(Hi guys. I have not had RotGS for long, or rather I had it and my Internet was not operational, so my imagination is only now being fired by the stories. Ah, well….)
Wizards! Bah!, I thought as I stomped a corrupted human’s head into the obsidian shards lying on the ground. These self same corrupted have a peculiar effect on wizards as well, I mused, considering that the Scarlet Circle, the de facto wizardly enforcers of the Eternal Throne’s increasingly crazy commands, had a large outpost near where these monstrous, corrupted people congregate; the Crater of Madness.
The red-robed thaumaturges populated a hillside of this damned crater in Kara Korum. I wondered if the Circle had managed to familiarise itself sufficiently with the crater’s powers to avoid or even command these cannibalistic ghouls, for a touch from the corrupted renders a person light-headed and unable to speak as the jaws lock, which is a problem for wizards. An out-of-breath soldier who charges must deal with these feelings.
But, casting philosophy to the wind, I started to climb the black-blasted mountains surrounding the otherworldly crater towards this sanctuary of Pra-Eun, master sorcerer and second in command only to the Emperor himself.
These mages had been invaluable during the Frenzy when the crater had spawned an ocean of monsters, more even than it does to this day, and they had burned the monsters from the earth, much as the Legion does to the corrupted humans found around the crater’s fringes, who are drawn to the crater like maggot larvae to an open wound. What horrible forms they will assume after pupation I could not imagine, gagging as I looked at a corrupted human’s green teeth scattered on the ground next to its evil-smelling corpse. The corruption seems to twist their very souls, moulding the flesh in the image of the madness growing inside.
The Last Legion’s commanders, like true soldiers, do not philosophise about the cause of the corruption illness and merely kill all enemies necessary to defend their lands and the throne of an emperor who has turned his back on honest fighting men to cavort with witches and wizards instead.
I, who have a deeper background in magic than most soldiers, have learned to pay attention to wizardly intrigues, if only as a way to avoid them at all costs.
A number of Scarlet agents have died on my blade. I was following orders from the Legion, merely considering myself as a soldier and fighter much as in any other army. Yet Khitanis live with intrigue, seem to drink it in with their mother’s milk; and she probably schemed with a neighbour’s wife to act as nursemaid to her babe.
In any event, this meant that the Legion, while maintaining the hallmarks of a regular army, had begun to dabble more aggressively in the politics of the realm, owing to the power vacuum left by the detachment of the Emperor from events in his lands.
This is where I found myself: caught between the intrigues of wizards and those of my superiors. A tough life it is being a soldier, I sighed and chuckled.
Not a single soldier was spared to help me. I was given hasty, whispered instructions to save the family of the general in command of the Legion in Kara Korum. They had been abducted by these Scarlet mages as a lever on the general, in the hopes of forcing him and his forces in the region to obey their commands. Perhaps the Circle does fear the corrupted as the Legion, in turn, fears becoming corrupted, I thought, identifying a number of Scarlet wizards standing watch on the slopes above.
Moving behind a shoulder of rock, I pulled my crossbow from my back where it hung below my shield and peered around the edge at the wizards. I gauged the distance to the nearest sentries, chatting while keeping a firm hold on their weapons and a wary eye on the slopes below.
I was not a great shot but could hit a big target at 200 metres repeatedly. I have never been drafted into the arbalest divisions in the armies I have hired my sword to. But I hefted the crossbow, let out my breath and shot an arcing shot down the slope. The bolt sank deeply into a corrupted legionnaire’s thigh and the beast yowled and came charging up the slope in a frothing frenzy, its rotten siblings following suit.
Above me the wizards let fly ear-searing oaths as they saw the corrupted war party approach, and I felt my hair stand on end as I watched their magics build in their hands. The former legionnaire, a frightful flap of skin hanging from his face, was blasted into an oily smoke by the searing light summoned by the mages. But the corrupted had appeared after the Frenzy, they were not as vulnerable to wizardly fire and lightnings and the other corrupted in the mob merely scattered and spread out as they sighted the Scarlet wizards.
A strange sighing-singing sound, almost a keening groan, issued from the corrupted humans’ mouths and their jaws champed spasmodically as they advanced on the sentries.
I looked on as one sentry drew a massive sword from off his back with a feverish prayer to all the 999 999 gods in this crazy country. The other raised his staff in invocation and spread his arms as he called a blast of fire onto the approaching monsters.
I targeted the wizard calling down fire but my haste sent the bolt through the back of a corrupted as it engaged the sword-wielding adept. It coughed and twitched its left shoulder, its mad attention focused solely on the wide-eyed mage in front of it. This mage almost cut the corrupted in half with his flaming double-edge sword, and I did not have time to rewind my arbalest.
Dropping the steel-armed crossbow, I pulled my shield from my back and called a Stygian blessing upon myself, one that was supposed to reduce the effects of magics on the invoker.
I rushed in the lee of the almost-obliterated corrupted warband and managed to get within twenty metres of the mages before the one higher up, his staff dropped to the ground as his fingers wove magics, spotted me and called out to his companion.
I kicked a corrupted human in front of me towards the spell-weaving wizard and turned to face the large mage wielding a blade. He grinned and, knowing that he had the longer reach, stepped back as I advanced. He twisted as he readied a blow meant to knock me to the ground, calling on a dozen demons to aid his blow, but I was more experienced in mêlée fighting than he was and I stepped forward and slashed through his cheek with my sword tip, blessedly preventing his spells.
He gagged on blood and his arms bulged as he sought to wrestle with his suddenly heavy sword. Wizards and swordplay do not mix, I thought, as I spitted the impotent sword-singer’s heart and turned a dark grin on his companion.
This type of wizard I knew; cold, calculating and dangerous as a snake. He did not grin in return, merely stepping over the smoking remains of the corrupted that had snapped broken, rotten teeth at him before being blasted into oblivion.
His fists glowed as he summoned fiery orbs into his palms and levelled them at me. I ducked into the protection of my shield and felt a spitting ball of fire strike the surface. Yet, these are no mean wizards, their powers of destruction are far beyond those of normal hedge wizards and I felt my shield soak up the heat and begin to glow.
I bellowed and released the shield, pulling my scorched arm from the straps. Black, charred, crispy flesh seemed to grin at me and I caught up my amulet of Asura hanging from my neck, steadying my mind to accept my now-inevitable death.
The mage, still not showing any emotion, took careful aim with the remaining ball of demon’s-fire and I felt my sword tip dip as I gave up the struggle. I made peace with the world and my place, yea even my death, as part of the cosmos.
I felt time slow as I watched the luridly glowing fireball in the mage’s opening hand.
I have felt like this only once, when Hadrathus had confronted me on the nameless road near the Border Kingdoms and I had ceased to think and merely existed. He had had the power to kill me then, but had not. I have always pondered why. I closed my eyes, seeking meditation.
If our deaths were inevitable, why would we be given cognisance or consciousness in this life? Would we not be better off as beasts living and dying without blame or power? Why have the gods given us reason and the potential for good or evil? I say good or evil because these can only exist as conscious acts and are meaningless if committed by a self-unaware creature.
Yet, even with consciousness, we cannot prevent our deaths and we are so bound by the illusion of reality that we function effectively as a part of its deterministic weavings, impartial and powerless, fate-bound for an early grave.
Why then, o gods!, have we been given the power to know how powerless we are? Must we endlessly return to fix problems our souls are not meant to solve? Are we caught in this rat-wheel of reincarnation for all eternity? Why?
My eyes opened and I looked at the molten ball of power and energy the mage extended towards me. I saw my death approach.
A phrase entered my mind as a potential answer to the silence of the gods: Asha. Hope.
With this one word I became calm again. We are given power because we can achieve good things, or squander our power in doing evil, both only achievable because we are self-aware. We can equal the gods in our deeds, both good and bad. Karma, actions. It also speaks of responsibility, individual responsibility, my responsibility. The cause of the cycle of cause and effect is my intentions.
I felt suddenly the world lift a weight from me and I saw the wizard’s fire only as the consequence of his and others’ actions. But they were not my actions.
I felt a magic build inside of me, different from the Stygian thaumaturgy I learnt on my mother’s knees; it was light and sentient. I felt the power of the mage’s spell evaporate in its presence flowing from within me.
Actions… the word repeats itself. Evil really does triumph if good men do nothing, I think, and I strike the gaping mage, tearing a terrible gash into his chest. I deserve no pity. I have brought my suffering on myself. So did he. I think of the family of the general. Actions are our decisions, and we must embrace the shadows within, to allow our light to shine. No one is blameless, but much can be forgiven because we are sentient, fallible and flawed.
Inspired by Milton’s on his blindness, Ursula LeGuin’s a Wizard of Earthsea, T.S. Eliot’s the Wasteland and a nod to Sir Terry Pratchett’s works.
Also inspired by looking down a gun barrel without knowing what the person behind the trigger will decide.
Last edited by ArcaneScientius; 17th July 2012 at 13:58..