THE DUEL

A SANTHARIAN PARABLE

 
The Frethoni Book of Fables   
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Introduction. Fable No. 845, ca. 1621 a.S. At a chance meeting the ancient rivalry between two wind magicians sparks into life. Will the challenger finally be able to defeat the master who he considers to be guided by hubris? Or will the master teach the short-tempered mageling the lesson of his lifetime? Well, man forges his own destiny, they say. - Right?

 

ell, well, well! Now, I– be– damned! If it isn't the great, the grand, ah... the gargantuan Garonmithros the Glamorous!" The man clicked his tongue. "He and himself... And personally!"

There was reluctant shuffling, then some incredulous blinking, some disapproving groaning from the other side. The addressed one, a man garbed in a long azure robe, finally turned around. He looked up from the small table he had been sitting at for a while and now had to face it: The end of his privacy had just arrived – with drum rolls!

The place was a dark, moody tavern. And this particular corner of it was even darker and moodier than the rest. Almost a perfect hideout one might be tempted to say, even from a barmaid. All peace and quiet? Not quite, apparently.

The robed guest pushed away the hot tea he had been sipping on, then let his bony fingers unwrap the gaunt face from under his cowl. No need for pretending anymore. He had been recognized. He might as well face the music.

"Hoho, mate, it's him! It really is him!" the approaching newcomer blared again, even louder now as his suspicion was confirmed. He sat down himself while grabbing the other man at the shoulder and shook him frantically, maybe to make sure he could indeed be touched. "Now, who would have thought that our legendary Garonmithros can be found in a shabby, sleazy place like this, in Aregarth for that matter, better known as the Middle-of-Nowhere?"

Garonmithros the Great stared back in dismay. Eventually the intrusive hand let go of his shoulder.

"Oh, in Khaelvan's name! Geeeeeeee-whiiiiiiz I say!" his vis-à-vis hollered just for the sake of it – the rest of the world might not have heard yet.

However, Garonmithros the Grand looked decidedly unimpressed.

"Now come on, old man, talk to me: say something! Delight us with a spell!" The man bowed, in his tone venomenous and the gesture he made was in pure mock appreciation.

But the old man wasn't particularly talkative. He recalled that face, that slow drawl in a voice, and the memories he associated them with weren't among his most cherished ones.

"Hmph!" Garonmithros the Gargantuan finally produced, summarizing his sentiments. He was miffed, annoyed, suddenly sincerely wishing he had skipped getting up in the morning.

"What? What was it that the master spoke? Should we get the scrolls to write it all down and preserve it for later generations?" his visitor took his annoyance up a notch.

As Garonmithros didn't seem to be too enthusiastic about his suggestion, the other just continued in being irritating.

"Now, really, tell me: How has life treated you since the Academy, back in the days of yore, wizzy? Still ignoring that others have mastered the art of spell casting as well?"

Garonmithros raised a brow.

"I mean: All those half-hearted magelings couldn't hold a candle to you, right? Still can't, I bet. A blink of an eye, an inconspicuous motion with the hand, a magic word under your breath – and any attempt to compete with the one who stands above all things was already over and done with. Before the spell casting even started! Haha!" The lean intruder broke into a deep, throaty chuckle. "Oh well, hubris is bliss, eh?" He scoffed tauntingly as he folded his long arms in front of his chest. "Oh well, it must be the mark of true greatness if one can look at one's brethren so condescendingly as if they were leprous. Your brethren who might have just wanted to get a tiny glimpse of your genius, your so often praised 'mastery of magery'... Ha! Your humble brethren who revered your ways, hoping to learn from them. But well, no such luck with the likes of you, oh Mighty One!"

Garonmithros was still waiting for Thalamnis to make his point. For that must be his name, he thought to himself. If he remembered correctly. Or was it rather Thambadlis? Badthramis? Misbadthram? Something like that anyway. The letters were there somewhere.

"Just – didn't – care..." Thamaltris concluded and violently shook his head. "So... What are you working on right now hidden from the rest of the world? Researching a new spell? Something revolutionary and brand new? In order to make yourself even greater than great?"

Garonmithros remembered a situation at the Academy where Thamaltris had accused him of using his ideas and profiting from them. Well, as a matter of fact he had watched how a spell cast by his former colleague had fizzled – and then had interpreted that circumstance, learning from it, creating a new spell thanks to the other's blunder. In a way he couldn't have done it without him. In the eyes of Thamaltris that felt like an abuse.

"Or are you looking for someone to steal some more spells from?" Thamaltris threw in scornfully. "Like back then?"

Garonmithros looked the short-tempered fellow over from top to bottom. Thambadlis or Badthramis – or whatever his name – hadn't gone out of his way to prove himself to him, or to others for that matter. Apparently he couldn't make himself a name in the Academy, though, quite literally, judging from the fact that the archmage couldn't remember it that well. Well, the fellow had failed to grasp that inner reflection was key to train the mind in order to succeed in the high art of wizardry. Instead, the young and eager mage used to prefer it the rough way: challenging others, comparing magic tricks, corrupting the efforts of opponents and picking spell casting fights in defiance of all rules the Academy prescribed... Whether that helped in making an impression was another matter.

Garonmithros had considered him a lost cause long before the never-do-well was expelled. He was that sort of character who wouldn't accept defeat no matter what and try to make it still look like a triumph.

"You know, there are spells to be learned outside the Academy as well," the wanna-be archmage began again. "Even more powerful spells, and I bet you wouldn't stand a chance against..."

"You want a duel, right?" Garonmithros interrupted him bluntly.

Thamaltris' eyes began to gleam. He wanted to answer, but his voice failed him.

"Then let's go," the elder concluded, took a final sip of his tea and got up to teach someone a long overdue lesson.

They met again on top of a hill tucked between the crescent-shaped Caendrar Range, far to the north of the town. The place was empty, except for a few lost and forlorn trees standing around in their autumnal melancholy, a couple of crows populating their skeletal branches. Little did they know that they had arrived just in time to watch the unfolding of a most unusual spectacle.

The azure robe of Garonmithros could be seen climbing the elevation first. Once on top, he retreated to one side and made room for his opponent. Thamaltris followed suit. They had made sure that they were alone. This was a matter between themselves.

Not a word was spoken by either of the mages as they ascended and took their places. Their minds were already preparing for the confrontation that was likely to end with a deadly outcome, condoned by the Academy or not. A single mistake could prove fatal, each of them knew that. Timing is crucial when dueling. And to be prepared for all eventualities was of the utmost importance.

They didn't move for a while, only looked at each other.

Finally Garonmithros raised his hand – slowly though, very slowly, demonstrating that he wasn't about to attack, but that he merely wanted to signal his readiness to the other. A faint glow began dancing around his open hand, and moments later the same was repeated on the opposing side.
There was a soft sizzling sound. The glow around both raised hands dissipated into thin air. The fight had begun.

The younger mage instantly went on the offensive.

Within the blink of an eye Thamaltris channeled the air around him into a mighty gust and let it shoot forward. A simple spell, yet fast to cast, intended to swipe his opponent off his feet – or at least impede with the creation of a more powerful spell of the archmage...

The conjured blast however went nowhere.

While it started with a deafening roar when the air gathered at the commanding fingers and then was flung towards the other side, the gust never reached its goal. Midway it turned into a breeze, lost its bite entirely. When it arrived at the elder magician, the once razor sharp wind only tugged listlessly a few times on the grey hair and robe, then gave up altogether as if ashamed that it ever existed.

Garonmithros hadn't moved a nailsbreadth. His hand was still up in the air since he had raised it to give the signal. Anticipating an aggressive opening from his opponent he had countered the spell instantly with a simple gesture.

Thamaltris however didn't tarry. "Vásh ór!" he incanted quickly.

As he shouted the words he raised both hands. When he clapped them together the sound of two palms hitting at each other turned into something much louder: a banging thunder shook the combatants, the trees, the rocks, the whole hillside.

As he looked up again a lightning bolt tore the skies apart and the deadly force of jagged white lines raced towards the ground.

And hit. There was a flash and the figure on the other side instantly went up in flames...

...until the caster noticed that four more identical figures had arisen out of nowhere a few peds away...

Garonmithros smiled at his opponent's display of verve. Actually all of the illusions he had created sported that smile.

The archmage also felt the noisy crackling of magical energies at his side as one of his mirages perished as it was hit by lightning. But the bolt had clearly missed its target. Yet its magical energies were still in the air.
 

"Kadám!" Garonmithros countered the attack.

The archmage's voice was loud and resolute. One by one the chaotic bolts of light that bounced off the ground around his mirrored images were drawn towards his directing hand. Once there, the wizard hurled them back to where their existence had emanated – towards Thamaltris...

Image description. The duel in progress,,, Illustration by Quellion.

...who suddenly found himself busy with raising a shield. Or the attempt of it.

He hadn't expected an offensive reaction and now struggled to deal with it. Both hands desperately pulling strands of hardened air towards himself he managed to prevent the worst however.

"Eraía'avásh!" Thamaltris whimpered, yet the blows his shield was hit over and over again hampered his efforts to sustain it. He soon ran out of breath and magical energy.

...CLANG...

The makeshift insubstantial shield burst apart. Static bolts struck, then felled the struggling mage. Around him untamed energies flashed and flared.

For a moment Thamaltris was lying there helplessly like a turtle turned upside down. He tried to compose himself, but found that he couldn't utter a word, let alone command the elements to follow his will. His arm still stretched out his forefinger pointed now at the remaining three versions of his opponent as if he wanted to threaten the wizard with it. However, as it was he was left to the archmage's mercy.

The one version of Garonmithros in flesh and blood let his arm drop to his side. He stepped forward, which prompted the conjured shadow versions of himself to fade away.

"Had enough?" his voice rang out over the hillside.

The still lingering static energies slowly dispersed. Silence spread, dust settled. A crow cawed, then another one. A slight breeze came in, swirling soothingly over the battlefield, carrying with them the words of the archmage.

It could have ended there.

"Well?" Garonmithros asked again, still waiting patiently.

However, his opponent made no efforts to react. Unable to regain his strength, he was breathing heavily, beaten. His defences had been shattered in a single unguarded moment, and way sooner than he would ever have expected. His most potent spells were still uncast. His honour was destroyed. At least there were no withnesses.

Finally Thamaltris pulled his legs towards his body, tentatively began to stand up. At least he managed to get into a cowering position while still supporting himself with his hands. Leaning forward with his back turned to Garonmithros he coughed repeatedly for there was the taste of blood in his mouth and he felt sick to the stomach.

Had he enough? The thought pulsated in his head like the incessant attacks of a serious headache. Had he enough?

There... there... Thamaltris sensed the energies beginning to flow in him again... There must be a chance... There must be... a chance!

Had he enough?

No, never. A point needed to be made.

Time to draw a last ace he had up his sleeve... Time to confront that boisterous so-called archmage with a spell he wouldn’t believe he had in himself. A spell that he couldn't possibly anticipate... Yes... So it had to be...

Some preparation first, though...

"I..." the mage stammered. "I..."

He stammered simply for the sake of responding to the archmage, to make him feel safe.

Hidden from the view of his opponent Thamaltris' hands had already flashed back into action. A tiny revolving orb was already forming in his lap, an orb which he honed towards perfection with every turn.

"I..." the mage began again.

"...am not finished with you yet!" he then blurted out with resolve.

The young mage turned around, smashed the luminous orb on the ground in front of him.

There was a frizzling noise. Wafts of smoke spread out in all directions, obscuring the caster. However, the wafts proved only to be a side effect. As soon as the magically created object hit the earth, distinct ghostly threads of mist escaped from the destroyed structure as well, separating from the fog. They developing into shrieking winds and swirled around the caster until they had engulfed him completely. In the next moment the mage appeared to be gone, as if swallowed by the spirits he had just called.

Garonmithros had expected a last effort from his opponent. He knew him too well. But he had also hoped that he would come to his senses.

Too late now. Thamaltris had no intention to play it fair. Phase Shift had been cast, the spell was easy to recognize.

There was no direct counter measure against Phase Shift, Garonmithros knew. If the caster is given time to work on the spell uninterruptedly and can pull it off, he temporarily leaves this plain of existence and turns ethereal. As such he cannot be harmed at all by physical attacks, is extremely difficult to target by magic and any of his subsequent spells is practically impossible to read...

Garonmithros fingers twitched. What to do? Maybe he had made a mistake...

Thamaltris blended into his surroundings. He snuck to one side, lurking in his camouflage.

Now is the time, he repeated to himself. Now...

And then he cast it. With all the cár’áll he had in himself, combined with all the elemental powers he could draw from the skies, with everything he could possibly enhance the spell with, he hurled it towards the archmage. And with it he threw the hatred he felt, the humilation, the indignity...

Once the spell hit its goal, he would be able to make the archmage his puppet, and its demise would just be a command away...

Your time has come, wizard!

There: A mysterious wobbling missile made out of unstable air, attacking the elder mage.

It suddenly came out of nowhere, peeled from the fabric that made up a hill, some trees, the sky. However, its caster remained invisible. As is the nature of its ephemeral existence the missile would soon fall back again into oblivion. But in its brief life span it rippled through the landscape in breakneck speed and with a high-pitched whistle it arrived at its target, slammed into the archmage.

No, there’s no way one can escape that, Thamaltris chuckled to himself. It just had to hit him right there. A spell as powerful as this is impossible to absorb, cannot be just made to go away. No... way...

Right he was. Garonmithros couldn’t escape the missile. He was struck hard, he was hit with its full force.

The impact was so abrupt and violent it pushed the air out of his lungs, he couldn’t even scream. The wizard was catapulted back, robes flying he sailed for what seemed a moment of eternity through the air, then slumped to the ground several peds further back.

He came to rest surrounded by swirling dust. With his limbs sprawled out he wound himself in agony.

And yet: The wobbling missile however was still on its way...

A quick-witted inspiration had made Garonmithros cast Reflection on whatever his opponent might come up with. If a specific defense was impossible, a general would have to do. There was an obvious downside to this of course: Reflection couldn’t prevent a direct physical hit. However, it was effective enough to return the magical package to its sender, along with everything it contained...

And so the wobbling missile was still on its way...

Thamaltris had observed the wizard go down, seen the spell's impact at its target, the wizard hit the ground, the dust stir. A triumphant smile spread over his face.

But the returning missile stopped him cold in his tracks.

Still rippling through the landscape in breakneck speed accompanied by a high-pitched whistle the wobbling aerial distortion slammed into its caster. He might have moved in the meantime, couldn't be hurt physically, but Reflection made sure that the missile found back to where it had come from, and so did its magical effect...

Utterly surprised by its emergence from the dust cloud, Thamaltris failed to bring up any protection. And so the missile struck him with full force and carried him with it. Right into the embrace of oblivion...

Bones aching, his robes torn to pieces Garonmithros got up.

His bold opponent however was nowhere in sight. Silence descended upon the hill, not even the crows were cawing anymore, there was just plain dead silence.
Unmoving the archmage waited. He let the energies flow back into his self, rebuild his magical strength, despite the fact that he was hurt and would barely have been able move even if he wanted to. He didn’t trust that eerie sound of silence. Somewhere, somehow there might be another attack. He had to be prepared.
Slowly but with reassuring reliability the used up energies returned to him.

His opponent didn’t.

There was no further attack, nothing. Not even a sign that another person had ever walked up that hill and participated in a duel. The archmage was all by himself.

The high level of that spell... the wizard thought. The distorted air... The characteristically wobbling missile... The powerful impact...... He must have dared to cast it: Figment. Yes, Figment. He must have cast Figment of Imagination.

Figment. That forbidden, dangerous, hardly researched spell: difficult to cast, yet almost almighty if it succeeds. One of the most potent wind magics ever known, a spell that would seperate body from mind at its victim, albeit only for a brief period of time, but allowing the caster to control every action of its mindless rendered target. As if he were just a figment of imagination in the caster’s mind...

The archmage stared at the spot where his opponent once had stood.

Was it indeed Figment that the madman cast? But... as the target he had reflected the spell, the wizard mused, returned it to where it had originated. Out of of self-defence. The archmage tried to establish a mental connection to see if he could sense another presence, see if he might possibly be capable of controlling another person: someone... somewhere... somehow... – But, unsurprisingly, he failed. The spell didn’t work that way. How could it? No, transferring control from the caster to the one reflecting the spell was impossible. He should have known. There was no point in even trying. Control must still be in the hands of the caster, wherever Thamaltris was now.

The archmage pondered a while longer, then moved over to the other side of the hill, inspecting the spot from where his opponent had disappeared.

He had been in a Phase Shift before he did his final casting, he noted to himself. Thus he was already partly removed from existence then, not in corporeal state. A traveller between worlds, in the twilight between reality and possibility. The spell would have worn off, sure, but then... then... Figment hit... Against all odds... Figment hit.

Garonmithros contemplated the implications, tried to explain what he found almost impossible to grasp.

His thoughts touched upon the concept of dreams: Casting Phase Shift must be like diving into a dream. However deep you dive down, you’re bound to emerge again, return to the surface, like a sleeper who has just dozed off, to go to wonderous places conceived through the Gods’ will or devised by fantasies of one’s own mind.

What if – however unlikely it might be – you’re touched by Figment of Imagination cast at yourself if you’re already between worlds? No one had ever done that, not that he was aware of. Wouldn’t the surface you could only emerge to then be your own dreamt up imagination, a layer beneath reality – and reality as it were, as you once knew it, forever out of reach? Wouldn’t it mean that one remains trapped within... yourself? Trapped within a self-made prison, a hall of mirrors and personal convictions, even illusions and delusions? Created by yourself, for yourself, sealing your own demise? A mental grave dug by an unfortunate fool himself, who just wiped himself from existence?

Garonmithros persevered several more hours on the hill that day, still hoping that something might occur that would prove his ideas wrong. But nothing happened.

Once again a man has forged his own destiny, he thought. And: Once again, history has just repeated itself.

For the Academy needed to hear about this. He had made yet another discovery thanks to an overzealous colleague, whether he had wanted it or not.

Thamaltris found himself in no particular place.

The place however wasn't the only thing that was peculiar. He had lost any feeling of time as well and while he had memories and was able to think about them, he began to have his doubts that these memories were really his. Were they memories? Or did he only imagine something he had never actually experienced? It all seemed so... probable.

There was a wizard... A duel... A spell that hit...

He might have hit me as well, but he’s gone himself too, right? he thought by himself. Otherwise he'd still be around somewhere... He’s eliminated, that dratted wizard! Gone from this world, never to re-appear again! I’ve done it! He will never ever cross my path, never ever steal my ideas!

All the while he kept talking to himself, his convictions growing stronger and stronger the more he indulged in them. And more and more it appeared comfy and cozy, this world of his. A world without landscapes, without hills, trees, opponents, without morning, midday, evening, night. A world he inhabited on his own, beyond everything else that others thought to be real. He felt home, somehow.

If I've just been dreaming I might forget about the dream, he reminded himself. And then he forgot his last thought.

Everything felt strange. Like he was just... a character. A character in a book perhaps, or even a short story. He was conscious of himself, and yet he felt that his existence was somehow fleeting, and the only purpose of it was wondering what the last line of that story might be.

"I didn't lose," he whispered before he was gone forever. "It was a draw, wasn't it?"
 


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Parable written by by Artimidor View Profile