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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Brothers' War - Chapter 1

The brothers are introduced to artifice.

PART 1 - A Study in Forces (10 AR - 20 AR)
Chapter 1 - Tocasia

Tocasia sits at her large, ornate table which looks out of place amongst the simple furnishings in the tent at her dig site. Prenregon nobles often send their children to the archaeologist to work for her for a a season to keep them occupied and hopefully gain some worthwhile experience and maturity, and the table was given to her as a thank-you.

Among the maps and scrolls on the tabletop is an object of blueish metal of particular interest.

It looked like a parody of a human skull, with a batlike face, and cold, impassive eyes of colored crystal set in the unfamiliar blue-tinted metal. The metal itself seemed as ductile and soft as copper, but bending it only caused it to reform slowly into its original shape. A set of Thran glyphs ran along the underside of the skull, which Tocasia had translated roughly as su-chi . Whether this was the name of the creature, its owner, or its manufacturer was a mystery to her.

The skull's lupine lower jaw jutted forward, ending in a handful of fangs. The top of the skull had been peeled away to reveal a tangle of blue metal cables. Set among them was a single large gemstone, the shade of old glass, worn beyond age, and marred by a longitudinal crack along its top.

It would likely forever remain a mystery even if her Fallaji diggers could find the rest of the body. A cracked gemstone won't provide any power.

Tocasia's best student, Loran, arrives at the tent entrance to let her know that the expected caravan has appeared. She's one of the few students that actually returns season after season despite her parents' misgivings. There is a desire to pursue knowledge within her which contrasts with most students that are often quite satisfied simply supervising the diggers or manning their defensive grapeshot catapults before returning home for good.

Bly lead the caravan, and his familiar temperament made it no surprise that by the time she gets close enough to greet him there is a ring of students and teamsters watching some kind of scene going on. He's berating two boys.

One was dark-haired and stocky, and flinched every time Bly bellowed. He was half-hiding behind the other, a lean, tawny-haired boy who stood bolt-upright, taking the full  blunt of the wagon master's thunder.

Bly calls out accusations of being cheated. That the boys agreed to pay for their trip by working for him. He claims that the journey isn't over until they get back to Penregon, which of course only leads one of the boys to yelling back how ridiculous that sounds because they would be back where they started and would need to find another way to reach this dig site. When Tocasia interrupts, the boy introduces himself and his brother and presents a letter to her that Bly clearly never knew about. Without a letter of introduction she would likely have refused them, which Bly clearly knew. And this particular letter is from someone she's quite familiar with, someone who all but saved her life long ago and, it turns out, is their father.

Tocasia tells Bly that she will not allow the boys to be held to such an unjust agreement. He'll be making quite a lot of profit by selling the finds she's willing to trade him so he better just leave it at that.

When she asks about their father, the news isn't so good.

Bly stammered for a moment, then said, "He's not well at all. Remarried recently - a Virago, a real vixen from a good family with her own children. He was taken seriously ill about a month before we left Penregon. He might be dead by this time."

(I think we all know what that means.)

Loran had taken the boys to settle in while the conversation was going on, but she comes running back already reporting a fight. The boys already need a talking to and are taken to her tent. They tell her what happened and she tells them that the boy, Richlau, is always rude so they learn to deal with it and that their father has entrusted them into her care. She learns that Urza is the elder brother, being born on the first day of the year, while Mishra was born on the last. Mishra takes particular pride in the fact that for one day each year they're the same age. They're equal.

Tocasia then explains that what she does is dig for artifacts and knowledge about the ancient Thran civilization. She's impressed when Mishra asks if she means artifacts like the onulets , what he calls the big-white ox things. They're creatures she's designed herself from the knowledge gained by studying the Thran artifacts, which they use as beasts of burden whose fluids can be brewed into a beverage that they often trade to the desert tribesmen when the artifacts finally break down. Most people assume they're living creatures because they're usually covered in animal hides. When prompted to explain how he knew, he can't express himself, so then Urza steps in and explains that its gait pitches forward too much for it to have been a living creature.

Tocasia goes on to explain that the identity of the Thran is unknown. Most people assume they're also human, but where is the proof? All stories about them lack any specifics, and in fact she's heard from the leader of her Fallaji diggers, Ahmahl, that the Thran are talked about as powerful gods that brought his people to this world. For all they know the Thran could be minotaurs, elves, dwarves, or even be creatures that resemble the metal skull on her desk.

Mishra takes mention of the skull as permission to examine it and he quickly snatches it up into his hands before she knows it. Immediately Urza begins scolding him for touching something that is potentially dangerous or fragile. They bicker and pull on the rare artifact until she slams her hands on the table top. She tells them that since they have so much energy they'll be assigned to the kitchens for their first month, working alongside Richlau. If they can't handle it they'll be sent back with Bly.

After they leave Tocasia reflects on the two brothers. Despite their close age, they're so different, with Urza being the over-protective older brother while Mishra clearly takes risks knowing his brother is there for him. When she examines the skull for any damage the two boys may have caused, she's instead caught off guard when she finds that the crack in the powerstone is gone. Somehow their struggle has fixed it and it once again it glows with power.

* * *

The Brothers

Here is our first introduction to the brothers Urza and Mishra. From both the title of the book and the prologue we know where this is all heading. This book isn't about wondering about the outcome, but about witnessing how they get there. Having them start their story with their introduction to their artificer teacher is great.

What's even better is the backstory of why they needed to come here. The story of the young, ambitious/greedy wife who wants all her new riches to go towards her own kids is quite a familiar one. Did he marry out of necessity or need? Did he send his sons away once he caught on and knew it was too late or did she somehow corrupt him into convincing him it was a good idea?

It doesn't really matter.

We don't have to be told the specifics. All we need is a familiar backstory that forces them to rely on each other, depend on each other, and then eventually watch how events drive them apart.

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