Leader of the Glacian Elves
Pendar stood in respectful silence beside his fellow mages, watching as the body of the Archmage Kosha was lowered into its eternal resting place. The tomb was deep in the oldest part of the eternal forest -- ancient trees forming the vault of this natural cathedral. A low hum of funereal music accompanied the soft buzz of insects around the grieving elves. All sounds lingered in the humid tropical air. Birds flitted from branch to branch above, chirruping and sending brief shadows flicking across the ground by Mage Pendar’s feet.
For most of Pendar’s life, Archmage Kosha presided over the Emerald Tower’s mages and the wellbeing of the sylvan elves.
Kosha ought to have continued to rule for centuries yet.
The sylvan elves are perhaps the longest lived species in the world -- with lifetimes that can span millennia. That nearly always spanned millenia. Their renowned guild of mages generally lived to even more venerable ages than the average elf. To lose an Archmage of only twenty-three centuries was a blow to the Emerald Tower.
None of the mages had counted on having to elect a new Archmage for several more centuries. The in-fighting, the debate, and the subtle bribery among them had already begun as they sought enough support to be named the next Archmage.
Foolishness, thought Pendar. His peers’ focus on immediate personal gain blinded them.
Pendar saw clearly what faced the elves. Their lifespans were shrinking. Even those with great magical strength were falling more quickly to the curses of illness and old age. It had to be stopped. At any price.
After the songs and rituals finished, and a great stone cairn was raised over the Archmage’s grave -- the rocks lifted by the magic of the mages -- Pendar watched as the different cliques took shape. Clusters of mages and their favorites crowded together, into their academic war camps. His own partisans -- mostly mages and adepts who had served as his apprentices once upon a time -- came to him. They were a small band, comparatively, but one thing made them more powerful than the others. Pendar did not wish to be the next Archmage himself. That meant it was his approval all the candidates must court.
The hour was late, well past midnight, and the Archmage Kosha had been in his tomb for three months. The fight to replace Kosha had intensified -- there would be a vote held at the equinox. Four nights hence. If no victor emerged, the mages would not vote again until the next equinox. No one wanted that. Almost every one of the candidates had showered attention and promises on Mage Pendar, hoping to win his support.
So far he’d held himself aloof from any commitments. Instead he’d done some of his own politicking, reaching out to smaller factions within the factions, consolidating his power as the king-maker, so to speak.
Pendar stood at his window, looking out at the rustling sea of forest around him -- turned blue by the light of the moon.
He’d had the same dream for three nights in a row now. In his dream he saw a tower rising from a frozen shore. An enormous ship rode out at anchor nearby. It was a familiar dream -- one he’d had once a month or so for as long as Pendar could remember. And that was a very, very long time.
Behind him, someone opened the door to his study. Pendar didn’t turn to see who it was. He knew it would be Mage Enila. He knew she would have a decanter of amber wine with her. Centuries of friendship made such details feel inevitable. Unchanging.
“You need more art in here, Pendar,” she said. “It’s too austere.” She didn’t always say that, but it was one of several comments she always made at the beginning of their evenings. His study was, indeed, stark and undecorated compared to the other elves. Where they enjoyed bright colors and natural patterns, he liked clean lines and a neutral pallette. The one exception, in fact, was Enila’s favorite aging green armchair.
“I like it this way,” said Pendar, with a rueful smile. “A cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind.” His customary answer. She snorted loudly -- which was her customary response. Pendar allowed himself a slim smile. This is what elves were. Eternal, unchanging, as reliable as ritual. The elves needed to be preserved as they were.
He turned when he heard the clink of Enila replacing the stopper in the decanter. She sat with a goblet of wine in hand and one leg crossed casually over a knee in her armchair chair; the table, the wine and a second filled glass sat at her elbow.
Enila was almost as old as Pendar. They’d come up in the Emerald Tower together -- always competing with one another. Enila made adept first, but Pendar became a mage two years before she did.
She was slight, her ears rising at a high angle from her sharp face. Wrinkles nestled in the corners of her eyes and mouth -- it was because she smiled too much.
“So,” she asked. “What have they offered you today?”
“Power,” Pendar replied, moving carefully to the table, leaning just slightly on his staff. He sat down on the second chair. “Gold. Influence.”
“Poor fools,” said Enila, sipping her drink.
“Indeed,” said Pendar. “Though little Celerith nearly offered me free reign to study as I wish. But she didn’t mean it.”
“Oh, did she?” asked Enila. “How do you know she didn’t mean it?”
“She wouldn’t take a vow to that effect,” said Pendar. He was perfectly serious, but Enila laughed.
“I haven’t either,” she pointed out.
Pendar raised his glass to her, and she raised hers. “No,” he said. “You haven’t.”
They both drank.
Enila swirled her wine, looking down at its golden color, her face gone serious.
“You know that I will support whatever research you desire,” she said. “But I would urge you to caution and to…”
“To what, old friend?”
“To consider that the world is not an arithmetic problem to be solved.”
“... you ought to speak more plainly with me,” said Pendar.
“I mean that there may not be an answer to our shrinking lifespans -- at least, not one where the costs outweigh the benefits.”
“I am not seeking to control the undead, but to preserve life itself. In its natural form. We were made to last longer than we do. Perhaps forever. I wish to return us to our more perfect form.”
Enila nodded, absently. “I know,” she said. “Which is why, if I am Archmage, you will have all the resources you need to do so.”
“Which is why,” Pendar said, echoing her. “You will be the Archmage.”
Pendar stood over his ailing patient. He’d had the infirmary cleared, leaving himself alone while he tried to save this dying elf. Sweat stood out on Pendar’s gnarled brow and he growled in frustration -- trying to hold the magic together. His white hair flared, rippling with the energy in the room. The spell was overcoming his strength. With another growl he let the spell go -- and the patient with it.
His spell should have been more effective. It should have slowed down the cruel ravages of time destroying this elf too early. Mage Pendar sat down -- shaking and grim.
“I’m sorry,” said Archmage Enila, entering the room softly.
“I’ll get it right next time,” said Pendar. This should have worked. He didn’t know why his spells weren’t as effective as he calculated they should be. He was missing something. Some variable.
“I meant for the patient,” said Enila.
“Oh,” said Pendar.
The elf in the bed beside him was only a millenia and a half old -- but might have passed for the same age as Pendar himself. He’d caught a wasting illness and faded quickly. He’d died when Pendar gave up the spell.
“It’s freezing in here,” said Enila. “Were you using some sort of cooling spell? Why?”
“I--,” the Mage looked around and wiped the sweat from his brow. He stared at his damp sleeve. She was right. The infirmary was freezing. Frost formed a crystalline spiderweb across the ceramic floor. He hadn’t done that, had he?
He had. Without thinking about it, he’d known what he required. He just hadn’t noticed until it was pointed out to him. Pendar looked around, a light sparkling in his eyes as a rare smile spread across his face.
“Enila, you are brilliant. I need ice. All the ice we can make.”
Enila chuckled and, true to her word, said, “Then you shall have it.”
On another evening, years later, Pendar stood at his window and watched a storm rage across the eternal forest. Lightning flashed and the rain came down in torrents. He didn’t hear Enila open the door, but all the same, he turned at the right moment to see her setting out the glasses and decanter.
She looked tired. Beside the decanters and the glasses, Enila also laid a sealed letter written on thick paper.
She smiled and said, “You need more art in here, Pendar.” She gestured to the empty walls and emptied bookcases, but it was not with her usual enthusiasm.
“It would only be more to pack,” said Pendar.
He’d spent years doing what he could with spells of cold and ice in this eternal land of green. He’d sent apprentices and adepts to the frozen heights of the nearby mountains and even gone there once himself. However, the land itself worked against him. His spells of preservation and immortality and permanence were all fighting the very environment he must cast them in. Pendar needed to find somewhere new to study. He needed to leave the Emerald Tower -- and find the tower in his dream. The one on the frozen shore.
He’d explained all this to Enila. He’d built the ship with her blessing. In a scant week, they would be ready to leave.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Three more mages have announced their intent to join your quest,” she said, taking up her glass and sitting down in her armchair.
“I see,” said Pendar. That made his expedition close to one third of all the mages and students in the Emerald Tower.
“You’ve sundered the Tower,” said Enila. “Torn off a piece to pursue your dream.”
“It was their choice,” said Pendar. “We agreed to give them a choice.”
Enila sighed in frustration and took a long gulp of the wine. Pendar came to sit at his usual place beside her.
“Have you thought that… perhaps this is what is meant to happen to us?” asked Enila. “That we are not meant to last forever?”
“What can you mean?” he asked. Her question was absurd.
“Everything has its time,” said Enila. “Its dawn and noon and twilight. Nothing in this world lasts forever -- except for change. The time of the elves fades. We must move with the change. Or suffer in trying to resist it. Perhaps your quest will only hasten our fall.”
Pendar was silent a long moment, considering Enila’s words.
“We must change,” said Pendar. “But I do not believe that we must give in to the currents that move us, that shrink our lifespans. We can still steer, in the midst of the torrents of time. And who is to say that there is not a course, some other direction, that will take us through the night and back to a new dawn.”
It was Enila’s turn to contemplate her friend. “I could forbid you from leaving,” she said.
Pendar bowed his ancient head and leaned on his staff -- white hair hanging in curtains beside his face. He felt suddenly tired. A small part of him, a treacherous voice in his heart, wished she had forbidden this. The journey would be long and dangerous. Pendar could not afford doubt or fear, but they were there.
“It is too late for that now,” he said.
Enila sighed, her own age showing more sharply too. She slid the sealed letter across the table towards Pendar.
“I will miss you, old friend,” she said.
Mage Pendar stood on the deck of his ship just before dawn, dread clutching cold around his heart. Ten years at sea had weathered The Amaranth and her passengers, turned it from a glorious experiment to a floating warren for a ragged group of mages in self-imposed exile. He never would have thought that a scant ten years could feel so long. He and the elves who had chosen to accompany him had traveled far and wide, seen the ends of the world, met peoples that Pendar had thought were mere legend or conjecture.
He’d lost colleagues and students. He’d lost time and the faith of many of his followers. He’d been abandoned by some, cursed by others. Even his most loyal mages were weary and uncertain. He’d seen the resentment in their eyes. And for what?
This was the shore from his dream -- he knew every stone and ice formation intimately. Yet, there was no tower here.
Pendar bowed his head, as he focused on the nearby shore. The magic he needed was right there. All his years learning about the powers of ice and snow, about the nature of the unchanging, resonated within him. He could feel the magic in this land. It was slow moving, solid and ancient. He was certain that here he would find the key to slowing down the elves’ aging, to returning them to their rightful lifespan. Beyond that, perhaps, he would find the key to immortality. In this frozen world, so inhospitable to most life, the elves would flourish. He was so certain. But where was their tower? Their stronghold?
Wearily, Pendar withdrew the letter that Enila had given him all those years ago when he left the Emerald Tower. The paper was worn thin. He’d read the short letter many times during his long years of traveling:
Last night, I dreamt of your tower in the frozen wastes. I saw it full of brilliant scholars and surrounded by sparkling snow. I don’t think I believed you would truly leave forever, until I had that dream. I should have known you were serious sooner. I always was suited for living in the world as it is, though. And you were meant to change it. You will make a mighty Archmage, old friend. May you rule the Azure Tower well, and find the magic you seek.
Archmage Enila of the Emerald Tower”
As he reread the letter, a small smile formed on Mage Pendar’s lips. And you were meant to change it. How many times had he read those words? Today, they meant something new.
The sky was lightening with the first glow of dawn. His elves were mostly asleep -- only a few rangers and sailors stood on the deck with him.
As the rising sun cut across the horizon, the Mage opened his arms to the dawn. His dawn. He commanded this frozen land and its stones, sleepy so long, dormant so long, to hear him. To serve him. With a sound like the very spine of the world breaking, pillars and arches of black and grey and vivid blue stone rose up from the shore. Chunks of ice fell away into the water and floated off. At the will of the new Archmage, the tower he’d dreamed of rose fully formed from the shores of this desolate place.
Balconies and terraces sprouted from the smooth sides of the tower, arcs of stone leapt up from the ground to meet the main structure and stabilize it. It grew like an orderly stone tree out of the earth and the ice.
Once the tower loomed over the ship, with each detail exactly as the Mage had dreamed it so many, many times, Pendar let his arms fall back to his sides and leaned on his staff. His mages, awakened by the magic and shaking earth, came stumbling onto the deck. They rubbed their eyes and pointed, wonderstruck, at their new home. Here they would uncover and harness the magical powers of ice and halt the shrinking lifespans of his people.
Here, Archmage Pendar of the Azure Tower would begin his true work.