Chapter 10 (continued and finally finished!)
In the end the plan worked. No one dared to attack the realm of Prince Nirza again. A considerable number of soldiers that had come as aggressors stayed behind. Some to start a new existence for themselves burnt out on war and the miserable existence of their previous life, to them the young prince with his unheard of show of mercy was a symbol of hope. A startling number stayed in the realm to make amends for their transgressions. They went out of their way to help rebuild what had been destroyed by the invading army. Nashrin could not help but notice that the people most fervent in their quest to make amends had been close to the war machine as it died. The most fanatical came to call themselves 'The Burnt' who after the reconstruction was finished had sought audience before the prince to swear eternal fealty to the Prince, swearing that they would not rest until their debt to his realm was repaid in full no matter how long it would take. Nashrin felt very uncomfortable in their presence for they all were tainted by the shadow of his father's soul. He accepted their oaths and gifted them a stretch of land in an isolated valley to do with it as they saw fit. It was near enough to be seen as a generous gift, especially as it was a valley surrounded by mountains rich in various ores, but at the same time it was hard to reach and isolated so that the prince did not have to suffer the presence of the Burnt.
The Burnt thrived in their secret village around which soon many wild myths and legends grew, most of them wild exaggerations. The valley of the Burnt produced the most fiercely loyal warriors of the realm as well a constant source of some of the best refined raw materials in the entire region. Burnt steel became the synonym for steel of the highest grade and the younger generation began to use the verb to describe something of highest quality or merit.
Prince Nashrin slowly retreated from the world preferring to act through intermediaries. He had various reasons to disappear from the public eye. Since his transformation in the war he could never shake the gnawing lust for blood, so he preferred his own company to that of other people. He also rather dedicate himself to his research which now was focused on blood magic most of the time leaving the statesmanship to people more suited for the task. With his secretaries who he carefully chose for their abilities to get results he worked on a grand reform to turn the realm into a place of prosperity. The first thing he did was to screen the realm for people who were exceptional leaders recruiting them into newly created positions of responsibility. They were made masters of mines, mills, forestries and what ever else needed some higher level of supervision. They all were paid the same generous stipend never more never less. Given free rein over what ever they had control over all they had to do is make it work. Those who did best were awarded high honours by the Prince himself and their methods made public to all.
Soon the realm was an economic powerhouse, the income of all the state owned mines, smelting facilities and manufacturings all in a constant friendly competition to see who was the best at doing their job led to a decrease in taxes. Prince Nirza soon had enough income to pay for his research expenses while keeping the realm going at a comfortable pace. Soon after he discovered to his great surprise that after he had forcibly reduced the amount of hours the people were actually allowed to work every day and every week, the amount of money they were making increased even more. The living conditions soon became famous far beyond the realm's borders attracting all kinds of immigrants. While Prince Nirza did welcome strangers it was made very clear from the get go that all who wanted full citizen ship had to show excellent skills, else they were relegated to guest status which included much higher taxes. But even that proved to be beneficial in the long run. Many of the rich traders moved into the realm gladly paying the taxes which were still lower than in some other kingdoms to be able to buy 'burnt' level goods for export.
As the years passed Nashrin learned the hard way why blood magic had never stepped out of the shadow of traditional magic. His research was frustrating, always leading him to dead ends. For all its power blood only brought problems with it. Some of them were practical, only fresh blood was full of power, losing its precious life force seconds after being spilt. He had experimented with ice, with adding substances to keep the blood flowing, to distil the power within it but to no avail. Even if he kept the blood fresh the power was gone. He did find out a lot about blood compatibility as a side effect. After a decade of work he had invented small crystal needles that when pricked into a finger drew a minuscule amount of blood changing their colour showing what flavour the blood had. This led to transfusions and a fortune made selling the blood colour crystals. He also discovered that blood that had lost its powers but was passed through a living human soaked up a new portion of life force only to lose it again once spilled.
And there was the hunger.
It never went away. It always stayed in the back of his mind. At first he tried to deny it which only made it worse. One day he had planned an experiment with the blood of a prisoner. The man was a rapist and a murderer according to the law of the realm he had to be put to death to mild a sentence as Nashrin secretly thought as the criminal would never know the anguish of his victims, but at least they could help with the advancement of magic. He went to the big powerful man who now lay strapped down on a metal operating table without any of the menace he had still exuded when he was still standing upright and unrepentant before the judges. His mouth was gagged but he was looking at Nashrin with pleading eyes. The prince had long since learned not to look at the human body in front of him but to look at its crimes. He recited them inside his head to keep his weak heart to give in to mercy, instead filling it with righteous anger. That day had not been different. Nashrin had placed a large glass bottle filled with a criss cross of metal rods not unlike those used to capture souls at the end of the blood drain. He had approached the man with a short squat bleeding knife in hand. A thick blade with a sharp little hook at the end custom made to cut the carotid arteries. The hunger that had been festering in the dark corners of his soul invading his dreams and most shameful fantasies was now looming large behind him waiting with increasing anticipation. As the hunger licked its lips so did Nashrin. He did not hear the choked whimpers of the prisoner nor did he see the tears welling up from his eyes, instead he only saw the throat.
He made the incision realizing to late that he had forgotten to place the splash guard over the neck of the writhing body. So the blood squirted out in high jets from the wound in his neck. Nashrin watched the blood fly thinking that this was one of the most beautiful things he had seen in his life. After that he did not think anything anything for the next half hour. With a wail he fell over the man first drinking his delicious blood, then braking open his body to consume his heart and liver. He had only returned back to consciousness after breaking open his skull nearly choking on his vile brain that was saturated by the banality of the criminals petty evil. A pedestrian lust for power, combined with an utter lack of imagination. His mind was plain and repugnant. As Nashrin saw what he had done he screamed in terror, took his executioners knife and cut his own throat. Repeatedly. But his wounds simply healed almost as quickly as he inflicted them. The animal part of him mildly amused by his childish behaviour.
From then on he started to learn to live with the hunger. He now drank a dose of blood every night and every morning. Getting used to the rush of power followed by the enormous relief he felt once is unnatural appetites subsided for a while. His experiments had provided him with enough techniques to provide him with fresh blood without the need to kill anyone and in time he became comfortable with his new way of life. He realized that his new hunger was very much like that of a regular human being, if starved he is driven towards madness and acts of desperation, but if kept fed he will be docile and reasonable. It also had the beneficial effect that he now had more power at his finger tips for to fuel his magic than ever before. He mostly use it to invoke spectacular effects of little practical use by the use of half-seals gestures of power performed with one hand. It was a good talent to have when dealing with the superstitious and the easily impressed.
Nashrin remained an isolated individual. He had left the proper path of enlightenment as taught by the Order of Reason, to often had he invoked the 'supernatural' to gain advantages and secure the position of his realm among its credulous peers. He also did nothing to discourage the tales told about him among the populace of his principality which grew ever more fanciful as the years passed. For the Order he was the worst kind of scholar one who possessed true knowledge but decided to keep it for himself while distracting everyone around him with falsehoods. He felt guilty about this but his research had not yet reached the stage where he could go out and share it with his former colleagues. So far blood magic was a danger to all involved with it, especially the user himself. If the Order ever caught wind of what he was doing and how his work was developing they would send knight to kill him, followed by a radical purge of the realm of all false believe systems. He could not allow that. Furthermore in time he would master the ways of the blood, then he could step forward to share his results leading towards a new bold step forward for all of humanity.
There was no one left he could confide in. His family was either gone or to far remote to trust, while all his really good friends where either part of the Order or at least educated by them. It was hard enough to distract visitors enough so that they did not notice the strange rumours making the rounds in the capital about the prince.
Over the following years more problems arose. The strangest thing that he discovered was that most people simply could not handle blood magic. He had started a new series on experiments with prisoners facing capital punishment, empowering them with blood turning them into beasts not unlike the one he had turned himself into so many years ago. These creations of his where of course not nearly as powerful as he had been but powerful enough to move far beyond the limits of the normal human body. The shocking result was that they all went mad. Not one of them did not become insane with rage and hunger and blood-lust. What ever kind of people they had been before they had completely vanished, leaving a deformed body with an equally twisted vestige of a mind behind them. These monsters were invariably incredibly aggressive. They could never be calmed in any way and they could not be kept alive for long. They needed human flesh to live. If that was not given to them they would invariably die. Nashrin had tried feeding them with a large variety of life animals after he had discovered that creatures fed with food that was not alive did not survive significantly longer than those not fed at all. When the hunger was great enough the creatures would start consuming their own flesh eventually dying from their self inflicted disembowelment.
But even a whole cow would not sustain a beast for long. He did find a curious correlation between how highly developed the mind of the animal was to how long the creature would survive. Nashrin entertained for a moment the idea of trying to establish a ranking of sapience among the animal world but quickly decided against it as it seemed to inhumane an endeavour for an experiment which result would be of no real benefit for anyone. He was thinking of giving up this branch of research altogether for the time being when an unexpected event brought an interesting breakthrough.
On a cold winter day the Crying Executioner appeared in the capital. A serial murder who would strike at random performing a ritualistic execution on his victim only to leave a tear soaked letter on the scene of crime in which he expressed his deep, deep regret for having killed an innocent victim, but that he was hunting an evil force that had to be stopped to avert a greater cataclysm. He killed the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women with no rhyme or reason, which made it exceptionally hard to catch him. But he did not stop killing neither did he leave the city. During his active days he killed twenty-three people until he was caught by a local militia officer who became a local hero for catching him.
Nashrin was present during his trial. The man confessed to all the murders, crying all the time apparently shaken with guilt, he admitted that he did not deserve anything less than death for his crimes but that he was doing so for the good of all mankind. There was an evil presence haunting the capital a monster of untold proportions that possessed the minds of men which only he could sense. He had to track it down and kill it before it was to late. Always when he thought he had found it it turned out that he had killed an innocent. The monster had tricked him again, laughing at his misery, but he had to go on. He begged the judges to postpone his well deserved execution until he had fulfilled his mission.
He was deemed dangerously insane and sentenced to death so that his immortal soul was freed from the taint of his diseased body that it may find a new healthy host.
Nashrin did not know why he chose this poor creature to experiment on. He felt truly sorry for the wretch, believing that he deserved a quick death to be delivered from his pain. But he was different to the other murderers he had used so far. All the men and the women he had worked on had one thing in common, they all felt that they were right in what they had been doing. Only the most cold-blooded murderers were sentenced to simple body death in the realm of Nashrin. This insane man was different. So he placed the Crying Executioner on a stone slab, surrounding him by ever more complex circles of invocation, carefully placing gem needles into the cardinal points of his body as conduits of power for when the blood started to flow. He then hung up three other prisoners by the feet tied up by a long strip of leather tightly wound around their twisting bodies. He nicked the insane man with his executioner's knife drawing just enough blood from him to paint the paths of transmission from him to the three donors. He then cut open the donors throats, fed a spark of power into the invocation circle to start the reaction. Once he had made sure that the flow of energy was as it should be he quickly left the cell for he did not want to be in the same room with one of the beasts once it awoke.
Usually the beasts awoke with a start instantly in a fury. But this one was different. It awoke in silence. It got up walked around the room sniffing at the three hanging corpses, which one by one it took of the hooks they where hanging from. Then the creature proceed to place every body on the slab it had woken up upon meticulously cutting them open from pelvis to throat with a wicked claw. It then took out the heart and the liver in silence and consumed it with slow deliberation. The heads it did not touch. Nashrin tried to talk to it but to no avail. The strange new creature would just look at him without any visible reaction.
When fed it was always very gentle, never savage like the others. It always killed following the same ritual, the ritual the madman had already used on his victims during his unfortunate life.
Nashrin tried to drink some of its blood once, it was a chilling experience. When the blood entered his body it tainted his mind with dark whispers. Suddenly he was surrounded by shadows moving in and out of the corner of his eyes, whispering to him about his darkest secrets, asking him to trust them, warning him from an evil dark force. He felt the shadow of this horrible thing hanging all over the place like an invasive intelligence laying its mental eggs into the souls of unsuspecting minds. The effect dissipated after a few agonizing hours of doubt and terror. He almost delivered the creature form its torment after he had regained is senses but he decided with a heavy heart not to do it yet for he did not know this creatures secret.
Again it was a lucky coincidence that helped illuminating this phenomenon. Feeling pity for the creature Nashrin had started to provide it with more and more elaborate comforts in his cage among them was a large mirror of polished steel. Once the creature saw itself in the mirror and realized that what it beheld there was not an hostile creature, for at first it had shied away from its reflection, it had started to talk. This was the first time Nashrin had heard any of this creatures say anything at all. To his surprise the voice of the thing was still perfectly human. It said only one thing: 'It was me all along.' and cried.
Nashrin had tried to teach the creature to talk but to no avail, all what it would ever say was 'It was me all along.' Shortly there after it stopped eating and soon wasted away.
* * * *
More years passed by with Nashrin's slowly advancing his science. He noticed that his blood drinking habit had one interesting side effect, even without the use of advanced shell art he retained his youth no matter how many decades passed. This of course did also become part of his legend. The prince that did never age, which after a few years turned into the prince that would not age or die as long as the realm prospered, from which it was only a short step to as long as the prince remains healthy the realm will prosper. It was then that Nashrin could not stand this barbarism in his own nation any longer. He went through great lengths to educate his own people. Once he started doing so he was shocked how deep into superstition they had sunk. Now that he was in control of his hunger and not the other way around, he became more and more comfortable with returning into the public again rediscovering his main motivation for doing all his research in the first place. He had wanted to educate the common people making them masters of their own lives instead of being at the beck and mercy of their lords and ladies who were so often so far removed from them that they might as well live somewhere in the deep jungles of the Inner World.
It was during this time that he found his love for disguises which led him into the farthest reaches of his principalities, letting him visit the hovels of the lowliest of his subjects to listen to them telling him about their lives without reservation and fear. His visits were often followed by changes in policy or direct royal intervention for the benefit for the people. After a surprisingly short time people began to notice that the visit by unassuming strangers from far away sometimes brought great changes for the better with them, which led to a change in culture in which hospitality became one of the greatest pillars of politeness. A custom which would still be held up long after most had forgotten its origin.
These days which Nashrin considered the most pleasant of his very long life brought another breakthrough. It came in the form of the humble leech. He discovered that while inside the leech the blood retained considerable quantities of its life force. It was not as good as fresh blood but a massive step forward to harnessing the power of blood. It was then that the Blood Tithe was introduced. The general taxes were cut even further for all who were willing to donate a bit of blood to the realm. The propaganda going with it was that money was necessary to keep the principality running but what could be a nobler sacrifice than to give some of ones own blood to once nation. Only the most petty would imply that it also meant being exempt from taxes for that month thus trading a greater pain for a considerably lesser one. Some people where so keen in their zeal to donate blood for the nation or in their greed to retain all of their money, that a new law had to be passed limiting the donation of blood to twice a year per household.
Finally Nashrin had enough life force at his hands to conduct more advanced experiments on it trying to find new ways to conserve the energy. In time he found ways to capture the life force, first in a thick resin saturated with life blood that captured some of the life energy within its structure, later in blood crystals which could hold considerably more power. The process for making them was enormously wasteful but Nashrin had so much blood at his hands by now that he hardly knew what to do with all of it. Both the bright blue resin syrup as well as the pale golden energy crystals had interesting properties. The resin could be drunk conferring its power to the user without causing the hunger nor turning the user into a monstrosity. Excess levels of energy were vented as usual through the aura of the mage and only serious abuse over prolonged times led to reversible changes in body coloration, usually opalescent eyes and hair. While the crystals could be slotted into automatons to provide them with a power-source that was independent of a living donor.
The realm when through a new wave of prosperity as Nashrin could produce a sufficient number of crystals to power a couple of factories in the valley of the Burnt, there he also recruited an small unit of soldiers who volunteered to try out the new resin syrup, trying to become experts in advanced magical combat. To Nashrin's mild annoyance the soldiers started to call the blue liquid 'trigger juice' because it allowed them to trigger magical effects with wild abandon only to watch in silent dismay how that expression slowly crossed over into common parlance.
Then things took a turn for the worse. Nashrin had decided that by now he had made enough progress with his research to share it with the Order of Reason integrating himself back into the world of advanced magical research. With the power of the greatest living minds on the planet building on the foundations he had established blood magic was destined to become the next great step towards universal enlightenment for all mankind. However the Order of Reason did not react to his letters. In the end he went personally to the Pinnacle of Cognition to talk to the High Savants about his project and to bitterly complain how he was being treated only to be met by uncomprehending clerks followed by the dismissal of his research by the bureau for applicants to the position of external fellow of the order. Nashrin was furious, he insisted that he was not some external half civilized shaman but a researcher who had been educated and trained at an academy of the Order. The clerks were not impressed telling him that he never actually finished his curriculum and thus was considered no better than someone without any formal education. One of the higher ups he managed to see aster making enough of a scandal just added that he as a failed candidate of the order was actually even worse, for he had tried and failed. After all was said and done Nashrin was banned from the Pinnacle of Cognition until one of the High Savants personally wrote a letter of pardon and was escorted from the premises by armed guards.
His fury soon turned into impotent rage when he realized how many doors his little outburst had closed. All the great researches in the part of the world where he lived were trained by the Order. The news about his spectacular performance at the Pinnacle of Cognition spread fast and soon enough only the crackpots and crazies would still talk to him. Once home he lost himself in his work again. But this time he had not the drive nor the fire he had before. What exactly was he working towards now anyway. Yes he was still having the occasional breakthrough but no matter how hard he worked, at the end of the day he was just one man and magic could not advance by his deeds alone, for that he would need the backing of the mage community. The only time he felt a bit of hope was when he was approached by the Free Agency who were very interested in his work as well as willing to invest considerable amounts of money and man power into advancing it. It sounded to good to be true, because it was. When it was time to formulate the conditions for the covenant of cooperation it became very clear that the Free Agency did not intend in the least to share any of knowledge they gained about blood magic with anyone else. They also had the audacity to demand of Nashrin that he should never divulge any of his secrets to anyone but his official contacts at the Agency. Nashrin laughed them out of his castle.
His little nation had turned into a little well oiled machine producing enormous amounts of base resources, refined goods and companies and guilds of all types when Nashrin seriously started to consider to call it a life. He had achieved what he wanted to, his subjects lived in peace, they were all highly educated, even the poor of his realm lived relatively comfortable sheltered lives. His research could still go on for a while. But soon there would be nothing left for him to do but watch it stagnate. He'd be an increasingly bitter old man in an eternally young body. He could hardly imagine a fate worse than that. So why not choose death, get his heavy soul entrapped until it had lost all its memories and start a fresh life. Hopefully one that would lead to something more satisfying than a dead end to a promising path.
Tyrzo appeared pretty much out of nowhere. One day he was in Nashrin's palace walking through its many corridors looking for the prince. Nashrin was shocked to see that a perfect stranger one wearing an Order of Reason amulet no less had walked right passed his guards, his personal bodyguard and the magical wards into his personal quarters. Tyrzo was now walking towards him swords jingling happily at his side with a bright grin shining in his face. The prince thought that maybe his research was finally taken seriously, so seriously that it was deemed an abomination against nature so that the Order had sent out a squad of specially trained knights to perform a cleansing. This hardly made any sense though. The people at the Order hardly knew what he was doing at all and the usual modus operandi for all but the most heinous perpetrator of crimes against ethics were first approached by the Order to try and find a solution without bloodshed. Furthermore the amulet around Tyrzo's neck was very much like those worn by the knights but it did not show the symbol of the order but instead showed a snake coiled to form an 'S'.
Tyrzo explained that he represented a very small group of very talented mages who had become divorced from the general research community, either by their own choice or by the choice of those to small minded to realize the scope of their vision. He apologized for his dramatic intrusion explaining that it was necessary to prove to Nashrin the he Tyrzo Galevion was not some kind of pathetic poser that was all words an not trousers. He had come to ask whether he Prince Nashrin Nirza master of the ways of blood would not want to join him and his cause. Nashrin asked him what that cause may be. Tyrzo answered that he represented the Society for the Advancement of General Enlightenment or S.A.G.E. for short whose goal it was to push humanity forward towards greatness.
Despite initial reservations Nashrin soon began to like Tyrzo, he even got used to his ridiculous tendency towards melodrama and his bizarre sense of humour. Together they spend many nights discussing various theories about the nature of magic and how to best advance its cause. They exchanged pet theories, helping each other out in developing them further. Tyrzo showed a great interest in Nashrin's work in blood magic and for a few years turned into his apprentice. It was Tyrzo's idea to try to grow new alternate bodies that they may infuse with bits of their souls to animate them and use them as secondary bodies. Maybe with enough training they would be able to be at two or more places at once. Their experiments led to a series of disastrous results which Tyrzo found invariably hilarious and culminated in a ridiculous cloak-and-dagger operation that led them to Khirlon where they stole a sapling of one of the elder trees out of which the natives cut their brain implants. Which also ended in a failure which Tyrzo still giggled about many years later. The idea was that by using an implant that was not connected to the network of the trees of Khirlon they might be able to establish a connection between the master-mind in the original body and the slave mind in the secondary body, thereby stabilizing the soul fragment inside it. It turned out that the stupid tree could influence people on its own. The prisoners with whom they experimented invariably became very protective of the young tree and started tending to it becoming suspicious of everyone who did not pay it proper respect and whose emotions they could not sense. At least they concluded they had learnt a fair bit about the mechanisms behind the shared subconscious of the people of Khirlon and had produced proof that they were not using a form of local magic but had much rather become hosts to parasitic trees. They then argued the whole night whether it was not more correct to say that they were living in a symbiosis.
Nashrin also got to meet Sree who was back then the only other member of S.A.G.E. all of them being outcasts from the Order of Reason gave the enough common ground to become fast friends rather quickly. There is nothing that connects people as effectively as someone else to loudly complain about. It took a while for Nashrin to take S.A.G.E. really seriously though. He did not doubt the genius of Tyrzo nor that of Sree but in the end they were just three individuals who gifted as they might be still lacked the resources to contribute in any significant way to the advancement of humanity.
That was until the day when Tyrzo told him about his plan. At first Nashrin had laughed and called him crazy, thinking that this was another of his friends peculiar jokes but Tyrzo had been absolutely serious. After Nashrin had been shown the plans that Tyrzo had worked on so far and realized that Tyrzo's ridiculous endeavour could succeed he be became a believer.