Change - Tome of Chaos Story
Jared pushed the body of the unicorn away and wiped his sleeve across his broad mouth. Blood pooled on the floor beneath the corpse as the life slowly disappeared from its eyes.
“My Lord,” a servant moved forward and handed him a silk cloth.
Jared took it without comment and wiped the remainder of blood from around his mouth and bristled snout. “Has she arrived yet?”
The servant nodded. “She awaits you in your hall.”
Jared strode from the room, adjusting his great robe as he went, while the servant struggled to keep pace with him. He could feel the club swinging from his belt, the studded iron catching his knee and causing him to wince. The pain only added to the annoyance that was already bubbling inside. The same feelings he always felt whenever he had to feed: shame and anger. He hated that he must do such a thing to keep himself alive. Why couldn’t he be like the other hippo people, just a normal Ulund?
“Are the others still here?” his voice echoed in the passageway.
“No, my lord. The Dhampir all left before she arrived. They were given your orders and, no doubt, are continuing to spread your message among the people.”
“Good,” Jared started up the steps that led to the ground floor of his townhouse. “Ensure nobody moves the carcass down there before our guest has left. I wouldn’t want her to see the poor thing.”
The servant nodded and turned to close the cellar door, leaving Jared to continue on alone.
“General Sloan, it’s been far too long since you graced me with your presence,” Jared entered the large hall and made his way towards a luxurious seating area alongside a large window. The bright summer morning sun shone into the room. His guest was wearing purple robes but not her plate armor. It was the first time he’d seen her without it on in a long time. “I trust my servants have made you feel comfortable?”
Sloan looked up from her long drink, the ice clinking against the glass as she shifted amongst the opulent pile of cushions surrounding her. “They have, thank you. How are you, Jared?”
“As well as can be expected I suppose, with such mayhem at our doors,” he eased his bulk onto a velvet upholstered chair and sighed. “This invasion you’ve taken up with really has set the cat amongst the pigeons. You’ve heard they’re turning the games into some barbaric blood sport? As an arena master myself, and owner of the largest conglomerate of stadiums, this has caused quite the stir, let me tell you.”
“What do you mean, blood sport?” Sloan took a sip from her glass, careful that her large Ulund tusks didn’t get in the way.
“You must have heard of that maniac orc, Grum?” Jared gesticulated excitedly, almost knocking the drink from a tray his servant was about to offer him. “He’s not even using cards. He’s just challenging other warriors to battle him to the death with his flaming sword and wild bloodlust. And he’s not the only one. There are more of your Chaos Legion lot doing it as well. You do know that practice was outlawed long ago?”
“I’m sure it fills the arenas,” she shrugged, her pierced ear twitching as a fly buzzed a lazy circle above her head.
“That’s not the point. Some of the older, more experienced battle mages just aren’t willing to compete against that level of violence.”
“I’d argue that is the point. Surely full arenas mean a full purse? You proclaim to be a businessman after all.”
Jared stared at her. It was true, his profits were up, and it was becoming commonplace to have stadiums filled with crowds, with still more waiting outside to get in. “Yes…technically I suppose you’re right. But there's a tradition one must follow.”
“Tradition!” Sloan scoffed. “Since when has the great Jared Scar been a slave to tradition? I’ve heard about this new format you’re wanting to roll out. You think I haven’t noticed your Dhampirs skulking around the streets putting their posters up and whispering to the locals? Limiting the field of competition is hardly tradition, is it?”
“Some of the battle mages have become far too powerful, it takes away from the overall experience and to be quite honest, makes for dull and predictable outcomes,” he complained. “How am I supposed to be able to field some of these new battle mages if they’re going to be pitted against such difficult opponents? Nobody enters the arena to lose.”
“You know, I’ve never heard anyone argue so well with themselves,” Sloan chuckled and drank some more. “Sounds to me like the Chaos Legion have done you a favor. Maybe it was about time the whole thing had a good shake up.”
Jared was about to answer her when he realized she was right. He’d literally spent the last few minutes disagreeing with his own vision. Plus, he’d not even broached the topic he’d brought her there for yet.
“Please, walk with me,” he said, standing and moving over to her, offering his hand. “I have something I want to share with you…from one Ulund to another.”
“Sounds intriguing,” she said, letting him help, her barrel-shaped body leaving behind a cushioned crater.
They left the hall via a side door and started along a walkway that overlooked a central courtyard full of all manner of exotic plants and flowers. A stunning fountain in its center sent a tall spray of water into the air that fell, cascading back down over an assortment of pools and ledges, to spill eventually back into the large, round pool below. A bird looked up from the railing as they approached and took flight, landing upon a tall palm and chattering its annoyance.
“You have a certain amount of influence with the Chaos Legion, don’t you?” Jared asked.
“Hmm, some. Though I feel as though it grows less with each day that passes. Why they insist on me keeping my army here, in a city that’s already been conquered I’ll never know,” Sloan replied. “Why do you ask?”
“I want to include them in these modern arena battles I’m creating. It would boost sales even higher, and help in keeping order out on the streets, as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your troops conquered Ulundin months ago now. You must have seen the tension in the streets rise since then. Conquered people and bored soldiers do not mix well. They need something to entertain them and take their minds from the situation they find themselves in. The people of the city want to be free, want to fight against Chaos rule, so why not take some of that rebellious behavior and focus it in the arenas. Let them be Battle Mages. Meanwhile, your soldiers are bored, finding excuses to make trouble on the streets, so why not give them something to watch. Make them into cards that summoner’s can play. All I’d need to do is get the cardsmiths working on copies of your Chaos Legion troops so that we can include them.”
Sloan raised her brows. “That all sounds quite compelling. But you’re talking about amateurs. What about the rest of the arena masters and battle mages, I can’t imagine they’re going to be happy with you changing the line ups to make way for these people?”
“Oh, don’t concern yourself with that. I won’t preclude them from using the entirety of their rosters, but I think that certain limitations some of the time will really open up the competition into more of a modern format. And my thought is to still run fights where they can utilize whatever warriors they want, a sort of wild free-for-all if you like.” Jared picked up the pace, moving from the courtyard and into a corridor. “It gladdens my heart to know you’re interested. It cost me quite a tidy sum to get these changes approved by the Order of the Scale, and I had to line a lot of pockets with coins. Now, I have something I want to show you.”
She continued to follow. Jared could just about hear the clash of blades now and as ever, his blood started to race from the excitement. He never felt quite so alive as when he was in the arenas, watching the battles unfold before him.
“For so long the manifestation of the summoners cards were nothing more than an illusion, but that has changed since the Chaos Legion invaded, something has occurred that has amplified the magic within the cards,” he added with a wide grin. “Nobody knows what has caused it, but I’ve spoken to some who hold magic of their own and they say the power here in Praetoria has grown, that they can almost feel the mana swirling about them it’s so potent.”
“And?” Sloan remarked, unmoved by his revelation.
“This…” said Jared, pushing open another door that led out onto a wide, ornate balcony. “This is my own private ludus, where I’m very particular about who I let train.”
Sloan stepped past Jared holding the door open for her. The sun beamed down onto the polished tiles and glinted from the silver jug and plates that held an assortment of sweet cakes and iced tea, all set upon a gilded table nearby. She moved to the marble balustrade and leant on the wide top, leaning to look down into the small training school below.
“Very impressive,” she remarked, shading the sun from her eyes.
Jared clapped his hands and servants moved in on them, holding large parasols that offered a pleasant reprieve from the heat. Two soldiers were sparring below with swords, moving back and forth, drilling form, and practicing some vicious looking combinations.
“These are two of my personal guards,” Jared explained and clapped his hands again. The pair immediately stopped and turned to look up at the balcony, bowing their heads low. “Take a break and fetch me my battle mages,” he called down to them.
The soldiers quickly disappeared and within moments, two robed figures walked out onto the white sands. They moved towards two small pedestals set at either end of the ludus and stepped up onto them. Both touched a panel nearby and energy rippled up from the edge of the platforms, entombing them behind a shimmering prison of crystalline light.
Jared lifted his arm into the air and held it there for a moment before dropping it to the balustrade. “Begin!” he bellowed.
Both battle mages drew cards from a small satchel at their sides, holding them out before them. They were encapsulated in a warped light that shrouded their bodies as their features twisted and took on certain aspects of another entity.
“Here are the summoners they have chosen to use,” Jared spoke quickly, so that he didn’t interrupt the battle. “I think you might recognise one of them.”
Aspects of Sloan’s own image seemed to shimmer into reality, mixing with the features of the battle mage on the right. On the left, features of the dwarf, Keyla Frendul from the water element, began to take shape. Her tanned face and long flowing white hair looked resplendent, together with the blue embellished armor plating. You could even make out the thin gold, bejeweled headband she wore about her head. Both mages then began to frantically draw further cards from their bags, throwing them onto the ground, where the creatures they summoned came to life and stalked towards their opponents.
“They’re not illusions, they’re real,” Sloan gasped.
“I know, I know,” Jared couldn’t contain his excitement any further. “That is what I was saying about this new power that now floods Praetoria. You can summon true representations of whatever you choose to cast. They aren’t real flesh and bone because they’re composed of magic and elemental mana, but they have physical substance and can kill just as easily as you or I.”
The battle raged on below them. Cries of the wounded and slain creatures drifted up to where the spectators watched. Jared showed little interest in the combat itself, turning to Sloan.
“This is what my new, modern format will be about. Forget all of those old battle mages who have hundreds of monsters to call upon from when the arenas first opened, nobody is interested in fighting them. Yes, they have power, but as I said before, now it will be more of a level playing field with the roster restrictions in place. And this combat is as real as you can get when summoning, played out within my own battle arenas. Anybody can participate and anyone can win. There’s no spectral illusions, it’s the complete works, only without the blood upon the sands. This will be the ultimate entertainment!”
“So…where would the likes of Grum fit in all of this?” Sloan said.
“Grum acts outside the order of things, trying to bring back prohibited practices. If he was to be tamed, brought in and used appropriately then I think I could work with him. It’s all about coin after all, and this will make us rich,” Jared’s smile widened, showing his long fangs, as he looked back to the ludus floor.
“I think I might have found a small problem with your idea,” Sloan pointed at the Celestial Harpy that flew unchecked across the bodies of her opponents that were fading away into the sands, towards the flickering aspects of Keyla and the losing battle mage.
“No, no, everything’s been considered,” Jared giggled excitedly.
The harpy shrieked, baring its talons and slashed out at the losing battle mage, striking the barrier of their sanctuary. Energy crackled and spiked from the shield, enveloping her in a dark cloud and vaporizing any trace of her from existence.
“We must ensure we protect our battle mages,” Jared pointed his finger in the air. “That is of the utmost importance. They are the ones making us money after all.”
“And I applaud the champion, the better summoner most definitely won,” she shared a wicked smile before turning and walking over to the table of cakes, selecting a sugar-coated finger of soft bread and returning to where he was standing. “I think we could come to some sort of arrangement. I assume this will be lucrative for the both of us?”
“Lucrative?” Jared rubbed his hands together. “You’ll be richer than your wildest dreams.”
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Daniel Beazley
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Illustrations: Mateusz Majewski
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Music / Post-Production: Isaria
Creative Director: Nate Aguila