Sunday, April 3, 2016

Blood and Empire

Dragoneyes entered the Green Tower. He didn't speak to the other sorcerers. Not to the admirers, not to the countless hundreds who only wished to know what had happened. He walked past them, exhausted. He entered his chambers. He rested for most of the day. And then, he paid me a visit.
He handed me a sword. A full-length sword. "Do what you need to do," he said. "So that Cassinder can live again."

I didn't want to stab my Dragoneyes. He was my friend. But, more than that, he was the most important man in the world. He had the power to stop wars, to end famines, and to push the boundaries of magic. I couldn't stab that power in the heart. I couldn't stab all those possibilities in the heart.
I had another option. I had spent the day investigating it. I didn't think it would work. It probably wouldn't work. But there was a chance that I would save my friend's life, and the lives of all the other's he would save. So I took the sword, and did what I needed to do for my sister.

It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. The pain wasn't all that bad. No, the worst part about being stabbed in the chest is the fear. The fear that comes from knowing that your probably made a mistake, and that you'll bleed to death, and it will all be for nothing.
I had only the vaguest sense of what was happening around me. I barely understood as Dragoneyes caused the sword to dissolve to nothingness. I could barely understand his cries of anger and frustration. His rage that he had allowed me to do this to myself.
The world began to turn red, and my mouth began to taste like blood. Not an enjoyable experience.

Emperor Dranarius Caesorium sat in his throne-room, alone except for a single messenger. "And after Dragoneyes defeated Koteph, he returned the Green Tower." The man's voice echoed through the vast hall. Bat Dran had no fear of eavesdroppers. He had put spells in place to prevent such things. And he expected that, for the time being, he was the most powerful sorcerer in New Etor.
"He met with the sorcerer Amniel- Amniel is the Master of the White Tower. He is a-"
"I know him," Dran said. "Continue."
"And Amniel stabbed himself in the heart."
Dran felt a brief jolt of surprise. "Was Dragoneyes able to save him?"
"Yes. It seems that the experience allowed Dragoneyes to learn the True Name of flesh."
"And what happened next?"
"Dragoneyes healed his lover Cassinder. The two of them went off, to wander the world."
"I see. So this great new magical power is loose in the world. The Etoran Empire will need magical strength to match."
"But the Empire has no sorcerers, majesty."
"Oh, really? Has the my family been systematically eliminating all traces of magic in the Empire for half a century? I had no idea." Dran laughed at the messenger's lack of vision. "Well I shall simply need to undo their efforts. We shall found a new school of magic. The Black Tower will become the Empire's greatest center of learning. Go back to the University. Get as many of the old Etoran sorcerers as you can. Offer them riches, prestige, whatever will convince them."
"Yes, Majesty."
"And be sure to get two of them in particular. Marius and Lencius. Two of their brightest potioners."
"Yes, Majesty."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Battle Ends

Dragoneyes didn't need a mirror to know what he looked like. He was still on the border between childhood and manhood. He didn't look like a great warrior. He didn't look like a powerful mage. He looked like a bastard plucked from the Little Lands.
But Dragoneyes was not a bastard plucked from the Little Lands. He was the most powerful man since the time of the Shapers. His powers meant that those around him looked to the young mage for wisdom and guidance. And when they looked, they needed to see something more impressive than a flashy child in the robes of a student.
With the True Name of cloth, Dragoneyes created an elaborate robe of red and gold. With the True Name of iron, he forged a suit of armor that no arrow could pierce, no fire could burn, and- most critically- no spell could penetrate. At least, no simple spell.
Dragoneyes wanted to be with Cassinder one last time. To gaze upon her, to touch her, even if she could not return the gestures. But Dragoneyes had a purpose. And he would better serve that purpose if his mind was clear. So he suppressed his desires. How much more satisfying it would be, he told himself, when he next saw Cassinder. He would heal her with a word, and they could be together once more. Each of them set apart from mankind by power and Sight. Each of them drawn toward the other by the same.

Koteph glowered in his tent. Terix was dead, the Etorans had abandoned him. His more impressive monsters were all but extinguished.
But Koteph had no need for company. No interest in companionship. It was for the weak. Only by focusing on oneself could one achieve greatness. 
So Koteph sat, adding another layer to the protective spells upon his body. With each bit of magic, his form became a bit less human. He didn't care. Humans had always been a weak and pitiful afterthought by the Shapers of the World. Koteph would never be an afterthought. If he lived.
Koteph knew that each day bore a significant risk. He knew that Dragoneyes grew stronger every day. He should have eliminated the mage earlier. Same with the Caesorium boy. But they had both grown powerful, and both been formidable enemies.

It was easy for Dragoneyes to locate his enemy. Not concealment could hide Koteph's power from the mage's prying eyes. He strode toward his enemy slowly and confidently. Any who dared challenge Dragoneyes found themselves burnt or sliced in half. Eviscerating a giant was child's play.
The two enemies struck at almost the same time. Dragoneyes emitted a great belch of flame, Koteph a searing blast of mystical energy. They were upon each other, summoning boulders from the ether and knocking them aside. Outshining the sun with brilliant blazes of hard light and heat. Jets of water hit walls of magic, colliding with sounds that made thunder seem timid in comparison. And, all the while, Dragoneyes gained the upper hand.
At first, it was evident only to the combatants. Felt only in the balances of brief pauses between counterattacks. Then, it became evident to the scholarly sorcerers watching from a distance. That the balance of the fight was shifting toward the side of self-proclaimed good. Finally, the battle devolved to Dragoneyes striking one powerful blow after another, and Koteph struggling to hide or shield himself from the attack.

Dragoneyes stood above the shriveled man in tattered robes. "It did not have to end this way. We could have been allies. There could have been a place for you in the world that I will create."
"Save the morality lesson for the people who are going to live," Koteph gasped. "I have no interest in hearing you lecture me."
Dragoneyes spoke the True Name of fire, and walked away from the corpse of his greatest enemy. Nobody disturbed him on the way back.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Night Before

I was awoken in the night by the sound of steel boots on a stone floor. Dragoneyes didn't need to make that sound. Steel and stone were his to command, and they would be silent if he willed it. But will it he did not. Perhaps he wished to give me some warning, however slight, before his arrival.
"Amniel," he said. "I am a Destroyer. I am a nightmare, a greater one than Koteph. I have butchered so many... I need to stop. I need to finish this, and learn what I must learn."
I didn't know how to respond to my friend's confession.
"Tomorrow. I will fight Koteph. It will be our last fight. And, if I win, I want you to stab me in the heart."
"Why? Why would I do that. You don't need to die-"
"I won't die. I don't expect to at least. But after tomorrow, the world will have no use for me. No need for me. Unless I can become their savior. If I die... so be it. But if, as I watch death close in around me, I gain the power I need over it... I would end all of human suffering. All the flaws and weakness the Shapers imposed upon us, I could remove. For that, I will risk my own life."
"Do you think this will work?"
"I can see many things, Amniel, but the future isn't one of them."
"Why does it have to be me. I don't want to stab you, why must it be me?"
"Because I trust you."
It took me a moment to understand his meaning. After I stabbed him, he would lay in the dirt, bleeding, hoping for a True Name to come to him. He would be vulnerable. He would be open to attack. And I was the only person he trusted not to-
"You think anyone else would kill you."
"I think there is a risk. There are many who would fear the future I bring."
"I fear the future you bring."
"I know. But I can see into your heart. I know you would not betray a friend."
I thought about my sister's prediction, when Dragoneyes lay wounded after an early fight with Koteph. That we would never again have the chance to end his life. But now my friend was offering me that very chance. What did it mean?
Dragoneyes spoke a word, and handed me a knife. "We both need rest," he said.

It isn't exactly easy to go back to sleep after your friend wakes you up asking you to kill him and make him a god. I tossed and turned. This was a huge responsibility. The fate of all men rested on my actions. I never wanted that. I never asked for that. I wanted to be an academic sorcerer, study complicated spells that nobody would ever understand. I didn't want to do... this.
I tossed and turned for hours. What would Dragoneyes do with this power? Should I try to get a healing potion, just in case? Should I let him die? Should I kill him? I didn't know. And, somehow, I went to sleep. Pondering the future of mankind is tiring.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Destroyer Among Men

A horde of monsters had attacked Pire, a town bordering the University. An sizable fraction of Koteph's remaining forces. The sorcerers assigned to defend the town rushed from their beds and watchposts, and began to fight back against Ochekol'kan's creations. I wasn't there, but I heard that a many humans, magical and mundane, gave their lives to stem the incursion. Then Dragoneyes arrived. "Disperse," he ordered in what was no longer an entirely human voice. "I can deal with these monsters." Deal with them he did. He began to shred the creatures alive. He pulled the blood from their bodies. He cracked their skulls and their bones. And, once the other sorcerers had left, Dragoneyes began to do those same things to the men who lay dying in the streets.
He hated it. He hated that he had to become a butcher. But the suffering these humans faced was nothing. It was meaningless, compared to what Dragoneyes would do with the Names of flesh and blood. With the True Names of Life and Death.
He began to see glimpses of the Names. Fragments. He tried to hold on to them, tried to use them. Tried to keep them in his mind so he could use them to save his beloved Cassinder. But Dragoneyes couldn't do it. The Names were too large, too complex.
He turned to another of the bleeding men in the road. A sorcerer. Dragoneyes looked at the man for a moment, to find his given name. "Yoshka," he said. "I regret what I must do to you." Dragoneyes spoke the True Name of iron, and a knife appeared in his hand. He began to cut into Yoshka, examining the man's entrails, hoping to see a Name. Then, he turned around. "You cannot sneak up upon me, Koteph."
Koteph was well enough cloaked that he could walk undetected anywhere in the world except the most carefully guarded portions of the Green Tower. And right behind Dragoneyes. The shade saw no reason to keep maintaining such a draining spell, so he let it unravel, and focused his efforts on sending a beam of magic through Dragoneyes' armor and into the mage's heart.
But Dragoneyes had created his metal suit to withstand such attacks. His knowledge of the True Name of iron was vast and powerful, and even Koteph couldn't cut through such strengthened material.
"I know what you want," Dragoneyes said. "We should be on the same side."
"The same side." Koteph was no longer human enough to laugh. "We can never be on the same side."
"I seek the True Names of flesh and blood. Of life and death. With that, I can grant you the very thing Ochekol'kan promised you. Immortality."
"So Dragoneyes sees into my heart. So he offers me my greatest desire. But he must see it is worthless. To live forever at your mercy. That is nothing. That is worthless. Can you speak your own True Name, Dragoneyes? Can you bind yourself, and swear to never revoke the eternal life you give me? Because until I hear that promised in the True Speech, you are empty."
"Then wait. Let me gain that power, and I will let you live, if it stops the bloodshed."
"Your power grows faster than mine, Dragoneyes. Every day I wait is another advantage you gain over me. This fight cannot continue much longer. And someday, someday soon, it will end with one of us dying."
"Very well."
They fought once more. And it was clear, painfully clear, who was winning. Dragoneyes didn't need to out-wait Koteph. He was already stronger. Koteph's desperate attacks fell flat, as Dragoneyes did ever more damage. It was only at the last moment that Koteph cast a spell and disappeared, beyond Dragoneyes' range of sight. Dragoneyes looked at the fresh set of broken bodies around him. He had work to do.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Run Through

Dran felt a combination of fear and exhilaration. One which he imagined every Emperor before him had felt on the eve of their first challenge.
He had intimidated his people. Forced them into grudging acceptance that this stranger was- for the moment- their Emperor. But this was his real test. The moment that would determine is Dranarius Caesorium was born to be an Emperor or a corpse. Because Terix had taken notice of the upstart king.
Dran returned himself to the ground. Levitating was a challenge, even as he wore his icy armor. The mage had no need of distraction during this fight.
Some part of him was wishing for Dragoneyes to swoop in. For the man he still considered a friend to save him with his unknowable power. But most of Dran wished to do this on his own.
Dran had stood helplessly by, watching Koteph destroy his father and mother. Dran didn't expect to ever inflict that sort of pain in return. But if Koteph lived to see his greatest lieutenant dead, his largest army retreating- well then Dran could sleep a little easier at night.
Dran wielded an icy sword so flawless it was hard to see. His armor was even more perfect. The True Name of his preferred substance was strong in him, and he knew he could stick his sword into a furnace without fear of it melting. But he would much sooner plunge it into Terix's heart.
"Surrender," Terix ordered. "Surrender to me now."
In other circumstance, Dran might have accepted. He might have lied, feigned surrender, waiting for Terix to come close and trying to catch the monster off guard, with the element of surprise. But such trickery wouldn't work in front of Dran's subjects. He needed to be honorable and strong. He also really needed to win.
Dran fingered his sword. "I don't think I will, fiend. Please, do your worst. Maybe attack me from a distance, with one of your spells. Wouldn't want to get in range of my sword." Would the taunt work? Did monsters feel pride the same as men did?
It appears they did, because Terix rushed toward Dran, moving at his inhuman speed. He sent out a spark of energy nearly strong enough to knock the young mage off his feet. Then he reached out, wanting to end the man's life with a touch. He was disappointed when his fingers instead touched lifeless ice.
Dran smiled. He swung his sword with far more speed than any normal warrior could. To him, the heftiest sword of ice was nothing but a feather. But Terix was faster still. Dran swung again, putting more magic behind this swing. But again, the monster dodged.
Terix must have sensed he could not continue that fight forever. So he retreated, taking a spear from an unfortunate soldier as the Etoran fell lifeless to the ground. The monster barely managed to get out of the way of an icicle moving at speeds any trebuchet would struggle to match. The icy cone buried into the chest of some unknown Etoran soldier. Dran didn't care. He had already thrown two more.
Terix grew tired of dodging his enemy's projectiles. He cast a spell, immobilizing his enemy. He moved in at great speed, carrying his spear. But it wasn't the mage who found himself impaled.

Dran's heart pounded as he shrugged off the dead monster's enchantments, and regained freedom of motion. He looked at Terix. Run through of a shaft of ice he hadn't been able to see. It is dripping with blood, too dark to be that of a human. The crowd began to murmur. They began to cheer. The shouted Dran's name. And the sorcerer realized something. This was the first time anyone had ever cheered for him.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The New Emperor

"I don't need you to come with me," Dran said. He stood in a room of perfect ice. Crystals grown over the course of hours, so flawless they were transparent.
"This is important," Marius responded. "You need all the help you can get."
"Marius, I know you want what is best for me and the cause, but your presence will be counterproductive. When the time comes, I will be sure to make use of you, just as I will use every resource at my disposal."
Dran spoke the True Name of ice. The crystals around him reassembled themselves into a suit of armor, covered in protruding spines, so transparent a casual observer might not even see it. Dran spoke the name again, and the spines receded.
"Marius, in a few hours I will either be commander of the world's largest army, or else dead. Either way..." Dran thought about his fellow potioner. His rival, his student, and his friend. "Goodbye, Marius."

As Dran walked through the Etoran camp, he could feel his heart pounding. He knew the danger he was walking into. A few people had approached him, wanting to confront the strange outsider. They were dead. Dran was not in a mood for distractions.
As he walked, the tents grew bigger. They grew grander. Dran was no longer surrounded by foot soldiers. He saw officers. Then nobles. Finally, he reached the center of Etoran command. A large tent. Dran stood outside for a moment, savoring the last moment of life as he knew it. Then, he stormed in, a flurry of snow at his back, his voice booming with the sounds of magical enhancement. "My name is Dranarius Caesorium. I am your rightful Emperor."
The generals drew their swords. "You are no Emperor. You are a sorcerer. Prepare to-" The man had trouble finishing the sentence with a shard of ice lancing through his skull.
Dran approached his cousin's corpse. It was dressed in a frankly absurd quantity of regalia. Dran wondered who had decided to bring that much royal clothing to a field of war.
The crown rested upon Anaxus' head. The Caesorium's were a powerful family of sorcerers, and their magic would not allow someone from another line to wear their crown. Dran cracked a smile at his countrymen, who thought that simple charm was a blessing from Thacanarion.
"Let this be a lesson to anyone who doubts my lineage," Dran proclaimed, as he lifted the crown from his cousin's head, and placed it upon his own.
There was a look of moderate surprise from the onlookers. "We leave tonight," Dran ordered. "My cousin's senseless war is over. Without this army, Koteph will break. We will rebuild the Empire. It will be strong in war and wealth and magic. Get to work."
By this point, the generals had begun to come to terms with what was happening. They knew that explicit rebellion dissent would get them killed. Better to play along, leave, and crush this pretender beneath the entire Etoran army.
Dran knew what they were thinking of course. "You," he said, pointing at an unlucky general. "You would rebel against me. Don't deny, I saw it in you mind." Dran could do nothing of the sort, but he expected this crowd lacked a detailed knowledge of what magic could accomplish. "You die." The man died.
Dran waited, as the generals got their word out. There was a new man, a stranger, who seemed to be of the Caesorium line. He was the Emperor. For the moment at least. After waiting what he judged to be the optimal amount of time, Dran flew into the air to address his subjects. He did not get the chance.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Poisoner is Called

Emperor Anaxus III had finally done it. He had ordered the death of the shade Koteph, and the order had gone through. News of the death in the enemy camp was quick to reach the Tower. It was the talk of everyone.

"I suppose it was inevitable," Dran said. "But, nonetheless, it is a surprise."
"For someone to die like that," Marius said. "It must be horrifying."
"Death is horrifying enough. Additional theatrics are for the simple-minded."
"Evidently Koteph thought it was necessary."
"He was sending a message to simple-minded people. He had a clear message for the Etorans. Their leader had resisted Koteph's commands, and he wanted to make sure no other Etoran would do the same."
"Do you know who is going to succeed him," Marius asked.
"Well, he has no living relatives except some bastard children back in New Etor. And me, I suppose. I expect the Empire will fall apart within a decade."
"You... you're his heir."
"In the sense that my banished father was his uncle, yes, I am the heir the Etoran Empire. I suppose I should make you call me 'majesty'."
"You should rule, Dran. This is your chance. You have the potential to be the greatest member in the greatest line of  Mage-Emperors ever to exist."
"The Etorans aren't exactly looking for Mage-Emperors, my friend. The bastards in New Etor have better chances than do I."
 "They don't have a fraction of your power and intelligence."
Dran stood up. "I'm going to go use my power and intelligence to whip up another batch of skinmelter. If you have anything to say that isn't goading me into a suicidal power grab, you're welcome to join me. Actually, you're not. Someone needs to re-calibrate the Aeolin balance for the thigmoturges we're making."

Dran was absorbed in his work, so he hardly noticed the Master of Potions walk in behind him. "Marius is right," Lencius said. "You could be your cousin's successor."
"Really," Dran laughed. "You know, my father spend the better part of his life trying to take back the Empire. But even he wasn't foolish enough to act on that urge. And he was far more powerful than I. A fact he demonstrated to me on a great many occasions."
"Koteph's monsters are nearly gone, thank in no small part to your poisons. If you pick up the Etoran crown and deprive him of his second army, it will be him alone against all the sorcerers of the Tower. You will save the world, Dran. Is that not worth risking your life for?"
"Only if I have a chance at succeeding. My father never thought he could succeed, why should I think I can do better."
"Because your father thought you could do better."
"Excuse me? What do you know of Phorius Terrorslayer's thoughts?"
"I know exactly what he thought of you, Dran. All the ingredients for all the potions you brewed every year of your life, they came from me. Your traveled the world, you must have realized that. But perhaps you never appreciated how frequently those travels brought him to the Green Tower. He would come to the hub of the world's sorcery, and I would supply him with ingredients and books, and he would tell me how brilliant his son was. He would speak of your cunning, or how quickly you had mastered the True Name of ice. He would go on for hours about your adventures in potionry. To hear him talk, no sorcerer in the world was a match for your mind. The Etoran Empire was hardly large enough for you. You would rule your family's land and more. When you came to the University, I asked to have you as an aide. I wanted to see this prodigy Phorius was so proud of. And you are every bit as capable as your father described. Phorius was lacking in a great many regards, Dran, but he never lacked confidence in Dranarius Caesorium. It seems only you have that lack."
Dran pondered his mentor's speech. He took a moment to decide if he believed it. He took a moment to evaluate what impact he could have on the war.
"Very well, Lencius. I shall consider how best to reacquire my family's crown."  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Ethics of Flesh and Flame

"It is beyond the pale," I said. "Utterly and completely." Dran and I were sitting in his laboratory (at this point, it was his in all but name) discussing the actions of out mutual friend. I was looking out the window, watching to pillar of fire die down as Dragoneyes returned to our Tower.
"You are too quick to judge," Dran countered. "You don't look far enough into the future."
"He is butchering people. Skinning men alive. Even the monsters of Ochekol'kan don't do that. For the most part."
"He certainly has his reasons."
"No reason could justify what he has done."
"If he succeeds, he will save lives."
"That isn't why he does it."
"What does it matter, what his motivation is?"
"Dragoneyes is using his grand principles as an excuse to murder thousands of people. Thousands of your countrymen, in fact."
"Etorans aren't my countrymen, Amniel. If they had wanted that, they shouldn't have sent my father to live in exile. But their country has nothing to do with this. Dragoneyes is trying to learn the True Name of flesh. With that power, he will be able to heal the sick and wounded, and make the old young again. That justifies whatever cost may be incurred in gaining his power."
"Dran, you don't understand what a human life. They can't be bought and sold in the hope to make a moral profit."
"Consider it this way," Dragoneyes said. I was startled to see him entering the room. He wore a heavy suit of armor, and yet he moved silently and gracefully. "If I had the option of saving a hundred people or a thousand, which would you recommend doing."
"That isn't the same, Dragoneyes. You are using the promise of doing good to justify your desire for power." Perhaps it wasn't wise of me to provoke him like that. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so harsh with someone so powerful. But Dragoneyes did not seem to take offense.
"What else would I do with that power?"
"What else would you do with power? People have been chasing power as long as there have been people. Very few of them have turned around and started using their power for the greater good."
"Haven't you used your power for the greater good."
"I didn't get my power by killing people."
"True. But I don't think I am so different from every other sorcerer. We study the world around us, with the goal of using our powers, for the most part, for the greater good."
"Sorcerers are policed. We are kept in check. No sorcerer is powerful enough to overwhelm the rest. If one goes bad the others will work to mitigate what he can do. Once you have the power you wish, there will be no such restrictions on you. The world will be at your mercy."
"And what reason have I given you to think I will not be merciful," Dragoneyes snapped.
"You kill anyone you think threatens Cassinder. You kill people if you think it will make you more powerful. You can be vindictive, and you known to act before full thinking through the consequences of your actions."
"Amniel, it is you who have not thought through the consequences of my actions." Dragoneyes let us behind.
"I wonder where he is going," Dran said.
"Probably to rest."
"Or to see your sister."

Dragoneyes looked at his hand. He could see beneath the skin. He could see the muscles and tendons, the nerves and the vessels for blood. He could see all that complexity. And, if he stared deep and long, he could see the edges of the True Name of flesh. He didn't need the edges. He needed the meat.
If Dragoneyes were to work his magic on Cassinder, he would need to be certain of his power. He would need to know the True Name of flesh like he knew the True Names of fire and iron. Better than he knew the Names of ice and stone. He would need the utmost precision to stop the spread of poison through her body. Even more delicacy to undo the damage that had already been done, so that she might live to see old age.
That was another question inside the mage's mind. Old age. Should he permit it?
Part of him thought it was natural. That it was what a man or woman was meant to do. To live a full life, to grow old, to die.
But another part of him thought of a world with no aging. Like the elves had enjoyed. Did one elf ever walk up to another and ask why his skin never wrinkled. Did he ever express sadness that he would never lose his teeth and hearing and memory. Did any elf ever express regret that after sixty years they would lose the abilities to walk and see and taste? Somehow, Dragoneyes doubted it. Aging wasn't necessary. Dragoneyes wouldn't allow it. Once he had the power he wanted. The power he needed.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Between Dran's pillars of poison and Dragoneyes' pillars of fire, Koteph's supply off monsters was beginning to dwindle. The shade was relying more and more upon his Etoran allies. And describing them as allies would be extremely generous.

"I could remove their entire army," Dragoneyes said. "I could do it right now. Their army is made of men, men know fear. If they saw the extent of my power. If they saw me tear the flesh from a thousand men's bones, the would fear me, and they would leave."
"If you do that, you leave the Tower vulnerable to attack."
"It is a risk I am willing to take."
That was touching, seeing as Dragoneyes wouldn't be one of the people at risk. "Are you sure that is why you are doing this?"
"What are you implying, Amniel?"
What was I implying? I didn't know. I just found Dragoneyes' behavior suspicious. Dran would know what to say. He would have his suspicions, and would voice them, and they would prove themselves correct. But suspicion did not come so naturally to me. It required effort.
What could be Dragoneyes' motivation? What did he want? What could he be after? My sister. He wanted to save her. "You want to fight humans so you can kill them. You want to learn the True Name of flesh."
Dragoneyes sighed. "I do."
"You can't do this, Dragoneyes. You have a responsibility. If you let your love for my sister cloud your judgment, you might destroy every person alive. This is bigger than Cassinder."
"Yes, Amniel, it is. Do you think I will stop after I save your sister? I will use that power to shred Koteph, and all of my other enemies. I will heal the sick and the crippled. I will make the hungry full again. I will be able to stop men from aging. Think of all the pain and suffering in the world. I will be able to stop so much of it. That is the power I want. And yes, it is bigger than Cassinder."
I didn't have a response to that. Dragoneyes didn't give me a chance to think of one.

Dragoneyes stood in the middle of the camp. Some brave souls stuck at him with swords. But nothing made of iron nor bronze nor steel could harm Dragoneyes for he knew their True Names. Some men threw rocks at the mage. But he knew the True Name of stone as well. One person came at Dragoneyes with a torch. He didn't blink. Fire had been the first True Name he had learned. Dragoneyes calmy dismembered the men attacking him. He sliced them to bits with their own swords. He laid their flesh out upon the dirt, examining it. More men came. They were added to the pile.
But when Dragoneyes looked at the bleeding spread of ruined human bodies, he did not see a True Name. He did not see salvation for Cassinder, or for the countless others who needed his help. He sent out a wave of flame, and consigned the flesh to oblivion. With a word, he lifted up the ground beneath him, flying into the sky, and crashing into the ground some distance away. He began his work again.

He did it seven times. Seven times Dragoneyes landed in the midst of the Etoran army. Seven piles of men shorn apart by their own blades, for the mage to study. Seven times he looked into the flesh, and didn't see the one thing he wanted.
The seventh time, he looked up, and saw a man fleeing in the difference. A man who stood out among the crowds. He had a power to him. Not the magical power that Dragoneyes had seen so many times before. This was a different shade of power. Dragoneyes was looking at the Etoran Emperor.

"Surrender," Dragoneyes ordered the crowned man before him.
"I will not." The man was kept a calm exterior. He knew the power of the man before him. But he knew surrender was not a option. Not with the current state of the world.
"You fight because you are afraid of Koteph. You think he will kill you if you resist him. Rest assured that I will kill you if you don't."
Dragoneyes saw the fear buried inside the Emperor. He had seen Dragoneyes' work. He had seen what the mage was capable of. Dragoneyes saw the word forming in the Emperor's mind. Destroyer.  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Name of Poison

I found work deep within the bowels of the Tower. I worked with Dran. With the True Name of air, I moves waves of his poisons over Koteph's armies. Even at a great distance, I could feel their lungs swelling, failing. I could feel the breathing stop as men and monsters succumbed to the work of The Poisoner.
I expected it to be satisfying. They had poisoned my sister, and now I was poisoning them. But it wasn't satisfying at all. I just didn't find killing an enjoyable activity. I suppose that might be a good thing.
I was with Dran, watching him work, thinking of ways I could increase the efficiency of his creations, when I began to hear screams fill the air. I heard crashing and tearing in the distance. I walked toward the window, hoping I wouldn't see Koteph storming the lower levels of the Tower.
I didn't see Koteph storming the lower levels of the Tower.

Dragoneyes was standing in the middle of Koteph's army. A flock of monsters was struggling to fly away from him. Dragoneyes used the True Name of air, and sucked them in closer. Even across all that distance, my magic let me hear their cries. It let me smell the scent of their flesh as Dragoneyes ripped it apart with metal hooks. "What is happening out there?"
Marius joined me. The student strained his eyes so see what happened. Dran joined his partner. "What is he doing?" Marius asked.
"I assume he is destroying the same creatures that injured Cassinder," Dran answered.
"No. From what I can see, he is tearing them apart. He seems to be discarding most the the body, but examining part of it. I suspect he is studying their poison. Attempting to find its True Name, so that he can save his love."
"That wouldn't work," I said. "For something made from a living thing, the True Name would be too complicated."
"Didn't he once use the True Name of flesh? Isn't that how he healed your sister after our first battle with Koteph?"
"The laws of ordinary mages don't apply to him, and he knows it."

When next I saw Dragoneyes, he looked strange. His clothing, his metal armor, his rings and his swords, all of them looked brilliant. Clean and whole, as if he had just put on his outfit for the first time. He knew the True Names of cloth and iron, so his clothing would always look the way he wished. But he couldn't keep the blood and gore off of his hands, out of his hair. His skin was covered in the reeking fluid. Beads of water were moving over his body, slowly soaking up the monstrous fluid, but blood was still oozing over his flesh. "I failed," he said. "I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't powerful enough. Your sister will die because my eyes were clouded today, because they didn't see as they should."
I didn't know if that was prophecy or just pessimism. I was afraid to ask. "Did you get a small sample of the venom? Perhaps with more time-"
"No, the venom degrades. There is no point in saving a vial of it. If I ever want to see it again, I will need to kill more of Koteph's beasts."
Dragoneyes saw the question forming inside of me.
"Koteph knows what I want now. He has sent the monsters I need far off. If I go to hunt them again, I will need to abandon the Tower."
"You can't do that." Even I knew that my sister's life wasn't more valuable than the Green Tower. "You wouldn't do that, would you?"
"I know my duty, Amniel. No matter how much I care for your sister, I cannot risk the world for a chance to save her life."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Poisoner

I was, of course, still angry that Dragoneyes had kept his relationship with Cassinder secret. But I had begun to accept that they might genuinely be a match, and that they had the potential to bring each other happiness.
Speaking of matches, my own love live was rather less... lively. Areline continued to regard me the way one might regard a particularly crazed hermit who has taken up residence in the outskirts of a nearby village. In that she was willing to tolerate me so long as I kept my distance, and criticized my personal grooming. "Is it so unreasonable that I can't be bothered to shave. I have at this point slain no fewer than eighteen monsters in the past four days."
"If your beard grows any more tangled you'll be mistaken for the nineteenth," the retorted.
"That seems very unlikely!" Perhaps not the reply of a rhetorical master.
We bickered for a little longer, until her brother brokered a peace. Othin was good at that. He could make friends with everyone. He was interested in everything. He spoke to Neriel with authority when discussing history, and impressed me in his studies of the True Name of air. He was truly his father's son.
Othin got us all discussing the relative merits of the the various types of Etoran cuisine. The discussion was going very nicely when Koteph blasted his way into our room. At that point, the discussion ceased rather abruptly.

I was terrified. There was no Dragoneyes to save me. No Archmage who would hold Koteph off. The shade was effortlessly was more powerful than the four of us put together. I summoned a whirlwind, for all the good it would do. Koteph effortlessly dispersed it.
"You know why I'm here." It wasn't a question. It was a statement, uttered by an inhuman mouth on an inhuman face. The shriveled, corpselike man sent out a spell, and the four of us were immobilized.
"I know why you're here," I said. "And it is a waste of your time."
"Yes, I see that now." He ran his fingers against my face. The texture was off. "An intricate spell. You know I want the True Name of air, and you aren't the fools I had hoped you were." Koteph took in the details of the enchantment. "Impressive. And I came very close to triggering it. I suppose I had better not use my magic here any more. Otherwise it might prove... more fatal than intended."
He didn't want to kill me? Didn't he know that I was useless to him? "But there is another, here. Another who could be useful."
My heart pounded. This was my fault. All my fault. "Othin. Son of Taerin. You shall open the door of air, and help bring Ochekol'kan into the world."
He grabbed my paralyzed friend, lifting the full-grown man like I would lift and pen, and left us. It was some time before the people combing through the debris of Koteph's attack noticed the three sorcerers standing still at their posts. I wasn't halfway through reversing the shade's work.

"Your foolishness has cost me my son! My heir!" The Archmage wasn't pleased. Not in the least.
"I- I'm sorry." That didn't seem like enough. What could I say? It hadn't occurred to me that theoretical information I had been teaching his son might attract Koteph's attention. I had simply lectured away, eager to discuss sorcery with anyone, not stopping to consider the consequences of my actions.
"You ought to be far more than sorry. Even as I was directing the sorcerers to help heal your sister, you let my son be taken by that... creature!"
Something wasn't right. ''My sister?"
Taerin's expressing went from anger to something harder to place. Shock, perhaps? "I assumed you had been informed. You sister was ambushed by one of Koteph's flying creatures. A Sassile, of some sort. She is not well."

Me, Dragoneyes, Dran and Cassinder. All together again. Except that Cassinder was unconscious, on the verge of death. "I can slow the process," Dran said. "The right potion can stop the spread of the venom. My assistants are making it as we speak." Assistants?
"I ought to be able to do something," Dragoneyes said. "If I knew the True Name of the venom, I could save her. If I knew the True Name of blood, or flesh." He caressed my sister. My sister. "I called upon the those names to save her once before. Why can't I see them again?"
"Perhaps it is a sign that she will live without your interference," I suggested.
"I can see the True Nature of things, Amniel. Yes, she will live. She will be kept in this state for some time. She may be conscious, briefly. But she will deteriorate. Further and further. Her flesh will rot before she dies. Her skin will decay. We can preserve her life until her heart becomes a lump of dirt. But it won't mean anything to her." Dragoneyes burst into flames. Searing heat came off his body. I put up a spell to cool myself. Dran did the same. Neither Dragoneyes nor his lover needed to deal with such trivialities. "Leave us," he ordered. I left him to be with my sister.

"It is an irony," Dran said.
"What is."
"Oh, you wouldn't appreciate it. But earlier today, I received a new nickname. The Poisoner." Dran grinned the grin of someone who considered 'The Poisoner' to be a desirable nickname.
"Because of the noxious concoction you hurl at our enemies?"
"It certainly is not a reference to my cooking, Amniel. But that is not what I wished to speak with you about. I wanted to discuss why Koteph didn't kill you."
"I have given it some thought. It is because I know the True Name of air. I am his reserve. His replacement, in case Othin fails to learn."
"Yes. Which means that he is working on a way to counteract your safeguard. Since sentimental reasons prevent you from being killed, that means we simply have to act to keep you out of the shade's hands. You will spend your time in the Tower, now. I have some work I think will suit you."
"Have you talked to Taerin about this?"
"I'll speak with him when he is less distressed. He is in an unbalanced state at the moment."
"I see."
Taking orders from Dragoneyes, taking orders from Dran. Or the Poisoner, as he liked to be known.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Etorans in Exile

Anaxus III considered the three men standing in front of him. Lords Orin, Tong and Bordar. Norgad lord who had pledged their support to the Empire in exchange for a share of its plunder.
"You cannot continue this battle." The Norgad Lords were adamant.
"You agreed to fight this war alongside me. Are you betraying your Emperor?"
"We agreed to help you storm a defenseless Tower. We never agreed to a siege where sorcerers would rain down flaming boulders upon our men."
"An unfortunate complication. But the sorcerers grow weaker every day. We will still be victorious. It is only a matter of time."
Orin stepped closer to the Emperor. "We are not alone in our unease with the war. Every day we are away is another tax upon the society built by your people and mine. Many of your advisers agree that the Empire is overstretched. Many of your generals would rather be quelling unrest back home. And in your absence, some are considering causing unrest back home."
Anaxus would never take these foreign nobles' word on anything. But he knew they were right. He knew that this was war cost costing blood and treasure he couldn't afford. It had been fifty years since the Etorans had waged a war so far from home. Anaxus had thought his Empire had recovered from its tragedy, but he was questioning himself.
If the war dragged on, his governors would rebel. The Norgads and the Irinians would invade. His nobles would seek to overthrow him, and his army would desert him. Anaxus couldn't allow that.
If Anaxus surrendered, he would appear weak. He would appear foolish. It would damage his reputation, but his Empire could survive. Except that Anaxus couldn't.
Koteph would murder him. The sorcerer would kill the Emperor for his betrayal. Anaxus knew he was mortal, and knew nothing he could do could prevent Koteph from killing him. Almost nothing, that is.
Anaxus would just need to have Koteph killed in his sleep.

Lencius, Master of Potions, thought of his two pupils. Initially, there had been resentment between them. Hatred, almost. Marius had been jealous of Dran's wit and talent. Dran had been jealous of Marius' experience, and his group of friends. But the two of them had come to work together. Dran tutored Marius on all the esoteric topics he had learned in his exile. And Marius had introduced Dran to the other students he had met at his time at the Green Tower.
There was a camaraderie between them now. They were as close as any students Lencius had ever taught. They were explaining new weapon of Dran's devising. "A poison gas," he explained. "We can launch it into the midst of their army, and kill thousands at a time."
"That is horrifying," Lencius responded.
"We need to kill those thousands anyway. This just lets us do it more easily."
"I wasn't condemning you. I was stating a fact. How do you get the raw power?"
"Ice," Dran said. "As heat flows from hot to could, we siphon some off and use it to power-"
"I'm familiar with the procedure, Dran. I taught a class on it. Although in my class we used the flow between a fire and a bucket of water, not between melting ice and open air."
"Well, nobody in this wing of the Tower knows the True Name of fire. So ice it is."
Lencius was impressed. Dran was a brilliant potioner, and a powerful mage. Those two traits weren't often united in the same individual. Adding in Dran's clever nature and resourcefulness, and Lencius had no doubt that the student would one day outshine the Master. Perhaps all the Masters.
"Impressive," Lencius said. "How much can we make."
"We can have the system up and running in a few more days," Marius answered.
"What system?"
"It was Dran's idea," Marius explained. "He thinks that if we want to make a lot of a potion- really a lot- our best shot is to enchant the materials. To use spells so the beakers and flasks stir and boil themselves at the appropriate time. We have the plans. We will feed in the raw materials, provide the occasional spells, and the system will spit out twenty flasks of completed potion every day, ready to be vaporized and hurled to the enemy camp."
"So, you plan for the potion to be made without... potioners?"
"For the most part," Dran explained. "There are some parts that are easier to do by hand, of course."
Lencius had a brief vision. Of Dran created a thousand such systems, pouring out the noxious potion, flooding the landscape with poison gas. But he knew that couldn't happen. Dran was a good person. Only a man of unbelievable cruelty could ever be capable of such a thing.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Civil Discussion

"She's my sister!"
Dran seemed unperturbed. "Lot's of people are somebody's sister."
"But she's my sister. I'm his closest friend. At least, I thought I was. How could he do this to me?"
"Would you be equally angry if someone else were doing it?"
I hadn't really gotten that far. "No. I'd still be angry, but the fact that this is Dragoneyes makes it so much worse. I love my sister, but she isn't entirely... well. She isn't complete. I don't know that I trust anyone with her but-"
"If anyone in the world can complete her, it is Dragoneyes."
"No. He can't complete her. Nobody can do that. All he can do is use his power, his terrifying, unlimited power, to force the world to conform to his wishes."
"I don't think Cassinder is being forced into anything."
"Not today. But what about tomorrow? A partnership needs balance-"
"And who could serve as a counterbalance to Dragoneyes? Do you know any sorceress who could match him. Unless he starts pining after the Shapers of the world and makes love to Ouuli, Cassinder is probably the closest he could ever come to balance. There are concerns to be had, of course. He should not have this distraction at this critical juncture during his fight with Koteph. But your resentment and misplaced sense of brotherly duty would only serve to complicate that matter. If you really think that this will provide too much of a distraction for you friend, then I might have a word with him on your behalf. But do not make this harder than it needs to be, do not get personally involved, and do not make this about you. Now, do you want me to speak with him about this, or not?"
"No, no, that won't be necessary."

I should have followed Dran's levelheaded advice. I do not know how much of what followed hinged upon my poor decision, but I imagine things would have gone better if I had congratulated my sister and friend. Instead, I did something obscenely foolish.
"Traitor," I screamed at the most powerful mage in the world.
Dragoneyes looked at me, and saw why I was angry. "I should have told you-"
"No, you shouldn't have done it!"
"We see things, she and I. It separates us from you. It draws us together."
"Well, draw yourself towards someone else. Don't conduct a secret affair with someone who even you can't think is entirely capable of making a well-formed decision."
"I admit her mind can wander far afield, but that is only because her field of view is so large."
"Does this mean you are going to stop?"
"No. But I should have informed you. Should I tell you everything from the beginning?"
"Tell me it has reached its end."
"No, Amniel."
"Do it." There was some force in my voice.
I stole the words from his lips. Drained him of his air. He tried to invoke the same Name, and combat me, but he did not yet have the power to fully use it without speaking it. And even if he had, I suspected he still would not have been a match for me on that front.
He fell to his knees. He began to move his fingers across the green floor, leaving a metallic residue behind. I don't want to fight you, he wrote in Irinian.
"I will fight you, if need be."
But I will if I have to, he finished. He used the True Name of stone, and a block materialized and flew towards me. A gust of air deflected it, and it shattered against the green wall. But I couldn't do two things at once. Dragoneyes was on his feet again. "Would you like to continue?" he asked.
I knew I would lose. I would die. That wouldn't do Cassinder any good. Dragoneyes could take what he wanted, even my sister. "Does she love you?"
"Yes, and I her."
"Will that ever change?"
"Not as far as I can see."
"I... hope the two of you are happy."
"I hope we are as well," he said. We walked away, leaving words written in iron on the green stone floor.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

To See the Light

"It is very frustrating," Dragoneyes said, "trying to see light. What does that even mean?"
"You don't need it," Cassinder said.
"Of course I do. I need to know the True Name of light. Think of all the power it will give me. I will be able to cast illusions. I'll be able to cut down my enemies with focused beams. But, most importantly of all, I will be able to more effective use my enchanted eyes."
"You are powerful enough."
"No, I am not. There is an army outside these walls. Two armies, really. They threaten the lives of every person in the world. If I were strong enough to stop them, I would."
"You are strong enough to stop them. It just takes time."
"But... why would I want to wait? Why shouldn't I try to become stronger now, so I can save the world now."
I was the only other person in the room. I did't know what to say. But I did realize something about Dragoneyes.
He sat in a cloak of bright red, wearing eldritch rings he controlled by knowing True Names, He saw the world through eerie eyes stolen from an ancient creature. And he was perhaps the mightiest man ever to walk the world. But he was also young.
The gap in our age had never seemed to matter in the past. Sure I was three years his senior, but I had spent my life secluded in a Tower while he had witnessed court intrigue and wandered the countryside. But now, as I looked at someone who hadn't had a twentieth birthday, I realized that some part of him was still a child. He was impatient. He he hadn't put in the decades of study to become a Master at the Green Tower. He had never studied to gain wisdom to go with his knowledge. He wasn't ready to wield the power he had. He wasn't ready to carry the weight of the world. In fact, nobody is.

Dragoneyes used the True Name of glass, and summoned a prism. He created lenses, and watched as light was bend and focus. "I'm beginning to understand," he said.
He was impressive. Amazing. He polished his glass into mirrors and bounced the light around the room, bending and focusing it, and spreading out the different colors. It reminded me why I had been so fascinated with the clever young foreigner I had met on my third day at the Tower.
I visited other parts of the Tower. I was confined to the building by order of the Physikers. It seemed I had hit my head during my fight with Terix, and that meant I was not at the height of my powers. I didn't feel any different, but they said that the effects of such an injury could easily last for several days.
So I whiled away my time. I read the history of the War of the White. When my ancestor Illiel had nearly brought down the Etoran Empire. I read about the Yellow Tower, and I read about the theory of color-changing potions. When I returned to Dragoneyes and Cassinder, the mage was writing on the walls, his hands leaving a white trail on the black stone of the chamber. He seemed to be making a diagram. "-so the focus would be..." Dragoneyes traced the path the light would take. "Aha! Here." The mage said a world, and the diagram became an array of perfectly aligned lenses and mirrors, focusing a ray of light directly into a mystical eye that had once belonged to a dragon.
The mage spoke a word. It was strange, and I had never heard it before, but I knew what it meant. He spoke it again with more force, and there was a brief flash. Soon, Dragoneyes' hand was glowing. "I think I've got it," he beamed. Pun intended.
"Not many could do that," my sister commented.
"Don't be ridiculous. No other person in the history of the world could have done that. I've learned the True Name of Light, and I still have time to get a nice dinner."
"And modest too," I commented.
"Well," Dragoneyes said, speaking to my sibling, "I think I did an excellent job."
"As I said. Not many could do that."
Dragoneyes and my sister whispered a few more lines of conversation.

Dragoneyes was knowledgeable, but not wise. He knew the True Name of air, and the powers it could bring, but he had not yet internalized those facts. He didn't appreciate that with enough practice, one could use the ability to pick up snatches of conversations. And as I eavesdropped upon the man I thought was my closest friend, as he spoke to my younger sister, I felt a rage building up inside me.