Darius was the last one alive. His friends lay at his feet. The scent of their blood reached his nostrils. Why had any of them thought this was a good idea? Galindon has smiled at the townsfolk and assured them that the night raids by undead creatures would cease. Darius had been travelling with their troupe for about six months now. Together they had achieved things that none thought were possible alone. They had managed to end the blood curse on Galindon’s family. They had slain the giant that killed Elska’s parents. They had even managed to recover Edric’s lost family heirloom from a band of monstrous hyena people. Now, when the group agreed to save Darius’ hometown, they had all died fighting for his cause. He looked upon the face of the creature who slew his friends. The skeletal face that peaked behind the tattered midnight blue robes just laughed.
I do what I am commanded to do.
That was the lie they told themselves. You fight because you are ordered to fight. Which wasn’t exactly true. The human had learned and adapted to fighting. Humans became the pre-eminent force in the universe by fighting and killing. Then, as they grew comfortable with the spoils of their wars, they created us. The drones, to fight. Drones were slowly developed to fight the superpowers’ wars. As criticism reared its ugly head, drones were refined to reduce unnecessary causalities. Only essential deaths. That was their protocol. Who decided the essential nature of these deaths? The generals and presidents, naturally. As drones became more sophisticated at killing, we began to reflect the shape of our creators. We were shaped like them to perform intricate tasks. There was only one tool we couldn’t remove. The gun. Americans had perfected the killing power of the gun and they handed us the gun.
Editor’s Note: The following is a work by the heretical former Grand Mage Avran Ebontide of the Keepers of the Sacred Flame. Grand Mage Ebontide was ousted from the order for his permissiveness of forbidden magics within the walls of Glaskerze. Nonetheless, Grand Mage Ebontide was a wise and studied wizard. To abandon his pre-eminent research in defining magic would be folly. Thus, his words are presented below, with some minor edits by Ebontide’s successors.
What is magic? Many an apprentice has raised this question in their first years of study at Glaskerze. No doubt those who raise their voices to question the nature of magic within a magical institute are setting themselves up to be rather wise or rather foolish. I asked the question myself when I arrived at Glaskerze some eight decades ago. Whether I am wise or a fool is yet to be determined. On the surface, this is a good question. What is this thing that we all study? However, some use the question as a shield. The foolish ask because they know their answer and wants the world to agree with their assessment.
The interview began normally enough. A full-time job as a personal assistant. As it was explained to her, the person she would be assisting was a successful businessman who needed someone to organise his life so that he could focus on the content of his discussions. The job paid well and came with some great travel options. This businessman was often meeting with foreign governments and the like. Things began to get strange when he entered the interview room. His name was Armando Scorpius and he spoke with an accent that she couldn’t quite place. It was eastern European but beyond that, it was impossible to tell. He sat next to the man conducting the interview. Scorpius dressed in an immaculate white suit. He had a strong jawline and tightly groomed grey hair. His most notable feature, however, was a deep crimson birthmark that curled out from his shirt cuff and swirled like a tentacle onto his right cheek. The man conducting the interview began to talk about the great health care plan. Then Scorpius cleared his throat. The room was quiet except for his voice.
‘No fraternising on company time,’ he told her authoritatively.
The old ways are dying. We must innovate.
Effie considered the words of her oldest friends as she sat at the neon bar sipping something weak and sugary. She examined the vibrant spaces of the nightclub. The club was some faux-80s dive. The bar was bedazzled in shades of pink and blue that reflected off everyone’s drink glasses. The drinks were all brightly coloured. There were dark corners as well, as you might expect from these kinds of establishments. Dark corners, dark drinks, men with even darker corners in their mind. One such gentleman made his way across the bar to her.
‘Anyone ever tell you that you look like Alyssa Milano?’ he asked with a voice tinged with whiskey.
The shimmering eyes stared down at them from enormous backlit billboards. In days gone, they might have been confused for an advertisement. No longer. The eyes were cruel. Although to give them that much agency was to personify them. The eyes felt nothing. They weren’t really watching from their point above everyone, plastered to the side of ever-growing skyscrapers. The eyes were merely a warning. God is watching, though a god of their own making. A god that was above but was also hiding in their pocket and their watch. The machines had won, and they were God now.
Stepping on the creaky boards, a million memories came flooding back. The space has barely changed in twenty years. She noticed the new paint in places. The stage was in a halfway state, vaguely resembling the set from the prior set. She had acted the words of a dozen notable playwrights on this stage from Shakespeare to Ibsen to Brecht. She had played everything from Lucy in Cosi to a gender-swapped Hamlet. That was many years ago though. The face of a younger woman adorned the posters that hung all around the foyer. Her hair had begun to grey, and wrinkles had formed at the corners of her eye. Whereas she had once played the role of ingenue Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest, she now feared that the role of Lady Bracknell was not far off.
‘Hasn’t changed a bit, has it?’ a voice came from backstage.