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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 19

It all comes crashing down.

Chapter 19 - The Lord High Mage

The Dark was a time filled with madmen, both in the church and among the mages. Yet in a mad world, is not accepting the madness they only reasonable solution?

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

In the flaming wreckage of the dining hall, Delphine comes face to face with a man she recognizes from the large painting she saw elsewhere in the castle, a man she knows to be the ruler of this vile wizards' nest. She has no idea where the original pair of mages she came seeking are, but by the sheer number of mages that have been killed this day, there is none within the Church that can dare say she failed. The Lord Guardian will be proud.

Lord Mairsil recognizes her right away as well. Recognizes her as the cause of all the destruction around them. This is all her fault and she must pay. However, his spells dissolve into nothing as they crash into her protective wards and she declares that she is blessed by Tal and his evils magics can do no harm to her. His ways are the ways of evil and Tal has sent her to be the end of magic.

The more she speaks, the more Lord Mairsil realizes that she truly believes her protection comes from a heavenly source and is ignorant of the fact that her spells are based in white and she is a mage herself. As he continues his assault, he reveals the truth to her, he tells her straight out. He offers proof by asking pointed questions about what she thinks about before each of her prayers, if they're memories she's recalling, perhaps of temple or a shrine where she learned to summon each of her miracles.

Delphine denies his truths and tells him that evil seeks to foster doubt within herself, but her faith remains strong. Lord Mairsil raises his own defenses against her holy light, and offers that as more proof that both what they do is magic in nature, and not the act of any god.

Delphine calls forth her sword of fire and charges, and Lord Mairsil parries it with his wand . Then it is Mairsil's turn to be on the offensive. He attacks her with both wand and words, striking her with a heavy blow to the ribs and anywhere he can land a blow, while at the same time teaching her about the nature of mana. The nature of magic. He tells her that the wand is draining her of her power, and his assault wears her down. The glow of her sword dims more and more and he tells her that her power has to come from her belief, but she can't come to believe in magic all the while believing his words more and more despite herself.

But the time for play is over. Lord Mairsil swings the wand one last time. She parries it with her sword, but it is only a distraction for the dagger in his other hand that he drives into her chest.

Mairsil kicked the body. "You hate wizards. you never asked why I hate the church. I'll tell you: You're narrow minded and you're dogmatic. And worst of all, you're amateurs."

He looked down at her fallen form, the blood forming a wide pool around her. "And may the Dark Lands damn me, you'll be the death of us all."

And at that moment the earth shook beneath Mairsil's feet, and the lights went out.

...Down below...

Jodah and Sima run up the stairs and finally make it back out into the castle proper, and immediately Jodah notices how dark it is. There are always lights on in the castle, or were... but now Lord Ith is free.

What are they going to do with him? Neither Jodah nor Sima have a clue. All they have to guide them are the Rag Man's last words.

"What did the Rag Man mean, Save him?"

Jodah shrugged, "Save him from Mairsil? Save him from the church?"

"Or save him from himself," said Sima.

If they're to follow the Rag Man's final wishes, they have to find Lord Ith first. It's clear that Lord Ith wants to settle things with Mairsil, so Jodah's best guess is that he'll seek to confront him in Mairsil's study.

But before they can get there, Barl steps around the corner. Jodah lets Friend Barl know that Lord Ith has been freed.

(Wait... why did he tell him that?)

Barl questions who could possibly have done that. Possibly spies that were sent by the City of Shadows who have been planning it all along? Spies sent to destroy everything that the Conclave stood for so the City of Shadows would have no more rival to being the most powerful group of assembled mages?

Jodah denies any malicious intent, and Sima throws it back in his face that he never even gave her a chance.

(A chance for what? She did come to the Conclave with a strong bias against the Conclave and arrived under false pretenses. Sure she wasn't planning on destroying the Conclave, but it's not like she arrived willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Barl raises his crossbow, and Sima tells Jodah to run. She'll handle this. Jodah tries to protest, but she insists.

After Jodah leaves, Barl says that was a bad move. Sima quickly disenchants his crossbow before he can pull the trigger, and she tells him that she hopes he had a backup plan.

...At the dining room...

A flicking of lights comes from the dining room, and Jodah wonders if someone has gotten the lights back on. Instead Jodah enters to find Lord Mairsil standing above the burning body of some woman. The Pretender sees him and comments about how amazing how much warmth can come from one body, in the same friendly tone he always has.

Jodah gets straight to the point and tries to tell him that Lord Ith is free, but Mairsil knows what he's going to say before he even finishes. Ith's rampage through the castle has been hard to miss.

"And you had a hand in this, I assume?" said Mairsil.

Jodah said only, "He was being driven mad."

"He was always mad," said Mairsil firmly. "Mad from the start. Mad to come here in the first place. I just put his madness, and his power, to good use." He rubbed his hands again. "But that's all over now, isn't it?"

Lord Mairsil asks if it was the Church itself that sent him, but he knows Jodah speaks the truth when he denies it. He does ad without prompting of any sort on their part that the Church has failed in its mission. Sure some weak mages have died, but mages as a whole will live on.

Jodah said, "You built all this place with Ith's power. You took his magic from it and used it for yourself."

Mairsil looked at him and shook his head sagely. "Is that why you freed him? Because I was unfair to him for fifteen-odd years? What would that be if he just gave me what I wanted, and I became immortal? And what is it to you? Why throw away such a promising career over a madman?"

Jodah reminds him that Lord Mairsil also tried to get him to kill Sima, to which he replies that was simply a result of a clerical error. And he attributes any plot to kill Jodah as rumor. But Jodah quotes Mairsil's very own words about being willing to sacrifice him to the lords of the Dark Lands and Mairsil knows there is no winning this confrontation through words and winning Jodah back to his side.

But just as Mairsil takes his first step toward the young mage, the ground heaves beneath both of their feet. The far wall smokes, then cracks, then flakes away and a figure steps through.

Lord Ith has arrived.

Jodah immediately takes his mirror in hand, ready to defend himself against any stray magic that arises from the battle from between the two.

Where there was fear moments before, Mairsil instantly exudes joy and elation and he tells Lord Ith how amazed he is to learn that he's alive. He tells him that he only just recently discovered that Barl was working for the Church and that he's been caged and placed under a barrage of illusion spells to keep him mad and confused.

Lord Ith attacks, only to find his spells fail. Mairsil reminds him that the first rule of magery, that he himself taught to his former pupil, is to always protect yourself from your betters. Mairsil deflects Lord Ith's attacks and continues on about what he believes to be the truth is only in his head.

Before Mairsil's words can fully get Lord Ith to believe the false reality that his words are weaving, Jodah calls him out to be the liar that he is. That only forces Mairsil to declare that it was Jodah that imprisoned him and is working for the Church.

Jodah raises his mirror before him in defense, and the bolt of fire bounces off and snakes its way around the room seeking a new target. It strikes the Pretender and goes up in flames. Mairsil was only protected by attacks coming from Lord Ith, but the process of reflecting off the mirror made it Jodah's attack instead, and Mairsil running out the room, screaming. Burning.

Ith's anger is greater than ever before. He grows larger with every step he takes towards Jodah, as the power that was taken returns to him. Jodah clutches onto the mirror as his only defense and aims it directly at the insane mage, knowing that the best he can hope for is to reflect his attacks directly back at Lord Ith himself.

Ith towered over him, arcs of magical energy dancing over his flesh. He was massive as well, swollen on his own power, power that he had been drawing back into himself, draining from the Citadel and its protective wards.

Jodah stood his ground.

Ith looked down at him, down at the young man clutching the mirror. Slowly, recognition dawned in the yellowish eyes, and they began to dim, just a fraction. Then a fraction more, and Jodah realized that Ith was not staring at him. He was staring into the mirror.

"Look at it," Jodah said, almost in a whisper. "Look at what you have become. Look at what they have made you."

After a long moment, Jodah realizes what is nearly a sob is coming from the mage, and the immeasurable power radiating from him slowly fades, and Lord Ith becomes human once more.

Jodah asks Lord Ith if he's alright, and Lord Ith tells him no. But he will be. And he has much to do.

Somewhere off in the distance, a tower or wall comes falling down, and Jodah suggests that it might not be the best idea to stay standing where they are. Ith tells him to go. He tells him that he's thankful for Jodah has done for him and he wouldn't want any harm to come to him. Jodah tries to convince him to leave as well, but Lord Ith magically compels him to turn and run. Soon enough Sima is running by his side, similarly compelled. They run out the non-existent main gate, and through the unfinished maze . There's a large explosion behind them and Jodah is thrown off his feet.

One moment he's in the air. The next, everything is black.

* * *

Delphine vs Mairsil

Oh. Hmm... look at that. I suppose it makes sense, but I wasn't actually expecting Delphine to die. I was expecting her to understand the truth that she, herself, is a mage, and that would be the key even that leads to the downfall of the Church of Tal as spoken about by Arkol. But it's easy to understand that Mairsil wouldn't allow someone to live who's brought about the destruction of all that was his, especially a priestess of the Church.

My only issue with this fight is that it ends so similarly to the Jodah vs Yotian Soldier and Jodah vs Sima battles. They all end with "Distraction... then strike!" The only differences are that was one "sword then magic," another "white magic then red magic," and the third was "magic then dagger." The circumstances around each fight were different, but the climax could have used more variety.

Sima vs Barl

Short and sweet. That's how a battle between a mage and non-mage would go. Barl should have known better than to do any talking. He's not Delphine, he's lived with mages and knows what they can do. He should have known better and should have acted before she could cast anything.

Ith vs Mairsil (vs Jodah)

Oh wow is Lord Ith incredibly powerful. Despite how much power we've seen Mairsil wield, if not for his specialized defenses against his former teacher, he's just a speck of sand on a beach when compared to Lord Ith. A severely depleted and barely just begun recovering Lord Ith. No wonder he's been afraid of him all these years, and no wonder he hasn't been used up yet.

While this did not have the distraction/strike format, this did have an issue of it's own.

Jodah knew at once what had happened. Mairsil was protected against It's attacks, as he had said, but not Jodah's, and the attack had come ultimately from Jodah's mirror.

The mechanics of what happens didn't bother me, rather the way it was written sounds too mechanical. It's too spot on, and I feel it could have been integrated better to feel more natural rather than it sounding like we're hitting pause to learn a brief lesson. If the key to the battle has to be explained straight out like this, that means Grubb didn't do a good enough job laying out the pieces for us to assemble (and don't forget that this book specifically is all about teaching the reader about the nature of magic).

The ideal is to have the "solution" to the battle be surprising yet just "click" as soon as the reader reads what happened. The book should have worked perfectly fine with that paragraph taken out.


Another possibility is to have the hero confused, and then later have to seek out the answer from someone more knowledgeable after the battle is over. Instead here we're just taught by the narrator, and it just feels a tad forced.

One More To Go!

Will the gate to Phyrexia be brought up again? What was the deal with Mairsil's ruby ring? We've heard so much about it. Just gotta read on and find out.

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