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.
"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.