Choose Your Own Adventure 134: Symmetry Breaking
The main consensus from last time was to dump the Emperor over the edge, and have done… whatever may happen. Hello, grand finale!
Dleshan Kaev’s death approaches him from behind.
He is confused enough that he doesn’t even notice you. He stands only long enough for you to knock him down again, and drag his struggling form over the edge. You wait a few minutes, to hear the sound as he lands. You can’t see into the canyon; even now, the mist is too thick.
You wait a solid thirty seconds before you turn around and leave. You can feel the mist worming its way into your brain, so it’s time to go. You can’t remember what you ate for breakfast, so you must be too close to the edge.
As you start to pace away, and vaguely plan a return to Alederick, you suddenly feel a hot wind at your back, blowing from the canyon. You turn… and remember.
The memory burns.
It was the earliest part of spring, or the latest part of winter. You sit before a warm hearth in a home not your own, holding a scalding cup filled with spiced milk. Now is the time for warmth and alertness, not alcohol.
Danika Tarresh. That is the name of the middle-aged woman sitting in the seat opposite you. Her white-streaked hair hangs to her shoulders, framing the pain and fear in her face. The name of the woman who vanished from the Mages Academy.
“Of course I did as he asked,” she said softly, staring into her mug. “He was the Emperor. What was I supposed to do?”
“It’s all right,” you replied, months ago. “Can it be undone?”
“I don’t know. The spell itself is so complex, I took a sabbatical to study it, and I still don’t understand it in entirety… but the casting of the spell itself is not yet complete. It requires a second person to take part, and to be sacrificed.”
You drink part of the beverage your host gave you. “And then what happens?”
“Oblivion.” She shakes her head. “I think it will unleash a disaster on a scale the Empire has never before seen. I’m a specialist in complex spellcasting, but this is bigger than anything else I’ve seen. And I’m including the crystal towers in that list.”
You whistle softly. “More than enough to take out a city?”
“Definitely. Even though there are no large cities in the area near the canyon the spell references.” She put her mug aside. It was still nearly full. She looked up, and met your eyes. “The only way I currently know to remove the spell from someone, once it has been applied, is to kill them.”
You took a deep breath. “I swore an oath, to protect the Empire and the Emperor.” Somehow, you found out that she was involved with the spellbook. And together, in a comfortable living room, you quietly discussed treason.
The look on your face made the slender mage lean back. “You’re going to have to choose. I don’t think you can do both.”
“I know I approached you about this, but… this is more than I expected. I’ll let you know.”
“Don’t take too long. Kaev has told me he’s looking for a volunteer for the second half of the spell. He’s going to ask me to finish it soon, and I… don’t want to have to face that.” Your memory tells you nothing of her fate. Did she flee, when the Emperor acted and everything changed? Or was she caught, and quietly executed for refusing the Emperor?
You went home. You took precautions. Locks and spells on every entry. An alarm, audible only in your bedroom, in the case that someone entered your domicile without your permission. The small apartment you kept, as a senior officer not stationed at the palace, was tidy. Easy to guard, to fortify, to protect against intrusion.
You took the rare step of pouring yourself a glass of liquor you kept for unusual occasions. You sat in the hard chair you kept in the small kitchen, and raised the glass. “To the Emperor, with my apologies,” you said to no one in particular.
A second glass followed, but no more. You would need your wits, your strength, for when you began planning in earnest, and in carrying out what needed to be done.
You slept too heavily. The sound of the alarm barely roused you. Your motion was sluggish, and your resistance against your attackers, hidden by darkness, was ineffectual. Drugs. They must have drugged the consumables in my kitchen, and waited.
The only way someone could have done that was if they had known beforehand that you would not be at home… if they had known… it was a setup… betrayed…
When you return to yourself, you are still standing near the edge of the cliff over the canyon. The mist is gone.
The canyon itself seems to have sheared apart, wider than before. The water you expect must have run its course through its depths is also gone. Instead, the canyon is nearly full with lava, the thick glowing ooze moving at a reasonable clip downhill. Towards where the capital is.
Was. Was. A moment of thought and a few spoken words are enough to let you see. The air shimmers before you, a finer scrying than you would previously have attempted. Alederik is a ruin of collapsed and burning buildings. Lava pours forth from a rent in the earth. Steam billows around the river banks.
You wave away the vision of destruction. Then you look at your hand. And the rest of your skin. The marks that were written on you by a dead mage are no longer glowing. They are a black the color of midnight, and almost seem to have been branded onto your skin. However, you do not appear to be injured.
The lack of injury is even more impressive when you realize that the forested area near the canyon is burning. Bits of lava must have ignited it. A small patch of weeds near your feet is untouched.
Somehow, you know that whatever power was held by whatever being was trapped in the canyon has been transferred to you. And that power is the utter, absolute, and complete knowledge of magic. Whereas before you had limited yourself to particular applications, and never used the lengthier spells, you know them all. A test of a spell to produce a bridge over the running lava… with the lava… and then cooling it into place, is enough to confirm your technique is flawless as well. The spells worked by the markings on your skin makes you nearly invulnerable… you can walk safely on the molten lava itself.
Another spell is enough for you to see what is left of the country you knew. Much of the lowlands is slowly being covered by molten rock. In a way, the destruction has made a clean slate of the Empire. You have power enough to rewrite it as you desire. Perhaps you will be able to use that power to build a better Empire, rather than being corrupted by it. Perhaps.
It is an ancient power, contained rather than destroyed… because even attempting to destroy it would unleash utter destruction. Oblivion. And its power could not be destroyed, but drawn into a new abomination.
And that abomination is you.
And that’s all she wrote. Congratulations, Severel is now approaching demigod levels of power… and the Empire lies in nicely smouldering ruins.
If you’d like an idea about what would have happened if you’d taken the other choices at the end:
Dying yourself would have let the Emperor have all the uber awesome power, and still destroyed the Empire. Killing him before dropping him into the canyon would have prevented the big spell from triggering, leaving you free to start a new life in the Empire and rescue Lehhev (again). The Emperor’s recently born child would have been named Empress after reports of his death were confirmed. Dragging him back to the capital would have been politically interesting. The oblivion spell would have been removed from you both, and the Emperor would have been executed later on. You would have been banished.
Finally, I don’t have an idea at the moment for another choose-you-own-adventure sequence (although I’m open to suggestions). However, I’m likely to post bits of stories I’m plotting, or the occasional complete short stories that I haven’t been able to publish elsewhere.