I landed with a flourish on one of the spires resting over the entrance to my Altar, relishing in the theatrics, and I couldn't help but grin as I turned to look at the grand structure I had created. Sancta Alter, the first spell I ever created. Originally I designed it to be something far simpler than this- just a small circle on the ground that boosted the caster's defense and magical power by drawing out the natural mana in the air. I was quite proud of it at the time, and expected a great amount of praise from Master for devising such pragmatic magic.
But that was before I became the general of an army. Sancta Alter was designed for single use only, making it useless for large scale combat or conquering, and even In one on one fights it had its weaknesses. The user needed to stay within the circle for the boosts to take effect, which effectively meant that unless you were fighting an enemy of equal or lesser strength, the spell was useless.
So, bearing these flaws in mind, I restructured the spell from scratch. This time, rather than a simple power boost, I focused on creating a spell that would give an army the best possible advantage in battle. And what was the best way to do that?
By taking control of the terrain.
As long as my spell is active, I have complete control over the area within my magic circle. If I felt the need I could turn Aribas into a muddy swamp, or freeze it over with a harsh blizzard, and the best part? It doesn't cost me anything in terms of mana. Just like with the original version of this spell, Sancta Alter absorbs mana from the air- and now the earth too! As well as from one other source. The spell had a few other tricks and surprises to it, but I wouldn't need to use them until we were engaged in actual combat.
Returning my attention to the people gathered before me, I spread my arms in a welcoming gesture, I magically amplified my voice so that it boomed across the city, and said "Citizens of Aribas- behold! Before you lays my home, The Altar of Light. It is where, for the next three days, I shall await the company of your Lord Amad. If in that time he has not come to me with an offering of complete surrender, then I shall see to it that Aribas is no more. I will Erase this city from the earth, people and all, sparing only the slaves and the children. You are free to try and leave before then of course…but I think you will find that rather difficult, kuku." And with a laugh, Merry and I dropped down in front of the entrance to the Altar of Light and opened the doors.
But before we went inside…
I snapped my fingers. All around the city shattering noises rang out as the collars and chains of the city's slave population were destroyed by my magic, and likewise, all slave brands were healed and dispelled by Merry's.
"Slavery is over in this city. Forever. To the weary and the hungry that have been freed- come to me. I shall give you food and water and succor. And to those who would try and stop them-"
I snapped my fingers again, and off in the distance a man suddenly started screaming in agony as his hand separated from his wrist. After being freed, his slaves had immediately tried to make a run for ii. So he, still under the impression that they were property, raised his sword to get them back into line. But when they didn't listen to him he got violent, and that was when I intervened.
"I am always watching." I warned, slamming the door behind me.
"Dammit!" Amad shouted, slamming his fists against his desk "How could this happen!? Why now, why here!? Over something like slavery! Surely the Capital would be a better place to start a conflict like this than a far off city like Aribas!?"
It was the evening after the self proclaimed Hero Illumen made his debut, and Amad was still reeling from what had happened. The entire city was in chaos, entire districts had been moved around and mashed together, so no one knew where their own houses were anymore. He had been in a flurry all day, joining talks and councils, debating with frightened Nobles and war hawk Lords over what to do about the current predicament.
The first reasonable suggestion was to use a transport gate to send word of our plight to King Leopold and the three Heroes, but as soon as they all agreed on it-
"Amaaaaad!" Shouted a voice on the other side of the meeting room door, before the door burst open and Teresa, the leader of the Mages Guild, ran in. "Someobrokehensportaaaates'' she bawled, slumping over onto the conference table and banging her fists. "theytooketoholemonthstobuildandsomeonebrokem! Gimmemoneeforanewone!"
None of the Nobles, including Amad, understood a word of what she was saying, and Teresa was too distraught to speak clearly. Thankfully, just when it looked like Amad would have to give Teresa a calming drought (stiff drink), her apprentice walked through the door.
The girl, Eris, looked over the crowd of Nobles gathered and then at her master, who was still crying into the conference table.
She sighed and said "Greetings Lord Amad, assembled Nobility and…" she looked behind Amad, where Robal was standing guard, and smiled slightly before saying "Robal."
Robal just nodded, smirking a little.
"Did these two know each other?" Amad thought, but he quickly turned his attention back to the girl, as Eris began translating her Master's words. According to Eris, this morning someone had smashed up or stolen all of the working transport gates operated by the Mages Guild. There were no clues as to who did it, and the intruder erased all traces of themselves with magic and even the mages of the guild couldn't seem to track them down.
After hearing this the assembled Lords and Nobles all stood up and started shouting verbal abuse at the Guild Master and her apprentice, calling them incompetent, lazy, idiots, etc. At first Amad couldn't help but feel sorry for the young lady, but then her gaze became icy, and Amad could have sworn the temperature dropped ten degrees.
"Ho? But aren't you all just trying to thrust responsibility for this incident onto the Mages Guild? I was under the impression that blaming someone else for your troubles was the sort of thing lazy, incompetent people do? After all, weren't you great and powerful Nobles soiling yourselves in the streets just a few hours ago?" Eris said, her face an expressionless mask.
For a moment the Nobles faces were frozen with rage. Nobody had ever dared talk to them like this, and yet now this mere daughter of a petty Lord was looking down on them.
"Y-You can't speak to us like that-" one of them started to shout, but then-
Eris snapped her fingers and encased his lower half in ice, before saying "Why ever not? Who is going to stop me from saying whatever I want? This is what Illumen meant when he said you have faux power, you know? If I really wanted to, I could obl-"
"Eris." Robal said sternly, giving her a peculiar look. She met his eyes and the two of them had a silent staring contest before Eris finally sighed, backed away, and snapped her fingers again. The ice surrounding the Nobles legs shattered and he collapsed to the ground, very cold but also unhurt. None of the other Nobles dared to speak out against her for the remainder of their visit, which Eris spent translating her master's request for money and materials.
"Yes, Yes, you can have whatever you want, just figure out a way to solve this crisis!" Amad shouted, hoping to pick these two genius mages brains for a solution. Eris, dragging her Master out of the conference room by the scruff of her neck, nodded and the two of them took their leave.
And then they were back to square one. Frustrated, Amad adjourned the meeting for the day. There were still two days left to come up with a plan, and a good nights sleep would do them all some good after the harrowing events they had all just been through. Although Amad doubted he would even be able to get a single wink of sleep.
All he could do was bang his desk in anger and ask pointless questions to nobody while Robal watched him stoically.
"Ah, and poor Robal…" Amad thought, remembering the crushing defeat the boy had suffered. He had expected Robal to be torn up about his first real loss, but the boys maturity surprised him yet again. Robal's attitude hadn't changed a bit, he was all business as usual to the point even when Amad offered to give him a few days off for his troubles Robal had refused, saying that it was his duty to guard Amad with his life.
"Ah, what an admirable successor! Or he would be…if there is still a city to preside over when all of this is done. Right. I've decided, no matter what- I must make sure Aribas comes out of this intact! Both for the city, and for this boy!" Amad smiled at Robal, hoping to let him know that his Lord had not given up yet, and Robal smiled back, seemingly getting the message.
But then, for a moment, his eyes glazed over and he seemed to be looking far off into the distance.
"Robal…?" Amad asked concernedly, getting up to go check on the boy. But then after a moment Robal's expression returned to normal, and he smiled again.
"My Lord?" he said, questioningly.
"What is it my boy, ask me anything." Amad said, slightly jarred by what had just happened.
"This Illumen…what do you think about his mission?"
"Freeing the slaves?"
"That's right, do you think he's doing the right thing?"
"The right thing…" Amad said, sitting back down with a sigh "The right thing is not so easily ascertained, son. In this country, slavery has been part of the institution for decades. Entire sections of the economy are dedicated to using slaves as the workforce. Crop yield alone would be cut in half without the low cost of labor that slaves bring, and I shudder to think what would become of this country's infrastructure and resources without slaves doing all of the heavy lifting."
"I see." Robal said, his voice toneless "Then to you it's more of a pragmatic issue than a humane one. Then your answer to Illumen's riddle…?"
"You know it already, don't you?" Amad said, a slightly forlorn tone coming into his voice "Perhaps it makes me a monster, but for the sake of the many the few must suffer. Thanks to the labor of the slaves, the people of Langrace enjoy a much higher standard of living than our neighbors. It's what allows a city like Aribas, so far from the capital and surrounded by desert on all sides, to exist as the paradise it is."
"And your opinions on the slaves themselves?"
"You mean the non criminals? They have my sympathy for being born into such a wretched status, but there is nothing I can do to save them. As a ruler, I can only shoulder the sins caused by their suffering and hope that the consequences don't destroy us all. Well…look how that turned out" Amad finished bitterly.
"I couldn't agree more." replied a voice that did not belong to Robal.
Wheeling around, Amad saw me lounging on a sofa and drinking the cold tea that a maid had laid there for him several hours ago.
"Y-Y-You-" Amad stuttered, stunned. Robal didn't seem particularly afraid, or angry or even surprised by Illumen's presence, which Amad found odd, but he was too busy trying to process what was going on to give that a second thought.
"You know, tea is best drunk warm." I said, standing up and walking over to where the lord stood, slack jawed.
"So." I said, clapping a hand on Amad's shoulder "Let's talk."