Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Editing the Novel

After a long, very long break from this text, I finally feel ready to tackle it. Reading it gives me the creeps - I always knew that if I started editing, it would end up losing at least 33% in length. It's awfully inflated.

Now, long after it was completed, I can reread it and cut the crap down to a more readable form. I also need to resolve some plot issues: The rebels are levying unspeakably high tariffs from the merchants, and the merchants are fuming, but they also say that the tariffs are far lower than they were under King Taral? Minor contradiction there...

A new chapter is posted - it lost a lot in length before I put it up here, possibly as much as 20%. This is the description of Iola's and Morinan-Wo's briefing (scroll down to find it). I also have several further unposted chapters.

After I'm done editing this first part, I'm going to work on translating it into German (and, in the process, smooth the text further - there's nothing better for quality editing than trying to change it to another language; it's like defragmenting the text). After THAT, I'm going to see what I can write this year - November is coming up faster every time, somehow...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chapter VIII - A Brief Extension and an Extended Briefing

Chapter VIII
A Brief Extension and an Extended Briefing

“…and to betray not the name of wizardkind, be it through harming a fellow member of the Citadel, be it through allowing harm to befall a fellow member, or be it through disobeying an order from the council. Thus I vow."
––The oath of the magi initiates at Carenath

Soon, all too soon, came the day when they had to leave. Besides hammering out a few more points for her long to be discontinued tract, Iola had spent her time learning a few of the more basic spells dealing with self-defense and travel in the wilderness. She did not doubt that having Morinan-Wo at her side would make the journey marginally less dangerous than a short stroll down the in the garden, but her apprenticeship had already taught her early on that you did not succeed (or survive, for that matter), by being unprepared, or by excessively relying on other people.
So now, she was studying some of the more practical spells of the Nature Cycle especially, which was also a part of the Fourth tower (though the Second, the Geomancers had a nature circle as well with only slightly different curriculi. It was a shared cycle, and after all water went well together with both Earth and Air, so the conflicts of interest were kept to a very small minimum.)
The spells she had learned were concerned with protection as well as basic survival in the wilderness – with what she now knew, there would be no dying of thirst or hunger, that was for sure. Nor would anyanimal short of a tiger succeed in seriously injuring her if she got attacked – the powers of the Water were manifold, and not all of them beneficial. Besides, the strong Blackmoss warding potions she had brewed and stocked herself with would take care of that on any spots she happened to camp on.
Lastly, she had finally begun training on something she should probably not have. The Tower of Carenath and the Order specifically forbade it, to be exact. New forms and structures of magic, undocumented spells were not to be researched by anyone below the seventh level – that of the Researcher, the Arashinen. And even for them, it required a special license: The magical structures and energies were instable and powerful, and to devise new ways to apply and put them to use needed great skill from the one who did it, if he or she had no specific guidelines to follow. It might have blown up the tower if a foolish mage had decided to tamper with something powerful. Of course, the building and pretty much everything around it in a five mile radius was shielded by the most powerful shield that existed these days in the entire Kingdom of Atharellia, but shields were not unfailible, whether they served to ward against physical or magical harm.
If anyone had found out, that would have been it, like as not. Cast out for unlicensed experiments even beforeshe left on her mission. It would upset the fate as seen by the seers a little, but the laws of the order surpassed any prediction or prophecy. And the tract she had been working on, she could use for hearth fire in that case, and nothing else.
What did she care? She had the magic, she had done the licensed, theoretical experiments and calculations, and she knew enough now to use the practical concepts involved.

She had created a new form of Water Shield, and was already working on perfecting an arcane shield harnessing the power of the Ice. If she managed to complete this before she had to leave, she would have a great benefit from it once they were on that mission – in almost any situation, a quickly cast shield could save your life. Or at least delay your impending death, and that also made all the difference on occasion.
She conducted those experiments at night mainly, recording the uses of the laboratory (unmonitored, as her privileges of a Terkian and a Trusted Confidant of the Archmagus) as training sessions for her mission that was soon to start, and they were, after all. Still, if the laboratories had not been shielded, or if anyone had chanced to enter them while she was weaving the spells, she would have gotten in immense trouble – any mage could sense the structure of the energies at once and realize she was trying her hand at inventing new spell crafts. But then, a lot of the fun was in the risk, wasn’t it?
And in the challenge as well. She was an apprentice, not a magic researcher and certainly not a spellsmith or a weaver. In any professional laboratory or other researching institution, the proper place to one of her level of experience would have been that of an errand runner, or even a floor sweeper. More than once, she narrowly averted a devastating fizzle of a high energy burst – shields being defensive magic did not mean that they made no use of powerful and potentially harmful energies; a shield that was unraveled or torn could backlash on the mage holding it, its force unleashed to cause a significant measure of destruction.
But it had been worth the effort, certainly. She could now materialize, within moments, a shield that would withstand magical onslaught longer than any other shield magic within her ability. It would tire her out, but it would hold as long as she did.
And then, at the very moment she had finally gotten the rotten damn thing to work, it was already time to pack. The mages had given her almost a fortnight to finish up her affairs in the Tower before she was leaving on that mission (an unbelievably generous amount of time, considering that they were that pressed already. The Order of Carenath were known for the swiftness involved in anything they did or decided – once they decided!). But now these brief days were over. It was time to leave the place she had called home for the last six or so years, and visit the outside world once again.

Morinan-Wo was a small, inconscpicuous looking man. His head looked as if it should have been balded to go with the rest of his stature, but instead, a mane of long red hair tumbled past his ears and down onto his back and shoulders. His beard looked to have gone unshorn for two years at least, but it was neatly trimmed, and had it been white it would have given the entire man a nice, grandfatherly appearance. Instead, it was a dark reddish brown, which looked almost, but not quite black. Though it was distinctly brown, it showed off against the pale skin in a stark contrast. His skin was a veritable miracle, considering that it should have been long tanned to leather by the sun and the elements he exposed himself to all the time. The rest of his face looked well-cared for, like that of a man who spents his time reading, not adventuring. It belied the man, who had spent years out in the wild without coming even close to habitation, human or otherwise. He was rumored to be nearly a hundred years old, but looked not a day older than forty – a magic he had picked up somewhere along his travels, he would related to anyone wondering. Where, he would not say. Where any man of his reputation would have been imagined tall, he only measured barely over five fores, though he was thin enough to count as lank still. His eyes, finally, were a dark, coal black, looking almost like gigantic pupils set in colorless eyes. An anticipating, always vigilant tension was in his face, and a triumphant, confident, yea even arrogant smile shone perpetually on his face.

Iola first saw him on the day that they were supposed to leave the Tower. It never occurred to her as odd; even though the Nightbird had spent the last fourteen days at the academy. To his great annoyance, it must be noted; he had been called telepathically only an hour after the meeting, told to arrive within the next day. He was a busy man, and had tasks in the world, and had been going places next to every day for many years. To be called back to the Tower for two weeks, delayed while waiting for his companion to finish preparations (for it was Iola who had requested the time and gotten it, though she had not been asking or hoping for half as much), was seen as only one thing by him: Outrageous!
The wizard who had been in charge of that mission, incidentally, was Derlen, who had – with a very, very strong advisory note from Ramon to help him along – decided to give Iola several times as much time for preparation as she had desired. They both knew – inofficially – how fair it was to be chosen for a mission on nothing but a prophecy from the seeresses, with a tract in the works on top of it. So when she had come – demurely, a little downcast, and quite hopeless as to the success of that request – to ask for “a short while, three or four days”, to finish up the most pressing affairs that were left for her in the Academy, they had balked and instead given her fourteen.
Unknowingly, however, they were at the same time giving her an extreme disadvantage in that decision. That lay in Morinan-Wo, before they had even met for the first time, having decided on the basis of this delay , to begin loathing her heartily. When they were finally introduced, on the day that they were to leave, he hardly looked at her, and addressed empty air when he spoke of her in the third person. Oh dear.
And what was to be done about it anyway? She looked at him – before he hd even reacted to her preysence – and saw a wizard who combined the first traits of Ramon with the worst trades of Ayin Selten. Definitely the Pride of a mage, she could see in those eyes, the same pride that must once have been in the very look of King Kuno III just before he summoned up the demon to break the world, the very same look that must have been in the eyes of Shezaiah the Accursed, the second one to summon up a Great Demon from the nether, and nearly wreck the world again. She had no doubt that the third mage, who she was sure existed (Theodore Kyntall usually had a point when he was worrying about anything, even something as unlikely as this), would have that same look. Power. I have Power, and I can use it, and I want more. That was all that look said.
Maybe she was interpreting too much into that look. Ayin looked far-off, and proud, as well, and when he spoke it was in all the measured cadences of one who was fully aware of his power, standing and authority. Yet only the lowest rat in Carenath would have said him to be untrustworthy. Ramon had a slight, but unnoticeable disdain for the ones called moogs amon wizards – non-magically skilled people seeking to intrude upon the affairs of wizards (and thus exposing themselves to their subtle and quickly aroused anger). But to accuse him of secretly desiring to be lord of Atharellia, nay, even Carenath, would have been grave insult.
So perhaps Morinan-Wo was that way too, harsh on the outside, but a good man in truth, who cared about others more than he let on…

Wrong. Dead rotten wrong.

She noticed and realized that as soon as she had seen him otice her. His eyes tightened slightly, and he otherwise showed no reaction whatsoever. Looking staunchly beside and above her, never blinking, looking past her like so much empty air. She hesitated, then approached uncertainly.

“Greetings, Luminar.” This mage was anyone but a man who would allow himself to be addressed without his title or proper address. She knew that without even thinking.

No reaction.

Well, whatever, she thought, getting slightly annoyed, and exasperated at what the next few months were going to do to her by just having to endure that despising resence. He would have to talk to her eventually, she knew, so why press the matter? She didn’t much look wforward to the moment he addressed her anyway.

And at that moment, Ayin Selten entered. It would be him briefing them, of course, not Derlen or Ramon; the ranking member of this little party was of the Sixth and his Archmagus (and his superior, though from looking at the two, Morinan-Wo would have died before admitting that or showing respect), Ayin Selten, would be the one giving them their directions (even though Ramon would likely be directing her directly later on when they were negotiating, and in turn both being coordinated by Derlen, that was the way the hieracrchical structures worked in the Order).

And he approached, and saw the trouble immediately. Inwardly, he seemed to sigh, unnoticed to Morinan-Wo but not escaping the sharp eyes of Iola. I knew what would result from letting the Nightbird wait. He hd, but he certainly hadn't warned them. They, as in Derlen Lightweaver adn Ramon Tulyn, the Archmagus of the Fourth. They had decided to giver her all this delay for finishing up the most dire of her works and affairs at the tower (and especially her training, whcih she had imposed on herself harshly indeed - that sort of thing did not escape Ayin). He knew, also, that hse had experimented with a little spell-weaving.

He might have reported that, certainly he should have. To both of them, her archmagus and the Director of the Order. He had chosen not to; he was a Demonologist and a mage of the sixth; he was used to breaking the rules of magery (as long as it harmed none). So what he had decided to do was let it be. A little extra knowledge would always come in handy.

But never, on his oath, he could have known she would succeed this well. He had tracked her progress, to the very point of scrying her lab notes (easily breaking through the well-made but untrained and weak encryption spell - encryption and ptrtiection were a magic of the Light, not the Water, and thus not her strength), and surveilling her experiments surreptiously through his arrangement of scrying apparatus. She had obviously had a great success indeed, she had. After all, she had not only perfected her water shield but had also started on the shield structured like ice crystal (and all this in one week). The ice shield had been a purely theoretical possibility of magical structure up to then. A fairly well-known theory, since Ramon had chosen to tell all the other archmagi of the work his apprentice was working on, but still: Nobody in their right mninds would have believed that anyone could come up with the practical way of accomplishing it this soon. Still less the inventor herself, untaught in the weaving as she was.

But she had done it. The shield was very weak and often fizzled (though without great risks, since the fizzle usually resulted it in merely fading away rather more quickly than it should have otherwise). And so, the shield was pracicall at last. In combat - given a little more practice - she would be able to use it to great affect.

All this, Ayin knew, better than Ramon Dulyn had (and that was good; Ramon prided himself on being very strict in the rules, and he would have been less than pleased to hear his apprentice had betrayed his trust by peerfomring forbidden magic expereiments. So, Aying had kept quiet. Like he had when Derlken and Ramon had together decided to delay the departure of Morinan-Wo for a fortnight. The former decision had turned out to be a good one, as it had worked out to great success. The result of the latter, he saw before him.

Oh dear.

Then, Morinan-Wo spoke.

"I see you have finally chosen to come, Radiance". There was no doubt, form the way he had said Radiance, that he meant it with less than little respect. And then, "I see, also, that the servant you have appointed has finally seen fit, after all these days, to find that she has finished her doubtlessly extensive and highly essential preparations."

Cold scorn, in those eyes. Iola frowned, but wisely decided against replying.

"I have indeed come to brief you two now. And yes, this will be your companion on this mission; her name is Iola Lyrian."

Morinan-Wo scowled, if that was possible in a face that was already covered from side to side by a sneer as wide as a grin. His contempt for the entire academy was no secret. He had often criticized its policies, especially against the unlicensed use of wizardry, and the resz bans on the trade and practice of dark magics and any materials required therefore. He felt it intruded upon one domain of magic more than the others. Why, for example, were dark mages of the Sixth disadvantaged mnore than the Pyromancers of the third? Their magic could kill; as could that of the Light, as could that of any of the towers, used in the right way. What was the use of saying stuff about Balance all the time when you then discriminated against one side of the scale this badly... whereas all the sides of the scale should have been trated equally?

Naturally, it wasn't his place to speak on this, not in the official circles, but he was rarely averted to an opportunity of speaking out against this unofficially - in the situations were it fit, and in those it did not, to all those who did or did not want to hear it. Morinan-Wo was a subtle wizard, but he was talkative when he ever did go to the tower (which was rare enough, being that most of his life he spent in the field).

A character like Ayin, somewhat: Someone who they did not entirely trust, but who they needed. But not as likable as Ayin – not one bit of it.

"Is there any explanation yet as to why I would require a... _companion_ on this mission?" He spoke the word 'companion' with exactly the right amount of scorn and bawdishness that it became a signifier not for a fellow traveller, but an entirely other, less savory meaning. He was determined not to allow this conversation to turn more civil.

"It was seen by the prophets. We always trust those, as you know."

"Ah yes, the... prophets. Have they also foreseen what way she will be important in?"

"It might have escaped their vision, for they have not imparted that on us. Yet we shall assume it to be something essential, and carry on with our work until it happens. At least this way we will be prepared partly. What do you think of it?" Ayin Selten had imsself now adopted a more formal style of speech, presumably to not allow himself to be viewed as inferior by his own mage, Morinan. Morinan-Wo, he corrected himself silently. The wo is not a last name, bloodied be it. Indeed, nobody knew his last name; they used his title, Nightbird, as his last name whenever it came up. Indeed, Luminar Morinan-Wo Nightbird was quite enough of a name, and four syllables should have satisfied anyone. The style of speech was somewhat encumbering, like very formal clothing, but it was needed, lest the Nightbird fall to outright scathing speech rather than being merely slightly scornful disrespect.

"Then I expect it will be eventually useful to have her around. But I wonder if it will outweigh the burden of escorting her around for the rest of the time." He was fully aware, of course, of the Terkian's lack of experience. Morinan-Wo had strange powers, and to send a mage apprentice to tag behind him was like sending out a butterfly to aid a cave-tiger in his travels and tasks. Power being all that signified the capability of a wizard in the mind of one like Morinan-Wo, he did not appreciate the talent of one like Iola, who was not yet out of apprenticeship, but already showed potential to be not an Arashinen, not an Aventer, but possibly an Arcanor and Ramon's successor in another century's time or so. But Morinan-Wo had little more respect to what might be than for what was not at all.

"I am sure it will. The seers have rarely been wrong in all they have said, as you well know."

"It will be a tremendous burden, you realize. You have seen fit to weigh me down with an apprentice on a most essential mission to the order. What is she even skilled in?" He asked, not turning his face from Ayin for even an instant.

Time to interrupt, Iola decided.

"I have travelled the wilderness before, though briefly. I can navigate, track and hunt, and I can protect and defend myself. I am more skilled than you realize, perhaps."

"I doubt it not. But there is little to that, for I have an extremely low opinion of her skills either way, an opinion it would be almost impossible not to exceed." Sarcasm was dripping.

"Her skills, unlike what some might say-" turning to Ayin Selten in protest, "are exceedingly trained for one of her level. There are few even in the nature cycle who match her training in that way, and none in the healing cycle. She will be more than capable of pulling her weight in such a mission, even to the side of one such as him."

Ayin winced. This was not starting off well.

"Subtlety, Iola, and Morinan-Wo, subtlety - as you will remember - is the Virtue of Wizards. May I ask you both to be a little more virtuous?" He smiled at his little joke, under the frown of Iola and the dead glare of Morinan-Wo. “Meanwhile, I must ask for both your silence and your attention."

Both were silent and granted him attention, Iola still with a very annoyed frown and Morinan-Wo with a mixture between a sneer and a glare that would have turned anyone to flight who was not a mage himself. Children, both. Why is it that any mage retains a bit of unprofessional, unreasonable childishness that grows worse with increasing power?

“As you have been informed already, the decision of the last Council meeting has resolved to, for now, seek neutrality in the conflict, and balance it out by covertly negotiating with the rebels. We will then intend to subdue both sides to force an armistice, in order to turn our attention away from this conflict and prepare the Kingdom for what lies ahead.

“Therefore, our council has decided to send a highly skilled, experienced and powerful Aventer of the Sixth – skilled for stealth, subtlety and subversion – to go on a secret quest to negotiate with the rebels. If the advisors or any agents of the Royal Court discover this subterfuge, our plan is forfeit, and we must fear indirect, if not direct retribution. Whatever shall result from it, the first consequence will be a turmoil of the first order and an upheaval throughout these lands, which will play into the hands of the forces that must even now be preparing to rally to the banner of whoever can raise the L’zothgwaur when it is time. It will be a failure on all our parts, and maybe even the cause of a second Breaking.”

A little gasp at that.

“So you must on no account be discovered by the King’s minions on your mission. But almost as bad would it be were some disaster to befall you fatally during your journey. We have already made the first move by withdrawing our forces. We cannot go back on our plan and abort it now – if that had even been an option in the first place. We have begun the game – if we do not follow it up with the next move, the consequences would be disastrous indeed.
“Our fate-forgers”, a somewhat mocking title the Tower had unofficially given to a small group of brilliant strategic minds who were responsible for analyzing all their conspiracy plans and concluding what effects they would have, based on a very experienced and advanced model of the Atharellian society, “our fate-forgers have analyzed what would happen were we to leave matters as they are now. The most likely consequence appears to be that both will decide that without the benefit of magi on either side a victory must be won swiftly, or not at all. Resulting, of course, in a sharp acceleration of hostilities further weakening the land against a possible nether attack.
“This can only be prevented if we quickly reach the King with our offer of the Tower-commanded support force. The justification is reasonable: It’s a significant war now, and we would rather command our own forces for his aid than have them in the Army to be commanded by him. He would do the same, were he in the situation. Further, we must reach the rebels with our offer for them. And the trick is that they must not know the slightest thing about each other. That will be the most dangerous thing.
“Fortunately, we have given our mages orders of total lockdown on any intelligence communication between the Kingdom and the rebels – and that’s on both sides. There are no spies on either side that do not rely on magical communications, so we can rather rely on this.”

Iola interrupted, a little concerned, with the doubtful frown remaining on her face.

“Can you? You have informed me only two weeks ago that the rebels have in their service some of the most powerful Thaliomancers of Atharellia, who would not hesitate to scan me for mental rapports with the Tower, or even read my thoughts to detect subterfuge! If we can trust the communication wizards and informants, then how is it that we have to beware the mentalists?”

“Because the mentalists I was speaking of are not Thaliomancers in the strictest sense – that is, they never graduated from the Academy of Carenath, and they are not counted among the Order of the Magi, not among the First tower, and not of any other. Instead, they have studied at the mentalist school of Duskinholm, far South of here. A little place, and hardly known to the populace more than a few miles around it, but they concentrate on only one branch of magic, and have perfected it absolutely. The mind mages they churn out there match the finest Thaliomancers that have ever graduated from the Tower of the Wind, in spite of the poor treasury and libraries available to them. They have dedicated teachers and students whose eagerness puts the most ambitious among us to shame, I am told.”

“How is it that the Order allows this?” There was no pride speaking there, though some pride in Carenath verging on the point of patriotism was associated with almost all mages. The Order did not merely represent this institution, it was an agency responsible for all practitioners of magic, be they far to the South beyond the Telladar, or to the East in the city of Thara, or to the West in one of the great cities of the western coast. If another institution were to suddenly decide to open shop anywhere between the Great Temple ruins and the Isles of Blood, between the City of Light and the Sunset Sea, and teach magic, the Order would be quickly breathing down their necks.

“We let them be, for the most part. They have vague agreements with the Order, and being that their mages have never been known to start trouble in the world – nor engaged in unlicensed demonology or other dark arts – there is no reason to stop them from doing what they are. Officially, the Order is permitting them to continue independently, and they know better than to press the point.

“But they are still free-lance mages – true free-lance mages, because even the self-taught herb witches and warlocks of the countryside are bound by law to the decrees of the Order. They are not. They act independently, and no decree and no command could ever justifiably sway them. We could sanction their academy of course, but that would be an open move. Even a command would make them wisen up to our intentions, and if they do not agree with us, they can notify the King. No, the rebel Thaliomancers cannot be trusted in this. Luckily they have not yet come up with a way of using long distance telepathy. Our agents would know if they had. So at least this remains to us; that we can stop any sensitive information flowing between rebel and royal informants.”

That did not appear to satisfy Morinan-Wo, who frowned deeply to the point of scowling. Before he could open his mouth to speak, however, Ayin went on and continued.

“They shall know not the slightest thing about each other. And that, as I said, will be dangerous, for if you are caught, you must deny all connections with this mission. Instead, know that I am sending you on another quest, which will be the official reason you must give to any stranger asking your errand.”

He paused slightly, looking at Iola regretfully.

“Here it comes. You, Morinan-Wo, are on a very important task to see our trusted Royal Liaison and Pyromancer, the Aventer Ranino Om’W Nabrosto. Your task is to meet him and consult on a matter of strategy with him, also giving rumors to the effect that the wizards will yet involve themselves. This may pre-empt any hasty military action on the part of the royal army. Your mission is secret and classified, only the higher-ups among the royal army are allowed to know of it.”

Iola grew apprehensive, as Morinan-Wo stood emotionlessly to appreciate and acknowledge Ayin’s order. At long last, after several seconds had passed in silence, she spoke again.

“And I? What is my part in this apparent, counterfeit quest?”

Morinan-Wo’s lips curled in a little smile as he guessed what the answer would be, and Ayin paused before responding.

“As… ahem. A bodyguard and personal assistant to Luminar Morinan-Wo.” A moment passed, and the Nightbird’s grin grew wider still.

Morinan-Wo leant in to speak. “A lackey,” he redefined Ayin’s words far too aptly. “You’ll be the one who carries my stuff, you know, walks on ahead when we’re approaching inns to make sure they prepare a room for me. That sort of thing.” He grinned again. Ayin winced again. And Iola let her frown deepen into the blackest scowl she had yet mustered today.

Turning toward Ayin with still the same disgusted expression on her face, she took a hard effort not to yell at him. Instead, she took a very deep breath indeed, and talked in a furiously hissing voice not much above a whisper.

“I have been commanded by the Highest of my tower, and by the Deacon of the Academy, to abandon my studies in favour of this quest. Are you clear in your understanding of what the mission means to me with regards to the time lost of my apprenticeship? I have been commanded, according to the Archmagus, on a premonition by the seeresses! For traveling around as the personal servant of an Aventer?” She was working herself into a minor rage by now. It was only when Ayin held up his hand imposingly, looking like a dark speaker of Doom in his black robe, that she realized she was raving by now and fell silent.

“Apprentice Lyrian! This is a necessary measure. Your position must be such to act as a cover – what other position would be believable without a second question, for an apprentice?” He turned to Morinan-Wo, who looked rather like he had just been notified of the cancellation of a great feast to which he had been invited. “And you, Luminar Morinan-Wo, will do no more than necessary to strengthen that cover. It is a subterfuge, so I will not have you going about kicking her around. And I will know if you do. The moment Ramon gets word that she has been needlessly made to suffer, he will tell me and I will make sure there will be consequences.” And, as Morinan-Wo scowled, “you may be the Nightbird, but I am the Prime of the Sixth, and your superior, and you had best remember that.
“Am I making myself clear?”

“No need to worry.” Morinan-Wo spat. And spat it in a way that let Iola know there was need to worry. He would make sure she paid for this, and in a way that would avoid reprimand from Ayin Selten.

“Then I am relieved. You will leave here, travel along the Southwestern road for a distance of twenty miles and then leave the path to make your way through the wilderness, to avoid discovery by any agents of the King. You will then pass through the Deridan woods.” He paused, waiting for a second to give them time to react to the ominous name. The Deridan… dark and enchanted, the legends said. Only the Nogrin, most massive of forests, surpassed him in size, and age. There were dark creatures dwelling in the Deridan, supposedly, left over from the time before the Fading, when the great cataclysm and the subsequent Raising of the continent had drained a great part of the magic from these lands and caused the extinction of almost all races of magical creatures (which had, in fact, existed, in spite of the human scholars who conveniently overlooked their existence in order to give Man a more special role in nature as the only being capable of magic). According to those legends that were more a mix between actual scientific history and fiction, rather than purely garbled folktales, the Fading had never truly reached inside the Deridan, just as it had passed by the Nogrin, and a few other spots in Atharellia that were still known as ‘wild places’, aescelte in the Old Tharian, were the old magics of nature were strong. There had never been elves native to Atharellia (though they supposedly launched several expeditions in the old days, landing there as explorers and scientists, bringing wondrous technology and new magics with them), but there were diminutive sprites that were known as wood fairies, and unicorns – though nearly extinct – dwelt in the Deridan as well. And things less savoury than fairies or unicorns.

“You will travel through the Deridan and traverse it southward, then cross the great river Bulnai at David’s Ford, deep within the wood, and turn east ward again. Within little more than a week’s journey, assuming good weather, you will leaver the woods at the east end of the Deridan, and cross the border into Lendra’s province – populist-controlled land. From there on, you will be watched by the rebels – though you are mages, they will not assume hostile intentions since you number only two. They are not likely to engage in any defensive action, and it will likely be several days before you will even be challenged by rebel scouts and asked to explain the cause for your journey.”

“Will the rebels know of our coming?” Iola asked, uncertainly.

“Good Canae, no! Of course we cannot let them know we are sending you – every additional day that they know of our intentions is an additional day that we run the risk of spies exchanging information between the King and the Rebels. Each must be notified as late as possible in the process of this subterfuge, to minimize such danger. No, the rebels will be unaware of any of our intentions, and you will be the first to tell them of such plans.

He paused, then spoke on, slowly and deliberately,

“And for the Dreamer’s sake, do not be loose with your tongue when you talk to their footsoldiers. Your quest is absolutely secret and must be told to the rebel high command and Lendra alone. This is especially important not only because there might be spies planted in the ranks of the rebel army, but also because the rebels will likely harbor an initial resentment against you.”

“Why would that be?” Morinan-Wo inquired smoothly, but with an undertone of grim annoyance.

“Because, quite frankly, the recent decisions and orders coming from Carenath have not made things easier for them. They have no reason to like us when we have just locked down a significant segment of their fighting force by decreeing that all Magi of the Order must not involve themselves in this civil war. They will see you as meddling in their war and opposing their cause, and they will be hardly pacified by the knowledge that the King’s magi have received the very same command. The rebels have good reason to see this as an imbalancing factor rather than a balancing one, because their inferior manpower forces them to rely on magic to a far greater extent than the Royal Army. If the magic is taken away, naturally the armies will gain an advantage over the rebels, matching sword for sword at least three times over.

“They will not see past this easily. And if you even hint at the fact that your negotiations are regarding the supply of battle mages to the aid of the rebels, then the footsoldiers will possibly resent you even more for appearing to blackmail them and put them under pressure. Effectively, it will sound like we are intending to sell them back what we took from them at a high price, and they will hate us for that. Of course, the true reason is much less savoury to them – namely that we are putting all the troops fighting in this war under our central command, to be able to freeze the entire conflict dead in its tracks and effectively take over the authority over both sides to prepare for the cataclysm at hand.

“All this will be, to their minds, much more of a treason to their cause than what they will otherwise think of you. And I fear that we must accept a little hostility therefore, and see past it in our negotiations. But let no rumors abound about your quest. You are to tell anyone who challenges you that you must speak to the High Command and Lendra herself in an urgently important matter, that she knows of your coming, and that she has kept it secret only to avoid leakage into the spy network of the King.”

“That is risky” Iola realized immediately. “Our own spy network within the rebels is effective in picking up the information from the High Command only, not the lower ranks. We have little idea of their ranks of importance, who would be trusted by the commanders and who would not. Let alone those with personal relations and connections, who might be unofficially trusted with classified information over a drink in the tavern, in defiance to the security doctrines. The rebels are courageous and a fierce fighting force, but from what I heard they are structured unbureaucratically. That is not a fault really, bureaucracy is one of the many evils of our current royal court, and I would applaud the Lendranians very much indeed should they succeed in abolishing it.” She was going off-track, and remembered her original point before someone could interrupt her.

“But it does not help in building a clearly recognizable image of their command structure. If on our way we encounter someone who is justifiably positive that even the most secret plans of Lendra would be shared with him personally, and we make this claim, we might well be booted out on our ears, or worse, incarcerated on suspicion of treachery. Incarcerated if we’re lucky, incinerated if we’re not. Nobody likes being lied to, especially once they catch you. We must be careful in not assuming that anyone low in their chain of command is not entrusted with such plans, or our mission is in danger.”

Good Gracious, the seeresses must have known what they were doing when they picked you, mustn’t they? Ayin caught himself. “I am impressed. Yes, I admit I had not thought of that. It would be best to remain vague. It will be nearly impossible to win the rebels’ trust after having been caught at lying to them, and therefore this risk is far worse than any implications of entering the Lendranian province without invitation. Rather, claim an important task of delivering new intelligence to the Command, sensitive information that we picked up from our informants within the Royal Military. That information is sufficiently urgent and unexpected to set out at once to the rebels without first bothering with a formal announcement.”

“Will they trust us?” Iola was still doubtful. “Even if they do – they hardly have a choice anyway after we pulled out the magi; they need to accept the negotiation we offer them, whether they like it or not, so they likely will trust us – but even if they do trust our offer, it will still sound fishy to them that we set out first to supposedly consult with Ranino Om’wë Nabrosto,” she pronounced the middle name almost flawlessly, enouncing the voiced e at the end with great clarity, “only to turn around – quite obviously before seeing him, to anyone with a remote knowledge of the travel time involved – and instead bargain with them.”

“It will not be as obvious as you think. That is the part we took care of already when we planned out your route – we took into consideration that you would take time to speak with the liaison. It was expected that you would supposedly come to offer the rebels aid, not only in the form of magical support, but also in the form of intelligence straight out of the royal army, from our trusted informant Raninoah Om Awae Nabyrosto.” He savoured speaking the full name, smiling wrily as Iola rolled her eyes, aware that she had provoked it by first taking great care to pronounce the voiced e in Om’we.

“We will not actually be providing them with such intelligence in the end, will we?” Morinan-Wo inquired with interest.

“No, you will not. That is merely another cover for the rebels outside the High Command, who might be… shall we say, annoyed… initially, should they come to realize that we are offering them exactly what we have just taken from them, even though we had the best intentions.”
“I… see.” Iola was less than impressed.. “So, to resummarize, we enter Deridan, travel through it while looking over our shoulder regularly—“ she did not like the thought of the Deridan, if the tales they told of it were true – “we then come to the river Bulnai and the old Ford, while avoiding the spirit of the Dread Sorcerer David—“, the Ford was named after David Ulysic, a necromancer who had supposedly found his end there when his creations turned against him. Ironically enough, he did not die at the hand of any of the Undead, but rather drowned when crossing the ford, in an attempt to shake off the natural aquaphobes (no Undead creature liked running water, it represented a force of life that they rejected). The waters had swelled to take him at the command of the wood sprites that he had so long terrorized with his zombies, and he had drowned, his spirit left to haunt the ford and trying to ensnare unwary travellers attempting to cross it. – “we cross it, praying to all the twelve that he does not exist, or at least does not watch while we do it. We then turn left, east ward, having passed the most dangerous part of the forest, and leaving most of the supernatural risks of the journey behind us.

“After that, we leave the forest and enter rebellion-controlled country. If we’re lucky, it will be around three days until a group of rebel scouts discover and accost us. If we are unlucky, one of the abounding groups of bandits gets us first and tries to wring all the money we don’t own from us before Morinan-Wo here disembowels them.”

Morinan-Wo flashed a predator-like grin, looking for an instant almost gratified, before the smile left his features and he was scowling again. Iola smiled back in a semi-friendly sort of way, then turned back to Ayin and spoke on.

“There will be little danger to us in a fight – provided the Nightbird does not deign to use me as a meatshield,” she said that bit jocularly, but was fully aware of how viable an option that would seem to Morinan-Wo in a fight. Screw him. “Yet, if we do get assaulted by bandits and defeat them, it would build up a profile and our reputation; and should someone stumble upon the bodies soon, there will be little doubt remaining that a couple of mages must have passed that way. And there are few mages over there in the hilly regions right now, so it would likely look more than a little suspicious. Word will spread, and, like as not, our cover will be blown. After all, we are supposed to be travelling on the great East road, many miles north of the hills, toward the capital of Thara. To be seen that far south would jeopardize everything; thus we must needs be stealthy, even in the face of pathetically inferior threats.”

‘Must needs’? That the apprentices must always have this tendency to wax archaic. Ayin was a little bit irritated. He was about to comment sarcastically, then he remembered his ‘certainly’ very embarrassing, fortunately inaudible monologue a while ago, and decided to forgo it. Nobody was born a linguist, still less a poet. The choice of words one made was one’s own, and as long as it wasn’t a magical formula, wizards didn’t bother much with language.

Iola continued.

“After having succeeded in encountering a rebel patrol, we will pretend to them that we have entered their country from the north – across the most guarded border, which makes our unnoticed entering very suspicous. However, since they don't know when we set out, it will be believable that we have in the meantime spoken to Ran’Yini’Ashaoah-Arahensis Omyiath Awaerene Nathabyus Abarosonkotron—” her green eyes twinkled as she eyed Ayin intently, anticipating eagerly the reaction to poor Rann’s real, full, total and authentic name. She felt this was enough now; because the really full form of the full form of the full form of the name was definitely too long to utter in the short time that remained to them.

A little explanation would be apt at this point. Names are funny things. They have power, of course, according to the wizards (as they have in other worlds, with other kinds of magic than those we are used to). The true name of a being is what he or she should never give up when not in trustworthy company, and a wizard will usually not utter it from the time he is initiated to his death. In Kerran, in particular, the business with true and false names, and power and enchantments and ensnarements and curses was very annoying. Over the last few millennia, as more and more ‘unwardable’ curses became known that required nothing but the victim’s name and a little skill in demonology, eventually it became death to so much as whisper one’s name in the silences of one’s mind. And at that point, the wizards of Carenath had stepped in to intervene. You couldn’t operate under such conditions, when you weren’t even able to think your name without some dark mage ripping it from your skull from a hundred leagues off, and another dark mage sending you a nice but unfriendly visitor out of the nether from a thousand leagues off. So they’d thought something up that might have never evolved on a world like this one: Encryption. Numbers, of course, belonged to the realm of ‘magic’ (though in a nominal way only), and the Arithmancers enjoyed influence and a good reputation among the Second Tower, the Geomancers (who did not make much difference between dealing with cold, solid rock, or cold, solid numbers. The degree of abstractness as never mattered to sorcerers with a good imagination). It was therefore possible to encrypt something using numbers, and unlike other worlds where the technologies available for encryption are in a constant race to remain ahead of the techniques for decryption, in Kerran the Arithmancers had found formulas that even the most profound mage could not reverse. So unbelievably intricate and complex, in fact, they were, that it would be impossible to reverse it even if you were to know the exact formula and could use the same encryption. And thus, it was also used for the names of any mage initiated at Carenath.

It was possible, by magical and by clerical means, to change one’s name – one’s true name – and be known by that name to the laws of nature and the gods. And therefore, when any initiate entered the halls of Carenath, they were assigned a new name that became their true name – was never passed on to them, in fact, to prevent them from betraying themselves in torture. It was written on a parchment after only the Archdeacon himself had seen it, then it was encrypted with the one-way spell, and written in a huge ledger, next to the common name of the mage. The parchment was burned with arcane power to prevent it being ever restored again by magic, and the ledger was closed and locked away deep in the dungeons. Why, one might ask? What use was the irreversibly encrypted string of symbols? Why not keep it under a less guarded security – or even better, destroy it right away?
There was of course more to true names than what might be concluded from this: A true name was not only the result of a child being initiated (or baptized, or Charterbound, or whatever else it was called in the different worlds), it was not something you got, but something you had. And as such, it had to remain existant in the world, known to the laws of nature and the gods, or they would just decide whatever you happened to be called most often was your name. So the encrypted true name, after being forgotten by all but the archdeacon (there had to be a weakness in the plan, of course; if the deacon ever decided to try apostasy, the entire academy – or what he could remember of it – was doomed, if they didn’t kill him first. But that had never happened), anyway, after being forgotten by everyone except for the archdeacon of the academy, the name did not exist, by the laws of nature, apart from the little scrap in the book. And even though it was actually impossible to get back the original name from this, the laws of nature at least regarded the little encrypted scrap in the ledger as at least one occurrence of the true name of this mage – and as long as this name existed in the ledger, it was impossible to affect the mage’s true name by any power save his own, since nobody could know the true name. And this tome had to be guarded more than most other artefacts in the Halls of Magery deep within the catacombs of the Tower of Carenath, guarded not against prying eyes (which could have penetrated most defenses, but had no use for the encrypted names), but against destruction. If the ledger ever were destroyed, then all the true names of the mages would revert to their only other known names, and the entire business would have been for nothing.

They called the book the Avatarion, after avatae, the ancient word for ‘name’, and taron, the ancient name for ‘keeper’.

This was not the first system that had been tried. It was only the most effective, and had come into use some time in the second age, after the one-way encryption spell was discovered. Before then, the mages had used a neat trick that was impossibly hard to perform, and was therefore commonly given only to mages of the Aventer level and above (imagine the tremendous ruckus that resulted from the proclamation: “New Type of Encryption Discovered: Secure Name Protection Soon Available to Every Apprentice?”). It was based on the FIRWET (Fractally Infinite Reciprocable Word Expansion Technique) magic, that caused an expression to handle expansion like a fractal: By growing even more complex, so that the true name was just barely beyond one’s grasp. Enchanted by this spell, a wizard’s true name could never be uttered – the instant it was, it instantly disappeared and was replaced by something even more bizzarely inexplicable. This complicated matters only marginally, and by far not as much as one might have thought, because it was possible to stop any time: One could pronounce the name in as expanded a form as one chose and had time to utter, but it would never be the true name, for that lurked always behind the corner, another expansion ahead. A longer name, this one being only a feeble contraction of it.
Some still used this technique, if they could afford it, because the Avatarion did have its drawbacks. This one had not; save for the effort involved. Rann was one of them. That had been his original name, Rann. Time and frequent use had expanded it to Ranon, then to Ranonin, then to Ranino’Nan, then to Ranino Nabras, then to Ranino Omnabrosto, then to Ranino Om’w Nabrosto, on to Ranino om’we Nabrosto, then to Raninoah Om Awae Nabyrosto, and over several more runs to Ran’Yini’Ashoah-Arahensis Omyiath Awaerene Nathabyus Abarosonkotron. No one precisely knew what the last name was, because you could hardly tell how often each name had been uttered before (they grew increasingly hard to find out). The limit was not a solid, clear boundary, rather it faded off into the unknown, the ‘trueness’ of the name ever escaping further onward into the intricately mindboggling infinity of the fractal planes. It was, however, the second most complicated name that was known to wizardkind.

“So, having tipped Ra—“ a warning glare from Ayin –“Rann off, we have a good subterfuge for making it into rebel-controlled country. A clever disguise, I must say. Most plans would involve us pretending to do something that woud take longer, thus to have time to do something else in the meantime; we shall instead pretend to do something that takes less time than we actually need (pretending to take the East road, but passing instead through Deridan), thus to appear to do something else that we have no intention of doing (speaking with Rann). Clever. But wouldn’t you say.. a tad unvconventional? It was her time to try a little sarcasm; only on her face it looked much better than it had on Ayin’s or Morinan-Wo’s.

“Of course, unconventional. But at the same time very conventional. After all, it is a matter of where you’re standing In fact, you are not officially supposed to speak to the rebels at all, but instead consult with Rann for a period of one week, and have a vacation of another in the capital. But instead, neither of you will be going on vacation, but you will both be travelling to the rebel headquarters for that one week and the three days it would have taken you until you were ready to return from the Capital, and then you, Morinan-Wo, will teleport to Thara and start to make your way back – we will cover your reappearance there with a room in our own liaison where you can teleport to. It will look as if you had been staying there the entire time.”

Iola asked, a little uncertainly, but guessing at the answer already, “And where will I go after that week?”

Morinan-Wo himself looked on a little disconcerted, as if considering a possibility he had not considered before.

Ayin chuckled. “You’ll stay with the rebels to negotiate, of course! We send Morinan-Wo and you for the journey, but the negoiation itself will require only one of you – and it will be far easier to cover up for your absence than it will be for Morinan-Wo’s.” He looked tremendously pleased with himself as he had also just pissed off someone he did not like a whole lot: Morinan-Wo scowled a scowl that would have killed lesser men dead in their tracks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Monday, November 29, 2004


50021 words. Don't believe the ProMe counter, it always adds around almost 100 to that - probably counts dashes as well or something.

NaNoWriMo Progress Meter

Nanowrimo has this to add,

(In the end, I just couldn't decide).

Oh, and if you want to read the full novel (beyond what is currently here), well I'm sad to say the unedited manuscript leaves my PC only in this form.

"Nlrazurvi, ail ulr zn zgv
Izi lzrn rn ilunzvr rn azrkvig iglnv,
Irlvnav vniirluarng irn lrkv z azgv,
Giv nrgig vnazirng irn lrkv z glnz.

Iri iizala azi gzkvn urln Kvrrzn lu lla
Zi Zzlgzzzr Izluzrvva, Krng lu giv Alla
Zg llng lzig uvll zvnvzgi kzlzarni zlla
Rn rurni iri Krngaln, rn Ruzzlv iri Illa.


Lnv irnglv ulaui, z rvlra lu iri rvrgn, rvnzrni ln giv alrla, giv ulrav alngrlllrng rg zluna rnirav rg aivn Zzlgzzzr azi avuvzgva. Rg azi rnkrrilnva ulr z aillv nrllvnnrun. Zna nla, rg zvgrni gl igrr..."

Sorry for being that way. Deep down, it's all about me feeling insecure about my novel and not wanting to publicize my innermost weaknesses--- ah crap, I'm male so that line doesn't really work for me. ^_^

If you really really want to read all of it, and promise not to make that public, just drop in a friendly-worded comment below and I might email it. ;) (Because even deeper down, I can't live without compliments, so I'll risk it I suppose).

A little explanation on Mentalism

Excerpt from "Shadow's Rising, Chapter VII"

(a never-completed novel, and a chapter that does not actually exist)

Thaliomancy, of course, is the simplest type of magic. It is also the most complex type of magic. These two statements, both true, do not indicate a general state of confusion on the part of the narrator, but rather should give an idea of the difficulty to classify the magic that deals with the human mind.

As explained the Arcanor Ayin Selten of the Sixth: Magic, when referring to its practice by humans, is an almost exclusively mental process. Channelling the energy permeating the astral planes - the Chyaralia - is accomplished through the mind only, especially the Strength of Will, followed by the fine honing of Reason. Thus, all magic that is ever cast by sentient beings is really "magic of the mind", making the term Thaliomancy rather obsolete.

Which also causes the amazingly diverse area of this specific circle: So diverse it is, in fact, that initial attempts to associate it with one of the classical Elements - and place it in one of the seven towers of the academy at Carenath -, were unsuccessful.

"The Wind is Thought", argued the Aeolomancers, and called for it to be placed in the First Tower.

"The Mind is at Rest, it is the foundation of our existence", replied the Geomancers who would rather see it in their own school.

"It is not at Rest! It seeks Rest and cannot find it, like Water, and that is why the Wet element is attributed to Man," the Hydromancers would hotly retort and go on to explain that the magic, closely associated with humans, should - like the Healing circle - be within the Fourth tower.

"You are all out of your minds yourselves! Man ever Strives, he never wants Peace, he ever seeks War, he ever seeks Disorder and upheaval. His greatest inventions come from his curiosity and urge to adventure! The mind is like Fire, never resting, roving ever higher to touch the wisdom of Heaven and at last falling, blown away as ash upon the wind," the Pyromancers would finally yell, to place it in the Third.

The Light and Shadow towers never even thought about making a bid for the circle - to place it in either of their towers would have labelled Man as fundamentally Good or fundamentally Evil, and they were careful to avoid that kind of judgement.

A movement to place it in the highest tower was made (quite apt, since the Seventh was concerned with magic of all the elements, and mind magic certainly contained all of them), but dropped since that would have required any mind mage to graduate in the field of resonance magic (or metamancy), and the latter was not only radically different from the former, but also vastly harder to learn.

So one was again left with the four Lesser Towers that were so hotly contending for influence. And in the end, they decided to place it in the Wind Tower, on little other final deciding basis than that the current Archmagus of the First, Riano Mown, was the only graduated Thaliomancer among the archmagi, and his tower held a slight majority of the courses in the Thaliomancy curriculum. The decision was voted on by the archmagi, the Lesser Towers each voting for themselves, and the vote was swung by the three Greater Towers. The Aelomancers had won - the Wind was indeed Thought.

The decision, already arbitrary, was made all the more laughable by the sad fact that not even a tenth of the mentalists who wandered the land had ever set foot inside Carenath. Thaliomancy, with its broad range of applications, required a radically different syllabus than the great academy offered with its enforced elemental specialization. The college of Duskinholm had been established a little less than a century ago, and was but a blip on the map of magical education, but it had become the center of mentalism within a few years of its founding. It is here we turn our sights next.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Chapter VII - The Order wants YOU!

Chapter VII
The Order Wants YOU

"… to obey the rulings of the archmagi, follow the decisions of the council of Elders without question…”
––The oath of the magi initiates at Carenath.

Iola was upset.

“You have decided what?” Damn it, I have been studying the healing arts for three years; my next Grand Examinations are in less than two months' time; I have been preparing for them for half a year or more! “Are you aware that my assessments are scheduled to the ides of Mossenur, my assigned Tract is due to be graded even earlier than that?” Magic apprentices wrote tracts, not thesis or treatises; these were the foundation concepts for what would later on become a tome on the Arcane Arts. That bridge she would have to cross far later, in six years’ time. For now, it was a Tract.
A Tract whose concern she had elected herself, an investigation of the similarity of the arcane structure of Magic Shields and that of certain elemental states of water (forcussing especially on salt solutions). She had nearly finished with it; all the experiments she had had to do (a lot, in spite of the largely theoretical nature of the topic), had been tremendously successful. Her theories had been almost fully supported by what she had found: Though he had had to correct her thesis regarding the angles of the most effective shield, which turned out to be shaped like Ice crystals rather than salt, a hexagonal, not a square structure; and the rates of energy exhaustion were somewhat significant if the shield was kept up under the pressure of magical attacks. Also, the effects of an added catalyst of gillyweed, proved to be far less strong than she had believed to be. But now that she actually sat down to write the reasoning, she found she still had to polish on a lot of it before she went on to formlate the conclusion, before the final concepts and principles, and the basis for the dense, informative composition of a magical tome could be laid down. She would need all the time she could spare during the next two weeks, all the time she did not spend on preparing for her examinations.
It was what some called the Hell month, among the apprentices of the Tower. There would hardly be another time as stressful for them until they reached the seventh circle, where they had to perform another demanding assessment.
She was in the midst of a breakthrough, she often found. If she were given more time for this investigation, she might be able to revolutionize the entire school of magic shielding with the Aquamantic concepts. She could even receive the honorary Order of the Fourth, for her great contributions to the magic of the waves.
And in the midst of all this, she was being called upon by the Elders? They had their mercenaries, their trained mages, and their Aventers, to take care aof the affairs of the Academy. They didn’t need to bother an apprentice, much less an apprentice about to sit in her examinations. What were they thinking of?
“You can’t be serious about this! If I cannot write the Tract to its conclusion now, my next chance will be in another year! Would you have me void and resign my chance at finishing the Third Level entirely for an entrire year, at least?”

“Iola Lyrian. If you do not help on this quest, the chances are that neither you, nor anyone else, will ever have the chance to write another Tract, or sit an examination, at this entire Academy. Or in the world.”

Ah yes, the world. It always seems to need us when we have least time to spare. Oh dear.

“So, Iola Lyrian, we have elected you to accompany the Aventer Morinan-Wo.”

And that put her to a full stop. She had been about to start arguing against the unfairness of this order, against the unfairness of choosing an apprentice so buried in work, who would be totally inept on a world-important wuest anyway, when she heard the name.


The Nightbird.

“Morinan-… who?” She pronounced the last syllable in just the right way for it to sound like a question. What a pun.

“Yes, the Nightbird. He is our most trusted agent in such matters, and there is no other possibility than to send him.

“That will… complicate matters rather”, she immediately noted. Complication was an understatement. If half of what she had heard of Morinan-Wo was true, then complications were his second name.

“Tha task before you is quite simple, actually. There will be no combat, it is to be be hoped, and hardly any sneaking. Certainly no open battles or assassination targets. We merely want you to accompany him on a mission of embassy. He will be a negotiator for peace, a negotiator sent by the Order of the Magi, and the Academy of Carenath to the Lendranian rebls. You see, our Elder s of Coundcil have agreed that to forge peace, we fill wirst need balance: Balance between two powers, two powers that so far oppose each other. If they continue to oppose each other when the Night of the Ravager falls over the land, and the threat that Derlen Lightweaver has told you of already comes to pass, then we are doomed. They will need to forge peace, and they will have to forge it quickly. And they will not do that, unless they both think they have something to gain from making peace and that can not happen unless they know themselves to be equally powerful. So we support the rebels for now. And now, after all this madness has come to pass, we send a negotiation troop to deal and parely with the Lendaranians.

You are being sent to her Highness the resigned, deposed and – by order of the King impeached for High Treason – Countess Lendra IV Herself, who has decided to break with the royal court and support the peasant partisans in their upriseing. It is she who not only lends legitimacy and influence to this revolt, but also acquires the weapons, the military support… everything. Any negotiation to be done with the rebels would have to be conducted with and through her - she is the head of the rebellion and its face. If you ask me, the rebellion never made a better move when they let her join them and subsidize them with her ouwn power, resources and authority.

Some say she pursues selfish goals with this, but that is her own affair, is it not? Whenever has a rebellion succeeded through the pure good will of everyone involved? Down beanath, there is the urge for power.

“And you will go and negotiate with them, in two days hence. Your role will be minor probably during the traveling itself, though you will likely do a lot of the talking once you meet the countess Lendra. Morinan-Wo is not one to make much words, and while the subtlety of stealth is his greatest skill, the subtlety of diplomacy is lost on him totally. He will rely on you to lead the discussions, the parley and the debates. But heed this: Grant no support before we authrize you, and agree to no offer or request that you have not yet confirmed with us via our magical communication link.”

Ramon was referring to the link he had established mental link he had established half a year ago with Iola, when she had to travel to the capital before. This mental link would be mmensely useful, not the least because it offered the bearer direct, immediate rapport at will – on both sides – wherever in the entire continent she happened to be (there was some stuff in the theory of the spell about open fire and void, but that hardly applied over the relatively moderately climated landscape that most of Atharellia was).

Yes, magical rapport. That would aid them all immensely.

“But, tell me, why then have you chosen me to do this? There are others with these mental links, others morte powerful and more experiences. You will feed me my lines anyway during the negotiation, so why bother with me?”

Ramon grew exasperated.

“We will not feed you your lines, nor will we actually be able to communicate with you often. You are deliberately making this task sound simpler than it actually is. In actuality, we will have little opportunity to keep in constant rapport - also because the rebel’s mages will sense it. They have skilled Thaliomancers in their pay, who they use for their negotiation sessions with ambassados just as they employ them for their sessions with captives. I am told they hardly need torture there…

“Anyway, we cannot stay in rapport while you negotiate. If you are lucky, you may manage to sneak off a message once or twice during your stay.”

“But then… what did you mean by authorizing me to offer support? How will you offer that support authorization other than by mental rapport – what are you going to use?”

“This device here.”

He handed Iola a little shred of parchment that shimmered a bit in the flickering light of the run-down candles. There were tiny splotches of ink on the parchment, otherwise it was blank.

“Is that a.—“

“Yes, a parchment with a built-in faxeran spell. Do not lose it, it has cost us a lot of skill, power and time to produce. While you are shielded away in whatever kind of room they will accommodate you in, you may be able to use it. May. Unless they put an nullifying field around your room for the time you are there, just to make it more difficult for us. Understand that the rebels might be desperate, but they will not throw themselves at the nearest chance that presents itself to them. It will be difficult to earn their trust, even while you are actually working to betray them – not actually destroy them, but at least incapacitate them to neutralize the conflict. You might not succeed.

“If nothing else helps, escape.”

“And you will be sending me my orders by this sheet of parchment.”


“But that makes even less sense! You say you didn’t need me because of the link, why then? Another could take this parchment, even one who never established a mental connection in her life could communicate through it. We have negotiators. Trained ones” She added, wincing at the implication of sending someone like, for instance, Ramon. He was a nice enough fellow, but he shared that slight arrogance that was common among certain, otherwise very sociable mages. Put him before a moog to negotiate and he’d quickly mess it up.

“Don’t blame me, I never put your name forward. It seems that you have been found trustworthy and competent enough to save the world – be proud.” He grinned sarcastically. “And if you really want to know, I heard tell that the ones who decided that you’d be the one to go were Mina and Ana.” Iola winced. Ana, Arcanor and Archmagus of the Fifth, sorceress of the Light, and Mina, Cerenan of the First, the most resourceful Thaliomancer that the Wind Tower had put forth within a century. And both reputed to be the two greatest seeresses of this Age.

“Pre-ordained by fate and Chosen to be hero of the Age by Lerice, the Weaver and her chosen prophets, the sorceresses Mina Aelhwyn and Ana Shalenas?” She had to break a smile at this point.

“It would appear so, yes.”

“So I’d better go packing right away then…” She began retreating into her little student cell. She was about to close the door, when a thought seemed to hit her. She hesitated, then addressed Ramon again, who had already turned away.

“Wait!” Ramon stopped and faced her. “Could you possibly find a way that will allow me to still hand in my tract when all this is done? And can you get the examiners to accept it?”

This time it was Ramon who had to break a chuckle. “Rest assured, I will. Saving the world and leading secret negotiations are certainly legitimate excuses for a delayed research paper. Just finish it when you return, and I shall personally make sure it gets the marking it deserves.”

“Thank you. And now excuse me while I get ready to embark on my world-saving quest.” She retreated into the room and closed the door. Ramon went away down the hallway, his slow steps sounding over the hard stone floor and reverberating from the high ceiling. He was still grinning a little; sending off mage apprentices to go out and be heroines had turned out to be a lot more fun that it should have been.

I get far too little opportunities to do this.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Chapter VI - Dark Dreams

Or what there is of it now.

Chapter VI
Dark Dreams

- Thus, after a thousand years of imprisonment, I have been freed to bring terror and destruction upon the world again, like my nephew and his father Sphaloron did in the last age. Yea, Maara Shinnora, I shall gladly serve thee as my brother did unto Shezaia Vinasroi. -
- Then it is done, high demon of Darkness and Deceit. Let the world tremble before the Third allegiance of Hell and Earth, of Maara Shinnora and the L'zothgwaur Mordaures! Let the Wizards of Carenath beware, and the simple people of Atharellia quake in their homes at night The whole world of Kerran shall belong finally to the Alliance of the Dark... –

* * *

A sudden, panting gasp tore through the little darkened room, as its occupant, Rin Merral, woke with a start, and rose in his bed in a sudden jerking movement. What was this dream? He had never dreamt anything spectacular in his life, except for that one day when he had dreamt of being a tree. And that had been while he was unconscious after he had hit his head on the axe handle while going out to the forest with his dad. And that hadn’t been very spectacular either, just weird – trees led a very boring life, he had found, and he had been ill-disposed toward them since that dream. Especially because halfway into the dream, he had suddenly turned back into a human, and had to run from the infuriated trees. Never trust a tree, that was his motto now. Fitting for a future lumberjack, was it not?
And now this. For a whole month, Rin had dreamt nothing else. Just this huge black stone on a clear dark night, on a small hill under the three moons, the yellow one of sleep, the silver of healing, and the red moon of blood. And then this dark robed woman, and her piercing keen. Of late, the dreams had become worse, showing him dark visions of monsters and carnage. And then this voice! It sounded like nothing which Rin had ever heard. Not a human voice, that was certain. Rasping, husky, almost whispering roughly, and this yearning, gurgling note in it, as if the speaker was hungering for something. Rin had no wish to know what it was the voice hungered for, or who it might belong to.
Rin had attempted to put it out of his mind, for fear of being regarded suspiciously by his neighbors. He and his father lived in a tiny, backwater village in the rural countryside of Northern Atharellia, far from the Kingdom's capital, Thara. The people here were simple minded, suspicious of magic and highly developed technology – as, for instance, three-field crop rotation, horse collars and plowshares pulled by oxen rather than sweating humans – and extremely superstitious. The last thing Rin wanted was to be a 'weird' character, like the old herb wife up at the stream, near the edge of the forest, who reputedly could converse with the spirits of the trees!
Yet the dreams had been continuing to bother Rin no matter how hard he tried to forget. He dared not tell anyone of them, but still his behavior became rather strange, or at least that was what the other townspeople noticed. Rin would be jerky, twitchy, and nervous to the point of paranoia. In the morning, his face would be pale, and his eyes reddened as if from lack of sleep. Rin would be inattentive, only reacting to a question after it had been repeated for the third time, and he would be yawning all day long.
The other villagers kept claiming that he was spending far too much time with his books – Rin was, apart from two or three men in the village, and the old herb woman, the only one who had learned to read. Not even the mayor was literate. Rin's father, one of the literate people in the village, had insisted that Rin learn the Ryllian letters that were standardly used throughout the Kingdom; one of the many remaining legacies from the old sages of the elves of yore or so it was said. Rin did not spend an abnormally huge time with reading, not any more than did his dad, who was a lumberjack and out working in the forest on most days from the first rays of dawn till sunset with the other woodcutters. Rin was a strong kid like all the others in his town, barely grown to the age of seventeen cycles, and spent most of his time playing outside or helping his father with the timber; yet in comparison to the other villagers, he was a bookworm of course.
Some of the villagers rumored that he was ill, some disease of the condition, for Rin could not stand for more than half an hour without sitting down, because he was so exhausted.

The dreams were definitely taking their toll on him.

Rin put the questions, doubts and fears from his mind as he had to do so often of late, and got up reluctantly, yawning and rubbing his sore eyes. Time for his morning chores; his father would still be sleeping from the heavy work of the last day. Rin's mother had died from a fever sickness in the cold winter six years past. Putting a ragged gown of cotton over his back, and slipping his feet into his leather sandals, he made his way to the kitchen of their little house.
After he had fetched a small wooden bucket, Rin walked to the clear stream that ran past their house at a distance of less than a hundred meters. Rin broke into a jog, then a run to exercise his tired limbs still clumsy and heavy with sleep.
None of the other villagers seemed to have risen yet; Rin met no one on his trip to the river, and he was pretty sure by the height of the sun that no one had been here before him today. Yet something seemed wrong to him. Rin's watchfulness and attention span had suffered from the nightmares that the last month had brought him with frightening regularity each night, but his paranoia and gut feelings had not. Rin felt when he was being watched. And currently, he was feeling it. It was almost like the gaze hit him straight in the back and bored into his body, for he turned around to the left. Nothing. The feeling had stopped. Rin turned to the stream again, broke into a run, and immediately felt the gaze on him again. This time, without stopping, he turned his head slightly sideways, gazing out of the corner of his eye.

There! A movement caught his eye. A tall, but stooped man in white clothing was running away through the bushes and trees, no more than, say, two hundred peds from where Rin was running.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Old man! What are you running away for! Why were you watching me?" but he got no answer. It was pointless to try to pursue the old one, he might be stooped, but he sure was lithe and could run quick, and besides, he had a head start of several hundred meters. Hopeless. A moment later, the man was gone, vanished between the trees. What a strange occurrence. Surely it was no one of the village; Rin knew everyone here by name, besides, none of the old villagers of Herrath would even think of sneaking upon him and then running when he saw them. Rin shrugged his shoulders, and continued on his jog to the river.

Running to the stream and back to the house for several times, Rin had soon filled the little tub in the kitchen with water, and he was now dripping with sweat. Taking a handful of water, he wiped his face with icy coldness. Only now did he feel he was really coming awake. It would soon be time to wake his father. But that would have to wait until after the breakfast was fixed. As so often, Rin wished that his mother was still alive, or that he at least had some siblings to share the chores. Invariably, the tasks around the household fell to him, since his father was either out working at the forest felling trees, or snoring at home, or out in the pub. The village, pub, the Rusty Hatchet, was more of a meeting place for the villagers than a drinking establishment. Occasionally, perhaps once or twice a year, a bard would come into town and perform in the Hatchet, and the whole town would gather into the little inn, cramming themselves into the tiny commons room of the establishment – the village was inhabited by about forty people. When a bard was visiting Herrath, all the men, the women and even the little children would come to the inn to listen to the wondrous tales of the history of Atharellia, legends full of magic and wonder, songs from all over the world or even just a few news from the capital, which lay so far away. For the villagers far from any other civilization, the bards were an entertainment, education, and news-bearers at once.
And there was one man who came to the little village with such a regular precision that clocks could be set with reference to his arrival. Not, strictly speaking, a bard, but an entertainer, tumbler and sage all the same, he would visit in the afternoon of the Winter Solstice, and stay in the village for a week, before leaving again. When Gregor, endearingly called Old Greg by the villagers of Herrath, the whole town would come together in the tiny inn every evening for seven days, and would be treated to stories, marvelous acrobatics, juggling, and a few news and tidbits from all over Atharellia, where – as the Herrath people had found out by now – interesting things happened almost every month, if not even every week! What a sight every single other place in this busy land must be, bustling with heroes and monsters. All the time, knights would fight dragons before breakfast, kings were crowned and dethroned, powerful wizards fought with each other for the supreme sovereignty of the astral planes, and other more exciting things happened, such as the curious love affair between the eighty-year old shoemaker and the blacksmith's daughter in the village ten miles upstream.
Old Gregor might be anything but truthful, and a lot of disreputable things might be said about him if one was in the mood and did not like him, but his fireworks were indisputably fabulous, and his stories were as fascinating as fairytales.
And tonight, he would come once again! This had been repeated in the mind of every child and quite a few adults all through the last week and even longer. According to the calendar and the sun, Gregor would be bound to arrive sometime during the day. Rin was determined to be the first to meet him no matter what. And that was why he had got up this early to complete his morning chores, even though he was still very exhausted from the dream-filled sleep he had had tonight.
By now, Rin had filled the tub of water that he and his father would use during the day for cooking and washing. He had only to wake his dad now. But what was that?
Rin stared out into the hilly countryside, looking at the narrow paved road that had been constructed by the royal builders, connecting all the tiny villages to the capital. The sound carried well here, and he was sure he had heard hoof steps. Hoof steps, the light groaning creak of a wagon's wheels, and... singing ?
It was a deep, throaty voice, an old voice, and Rin immediately recognized it. Seemingly, Old Greg was just as early as he today! Rin remembered the song, he had heard it from Gregor last year. It was Greg's favorite song, and when he was traveling in his small wooden cart, he would sing it without ending.

Traveling along the road
A lonely path it is
The wind and sun for company
And yet I'm filled with bliss!

I make my luck in wandering
And let fortune point my way
And where I find a friendly place
Perhaps a while I'll stay.

Repeating the chorus a last time, the voice ended its singing, and the creaking sound seemed to grow louder by comparison. And there it was! The small rickety cart rose over the last hill of the hills, turned a little corner, and appeared before Rin.
Rin was delighted. It had been a full year since last he had seen Greg. In his memory, Gregor had seemed much younger, and far sillier. As his cart approached now, Rin could see that Gregor looked older, far older. Lines of care were etched on a drawn face that looked with a grave expression. This was not the merry bard and juggler that Rin was used to. Gregor looked every inch of a wise sage, a wizard. His robes must once have been red, but they were a darkened, faded crimson color now, which was almost indistinguishable from gray. Had Gregor ever been carrying a staff before? He must have, he had always been somewhat frail. But Rin could not remember this particular staff; solid, hardened, black oak it was, with a ruby set in the top. It was shining with a warm light.
Pushing that out of his mind, he ran towards the cart, shouting all the while.
Gregor seemed only now to notice the dark haired youth that was running towards him. The cloud that had encompassed his face cleared up as if hit by a warm Spring wind – and in late Autumn, too! – and a relieved smile appeared in place of the worried frown from before.
He broke off his singing as he had finished the chorus a last time, and shouted a greeting to Rin, who was still running.
“Gregor! Old Greg! Oh, it’s so good to see you again.”
"Ho! You've grown since I've last visited here, I see.”
There was an understatement if ever there was one: The last time Gregor had visited, Rin had been a whole turn younger, and his seventeenth cycle had made him sprout like a sapling in good earth. He must be one and a half spans taller now, if not more.
“So, tell me.” Gregor said. “What brings you out here this early? I never knew you for one to rise before the sun,” he chuckled.
“Well, for one thing, because I wanted to meet you here!” Rin was relieved he could say this, because another reason had been the particular nightmare he had had this morning. He didn’t want anyone to know this, not even Greg.
“And for the other?” Curses.
“Hah, as if I needed another reason,” Rin made a feeble attempt at evading, but Gregor would not be put off. He wasn’t a jester and a bard for nothing: Never try to joust words with a bard, you will be tripped in your own tongue.
“Rin, you don’t look too well.” There was little sense in arguing about that – Rin’s eyes were still burning even after he had washed them at the stream, and he knew they must be reddened. His skin was a little strained, and he knew he was looking pale and haggard because he had not eaten a lot in the recent weeks. Gregor spoke again. “Have you been having bad dreams recently?” Rin swore inwardly. The man must me a Thaliomancer, one of the mind-magi of old.
“What sense is there in even telling you, if you can just read it in my head?” He jested. “Yes, I’ve had...” he did not know how to put this. “funny dreams. Curious dreams, I mean.”
“Dreams that have scared you?”
Rin could not speak. He merely nodded. “About a witch, and a dark night, and a dreadful voice, and...” he was rambling.
Gregor was not fazed by that however. He appeared to know much more than he let on.
“This voice... what did it say? Did it speak of the future, or the past?”
“They both spoke a great lot of the future, I know that much. Something about darkness, and power, and terror. But...”
Gregor had been almost relieved, but grew a little disquieted now. “Yes?”
“He said ‘it is done’. He said that several times.”
Gregor’s face clouded like a summer day that is interrupted by a storm.
“It is done...” his face grew grim. The calculations of the stargazers have not been wrong, and it was indeed the last day that the night of the ravager passed over the Shadowpike. “It is done...” It cannot be averted now, but if we act quickly we might nip it in the bud.
“Come with me now,” he suddenly spoke. “We shouldn’t keep your people waiting, now should we?” The way he said ‘your people’ sounded strange, somewhat. But Rin was sure he had only meant the people of Herrath, and had not accidentally inferred that Rin was the lost heir to any throne nearby.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Shadow's Rising - Chapter V

Chapter V
Of Courts and Kings

The Royal Court at Thara had always been a mire of intrigue. The corruption within the council of advisors as well as the council of judges was legendary, the degree of plotting and scheming that went on proverbial. “False as a grand vizier” was used since time beyond reckoning to describe anyone with less than honest intentions and a bit more ambition than was good for him. An “councilor’s friendship” was a relation between two people who regarded each other cordially, but would not hesitate to stab each other in the back for money or power. Finally, “resigning from the council” had become a polite euphemism for falling victim to an assassin, or dying in somewhat unclear circumstances.
Yet, the amount of intrigue that actually occurred was not constant. Under some kings, it would lessen to an almost normal level, during the reign of others, it became worth one’s life to get on the wrong side of the Court politics. This distinction was unnoticeable to the people, who were oblivious to this corruption for the most part, save for news the sudden death of prominent members of the council, and uncommon decisions of the board of judges: During the reign of the last king, a murderer had been known for guilty beyond any doubt, the evidence undeniable, and the decision ought to have been clear. He was let go without so much as a fuss; the evidence ignored and then covered up. The criminal was a brother-in-law to the vizier, it was rumored later.
Only those foolish enough to meddle in the affairs of the Royal Court (for a bit of pay, or a share in the power, some people will risk anything), were familiar with the depth of this mire, and only the historians who recorded all the agreements, meetings and decisions of the council knew that the more incompetent the King, the more corrupt the Council. Competence had never been a strong virtue in the crown of Thara in the last seven hundred years.
But the current king was a fool. That should be enough said of the situation.
Even worse, the grand vizier was as proverbially false as they came. Yeshnol, his name was. Famed for his mellifluous voice, meaning literally a voice that sounded like trickling honey. And he was about as sticky, but more poisonous.

* * *

The situation at the Court right now was especially precarious with the Lendranian Rebellion in full sway: A few lords and dukes in the southern regions of the kingdom – just north of the Telladar mountains – had stirred up unrest among their populace. The result was a guerilla uprising (“for liberty!”, the people proclaimed) that was backed by the aristocrat rulers’ armies, who saw in it mainly a way to gain independence from the capital of Thara. Quite a clever way, actually, considering that the main merchant routes between north and south ran through their country – besides the trade that was conducted by sea, along the eastern coastline. The traders were fuming, as they had to pay hefty tariffs for passage and protection. The sailors’ association of free trade was collectively dancing with glee, being able to increase their share over the outmaneuvered land traders – and were not disinclined to pass the populist partisans or the rebellious nobles a few shipments of arms while the King’s men weren’t looking... all in the favor of neutrality, of course.
Thus, the self-declared Republic of Central Atharellia was foundering in its newly-founded status, leading battle after battle with the crown troops, and a few battles in between when the populists got bored. It was an occurrence that could hardly be named unusual in the history of the land, and looking at King Taral’s general reigning policies – even though he was by now almost ignored by his advisors, who cherished him like a young, very volatile child – it was certainly not unjustified.
And the Royal Court, which had had hardly any trouble with its politics – nay, not even a kink of discomfort in all that incompetent reign – was equally justified to be outraged. The rebel dukes were depicted alternately as heroes, forsaking the right of their high birth to do “what their heart told them was right to do” in this class struggle (and doing little to discourage that thought in the populists), and then as traitors to King and Crown, who backstabbed their sovereign and were “in league with these peasant uprisings” to advance their own agenda.
It was all a matter of viewpoint.
Not so, however, to Relle Vidras. She did not meddle in the politics of the court (she wanted to stay alive), and thus the only exchange she had with the council were military commands, and reports. Relle was the general of the crown troops, leading the war against the rebels who flocked to Countess Lendra’s banner.

* * *

Jeyrnan Vidras liked to call himself a sorcerer. In truth, he was hardly a wizard. Most would simply have called him a mage. According to the concise classification system of Carenath, he was a Danen, a mage in the sixth circle. A mage of the Third, to be precise, which is why he would have been called a pyromancer by most of his kind.

But the most fitting description was a mercenary.

There was hardly another worthwhile profession to go into, as a fire mage, besides of course teaching. As a Danen, Jeyrnan was allowed to teach at any wizarding school in the continent. But he had long decided that the lecturer’s life was not for him – he usually had great trouble explaining the theory of magic; it just wasn’t every mage’s destiny to teach others their knowledge, and that definitely went for Jeyrnan.
There would also have been the possibility of entering the summoning school, which was halfway into the domain of the Fire, and halfway into Wind, or the daemonology school, which was shared between the Third and the Sixth, the mages of the discord. Jeyrnan had, of course, tried both, found the former little to his taste, the latter still less, and finally accepted the inevitable by offering his services for hire as a soldier, or, alternatively, an escort for one of the many trade caravans travelling the land these days. They were good customers, they needed the protection, and they had lots of money at their disposal.
Indeed, in these days, there were only three major groups who had employment for mercenaries: The royal army, the rebels and the merchants.
The rebels were out of the question. For one thing, King Taral had declared by Royal Decree that if any citizen of the Atharellian kingdom were caught fighting in their service, for financial gain or not, his life would be forfeit for treason. For the other, the rebels were gradually losing their financial strength. They were worse off than they were months, even a year ago. The low tariffs they raised from the traders worked to their disadvantage, Jeyrnan knew, and threatened to put a speedy stop to the so far successful revolt. So the rebels were certainly not the sort of people an unemployed mercenary should currently seek out.
It was the King’s army then, or the merchant caravans. The caravans sounded more attractive by a margin. They had no alternative to mercenaries, which were currently in demand. As long as they cooperated with the rebel’s reasonably low toll requests, and did not happen to chance upon any of the more ruthless bandits that were abroad these days, there was the odd chance he would not even see any combat. That option did not exist in the army, where every man (or woman) who could wield steel, shoot a bow or cast a spell went right out to the battlefield. The army also did not pay as well, since they relied on the regular troops to back them up when there was a shortage of mercenaries.
In Jeyrnan’s case, however, the army was a slightly better option. The General in charge of leading the counter rebellion troops was his sister, Relle. She was an honorable leader, but even she would not be above giving her brother a preference post. What was the fun in relations if you couldn’t have a little nepotism now and then?

* * *

“Yeah, so I was sort of wondering if you have any vacancy currently, some spot to put your good for nothing brother in.”
Relle could only stare. Jeyrnan, asking her for a job? And throwing in the unmistakable hint that he was hoping for a little favor in this appointment? Unbelievable. It just goes to show, being a mercenary is bad for bone, brain and morals. If this is what comes from it... What does he think this is, a family business?
Nonetheless, she took care to let her annoyance not show on her face.
“I am sure I could find something for you. The second infantry battalion is a little short on both archers and mages right now; unless you have something against fighting in a terrain that is alternately marshy, swampy and ridden with stinging gadflies, it should be just the right thing. Oh yes, and it’s the same thing I would tell anyone else. You seem not to be able to come to terms with the fact that this is the military, right? This is where from the moment you sign the contract, you’re property, and follow orders. I decide where to put you, and believe me, family relations are of quite a low priority when I make that decision.” Ha. Look at his face.
Jeyrnan indeed looked quite a little downcast.
“Hello, Jeyrnan! I was teasing you just now!” Incredible, how hard it was to hold back laughter even after so many years as a commander. “Of course you’re getting this position; I wouldn’t put my brother in a suicide squad would I? But,” and her face turned serious again, “you will tell absolutely no one about this. If I even get the whiff of a hint of my men talking about nepotism, I’ll make sure you get latrine duty for the rest of your contract just to show everyone that I’m not treating you unfairly well.”
“Not a word, Sir.” He saluted sharply, if a bit mockingly. In a grand show of egalitarianism, the army had long established the unwritten rule that superior officers, male and female alike, were to be addressed with Sir, to avoid any confusion. It made for a great amount jokes, not a small number of them bawdy, that had all been told at one time or another by most soldiers in the royal army.
“Come back tomorrow, and I’ll have the contract and your standard equipment right ready. I must say that at the moment, I’m rather pressed for time.” She said the last bit in a worried tone that made Jeyrnan perk up. Relle was not one to worry usually, or at least not one to show it. As a general, you could not afford to show uncertainty or anything but confidence to your soldiers; but even before she had entered the army, Relle had been sufficiently confident for three.
“Is there any trouble currently?” He was always glad to help, especially after the deal they had just worked out.
“Nothing that would concern you”, she snapped. “You can go now.”

And as he was just turning to leave, Relle again raised her head from the paperwork she was already buried in, and said, in an odd tone, a sentence that would stick in Jeyrnan’s mind for the rest of the day, “Oh, and do mention to your colleagues that they ought to remind themselves whose power they owe loyalty to.
“Huh?” He managed to put on a confused face.
“The ought to remind themselves that loyalty to the King exceeds loyalty to any secret order they may be a member of.”

Oh dear.

* * *

And that was why Jeyrnan was not in the least surprised when he received the letter.

A little explanation might be all right at this point. Magic has its own perks. One of them is that – in a world where otherwise the most efficient method would be a to make a horrific mess with a sharp metal tool – you have at your disposal a very quick and clean way of making short work of somebody you happen to not like. But another advantage, equally important (if not more so), is efficient communication. Horsedrawn carriages are horsedrawn carriages, and no matter how many horses you put in fornt of it, the delay between any letter being sent and received are measured in weeks, not days. Mages have their ways of circumventing this delay: For one thing, the Mind mages of the First tower had dutifully set up individual transmitters for the use of each of the towers, and all the archmagi were therefore able to contact their most trusted underlings instantaneously by the power of thought. But this process took effort on the part of the archmagus, a varying amount of preparation time, and a lot of training on the part of the mage contacted; extra-curricular training beside their normal area of study. Not everyone could be a Thaliomancer. Plus, it was only possible to contact one person at a time. And therefore, wizards still sent a great amount of letters.
But when wizards send letters, they don’t put them on a horse-drawn carriage. Instead, they put the parchment in a nifty little device, which reads it, transmits its contents through the chyaralia, the astral planes, to arrive at a multitude of similar (but slightly smaller) devices, which unscramble the magical signal, translate it back into letters, and transfer the contents onto a blank sheet of parchment; a number of which were inserted into the receiving device beforehand. Almost every member of the Order who dwelled outside the Academy of Carenath owned such a machine, and whenever there was an important message or order to be swiftly sent from the tower to the farthest corner of the realm, this was the way that was commonly used. The wizards who had invented it called it faxeran, for no obvious reason.

To get back to the story, when Jeyrnan returned home, he found a sheet of parchment lying in front of his faxeran. The device was still radiating warmth and a slight arcane aura, indicating the recent occurence of a magical process. He was not surprised, to say the least. Relle had sounded rather nervous at the end, and her remark about loyalty struck a hidden nerve, giving rise to uncomfortable thoughts.
Not because she was right. Rather because she was wrong.
The oath of the magi was quite clear on this point. “Place no worldly authority above that of the Elders, no personal desire above the orders of the archmagi.” That had rarely, very rarely indeed, given rise to minor interest conflicts over the last seven hundred years. When the King himself gave one order, and the Elders another, the Elders’ order was the one to be followed by the mage. And it was the one they followed, except in rare cases, which were treated with the same disciplinary action as any other insubordination. Occasionally a charge of treason against the offending mage. But, as mentioned, it hadn’t happened for a frightful long time.

But when it did, there would be trouble.

And it was happening now. Jeyrnan read over the parchment and realized immediately that it was not a mere order. It was a decree of the High Council of Elders, a decision that could only be passed by a four fifth majority of the council, during a specially declared meeting of the entire council of Elders and Archmagi. Its word was law, its validity and effect immediate, and its violation treason against the Order and the Academy.
And thus it was damn good Jeyrnan had got it exactly today, rather than a day later. It read,

"Honored mages, members of the Academy of Carenath and the Order of Magi. In the name of His High Radiance the Archdeacon of Carenath, Carhdon Caronis of the Fifth Tower, it is my duty to declare this order.
By Decree of the Council of Elders and Archmagi, seated together under the presiding of His Radiance Derlen Lightweaver, the Archmagus of the Seventh, it is declared the following.
Namely, that, to preserve Balance and Neutrality, the Order forbids any of its members from intervening in any way into the conflict that has arisen between the forces of His Majesty King Taral IV., King of Atharellia, and Her Highness the former Countess Lendra, leader of the rebellious group styling themselves the Lendranian Populists, on either side of the conflict. Furthermore, it expressly forbids all of its members from seeking or entering employment or service that would likely lead them to be ordered to such action, and commands all of its members currently in such employment or service to refuse any orders ordering it to such, in the name of the Oath.
Any knowing violation of this command shall hereby be declared Violation of the Oath of the Magi, High Treason against the Order and the Academy, and Grounds for Capital Punishment at the discretion of the Justice of the Magi.
The Decree shall be active and valid for all members, upon the reception of this letter or otherwise reception of knowledge of its existence, but at the latest a period of seven days hence.

Thus has decided the Council of Elders, on the Fifty Eighth of Bermelon, in the Year Nine Hundred and Ninety Six of this the Third Age of our world, The Magic Citadel of Carenath, Northern Atharellia. The Balance be Kept Eternally, and Light shield us all.

Signed in the name of his High Radiance the Archdeacon, Tarla Inares, Director of Secular Affairs.

Tarla Inares

Jeyrnan took a short moment to think about this. It meant, of course, that he would not be taking up his beckoning position in the military, nor would he be joining the rebels any time soon – doubly a traitor, once against the King and once the Order, was more he could have handled. Back to riding the caravans now. Oh, but Holy Canae, did he hate merchants. Most merchants anyway. Those fat, pig-eyed bastards, believing themselves to be the lords of the world by rights of their wealth, arrogant pricks. Jeyrnan supposed that any mage who had lived in the social structure of the Order for some time became inclined toward communism a little. Or socialism at least.
And what the heck was he to do otherwise? Nothing at all. So he resolved to return to notify his sister in the same evening. It was always better to do so in good time, before she had drawn up all the paperwork. She might not appreciate having spent all that time for nothing.

However, when he arrived at the post where he had been speaking to Relle a mere half a day ago, it was deserted.

* * *

Relle had been up late anyway. The paperwork was finished, Jeyrnan’s contract drafted, the day’s order to her own contingent completed and sent off. If she was lucky, she would soon get to be in the field again, and actually do the work she had meant to when she signed up, rather than sitting at this desk back in the capital of Thara. To relieve a little boredom, she was pondering some strategic puzzle or other. It had not been her battle, rather the one Commodore Tracht would have to command in a fortnight’s time, but she always appreciated a chance at practicing her skills. It was certainly a prize battle for any tactician, not the least because it could be seen coming from that far off, and could therefore be planned accordingly.
In this case, an ambush. An ambush to be busted rather than an ambush to be laid, that was what made it so interesting. A reinforcement contingent to be inserted into a key place in the battlefield very quickly, and this mountain path was by far the shortest, easiest way. Both sides knew that. The rebels would have to be fools not to lay an ambush there; after all, they had already captured intelligence of the reinforcement battallion and its time of arrival. Tracht had made sure of that, via the counter-espionage service.
Which, of course, meant that the main question concerned not the battle itself, but the time of passage. There was enough time to change it in whatever way viable. The troops were ready to march, they could make it a week early, or two weeks late. Would the rebels have moved their troops there when they arrived a week earlier than expected? Would they be preparing their ambush if they came half a week earlier? There was no better time to smash a trap than while it was being built.
Would the rebels be laxing their guard after a week of waiting for the reinforcing Royal Troops to pass? Would they be dismantling their ambush after two weeks? They could not afford to wait forever, their troops were scarce and much needed elsewhere. And that, partly that, was what had enticed Tracht to order the intelligence agents to make known the planned arrival of his troops. Better an expected ambush than an unexpected one, and it was a good opportunity for gaining a tactical advantage on the rebels, who did not have as bountiful reinforcements.

Naturally, for Relle it was impossible to really foresee the tactical developments from such an uncertain offset, just as it was impossible to foresee the oppoenent’s movements in a game of chess before the first move had been made
. Tracht could not simply assume the rebels would be doing one thing, and then go on to plan the other. He would have to think every single one of the likely scenarios through. By tradition, a team of at least three strategists would take turns in playing with model soldiers on a table against each other to explore the possibilities.
Relle did not have time for that, nor did she have even a single opponent who would think up the enemy’s movements. On the other hand, she had the advantage of not needing to actually command the battle. Thus, she was perfectly comfortable with acting out both sides of the war herself, without having to be bothered that she could be forgetting a crucial possibility.
The small set of figures, traditionally made of pewter, were arrayed on her desk, above the paperwork of the day. Each tiny swordsman represented a hundred. The map of the pass, drawn to scale of less than a hundred meters to a centimeter, spread haphazardly beneath them, had neat folding lines, which became high ridges on the rocky stone, often sending several men of the pewter armies tumbling, one even slipping off the edge of the world and falling to the floor. Relle hardly noticed, and cared less, as she moved the pewter soldiers back and forth over the paper, muttering under her breath and occasionally shaking her head. She was usually known for precision, and thus to see this apparent sloppiness – even in something that amounted to entertainment more than to training – would have been a surprise to anyone. However, she hardly needed the figures anyway, her trained mind several moments ahead of what her hands were doing, and mapping the movements inside her head only barely having to rely on visual representation.
Still, her concentration was completely engrossed in the exercise. Which, partly, was why she had decided to do it at all. The definite news she had received this afternoon – after she had already been hearing rumors all day –, only moments after Taron had left, had been enough to make anyone wish to lose their head in whatever was available. Drink, some would have chosen. Tactical exercises for her; they were easier on the liver. She paused, briefly, slightly taken aback.


What did I just think? She had meant Jeyrnan, of course, not Taron. Taron had been another mercenary, years ago. An archer, with a knack for magic and a strange liking for history. She had liked him rather a lot at the time, but he had disappeared after only six months, when his contract had expired. He had never renewed it, and Relle had not heard of him for nearly a decade. Probably dead.
What had reminded her of him now, nay, even made her confuse him with her own brother? Perhaps the way he had come into her office on that day, when the barbarians were rallying and pouring down the mountains by the hundreds and she had just seen her first real war, as a Lieutenant. Calm, almost sluggish, he had seemed; the bookish type, yet with a face that spoke of wisdom and the many things he had seen in the world. Wearing a gray tunic and light leather armor that could have been either the garb of a particularly combat-proven battlemage, or that of an archer more in favour of the hind lines in the battle, to his back had been strapped a short, stout staff apparently made of chestnut, a full, glinting quiver and a longbow that would have looked more apt in the hands of some legendary Elven hero of old than a seedy old mercenary out of work. Yes, how well she remembered those faraway eyes, their greyness matching that of his tunic, as he entered and calmly asked for the current options of employment in the army. Just like her brother Jeyrnan had done, only hours ago.
Enough of reminiscing. The official notification had been brought to her by a representative of the magi’s contingent. By decree of the Academy, all arcane forces were to be withdrawn from the field of battle, and for the time that the war was going on, any mages – apart from those involved in healing and equipping services rather than in the line of battle – were to have their contracts suspended. All mages in the army were mercenaries; they were exempt from any draft according to a financial deal that had been worked out between King Taral and the Academy of Carenath.
The developments were enough to make anyone go maniac. The Royal Troops were not unskilled, and they were great in number, but the battle mages had been a very valuable asset in this war, and losing them was a crippling disadvantage. At least the note had indicated neutral intentions, which implied that the accursed rebels would have been stripped of their arcane support as well. Having a great lack of manpower, the rebels relied mostly on state of the art magical equipment fashioned by the wizards in their service. Assuming that the order extended to this type of support as well as actual spellcasting in battle, the sides would stay more or less equal, though the more powerful royal wizards were a greater loss to the army than the freelance mages were to the Lendranians. Still,very annoying.
And especially right after she had finished the meticulous draft of the mercenary contract for her brother, who would now have to decline the position. What a waste. And then there was a knock on the door, deep and heavy.

* * *

Jeyrnan was put nearly at the brink of panic by the disappearance of his sister. After waiting at the badly built hut that served as the general’s temporary liaison office in the capital for nearly half an hour, he was satisfied at last that Relle had not merely stepped out for a short walk or for sending a letter by the courier service. He thought she might have taken the rest of the day of to see her fiancé, Folbern Inellyot. Folbern and Relle had been in love for nearly three years, but both of their offices demanded far too much time from them to spend much time together, let alone even think of marriage.
She would be wanting to take the time to meet him, certainly, on the brief opportunity and rare occasion that she returned to the capital. But Relle was not one to take time off for anything, he remembered. Too full off her sense of duty – or stuck-up, as others like Jeyrnan would say.
She might leave in the late evening, but it had hardly grown dark.
The only remaining explanation was either that she had received disturbing news causing her to leave immediately to return to where her army was stationed (two day’s rides from Thara, if one pressed the horse), or that something had happened to her.
There was no one he could ask, and her papers – which lay neatly, if a little in disarray, on the desk – gave no indication of what had happened even when Jeyrnan started rifling through them at random. A few pewter figures lay on the floor, as well as a close scale map of some sort, folded up in a slapdash way and then swept off the desk. He recognized the models as belonging to Relle’s figurine set for tactical planning, so he assumed she had either been pondering over a battle or exercising.
Whatever it had been, she must have left in great haste, because she would die before leaving her things scattered on the floor like this. He briefly considered the possibility of an attack haven taken place, examined the door, various pieces of furniture, and found no damages or other signs of a struggle. Not even blood. And knowing his sister, when Relle got into a fight, there would be blood drawn, and not merely her own.
There was no note indicating where she had gone (and it would have been uncommon for her to leave such a one anyway), and even a surreptious glance into her calendar did not show any reason for her absence.

He paused to consider. It was not unthinkable for Relle to be suddenly forced to leave, after urgent tidings from the field, and rejoin her contingent to take up the command again. But it was highly unusual, and what had happened must have been immense. Would she have taken the letter with her? Or would the courier have delivered it orally, too urgent a message to write it down first? Questions. And no answer.

But what he did see on the desk was a letter addressed to Relle that bore the seal of the Aventer Ranino Om’W Nabrosto on it. Nabrosto was the chief representative of the Order in the royal army. He was the strategic mind where the Magi were concerned, the Carenathi ambassador to the military, and also the main source of Intelligence that the Order of Carenath had in the army. A good workout, and if anyone ever suspected Nabrosto of having a double role as informant, they hardly cared about it. He was a valuable man to have on board, for his knowledge, his power and his experience. If there were three who could be said to be Relle’s right hand men, he would be one of them in any way and by any criterium. His counsel was sure to be listened to.
The news which he had explained in the letter must have been less pleasant to Relle though. He was announcing his provisional resignation from the Royal Army, being commanded by the Order to discontinue any action involved in the war between the King and the Rebels. So that at least took care of this part of the matter. There was no more need to notify his sister of the unfortunate decree.

And, as he realized when he saw the three sheafs of parchment, on which in fine intricate letters was written – in triplicate – the verbose, expansive wording of a contract for a mercenary appointed to an Auxiliary post in the Royal Army (by tradition, the status of the Magi was that of the unspecified forces in the military), Relle must have been plenty pissed when she found out. Great.