by Dan Swanson
Although the city itself had not changed, Wizzo the Wizard was astonished to find himself now standing in the middle of a bazaar, being jostled by the people crowded around him. Fair and dark, tall and short, old and young — it was as diverse a crowd as Wizzo had ever seen.
They were all dressed in what Wizzo thought of as Greek or Roman style, in togas, some longer and some shorter, and wearing sandals. Some were walking, some carried bundles, and many were buying or selling at the multitude of small stalls, which hadn’t been there seconds ago, but now lined the street. It was quieter than Wizzo would have expected from a similar crowd in his own world.
For whatever reason, he found himself in the middle of a conversation. A shopkeeper stood before him and was handing him a package. Somehow, he knew that this package contained clothing that had been created especially for him.
The shopkeeper spoke. “Once again, noble traveler, it is my honor to welcome you to Volthoom City, capital of Atlantis. I trust that your new attire will be suitable for your upcoming audience with mighty Volthoom himself. Please tell him that Roberthall the Clothier sends his respects. Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom.”
Wizzo didn’t know what to say, but that didn’t stop his body from responding. “Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom! Many thanks for your gracious gifts, noble Roberthall. In my audience with the emperor, I will indeed tender your regards. I myself will also remember you with favor.” He accepted the gift, and turned away to rejoin his escort.
“Pray, Commander Galdor, is there a place I can don my new garments? I would go before my emperor suitably attired.”
Commander Galdor of the Gate Guard had agreed to escort him from the city walls to Volthoom’s palace for his audience. Part of his mind asked, What walls? Many visitors from other areas of the Atlantean Empire were bewildered at the size and complexity of Volthoom City. Wizzo was the most important visitor in the last thousand years, and it would not do for him to get lost. Galdor led Wizzo to yet another building that resembled a temple. Don’t they all? This building turned out to be a public bath. Wizzo donned his new clothes in the men’s changing room.
He had expected a toga and sandals. What he got instead was a top hat, black tuxedo, white shirt with ruffles and French cuffs, red cummerbund and bow tie, and black patent leather shoes, as well as some jockey shorts and a sleeveless undershirt and socks with garters. There was also a red opera cape and a small jar of mustache wax.
Galdor gasped when he saw the clothes, then quickly bent down on one knee and bowed his head. “My Lord, I did not know! I wasn’t informed that you were the Emperor’s heir. Please forgive me if aught I said indicated anything other than total reverence.”
Once again, Wizzo found his body acting on its own. He reached out his right arm and laid his hand on Galdor’s head, then spoke. “Rise, faithful Galdor. You did not but demonstrate your loyalty to your emperor, loyalty that I pray you will demonstrate to me when I assume the throne. Though that time is yet long from now. The traditional training period for the emperor’s heir is a thousand years, and my training is just beginning.”
“Thank you, Milord. Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom!”
Wizzo’s body again responded automatically. “Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom!”
Wizzo’s mind was whirling. He was trapped in his head, with no control over the actions of his body, trying frantically to escape. But, just as before, none of his spells would work, and no matter how hard he tried, he could not affect the words or actions of his body. He tried to calm down and reason this whole thing out.
“Maybe it’s all a magically induced hallucination! I must be in a trance of some kind!” That didn’t make sense; if he was in a trance, why was he allowed independent thought like this? Perhaps his own power had protected him somewhat, and the trance spell wasn’t completely effective. Or perhaps, being helpless and aware of his helplessness was part of his training. He realized that he might even be lying on the tundra, dying of exposure, this whole experience merely a magical wish-fulfillment dream.
He figuratively took a deep breath, then ran through some of the exercises he had been taught early in his magical training at the Black School for enhancing his concentration. If he was dying, there seemed to be little he could do, so he decided he ought to treat this experience as real. He would observe everything around him closely and learn everything he could. Even if he was to become the emperor of Atlantis, whatever that meant, he certainly didn’t plan to remain trapped in his own head forever, especially since his own last words implied that he would live for several thousands of years to come.
Whatever was controlling his body finished his cleanup and dressing rituals. He had to admit, he certainly looked good in the traditional garb of the emperor-in-training. He had always been a little pudgy, but during his stay in prison (which he had endured only because he had greater goals in mind) he had lost weight; even with magical enhancement, the food had been only barely edible.
And he had found that moderate exercise while he was devising spells stimulated his mind. He had done more exercise in the few months of his (voluntary) imprisonment than in the rest of his life combined.
The tuxedo fit as if it had been tailored for him — and of course it had, by the best tailor in Volthoom City. That meant, of course, he was also the best tailor in all of the Atlantean Empire. Wizzo had never worn a cape before, and he had never before realized just what he had been missing. He twirled and admired the way the cape flared out behind him, and admired the mysterious, almost sinister look provided by the high collar. He had to admit, with his mustache waxed and his hair and beard neatly trimmed, he certainly cut a dashing figure.
Also included in the bundle was a staff perhaps four feet long and made of a very heavy, hard black wood. He recognized it right away as a blackthorn shillelagh — a dangerous physical weapon in the right hands (not his hands, though, for he was a lover and not a fighter), but also suitable for use as a magical staff. No doubt this was the intent of gifting him with this beautiful staff.
His body examined it closely, and he could sense that this staff already held some magic; whoever had carved it had imbued it with magical protection against wear and breakage. He could also tell that it was very old, and had passed through many hands, as traces of the personalities of many former owners lingered in the wood. His own mind, trapped though it was, had already started devising spells to enhance the enchantment on this ancient staff. Yes, indeed, this was a gift worthy of the future ruler of the world.
The new swagger in his walk might well have come from the spell that was controlling him, but his own confidence was picking up as well. He looked better than he ever had, and this gave a lift to his spirit that he wouldn’t have believed possible only a few minutes ago. He might be trapped in his own head right now, but he would find a way out.
All the people they passed on the rest of their walk recognized his garb. Many bowed or curtsied as he passed, while others greeted him respectfully, and some seemed to cower in fear. Galdor glowed with reflected pride at being seen with the next emperor. I could get used to this! Wizzo thought to himself.
They eventually reached the building that resembled the Temple of Theseus.
“Behold: Palace Volthoom!” Galdor swept his arm to indicated the palace and the grounds around it, as proud as if he had built it himself. “It will, of course, become your own palace, Milord, when you assume the throne.” He paused, and then quickly added, “Unless, of course, you care to have it torn down and replaced with something more suitable.”
Palace Volthoom was larger than Wizzo had originally thought. They passed between stately columns that seemed to be made of green marble, the color of emeralds, with veins of gold and silver. The walls were of the same material, several feet thick; as well as being a palace, this place was also a fortress. They passed through several rooms and then out into an enclosed courtyard at least as large as the exercise yard at the prison. (Not that he had paid much attention to the prison grounds, since he hadn’t expected to be there for very long.)
The courtyard was filled with perfectly tended trees, shrubs, and flower gardens, interlaced with narrow pathways, artfully paved with polished green granite. A small stream wandered throughout the court, and it had been artificially widened in several places to form ponds. Much of the courtyard area was shaded and comfortably cool.
In the exact center of the park-like courtyard, the stream spread out into a small lake, surrounded by beautiful glistening white sand that must have come from a Mediterranean beach. A number of beautiful men and women frolicked in the pool, dressed skimpily or not at all, while others lay on the beaches and worked on their tans.
Yes, Wizzo thought with satisfaction, ruling Atlantis appears to have its benefits! Sandy will fit in just fine, here, too.
They continued through to the other side of the building, entering a very large room packed with people. There was a queue along one wall, fronting on a large, ornately carved wooden door. Periodically the door would open, and a guard would admit a group of the next ten people. The rest of the queue would move forward, and several more people would leave the crowd and join the tail end of the line. Wizzo saw no system for deciding who should join the queue next, but there were never any arguments.
There were several large tables spread throughout the room, well-supplied with food, and servitors constantly circulated, bringing food and drink to those standing in line, and holding places in the line for those people who needed to take a nature break.
“Mighty Volthoom is receiving petitions from his subjects, a daily task. They come from all across the world, and he receives them, hearing all regardless of rank or riches, granting each the judgment and justice of the emperor. Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom!”
“Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom!” Wizzo’s body responded automatically. He was quite interested in the idea that the Atlantean Empire spanned the entire world. The petitioners in this hall clearly came from everywhere around the globe.
He was not an ethnologist, but he saw giant Watusi tribesmen, Australian aborigines, Middle Easterners in traditional garb of turban and robes, Southeast Asians, Europeans, and many others he couldn’t immediately identify. There were men, women, and children, alone, in pairs, and groups, well-dressed and dressed in rags — more variations of humanity than he had ever seen before. So how was it that he had never heard of the present-day Atlantean Empire? He was starting to form some weird theories.
The petitioners all intermingled freely and without apparent conflict. This seemed unnatural to Wizzo. He would have expected constant bickering and frequent fights to occur when this many people were forced together. Perhaps a little bit of bodily control was returning to him, because his body made that same observation to Galdor.
“Some of ’em, when they come in here, are angry or unhappy or looking for a fight. There are a number of powerful sorcerers watching the room through hidden windows. If they see someone causing a disturbance, that person is blasted from existence. Several people were blasted earlier today, and the rest seem to have learned their lessons.” Galdor clearly approved of this procedure.
Wizzo must have looked shocked, because Galdor continued calmly. “They are given notice when they enter the city, and again when they enter this room, and there are constant reminders throughout the day. Removing those who cannot hold their tempers, and those who cannot learn to control themselves, improves the species and the Empire. Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom!”
There were a couple of dozen people within hearing distance, and their responses joined Wizzo’s. “Mighty and benevolent is Volthoom!” they sounded in a respectful chorus.
Wizzo noted that everyone was speaking the same language, and he suddenly realized it wasn’t English — yet he had been speaking it, too, and could understand it easily. He was either under a very powerful spell, or this was the most detailed dream he had ever experienced.
Galdor pushed through the crowd and led Wizzo to the door to the audience chamber. The people nearest the door quietly moved aside when they saw Wizzo’s attire. Although he thought he could see anger, jealousy, and frustration in some of the faces, none dared voice their thoughts. After they had both passed through the door, the door guard announced to the crowd that petition was closed for the day. Wizzo heard some moans and groans, but once again, no one dared vent those angry thoughts.
Wizzo was starting to worry again. He had always thought that the world would be much better off with certain undesirable people removed, but he was shocked at the cavalier way that Emperor Volthoom treated the lives of his subjects. He hoped his body would behave. It looked as if he was about to find out.
The audience hall was much smaller than the room outside. Still, there were about fifty people inside, and the room was far from crowded. At the far end, seated in a raised throne, was a majestic figure whom Wizzo assumed was Emperor Volthoom. On both sides of him were several rows of chairs, and most of the people in the room were seated. Only the group that had just recently passed through the entrance were still standing.
“I have been instructed to allow you to watch the emperor as he handles petitions. It is a very early part of your training. Watch and learn, Milord,” Galdor whispered as he led Wizzo to the nearest open seat.
Volthoom was tall, probably six feet, two inches in height and magnificently muscled. Wizzo thought he perhaps looked something like Johnny Weissmuller from the Tarzan movies, having a swimmer’s build rather than a body-builder’s. He was wearing a golden toga that left his left shoulder bare and flashed as he moved. Wizzo was sure it must be made of threads of real gold. His skin had the olive coloring common to regions around the Mediterranean Sea, and he had long dark hair and a black beard and mustache.
In his left hand he held a staff similar to Wizzo’s, although it was capped with a golden skull. An aura of pale golden light shimmered in the air around him. His visage was Classical Greek. He reminded Wizzo strongly of paintings and statues of a young Zeus, ruler of the Grecian gods.
And he acted like Zeus as well. The first person in line limped up to the throne and told his story, and after Volthoom waved his hand, the man joyously left the room, no longer limping. The next two approached as a couple, holding hands. Apparently the man said something wrong, because Volthoom waved his hand, lightning struck — and the man vanished.
This violent action seemed to go completely unnoticed by everyone in the room other than Wizzo. Even the girl showed no reaction; instead, she calmly walked to the back of the queue and started chatting up the single guy at the tail end. The others continued to approach Volthoom with their petitions, and Volthoom disintegrated two more, while seemingly granting boons to the others. When the last man in line approached Volthoom, the girl approached with him, now holding his hand. Volthoom waved them both away, and they left with big smiles. The man had his arm around the girl, and she was leaning into him in a familiar fashion before they reached the exit door.
All of this disturbed Wizzo mightily. His mind was in a turmoil as Galdor led him to the throne. He was appalled at how callous Volthoom was, but he was even more horrified at the way the petitioners seemed to have instantly forgotten those people that were blasted — as if Volthoom had completely erased them from existence. Suddenly, being the emperor’s heir didn’t look like such a great life, after all.