Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paladin-Part 1

James ran as fast as he could to the White Tower. The Archmage called for him by name, and there was no way that he would let the savior of the people down by not making haste, yet he did stop—briefly—to wonder at the impossible shape of his master’s home and his people’s citadel. This artifact from his people’s homeland was a tall tower wrought of white steel that his people cannot replicate now. It rose from a wide base, narrowed in the middle and then expanded again at the top to hold a broad disk wherein the Archmage worked his arcane art- and ruled the lands that are now known as his domain. From this place, the order that his elders bought with blood and magic emanated, like the waves that go forth from where a rock hits the water- order that now fell to him, and to his generation, to not only maintain, but expand.

James hurried into the White Tower, making hasty—but routine—salutes to the guards and ritual-like interaction with the man-like metal construct standing motionless at the base of the White Tower’s lift. Moments later, James emerged into the Archmage’s chambers atop the White Tower, and there waiting for him was the very man himself- and his ever-present aide, David.

The Archmage—none that knew his name ever told John what it was—made no attempt to hide his venerable age, or to mask the frailty that came with it. Yet even James felt the power in his body, and one look at the eyes made clear that the Archmage still had the full power of his mind firmly in hand. As for David, he seemed as solid a man as he was when John last got this close to him- five years ago, when John began training as a warrior, sometimes under David’s direct tutelage.

The Archmage beckoned James to approach, and John did, nervously.

“Calm yourself, my boy.” The Archmage motioned for David to bring over some water.

“I called you here for good reasons this day.”

James saw that, in addition to some water, David brought over a tunic.

“Harold Arthur James,” the Archmage said, “you’ve proven your worth as a warrior, ready and able to handle the work ahead of you, and it is for that reason that I have called you here.”

David presented the tunic to James, a tunic as blue as the clear-blue sea in the bay just west of the Tower with white accents like the foam on the waves when that sea turns rough. Inscribed on the chest is the device of the White Tower, and on the back sigils in a tongue that James knew not ran down in a column- but James knew well what this meant.

“I name you to the Company of the Tower.” the Archmage said, “The first of your generation to do so, and I hope that you will show the way for those that follow you.”

“Congratulations Jimmy.” David said, as he dressed James in his new tunic, “You deserve this. You’re ready for it.”

James let his eyes go wide and his mouth open, betraying his youth.

“This is such an honor, Masters!” James said, saluting, “I am very grateful.”

The older men chuckled, and then David said “We make this known tonight, when the Tower Festival begins, but there is no harm in wearing your uniform now. Your elders already know, and as I speak your family gathers your things and brings them here to your new home.”

The Archmage turned to David. “Let us be for now, and go below to help prepare.”

“Of course, old friend.” David said, and he made for the lift.

Once alone, James poured water for the Archmage, again for himself, and waited. A moment thereafter, the Archmage took James around the circular room and pointed out a window towards one of the distant mountains that lay well east of the White Tower.

“You are not one for idleness, James, so I shall not insult you with mere guard duty.”

The Archmage paused, drinking.

“That mountain has many names, but in the tongue of the old empire its name is ‘Silver Top’, due to the silver-like shine from its summit. Before the Rain of Azure Flames that ruined the world, a tragic figure fled the land and was last seen running for Silver Top.”

James listened, attention fixed wholly on his master.

“His name is George Felton. He was once a student of mine, many years ago, but he—like the whole of his generation—believed that self-indulgence was a virtue, mistook money for wealth, and eschewed the true purpose for his existence. He rose to some prominence before the Rain of Azure Flames, being both a magician and an alchemist, using an underhanded team of expendable minions to frame his enemies for crimes that he ordered. He did so because he believed that all of his crimes were necessary to ensure that he became lord of the land here, and with lordship in his hands he could forcibly reform things to his desire- to his will, and his benefit, alone.”

“I assume, master, that this Felton ultimately failed? You mentioned that he fled for that far-off mountain.”

Both James and his master emptied their glasses. As James poured more water, the Archmage answered him.

“Indeed, he did fail in time, but not before he did much damage. He used the secrets I taught him to aggrandize much temporal power, and that included create a personality cult about himself. Using this as a weapon, he scoured the lands of his enemies, but always from a distance sufficient to afford him the ability to deny the actions of his followers. By now Felton had a cunning understanding of the madness that afflicted the old empire, and he used it with increasingly ruthlessness and boldness.”

“So, how did he fail?”

The Archmage smiled. “I saw that he became obsessed with worldly power and influence, and in so doing he had lost sight of the universe- he lost all perspective of things. So I moved to contain him and his influence, to quarantine him, and with the help of the other Masters I did so. Then I let some of my other students, including your parents, know what went on and how to deal with it. They organized the victims of Felton against him and his minions, and after a long time of tension we led an assault on his mansion and burned him—and the sickness that he brought—out of the land. Many of his minions died in the struggle, but many more fled with him into the mountains, and the Rain of Azure Flames did not exterminate them.”

The Archmage saw that James quickly drew the intended conclusions.

“The many monsters and fiends we’ve contended with since your birth, for which your father and his friends fought and died to defeat, are somehow tied to Felton and his cult. I’ve seen this after conferring with the Masters; these mutants and other enemies, somehow, target us specifically. They know us—your elders—by name. For the good of our people, this connection must be confirmed or denied, and if confirmed then we must bring the fight to them.”

James finished his glass.

“I accept.” James said.

The Archmage smiled. “I am pleased, James.”

The Archmage moved half-way across the disk-like room and retrieved something from a box that seemed almost as old as the man himself. Covered by a cloth, James could not tell what it was that his master held in hand. As he got close, James watched his master unveil the object and revealed it as a headband; a silver disc with a sun-like device inlayed in gold, fixed to a strong band of black cloth.

“Tie this about your brow.”

James took the headband and tied it on as ordered, centering the disc on his forehead directly over the point that he knew as his “third eye”.

“James, tonight I shall announce your entrance into the Company of the Tower. I shall also announce the expedition for Silver Top, which I shall place into your command. The band about your brow shall mark your status of command, but that is not all it shall do for you.”

James let his eyes speak his question for him.

“You are a young man of fine quality, James, but you are yet a youth and untried. This task shall try you greatly, but I am not without compassion; the band you now wear will, when you need it, be there to help you find the way.”

James smiled.

“There is another part to this task, James. I saw that there is, out there, a great and awesome power. It wants to be found, James, and I want you to find it- before our enemies do. I want you to find it and bring it back for us. Yes, it is somewhere out there, beyond the walls and the pacified bawn. It lies in the wilderness, amidst the chaos now rampant in the world, and I am unable to retrieve it myself- nor are the Masters, or your elders. Only one of your generations has the means to retrieve it now, which is why I place this burden upon your shoulders, James.

James now realized the full extent of the duty before him, and still he smiled.

“Gladly, my master.”

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