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.