Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 25 (of 43)


War entered the consciousness of Schloeffelonia like a motif. Fang gradually sharpened his native country into a blade, but it was a blade made of weak metal, for he was despised by his own people.

The point of that blade was Zedwig, whose unique talents made Schloeffelonia unstoppable. Zedwig was, without question, the most powerful weapon anyone had ever beheld, and once wielded by the intense focus of Fang he became something that was terrible.

The first city that Fang decided to attack, being the Narmans, reacted with disbelief to the missive sent from Schloeffelonia demanding surrender. It was a human city, as most of them were, which controlled the ports on the western sea, and when it failed to reply with unconditional surrender after the time allotted, Fang attacked. It was questionable whether or not Fang actually wished for the city to surrender prior to being attacked, because he seemed to be plainly giddy for violence the day the siege began.

The day the siege began was also the day the siege ended.

A missive was sent to Fang, and it was mostly one of polite disconnect, from a leader of Narman City who believed the new overlord was either confused or delirious, the contents of which could be boiled down to something similar to: “What brought this on?” and “More discussion, please”. Fang, being the aggressive, sensational sort he was, couldn’t abide by any negotiations and set the armies to attack.

The great gates of Narman City were adorned with classically beautiful sculptures depicting fanciful creatures that might best be described as being of the mer- variety and artfully sculpted pieces of ships, and they closed that morning with a large crash which sounded of bewilderment and necessity. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter what they did with the gates, since Zedwig and the mages could conquer the city within using merely the air itself.

The vast army of Fang, Overlord of Darkness approached the outer walls with pikes that, as the soldiers walked, swayed lightly in a way that brought tall, thin reeds to mind. Taken as a whole, they looked fine and delicate, as if a hand brushed across them would make the majority perhaps bend as if in a breeze, or break and fall aside, left to blow away like dust. Individually, they were sharp, thick, and piercing.

In occasional places, but patterned well enough to be intentional, there were brilliant green flags hoisted on long poles which were pulled at jealously by the wind. They popped and shuddered as the wind tore at them, but despite all efforts they would not tear.

Fang rode at the front of the army, fearless and confident, upon a gray and black horse. He wore black, which contrasted with his pale skin and hair in a stark and demanding way. Near his right hand rode Zedwig, who, beside the cruelty of Fang, appeared fair and golden as if a pocket of mercy had somehow survived in the midst of sharp brutality.

Upon closer inspection, though, Zedwig’s delicate face held subtle but unmistakable clues towards his inner torment. He was a lamb being led to the slaughter. He was waiting, biding his time, unable to think about what might happen next. He knew, somewhere and somehow, what it was Fang would ask of him, but avoided thinking about it in order to preserve another rare moment without anguish.

The rest of the mages walked behind them, relegated to the role of accessories, as Zedwig, through the bearing of Fang in relation to the Chief Mage, was clearly the Overlord’s favorite beyond any doubt.

Near the outer wall of Narman City Fang stopped, and the rest of the army stopped with him. Within the walls and within the army, anxiety and expectation hung heavy and thick in the air and the feeling of mortality seeped into the groundwater of many bones. In that moment, the fate of thousands of men hung like a delicate garment upon the desires of one, who considered the wall and then turned to look at his mage.

Zedwig saw the thrill of power in Fang as their eyes met and he felt fear.

“Dismount,” Fang told him, and he did. Fang also left his horse and walked beside Zedwig, and the two stood at the forefront of the army like the tiny point of a chevron and regarded the city with two very different expressions.

The Chief Mage gazed with melancholy upon the city of Narman and decided that whatever Fang required of him, he would spare the art that adorned the great gate.

“Zedwig,” said Fang at last. “Gather the mages and make this city kneel before me.”

Inherently, Zedwig knew exactly what Fang wanted of him, and his obedience clicked into place like clockwork. As the gears began to crank into place, he drew the other mages under his complete power and began to order them with emotionless efficiency. Part of him was locked to one side and the other, compassionate and horrified, stayed locked to the other side. Neither side interfered with the other; neither side could interfere with the other as nothing was allowed to stop his complete compliance with what Fang wanted.

Within him the magic built, blue, searing, and exalting. He hated what he was doing, and he loathed Fang for forcing him to do it, but there was a pleasure that came from working with this destructive force, however dark. To force what was around him to bend to his will through his own power satisfied something deep within him which caused the rest of his mind to recoil. It threatened to overwhelm the rest of him, but couldn’t touch the cold pool of water that Gaffer had placed within him. He retreated to safety, and Fang ruled him at large.

It was as if he was inhaling, but instead of air, it was magic. He eyed the gate, and in particular one statue that had been sculpted with rare perfection of balance. It was of a mermaiden, one arm stretched to the side, as if welcoming, and the other above her in a careless gesture of incidental grace. Her face was delicate, effortless, and timeless. He didn’t want her to die.

Fang glowed with power beside him that ebbed with a pulse like a heartbeat. Zedwig had sparsely drawn from him out of spite, instead preferring to draw from everywhere else, anywhere else, but him. However, as the power grew within the mage and began to coalesce into shape, Fang moved closer and began to blind Zedwig’s senses as he’d done before. As if Zedwig was dying of thirst and kneeling beside a stream, it tempted him painfully to be aware of such immense power and not draw from it, as it was offered freely and openly like a bounty. Fang didn’t require that he draw from him; he merely stood nearby and allowed it to overwhelm Zedwig.

Still, Zedwig resisted for a time, and began the assault under the explicit direction that the mermaiden not be harmed. It didn’t really make a difference whether or not the mermaiden fell to pieces or not in regards to the fate of those within the city and the fate of the gate itself, but for Zedwig, it gave him at least a very small measure of beauty to preserve in the midst of what he was forced to do.

There was no outward indication or signal from the elf mages that could be construed as an order, per se, but all at once a volley of fireballs erupted from their ranks in perfect unison, with Zedwig’s leading the rest like a fiery phoenix at the head of a burning V. They shot upward with surprising silence, making great, calculated arcs through the sky, spreading, and falling with weight and precision into the city. Again the elf mages, thirty strong, shot a blinding round into the heart of the city, and a third time.

They stopped.

For a long moment the army stood in silence. Occasionally Zedwig could hear one of the humans behind him clearing his throat, or the chink of weapons and armor moving against itself, but mostly what was prevalent was the sound of green fabric pulled by the wind and expectations.

Gradually, they began to see it; small, delicate flames like budding flowers licked above the top of the city wall until they were followed by black billows of smoke and finally grew to maturity and intense strength. Zedwig was certain surrender couldn’t be far from coming, for most of the city seemed to be in flames. Somewhere distant, he was sorry.

Fang came close beside him.

“Force open the gate,” he told the mage, his green eyes upon the beautifully sculpted art which adorned them.

Zedwig looked at him, aware that “open the gates” actually meant to “destroy the gates”.

“Fangline,” Zedwig said. He refused to call him anything but what he knew Fang to be, and that was always Fangline. Fang, for his part, never once corrected him, and if Zedwig had been aware of it, he would have known the incident to be singular and to irritate nearly everyone else who observed the familiarity with which the overlord allowed the mage. Fang used him like a tool but treated him with more kindness than anyone in the world. It was all lost on Zedwig, who was given the absolute best but absolute worst of all things in the Empire of Schloeffelonia and was always miserable. As he called his name now, Fang’s attention was diverted directly onto the mage.

“They aren’t even resisting,” said Zedwig. “We have won and anything more is completely unnecessary!”

Fang gave him a steady look; it was a placid fa├žade, for after only a few moments his impatience suddenly broke through.

“You will open the gate, Zedwig,” he ordered him. “You will tear it from the wall, until there is nothing left but rubble!”

At this, Zedwig was forced to comply. Calling the mages to arms, another volley was released into the gates, with the specific, silent instruction to preserve the mermaiden. The gates shuddered and the ground trembled subtly, but they had withstood the impact. A sculpted ship had fallen to the ground, crashing into pieces of simple rock.

Zedwig drew magic from everywhere, he inhaled and it flowed through the ground into him. He gloried in it, taking a brief respite in the simplicity of how it felt to teem with life for only a few moments. The air that floated around him gave him particles of life, the sturdy ground gave him streams, the unknowing soldiers behind him filled his veins with it, and the ethereal skies lent him its mysterious beams. He closed his eyes and mixed it all within him, being himself and being everything around him all at once. Still, there beside him Fang burned, waiting, and largely untapped.

“Fire,” he thought, and fireballs erupted from them all, whisking through the air, growing and smaller and smaller to them but greater and greater to the waiting gates. There was an explosion and the great gates groaned long and loudly, but they did not open. Smoke was billowing in great swaths from the city, now, making it seem as if the whole of it must be engulfed, and Zedwig watched anxiously for the blackness to clear from in front of the gates. It was still there, the sculpture, although slightly blackened from cinders. The face of the mermaiden looked oblivious and beautiful.

He knew that under the force of one more strike the gates would be open, so again he drew power to him, pulling it from everywhere, and held onto it for a time. There wasn’t really any reason to move quickly; the city was entirely defenseless and hadn’t shown any indication of fighting back. Moreover, the army was outside of the range of any possible archer or catapult. He focused on the center point of the gates, letting the life force travel through him with a familiar, pleasant frequency, back and forth.

It was at these times that Zedwig felt distant from that which plagued him. This distance was relief and oasis-like against the misery of his condition, and though he’d rather not be doing this at all, he had to hold onto what brief solace he could. While so occupied with the magic he possessed, he wasn’t aware that Fang had come close enough to touch him.

Fang did touch him, a fact of which Zedwig was immediately aware, even though it was only his fingers on the outside of his arm, for his powers as a magnifier were exponentially stronger when he was touching the subject he chose to magnify. There he dwelt on the edge of Zedwig’s senses, still not insistent, but only waiting, as if tarrying behind a veil, but coursing with blinding energy Zedwig could feel.

Fang’s fingers slid around his arm and he grasped it, and in that moment Zedwig was overcome. He began to take from the depthless well of force that was in Fang but with only a brief moment of caution before drawing forcefully and with what seemed to be an unquenchable thirst and even fury for more power. Perhaps it was the anger inside of him that began to act now, for instead of refusing to draw from Fang, he now wanted to drain him entirely, supposing perhaps if he took enough force from him, maybe he could take his life as well.

Zedwig absorbed power until he was filled to the verge of being entirely transparent with light. He was furious and he was ravaging. If he had been cognizant, he would have known Fang was near collapse beside him, but he was only aware of his great power and fury and that which filled his sights at an unfortunate pinpoint; the great gate.

He released the entirety of his madness at the gates, only wanting to destroy, shred, and tear. The other mages released fireballs as well, but they were candlelight beside his streaking white-hot swath of fire. It tore across the space and landed squarely into the gates, tearing them from the walls, and even tearing part of the wall down as well. The gates flew backwards, tilting and oblique, shards of wood and metal spun through the air in high arcs, stones from the wall fell slowly, then with greater speed until finally crashing into the trembling ground.

There was nothing left of the great Narman gate but a gaping hole. As the red fury cleared from Zedwig’s eyes, he knew the mermaiden was gone forever. He was miserable, all the more for the brief, fleeting glory he’d just felt. Nothing he did was lasting; all he did was destroy.

Fang had left him. He was standing about a yard away, in a coat of tailored black brocade hung about with a cloak of velvet. He looked perfect, content, and quietly resigned as he gazed at the ruined city that burned before them. There was occasionally the sound of nervous laughter or a cough from the humans in the army behind them, who could not comprehend and doubtless feared greatly the power of the elves. Mostly, however, they were silent, waiting for orders and grateful to be on this side of the war.[1]

[1] This scene is roughly outlined in page #331-#333.

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