The Magistocrats

Chapter Seven

Excerpt from The Philosophia Veneficus


It is easy to bedfuddle a man's senses: to throw a glamour and alter the impulses his brain recieves. In such a manner, a person can be convinced of a danger to be avoided, or a treasure to be sought.

Used subtly, this can be an effective form of mastery.

The whip, of course, is another, less sophisticated means of control. The Spengulating Scourge was once an effect of fearsome repute, as was Lugweiler's Dismal Itch. Tales likewise come to us from the time of the Great Mage Wars of subjugated wizards bound under Geas through the agency of a demon; they served the greater archmages as helots and proxies, their obedience rendered under pain of death.

Still, such control has its limitations.

Consider a man:

He imagines himself to be a point of fixity, occasionally exchanging an old thought or belief for a new one, but essentially coherent in form.

In this, he could not be more wrong. In truth, he is a mask.

What is a man but the idea he has of himself? His dreams and memories?

With a few logograms a man's entire history can be rewritten. Where once stood a insoucient vandal, now the manager of a bank. A thief can just as easily be made of a bishop, or a beggar of a king.

The thing behind the mask cares little for the outward role it plays. It can weep and laugh, love and hate all with equal faculty.

To cast a man's identity is a high form of mastery. But it is by no means the highest.

For there are higher things than a mind. This you must not doubt.

The Remarkable And Lovely Ninnivex

Von Bek carefully positioned one of the chairs on its back beneath the twitching novice and checked the knot he had tied on the window bar. Pocketing the immobility charm, he turned to leave.

BANG!

The door flew open. There was Ghulam Sassani, tall form framed in the doorway, eyes blazing. Von Bek froze. For a long moment, nobody moved.

Then the viceroy snapped his fingers.

The rope broke and Rudolf crashed to the ground. Sassani brushed past Von Bek and knelt beside the novice, gently easing the noose from his neck to reveal an angry welt. Rudolf gave a long, shuddering gasp.

“Well, Tristen, It seems your company is as dull as ever.” The viceroy said. “Young Valentine here was evidently keen to escape it.”

He turned to face the archmage, fire blazing in his eyes.

“Nevertheless, he shall live. Longer than you, I daresay. If you are going to make a habit of bribing state employees, you might consider increasing your sums. Five hundred rupees? Did you really expect to buy Narayn’s silence for so miserly a figure?” He gestured to where the guard stood in the doorway, wearing a stolid expression.

“Frankly, Your Excellency, I was insulted.” He said.

Von Bek’s hands hung uncertainly in the air for a moment as he looked between Sassani and the guard. He lowered them slowly and gave a stiff bow.

“Very well, Ghulam. I know when I'm beaten. I'll take my leave.”

“Will you, by Xristos?” The viceroy whispered, taking a step fowards.

“Ah, ah! Peace, Ghulam!” Von Bek urged, backing hastily towards the door. “Two of the emperor's most senior councillors fighting over an attempted suicide? His Majesty would hardly approve.”

Rudolf began to stir. He gave a low moan.

“Always the coward, Von Bek.” Sassani replied coldly, moving back to kneel by Rudolf's side. “Very well- you may go. But remember- Valentine is under my protection.”

Von Bek turned to leave, ignoring the guard’s curt nod as he passed.

Turning his attentions to the wheezing Rudolf, Sassani rendered a logogram and touched two fingers to the novice’s throat. Rudolf's breathing eased and he opened a bloodshot eye to see Sassani's concerned face hovering before him.

“That’s it, Valentine. Easy now, my boy- look at me. You’re in shock. In shock, but alive. Luckily for you I got here in time. Just lie still for now. Narayn- a cup of warm mead if you would?”

After a few minutes, Rudolf was able to slump into an armchair where he sat weakly sipping from the cup that was pressed into his hands. Sassani dismissed the guard and moved about the room laying wards of protection and counter-surveillance monitors. Then he took a seat and stared pensively out through the window bars.

After a few minutes of silence, Rudolf’s mind began to clear.

“Tristen Von Bek just tried to kill me.” He croaked.

Sassani turned slowly from the window, testing the weight of his thoughts.

“Yes, that was rather… unexpected. I had not thought that my enemies would target you so soon. It seems that in bringing you into my orbit, I've exposed you to their attentions. I should have foreseen it. My apologies.”

Rudolf's mind reeled with the enormity of it. Archmage Tristen Von Bek. One of the most distinguished figures of the magistocracy; the guiding hand of generations of tyro magistocrats. And that hand had just tried to throttle him. Why?

Von Bek’s words drifted back to him suddenly: the empire must be protected.

The words of a madman, surely. Rudolf thought back on the buttoned-down archmage of his years at the Akademia. Could a murderer have hidden behind that visage for so long?

He realised suddenly that the viceroy had been speaking.

“Pardon?”

“I said: you needn’t look so surprised. That is how the game is played at the top. No quarter asked for or given. And no allowances made for inexperience. So learn quickly.”

Rudolf eyed Sassani uncertainly.

“Attacks like this are frequent?”

“Well. We don’t try to kill each other every day- only when an opponent leaves an unguarded opportunity. But that is a rare occurrence. Normally our games are less overtly violent; schemes, pranks, maneouvering. We jostle amongst ourselves for position. Only occasionally does the jostling become fatal.”

Rudolf considered this for a moment, his brain still woolly.

“I suppose. But still- why would Von Bek target me to get to you?”

“Perhaps because he knows that I place value on your life, Valentine.” Sassani shot him a coy look. “I suspect it was merely an attempt to distract and dismay me. Although why your death should dismay me, Xristos alone knows.”

Rudolf found himself looking away.

“Thank you for saving my life.” He said awkwardly.

“Yes, well. We are lucky Narayn alerted me so quickly. But do not dwell overmuch on thoughts of gratitude. You shall repay me before long.”

Sassani examined Rudolf with amusement for a few seconds, then rose abruptly.

“Well then, young novice. It is clearly unwise to keep you here. I have rooms available for you at Raj Niwas, the viceregal palace on Andaman Island. A most comfortable arrangement, I assure you. But first, there is the matter of your Geas.”

Rudolf felt a jolt of apprehension. To take the Geas would mean total renunciation of his will - complete and utter obedience. He would be unable to refuse anything Sassani requested of him. He shuddered to think what the simpering mage might force him to do.

“My Lord, I was hoping-”

“That you could merely swear your allegiance to me? To work eagerly as my faithful servant and keep my counsel in all matters?” Sassani smiled. “I think not, Valentine. Just because I’ve taken a liking to you doesn’t mean that I trust you. No, quite the opposite even. I enjoy games as much as you do, and I am more than familiar with the foibles of a slippery mind. Besides,” He added, suddenly businesslike. “His Majesty has ordered that you be placed under Geas for the period of a year and a day. To stray from the sovereign’s edict would be most unwise. Luckily, I have all the necessary materials with me. No need to fret. It should be a painless process...”

Rising reluctantly to his feet, Rudolf was put to work.

The centre of the room was cleared of furniture. After taking note of various celestial conditions Sassani directed Rudolf in chalking out a series of interlocking pentagrams and circles on the flagstones.

“No Valentine, use the measure! The wards of binding must be spaced at right angles in relation to the central orbit. Place the summoning sigil seven more degrees widdershins. There! We must slave it to Arcturus’ position accurately, otherwise Ninnivex cannot be drawn from her pit. No smudging! The work must be exact or Ninnivex will be free to work mischief upon us. Demons are not known for their tolerance, especially when summoned against their will.”

Finally the work was done to Sassani’s satisfaction. Handing Rudolf an ornate dagger, the viceroy motioned him to stand by an ancillary glyph which was connected by lines to the main circle. Sassani himself took up position next to a similar symbol.

“We are almost ready to commence. Stay where you are until I tell you otherwise. And remember: do not enter the summoning circle under any circumstances!”

Rudolf's eyes flickered to the door. It was quite secure.

He nodded slowly, cold dread clawing at his insides.

Sassani smiled, raised a hand. With a flourish the first logogram was cast. He closed his eyes and began chanting a low invocation. The air in the cell immediately grew thick and trembling lines of force seemed to emanate from Sassani’s person. Sweat beading upon his forehead, the viceroy moved deliberately, striking a series of significant postures. Rudolf became aware of a sudden dissolving of barriers. He, Sassani, the invocation and the circle became indistinguishable as thought and matter phased together. He gritted his teeth as a series of logograms filled the space before them, each gesture of Sassani's adding to the structure of the invocation. The air pulsated and throbbed. A rising moan emanated from the circle, the lines of which seemed to burn with a blue flame. The very air shivered as the invocation reached its crescendo and, with a roaring explosion of flame, the demon burst into the circle.

Rudolf blinked a few times, willing his eyes to focus. The form within the circle was shrouded in smoke and flame; all that was visible through the haze was a dozen amber cats’ eyes gazing with interest at him.

“Noble and wise demiurge, what bidding have you for the remarkable and lovely Ninnivex?” A sultry voice addressed him.

Sassani wiped the sweat from his brow.

“Demon, it was I who summoned you! I require you to bind the novice you see before you-“

“Hold your tongue before I loose a flight of deranged barn owls upon you!” The demon interrupted haughtily. “I was addressing your fabulously handsome master! Now, ferocious and most delicious lord, what service did you have in mind for nimble Ninnivex? Perhaps you wish to see your enemies roasted in the depths of a sloar? Or maybe you desire a memorial to your greatness- a marble colossus towering over the capitol? Perchance it is my own delicate favours you wish to negotiate? You need only ask, courageous heart!” Several of the eyes winked and a beckoning tendril extended from the smog.

Rudolf felt a sudden absurd desire to enter the circle, from which he quickly checked himself.

Sassani made an examination of the summoning pattern before assuring himself that there was no danger.

“Ninnivex, cease this ridiculousness at once! It is I, High Archmage Ghulam Sassani who has summoned you and I command you to heed me!”

“Ludicrous androgyne!” Ninnivex retorted. “You think to command me? Your credentials are as petty as any I have encountered through the millenia! Consider the Arch-Druids of Hibernia, the Thaumaturgists of Babylon and the Bavarian Illuminati! All thought to sit astride the universe, and yet all were ground beneath the wheel of time, their tombs and monuments pulverised to dust. Only Ninnivex, sweet, supple Ninnivex endures! As once I remarked to Alexander: look upon my works, you naughty boy, and despair!”

The viceroy raised a hand, the first logogram of an admonitory hex glowing at his fingertips.

“On second inspection, I see that your credentials are quite in order.” Ninnivex said hurriedly. “What services do you request of me?”

The logogram faded away.

“I require you to bind Novice Valentine to me under Geas for the customary period of a year and a day. As payment, I offer a phial of tears shed for unrequited love.”

“Hmm, yes, the operation is familiar to me…” Ninnivex reflected. “Your payment seems miserly, however. The bittersweet emotions of a neckbeard? A demoness cannot sustain herself on such fare. I would rather partake of sweeter fruits.”

Rudolf felt himself flush as the demon eyed him coquettishly.

“Do not be greedy, Ninnivex!” Sassani snapped. “The payment I offer is more than enough. And since I shall not release you until you accept my terms, you had may as well save yourself some time.”

The demon gave a disgusted snort.

“You have upset me and I do not care to bandy further words. You may render the payment!”

Sassani took a phial from a pocket and tossed it into the circle where it shattered. A gout of chromatic vapours intermingled with the haze and the demon issued groans of appreciation.

“Ah, the sweet agony! The jealous ardour! The masturbatory fulsomeness! Your payment is good! Rudolf, my sweet, render forth a drop of blood onto your glyph.”

After a moment of final hesitation, Rudolf pricked his index finger. A drop of blood fell onto the glyph where it hissed and steamed. Sassani repeated the operation on his own glyph and the demon pronounced her satisfaction.

“Rudolf Valentine, I bind you! You must henceforth obey any command given you by Ghulam Sassani for the period of a year and a day. Any attempt to resist the Geas will cause your interior parts to writhe and haemorrhage unto death. As I have spoken, so it shall be. And now, ‘High Archmage’, do you grant me leave to depart?”

“Only on the condition that you make no retribution upon my person, interests or activities, now or at any time, for insults or wrongs you think to have suffered at my hands.”

“Paranoid charlatan!” The demon retorted. “I would find little sport with you anyway. You are as rigid and uninspiring as a tax collector! I accept your terms. And now I depart! Remember me fondly, sweet Valentine, and do not hesitate to summon me should you ever lust for the uncanny. Farewell!”

The smog lifted from the ground. It shrank to a seething bundle of colours before disappearing with a wet kissing sound.

The air in the chamber seemed to clear suddenly and Sassani motioned to Rudolf to step away from the glyph. The ceremony was over and Rudolf was now bound to the Geas. He searched his mind for any sign of change, however he felt exactly as before. Perhaps Ninnivex had spared him the binding? He looked up to see Sassani eyeing him carefully, no doubt wondering the same thing. The viceroy scoured the summoning circle from the floor with a flourish then turned back to Rudolf with a weary expression.

“We depart for Raj Niwas shortly. Firstly, however, I am afraid I must place some compunctions upon you. Do not protest! That activity holds danger for you now. I admire you Rudolf, and I would not wish to be unfeeling in my use of you. However, I must take steps to protect myself. I therefore command you as follows: firstly, never lie to me, and secondly, never reveal details of anything that happens at Raj Niwas to outsiders. That is all I ask, and I do so to guarantee both our safeties. Serve me faithfully, and I promise that your star shall rise. I need not outline the alternative.” He gave Rudolf a significant glance before adding with sudden brightness: “Well then! The teleport chamber awaits. Let us be away!”

Sassani’s words lay heavily upon Rudolf, even as he rejoiced to be leaving the cell. He felt them settle onto his mind with a seemingly indelible quality and even the thought of disobedience sent a sharp pain jolting through his innards. The Geas had been successful.

“Yes, My Lord.” He nodded glumly.

He was Sassani’s creature now.

Christopher Moiser