I want you to accept that what I’m about to say is sincere. I know you have heard other accounts of the Tempest, and I know what I’m about to say differs from those. In the past people who have heard this story have called me a liar, or have said that my injuries caused me to misrecall what I saw. I can’t prove that they are wrong. I know what I’m about to say lies counter to some cherished beliefs. I ask again that you accept that I truly believe this is what I saw.
Two days before the Tempest, the leaders of the various factions in allied armies met at Heartfoam to plan the assault. I wasn’t a leader, but I was present as an assistant to my pater and to the Primus. In other houses providing bodily services for older magi, like fetching food and drink, is considered demeaning, so everyone else was served by redcaps. I was the youngest magician there by a couple of decades.
Our Primus could have prevented the disaster, but he was not alone in thinking that a strike against the Diedne was the only sound course. Their argument sounds a cogent one. The Diedne were able to call up demons. Therefore the more time they were given, the larger their army would grow. As a matter of urgency, all forces which could be quickly gathered should be thrown against the centre of the enemy force, to disperse it, and prevent the casting of the great rituals which could call up demonic princes. There was some question as to if their rituals required certain unholy days, and the necessity of bringing them to battle before certain pagan or infernal festivals.
Many of the archmagi present held primitive views concerning the practicalities of war, and had so much prestige that it blinded those nearby. Consider the Flambeau archmagi present. Some were great heroes of the Corruption, and many saw the Schism as just the Corruption repeated and enlarged. Consider though, the nature of that war. The Infernal Tytalus were, at their core, still Tytalus: indeed it was their pride that had caused their fall. The battles of the Corruption were individual affairs, where a great Flambeau champion could stand and smite the pomps of a dark wizard. It was a war of individual skill, until the end, when sieges began and the glamor wore off.
People don’t pay enough attention to the sieges. The bards of the order do not sing of Mendelaus the Beseiger, who held the Tytalus pinned in their hovel for season after cold season, while our side found a way to crack their defenses. No, they sing of the Flambeau who turned up at the end, to do the actual killing, or at least to stand nearby looking impressive while Tremere magi ground the demonic hordes down with less flashy, but far more effective, magic items. These were the people planning the Tempest: people who really thought that the Diedne were going to fight them in a courtly way.
I didn’t say anything during the meeting. Well, nothing of consequence. “Do you take your wolfberry tea with milk?” was about as high in the pecking order as my comments made it. I know at the time I found their ideas convincing. The attacking side has all the advantages in war. You get to choose the timing of the battle, and you can strike at any point in the enemy’s territory. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking “That’s just stupid.” I agree now. I’d like to point out to you, though, that the finest Roman generals advised people to attack and attack and then attack, and it had worked well during the Corruption, so we found it terribly and fatally convincing when planning the assault on he Diedne.
The plan was set. We’d march to their fortress, and cast the biggest ritual we could, to just incinerate everything. Imagine the Battle of the False Sun. That was the plan. After all, it had worked on Davenllous. Why wouldn’t it work on a huge house of Hermetic Magi, with the Parma and an army of demonic shocktroops?
Before the meeting was over, there was a respite for a meal. Toxophilus took me aside.
“My son.”, he said “I want you to know that I stopped being ashamed of you a long time ago.”
“That’s good to know, pater.” I replied. I knew he was saying this because he was concerned one of us might die on the morrow.
“I always though I’d damaged your Gift. Impoverished you as a magus.”
“Yes. I know. It doesn’t matter.” I answered. I was surprised we were discussing it, but my older siblings were a necromancer, a healer and a vexillator. They were kind to me, but I always had the sensation they were a little too kind. I was the broken sibling. The crippled one. It was good that I’d found a way to be useful, but I was always going to be the result of a mistake. I think that’s why Achlys and I got on so well. She treated me as something durable.
“It does, though. I want you to know I was mistaken. One days your brother will be a great commander of the legions of the fallen, and your sister a politician of rare skill, but for now, neither excels me in the Art. You, however, you are something I’d never have considered. You are a tool that the Primus has, unlooked for, to hand. A credit to me, that I did not truly earn. Your sister the healer is a result of this. Before teaching you, I would have taught someone of her talents corporeal necromancy. Now, she supports our mortal allies.”
“Well, I’m pleased to know that.”
“You do not take my meaning?”
“By your question, no.”
“You are more powerful than me in your field of choice.”
“Yes, I’m aware.”
“Perhaps you might like to test that publicly, before the battle tomorrow? The Primus is here.”
“He’d never allow a duel now.”
“To the first fall? He would.”
“Very well. Thank you for your…candour? pater.”
“Thank you, my boy. It would give me no little satisfaction to see one of my students acclaimed before what might occur tomorrow.”
After dinner was over, I walked to my master, where he dined with the senior Mycentians and I said:
“Begging the leave of all present, and to the first fall, I challenge Toxophilius, for the right of my sigil.”
The Primus began to interrupt, and Toxophilus put a hand on his shoulder and said “Pray no. Let us test our power. We will not be too weary for battle with a slight show of strength. Are you sure my son?”
“I am adamant, pater.”
“Then let us to terms. A single blow, and given the exigencies of War, no vis on either side?”
“I accept.” I paused. “Creo?” I asked. He did not veto.
“Mentem?” he responded, and I demurred. “Then Imagenem” he finished. I had been expecting Corpus, as had everyone else in the room. Those skilled in duelling knew that that meant that Toxophilus was happy for me to win. He wouldn’t throw the match to me: he’d fight hard enough that my graduation would be considered sound, but he’d deliberately picked one of my tines. He could always claim that he wanted to crush me in my own bailiwick: some duellists did that to humiliate their challengers. I nodded.
My brother, who had been preparing to challenge me if I won, relaxed. He did not gain his sigil for another twelve years, but he was decades more powerful than me. Like most Rego Mentem specialists, duelling him was a horrifying experience. I was pleased not to have to face him. He and I did duel together, after the War, so I could train him.
Certamen is a battle not of illusions, but of the substance of the spirit, made external by the ritual of battle. It is, in the purest form, mind against mind, manipulating raw magical energies. It is as close as we come to measuring the effects of our Gifts. The one with the greatest Gift is the victor. Many see Certamen as war by less violent means, and for some it is, but this is not always the case. Have you seen Intellego duels fought by Criamon magi? I once fought a beautiful duel with a Jerbiton illusionist in a faerie rose garden. We let our minds roam into the ritual space, and we try to overcome each other.
I had never really duelled anyone before. For the love of the sport, of course, I’d had many duels. This, however, was the first time I was fighting in earnest. My mind flowed into the ritual space and I found the intimacy of it revolting. My master and I created titanic knights: his of dark cables, mine of flickering comets. His advanced slowly toward mine and as it neared, my disgust flowed out of me into my knight. His began to swing a vast flail. Mine simply strode toward his, a sword in its right hand and its left hand outstretched, fingers spread wide. The flail landed, but glanced off harmlessly, although the audience seemed to think it a solid strike. My knight slammed its hand clear through the torso of my master’s phantasm. It walked to him, and backlanded him in the face. The blow shook him, and there was a burbling of comment from around the room. The phantasms disappeared.
My master sprang to his feet. He was older, but fit for physical combat. “I commend you on your victory my son.” he said “and walked to me, holding a simple ring of opal and brass in his cupped hands. “This is your sigil. I surrender it to you.” There was some scattered applause, but most in the room though he had thrown the combat, and so were merely polite. My own siblings were enthusiastic, because they knew I’d surprised our pater.
I took my ring, and began to serve my elders dinner, until one of them pointed out that he was not free of his master, the Primus. I was a conciliarus now, and he was not. He gave me his chair, and went to find me something to eat. I was always grateful to Fabius for that. I think he did it not just to show that he accepted the verdict of the Certamen, and so others should, but to make perfectly clear to our watching allies that from the House’s perspective, I was a person of elevated status and honour now. I might have been carrying around slabs of beef and cheese at lunchtime, but that was no longer relevant.
I think my happiness at claiming my sigil flowed over into my confidence in the plan. I went into the Tempest thinking it was going to be glorious. We do not seek glory, but it’s nice when it arrives while you are doing what’s necessary. It wasn’t glorious, though. It was the worst day in the history of my House. Yes., even worse than the Sundering.
People tell you the Tempest was our great victory over the Diende, and I know you want to believe them. They are wrong. I was there. I saw the allied forces collapse. I fled the triumphant Diedne army. They hunted me like a pig in the undergrowth and I escaped through luck and the sacrifice of friends. We won the war, so we write the history. Tell me, in your version, can you name a single battle we lost?
Then why did half of us die?