Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 40 (of 43)

XL

Zedwig forced himself to believe that cooperating with Fang was the right thing to do. As he did so, Fang changed, and a rather large number of lives were saved. This would have given Zedwig some gratification if he could have stopped wondering if there were some way for him to remove himself entirely from Fang’s grasp. Even worse, he began to wonder if he could ever be removed entirely from Fang’s grasp, artifact or not.

It had been two years that he had been compelled by Fang, during which time he had grown accustomed to it. He never liked it, not exactly, but he knew that he was allowed to see something in Fang that very few, if any, had ever seen. It was perhaps only through consequence that he knew Fang as he did; if he hadn’t been such a rarely intuitive mage, or if Fang hadn’t been born a magnifier, none of this would ever have happened. Fang wouldn’t have conquered half of the known world using him as a weapon, and Schloeffelonia would still be whole.

He supposed Schloeffelonia was still whole, per se, but it certainly wasn’t what it once was. It stood for nothing that it once did, and had become something to fear in the world, instead of the quiet enigma it used to be.

If Fang hadn’t been the madman Zedwig was convinced he was, they very likely would have been very close lifelong friends, for how rare was the gift they had with each other and how singular it is for an individual to be entirely understood by another. As well as Fang had never experienced that sort of closeness with anyone in his life, neither had Zedwig, who had been plagued by his shyness from a young age. The anomaly was very nearly thrust upon them, but was also something they both craved once they had tasted it, and whether or not they could truly tolerate being separated was questionable, indeed.

It is true that Zedwig was miserable in his suffering and had in fact suffered beyond what nearly all mortals ever had. If it hadn’t been for that which Gaffer gave him, he would have been lost. But, strangely, despite his hatred towards the madness of the overlord actions, the appalling, disgusting nature of Fang’s lust for violence, and Fang’s vice-like grip over him, he had been Zedwig’s sole companion. As is the way of mortal suffering, there was only so long before Zedwig began to make the most of the hand he held. He hated him, he needed him, he understood him, and perceived him to be a great tragedy.

Today they rode across the plains towards the City of Ena. It was at times like this Zedwig felt he could forget the heavy burdens around this moment and merely live. The grass moved and swirled around the feet of soldiers to either side, making a light, soft noise that mixed gently with the sound of armor and distant wagons. He was aware, always aware, of Fang beside him and despite himself, preferred his proximity.

He glanced at the overlord, who perceived him and caught his eye, then rode his horse closer to Zedwig’s.

“We should be there by nightfall,” Fang told him. Zedwig gripped the reins, feeling the leather straps through his gloves. It had grown colder of late, and very soon the snows would begin to fall. Judging from the look of the sky, Zedwig suspected it might happen tonight. They would have to move quickly to get through the canyon in the west before the snows prevented all passage back to Schloeffelonia. The cold had come early, this year.

“When do you plan on attacking?” Zedwig asked.

“Immediately,” replied Fang.

Zedwig considered that, and then drew a breath.

“Fangline…”

“What is it,” said Fang, who was gazing at the horizon and didn’t look as if he wanted to hear what was coming.

“What of negotiations?”

“We sent word, and they replied poorly,” said Fang in a clipped manner, hardly explaining at all. Zedwig didn’t press that particular issue, but went on to a different tactic.

“I’ve been thinking, Fangline,” he said. “That perhaps a few fireballs in warning would be enough to initiate surrender.”

“Perhaps,” said Fang, who waxed moody.

Zedwig gripped his reigns more tightly.

The City of Ena was set on the first slopes that marked the entrance to a winding canyon that passed through the eastern mountain range, and was the largest city in the east excepting Kazaad’sandish, which was sprawling where this one was compact and all laid within a white, circular stone wall. The entire city sloped along the length of one mountain and held within it a beautiful statue that was the city’s namesake. It was of an ancient witch who had wielded fire, and hardly anyone knew the legend anymore, but they did know that the word “ena” had once meant “fire” and that the statue was regarded as a fine work of art in a world where that sort of thing was unusually rare.

As the army approached night had fallen and even a light snow had begun to fall. Zedwig watched as snowflake after snowflake fell upon Fang’s burning shoulder, to immediately melt to nothing. He wondered how little he could get away with doing, tonight.

Fang turned to him.

“It’s time to begin,” said the overlord.

“How shall we do it?” Zedwig asked, pointedly ignoring the fact that “it” involved blowing things up.

Fang shifted his weight, appearing conflicted, and moved closer to Zedwig, as in the manner of private confidence.

“I wonder, Zedwig,” he said to him alone. “Will this be our last battle?”

“Perhaps,” Zedwig replied, disallowing any emotion to enter his voice. He should not feel any regret over this part of his life coming to an end and in fact he badly hoped this was his last battle, hoped for it dearly, but the destructive magic was not without its effects, and one of those was the surface pleasure he received from wielding such great power in conjunction with Fang. He knew this was prevalent on Fang’s mind as he came to stand very near him and faced the city.

“Let’s begin with a few,” he said. “Call the other mages.”

Zedwig did as he was ordered, and began drawing magic, drawing only modestly from Fang for he loathed the part of himself that enjoyed it. He could feel Fang waiting in anticipation for more, but he wouldn’t do it; not now, and partly because he didn’t want to admit to himself he wanted it. The other mages came to form a double line of wide spaces behind them, although there were not many left, and in fact there were less than ten. Zedwig ordered them in his mind and they stood ready, absorbing the magic around them, each emptying the life force of the space he occupied, and drawing from other unknowing wells, such as the soldiers, or the earth. Their absorption was wan and faint, though, compared to his mastery over the forces around him, like a group of violin students might play the scarcely melodious sound of a child compared to the master, who sounds the bow across the strings with a confident, resonant vibration.

He became one with the forces around him again, a feeling which helped him forget and which gave him serenity in a sense. All time slipped away, and so did objects and details, as he became fully focused and allowed his senses to rule him. Beside him Fang shifted, a flaming torch of force, and he could feel him brush physically against him, but only once, which caused Zedwig to desire for his return and for so much power to be closer and more immediate. The space between them became a gulf, though it was only inches, and Fang sensed his longing and, like feedback or an endless loop, it fed on itself between them until he was touching him again though neither could tell which of them had made it happen. It simply was, inevitably, and as he felt Fang beside him the raw power which coursed within him made him see differently; the white wall surrounding the city before him was laced with light and power and red which clouded his sight, threatening to surrender to the rest of his senses, the last of which being a sixth sense overwhelming all others and craving access to more and more power. He fought for coherence.

“Where shall I aim?” he asked Fang, and although his voice broke and his breath was short, he was relieved he’d managed to speak the words. He heard Fang’s staggered breath beside him and a light, cool sheen of sweat broke out on the mage’s forehead. Fang’s hand came to his shoulder; it slid across his chest until his arm was wound around his shoulders like a serpent. It was an embrace, of sorts, both one of control, and one of weakness, for though while touching him like this Zedwig grew more and more intoxicated with his power, it also held the overlord upright, because as Zedwig grew in power, Fang weakened. His physical weight bore upon him, although Zedwig could have borne three times as much at this moment.

There was a long moment before Fang replied, where the only thing that was prevalent was Zedwig’s breathing and his. The magic between them shifted, glowed, turned, and then began to oscillate as it reached a harmonious plateau; it was some sort of perfect and resonant state between them, and though Zedwig was only lost in it now, he would come to regard this single moment with wonder and curiosity for the rest of his life.

“The statue,” whispered Fang, and as he did, the harmony between them dissipated instantly, slipping into disorder and wild array.

“No, Fangline.”

“Yes, strike at the heart,” he whispered into his ear.

“Fangline!”

Fang grew in power beside him, perhaps fueled by his rebellious spirit, although Zedwig would never know just what it was that gave Fang such intensity. Zedwig was determined to make an argument of it, though.

“It is priceless, Fangline, it cannot be replaced,” he whispered quickly. “Please...”

“How powerful we are to destroy it,” whispered Fang against his ear. “To destroy something held dear by so many, it is more than taking a life, isn’t it? It is taking the past and the future, forcing what would be into what we want.”

He sensed Fang moving towards the threshold of no longer asking Zedwig to comply with his desires, but forcing him to do it, and fear began to float around him, buoyed by the power that engulfed them both.

“Don’t make me do it,” he whispered, pleading.

“But I want to,” was Fang’s ardent reply, both to himself and to Zedwig, and he lingered upon that razor’s edge between cooperation and compulsion for a long, agonizing moment in which Zedwig held his breath and the world was empty save for that one point in time and space. And then he began to slip across it, to cross it until there was no turning back and it could not be stopped, and as he did, his lips moved against Zedwig’s ear and he sighed existentially, “What are we?”

But Zedwig hardly heard the words as he began to madly suck the power from within Fangline without conscience or inhibition into himself. He wished to drain him, to take every mote of strength from him, and most of all, he wanted to destroy, beginning with the statue of Ena. Fangline moaned beside him from both weakness and joy, his pleasure only heightened by the greatness of Zedwig’s destructive power, and he wielded the power masterfully, drawing it into great passionate arcs which could take any number of lives and destroy any number of dreams at will. He drew more and more power, greater than he had ever conceived of holding at once and clutched Fangline to him with only his power and will. They became one; not harmoniously as before, but through force and like a great screaming river, and as Zedwig went further into the depths of the power, he sought an end that he began to sense was there, though he didn’t know what it could be.

He was distantly conscious of his physical body, and heard a full, shifting breath drawn by himself. The sound was compelling and soothing, like the rush of water in a cool stream, but the rest of his consciousness was elsewhere, riding upon a symphony of power he wrote entirely with his own brilliance.

He began to see it; and to describe what “it” was might be impossible, but it was that power that governs the universe, that binds matter, that turns seasons, that moves the smallest blade of grass in the wind and the greatest, swirling galaxies in a sublime, ticking clockwork of fitted gears and perfect cogs. It was sensual; but sex and sensuality were only the beginning, tiny playthings easily misunderstood and poorly used in the hands of children, but the power was bound up in it or it was bound up within the power, and with it was the power over life and death, and he realized it was outside of those things, and more, so incomprehensibly more that these mortal powers he possessed were only tiny pieces and parts of a great river. His mind strained at the seams trying to grasp it and as his power threatened to slip away from him, he drew back with a gasp, holding it, and no longer searching for more.

He felt Fangline beside him and relished the sensuality of his own mortality, then he tore the power from the universe, binding it, compelled to make it his own as Fangline and the earring he wore clutched him and his wild power within the overlord’s will. Zedwig was aware, so acutely aware of everything around him, that even the smallest noise that escaped Fangline was not outside his notice, nor the hand that grasped his coat against his side, and as he formed the great fireball that would change time and destroy the greatest treasure that lay within the City of Ena, he groaned within himself for the pleasure of life.

Not very long afterward, he and the mages had very nearly burned the city to the ground. Mostly it had been Fang’s wishes, but Fang had grown very weak by the end, and Zedwig had taken control entirely of the attack. His intoxication and compulsion had kept him going far longer than he should have, and this time he had used more power than at any time in his life, and in fact, far more than he should have been able to physically bear. At the last, Ena stood in flames, and Fang fell to the ground beside Zedwig, unconscious and spent.

“Regnar!” called Zedwig, and the guard came to him within moments. “Take him and keep him somewhere safe.”

“Is he dead?” asked Regnar, looking as dense as he usually did, and Zedwig wondered if it was his humanity that made him seem dense to the elf, or if he really was.

“No, he isn’t dead,” Zedwig replied patiently. “He needs rest; that is all.”

Regnar called to a few of the other human soldiers, and they lifted Fang from the ground and carried him away. Regnar returned to Zedwig, looking flummoxed.

“So now what do we do?” he asked Zedwig, confused over how to proceed with the occupation of the city without his overlord to command him.

“Find someone else to do it. A spokesman for Fangline,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, for I’ll be right there beside him.”

As he watched Regnar go in search of a “mouth” for Fang, Zedwig knew that he could never come into full cooperation with Fang, for they were not only too powerful while combined to exist in this world, but he could no longer trust Fang to stay his hand. Somewhere deep inside himself, he also knew he couldn’t trust himself to leave it alone: not anymore. Even now his body thrilled with the lingering motes of what they had done, and how terrible had it been! He knew he would pay sorely for it later, and he feared his suffering would go far beyond the physical realm. Above all, though, Zedwig was tired, abysmally tired, but he had a job to do and once it was done, he would be free to die.

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