The Great of all Power
Mardoch the great Magician-Smith, marches upon the golden city of Makal, a great host of troops gathered to him. The twilight of dawn still weighed in the favour of darkness.
Behind him, across the realm of Argo many lesser cities are subdued; those that are not broken and burning, have thrown down their weapons in submission, only to gather them back up again for the Magician-Smith, either through fear of him or awe of his great power.
He rides at the very centre of his host, upon a grey horse saddled with a thick leather harness. Here the heat of his ever burning fire spreads over all his troops, and they can feel it, and they are either driven to burning battle lust, or reduced to a smouldering fear, so they would never abandon him and only part his side with death.
He is bound in a purple robe, which is thick with many folds, and a hood rimmed with silver runes. His face is covered by an iron mask, ghastly and grim, a thing built for war. He holds the harness of his beast with grey armoured gauntlets, his boots are heavy in the saddle and tethered behind him a great hammer, once his tool but now modified for war.
This attire Mardoch did not love to wear, for he had other masks, of gold and silver fused with gems of blue and red, green and yellow and many more beautiful colours. Things of his own craft, forged in his furnace of white flame and imbued with the wonder of his will. For Mardoch loved above all else heat, which allowed him to change things to the delight of his own mind.
He had long looked upon Makal, the golden city and desired it. To change it, to subject it to his fire and shape and temper it to his own design. Mardoch loved to see beautiful craft, but the craft of man was flawed and imperfect to his eyes, and wherever the Magician-Smith saw this he desired greatly to change it.
Though they had barred him entry into the golden city. Queen Ellaria and her son, Prince Amrahan. Mardoch had come to them, offered them great gifts; jewels bearing light and crowns of delicate gold, giving them freely if but the great Queen Ellaria would let Mardoch move his forge into Makal and rebuild the city anew, only greater than before. The Magician-Smith promised the queen that he would build her a princely palace, and towers of gold twice the height than the ones that already stood, and that Makal would become the greatest city in the world. However Queen Ellaria had refused and barred him from returning, rejecting the Magician-Smiths designs, saying they were not needed and the works of his forge were void of anything good, being filled with a hidden malice towards mortal men, that Mardoch simply could not perceive.
Mardoch took this as a grave insult, and was hurt in his mind that someone, a queen of men no less, would see his marvellous designs as pointless and empty, when in fact it was the work of their hands that was lacking anything beautiful, for not only their hands but their minds more so were limited. Returning to his abode both angry and upset, Mardoch sat on his contempt and bathed in his despair, until at last his mind resolved to action. The golden city would be his by force.
The size of his war host was immense, though in the beginning there had been few who had rallied to his summons. Most of the leaders of the land were weary of him, for Mardoch lived alone on an island of stone, just off the shore of the sea, with many lesser crowns of rock beneath. Here was his forge, built from the natural rock, which forever burned with a shimmering white heat. Here Mardoch would brood over his creations, gathering his resources from the shores, fashioning great gems which he gave away to the people who dwelt on the edge of the sea in exchange for service, and these servants he sent out to even farther and distant lands, to gather to him even more materials to aid his great labours.
Alone he abode and had no love for aught but the work of his own hand. The servants he gathered to him, were rarely seen among mortal men once they joined the Magician-Smith, and it was rumoured that he replaced their souls with fire, by the will of his sorcery, and they were forever bound to him by a horrible torment of eternal burning.
There were few leaders of men who would heed the Magician-Smiths words, let alone a call to arms.
So of the local chieftains from the coastal towns and villages, very few of them came to him and the ones that did, were disorganised and dim. So Mardoch went to his forge and began a great work, where he laboured long, creating all kinds of wondrous gifts; great golden crowns, imbued with gems the colour of fire and water and light, delicate silver necklaces wrought with shells and pearls from the deepest depths of the oceans, shining rings of all colours and metals, great broches of diamond, emerald pins and clasps, ruby studs and earrings and many other wonders uncounted.
Gathering to him his few servants, he first went amongst the coastal chieftains, into their towns and villages, and gave out these marvellous things he had created to the great and common alike, promising more to those who followed him and a great many did. To the chieftains he gave out the crowns and declared to them, that they were as great as the nobles who sat in the halls of Makal, and that they too were worthy of the title king and queen, and to have a place within the golden city, and wealth and great respect. These gifts the chieftains accepted with delight, and followed Mardoch desiring more.
Being well pleased, the Magician-Smith returned to his forge and began another labour, one of war, and set to work on a great array of weapons, crafting red, blazing swords, flaming axes and smouldering spears that were hurled like bolts of fire.
All those gathered to him he kindled their spirits with a great burning passion, akin to his own, and although it was diminished by their mortality, they grew more fearsome in Mardochs presence. A great heat was bound to him, and could always be felt by those close by.
His journey here had been swifter than he had devised; three cities he rode through had resisted him, and he cast them down. His troops placing kindle against their walls and towers and setting them ablaze, and where Mardoch rode close the fire intensified by his will, until stone cracked and metal bent, ultimately crumbling into dust. Two of the cities leaders he had slain, but one had escaped him and fled to Makal; they would have ample warning of his approach, but that mattered not to Mardoch, for all would end at the golden city.
Three cities had let Mardoch ride through unhindered, and their leaders had led a host of men to follow after him; one from fear of his fire, one from admiration of his craft and one for lust, at the promise of the wealth of the golden city.
Now there was naught between him and his prize, and his ranks had swelled larger than the Magician-Smith had planned.
Night time had ended, though the sun seemed reluctant to peep over the world, and see the red wave sweeping over the land.
Upon a small hill, Mardoch’s troops were setting up outside the gates of the golden city.
The dawn had brought its end.
Makal had stood for a thousand years, being built upon a hill, which had in ancient times been a pinnacle of rock, rich in gold ore. Over a millennia, the rock was mined and removed, being alloyed with other stronger ores and slowly the city was built, using instruments and crafting technique long lost to time.
It had been perfected in its long years, and it stood like a beacon across all of Argo, shining brilliantly on a clear day with a high sun. It had witnessed wars, battles and treachery unnumbered in its history, but had endured all and come out ever stronger than it had been before.
It was ruled by Queen Ellaria, alone since the death of her husband, long ago. Her son was with her, but he desired not to be king, and only ever wished to fight in battle, leaving much of the governance of the city to his mother.
Prince Amrahan stood atop Makals tallest tower, watching the Magician-Smith approach. He was tall, just short of seven foot, and his face was pale but his eyes and hair dark as night. He wore silver and white mail, his boots shimmering brightly even in the dull dawn. He held a halberd axe, the tip pointed like a spear, and sheathed upon the back of his shoulder a sword with a white blade.
A gentle breeze caressed the prince’s face, but it was not cool. Even up here Mardoch’s fire could be felt, and doubt grew heavy in Amrahan’s heart, who amongst the Makallion was most fearless and proud. He was the golden cities most renowned captain, being sixteen when he first rode in battle, and leading his own army soon after, to a score of great victories against many invading forces. On more than one occasion did he stand in single combat, staunchly fearless, brave beyond measure, and he slew champions who diminished him in both stature and in strength. Ever did Makal’s prince inspire those around him, and brought courage where before there was naught but despair.
Countless were the times Amrahan had repelled bandits, pirates and marauders across the realm of Argo; in his prime still at twenty six, Amrahan was a greatly feared and respected warrior across the land. Constantly on the hunt, always riding in search of new threats, never ceasing nor stalling to throw himself into dangers path, without thought for himself.
Gentle footsteps made him turn, and he beheld his mother; she was almost identical to him, tall but shorter than he and her skin paler even than his, her hair jet black and her eyes darker still. She wore a silver headscarf that she held gently with her hand. “Does my only son feel fear for his first time? For this look upon his face I have never seen, and it makes my heart sad”.
“Sadder than what this heat may bring?” Asked Amrahan in response.
“Sadder than the end of days” his mother answered.
The prince looked out at Mardoch’s approaching army and he sighed, “I feel neither fear nor courage, only doubt. This heat feels strange, unnatural. Like it is eager and curious, but angry as well. It lacks the heavy, choked air of fire”.
“This sorcerer is coy; he uses heat to forge instruments in his great furnace of white flame” his mother said, “It is an undying fire, brought by him from beyond the walls of our world. It was made to wrought and temper and build, as well as destroy and break”.
“His force is sizeable, there are many men down there who have served at my side” the prince noted. “Great leaders of men follow after him, men who once stood in defence of this realm. Now they stand against me”.
“The Magician-Smith has many gifts to give, and much power to be feared” his mother answered. “Do not let that weigh down your heart. His will is hard to resist, to those who have joined him I have pity”.
“I have death for them” the prince scolded, and seeing his mother recoil he asked, “Why have you come here?”
“You know why but if you must hear it again then listen, do not throw away your life here, come with me and leave while we still can. The city is lost, we can save it but not now. If you come with me, we can rally aid and come back stronger”.
The prince was already shaking his head, “I must stay, because I fear any help close at hand is already walking with our foe. So be it. Let all of Argo stand against me, all my friends of yesterday”.
“Would you slay a man who knows only fear?” his mother asked. “Or greed for wealth and great power beyond measure? These are the things that Mardoch offers, in plenty and in generosity. It is not merely material that his will has mastery over, but the hearts and minds of all mortal kind”.
“His will is weaker than you know” Amrahan declared. “Mardoch’s fire can temper great strength, this is true, but I have been tempered by your love, which has made me stronger than anything turned out of his forge. I will not flee him like a coward, when you have built me to endure. The fire of your heart diminishes the malicious fire of his forge, and that you have given to me, and always do I hold it in my own heart”. As he spoke his dark eyes were like pools of light, as tears glazed over them.
“And what if he crushes you? Or worse! If he takes the city he will not merely slay you, but bear you away to his forge, where his sinister fire will penetrate through to your soul and forever change you”.
“He will not enter the city” Amrahan replied in defiance. “When he reaches the gate, I will challenge his might to mine own. He cannot lose face in front of his host, and so he must accept. I do not fear his sorcery”.
“Defiance is not immune from death” his mother scolded. “You do not know your foe so well. You break my heart so recklessly, then so be it, but if you will not leave then neither shall I”.
She turned from him and left, her face remaining stern but her heart cloven in two. Atop Makals golden tower, Amrahan wept alone.
Mardoch’s host was comprised of men and women, eager or afraid but both willing to lay down their lives for him. They halted at the gate awaiting their master’s approach, who rode at the centre of his host and was still some way behind.
At last the sun peeped its eye over the world’s brow, flooding the realm of Argo with brilliant sunlight, which reflected off the golden city and blinded them.
With a loud ringing of trumpets, the gates to the golden city were opened, and a hundred mounted men rode forth with a thundering pace, being led by Prince Amrahan. Here his white-silver armour reflected the sun even more, as he closed in on his enemies. The prince swept the head of Mardoch’s army, and being dazzled by Amrahan’s mail his foes strikes went astray, and his gold-gilded halberd axe was dulled to red, as many fell beneath him.
Turning his horse he capitalised on the advantage, and led his men back for one more sweep. Furious was his charge, and his face twisted with a seething anger. The spear of his halberd could not be seen, for it flurried like a whirlwind, impaling and puncturing all who stood in his path, until it blunted and would pierce no more. Then he swung the axe head, and where it went his enemies fell down upon each other, in piles of hewn red waste. So many he slew in such a short time, that his weapon broke in two and fell away from him, so the prince resolved to furiously ride down any that were still in his way.
Swiftly they returned to the city. He had lost two men, but many of the rest had remained unscathed. Amrahan was confident he had made a good dent in Mardoch’s force.
However his heart sank when he climbed the wall, and joined his men. The ranks outside his city had swollen, and Mardoch was there, riding up to the gates upon his grey steed, surveying the minimal damage the prince had done. Aware of the rising fear covering his men, at the sight of the Magician-Smith, the prince renewed his resolve and spoke haughtily;
“Attempt to enter into here and you will find that the heat you carry close, is nothing but the weakness of your will”, Amrahan called out from atop Makals gate. “For all things you must change, being unable to perceive what that thing really is; be it the labour of mortal hands, or the work of human nature. You do not belong here, nor anywhere else close by. Go now and avoid your end”.
A burning and crackling arose from Mardoch, as he spoke in deep charring tones; “You speak well, oh great prince, though inside your mind you cannot see. It is a strong will you carry indeed, though it will be to the detriment of your city and your people. It is your own end you must avoid; I say to you oh great prince, open your gates and allow me to enter unhindered, and save all who dwell in Makal. It is within your great power to do this”.
“Never!” Amrahan replied defiantly. “I will show all your host that your craft is ruinous, if you would but accept my offer, to stand against me alone. Does your great fire give you courage enough to fight with me? Or will you lose face in front of those who have grown fearful in your presence? Come to me oh Magician-Smith, so I might show your host how weak you truly are”.
At this Mardoch was greatly angered and upset, at the insult of his craft and the suggested weakness of his power. A sizzling wrath burned in his heart, and it took a great bending of his will, to subdue the fiery tantrum he desired greatly to throw.
When his anger abated the Magician-Smith spoke again, choosing his words carefully, but his voice now held the sound of embers burning low; “Is there naught that the great prince of Makal desires, beyond his loyalty to his own? I can give thou great gifts and wonders, things that thine eyes have never seen, I can build thy city more splendid than it is now, and make it greater yet in the years that come. I would raise your mother not to be queen only of Makal, but queen of the whole world, and all who dwell therein. You would become a great prince, beyond any who have gone before, and none would ever be greater than thou, after all the years of this earth are utterly spent and gone, and the world would end hither ere any man be more powerful than thee. Folly would it be fight in single combat, to die and swear for naught, where we can combine our great spirits together, and no end would come to the wonders we would achieve”.
A brief moment of silence fell upon the prince before he replied, and all the eyes of his men were laid upon him, and those of his mother, who watched from close by. “Does your voice drop so low, so that none in your host would hear you bargain with me?” The prince said at last, “I will hear no more, draw your weapon or turn and go”. He disappeared from the wall, a moment later the gates of Makal were lifted.
Mardoch clenched his iron fist.
The gates of the golden city were closed, and the sound was like a dead weight falling into the ground, a grim and foreboding noise to those who heard it.
Prince Amrahan came forward armed with a single handed blade, which had a cold white edge. He bore a plain red shield, without emblem or design, and was cast in his silver-white armour, which shone like a brilliant star against the morning sun.
The prince was tall, but Mardoch cast a shadow over him. Amrahan stared into the Magician-Smiths mask, it was thick and wrought of iron, and it held a ghastly feature, like one who had died a terrible death and the look of pain was forever frozen upon their face. His gauntlets were clawed at the tip of the long, thin and armoured fingers, which clutched the lengthy handle of a mighty hammer, a tool he once used to temper metal in his furnace, changed and modified for war. The air grew uncomfortably warm, but Amrahan stayed his ground.
The Magician-Smith struck the first blow, violently swinging his hammer overhead and bringing it down with ferocious velocity, which the prince easily side stepped. The ground shook as the hammer crashed down, and Mardoch was forced to bend slightly, to drag his weapon up, allowing Amrahan to catch him off guard, smiting him in the face, with a backwards glance of his blade, its edge white and keen and cold, and cleaving Mardoch’s hideous mask in two, which fell to the floor with a dead clang. Mardoch recoiled, unhurt from the blow, but surprise and anguish filling him suddenly, at Amrahan’s speed and deadly precision, only his mask had prevented a more lethal blow.
Beneath, the Magician-Smiths true form was revealed. Where his face should’ve been, there was naught but a searing bright light, hidden beneath a deep purple hood. A voice came from within, a deep voice which spat and crackled with fire; “Mighty is the Prince of the golden city, yet stronger still he could be. Cast aside your weapon and turn away from your loyalties, return with me to my forge, where I might temper your spirit with the white fire of my furnace, and rebirth your soul anew, so you would become more than a god, amongst all mortal people”.
“Spoken only with sorcery” cried Amrahan, and then laughed in his face. “Your power falls short here, for your words are fuelled by the fire of your witchcraft, and naught good has ever come from your forge. I am tempered by the womb of my mother, born of love which is something you cannot fathom, and which can never be made in your forge of fire! I say to you die and burn away to naught but ash!” Amrahan leaped forth swinging wildly, but the Magician-Smith was ready for him, and his huge hammer swung rapidly, being driven by an immense power, which glanced the prince’s body while he was still air bound, hurtling his limp body to the ground, where he scraped to a painful stop.
Amrahan’s armour was dented, but had absorbed much of the blow. He struggled up, heavily winded and was still gasping for breath when Mardoch’s hammer came down again, barely getting his shield up which was enough to parry the blow slightly, but the hammer head skewed at an angle and crushed Amrahan’s neck and shoulder, pinning him against the ground.
A heavy iron boot landed on Amrahan’s chest, keeping him down. Mardoch’s face came close for a moment as he drew his hammer up; the light there was blinding to stare into, carrying with it a bizarre heat. Amrahan squeezed his eyes tight against it, but a searing pain penetrated into his mind. The prince’s face grew hot, and then Mardoch drew himself up to a great height, wielding the hammer two handed, preparing to crush Amrahan’s skull.
With all his waning strength and a great cry of pain, the prince lifted his pale sword and hewn Mardochs leg, with a flurry of desperate slashes. The Magician-Smith gave a sizzling cry of pain and dropped his hammer behind himself, roaring aloud again as Amrahan, rising to his feet, drove his sword into Mardoch’s torso, down to the hilt, causing a fiery cry to erupt and send Mardoch into a lethal blazing spasm. The prince staggered back, thinking the Magician-Smith would explode, but the fire suddenly quelled and smoke rose up off his black armour from beneath his purple robe. Amrahan’s blade melted down to the hilt, which fell away from Mardoch’s torso. The prince, attempting to flee was seized by desperate, lunging iron claws, which dug and seared through his flesh and burnt his bones black. Clutching him tight Mardoch lifted the prince high above his head, and Amrahan’s body savagely ignited into a ball of flame, before the Magician-Smith hurled him down to the ground, with a sickening thud and plume of red smoke.
Picking up his great hammer, and summoning all his hate, Mardoch smote Amrahan’s smouldering body, like he was a piece of metal being beaten straight within the fires of a forge. A furious anger passed through Mardoch; a wroth undying at the insult of his craft and all the things he had made, by a woman and her son, and each stroke of his hammer was stronger and harder than the last, and he did not stop, not after a hundred strikes nor a thousand, countless and unforgiving; until even a few among his own troop murmured against the brutality; until all the tears of the golden city were spent, helplessly watching from the walls, their beloved prince be crushed; until even the sun grew tired of the grim spectacle, and hid its eye from the brow of the world, casting a sad, weeping dullness; until Amrahan’s body was beaten into ash, and his spirit, attempting to flee his decimated shell, was broken into dust; until Mardoch’s great fire had utterly rid him from existence, and robbed his soul of peace.
Only then did Mardoch’s hammer stop.
The golden city was flooded with Mardoch’s men. The people fled, but they did not get far before they fell and were hewn. Queen Ellaria was captured alive, bound in rope and brought before the Magician-Smith, who gloated and spoke in deep flaming tones.
“Oh queen, see now that no craft is greater than mine, even thy son, strongest and most powerful of all your creations, no longer walks amongst the living nor dead”.
“Is there naught that you look upon and not desire to change it?” Queen Ellaria challenged. “You cannot see or comprehend but your touch brings ruin, where before there had been much. If my heart was moved to sorrow by your actions, then I would gladly give you my pity. But alas, my heart now forever resides with my only son, covered in grief, who you have utterly destroyed in body and mind, so even his soul is shattered and lost. Even when I myself part from this world, I will never be with him again, so do to me what you will, I fear you less than most”.
At her response Mardoch laughed, and the sound was like a wave of fire, sweeping across dry grass, and his voice was like the burning and snapping of timber, “His folly made your grief complete, though you are stronger than even he was, and he would never know or understand it. See how he perished in battle so swiftly, and how all of the cities defenders flee like cowards. True strength and beauty elude all mortal men, but your soul, oh queen is harder than any man I have known. Yet greater still it could be, and greater yet it shall be, for now the golden city is mine, I shall move my forge here, and there I will place you, and harden your spirit with fire”.
And Queen Ellaria was led away while Mardoch took up his labour, and built his forge within the walls of the golden city. And leading the queen there he set her upon a raised dais, within a deep chamber beneath the city, and set about her body a ring of fire, which licked her pale flesh with white flickering tongues.
Ellaria felt the flame touch her, but it did not burn. It was like sand being poured over her skin, though it was not a pleasant sensation as it felt rough and harsh. However the true torment began when the fire touched her soul, winding around her spirit and binding itself to her, searing her every thought and consuming her mind. As Mardoch peered into the flames her soul was laid naked before him and he could see into her memories, her sorrows and grief, her joys and pleasures, her desires; here Mardoch delighted and exercised his craft, diminishing some memories to naught, creating false ones and changing her passions to be like his own. Her mind he played with, like a sculptor moulding clay.
Long she endured within the tormenting confines of Mardoch’s forge, and long did he meddle with her, and she resisted him even to his surprise. But that did not diminish his delight, for he revelled in the work he was doing, until she at last broke, and all strength of will fled her, and Mardoch’s sorcery had utterly changed all she had ever been.
And so the city was his, and Mardoch was content with his work and glad with himself. Exercising his will he bound three of his followers to him, three great leaders, who had come with him from across Argo, and betrayed the golden city by taking up arms against it. Here he put forth his sorcery, and bound his life to them, so that while they lived no harm could be done to the Magician-Smith, and by this great and powerful magic, he made himself near indestructible.
And about the golden city he set a girdle, that none could pass save himself and those he allowed. This invisible barrier allowed him to rebuild the golden city in his own image, unhindered and unchallenged by any external force that would oppose him, and Mardoch’s great skills of craft were exercised and slowly the golden city was forever changed by his will.
No longer was it a beacon, to be seen by the dismayed from afar to give them hope. No longer was it a haven for the hunted. No longer was it the jewel of all the realm of Argo, and that realm became a dangerous place to dwell in the many years that followed.
Within the golden halls of Makal, rebuilt in his own design, Mardoch took up his new abode with eager vigour, and the white fire of his forge was always burning bright, and always was he working, building and crafting, shaping everything he could and changing what he may. From the earth and its creatures, and all the works of mortal kind, to the essence of the human spirit did he meddle with, changing and tempering to the delight of his own will.
He worked long, and each new device was done better than the last, but it was not enough for him, because each new device could always be bettered, until this dominated his mind utterly. Falling into an endless cycle Mardoch laboured furiously, and always did he need more materials to work with, and he had a huge horde of metal ores, diamonds, rubies and pearls, and humans, for his more meticulous work.
The fires of Makal could be seen from afar, and while Mardoch perfected his craft, there was many within Argo who looked upon the golden city, clenched their fists and gritted their teeth, and desired greatly to put out his fire and end his wicked work.