Eternal Reign: Part 1
“They say your experiments are getting out of hand, Master Shaper. You know that what you attempt is unnatural to them.”
Aeternus gently shook his head, a humoring smile gracing his pale face. “What I do could see our realm changed forever. No longer would peasants starve in the street, no longer would our soldiers die in battle. My shapes would carry Sucia into a new, golden era.”
His fellow master frowned doubtfully. “Or they say it could end in ruin. Granting our shapes free will, that is forbidden for a reason. Attempts have resulted in great destruction-”
“I know the stories, Herius. I will not fail. You have seen my power.” With a wave of his hand, a humanoid being of black shadow rose from the ground. Two softly glowing violet circles bobbed in what appeared to be its face. The figure turned and began organizing potion bottles, given silent orders by its summoner. Aeternus turned his attention back to Herius.
Raising his hands in a placating gesture, Herius dropped his formal visage. “I do believe you have the power and talent, Aeternus, but you must take care.They are watching you, waiting for any misstep as to give them reason to expel you from the order, or worse have you executed.” The Master leaned forward, hushing his words, “Your vision is one I will follow, but it is unsafe to do so now.”
Stepping back, Herius resumed his formal stance. “Fare well, Master Shaper.”
Turning on his heel, he left the laboratory, leaving a shaken Aeternus in his wake. The shape still worked behind him, the vials clinking together as it moved them around the station. Leaning back in his chair, the shaper reflected on his time at the school.
Aeternus’s rise through the Shaper’s Guild had been unconventional to say the least. When he was first inducted at twelve, he became supremely focussed on the most powerful of Shaper talents, the ability to create life. Years he studied, growing his magic in the other arts until he had a reservoir large enough to dedicate to the ritual. Many of the masters had to use rituals to summon shapes to their bidding as it was the lowest cost to their magic, while a select few could do so with no preparation.
The ritual seemed to be far easier than expected for the eager Aeternus, who had reached the age of sixteen. His shape lept from the runes, where it awaited his orders. Life! He had done it! Though as the days passed and he became used to controlling the construct, the true nature of it became known to him.
It was nothing but a facsimile, a seeming. There was no true life in the being, it was an extension of Aeternus himself, nothing more. The power he had sought, to become a god bestowing the gift of life, had not been achieved. It was meaningless. A fire to take that which had been promised to him burned in his belly.
So he delved deeper, exercising his magic, desperate in the idea that if he grew powerful enough, his shapes would come to life. Day after day, his mastery over the elements grew, as did his control of the shapes.
By twenty, no longer did he require a ritual, with but a few minutes he could cause his figure to appear. For this accomplishment, many in the Guild were amazed, but others found his rise suspicious. His application for Master was considered, but there were too many voices of dissent. He was too young, too inexperienced. Flames of rage and injured pride join those of indignation. He sought further.
At the age of twenty-three, Aeternus became the first shaper in known history to summon multiple seemings at once. For this incredible discovery and display of power, those voices that had rejected him prior were silenced.
With the rank of Master, Aeternus was given access to grander libraries, rarer texts, and his own laboratory. Most avoided the chamber, made uncomfortable by the multiple figures that moved about the young shaper. Failure after failure met Aeternus in his search for the true gift of life. By the age of twenty-eight, he began to speak out to his fellow guild members.
His dream of a perfect Sucia, one that ran entirely on the backs of shapes, resonated with quite a few of the younger members and masters. The elders eyed his ideology with suspicion, believing that ignoring the old teachings would bring them to ruin.
Aeternus ignored them, gathering a following that believed in his dream. His disciples, including his sister, studied day and night. The old texts refused to give up any secrets. Experimenting with potions and alchemy, Aeternus and his shapes worked constantly, yet no solution revealed itself. As his group’s activities became more blatant, they were labeled a cult, rebels against tradition. The majority turned against them, and Aeternus had to roll back on his overtness, carrying on his research in secret.
Now, a few months after achieving thirty, one who had not been among his disciples had come to him with this warning.
“Soon,” he muttered, “they will come for me soon.”
So they did. Even with his secrecy, the elder masters moved against him, though not in the way he had foreseen.
They sent first an assassin, who crept into the laboratory where Aeternus had fallen asleep over one of the many tomes that he had stacked high in the corners of the room. The candle that had been lit with his signature purple flame had burned down to its wick and sat melted beside his hand.
The assassin readied a small disk of air between her hands, thin and fast enough to slit the resting shaper’s throat. Suddenly, an arm made of shadow jutted from the darkness, grabbing the would-be-killer’s wrist, interrupting their concentration on their spell. Two glowing violet embers glared into her own. A loud screech came from the shape and Aeternus was immediately awoken. Directing his shape, it threw the assassin across the room with inhuman strength where her body crashed into the stone wall. Her body fell, limp.
Several more seemings were summoned behind Aeternus as he rose. Beside his chair leaned his focus and weapon of choice, a long-hafted axe with a large blade of bronze inlaid with runes of gold. The shaft was also enchanted, engraved runes spiralling down the birch rod. He claimed the weapon and spun to face the door. Eyes beginning to light with an inner purple fire, he summoned his magic.
The runes lit the walls of the room, their lights fractured with an amethyst glow. Aeternus breathed deep, closing his eyes and raising the axe. Opening them quickly, he yelled as he brought the focus to the ground. The entrance and the wall around it was blown back down the corridor that led to it. Screams could be heard as the stones collided with bodies, bones broken and flesh rent. There was more to the ambush than just the assassin.
Alarm bells rang out across the Guild, signalling an attack. Guards began to assemble on the walls, and Aeternus moved to make his last ploy.
Turning to the outside wall of his laboratory, Aeternus performed a slightly less powerful version of the blast upon his window and wall. Leaping through the gap into the courtyard, Aeternus began to make his way towards the mass of gathered students. His shapes followed him, one pausing to collect the body of the assassin.
The students had been ordered to make their way to the main keep if the bells ever rang, and most had followed them perfectly. It seemed as though the guards had been elsewhere this night, as the gates had yet to open. Masters gathered around them, directing stragglers as they too waited. Aeternus’s opportunity was more than open.
“Friends!” he called out to the crowd, “these masters are frauds! They tell you that they have discovered the gift of life!” He shook his head theatrically. “They are liars.”
“These shapes,” gesturing to the half dozen that flanked him, “are not life! They are telekinesis made manifest, but an extension of our magic.” Raising his axe, two of the shapes began fighting one-another. “They have no free will, they are no part of life!” Once more slamming the shaft to the ground, the shapes separated, taking their arms and shoving them through their chests. They dissolved writhing into black shadows.
Aeternus pointed at the masters with his glowing focus, “These charlatans mislead you! And though I seek the true gift, they stand in my way! And now, tonight, they have tried to kill me.”
At that, the shape that had gathered the body of the assassin dumped it on the floor. Clad in black from head to toe, it was clear to the students that she hadn’t been planning anything nice that night.
“Behold their treachery! Behold the honor of these masters whom you have been taught to revere!” Aeternus swept his arms out in a grand gesture. The masters had gathered together now, wary of approaching the one that had suspected to be dead. Several stood apart, eyes focussed on the midnight-clad body.
“Join me friends,” the plea swept across the silence of the courtyard despite its spoken volume. “Disown these false teachers, join me in the search for the gift of true life.”
In the silence that followed, uncertainty was evident on the faces of all the students. What he had said couldn’t be true, could it? Aeternus was a figure many had looked up to, with his young age and rapid rise to master, they fantasized about following in his footsteps.
The doors of the keep at last swung open, allowing the Grandmaster of the Guild to enter the yard.
“Begone fool! You have broken the ancient rules, gone against the purity of shaping, and now attempt to steal our students?” The Grandmaster slammed his own focus, a gnarled root of oak upon the ground and the clouds in the night sky rippled, beginning to empty onto the Guild.
“Choose, friends! The truth I seek,” Aeternus paused, reveling in his passion, “or the lies of these charlatans.”
Another silence, broken only by the pitter-patter of raindrops, reigned. Until one of the students rushed to his side.
“I, Barabel, stand with my brother.”
Soon others followed, masters and students alike, until he had gathered twenty. Herius seemed hesitant, but he too joined them Satisfied, he clapped his haft upon the waterlogged soil. Despite the softness of the material, a clear crystal sound rang out before the gates to the school were wrenched from their holdings and thrown beyond the walls, ensuring escape for Aeternus’s following. Even as they left, ranged magic was thrust upon them. Discs of air and fire were absorbed by Aeternus’s shadowed shapes, even as they died more were summoned in their place. The strain and concentration nearly immobilized him, but determined to not appear weak before his disciples, he carried on.
Soon the Shaper’s Guild was far behind them, and Aeternus was able to rest. They decided to head west to Obrexia, for they had heard of strange unfamiliar magic. Perhaps the gift of life lay in the secrets there.
December Ninth Lore Challenge