LESSER EVILS Cut Scene #2: “The Arcanist’s Final Act”

Here is the second cut scene, as promised. I sent an email to Nina this morning, fretting that this is too spoilery, but she doesn’t think so. But I feel obligated to say it will take away some of the surprise in one scene…but in exchange you will get some fantastic tension others won’t. That’s a fair trade, right?

Why is this not in the book? Two very good reasons. First, it was meant to be a prologue. But I also needed a scene with Lorcan in the Hells (the current prologue) to serve as a “Previously, on Brimstone Angels” reminder. Two prologues is ridiculous. A prologue, followed by a first chapter where neither features your main character? Troublesome. Badly paced. Not optimal.

Second, as I wrote, I realized that the Netherese arcanist needed a slightly different backstory and slightly different motives. What happens in this scene is what happens–more or less. The character of Emrys became someone else entirely and so his act as it’s shown doesn’t happen, and the circumstances that inspired Tarchamus’s final act were changed (which is a blog post I would love to dig into, once some of you read the book).

I was still bummed to cut this scene–with it went most of my research into self-mummification techniques and adaptations to a magical world. But that is just how it works–sometimes you have to throw out things you worked hard on, because the book needs something different.

Also: I feel compelled to mention, this never got a second pass for a continuity check. I’m pretty confident I got it right, but I’m not 100% sure. So reminder: NOT CANON. 🙂

***

East of the Far Horn Mountains
Netheril Year 1377 (-2482 DR)

 

The apprentices had all come to call it “the Book,” though Tarchamus’s final creation was far, far more than a mere tome. Even now, lying open across the desiccated lap of its creator’s corpse, the Book seemed to rebuke Emrys, to beg him to rescue it from their final, shared fate. It didn’t speak. It hadn’t spoken—not to Emrys—since they’d come down into the caverns.

Emrys turned the handle of the knife in his hand, and glanced up at the hollow sockets of the dead arcanist’s skull. They will call him the Unyielding for all ages now, Emrys thought. The council should never have called the old man’s bluff.

Tarchamus had been dead for three years and a day. In that time, his apprentices had been busy. One had stood vigil over the body as it made its curious transformation. Three had gathered all the master’s texts—truly all the books and scrolls and scraps of any owner that could be found and taken. Emrys had been chosen to take the Book out into the wider world, to learn what Tarchamus had not managed in his long, but cloistered life.

Unlike its master, the Book had been hungry for any sort of knowledge, even such things that Tarchamus had deemed irrelevant in life—how grain was threshed, how the lower cities swept their streets, how cloth was woven like the threads of magic. As they traveled, the Book absorbed all of it and more. That much, Tarchamus had planned.

There is such a lot of world, the Book had marveled, and with that had planted the seeds of doubt in Emrys’s heart.

Arrayed around the arcanist’s body, four other apprentices—his heritors, the arcanist had said, his true disciples—stood in circles of runes, with knives of their own and expressions far calmer, far sterner than anything in Emrys at that moment. Beside the body an hourglass trickled sand, counting the moments until planes aligned and the rites could be completed.

The High Mages of Netheril had kept Tarchamus on their council, despite the fact that he was stubborn and cantankerous as arcanists came—and they were none of them terribly tractable. He had little love for his colleagues, and in particular, disdained the ever-burgeoning mythallars, the contained and captured magic that powered such marvels as the floating cities of High Netheril.

“What you seek,” Tarchamus had said, “is magic without consequences. Gain without loss. You put the very Weave in peril with such imbalances, and for what? The pleasures of your own flesh? It may take ten or a thousand or ten thousand years, but mark my words: your folly will shatter Netheril.”

The Council of Mages had taken the arcanist’s warning as seriously as they took the threats of rebellion among the gnome slaves mining their quarries. They knew what they were doing. Let Tarchamus tinker with his magic—he would share his work anyway, too proud to be quiet for too long—they would lead Netheril into a golden age.

They forgot why they had called him Tarchamus the Unyielding. By the time they remembered, Emrys thought, it would be too late. The pinnacle of the arcanist’s work would be stolen away from Netheril, kept safe until someone with Tarchamus’s foresight came to claim it again. The rite would seal it all away, and it would take eons to uncover it, Tarchamus had gleefully assured them.

Such a lot of world, the Book had said sadly. Such a lot of knowledge to forsake.

The hourglass was nearly empty.

Ten years, Emrys thought, or ten thousand years. And it was a lot of world to forsake.

But if Emrys defied Tarchamus’s plan, if he didn’t act with the other apprentices, it wasn’t as if he’d leave the chamber alive. The rites might be disturbed, the spells might be weakened, but it would not mean Emrys could flee.

No. He had promised. He kept his eyes on Tarchamus, on the Book in Tarchamus’s lap, and his hand on the knife handle. This was what he was chosen for. This was what he had promised to do. No matter what the Book had said. No matter what his heart trembled at.

Time seemed to stretch as the last of the sand rushed toward the lower bulb. The stone room seemed to grow warmer, brighter as the planes aligned and the walls between them thinned just so. The apprentices, even Emrys, turned their knives to point inward.

As one, the apprentices spoke the words of the spell. The runes around their feet lit with an otherworldly glow and thickening illusions surged up out of the stone to encircle them. Emrys stared through the twisting shapes, as if staring through a flame.

The last grains fell.

As one, the apprentices finished the spell. As one, four of them plunged the knives to the hilt just below the breast, just as Tarchamus had shown them. Fountains of blood sprayed out, drenching the mummified corpse of Tarchamus and the pages of the open Book.

The apprentices fell to the ground, the illusions leaping over and into their bodies like waves over a rock. They screamed, even though they weren’t supposed to, even though the sacrifice was necessary, even though the process was a trifle. They thrashed against the magic that clutched at them, and the geysers of blood wet everything.

Emrys cried out in horror at the sight . . . and realized that to cry out meant he alone had not acted, had not taken the knife as promised. He had damaged the rituals Tarchamus had planned for so many years, had chosen him specifically for.

There is so much world, the Book had said, again and again as they traveled through Faerûn. So much world to forsake it all. To turn away for good.

            Through the swirling magic that still surrounded him, Emrys could have sworn he saw Tarchamus’s eyes light with a strange green fire.

 

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