by Dan Swanson
As he and Galdor approached the seated emperor, Wizzo the Wizard could sense powerful magic radiating from him. Without a doubt, this Volthoom was the most powerful being he had ever seen by far. Commander Galdor dropped to one knee and bowed his head, and Wizzo’s body followed suit.
Galdor spoke. “Lord Volthoom, at your command, I deliver Wizzo, the newly selected Atlantean heir, just arrived in answer to your summons.”
Even Volthoom’s voice was incredibly powerful. The room seemed to rumble as he spoke, a casual display of magic that awed Wizzo. “Thank you, Commander. The two of you may rise.” He turned to Wizzo. “We are pleased to see you, young wizard. We trust that the trip was pleasant.” He paused, obviously expecting Wizzo to respond. Wizzo himself was on the verge of panic — he had no idea what to say — but once again, his rebellious body saved him.
“Indeed, My Lord Emperor. Thank you for your kindness in providing transportation. I would have otherwise found it difficult to respond to your summons expeditiously. The royal airship is a stupendous vehicle, the most luxurious mode of travel imaginable.” Wait! he thought. What airship? What luxury?
Volthoom dismissed the thanks with a flip of his wrist. “We often find it so. We see by your attire that you have been informed of the reason we summoned you.”
This seemed to need no response, as Volthoom kept speaking. “We have been monitoring your life for these last two-hundred years, and we find that you remind us of ourself as a youth, so long ago.”
Two-hundred years? Wizzo was barely forty. Yet another puzzle, piled on top of all the mysteries he had so far experienced. Volthoom was still talking.
“We find in your mind a ruthless drive to power similar to that of our younger self, a delightful disregard for any rules but your own, an absolute certainty that only by your rule will mankind be saved from itself, and the sure knowledge that what is right for Wizzo is good for all.”
After the two-hundred-year thing, and all the other weird things he had witnessed today, Wizzo had begun to suspect that the emperor was crazy. But the personality analysis was right on target. This man might be crazy, but he was not a fool, and Wizzo had best remember that.
“You also have a great affinity for sorcery. With this combination of traits, we believe you will one day make an excellent emperor.” He turned to Galdor. “And why was he not delivered sooner, Commander?”
Suddenly, there was anger in his voice, an anger so biting that Wizzo thought he smelled ozone. In fact, he did. Volthoom’s aura was now crackling with electricity, which seemed to be flowing into his staff. In the short time since he had entered this chamber, Wizzo suddenly remembered that, without exception, each time Volthoom had become angered, someone had died.
Wizzo was terrified, and he tried frantically to move away, but his body resisted. His frantic energy did have some effect — he took a half a step backward. But the emperor’s anger was not directed at him.
Galdor didn’t seem to realize that he was about to be blasted by lightning. “I was commanded to let him observe the petitioners, Lord.”
“Silence, worm!” The floor was shaking, plaster was falling from the walls, and the emperor’s voice was so loud that it hurt. He raised his staff into the air and thundered, “We have no need for officers who contradict us!” He flicked the staff almost like a whip, and a tremendous bolt of energy jumped the short distance from staff to Gate Guard Commander Galdor. With a tremendous boom his body exploded.
Wizzo tried to flinch and turn away, expecting that he would be plastered with gore, but there was none. Galdor’s body had been completely disintegrated, as had the petitioners shortly before. It was a good thing Wizzo’s body was on autopilot, because his mind was trying frantically to hide, or disappear, or die — anything to just get away. The emperor, his calm now restored, continued to converse as if nothing at all had happened.
As did Wizzo’s body. “My Lord, I am merely one of your loyal subjects, and I have never aspired to your throne.” This was true — he had never aspired to the throne of Atlantis, because he had never known it existed. “My historical knowledge is weak, My Lord. Before I can even begin my training, with your leave I would like to review the history of Atlantis with the court historian.”
Wizzo realized that his frantic mind must have somehow communicated to his body, because this was exactly what he had wanted to ask, and he was sure the force controlling him had been on the verge of saying something else.
The emperor smiled and laid his hand on Wizzo’s shoulder. “Ah, young wizard, you show wisdom! Fear not, for you will learn more of our history than you ever knew existed.” This was easy for Wizzo to believe, since he had never before known that Atlantean history existed, period. “History is one of our passions. Come, we will show you some of our past, for our history is also the history of glorious Atlantis. Yes, young wizard, you have much to learn, and only a short time to learn it all.”
A thousand years, just a short time?
“For most of your apprenticeship, you will learn from various tutors we have retained, but today we wish to introduce you to our history.” He pointed toward the door the successful petitioners had used to exit, and Wizzo began to walk that way.
Volthoom showed no signs of remorse over blasting his former commander, and Wizzo, after watching him closely, would have sworn that the emperor had totally forgotten the incident the instant he had unleashed his fatal lightning bolt. Recalling the experiences of the petitioners, he realized that in the short time he had been in the emperor’s presence, every time Volthoom had become angry or upset, he had blasted someone with lightning, and his anger was discharged at the same time — and apparently his memory of the incident was discharged as well.
Wizzo tried to put all of his observations together and figure out what was going on here. He had some ideas, but nothing coherent. He came to realize how nice it was to have a body that acted independently of his mind. Since he didn’t need to carry on a conversation, or watch where he was going, or any of the normal human activities that often interfered with his ability to concentrate, he could turn his entire attention and concentration to his current situation.
That, of course, reminded him that he had almost overlooked the small successes he had just experienced in trying to control his own body. He couldn’t afford to overlook anything if he hoped to survive and profit from this experience, so he tabled his theorizing and once again attempted to regain control of his own actions.
As soon as they left the audience chamber, the volume of Volthoom’s voice returned to a normal human level. As they walked, Volthoom continued talking, and whatever was controlling Wizzo’s body seemed to be paying more attention to Volthoom and less to Wizzo himself. Wizzo took advantage of this lapse of attention, and discovered that, with intense concentration, he could affect minor things such as the speed of his walk and the direction he was looking. It seemed to get easier with practice, and, to his relief, he found that if he relaxed his concentration, whatever was controlling his body just went back to doing whatever seemed to be necessary.
They stopped in front of what appeared to be a blank green marble wall no different than any other patch of wall, and the emperor spoke in a language that Wizzo didn’t recognize or understand.
“Gmakho nhapig olzhep amulwa keglaf xuvalu!”
As he uttered the last word, a split appeared in the wall in front of them, and it quickly widened to form an arch. Behind the door was a wide hall that spiraled gently downward. At the end of a full revolution, it opened into a much wider room, some sort of entryway. In this entryway were seven statues.
“Behold, young wizard, your first lesson. The seven most deadly enemies of Atlantis — which is to say, our seven deadliest foes. In the more than seven-thousand years we have ruled Atlantis, each of these came closer than all others to usurping our throne. Or so they thought. Yet, at the moment of their supposed triumph, our spells turned them to stone. They still live, they still think, they still observe, yet they can neither speak nor move.”
Wizzo shuddered at the terrible thought of living forever and not being able to act. They couldn’t even kill themselves and end their torturous eternities. They must be insane by now, but how would anyone know? He could think of few fates more cruel.
“We keep them here as a memorial, of sorts, to our power, a reminder to those who would oppose us, an object lesson for our lesser enemies — and a learning tool for the emperor’s heir. At least one of the statues here is a former heir. You will be emperor soon enough if you are patient; if you are impatient, you will pass the rest of eternity among our other statues.”
His body continue to respond with the right words. “Milord, I fear that even after my training, I will not be ready for your throne. It will only be with great reluctance that I assume the title of emperor. I shall never give you reason to so display me!” Or, at least, never let you catch me, anyway! he added inwardly.
They came out of the memorial room into the largest room Wizzo had ever seen in his life. The entire hill must have been hollowed out to create this room. The room looked like an overly full auction barn, filled almost to the bursting point with stuff — rows and rows of tables, each overflowing, the floor covered. This was where the emperor kept his belongings, and he had collected a lot over more than seven-thousand years.
As he looked more closely, Wizzo was awed at some of the things he recognized. There were magical talismans referred to only in legends, gems that radiated power, mummified animals from species that had supposedly died out millions of years before, magic swords, what appeared to be Aladdin’s lamp, and a gigantic flame that burned hot and bright and yet devoured nothing. Why, the items in the room alone would let him rule the world.
No one, other than I, Wizzo thought in a daze, should have access to this much power. For the good of mankind, I must make this room my own!
As they moved through the room, Volthoom casually described some of the contents they were passing.
“The Eye of Ra,” he said, pointing to a red disk the size of a saucer, seemingly cut from a single gigantic ruby. Dangling from a silver necklace, it glowed with some internal illumination, an eerie, dull blood red. “It grants the wearer magical vision, from which nothing can hide.” Indicating a crude war hammer, made by binding a large stone to the end of a stout stick with crude leather thongs, he said, “The Hammer of Thor! Long viewed as a sacred religious artifact by the people of the North Sea, their worship has imbued it with those magical qualities attributed to it in legend. When thrown in combat, it never misses its target, and always returns to the hand that cast it.”
Next was a large sword with shining blade and a fantastically jeweled hilt. “Excalibur, which we plucked from the hand of the Lady of the Lake when Atlantis conquered Camelot.” Wizzo’s doubts about what he was seeing were growing exponentially. He had never heard of a war between Atlantis and Camelot. There were some scholars, in fact, who insisted that both legends might be echoes of an earlier civilization.
The emperor indicated a large, green glowing stone, partially squashed as if from a tremendous impact, and next to it a small glass box that held a ring, the stone of which also glowed green. “The DragonHeart, which crashed to earth and destroyed a crowded temple in India several thousand years ago. Hundreds died; a great disaster.” He didn’t look too upset by this “great disaster,” though. “The DragonHeart was later recovered by a Buddhist monk, who managed to break a chip from the main stone. He mounted this chip in the setting of that ring. The Heart had somehow captured the souls of the dead, and the ring gave the monk mighty powers, until the anguish of the spirits of the dead drove him insane. Until we defeated him, he had become one of the worst tyrants humanity had ever seen.”
The next item Wizzo recognized, having seen it in person not all that long ago. “A mystical wand once called the Ibistick. It was wielded by a very clever magician, but he had not the power to oppose us. We would have liked to have put him on display in the entry hall, but he forced us to destroy him.” Wizzo wondered if he could be in the future, after Ibis had died. Otherwise, how had Volthoom come into possession of this awesome magical artifact, when he himself had seen it in Ibis’ hand only a couple of years ago?
In fact, Wizzo thought to himself, why are all these things stored here? If they are so dangerous, why would Volthoom leave them lying about? Nothing about Volthoom or Atlantis made any sense to him.
Volthoom seemed to have forgotten his original reason for bringing Wizzo here. “Come, young wizard, let us survey our capital city.”
The two floated upward, and soon the city spread out beneath them.
Wizzo felt as if he were an actor in a movie. Or, more accurately, a character in a movie that had been filmed long ago. Each time the movie was played, that character went through the same actions, with no possibility of change.
Some very powerful magic had formed an illusory stage here in Greenland (he hoped he was still in Greenland) and he had somehow become trapped in the illusion. However, when his own part in this forced drama didn’t call for him to be in the spotlight, as it were, he found that he could gain partial control of himself. He seemed to be out of the spotlight right now, so he added a few lines of his own to his part.
“Milord Emperor,” he asked timidly. “I am weary from my journey. Might I retire for the day?”
Volthoom looked as if he were about to get angry again, and Wizzo’s mind started gibbering in terror. Then the emperor waved his hand, almost as a dismissal. “Indeed, young wizard. Do have a good night’s rest, as tomorrow your work will begin in earnest.” The emperor then made a command in that unknown language.
“Ghhkol gmakhe gyhapi htkalu olvtuh atygje okhukg xuvalu!”
And both men vanished from the sky.