Mennas' Wake Oct 3, 2016 20:29:03 GMT
Post by Timeon on Oct 3, 2016 20:29:03 GMT
Prologue - I, Mennas
Dakara seated herself in the King's Box in the Grand Theatre of Nomesh. To her left and right sat the nobility, merchants and foreign dignitaries of their new day and age, which the academics and sophists had already begun to call the Restoration. The Restoration of not only the monarchy, but of much more besides, Dakara noted with deserved pride. It was the Restoration of Law and Order and of Tradition with them. And much of it had been her own work. It was, after all, why she was now sitting in the King's Box. For she had been more than just the Chief Justice of Gnomeland and more than just Mennas' friend. She had been a believer. God Is Dead. But the State she had helped to build would go on for ten thousand years. Her hammer rested at her side, an unstoppable force. And she was the immovable object. Tired hands rested upon the wooden theatre seat with a steely grip.
The lights dimmed. The curtains were drawn. She sat representing the King in his absence. But not really, for the King was never absent. The King was the State. But Mennas himself could not be here tonight, that much was true. He was not in Nomesh, but in Mennastur, the new capital of the empire, situated in the great valley of the Kern Mountains. There he would inaugurate the new High Academy of Magic. Today, the era of the Restoration would end, and a new age would begin.
Below, the Gnomish noble and playwright, Owenar Oreno, pranced onto stage. He addressed Dakara moreso than the crowd when he spoke, but Dakara was old and had been weathered into a figure of stone, betraying no sign of reacting to Owenar's words. She felt unseen and unobserved. She simply represented and judged.
"On this momentous occasion, we come together to celebrate twenty years of rule by the benevolent and almighty saviour of Sa Vard, Mennas Merniso, second of his name! But the King is not present with us tonight, as you all know. For our gracious King is about to open the High Academy of Magic in Mennastur. A national project as grand as the recently built city itself! For the King has long planned to bring magic into the home of every Gnome and Non-Gnomish Subject in this country. In twenty years, we have made it possible for subjects in Mafalgonia, Fiha, Tarqam and almost every other city in Gnomeland to view far-flung events from their own cities. It is but a taste of what is to come! The King will make every individual's life easier, safer and healthier with magic. It will not only be the rich and powerful who shall be healed and-"
As Owenar went on, Dakara allowed her mind to wander. Age, perhaps. But it was not aimless wandering. Her mind always came back to a bigger picture than one man's ramblings. She already knew everything that Owenar was saying, after all. As Chief Justice and former bodyguard to the King, Dakara always had to be one step ahead. Her mind went beyond the theatre, beyond the opening of the new academy. It took her to the wars raging around them. The rivalries. The succession. She thought of the security planning behind this event. She thought of possible threats to the theatre and to Mennas in Mennastur. But that responsibility had passed from her hands years ago. Not having control made her nervous. She looked to the exits. Gnomeland had many enemies. There had been assassination attempts. An event like this, particularly celebrated in the theatre and broadcast via Scrying to the nation... the 20th anniversary of the Restoration. It would be a perfect excuse. And there was so much left to be done, but she was running out of time...
"But let us not forget that another saviour of the world sits in our presence! Representing our monarch!" Owenar thundered, bringing Dakara's attention back to the room. "There is not a soul in this world not aware of the deeds of Dakara. The Hammer! Not the Hammer of the Gods, no! She walked beyond this world and saved it, and returned not as a believer in the Four. But as a believer in Justice that transcends the religious divide. A believer in the ability of every man to administer his destiny in accordance with the Law!"
Applause roared through the theatre even before Owenar had finished speaking. And that is why Owenar Oreno is the royal playwright and a minister of propaganda, Dakara thought. There was no angle left undiscovered or untried as regards championing the cause.
"Fuck you." Dakara mouthed down at Owenar Oreno, safely knowing nobody would hear her. Owenar Oreno knew how she detested that kind of attention. But he did it anyway. For the King. For the State. She understood him for doing his job. For serving Menas. But she still resented that aspect of the job. She forced herself to smile and waved at the cheering crowds and at the foreign dignitaries nodding to her sagely from the boxes to either side of her.
When the noise died down, Owenar Oreno put one foot before the other and cleared his throat, looking solemn.
"Today we celebrate twenty years since the Restoration, and we celebrate the opening of the High Academy of Magic in Mennastur with it. Let us remember the heroes who died to make today possible. Names which will live forever in our hearts, and in statues of stone. King Oberon of the Fae. Lord Marshal Teliana Tushina. Emperor Filippos, who was so dear a friend to King Mennas and to Gnomeland. King Clovis, who supported Mennas in his exile when all other rulers ignored him. A thanks to our dear Keshanite friends, and the sacrifice of Eldar Mogeen of Illidar!"
Filippos did not give a damn about Gnomeland, Dakara thought. But dead men could do little to prevent their legacies being misused by others. The list of names went on. Noticably, Whitemane's death was excluded. Mennas did never forgive him for being a Warden. At last, Owenar seemed to get to the point.
"Tonight, I will unveil my greatest work, written especially for this occasion. It is a play and a discourse, a work of art and a demonstration. We shall hear familiar ballads written by the great Matthias Swiftstrings, and we shall see very real memories of our great Rising Fire heroes, conjured onto stage with magic. Actors and veterans will come together to bring to tell the story of how it was that the Rising Fire saved the world. How King Mennas and Dakara rescued Gnomeland from Bura and her Wardens, and Sa Vard from Taronis and his Godshards!"
And as the propaganda raged, Dakara leaned back, already exhausted. Not only by age, but also by circumstance. The things she had done and seen, the objective evil that had broken her faith and religion... Only Mennas understood. Only Mennas had been there. The rest of the Rising Fire was gone, scattered to politics and to the wind. All turns to ashes and dust, Dakara thought. All save the immeasurable. All save the State.
Memories. Memories and books were what remained of a great many things. And as time pushed them ever forward, so too did memories fade. So brooded King Mennas Merniso II, who felt Dakara's absence by his side all too keenly. But there were new beginnings, also, Mennas reminded himself on this particular occasion. Beginnings... amidst the farewells.
Nonetheless, Mennas Merniso once more said
And he got down on one knee, to face his youngest child face to face, eye to eye. Green lynx eyes met his own, blazing emeralds framed by a tiger's face. His youngest, Merros, born a Rakshasa. It had been a shock to the nation as well as to his family. Many paladins and clerics had offered their advice, but it was only Dakara's which Mennas had taken in the end.
"Raise the child as he is indeed your own. Teach him as you would any other. And he will choose for himself the path ahead. Don't rob him of that chance. Ahriman could never choose. He taught us the importance of that much."
"Farewell, father." The Rakshasa hugged Mennas, paws closing around his neck. Here stood a child the sages prophesied could lead to great evil. Could. But Mennas had taught him of his nature, and of the ability to overcome it. And beneath it all, every time Mennas looked to Merros he felt a particular brand of guilt, one to which he could never confess. It was not guilt of birthing a Rakshasa from his wife's womb. It was the guilt of feeling proud when his son was born. Proud of the Hasir bloodline mixed with his own, to produce a being that was more than the sum of its parts, calling him father.
"I wish you could stand by my side for this, little Merros. I am going to miss you." Mennas promised, hugging the soft little creature with equal affection. Send your grandfather my regards. Kiss him on the cheek for me."
But the world had become cold and unsafe once again. In better days, Mennas would have celebrated his twenty years of rule and of marriage together with his family, with a gathering of Kings, Princes and Emperors. But the world was no longer united by a common enemy such as Taronis and his Clockworks. Now the enemy was one's own neighbour. To gather heads of state together was to invite terrorism and disaster. Especially now that the missing child of Empress Agatha III of the Atarite Empire, Garrel, had resurfaced after two decades with an army, conquering the city-state of Mullhaven and promising continental war. Charlie the Heretic had kidnapped him long ago, and it appeared that he had succeeded in raising the child as his Raven Prince, brainwashed into a destiny at odds with the Empire of Atar's existence. And in the south-west, Xhas'Wlef remained ever weary of the rest of the outside world, Talland being the sole exception.
No. Mennas would celebrate his twenty years with Scrying Mirrors and diplomatic visits, not with a gathering. And so he would send his family to Purrsia and his brother Morgan to the court of his bastard son, King Marley.
"I will see you in a few days, little Merros." Mennas cooed. He would enjoy Merros' youth while it lasted. Rakshasa grew up fast. There was a lot he had to teach the little Rakshasa before he reached maturity, to allow him to overcome his nature. Merros responded to no teachers, other than Mennas and Dakara. "I love you, Merros."
The Rakshasa smiled. "And I love you. Someday, father, I will honour you. By outshining you. I will fulfill your secret dreams. The ones you don't tell. Not even to yourself."
As the play unfolded before her, Dakara turned her attention to the scarce companionship in the King's Box. Chancellor Rolstein was there, of course, along with the mayor and a handful of other notables. But Rolstein was enjoying the lack of attention thrown his way. Dakara was unhappily absorbing it in his stead. The only face Dakara was happy to see was that of Ter of Keshan - now Terrence Kingsgrace, the Illidar orphan boy whom Mennas had adopted into the court. Dakara had raised him as a Lawyer-Paladin, by his own choice. The dark-skinned youth reclined thoughtfully, fingers clasped before him. His gaze followed the action on stage, absorbing the play, the expression on his face betraying critique. He was intelligent, and he did not waste words. And Terrence was the closest Dakara could have ever come to having a son.
"You seem sad." He reclined his head towards Dakara without actually looking at her.
Dakara was startled by the assertion. Terrence had always been able to read her better than anybody. But why mention it now?
"I didn't notice I was." Dakara grunted. "But I think you're right."
"Getting old, mother?" Terrence said, making Dakara half-jump from her seat at the term of endearment. He had said it before. But it always surprised her, and it made her uncomfortable.
"Look, Terrence." Dakara gestured with her chin at the play below. "It's obscene pomp and circumstance. Obscene because it tells a half-truth. It doesn't talk about-"
But the words left Dakara. She wanted to scream at Terrence that the Gods were a lie, but they had silenced her from ever speaking about what she had found beyond the Valley of the Damned. Only Mennas understood.
"... Owenar writes about what we faced. About what we did. What we saw. But the people around us. They only see the fireworks. They hear stories. They don't understand."
"They don't understand." Terrence said. "And that makes you... lonely."
He was grasping to understand. But he was managing. On the stage below, it appeared to all that a black robed skeleton held Gnomeland in a series of weaving strings. Bura the Lich. "People think we are safe now. But we are not. Great evil has been replaced by mundane evil." Dakara struggled for words, hand inching towards the comforting handle of her hammer. "We never understood what we were up against with Taronis. And we couldn't see how deep Bura's influence went. It was not any simpler a time. But you're right, Ter. I... I miss it."
"Old and lonely." Terrence said. He placed his hand on Dakara's, stopping her from grasping her hammer. Somehow, the human touch was better than the hammer's. Before them, the music blared, trumpets sounded, and an impostor Dakara brought her hammer crashing down on the equally fake Bura's skull. And the audience cheered.
Mennas Merniso stood thoughtful and shivering atop a lesser ridge of the Kern Mountains. Before him beckoned the great valley which divided the mountain range in two. It was a valley carved not by time, but by the near-thoughtless dredging of one of the Four Gods, who now, he hoped, were forever locked out of the world. Sa Vard was no longer the playground of gods, but of men. And towering from the earth before Mennas Merniso lay a new range of mountains. Smaller, yes, but mountains crafted by muscle and by the sweat of a wizard's brow. The new city of Mennastur certainly appeared like a miniature mountain range to him, and it appeared to have come out of nothing to anybody who remembered the Kerns as a quiet place.
It was time. Twenty years since his coronation. Twenty years since the Valley of the Damned. Alone at one of the higher points in this world, Mennas Merniso felt a surprising hollowness. He would be celebrating his coronation with the students and teachers of the new Academy, but truly speaking, he would be alone. He would not have his family with him nor friends, what few of those remained. Some small part of him still wondered if Kingship had been worth the price. The Rising Fire had parted ways because of ideology. The very world felt filthy at the tip of his tongue.
"We saved the world together, but we can't agree on economics and medals." Mennas blinked through a gust of icy wind. It had been his own choice as much as the others. There was no looking back. "Enough of farewells for today. Onward, to a new beginning."
His magic brought him into his splendid marble city, where his royal guards escorted him in a grand parade to the gigantic twisting marble palace that would serve as the magic academy he had worked his life to build. Magi presented the spectacle on a Scrying mirror to the world. The royal guard put on a show, their role as ceremonial as it was functional. They had been forged into three companies - one drawn from the elven nobles who had fought for his Kingship, one from Keshanite volunteers from at home and abroad, and one drawn from veterans of the Gnomish Army, many of which had fought beside him in the Valley of the Damned.
When they drew up to the academy, Mennas exited his carriage and entered yawning gates, to the applause of the select few who had been invited for his coming speech. The students of the academy were out celebrating and helping to create one of the greatest magical spectacles of the age, leaving only the teachers to witness his speech and personally broadcast it. Mennas took his place in the Great Hall of the Academy.
In Nomesh, Owenar's play was reaching a crescendo. A carefully placed mirror above the theatre now showed the entourage of King Mennas in his new capital. The play below it now spun to tell the story of Mennas' coronation twenty years prior. It rhymed, like poetry, Dakara thought.
It had all come to this. Every day was the expression of a lifetime of work, however mundane the day. But today was special. Indeed, a year prior, she would have been at Mennas' side. She still felt like she belonged there, but she was getting old. The generations she had trained were taking up the mantle. And all the work she had put into the dream she shared with Mennas had produced results. Yes, she did feel proud now. Relieved. There was her King. The Academy. The State. The Scrying Mirror had rescued her from Owenar's propaganda. It showed her the fruit of her labour. There lay Mennastur.
Terrence Kingsgrace clapped at her side as Mennas Merniso took his place in the Great Hall of the Academy in the Scrying Mirror above. On stage, a Fae pretending to be King Oberon was about to place a crown upon an actor's head. As Terrence clapped, so did the rest of the theatre begin to clap as well. And in Mennastur, King Mennas II rested a hand on the pommel of the Royal Sword, recovered from Taronis' body.
As Mennas stood staring across the crowds of wizards and sorcerers gathered before him, ignoring the applause and the music and the pageantry, his mind remained fixated on a dream. Before him he imagined his brother Morgan, clapping with the rest of those assembled. He imagined his wife Jezeth and his daughters, Minerva, Mafalga and Miranda by his side. Mennas imagined Merros cradled in one arm as he waved with the other. And he imagined Dakara, Rolstein and the Rising Fire cheering him on, too. Dorathion Ash, who had said so little most of the time, and yet had launched into the most extravagant speeches at the worst of times. He had hosted imperial ambitions, ambitions which might yet see the light of day with Garrel the Raven Prince opposing the Empire. He had been a friend. But politics dictated he keep his distance. Mennas imagined Brokk, too. Brokk, who had sought to diffuse any argument in the party, Brokk, who had acted as the heart and conscience of the Rising Fire. When he had become Lord Protector, he had stopped visiting Mennas in a non-official capacity. Gone were the skiing trips. The hunting excursions. It had become improper. Now Mennas imagined Hechin of Keshan, who had married him to his wife. Hechin, whose faith in his goddess had survived the Valley of the Damned, when Dakara's faith in far more real gods had not. And where was Richard? Richard, who Mennas was sure had learned to hate him, despite the times they had saved one another's lives. Mennas Merniso missed them all.
He stood alone before the world, and cleared his throat to speak. Pride tinged his blood, but bitterness stung his eyes. Regret. His father had never gotten to witness his success. He had missed a lifetime with his family and friends. But he had succeeded. And here he stood, twenty years later, a saviour of the world. All things have a price.
"People of Sa Vard." he hailed. "I speak to you now with a message of hope and love. Today I promised to celebrate twenty years since my coronation, as well as the victory of the Rising Fire over Taronis. But I have reconsidered, slightly. Today, I also want to celebrate twenty years of friendship, even though distance, death and the cruel circumstances of time have torn many of us apart. I am a firm believer, as you all know, of monarchy."
This drew laughter from the crowd, and Mennas raised a hand slightly for silence, acknowledging the jest, but speaking earnestly.
"But all the great Gnomish philosophers since Isichei and all of the great bards fundamentally agree that there can be no victory against the darkness without the comradeship of man. That is, one must admit, a very cliche way of saying the power of friendship triumphs over all."
Another wave of polite laughter.
"But, I am being serious. There is wisdom in the simplest of things. I want to speak to you today not merely as your King. I have a message for all beyond Gnomeland, and for the dear friends I hope are watching me now. What saved Sa Vard was the ability for people of vastly differing backgrounds to work together and overcome common differences. In the Horn, the kidnapped Prince Garrel has returned to bring about a new war. And however harsh, we must acknowledge the diplomatic friction between the blocks of power of Sa Vard that have formed in recent years. But I wish to press home one key point. That when we stood shoulder to shoulder against Taronis, men and women of all nations, our mundane differences were put in perspective. Let us not let the lack of a greater threat divide us. I miss you, Brokk, Richard, Dorathion, Hechin. I would like to-"
And then the world shook. A white scream, all encompassing. Reality itself was erased in a pulsing streak, expanding outwards. Dakara leapt up from her seat, smashing it as she drew her hammer. The Scrying Mirror in the theatre exploded, showering the actor playing Mennas with ruined shards. He flailed as one lodged itself in his throat. Children wept, both men and women screamed.
"Take me to Mennastur!" Dakara howled, voice shredded raw. She had suspected- Twenty years... Too opportune. No. No. She would not fail. Her duty. "Mennastur!" She howled out at the crowd for a mage, any mage.
But when she arrived in the city, the Academy was dust and ash. Memories. She spent two days tearing through the rubble, though the magi and clerics would have long ago found a sign of King Mennas II had he survived.
And on the third day, Dakara wept.
Memories. Memories and books are what remain of a great many things. And as time pushes ever forward, so too do memories, and even legends, fade. And so began the Tragedy of Tannhauser. And new heroes would rise and fall, and many others after besides. And so it must always go.