The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Twenty-six - True Magic

Inge heard someone calling the enemy king’s name from behind his army. “Gerod!” Inge thought the man to be a smith, but the grey vein on his face suggested he’d spent time in the mines.

“How is the defense of the castle?” Gerod swiftly asked, remembering the threat to his home.

“Not good, sire. Clarice is in danger. We need-“

“My daughter is in danger? Why are you waiting? We go to the castle at once to save her.” Inge barked immediately. Gerod had the same motivation had no words of opposition.

Without speaking another word, the two enemies and the army remaining behind them turned and flocked toward the castle. After a distance, Gerod shouted “Lindberg – are your men in the castle?”

“Not to my knowledge. We can settle our own quarrels once my daughter is safe.”

The ride through the city gates seemed unending. He sat atop his horse with his enemy beside him, shouting ahead to the guards and soldiers within the city to hold their fire. Inge saw the aqueducts running through the city streets, he saw a crater to his left, lifeless and empty, and he saw the towering castle before him. From his view on the ground, the castle was haunting. It looked like an unnatural abomination jetting out behind the blooming life that had begun to fill the city.

It was made of dark grey bricks that were molded together and spaced out with a similar coloured mortar. From the top of it, a single spire seemed to twist upward and end abruptly. He could see faintly what looked like a forest atop it, though he found himself doubting that his eyes spoke truthfully to him – at this point, nothing seemed real to the disheartened mage.

Inge was furious still. Once again he sat back and watched his people getting butchered – helpless, unable to save the people who were committed to his cause. He was angry that Alida had the audacity to hold him in his place, to keep him from splitting open the bastard that stole his child. He was angry that Gerod had a chance to tell him about his disastrous life. And more than anything, he was angry that he found himself sympathizing greatly with him.

He never wanted to rule either – that was for Eirik. He didn’t want the attention, but instead sought the quiet dignity of advising. He wanted to rule the ruler, ensure that his brother was doing what was best for the realm and in his moments with Gerod he saw much the same attitude he had held only weeks ago.

And so they rode, rapidly through the streets until the dreary castle on the horizon grew larger and larger before them, its doors barred open and ready to admit whatever men approached. Inge only hoped that the inside held his daughter – the girl stolen from him, Clarice, the woman he sought to save.

No words were spoken between the two – between anyone in the traveling party behind them. Inge was fixated on the castle, as was Gerod, who spoke only to dissuade the soldiers in the city from attacking the incoming party.

They didn’t dismount their horses until they were inside. Inge and Gerod both raced their horses through the large doors of the castle. The family from the inn all dismounted their steeds and walked in behind Inge and Gerod, but the rivaling kings both wanted to act as though they were storming the castle.

Inside, the hall was a desolate throne room. A large chair lined the back wall, nothing else occupied the room besides the sconces on the walls and a few tables and seats in the middle. Nothing was presented wisely, the windowless room was rather dank and illuminated only by the dim torches along the wall. On the throne sat a boy, a woman stood far in front of him, off toward the left wall. Though her head was being held by her hands, Inge had no trouble identifying his daughter, crouching in the corner.

Is she crying? Where are the attackers? Inge immediately wondered.

“What is the meaning of this?” Gerod called out. Behind them both, the castle doors swung shut. The king turned and addressed the man. “Aleysha, what are you doing?”

“They are here, my queen. I have done your deed. Free me… Please,” Aleysha spoke desperately, falling to his knees as the words spilled from his mouth.

The woman beside the throne laughed quietly. “Hello, king,” she spoke. “Or is it kings? I trust there are two now in this room. Two kings, aside from the one who sits on the throne now, or the queen who cries in the corner.”

“Who are you?” Spoke Gerod. Once again, Inge found himself agreeing with Gerod. He had no doubt that this woman was not the queen. Though he’d never met the queen, the haunting eyes the woman had seemed not like any woman’s he’d known. They reminded him more of what he’d seen while drinking with new mages in Rainhome who imbibed too greatly – violent black bulbs, seemingly void and yet seeing.

Gerod drew his sword, and Inge followed in suit. “Have you not looked at your thrown, fool king?” Spoke the woman. “Do you see what I have placed upon it for you? A friendly reminder – something to remind you of what you seem to have forgotten.”

The king looked nervous, his eyes fixed on the motionless boy on the throne. “You bitch,” Gerod finally spoke. “What monster are you to use my dead son like this – do you think his death doesn’t haunt me already?”

Gerod began to race toward the woman, but collapsed part way. Inge wondered what stopped him, but quickly heard a sobbing noise coming from the king, and as Inge looked up to the throne, he saw the head of the dead boy lift up. Alida, he thought. What have you done.

Through his sobbing, Gerod managed to speak to the woman. “What the fuck are you? Why would you make me relive this – why would you force me to look upon the boy my folly killed?”

“Why, I didn’t,” spoke the woman. “After all, I am just your fragile wife Lucia. I have no power over life or death. Your enemy brought back your son, in a sense. The girl behind him, the girl with her vibrant red hair and – though you can’t see them – green veins across her face did this. Though I suppose I positioned him, she’s the reason he has become so… sentient.”

Inge readied his weapon, disregarding the power of his magic and instead deciding to protect Alida from Gerod with his sword. Inge had decided earlier that it would be his duty to punish Alida - in whatever form that punishment should take. To his surprise, though, the king didn’t turn to take revenge, his focus remained instead on the monster holding his queen’s body.

Inge wanted to see Clarice terribly, but knew he couldn’t cross the room to get to her while Gerod spoke with the enemy.

“The red haired girl has done nothing wrong, you fiend. I saw the mists as you did, I can figure what they did. So, too, have I seen death. I understand how it looks, all the same as life, and for me I’d sooner see life. What holds my son in place isn’t the action of the life mage girl. You, fiend. You have power over my son.”

“Oh, I fear not,” Lucia spoke. “And call me not fiend, I have a name – though it is lost in the generations that I seem to have graced over. I have taken a new one - Chaos. First I was death, now I am Chaos. All in all, I am the power the living fear. I must thank the boy Kasall for bringing me here today – I truly meant to thank him sooner, but things became rather frantic when he died. I’m glad to see him up and about again.” Inge recognized the coarse voice that was bellowing from the queen’s body. It was that which spoke to him in mage dreams. He glanced back at Alida and guessed from the expression on her face that she’d noticed the same thing. She looked mortified, though instead of staring at the queen, her eyes were fixed on the boy atop the throne.

“Inge,” she spoke quietly, inching forward to him. “Inge, that boy… be careful. He’s more powerful than he looks, I’ve seen him in my dreams.” As she spoke, Gerod continued his conversation with Chaos. “He has more magic than I, more magic than you. It’s not always so easy to see – that’s what you told me in my dream. Be careful – please.”

“Ah!” interjected Chaos. “I hear you, Alida Jere, nee Norsom, in a sense. What a wonderful party we have with us today,” Chaos feigned formality. “The powerful patriarch of Rainhome, Inge Lindberg. The self-proclaimed powerless king, Gerod Norsom, the foolish and paranoid. The ever beautiful Ilya Norsom, the lost daughter of the Norsom family, forgotten to all the world, as dead as the boy on the throne – but a different death suffered by her.”

Inge saw Catherine look to the king, though Gerod showed no interest in the information revealed by Chaos.

“What a wonderful conversation you and Alida were having, Inge. She is right, you know – you should fear the boy on the throne. He’s a creation, you see. A manifestation of magic. A man like yourself would love him, to see the way he works. The body I hold today got to see much of it first hand, you see.” It raised the queen’s arms up and traced a gnarled finger along it, showing the scars and burns that covered it. I’d assumed those came from the possession, Inge thought. Magic shouldn’t scar a human as such. “How would you feel, Lindberg, if I told you that one man could hold all strands of magic? It was working well for the boy you see on the throne, poor Samuel Norsom, the heir to Olander, the future ruler of the lands. His father brought many mages in to the capital to be prey to his paranoia, didn’t you Gerod? I ask you, Inge, would you like to see the result?”

Though he was asked, he didn’t believe he had a choice in the matter. Within a moment, Chaos clapped its hands and an organized army of skeletons filed into the hall. They lined up in careful rows before the party of enemies, and stood still.

“Pick a magic, Inge, pick one, any one! What’s your poison, my boy? You’ve seen enough fire in your lifetime, I’m sure, and death is clearly already at hand. How about a bit of water?” Chaos clapped again, and the eyes of the boy on the throne glowed a bitter red. Quickly, the skeleton army dissipated into a wave, collapsing and rolling down the hallway. Once again, Gerod and Inge both had their swords ready and were prepared to strike. “Gentlemen, you should know truly that I wish not to kill you. I told you about my names - I’m chaos, not death. I was the mage of death only when death was a good trade to be in, but now it is so dull. In my experience, at least, it’s just a waiting game, boring and dull until someone pulls you out of it.”

Chaos carried the body around the room and stood beside Inge’s ear, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t strike me, Lindberg. You wouldn’t, anyway, you’re wiser than that.” It spoke to him. “As I was saying, lovely little Norsom was bringing into the castle mages. First he experimented on this body whilst it was pregnant. He had each type of mage love it as he had, hoping that their influence would make his own baby magic. Then, as the body gave birth, he had it consume each reagent. Even ivy, though he didn’t believe it would work. Naturally, neither of these actions had a result. Weakened Lucia, yes, poisoned her greatly, left her as a woman alone in the world able only to sleep, and see the minds of mages. No positive magic spawned from these actions. Then, of course, the kidnappings began. First a fire mage, then water, finally the lovely Clarice. Each ripped from their lives by seekers, dragged to the capital and brought below the bitter, black, knife.”

Inge could once again feel worry raising through his blood. He wanted to rip himself from the hold of the woman but he couldn’t find the courage to move his legs for fear of what he would see when he reached his daughter. He knew she wasn’t dead, but he knew also what the woman was describing. It’s not always so easy to see, the words of Alida raced through his mind, filtering themselves through every thought and increasing the horror of what had happened to Clarice. She’ll have none left. The boy, the boy has her magic and magics not always so easy to see. He raised his arm and threw his fist back, hitting Chaos in its decrepit face.

He ran across the hall. His balance was impeccable on the wet tile, and as he neared Clarice, he fell to his knees and slid the rest of the way. “My daughter, what remains of you? How much of you has the king stolen?”

His daughter slowly raised her face to him. She wasn’t crying, nor had she been the whole time he was in here. He could tell from her expression that she didn’t mean to deceive, and he could tell from her face that the magic that once filled it had been stolen. Inge wondered whether it was the time apart or the lack of black straining across her face, but his daughter was truly beautiful. She was a woman now - more than he'd noticed before. Her eyes were piercing, and the vague caverns where veins once crossed her face blended naturally into her skin. My daughter, you truly haven’t changed, he thought. Perhaps you were destined to be a soldier – perhaps you will take control of your own fate, no longer burdened by magics discipline.

“Child, did it hurt?” he asked, at a loss for words. “The knife – it only cut the black veins, I trust?”

“Yes, father. There was no physical pain – only emotional. I feel I had a good companion to share the pain with – He’s an understanding man, you must trust me. He’s a kind soul, like mother was. He’s just a fool – a paranoid fool. I beg you to show him mercy.”

He heard his daughter’s words, but he was still filled with anger. He once again found himself loathing the king. Think of what he’s said, he told himself, trying to maintain his level head. In his mind he watched the king freezing and dying. In his mind he envisioned his sword rearing through the king’s chest. And yet, in his mind he saw his daughter, crying over the king’s body more than she would if the body was his own. Control yourself for her, you old bastard.

Inge slowly stood up. He held his daughter’s hand and led her to where he had been standing before. When he let go of it, she retreated between him and Gerod.

“Smart place to stand, girl,” Chaos spoke. “The imagery is unprecedented. Now for the other matter – Samuel, come down and say hello to your father. It has been so long, after all, since the two of you were acquainted.”

The boy on the throne stood up and lurched toward the body that was his mother's. His legs moved slowly, with great effort and strain. His arms dangled miserably at his side and his face was without expression. His lips never moved – no words strained through the boy's lips.

“Gerod, look at your son.” Chaos said. “Inge, you too, but I know you’ve been looking at him. Gerod hasn’t – his gaze as remained elsewhere this whole time. Inge, you’re rather keen on reminding people of the consequences of their action. You’re fond of discipline, yes? What would you say of Gerod’s creation?”

“I hold no opinion,” Inge lied. He loathed the abomination that stood before him, and he knew what must be done by Gerod. To him, the only solution would be death to the boy. A mercy, he thought. The mercy that already graced the creature once. “He acted out of desperation – and desperation brought the boy back to us. Of course it lacks logic and discipline, but it was an act of love – of hope. His actions were human.”

As he spoke the words he found himself believing them. He no longer spoke only to deceive the woman. Quickly, he added “I feel there is only one thing that can be done on the matter, though.” Before Inge could feed the words into the air, he noticed Gerod was moving slowly toward doing it. He knelt before the boy, placing his hand upon his shoulder. Gerod muttered some words to his son.

“I’m sorry, my son. I’m sorry for the mistakes I’ve made, I’m sorry for the wounds I’ve caused. I have been a terrible king, a worse father, and worse than all, a terrible husband. I fear I now have to do something that’s not wise.” Inge watched as Gerod drew his sword from his side. His hand gripped around the green handle, and the sword raising slowly into the air. “Forgive me, son.”

He put the sword against the back of the boy’s neck and as he began to slide it, collapsed to the floor. Gerod lay on his back, a black fluid bellowing out of his mouth and his body convulsing as the liquid poured from him. A smile crept across Chaos’ mouth as the king died. The black liquid was followed by water, which was followed by blood. The king’s life was collapsing across the floor as Clarice screamed.

It’s not always so easy to see, Inge found himself thinking, and wondering if it would ever be less easy to see. The king’s death was violent – it was a putrid fluid that poured forth from him. His eyes were pooled with blood and his face was becoming parched and cracked. This is the hell of multiple magics. Inge quickly felt reassured about his opinion on the matter of Gerod’s creation.

Clarice continued to voice her sorrow, but the king had long since died. The boy slowly walked back to his throne. It is his throne now, I suppose. As he moved, Inge watched Clarice. She was trembling, and she charged forward. In one motion, Inge’s daughter had crossed the throne room floor, silently, grabbing the king’s sword and moving toward the boy Samuel with it.

Inge didn’t hesitate. He drank a vial of water that was hanging from his neck and coated the floor in front of Samuel in ice, slowing the boy down and allowing Clarice to time her strike properly. The sword was in line with her eye – a sword heavy for the young girl’s muscles. She’s used to carrying books, not swords. The sword made contact with the boy’s spine. Clarice didn’t stop, she drove the sword deeper and deeper until it found its way through the front of the boy, and until the boy was on the floor.

She let go of the sword. Samuel's body remained elevated from the floor, and as Inge looked closer he saw that the sword had been thrusted into the stone floor.

Chaos cleared its throat. “That takes away much of my fun, I fear. I had much planned for Clarice to choose between you two – I expected a battle, I expected bloodshed. This is far less fun, isn’t it?”

No one responded. A lull swept across the hall – no one knowing what words should be said. Clarice broke the silence when Chaos began to walk toward the door. “Stay, you bitch. You don’t leave this room.”

To Inge’s surprise, the specter stopped moving. “Inge, do what you should.” His daughter spoke. What I should, he wondered. He knew what his daughter wanted, and yet he knew more so what the just thing to do was. He had to decide – be human, or continue to be the cold man he always was. Will she understand if I act rationally? Will she forgive me for not acting in cold blood?

His daughter wanted him to kill the queen. He still had the power of the salt water within him. He could’ve drowned her, frozen her – he could have forced her into a watery grave. Inge knew, though, that he shouldn’t. More importantly, he saw that he couldn’t – there was no way he could conjure power like that now – he didn’t feel the right emotions for it.

He was able to do a more justified action, however, and within a few moments of his daughter’s outburst, jagged transparent uprisings of ice surrounded and encased the queen. Behind him, Inge could hear the sound of the castle doors drawing slowly open. The smith who’d barred them was responsible. He heard her footsteps first. Inge hadn’t noticed that Elyse didn’t make it into the castle with them, but quickly her voice filled the room. “This is how you would treat a monster, Inge?”

He heard Clarice gasp and whisper the word Mother before realizing the mistake she made. A sad look swept across her face.

Inge didn’t know if Elyse was disappointed or pleased in his actions, but felt for once that her approval was important. My student – my lover – must understand what I’ve done. Even if Clarice doesn’t understand my purpose, surely Elyse will. Elyse walked across the room, passing Inge without a glance and kneeling beside Clarice. They embraced in a hug while Elyse barked an order.

“Do your duty, you man of honour,” her tone was patronizing. Surely they heard it all from outside. “Kill it, or interrogate it. Whatever you must do. Don’t punish humans for making mistakes, though. You are as human as any of us, you… beacon of discipline,” she eventually choked out.

Inge drew toward the cell in the center of the room. The eyes of Chaos stared into him and he considered the monster before him.

“Who is responsible for me?” Chaos asked him. “Alida – for resurrecting Kasall? Kasall – for letting me live within him? Gerod – for stealing Clarice? Or is it yourself, Inge? Are you responsible for my existence? Is it you who brought me into this world with your ideas of discipline? You are my greatest challenge, you know. I can deceive the others, I can bring them to their limits. I cannot with you. Not even the events in Skyhull, you were not out of character there. Hell, you’re the greatest killer of mages I’ve ever met. I want to see the look on your face when you succumb to humanity. I want to watch you as you realize what it feels like to embrace your emotions.

“Did you not see my sword in Skyhull? Did you not see the bravado I barked at the enemy mage?”

“That was no different from what you’ve done in any moment of weakness. Your discipline, I fear, is misplaced, fair mage. Now, make your choice with me – I grow tired of your interrogation. Either kill me, or leave me locked up here. I’d sooner the former, for the latter would mean me having to watch you and that floozy fire mage you’ve grown so close to being intimate, and I saw quite enough of that when you still had your wife.”

Inge turned and looked at Chaos with a glare that soon turned to a choking, gargling mess of sound. He was drowning her – it. It was drowning before him, and as it began to die the sounds of drowning changed into the sounds of a woman screaming.

Inge wasn’t sure who he killed in the end, but either way the murder didn’t feel right. Nobody in his family mentioned it, nor the sounds as life slipped away.

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