Prologue to the Story To Be Named Later, I
Elder Patrician Merrus, head of the Circle of Magi of the Dreaming Tower, sighed and pressed the fingers of his right hand against the short grey hairs at his temple. This man, who could engulf an entire village in fiery ruin, summon and bind the Demonlords of the Void, or raise a tower of stone from bare dirt at a gesture, could do nothing to quell the rising rage of pain in his own head. He briefly considered turning to Nicoreus for succor, but allowed the notion to disappear. As the first Elder Patrician in a century to head a Trial of Expulsion, Merrus could not afford to appear weak. Even if the trial itself was threatening to turn into sham, as Elder Patrician he had the dignity of the last Arcane Academy to maintain.
Through the throbbing counterpoint in his head, Merrus listened to Escalion as he continued to enumerate the charges being leveled against one of their own. Merrus could not help but cringe inwardly as the pompous mage’s voice, so dreaded, detested, and widely imitated by a generation of students, merged and danced with the pounding in his head. The Elder imagined the loud ringing tone winging its way up into the ever-shadowed heights of the huge domed ceiling, awakening old ghosts of Patricians past. Escalion, oiled beard gleaming and short point thrusting out as punctuation, was oblivious to the fact that no one in the room was actually listening to a word he said. Merrus’ quick glance confirmed his suspicion, as each of the Patricians of the Circle found means of diversion from the litany and avoided the spectacle of the orator and his presumed target.
The presumed target, Merrus noted, was the only person who did appear to be listening. Troius the Jewel Pated, Wizard of the Nine Pointed Stars, Binder of the Ten Demons of Georathe, stood in the center of the Circle, disdaining the chair offered to him. The rotund and feared wizard listed from time to time, his twenty or more stone of body mass coming dangerously near the tipping point more than once. Despite that, the huge tankard of Ammenian fortified wine never spilled a single drop, until the massive mage brought it to his lips when like as not twin streams would pour from the sides of his mouth to join the older stains on his yellowed robe. When not taking a pull, Troius stared blankly ahead, mouth quirking into a smile as a recitation of one of his crimes seemed to touch upon a fond memory. He looks, Merrus thought, like a man being feted, the stories and legends of his grandest achievements sung before all.
With a near-silent sigh Merrus looked down at the list of offenses each Patrician had before them. Some of the charges were superfluous – Study and Practice Of Necromancy was illegal in name only, a way to placate the outsiders who knew little of the true ways of the arcane. Others, however, were troubling, and still more actually chilled the Elder Patrician to the core of his being. The lists of murders, mutilations, and worse were bad enough, but the indifference displayed by Troius at every step made Merrus question the obese wizard’s basic humanity.
A sharp voice cutting off Escalion’s flourishing recitation jerked Merrus’ head up from the paper. “Bullshit,” Trious said harshly, beady eyes now locked on Escalion. “That charge should be stricken. I gave Lord Nesior’s daughter back to him.” Merrus, like the other Patricians around him, sat in shocked silence. His mind turned unerringly to the horror of seeing the once-beautiful girl shuffling around the nobleman’s estate, marks of strangulation shadowed black on her pale neck, her dead eyes and dead limbs moving about in a parody of the life she once enjoyed. After seeing her daughter’s “return”, Lady Nesior was held under restraint at House Nesior’s seaside villa for a month before she reportedly died peacefully in her sleep. Merrus believed that report as much as he believed in Troius’ innocence.
Merrus licked his lips as he stared at the renegade wizard. With Troius’ head turned to face Escalion, the blue gem in his skull sent shards of reflected light into Merrus’ eyes, increasing the throbbing in his head. Even here, he could feel the power of the gem that Troius had hammered into his own skull. Was this, the Elder Patrician wondered, the cause of this once-promising magus’ downfall? Or did it only increase his power and danger to us all?
The Elder Patrician was more relieved than pleased that his voice did not betray a quaver as he answered. “The charge will stand.” The voice, strong, smooth, and assured as ever, visibly relaxed the others of the Circle. Troius simply shrugged and returned his gaze to his tankard, as if he had never uttered a word. Escalion, suddenly pale and mercifully quiet, looked at Merrus, who responded with a slight shake of the head. The pompous and once-confident Accuser now scuttled thankfully from the Circle.
Merrus did not desire to draw the affair out any longer. He rose and forced himself to keep his eyes on the accused mage. “The charges are well known and understood to us all. For these acts, which we know you are guilty of, there are only two punishments. Exile or death. Troius of Lacor, you are hereby stripped of both title and privilege. You are exiled from the Arcane Academy and the Kingdom of Cor Andronus. You are denied bread, roof, or succor, upon pain of death. May the blessing of Bas find you and redeem you, for your will not be redeemed again in the sight of Man.” Merrus sat, pronouncement complete and guardedly waited for the response from the insane wizard before him.
Troius’ shoulders began to shake. Moments later, his mad laughter boomed and echoed in the vast chamber. “Death or exile?” he managed at last. “Two charges you have not the power to enforce. You assuredly cannot do the one, and you offer the latter in the hopes that I will scuttle meekly away and pine for the opportunity to return to your precious halls.” He laughed again as he turned and eyed each of the Patricians in turn. “Mad though I be, one day you who presume to visit judgment upon me shall walk the path I set for you. Like sheep behind the shepherd.” His eyes again settled on Merrus. “Even you, Elder. But you shall be last.”
Silence reigned in the Chamber of the Circle of the Dreaming Tower for a long time after the crazed magi stomped heavily from the chamber with another booming laugh. Eventually the other Patricians stirred themselves and spoke bold words to comfort themselves and their fellows. Merrus alone remained silent, feeling the words of Troius sink deep into his bones, feeling their truth biting down into the marrow. The Elder Patrician felt old and frail as he sat alone in the vast chamber, another ghost among the shadows.