Chapter 23: The Crystal Throne
Agamon’s spell released, punching through the air with a line of flame that enveloped the last of the mogrest, an insectoid the size of a man. The balefire bounced off the hulking creature’s round armored body but caught underneath it, cooking its skittering legs. Mantis-like arms flailed as the mogrest fell on its side and chittered in agony. The moment passed as quickly as it had come, his spell burning deep into its core and offering an end to the monster’s suffering.
“Is that the last of them?” a burly man named Gregor asked before breaking into a series of coughs. His hooked machete dripped with the grey blood of another mogrest lying dead at his feet. Much like the rest of the fortress, the room had been swarming with them. Agamon had left his soldiers to clear the main floor while his group dug deeper into the fortress alone.
“The last in our path,” Agamon replied, though he eyed the massive portcullis in the ceiling doubtfully. “It would seem the vermin have been allowed to infest the fortress unchecked for many years.”
Ciotl strolled to the center of the room and gazed up at the hole too. “This is man-made.”
“Manmade? No, certainly not,” Agamon said. “The first builders were not children of men. But they were deeply devoted to Xatalon, and I have no doubt they installed that chute for just the purpose it was used.”
Several other soldiers milled about the entrance way, still stunned from the abrupt battle they had been thrown into when the mogrest swarmed out of the chute. Gregor’s face screwed up. “Are you saying they actually wanted these things around?”
“Surely.” Agamon turned his attention to a set of wide double doors on the other side of the round lobby. “They created the mogrest to act as sentries—watch dogs, if you will—to guard Xatalon’s lair.”
“Disgusting.” Gregor rubbed his throat as he tried to clear it.
“Yes, I imagine you would think so.” Agamon rolled his eyes at Gregor’s crassness. The man had been insufferable for the last two days, ever since he caught a cold. Agamon knew Gregor harbored resentment that the warlock would not take the time to heal him, but he had more pressing matters to attend to than a bandit’s sore throat.
He kept his attention trained on the doors and ran his palms over their surface, admiring the quality of the craftsmanship. The wood was cold as ice, expertly shaped with water magic to produce an image of writhing serpents with screaming skulls. Such cameos were a lost art.
His fingers paused. “Ah, here it is,” he said, working them back to the left a few inches. “Amazing. To the naked eye there is nothing here, seamless. But to the expert touch…” He pressed the wood, and a star-shaped section of the door moved inward, a spring-loaded button.
Agamon stepped back as gears and bars slid in place behind the door. Dust fluttered from the hinges as the doors swung inward, revealing the chamber beyond. Agamon pressed the sleeve of his robe to his mouth, shrewdly watching the soldiers around him to see if any traps had been triggered releasing poison in that dust. None of them seemed to notice, their gawking oafish faces preoccupied with what lay beyond the doors. Once Agamon was satisfied there were no magical traps, he offered a nearby soldier the honor of entering first. The man gave his friends a smug look and strutted into the chamber.
Agamon saw the floor tile move before he heard the stone grinding, but it was already too late. He quickly stepped to the side, out of the open doorway, as a bladed pendulum swung down to split the soldier in two. His blood sprayed all over the entranceway where Agamon had been standing. Agamon moved back before the doorway and held up a hand.
“Ventu diablios!” he commanded. Air swirled up around the pendulum like the sticky tendril of a squid, locking onto the blade and holding it in place. A quartered section of the soldier still clung to it.
Agamon moved to step around the blade, but Ciotl grabbed his robes.
“Master, there may be more traps,” he protested.
Agamon glanced at the remains of the man he had sent in, riddled with shame. None of this showed on his face. “There would not have been a need. The builder’s main priority for traps would have been to alert the fortress to intruders’ presence. If this did not accomplish that task, I don’t know what would.”
Ciotl nodded and released his grip, however reluctantly. The four remaining soldiers piled in after them.
Tall columns ran on either side of the tattered runner leading to the steps at the back of the large hall. “This was Xatalon’s chamber,” Agamon said in awe and humility, his soft voice echoing in the shadowed rafters.
“Gregor, light,” Ciotl said.
Gregor grumbled, annoyed at taking orders from anyone other than Agamon. He complied all the same. It was no large secret that Ciotl was Agamon’s most favored disciple. Gregor pulled a torch sconce from one of the pillars and sniffed at it. “Might burn on its own,” he grunted.
Agamon was pleased by the torch light. He waited patiently as Gregor worked down the line, lighting the sconces on either side of the path. All the while, his eyes worked around the hall, wondering what it must have been like in Xatalon’s heyday, when men and women traveled from all around the world to bow before the god and beg for his blessings. This had once been the most powerful room in all of Malakar. He could feel a strength radiating from the back of the hall, at the top of the steps.
Agamon strolled down the path, taking care in his every step. He had been working for several years toward this goal, and now that it was in front of him, he meant to savor every second of it. There was no sense rushing in like some half-mad fool, eager for his prize. Xatalon would never have abided such behavior.
He stopped at the bottom of the dais at the end of the hall. “There it is,” he said with trembling lips. “The crystal throne.”
A black throne rested at the top of the steps. He could feel its power exuding into the room, electrified and dangerous. Its edges were smooth as porcelain and its surface ashen black, with clawed feet and high armrests. The throne was clearly constructed for a being of immense power and gigantic proportions. It was said that Xatalon was tall as an ogre.
Agamon knelt on one knee and bowed his head. “Great Master, I have arrived as you knew I must.”
The soldiers quickly followed suit, albeit not as gracefully as Agamon and Ciotl. Dust motes stirred around the base of throne, an icy breeze emanating from the seat like the exhale of an arctic sea.
Agamon turned up an ear, listening to that breeze for his Master’s blessing. Whispers tickled his mind, alien and obscene. Agamon shuddered in rapture. His moment was here; he was ready for the becoming. He stood and reached inside his robes.
“The crystal throne,” Ciotl wondered aloud. “Xatalon be praised, we’re actually here.”
“That’s really the seat of a god?” Gregor said.
“Correction,” Agamon said, with a finger raised in the air, “this is the tool with which Xatalon evolved into a god.” In his other hand he held a large obsidian egg, the Dracyl. He reached back into his robe with his free hand.
“Just looks like a chair to me,” Gregor grunted with thorough disappointment.
Agamon purposefully ignored him. “Ciotl, three years ago my eyes were opened for the first time. When King Necian forced me to go after the Dracyl, to unlock ancient powers that would turn Baskiva’s military on its head, he set in motion a chain of events that led me to stand here today, before the crystal throne. He fooled me then, made me believe that we were to face Baskiva’s horde of trogs, the enemy’s most seasoned warriors, which were raiding Malakar’s southern borders. I was a dupe then, blindly unleashing the Dracyl on those sites. But when I saw the devastation we wrought, all those scores of children and women, old and weak alike alongside the trogs, it was then that I understood Necian’s deception. I saw what he was truly after. We were not there to stop a border excursion. It was silver ore he was after, a push to seize Baskiva’s mines, and I fell for it key in hand.
“The worst part was afterward, when the wretch tried to pretend he had known nothing of the innocents there that day, citing bad intel. He tried to deny any knowledge of it, but he knew all along what he was sending us into. Why else would he have sent his goons after me, turning the Order against their own brother?”
“It was on the eve of escape that I first heard Xatalon’s call. I was a blind fool all those years, blindly following the Order of Sepasis’s credo. We were taught to fear Xatalon, to look on his actions as those of a tyrannical zealot who almost destroyed the kingdom.” Agamon shook his head in wonder. “That is what they willed us to believe, lest we see with unclouded eyes the truth. It is King Necian and the Malakar kingdom who are the true evil—monsters, the whole lot of them, who would take down any in their way all so they can fill their coffers. It will never be enough for them either, and so Xatalon has chosen me to end their reign. I alone can awaken the crystal throne and take down Necian.”
“Master,” Ciotl said, “how does the throne work?”
Agamon opened his mouth to respond, but his words were lost under another of Gregor’s coughing fits. He curled his lip disdainfully. “I shall show you, Ciotl, but first let me attend Gregor’s ailment.”
“About time,” Gregor grunted.
Agamon moved fast, slamming a dagger up to the hilt into Gregor’s throat. He could feel the man’s shock as surely as he felt the tip of the blade dig into Gregor’s neck bone. “Sorlbitium!” The word of power burst from his lips with frightening volume. A dark glow enveloped the Dracyl in his other hand. He could feel the ancient relic open to a starving vortex that drank Gregor’s essence. The power of it held the bandit in place, standing stiff and gurgling, unable to move as the Dracyl drank everything he had to offer.
“Awaken, crystal throne! I have brought you an offering!” Agamon shouted.
The throne stirred, like a living creature awakening from a long slumber. A crystalline eye opened at the center of its headrest, gazing gleefully at the Dracyl. A burst of light left the Dracyl, aimed squarely for the eye, which now pointed at Agamon. As the last ebbs of life-force were drained from Gregor, a new line of light left the crystal throne itself. Agamon felt the power of it blast into his being as it touched his forehead.
This was Xatalon’s gift, the power that would elevate him from his being, evolve him into a demigod, that he might return order to the world of Pog. It flooded every fiber of his being, tearing him apart from the inside. Agamon opened his mouth wider than it should have gone to scream, but the pain was so immense, so deliciously exquisite that he could not even draw breath into his lungs. He saw Xatalon in that blinding light, his godly form as infinite as the cosmos and beyond, gazing down at his herald in esteem.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Agamon found himself on the steps, gasping for breath on hands and knees. Ciotl held his shoulder for support. The visek was speaking to him, but he could not hear the words over the ringing in his ears. Agamon looked at the throne. The eye was closed once more. Where was the Dracyl? He had dropped it on the top step. He scooped it up and rose on wobbly legs.
The soldiers stood far back from the throne, terror written plainly on their faces. What was left of Gregor’s body lay broken in dusty pieces on the floor, like the withered husk of a mummy.
“Master?” Ciotl repeated. “Have you become?”
Agamon blinked at him. “Xatalon filled me with his power…” He had to stop for a minute, had to gather his thoughts. “This was the beginning, I see that now. Xatalon has given me his divine blessing. I will become, but it will take thousands of souls to do so.”
“As it did for he,” Ciotl said with understanding. His little head suddenly stiffened. “Master, your hand!”
Agamon looked at his hand. The skin was grey and mottled, tightly stretched as if it had aged twenty years. His mind reeled in horror and he instinctively felt his face. Relief washed over him. The skin there was the same as it had always been. The breeze lifted again near the base of the throne, but the whispers were stronger now, clearer in Agamon’s mind.
“What does it mean?” Ciotl asked.
“The crystal throne’s power is fueled by necrotic energy,” Agamon said, only now understanding. “To use it, I must absorb the very essence of necrotic magic.”
“Will you become a lich?”
Agamon’s face screwed up at the prospect. Would he have to trade his life and strength only to become some half-mad undead sorcerer? He could see a lesser mage taking such a route, a shortcut to power, but at his level, such a choice would turn him into a mere shadow of his former self. No. He would not believe that was what Xatalon wanted.
He shook his head and stared thoughtfully at the Dracyl. “If I’m going to feed off of the crystal throne, I’ll need to shield myself from the harmful effects of necrotic energy.”
“Can such a thing be done?”
“There is one such relic that I know of that possesses such a power. The Lunar Eye. Among its uses, the stone bestows protection from the orders of chaos, necrotic energy being chief in their hierarchy. With that in hand, I could begin the becoming.”
“But how will we find such a thing?”
A rueful smile stretched Agamon’s tight lips. “It just so happens I know the wizard who possesses it.”