. No, have mercy, my lord!"
"Cut off his left thumb," the Emperor ordered. He addressed his Inquisitor. "Wear the thumb around your neck for ten days and ten nights. Let it remind you what I can and cannot break."

Later that night, Quisus Stanium lay awake in his bedchamber. His wife was beside him, finally asleep. Good.
Quisus snuck to his study. He opened a locked box, and retrieved a book he had confiscated over a decade earlier. He flipped through until he had reached the desired page.
He pulled out his bandaged hand. Slowly, but surely, he unwrapped the bloodied white cloth. He looked at where his thumb used to be. He consulted the book, and followed its instructions. Wards against infections, spells to dull the pain, an enchantment to help it heal over faster.
Quisus had meant what he said to the Emperor. He knew better than anyone that the army could not handle five hundred sorcerers. Even the Inquisition hadn't been able to handle sorcerers. At least, not without becoming sorcerers themselves.
It had been a gradual process, at least for Quisus. He had joined the Inquisition an idealist, just like all the rest. Intent on stopping the unholy monsters who had killed so many of his countrymen. But as he had hunted sorcerers, he had begun to realize that they were people. People with a certain knowledge, a certain talent, a certain skill. Put people, nonetheless. He had executed a Seer who had visions of the return of the King without Eyes. He had arrested wise-women, leaving sick men to die. True, some sorcerers were evil. Raiders from other countries hoping to prey upon a defenseless population, or black priests of the Cruel Goddess. But, during his long years of service, Quisus had come to the conclusion that magic was a tool, and in the right hands it could be a useful one.
So Quisus became curious. He opened the forbidden books. He read them. And he discovered he had a bit of a talent.
Quisus told himself that his advice to the Emperor had been an act of charity. A boon to the Empire, and an offering to the sorcerers he had so often wronged. But he knew that to be a lie. It had all been a failed attempt to protect his son.
Quisus had never been much of a father. Never even knew his son, accept from a far. Inquisitors weren't permitted to marry.
But even though Acanus didn't know his father's name, he had inherited his father's talent. Quisus just hoped it would be enough.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Flesh and Blood

We buried Ar-Alam. It was a sad occasion for me. I remembered burying my father. This was... different. I had watched Ar-Alam die. I knew he was at peace. In some ways, that made things better. In some ways, that made things worse.
"How could he just surrender like that," I snapped.
"We have gone over this before." Dran's only previous experience with mourning had been rather quickly interrupted. He was not the most gentle of companions. "He considered himself a liability. He sacrificed himself for the greater good. Some people consider that sort of thing heroic. Maybe one of us should write a poem about it."
Dran didn't wait for my angered response. His eyes returned to his cast-iron cauldron. He was working on a potion to dampen the pain in my sister's leg. "Where is some whistleroot when you need it?"
I was angry about Ar-Alam's death. There was no need to express that anger at Dranarius Caesorium. I went to bed.

Dragoneyes considered Ar-Alam's grave. Just a simple stone. Dragoneyes had shaped it himself. It didn't seem like enough...
No. He shouldn't do that. Dragoneyes was only indulging himself, looking for an excuse to practice his own magic on another man's grave. Not what Ar-Alam would have wanted.
So Dragoneyes picked up a pebble off the ground. If he couldn't transfigure Ar-Alam's tombstone, he could at least turn this stone to gold. So Dragoneyes imagined the True Name of gold. And the True Name of stone. And he tried to see how they were the same. How stone could become gold. He began to walk the rock through its transformation. It didn't work.
It was too difficult. Dragoneyes could barely hold the two Names in his mind at once. It felt like his head was bursting at the seams. It was just too difficult.
Dragoneyes did not give up in the face of difficulty. He did not have that luxury. He needed a simpler place to start. Dragoneyes produced a small lump of iron. He did the same thing. He held the two names in his mind. They were more similar. They fit together. But still... focusing on two things at once. Trying to see the relationship between them, and impose that relationship upon a small lump of metal. It was too much.
Dragoneyes paced around the camp, trying to persuade iron to become gold. "Are you still awake," Dran asked. "More precisely, why are you still awake? Go to bed."
"You are still awake."
"I am trying to make sure that Cassinder can walk tomorrow. You should make sure that you can walk tomorrow. I sure won't be slowing down for you."
Dragoneyes knew the younger mage was right. He went into his tent. He shut his yellow eyes. He tried to sleep.
It was impossible.
He saw the blood flowing through his eyelids. Behind that, he saw his tent. He watched as the fabric ever-so-slowly decayed into dust. Behind that, there was an ocean of air. Shifting eddies, currents, and vortices. And what's more, the air was alive. Awash with everything from birds to insects. Behind that, the stars. Each one, transcendent in its glory. Each star, perfect and vast in its ancient power. How could Dragoneyes sleep under the blinding light of a thousand thousand suns?
Sleep is important, he told himself. It is necessary. How will you become strong if you do not sleep? You will waste away, and die, and not do the world the slightest bit of good.
Dragoneyes considered swordcraft. He had already passed countless nights by the forge, creating blades ever sharper, ever more deadly.
No. No, that was a distraction. The blood in his eyelids, decay of his tent, the ocean of air, the blinding stars, all of it was a distraction. Dragoneyes walked to see his true concern, and gazed upon it. "Cassinder."
"You are in pain."
"I know."
"I can fix it."
"I know you can."
Dragoneyes gazed upon Cassinder's flesh. Torn and torched, it was still flesh. Dragoneyes looked long and hard. Above him, the stars traced their arcs across the night. Dragoneyes paid them no heed. He looked upon Cassinder's mangled body. He could see every detail, every pore and every one of the bizarre substances of which the body is composed. And for a brief moment, he knew it. He knew the True Name of flesh. He spoke it, and Cassinder was healed.
Dragoneyes stood in silence. He didn't ponder the magnificence of his achievement. He didn't think about how he had worked magic not used since the time of the Shapers. He simply sat in silence. Eventually, he made his way back to his tent, and fell into a deep sleep.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The First Battle: Part II

Dragoneyes continued his battle with Koteph. Dragoneyes would throw a tree, only for Koteph to swipe it aside. Dragoneyes would burn Koteph, but the shade would regenerate, and burn Dragoneyes back with lightning. Dragoneyes focused. He called deeply upon the True Name of water. Doing magic directly upon another sorcerer's body is always difficult. The water, for instance, is rarely pure. Many scholars believe that to truly exercise control over the blood of another, one must learn the True Name of blood. Nobody has ever accomplished this.
Dragoneyes was hoping for something easier. Koteph's body looked dessicated and parched, but perhaps there were still beads of sweat on his skin, or spit in his mouth. Perhaps this purer water could be used as a weapon.
And as Dragoneyes channeled the Name, he felt every drop of water around him, from the water in the sky to Dran's frozen water, to the water locked in human flesh. And he felt a great shifting. That's when he realized Koteph had become about thirty times taller than he used to be.

Dragoneyes tried to harm Koteph, but the shade's recent magical growth spurt was too much. It seemed no amount of fire and water could slow this titan down. Dragoneyes ran, the ground shifting beneath him to carry him towards and away from his enemy. He pelted his enemy with rocks, with ice, with metal. He tried to burn Koteph, drown him, to strangle the shade with his own robes. All to no avail.
So Dragoneyes attempted another tactic. He called upon the True Name of soil, and Koteph began to sink into the ground. The shade began to weave a spell. Dragoneyes could see the spell taking form, and erected an opaque barrier just in time. A thick slab of stone. Dragoneyes willed it not to melt. He muttered the True Name under his breath. Koteph shattered the stone with a bolt of lightning.
Dragoneyes knew he was losing. He needed a good idea.

Dran tried to maintain the initiative in his fight against Kyotr. He attacked, and Kyotr blocked, and Dran attacked. Dran needed to keep his focus. Kytor was more experienced than he, and had become mightier under the tutelage of Koteph. Dran knew this was unsustainable. He would need to finish the fight soon, or Kyotr would gain the upper hand.
Dran created a staff of ice, intent to drive it through Kyotr's eye. He missed. For a moment, Kyotr's and Dran looked at each other. Then, Kyotr slammed Dran with a ball of water. Only Dran's thick skull and a few protective enchantments prevented the brains of Dranarius Caesorium from being strewn across the ground.
Dran called upon the True Name of ice... but it wouldn't come. His mind was too clouded. So Dran took a different approach. He tackled Kyotr to the ground.
Kyotr hadn't been expecting such an attack. He had never in his life been struck before. He didn't know how to respond.
Physically, they were a rough match. Both had spent the vast majority of their days inside. Neither had any real experience with the mundane world of fists. Dran was younger, maybe half Kyotr's age. But Kyotr was taller, and more solidly built.

Ar-Alam and I were struggling against Terix. He was faster than us. We commanded the wind, sailing away from him, trying to keep our distance. Ar-Alam seemed to take the whole thing in stride. I did not. A single touch could kill me. I could die. I had known this was a possibility when we first left the White Tower. That I would face monsters with extraordinary destructive power. And I had been afraid then too. But it was nothing like this. The feel of having certain death-
I dodged one of Terix's swipes. He had caught me ruminating. Even thinking about danger was dangerous. I dodged again, and tried to knock him over with a gust of wind.
Terix unleashed a new spell. He must have been working on it as he battled Ar-Alam and myself. He shot forth powerful bolts of magic, and my old teacher and I found ourselves immobilized.
This meant I couldn't run, or guide the air with my hands. But it also meant I couldn't breath.
I tried to focus. I still new the True Name of air. It didn't come easily. The mind can only handle so much at a time, and mine was handling quite a bit of panic and confusion. But I was still able to muster enough of the Name to keep from suffocating.
This brought me to my second problem. Terix. The monster was almost on top of me, ready to end me with his deadly touch. He stretched out his hand. I could see smugness in his eyes.
Suddenly, that smugness turned into surprise. I saw what looked to be wood bursting forth from his chest. Terix gasped. A creature such as him could survive a shaft through the heart. But he was impaired. He turned around to face... my little sister. As he swatted at the dark-haired girl, and she effortlessly dodged his hands, I thought about how impossible this was. For one, Dragoneyes had encased Cassinder in a protective sphere of iron. I looked at it. It was intact, and unmoved. I doubted a dozen horses could budge it. When Dragoneyes realized it was empty, he got it moving at a speed that would shame an Etoran catapult. Khoteph sliced it in half, and the two hemispheres passed into the distance.
Cassinder had maneuvered out if Terix's range. The monster was now pelting her with bolts of yellowish energy. I have to say, the experience was somewhat embarrassing for me. I was probably the first person in history to stand by, paralyzed, as his little sister saved him from a sorcerous Touchkill.
She began to erect a barrier, a sorcerous one. I wondered why. Then, a volley of Terix's yellow sparks bounced off it, and I understood.
Cassinder was strong. Stronger than anyone had ever realized. But she couldn't stand up to something like Terix forever. He scored several hits, lacerating her forearm and burning her leg. She seemed to ignore the pain. For everyone's sake, I prayed for a miracle.

Dragoneyes continues his minor war. He used the True Name of ice, and pierced Koteph's body with icicles. The shade didn't even both removing them. While he had not transcended his corpse-like body entirely, his magic wouldn't be affected by another flesh wound. An advantage his enemy did not share. He began working on a hex to shred the mage's flesh. The True Name of fire wouldn't be much help as Dragoneyes died of a thousand lacerations.
As fate would have it, the True Name of fire was useful before then.
Dragoneyes summoned a searing flame. The ice in Koteph's chest was instantly vaporized. This meant that a man-sized body suddenly contained as much gas as a large room.
While this is a common occurrence among the politicians of Condoran, Koteph was not able to handle all of the hot air. His physical form burst. His strength was nearly broken. He needed to retreat. He disappeared, taking Terix and Kyotr with him.
With Terix gone, I found myself able to move again. I rushed towards my sister. Dragoneyes got there first. I heard him talking to Dran. "What's the point of being an expert in potions if you can't even fix a cut?"
"I can stop it getting infected. What more do you want?"
"What more do I want. I want her to not walk with a limp for the rest of her life. I'm going to need to fix this."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The First Battle: Part I

Koteph and Terix materialized some distance from us. They were an odd pair. Koteph had once been a man of medium build. But his body was now twisted. His limbs were long and skeletal. His once bronze skin was now pale. His eyes were slits. He wore billowing black robes. He also seemed to be wearing several ivory rings on one of his fingers.
Terix, on the other hand, was shorter than the average man. His body was wrapped in brownish cloth, save for his eyes, mouth and fingertips.
I helped Ar-Alam to his feet. Dran and Dragoneyes created swords of ice and fire, respectively. Cassinder picked up a stick. I wasn't sure how she planned to use that.
Koteph approached us with incredible speed. He must have crossed a hundred paces in a heartbeat. But Dragoneyes was waiting for him. He created a great ball of fire, trapping Koteph. A rainbow of flames. Red, blue. The core was blinding to look at. Raised his arms, and the fires were no more.
Dragoneyes looked at Koteph's rings, and saw their purpose. He wished he knew the True Name of ivory. He used the blistering heat of fire and the cold of ice, but he couldn't destroy them. Then, Koteph seared him with a beam of enchanted light.
Meanwhile, Ar-Alam flew into the air, ready to meet Terix. He landed in front of the monster, and tried to raise a storm, but Terix was unaffected. He advanced towards the old mage. Ar-Alam tried to blow Terix back, but was forced to retreat. I added my strength to his, shouting the True Name of air as I ran towards my former teacher.
By this point, Koteph was throwing Dragoneyes around. The shade was slamming him into stones, earth, and what few trees there were at this altitude. Since Dragoneyes knew the True Names of all those things, he was largely unscathed. Dragoneyes threw a tree at Koteph, but Koteph vaporized it with a blast of lightning. Dran threw blades of ice at his parents' murderer.. Koteph deflected them with a wave of his hand.
Opting for a new approach, Koteph drew his prey closer in. Still disoriented, Dragoneyes hovered before his enemy. Dran tried to encase Koteph in a block of ice, but was thrown aside. Koteph spoke the True Name of lightning. A powerful bolt arced towards Dragoneyes..
But the mage was already encased in armor. Dragoneyes had invoked the True Name of iron, creating a metal suit. The lightning traveled through the plates, leaving the man inside unaffected.
Ar-Alam stood behind a shield of hardened air, as Terix beat him back with beams of burning light and impossibly strong blows from his two unbandaged hands.
Only then did I realize I should be doing something. It came as a bit of a shock. I had never been in a fight more serious than a barroom brawl. The idea that there were people around me fighting for their lives... it didn't seem right.
I robbed Terix of his air. I wasn't so optimistic as to think I could suffocate him.  But I watched as his body struggled not to burst and boil when exposed to the pure nothingness I left behind. The nothingness failed as I dodged a boulder thrown by Koteph. It seems he and Dragoneyes were having a rather uncivil conversation whose only word was the True Name of stone.
Dran used the True Name of ice. Crystal clear spars burst forth from the ground, forming a cage for Terix. Terix melted his way through. He advanced towards me. I was terrified. A monster whose touch could kill was marching towards me. He was going to kill me!
I tried to blow him back. It didn't work. Dran slowed him down with more barriers of ice, but Terix smashed them into small jagged bits. This, it seemed, only worked towards Dran's advantage. He stabbed Terix, again and again and again, with the ice, until the meltwater and Terix's yellow blood were running together.
Terix seemed to draw upon his reserves of power. His bandages hardened, becoming thick, like the enchanted armors of the great Etoran heroes. I had an idea, but it would take time. And it would take Dran. "I will keep Terix still," I said, bending the sound so only my allies could hear it. "Dran, try to create enough ice to crush him."
And so we began.

Meanwhile, Dragoneyes and Koteph were tearing up the mountain.
Dragoneyes used the True Name of stone, and heaved boulders at his enemy. Vast stones larger than a man thundered through the air. Koteph would use the same Name to deflect them.
Dragoneyes used the True Name of soil. The ground beneath Koteph gave way. No matter. Koteph levitated in the empty space, and launched a concussive blast at Dragoneyes. The mage deflected it with a wall of ice.
Koteph had an idea. He unleashed his reserve weapon. The three rings on his hand. Each was in the shape of a serpent swallowing its tail. He threw them to the ground, and deactivated the rings' enchantments. They rings grew to tremendous size, transforming into real snakes, each as tall as a horse and as long as my Tower was tall. They soon devoted themselves to activities less innocent than swallowing their own tail.
They approach Dragoneyes. As he wrangled with one of the snakes, Koteph thought of something better. He directed the other two snakes to attack Cassinder. Dragoneyes tried to slow them down, moving the ground beneath them. But Cassinder seemed to be walking towards the danger.
Dragoneyes could see into Cassinder's thoughts. He knew that she thought the had the matter in hand. But he didn't want to risk it. He encased her in a sphere of iron.
Dragoneyes had destroyed one of the mighty serpents, cooking it alive. He focused on another. As he drove a copper spire through the snake's eye, he noticed Koteph. The sorcerer had revived Kyotr, and returned his minion to full power.

 Dran brained Terix with a block of ice. The ball shattered, but the young mage reformed it, and smashed the Touchkill again. Terix tried to take a step towards Dran, as he held out his fatal hand. Ar-Alam and I were at the limits of our power, just trying to hold the bloodied figure in place. Suddenly, Dran was washed away by what seemed like a tidal wave.
He stood, and faced Kyotr, Kyotr sent another wave at Dran. Dran spoke the True Name of ice, and the wave was so much snow. As Dran stood, shocked by his own handiwork, Kyotr let loose another torrent. Dran dove out of the way, and found himself lying on the ground. Thinking quickly, he threw the snow at Kyotr. But Dran was exhausted, and most of the snow missed the Lord of the Blue Tower. And snow was never much of a projectile in the first place.
Kyotr attempted to drown his enemy, trapping him in his own miniature lake. Dran struggled, trying to swim to safety, trying to freeze the water into ice he could shatter. It was to no avail. Dran needed to think. He was exhausted, and he knew he was less powerful than Kyotr. He needed to out-think the shade.
Outside his lake, he created a hollow globe of ice. He exhaled, as he dragged the ice towards himself, through Kyotr's water. He broke it. Bubbles of precious air. He gulped them in.
Kyotr looked on in surprise. Dran exploited that brief moment of shock, and hit Kyotr in the head with the same ball he had used to batter Terix.  The True Name of water left Kyotr's mind. Within a second, Dragoneyes was using the Name to move that same water for his fight against Koteph.
Dran went on the offensive. He pelted Kyotr with as much ice as he could create, and everything lying around from his previous efforts. He knew that given a moment to collect his thoughts, Kyotr would regain the advantage. Kyotr dodged and jumped as Dran tried to spear his heart through with a blade of ice.
And so the battle raged on.