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Tyrants, Tormentors and the Tiara
By James J Meadows III
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 James J Meadows III
All right reserved.
Chapter OneClement's eyes shone like embers beneath the hood of his robe, watching the fire in the hearth fade to nothingness. He didn't care. He didn't need the light and there was no one else in the cabin.
An exile imprisoned deep in the confines of an ancient forbidding forest, Clement had only his hatred to keep him company. No strangers traversed the deadly maze of overgrown firs and spruces looming outside his locked door. No adventurers scaled the treacherous cliffs or ascended the slick icy walls to reach the barren plateau upon which dwelt his gloomy home. Evil spirits and monsters inhabiting the cursed land kept far from the dark abode as though fearing the wrath of the greater terror lurking within. Only the pale rays of the moonlit sky dared venture toward his desolate lair. Even they failed to breach the frost blanketing the window of his self-imposed prison.
Isolated from the land he once ruled, Clement remained a ruin of his former glory. Gray streaks adorned his cropped brown hair. Deep lines cut a winding ravine down his weathered face giving the illusion of greater age to a man only in his mid-thirties. Rips and tears decorated a stained brown robe whose vanished splendor once displayed the skill of the land's greatest artisans. Only the smoldering blue eyes showed the power and life still burning within the sorcerer whose tyrannical fist once grasped the largest country in the continent of Aurba.
Within the confines of this lonely building, the once mighty tyrant wasted away. For seven years he sat, ate and slept within the walls. He rarely rose from his rotting chair except when forced to seek the replenishment of his provisions. All that would change tonight.
Clement's head rose as he felt the alteration in the room. Like water disturbed by the ripple of a fish passing beneath, the air changed. The magic surrounding him swirled and tingled in reaction to a conflicting energy source. Someone had entered the cabin. A smile crossed Clement's lips as he rose from the chair and turned to face the thick shadows masking the corner behind him.
"Welcome, Darien," he said. "I'm glad you could come."
The shadows split apart as a tall green cloaked man emerged from their depth. Hatred oozed from his every pore like pus seeping from weathered skin.
He was a tall man, powerfully built, with large muscular hands protruding from long emerald sleeves. He possessed an unkempt appearance, with a wild scraggly beard and dirty knotted hair. His disheveled exterior gave the impression of a mad man, but the strength in his steady brown eyes dispelled the illusion as they focused with unwavering intensity upon Clement.
"Please, sit," Clement offered, waving his hand in a circular motion.
The shadows in the room swirled like a strange fog before congealing into a plush black armchair. Clement motioned for the big man to take a seat but his visitor ignored the gesture. Instead, he ran his eyes up and down Clement's frame scrutinizing his host with disdain. His lips curled into a malicious grin.
"Well, well," he said, his words dripping with sarcasm, "Clement the Great. Not looking so great now, are we?"
Clement's eyes narrowed at hearing his old title used in such a disrespectful manner. His name once inspired fear into the hearts of the most hardened warriors. For more than ten years, lords and ladies offered their finest wealth to curry his favor. Would-be apprentices swore their souls to his service just to touch his power. Opponents forfeited their lives to placate his wrath.
Only three sorcerers dared to defy him. Equally powerful and corrupt, they forged their own empires in a war for supreme dominion over the embattled land. But, their kingdoms never matched his size. Their wealth never equaled his splendor. Their magic never rivaled his might. And their reputations paled before his greatness.
Clement gave a harsh laugh, surveying his mocker. "Ha, You should look in a mirror. From where I stand, you don't look so good yourself."
The statement was true. Darien, too, had fallen far from his previous glory. He was one of the opposing sorcerer lords. He once ruled the second largest kingdom on the continent. His empire spanned most of the wild and untamed northeastern tundra while Clement controlled the resource rich northwestern forests.
Darien ignored the statement. Drifting behind the chair, he ran his fingers along the top.
"I would have thought," Darien stated, "someone cunning enough to poison and murder half the population of my capital, would devise a better way to kill himself than wasting away like rotting fruit."
"And I'd have thought," Clement replied, "someone, who once bewitched the children in his kingdom to instantly age to adulthood to fuel his army, could enchant himself to not smell like a walking outhouse. You could at least look like you shaved once in the past seven years."
Darien's hand shot to his face stroking the dilapidated web of neglected strands and matted fur.
"Enough of this," Darien said, "I received the bauble you sent requesting a meeting. I would normally ignore such a message but the obvious risk you took intrigued me. Someone could have intercepted your spell. And, to bring me past all of your defenses? I had to know why."
"The risks were necessary," Clement said.
"Indeed, but to what end?"
"If you sit down, I'll explain everything."
The tall man glanced at the chair apprehensively. He moved around the seat, his keen eyes inspecting every inch. Finally, he lowered himself onto the cushions but his body remained tense.
Grabbing the arm of his rocking chair, Clement spun the seat to face the enchanter. He attempted to act calm and unbothered by Darien's presence. Yet, his body remained rigid and the obvious effort to avoid turning his back toward the visitor for even a second, betrayed his anxiety.
"Come now, Clement," Darien said, "surely you do not confess to being afraid of me."
"Even the smallest viper is deadly if given the chance to strike," Clement said, taking his seat.
"Perhaps, but unlike some people, I have honor. I do not strike when someone's back is turned."
"Indeed, your lack of subtle cunning remains your greatest weakness. Still, your misguided self-righteousness, although deadly for so many innocent citizens, is part of the reason I called upon you for help."
"Help?" Darien repeated, ignoring the rest of the statement. "You called me here to ask for help?"
"Trust me, I'm not excited about the idea either, but where else can I go? My apprentices are all dead. I have no friends. Though neither of us doubts our feelings toward each other, of all our enemies, I suspect we hate each other the least."
"That is not saying much," Darien mused. "Regardless, if given a choice between helping you and killing you, why should I choose the first?"
"Aside from the obvious fact that you're no match for my powers," Clement said, "the answer is simple. You need my help."
"And, why do I need your help?" Darien scoffed.
"Because, beneath all your egotistical arrogance, you are nothing! A worthless, disgraced, and fallen nobody!" Clement's voice rose as he abandoned his forced restraint. Darien leapt to his feet in fury. Clement sprang up as well, his arms gesturing to add emphasis to his words. "You're an outcast! A failure! You stand here in your self-righteous haughtiness but in the end you're no better than me: a relic of a bygone age with no home, no family, no kingdom, and no hope."
Darien and Clement breathed heavily as they squared off against each other. Their wrath grew more intense with each second as they gazed unblinking into one another's eyes. A chill coursed through the cabin as they summoned their magic until the room crackled with building energy.
Then, Darien relaxed, allowing his magic to disperse. Sensing the change, Clement did the same, resuming his seat. Darien reclined into the arm chair, his hands crossed in deep thought.
"You are right, of course," Darien said, resuming his typically stoic manner. "And, I can no more help myself than you can help yourself. What help do you think we can provide to each other?"
"Like the hydra, many heads combined can achieve what one alone can't," Clement said, "Together we can do what no one of us can do alone."
"Kill Queen Sylvia."
The mention of the name brought an instant reaction. Darien's face darkened and his lips curled into a snarl. Sylvia represented the source of all their suffering. Just when Clement, Darien and the other tyrants reached the pinnacle of their power, the young sorceress appeared. Like the sun splintering the gloom of an endless night, she rose from an obscure existence as an unknown healer to shatter the tyrannical reign of the four rivals. Rallying the citizens behind her banner of freedom and justice, she scattered armies and toppled thrones. She crushed the tyrants beneath her heel, exiling them to the distant reaches of civilization. Clement's kingdom fell last. Darien's the next to last.
Darien hid his anger behind an expression of cold indifference. A bemused smile crossed his lips.
"Is this why you called me here? You want me to help kill the empress?" Darien shook his head. "Sorry to disappoint you, but despite my lowly station, I have not despaired to suicide. I have watched Sylvia. Her powers grow with each passing day beyond anything I ever imagined. Even you and I combined are mere bugs to be crushed before her."
"Perhaps," Clement acknowledged, "but, I have something that can turn the tables. Something even her formidable powers can't resist."
"This," Clement reached into his robes and pulled out a small orb made of a deep blue crystal with a dark red tint.
The gesture brought an immediate reaction. Darien leapt to his feet, sending the chair cascading to the floor. Retreating as quickly as possible, he backed against the cabin wall. His face was flushed with terror and his arms pointed at Clement. Magic surged into the extended fingertips.
"Wait," Clement shouted, holding up a hand, "the orb isn't for you. It's for Sylvia alone."
Darien breathed heavily, his body tense.
"Place it on the chair," he ordered.
Clement did so. He moved slowly to avoid any movement which might alarm his rival. He straightened the armchair, placing the fist sized jewel onto one of the cushions and stepping backward. He thought about summoning his magic for defense but rejected the idea. He needed Darien's trust. At this critical stage any potentially aggressive movement could ruin everything.
Darien's arms remained raised as he advanced. He surveyed the glimmering stone. The crystalline object radiated a dim inner light from deep inside its glossy depths. Darien stared in awe.
"Violet quartz crystal, I have not seen one of these since ..."
He fell silent, his face mask-like as he stared for long minutes at the stone. Clement let him stare, saying nothing as the minutes passed. Inwardly, he breathed a sigh of relief. Pulling out the gem without some sort of advanced warning was a mistake. He couldn't blame Darien for reacting in such a manner.
Violet quartz crystals were the most dangerous objects in all of existence. The innocent looking stones served as a receptacle of magical power, possessing the ability, if activated by the correct enchantments, to rip the very essence of life from a foe and leave them an empty shell. The unfortunate enemy's life force became sealed inside the crystal, while the mindless corpse rambled on. The fate was not a desirable one.
Darien looked at Clement, his face masklike. He lowered his arms, his eyes narrowing as he studied his host.
"Where did you get this?"
"I stumbled upon it while wondering the mountains."
"And, this is your plan?" Darien scoffed. "You have gone mad. Sylvia will never allow you to complete the spells necessary to activate it. How do you know it will not explode?"
The question was a reasonable one. Each violet quartz crystal only held a limited amount of power. If the essence going into the gem exceeded its capacity, the stone exploded in a shower of tiny shards dooming anyone else unlucky enough to be nearby. Charged crystal shards were instant death to anything they touched.
"The High Mage Nilliath trapped the Dread Lord Ithos's power in a crystal smaller than this," Clement answered. "I'm confident this crystal is sufficient to hold Sylvia's essence. As far as casting the spell, I'll give you cover while you cast it. I may not be able to defeat Sylvia but I can hold her off long enough. If you don't know the spell, I can teach it to you."
Darien gaped in disbelief.
"First of all," he said, "I know how to cast the spell. Second of all, are you out of your mind! Who would teach another sorcerer a spell like that? How do you know I am not going to use the orb on you?"
"Because violet quartz crystals are only good for a single absorption. Everyone knows that. You hate Sylvia as much as I do. Between taking down each other or Sylvia, we'd both choose to destroy her. After the disgrace we suffered at her hands, after the exile we still suffer at her hands, her death is the only thing that matters!"
"Perhaps," Darien said, "but I am no fool! The theft of essence can be reversed and the stolen power absorbed into the body of another. Do you think I am going to let you steal Sylvia's powers and make them your own! I will see you dead first."
"Don't be an idiot," Clement said. "Do you think I'm fool enough to try reversing her power into myself? Everyone who has ever tried to absorb the powers of violet quartz has died. Remember Allidian the Lich or Cormorthian the Blade. They were the greatest wizards of their time. Even Nilliath failed to get the spell right!"
The statement might be an exaggeration but Clement had never heard of a single successful instance of the ritual being performed. The spell for absorbing stolen essence from a crystal required twenty-four hours of unbroken concentration. The legends of famous wizards and witches who died attempting the spell formed a common part of magical lore.
Allidian rushed the ritual, absorbing the powers too fast. He exploded. Cormorthian failed to concentrate hard enough and died when the crystal exploded. The legendary High Mage Nilliath died trying to complete the ritual when a sneeze at an untimely moment caused him to spontaneously combust.
"Can you think of anyone who cast the spell and lived to tell the tale?" Clement asked.
Darien's turned away, gazing down at the floor.
"Just one," he mumbled.
"Look," Clement said, "If you're so worried about the orb, we can destroy it afterward."
"And then what?" Darien asked his features darkening as he looked back at Clement.
"What do you mean?"
"After Sylvia is dead, what then? You go off and rebuild your empire and we spend another ten years trying to kill each other. No, I do not think so."
"You prefer to remain an outcast?"
"You are such a liar. You do not share power. The moment Sylvia is dead, you will turn on me like a predator battling over his prey."
A cold cruel smile crossed Clement's lips.
"Come now, would you really have it any other way? We didn't spend ten years marching armies across each other's lands, slaying each other's apprentices, murdering each other's families, and butchering each other's citizens just to see the other return to power. Now we can end the conflict with one quick battle, a single duel to the death, you versus me."
Darien gave an equally cruel smile.
"Agreed," he said, his eyes glittering.
"Then, you'll help?"
"Yes," Darien answered, "but we must take a blood oath first."
"Why?" Clement asked, his smile vanishing. Clement hated blood oaths. The complex and disgusting rituals revolted him and involved nasty complications if broken.
"For my piece of mind," Darien said. "I want to know that I will not have to watch my back while we travel together, and I want to know the crystal is going to be destroyed. So, we will take an oath. Neither of us will kill the other until the orb is destroyed."
Clement failed to understand the need for the oath. He wasn't going to jeopardize his own plan by attacking Darien prematurely. Further, he possessed no desire to steal the powers from the orb. Nor did he believe anyone else foolish enough to try. Still, he lacked a reason not to take the oath. Should he be severely weakened during his battle with Sylvia, the delay might give him time to recuperate before battling Darien.
Excerpted from Tyrants, Tormentors and the Tiara by James J Meadows III Copyright © 2012 by James J Meadows III. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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