One of Thousands
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Kirkwall/The Free Marches
Current Game: Dragon Age II
Millennial: Chapter II
Chapter Two: The Vortex
After we had finished our after-dinner treat—a scrumptious three-layered confection made of chewy fudge cake, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream!—Miss Maw invited us to retire to her large, ornate parlor and relax. Everyone engaged in their favorite evening activities. Our hostess sat and knitted while conversing with the Dwarven newlyweds; Dolf took a break from his duties as butler (after washing up) and sketched with a charcoal pencil; and Luriel and I played chess. She was very good—a sight better than I! She wasn't nearly as skilled as Septimus, though. My adoptive grandfather was someone I couldn't even hope to checkmate—at least, not yet...
As we were playing, I asked Luriel, “If you...practice the Old Art, what kind of spells do you cast?”
The Elf lass smiled. “I specialize in Elementalism: the school of the Art that centers around Fire, Water, Earth and Air. Those were the four ancient elements in which our ancestors believed, and we believe in them as well. If I wanted, I could cause a wildfire, a blizzard, a rockslide, or a thunderstorm. The last is related to the school of Air, not Water, since a thunderstorm involves lightning as well as rain.” She made her move, unexpectedly snatching up one of my Bishops!
“Ah!” I gasped. My jaw fell slack. “Luriel, that wasn't fair. I was trying to trade pieces with you!”
“I know you were,” she replied, “but exchanges in the game of chess must be calculated carefully! It was perfectly fair, and I'm perfectly sorry, but you've lost three points for that Bishop.”
I sighed humbly. “You're right.” Would I ever learn how to trade correctly?! There was little hope, for as we played, I made a second such unfavorable exchange. Wishing to distract my keen opponent, I wondered: “What other schools of the Old Art are there, besides Elementalism?”
“There are Enchantment, the school of transforming ordinary, inanimate objects into magical ones; Illusion, the school of shape-shifting, projecting one's image to others, and things like that; Prophecy, the school of foretelling the future or revealing buried secrets from the past; and Summoning, the school of calling helpful spirits from the netherworld to come and assist you.”
“It all sounds incredible!” I said, suddenly wishing I knew magic, but keeping my thoughts silent.
“It is. There are also two prohibited schools of magic, and if we have proof that one of our own is practicing them, we apprehend that Artist and execute him or her. One is never to delve into Coercion, the school of controlling someone else's mind, or Necromancy, the so-called School of Undeath. These two ways of the Old Art are so dangerous, and such efficient ways to harm others, that the High Council of Magi has forbidden them upon pain of death. They're cruel diablerie!”
I nodded, and then raised a curious eyebrow: “By the way, how do you execute a mage?”
“It's not as simple as stripping away that mage's powers and then hanging him or her,” the Elf replied gravely. “We could do that, but we employ a far more sinister form of execution to use upon our fellow Artists who are involved in the ultimate crimes. For those who commit cold-blooded murder, Coercion, or Necromancy, the High Council of Magi sentences them to be cast into the Vortex.” Luriel took a sip of her after-dinner liqueur. “Not only do they lose their powers and their lives, but their souls as well. It's not something we like to discuss in polite conversation.”
Shuddering, I said, “Naturally,” and then took one of Luriel's white pawns with one of my black.
Luriel picked it up. “Now, that is a fair trade! A pawn for a pawn. Now, if you're curious, Perdante, I will tell you more about the Vortex, even though we Artists are quite loath to do so. You're no mage, and so I trust that you will not reveal the secrets or the motives of our High Council.” Again, I nodded, taking a sip of my own drink. I sensed that this was going to be a long story.
“The Vortex has existed since the beginning of time, and will always exist unless it is completely sealed. However, it is impossible to do such a thing, and so it spins continually out in space, waiting to pull down anything that comes too close—or anyone who's cast into it. The High Council of Magi has learned how to open the dark doorway to the Vortex without falling into it themselves. They've built a stalwart balcony, up high in their great Tower on the Veiled Isle they inhabit, that is protected by the strongest magical barriers known to Artists. Below that balcony lies the open sea, and on a certain night every hundred years, when the moon is right and the sky is clear...”
I suddenly noticed that my palms had grown sweaty. I wiped them off and let Luriel continue:
“...the High Council of Magi brings all of its convicted murderers, Coercers, and Necromancers—if they are still alive, and haven't decided to end it all before then to spare themselves the Vortex—to the Tower and that one last balcony. Below the condemned prisoners, the sea roils, angry and black, with the waves crashing against the rocks on the coast of the Veiled Isle. Then something happens...” She trailed off and closed her eyes. “I'm sorry, dear. I can't discuss it anymore.”
My eyes found their way to my lap. “I'm sorry, too. Although, Luriel—if the Vortex is so horrible, and if being cast into it is such a horrible form of execution, then why do it?”
She paused. “Three reasons,” she said slowly, when she finally managed to speak again. “One: Being cast into the Vortex is so great a punishment, and so greatly feared by all mages, that we only have one or two of them per century who kill, or control someone else's mind, or extend their lives by undeath—necromancy! Two: The Vortex serves as an example of how choice and free will are the most important things we Artists value, along with genuine remorse. One time, before prisoners are cast into the Vortex, the High Council of Magi asks them if they are sincerely sorry for what they did. If they show even the slightest sign of repentance, or even regret, the Council closes the doorway to the Vortex and takes away those Artists' powers. The prisoners are then given to the civil authorities, who usually hang them, or else they're sentenced to life behind bars. Murder is murder, and as for the other two crimes? They're deemed 'unnatural harm' by the law.”
“Why not do that for all mages who are such criminals, and leave the Vortex alone?” I asked.
“Some crimes are so bloodcurdling and heinous, especially among us Artists, that we must employ the ultimate method of making sure that no one will ever commit them again. If an Artist who is condemned for one of these ultimate crimes does not repent, and expresses no remorse, then the Council has no other choice but to let that Artist suffer the consequences of their own choice, and cast them into the Vortex. It's not something done lightly, or against innocent people. It is not done to anyone who has the slightest chance of being innocent. A vortical crime, as we mages call it, must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt! We have Artists who use their gift of Prophecy to determine if witnesses are telling the truth or not. In the end, if the defendant is convicted, then the doorway to the Vortex is opened on such a night as I told you about.” Luriel slumped back into her chair and made her final move. “Checkmate! Let's not talk of this anymore. I am tired...”
I wanted to know what the third reason for casting guilty mages into the Vortex was, but I could see that Luriel had been made weary, and almost physically ill, by discussing it. Thus, I refrained from asking her about it and shook her hand. “Good game,” I said. “You're fantastic at chess!”
“And you yourself are improving by leaps and bounds. When I first started playing you...” We both chuckled. When she had first started playing me, I had lost my pieces on almost every move!
All of a sudden, Miss Maw's grandfather clock struck nine. Its chime echoed throughout the parlor.
Bagaht, the Dwarf, frowned at his watch. “Are you sure you didn't quicken time again, Perdante?”
“I'm positive.” I gave him a wink, and heard some strange creaking noises coming from upstairs.
“Ah, yes,” announced Miss Maw, smiling at all of us. “It appears our seventh guest is here...”
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Last edited by Tysyacha; 08-14-2010 at 09:21 PM.