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.