Sunday, December 27, 2015

Terix and Taerin

As it turns out, I had problems to deal with besides the giants. Larger problems, at least in a metaphorical sense.
Terix. Koteph's most able adviser. A Touchkill warped and altered by the shade's powers. Under his the tutelage of his master, the servant had grown more powerful than any mage in the world, save two. And neither of those mages was ready to step in and save me.
I had Neriel and Arelin to back me. Othin was off fighting a monster. Everyone was off fighting a monster. Just my monster was rather more formidable.
I was terrified. Mortified. So was Neriel. But it seemed like Arelin had her wits about her. She cast a spell, lifting up a small piece of rock and flinging it at Terix. Neriel did the same, with a much larger rock. Terix stopped them both in midair. Then he redirected them towards us.
It occurred to me that I ought to do something about that, so I summoned a wind and blew the stones off course. Which meant that they hit a building which was already ruined.
Terix waved his hands, and knocked the three of us off our feet. I spoke a word, trying to do the same to him. But it didn't work. "We've fought before," he said. "If I recall, your little sister saved you. You don't have a little girl to hide behind now." That's when Arelin set his robes on fire.

Terix screamed in either pain or frustration. He cast another spell, more in anger than in self-defense, and a great gash opened in Arelin's skin. Terix tried to smother his flaming robes. I had an idea.
There are several different substances that go into air. Most of them are rather inert. But one of them is responsible for fires, rusting, and quite a few other phenomena. I decided that Terix deserved an extra dose of that particular flavor of air. He burned a lot brighter than before.
Terix ran towards me. No, that isn't entirely accurate. Perhaps it would be better to say he blurred towards me. He was definitely moving through physical space. He was traveling between two point by occupying a sequence of intermediate ones. But I don't think his legs had much to do with it.
Strange modes of transportation or not, Terix was right on top of me. And I knew that if he touched me, his burning skin would be the least of my problems. So I suppose it is rather fortunate that Taerin showed up then.
Terix found himself squeezed between two exorbitantly large stones. "Hello, Arelin."
"Excuse me," Terix hissed. "Could you save your father-daughter chat for some other time? Like after you're dead?" He cast a charm, and the two boulders disintegrated. He was about to lash out against the Archmage, when Neriel hit him with a needle. Then another. Then another. My cousin was conjuring them at an impressive pace, and driving them into the creature's skin. I sucked the air away from the creature. Often when you do that to someone, their lungs explode. That didn't happen this time, but Terix was struggling to with a distinct lack of things to breath. Arelin hit the monster with a wide variety of painful spells, and her father bludgeoned the monster with every piece of rubble he could lay eyes on. Things were going well, until Terix blurred again. Out of sight.

"You could have died," Taerin said. "You could have been killed."
"So could you," his daughter responded.
"That isn't a valid comparison. I am old. Old enough to make that decision, and old enough that the world can go on fine without me. I am also powerful enough to handle myself."
"There are plenty of people out there younger than me. Less powerful too. You let Othin fight."
"Othin is-"
"A boy."
"I don't let Lothorin fight."
"Lothorin would be no use, unless you think the monsters would run from his performance on a lute."
"Even if he had begun his magical training-"
"Begun? Lothorin chose not to study magic. He is too old to be a student here."
"Don't try to change the subject, Arelin. My point is that you are risking your life, and I cannot abide by that."
"What would you have me do, father?"
"You could stay in the Tower, and care for the sick."
"That is not what I'm good at. And the Tower is already full to the brim."
"I could switch someone out."
"Oh, send someone else to their death."
I didn't exactly feel I needed to be present for this conversation. But I felt that leaving would only add to the awkward situation. It seemed Neriel felt the same way.
"Ariane, at your age, death seems like such a small thing. A sacrifice you can make. But please, Arelin, I cannot let you-"
That's when I left the Archmage's office. I really should have exited sooner.

"Interesting," Dran said, when I told him about the encounter. "I wonder why he didn't kill you."
"I think he rather tried."
"No, no. This blurring he described. If he had gone just a bit further, if he had touched you, you would have been killed. Why didn't he do that?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe he can't?"
"I assume he was just using an acceleration charm. No reason that would preclude him from touching me."
"You're probably right. Well, one possibility is that he was afraid of what would happen if he ran into you at such speeds."
"This is interesting news."
"How so."
"Let me show you."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Giant Problem

We settled into our stations. I was in the town of Pire. My garrison had three other sorcerers. And I actually had some connection to all of them.
There was Neriel. He was actually my second cousin on my father's side. This was his fourth year at the University, and he was already learning the True Name of stone. Since his branch of the family didn't own a Tower and an estate the size of a small country, he was planning to remain at the University, and hope to become a Master. Frankly, that was exactly the life I wanted.
There was Othin. Taerin's son, Arelin's brother. After three days of alternating boredom and terror, he had decided to become a mage. Othin asked Neriel about the True Name of stone. That was a good idea. Neriel explained that it was a complex subject, but a worthwhile one. Othin asked me about the True Name of air. That was something of a mistake. I launched immediately into a detailed explanation of the intricacies of the lightest element. But he was undeterred. If anything, he seemed to share my enthusiasm.
And then there was Arelin herself. The woman I had made a fool of myself chasing. She didn't mention it. But, then again, she didn't ever exactly talk to me.
"Can you really feel the tremors in the ground," Othin asked.
"Not very well," Neriel said. "I'm still a student. But I do practice. Symbule's book says to listen to the sounds of the soil eight times a day."
"Can I watch you? Would you mind? I mean, it's totally fine if you don't want me-"
"It is perfectly acceptable. I suppose I aught to do so right around now anyways." Neriel lay on the ground, and pressed his ear to the dirt. I'll admit I found it interesting. I wondered what he was hearing. I decided to do some listening of my own. I felt the air. First, I felt the currents moving over my skin. Then, I expanded my range. I could feel Othin breathing. I could sense the wind outside. "Neriel, do you hear something... big?"
"I hear a shaking. Could it be-"
I ran outside. And found myself facing a giant. That wasn't exactly what I wanted.
I spoke the True Name of air, as quickly as I could. The wind grew. It picked me up, and carried me to the top of a nearby building. I took a moment to get my bearings. It seemed that a host of giants had entered the city. I used the True Name of air, moving the suffocate them, one at a time. How long does it take for a giant to run out of air? I held my concentration, while the giant began to gag. Almost too late, I heard another of the lumber beasts approaching me. Perhaps standing on a rooftop in flowing white garb was not the best way to remain inconspicuous. How could I stop the second monster? I would need to truly draw upon the True Name for this. I concentrated upon the air. I was fully immersed in it. And, that's how I managed to suffocate a giant while lifting him up and throwing him into his brother.
I was panting. Fortunately, the True Name of air helped me with that too. I looked at the damage. One of the giants was clearly deceased. The first thing I had ever killed. I was wallowing in the magnitude of that, when I saw Neriel smash the other giant's head in with a rock. Not the sort of behavior one expects from a milquetoast academic.
I looked for another giant to fight. I found one chasing after what looked to be a family. I rode the winds to a better vantage point. I cast a spell, shooting a small bolt of fire at the creature. There. I had successfully acquired the attention of an enormous monster that now wanted to kill me. I felt very proud of myself. It took some work, but I managed to defeat this monster as well. Othin and I pelted it with spells while we waited for it to run out of air. I liked him. I liked his dedication to magic, and I liked his personality. Also, I liked his sister.

All in all, things were going well. The giants were falling one by one. I saw Dragoneyes in some other end of the town. I saw the giants flying through the air, as one by one they came to his attention. This wasn't him straining himself, of course. This was just him practicing. He only had one real fight. And it was with someone a lot harder to kill than a very tall man.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Family Reunion

The Etorans arrived. It was an interesting juxtaposition. Koteph and his monsters, versus Anaxus and his Etorans. The monsters were a rabble, barely organized. The Etorans considered military discipline the highest virtue. The monsters fought with their brute strength a bare claws. The Etoran wielded swords, and brought with them catapults and trebuchets. And then there wast the fact that the two groups hated each other.
Etorans hate a lot of things. They hate magic. They hate anyone who isn't Etoran. And they hate gigantic slobbering terrors created in the cold depths of the world. So you can imagine how they felt about Koteph's forces.
Meanwhile, monsters have a distrust of humans. Especially well-armed humans.
The two leaders tried to foster cooperation in their ranks. But the clearly magical Koteph was horrendously unpopular among the Etorans, and the mundane Emperor Anaxus was similarly viewed as weak by the monsters. So it was decided that the two attacking forces would keep their distance from each other.
More specifically, it was decided that the Etorans would lay seige to Allus, and the monsters would continue their assault on Pire. Once those towns had been taken, the armies would move in and overrun the Green Tower.

"This won't work," Dran said.
"How can you know that," I asked.
"You'll see in a moment," the younger mage said. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a patrol of Etoran soldiers. They looked at Dran's robes, and mine. Strange and flowing. Only a sorcerer or a circus performer would dress like us. And they suspected we weren't circus performers.
"Halt," one of them ordered. "Surrender."
"Told you," Dran said, speaking Irinian. He then turned and addressed our would-be captors in their native tongue. "My name is Dranarius Caesorium. This is my friend, Amniel. I would like to speak to my cousin, Anaxus. And, whether he knows it or not, he would like to speak with me."
"Pretty good," I remarked, speaking Irinian.
"Not good at all," Dran responded. "Look, they're getting out their swords. They probably think they're about to kill us."
I spoke the True Name of air, and Dran spoke the True Name of ice. Together, we swept the soldiers aside. "Consider that a prelude," Dran said, as we strode along our now-empty path. "Only next time, we won't be able to overpower them so easily."
We continued. Dran continued to announce his desire. The Etorans continued their enthusiastic refusals. Eventually, we made our way to the Emperor's camp. "Cousin," Dran shouted. "I come to parley with you."
"Stop there," Anaxus ordered. I stopped. Dran continued walking towards his cousin. "Who are you? A sorcerer I've never heard of who claims to be a cousin I've never met?"
"I am Dranarius Caesorium. My father was Phorius, and his father was Emperor Tosus III. We are cousins."
"So you claim, Dranarius. But how am I to believe you?"
"Well, I suppose I could put on your crown. Only a Caesorium can wear it."
"You presumptuous... You will never touch this crown." Anaxus sounded genuinely angry. I felt fear, both for Dran and myself.
"Very well, cousin. I meant to offense. What I am trying to say, Anaxus, is that, even though you yourself have never met anyone in the Green Tower, you still have reason to trust us. So, why do you ally yourself with Koteph?"
"Trust you? Like my grandfather, who you claim is your grandfather, trusted the Black and Violet Towers? How that trust paid off, when he was toasted alive, along with the rest of his city."
"And yet you trust Koteph."
"Koteph is an ally of choice. A tool to defeat your kind, Dranarius."
"I see. An ally is he. Tell me, was this invasion your idea, or his?"
The Emperor paused for a moment. "It was his idea. He came to me, and asked me for my help. I saw the opportunity presented, and agreed."
"You agreed to a proposition from a sorcerer you had never met?"
"I did."
"I see. Well, I regret to inform you that Koteph had an ulterior motive. The Green Tower houses a great many things. The most ancient and terrible of those things, by far, is an entity name Ochekol'kan. She is trapped in our deepest dungeons, behind doors of stone, water, fire, air and lightning. It is out belief that Koteph plans to unleash her. He told me this himself, before he killed my father, your uncle."
"That is impossible."
"He has told me and others that that is his plan. Why would he lie?"
"Get out of my sight, sorcerers, before I have you killed."

"I told you it wouldn't work."
"It was worth a try."
"I suppose we did get some useful information."
I looked at Dran quizzically.
"Koteph is pretty clearly blackmailing the Emperor."
"How did you know that?"
"I thought it was fairly obvious. Why else would my cousin be doing this?"
I thought about it. I couldn't think of a more likely reason. Between Cassinder and Dragoneyes and Dran, I felt like I was the last person to learn everything. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Last Chance

It was Taerin and Molano who retrieved Dragoneyes. As Molano fended off waves of monsters, Taerin shifted the rubble, using the Names of stone and clay to locate Dragoneyes' body.
The two Masters transported the fallen mage, and he was brought to the heart of the Green Tower. The best physikers devoted all their time to him. They gave him the best and strongest of their medications. I hesitate to inquire as to how many others must have died to that Dragoneyes may live.

That evening, I went to visit my old friend. He was covered in physiker's cloths. I wondered how much of our store had been depleted. The room was bustling with people who were supposed to be there, of course. But I also saw my sister, sitting silently in a corner. I sat next to her. "So seem to have been here for some time. Any news? How has he been doing?"
"The damage he did to himself is not enough to kill him."
That was good to hear. Especially from a Seer.
I watched them work for a brief while. But, frankly, it wasn't interesting, I had other things to do, and my sister had said that his wounds wouldn't kill him.
I visited Dran. He didn't seem surprised when he heard of Dragoneyes' condition. "What I'm thinking about," he explained, "is Koteph. It is possible he will recover before Dragoneyes."
"We will survive," I said.
"I suspect you're right. We have other great mages, Koteph's army is finite. It will take a great deal of power to kill him, but I expect it can be arranged. Someone other than Dragoneyes will simply have to do it."
That is when I first realized what Dran wanted. "You think you can do it!"
"No, Amniel. I know that I cannot. I know I am no match for Koteph. He killed my father and mother in front of me. He brainwashed me and bent me to his will. Some part of me even fears him, but most of me is simply aware of the fact that he is more powerful, more formidable than I can ever be. I know I will never avenge my father, just as you will never avenge yours. But I think that the combined power of all of the mages... it ought to be enough."
"I hope you're right."
"You should hope we don't have to find out."

Dran's words moved me to check again upon my injured friend. I didn't share the Etoran's confidence. I feared for what would happen if he should fall. And despite my sister's assurances... well, it couldn't hurt to check.
I entered the infirmary once again. It was nearly empty this time. Only the mage and the blonde-haired Seer. And me.
"He isn't strong right now," my sister said.
"I know. He isn't conscious."
"He is weak. This is the last time he will be weak."
Interesting. A part of me began to worry. That meant he would never grow old. It meant he would die quickly and suddenly. Could it be that even with Dragoneyes standing against him, Koteph would be triumphant? Or was I overthinking my sister's predictions?
"This would be the last chance..." My sister looked at me. "I can't choose."
I was taken aback. "Are you considering-"
"You don't know. You don't see. You don't know all that he will do!"
"He is my friend," I said. "He's your friend. You know he would never harm anyone. And, even in your scenario where he goes bad, he still couldn't be as bad as Koteph."
"He could be much worse that Koteph."
"Koteph will see every man, woman, and child dead to achieve his goals. How could Dragoneyes possibly be worse than him?"
"Koteph can be stopped."
I began to see Dragoneyes's potential. I knew he was a good man. A great man. But... he was powerful. Incredibly so. If we won the war... if he won the war... would anyone dare challenge him? Would anyone correct him? "No. That's ridiculous. He has always done his best to protect those he cares about. He is a hero."
"He will protect those he cares about."
I couldn't imagine what my sister was talking about. "Explain yourself. What will he do?" I wasn't yelling, but there was a certain amount of frustration in my voice.
"He will Destroy."
The Destroyer. The bogeyman, monster in the darkness who had haunted my sister's visions for years. "Is he... the Destroyer. You said Koteph-"
"You couldn't know."
"What will he do," I asked.
Dragoneyes stirred.
Dragoneyes began to breath heavily.
"What will he do," I asked softly.
Dragoneyes sat up. "Amniel. Cassinder. What is troubling you. You're afraid that some powerful terror is coming. Don't worry. I am ready to fight Koteph."
My sister hugged him. "I know."

I didn't understand. Thoughts swirled through my head that night, as I tried to sleep. My friend might become the greatest terror the world has known. My sister has been keeping this secret, even though she's been terrified of him for years. And, right or wrong, it's now too late to do anything about it. Dragoneyes is back to full strength.
For the first time in years, I had nightmares.