The Price of Abolition
By Thomas J. Lauser
After Alistair Blackwood released his slaves, the Expansionist party, who held the majority in the Imperial Council of Twenty Three, declared him a traitor. In a statement penned by Alistair’s younger brother Letherious, they accused the abolitionist of violating customs sacred to both the Empire and their God-Hero, The Ascendant. A few hours later, the Restitution party, their minority rivals, published a declaration of their own. They too condemned Alistair’s actions, but stopped short of labeling him an enemy to the Empire.
Meanwhile, Emperor Ferdinand III remained oddly mum, instead focusing his efforts on the renewed conflict with Venomar Ahn’Vas and the Seragorn in Avarad. Finally, when pressed by Letherious at a Council Summit, he spoke on the issue. Ferdinand responded simply; arguing that the Empire had no place in restricting the practices of a private business—even one as large and influential as Blackwood Company. Slavery, he reasoned, had long been an integral part of Imperial life, and one man’s decision to release his thralls would not change that. So long as Alistair had not conspired with Venomar in doing so—a matter Ferdinand appointed a special committee to investigate—he did not view him as an enemy to the Empire.
Though neither an endorsement nor a condemnation, Ferdinand’s statement pleased his fellow Restitutionists, but infuriated Expansionists. Not long after the Summit, Alistair received a letter from Letherious himself. In it, he expressed his own personal fury over his brother’s decision, and vowed to “restore the Blackwood family name,” Alistair had disgraced.
Alistair and his brother had never been close, but Letherious’ letter upset him nonetheless. Still, he persevered. Never before had he been so confident in a business move. The use of slaves had always made him uncomfortable, and now, he had corrected that gross injustice. But even Alistair’s steadfast attitude could not remedy the fact that the path forward for his movement remained unclear.
It seemed all Theranos awaited his next move, but he had no idea how to proceed. How could he garner more support? What would it take to convince the rest of the Claudian noble class to release their slaves? A few minor lords had sent him letters of support, but as of yet, none had followed in Alistair’s footsteps.
An answer to Alistair’s conundrum came in the form of Mohaven Tehras, the famed Theraan Grand Historian, who requested an interview with the abolitionist. One of the most respected authors in all Theranos, people of all faiths, races, and cultures put stock in Mohaven’s work. If he could effectively tell his story and preach the importance of manumission, Alistair hoped he could draw more Claudians to his side.
On a warm summer morning, Mohaven arrived at Alistair’s home of Soldrafor Manor in a horse-drawn carriage. Alistair guided the tall, long-necked, purple skinned Historian to his study in the West Tower, where they drank tea amidst massive bookshelves and a collection of Precursor artifacts in glass cases. Both men sat across from each other on a pair of red felt couches, while the Zehren Tusks, Alistair’s mercenaries, kept watch around the room.
“It’s been quite a while since I was last here,” said Mohaven as he eyed up a Precursor Zeatorn to his right. He had bald head, a short red goatee, and wore a bulky blue robe with gold accents.
“Didn’t you interview my father here?” Alistair asked, his grey eyes surveying the Grand Historian with confusion. The abolitionist wore a burgundy doublet with yellow trousers. He had short black hair and a clean shaven face.
“Ah correct,” Mohaven replied, blinking. He shook his head and raised his teacup to his lips. “My mistake. I’ve done a great many interviews since then.”
“How could you forget visiting the former home of The Ascendant?” Alistair asked, raising his hands. In life, Reman Brennan, who later became The Ascendant, built Soldrafor Manor on lands acquired by the Empire after the Battle of Crying Valley—one of his most noteworthy victories.
“When you get to be damn near 300, you’ll forget a great many things.”
“You wrote a book about The Ascendant. I have it here,” Alistair said. He reached forward and picked up a copy of Reman Brennan: From Life to Ascension off of the coffee table that rested between them.
“Let’s get on with the interview,” Mohaven said, smiling and nodding.
“Be my guest,” Alistair replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Just as Mohaven opened a pack on his belt and withdrew a small notepad, the door behind the two men flung open. Alistair spun his head around to see Chander Bakra, leader of the Zehren Tusks, standing in the threshold with his crossbow armed and ready.
“Alistair, down!” the gargantuan, armor-clad Rhinox shouted. Alistair hit the floor, and watched as crossbow bolt tore through Mohaven’s right eye. Blood squirted from the Historian’s head, splashing all over the coffee table and couch.
“What in Octavarius have you done!?” Alistair screamed as he climbed up off the floor and gawked at the carnage. Chander strode forward, leapt over the couch, and grabbed Alistair by the hand. He had iron colored skin, sported a black goatee, and wore a red patch over his right eye.
“Saving your hide. Was that really the best Mohaven impersonator you could send, bastards?” Chander cried. The other members of the Zehren Tusks rushed over to the scene, and formed a defensive formation around Alistair.
“How can you be sure?” asked Alistair, quaking with fear.
“I spent two years guarding that bore. The man doesn’t forget anything. We’ve been compromised.”
“But—but—how did they manage to fool us?”
“Doppelganger ritual, I’ll bet.”
“That’s Mud Magic!”
“Uh, boss. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but assassins usually don’t care about how a job gets done.”
Two of the study’s windows shattered, coating the floor in bits of painted glass. Four assassins dressed in dark green robes rushed into the room. Each of them wore masks—black on one side, white on the other—and wielded a pair of glaives.
“Ankit, stay with Al! Beirut and Patel, give ‘em hell! Al, stay down!”
Chander used the couch for cover as he took shots at the incoming assassins. Meanwhile, his comrades, who wore tattered leather armor and carried hand weapons, did as commanded. Alistair stood back, Ankit at his side. He charged a Red Magic spell in his hands and scanned the room.
“Flank!” Ankit shouted just before an arrow pierced his throat. The Rhinox mercenary fell to his knees, holding onto the projectile with both hands. Alistair waved his left hand and fired a string of arcane bullets in the direction the shot came from. The spell forced three assassins, who had been preparing to unleash a volley, to find cover behind the bookshelves. The abolitionist prepared another attack, and took a few steps towards his enemies. Then, a small pouch rolled down the hall and rested in front of Alistair. He looked down just in time to see it explode.
The force of the blast flung Alistair into the air, and sent him crashing through the coffee table behind him. Clouds of thick, grey smoke enveloped the room. Alistair’s hand came alight with Yellow Magic. A burst of light cleared a path in the smoke, through which the abolitionist could see two assassins running at him. He shot a round of arcane bullets at them, but missed horribly. The spell sailed over their heads. His infamous aim had come back to bite him once more.
“Damnit Al, leave this to the pros!” shouted a voice through the now thinning smoke. A crossbow bolt impaled one of the assassins. Chander tackled the other to the ground and pummeled him into oblivion.
Alistair stood up and looked around. Two of Chander’s mercenaries were dead, along with seven assassins. The room lay in shambles. Books, Precursor artifacts, broken furniture, and glass littered the floor. Two of the study’s massive bookshelves had been overturned during the fighting.
“Who are these cretins? Who sent them?” Alistair asked, though he knew the answer to his second inquiry all too well. The Expansionists, no doubt—or perhaps their sympathizers—sent them. But what about Letherious, Alistair thought? Was he involved in this?
“The Den of Whispers. Surprised you’ve never worked with them,” said Chander, gripping his crossbow with blood-soaked hands.
“I’m an honest businessman!” Chander rolled his eyes.
“Boss. Just two months ago, you owned slaves. Honesty is a bit of a new thing for you.”
“Fair. I suppose I’ve no room to talk” Alistair admitted. “But still, Blackwood Company has never hired assassins. Even when the Selectives were after us we didn’t resort to using cutthroats.”
“I believe that you have never hired assassins,” said Chander while stepping towards the study door. “But I doubt the same can be said for your brother.”
“No. He wouldn’t go this far. Never” Alistair replied.
The thought infuriated him. It made him want to smash every Precursor artifact in the study, and expunge every positive memory of his younger sibling from his mind. Even Letherious would not resort to hiring assassins to combat the politics of his brother, he told himself.
“Some men will do anything for power. Even more to keep it,” Chander opened the door and peered outside, looking for potential targets. Alistair crouched behind the couch, Beirut at his side. He looked behind him, and noticed that the fake Mohaven’s body had morphed back to its true form – a Troll with teal skin, orange hair, and a large nose ring. Chander was correct – they had indeed made use of a Doppelganger Ritual.
The bell in the north tower then rang five times in rapid succession, signaling that the Manor was under attack.
“Took ‘em long enough. Come on, we’ve got to get you to the North Tower. You’ll be safe there.”
Alistair rushed around the couch and followed Chander into the courtyard. Rows of foliage in bright colors adorned the area, and a marble pathway led to a large golden statue of The Ascendant and his wife, Beatrice.
“Where’s your Gladeon?” Chander said, glancing back at Alistair. “Thought you Mages kept them on you at all times. Like a bloody security blanket.”
“It’s in the throne room,” Alistair admitted.
“Lot of good it’s doing you there!”
“I didn’t expect to get attacked by assassins today! I haven’t drawn my Gladeon in years!”
Four Zehren Tusks rushed towards the trio from the North Tower. One of them, a Leonii who wielded a halberd, approached Chander.
“We’ve scanned the South Tower. No sign of the Omegon.”
“Omegon?” Al inquired as he surveyed the courtyard, his hands trembling.
“The leader of a Den of Whispers Muerdos—or in layman’s terms, a murder pack. On a major job like this, every move is designed to draw the prey—you—into his crosshairs.”
“What should we do, then? We can’t just walk straight into his trap!”
“I’m working on it,” Chander said. The moment he finished speaking, movement on the balcony above caught his eye. “Al, out of the way!” he shouted as he pushed the abolitionist behind the statue of The Ascendant and Beatrice. “And this time, stay down, damn you!”
A hail of arrows then cascaded down from the balcony, dropping two Zehren Tusks. Chander, who took cover behind a section of shrubbery, returned fire, as Alistair looked for a target of his own. The Rhinox’s warning had done little to deter him from attempting to assist in the melee. If he couldn’t even defend himself, how could he expect to free the rest of the slaves, he wondered?
Alistair peered around the statue and spotted a pair of assassins coming out of the East Tower armed with bows. They readied their arrows, and scanned the courtyard below for targets. Sensing an opportunity, Alistair cupped his hands together. Red Magic swirled and coalesced between his palms. He spread his fingertips, sending a swirling, churning orb of crimson energy hurdling towards the assassins. Not until then did Alistair recall just how long it had been since he cast such a powerful spell.
“No!” the abolitionist shouted as the orb sailed on him, veering away from its intended target. Despite his desperate attempts to control the spell’s trajectory, he could not coral the orb. It careened into a column several feet away from both assassins, hurling marble debris down into the courtyard. A large piece nearly struck Chander, who glared back at Alistair after leaping away from the wreckage.
Worse yet, the assassins had now spotted Alistair. Arrows flew at the abolitionist, who managed to raise a Yellow Magic shield just in time. The missiles turned to ash and fell to the ground as Alistair fled back behind the statue for cover.
He hid there, an arcane shield encircling him, until Chander gave the “all clear,” a minute later. The Rhinox then charged over to Alistair, his eyes teeming with fury.
“You fool! You cocky, ignorant fool!” Chander exclaimed, punching Alistair in the chest as he spoke. “I ordered you to stay out of the fight!”
“I’m not going to just let these bastards have their way with my home!”
“You hired me to handle this sort of thing! Let me do my damn job!”
“I am! But I’m not going to hide if I can help! I did serve in the Ninth Myralian Crusade, you know!” Alistair insisted, beaming with pride.
“Yes, and by your own admission you were a horrible commander! They left you in charge of the supply lines! The bloody supply lines! How many times did you say Lucius Leros had to come to your rescue?” Chander stomped his right hoof on the ground as he shouted furiously at his employer. “Boss, on the battlefield, you’re a distraction! A liability!”
Alistair saw the truth in Chander’s words. In combat, he looked as out of place as a Sacred Bride dancing the janjoob with a group of green-skins in a smoke-filled, drug-laden Quippa Den. Still, he protested. Part of him needed to prove he could be useful in a combat situation. He knew the road ahead would be perilous indeed. If he hoped to continue with his mission, these assassins would be but the first of many to challenge him.
“I’m paying for you, so—” Alistair began, before a rumbling beneath his feet shattered his concentration. The entire courtyard shook. Chander’s men scrambled about the area looking for the source of the quake. Behind Alistair, the statue of The Ascendant and Beatrice started to crumble.
“Out of the way, Al!” Chander said as he grabbed Alistair by the hand and guided him towards the North Tower. The pair then turned around and watched in horror as the statue continued to come apart. The Ascendant’s head fell first, followed by his sword, and then Beatrice’s entire body. A loud explosion rang out, and in an instant, a column of crimson arcane energy burst up from beneath the statue’s base and shot straight up into sky. There it lingered for a minute until it dissipated, spewing shards of magic in all directions. In the space where the statue once stood floated a man dressed in Claudian combat robes and wearing a Den of Whispers mask.
“By Antigone! They sent a mage! A bloody mage!”
“No mage could’ve done that! He must be using-”
“Naaman’s Dust. And a lot of it!”
“But that’s illegal!” Alistair shouted as he and Chander fled back to the North Tower.
“Again, boss, assassins! Assassins!” Chander replied as the pair ran through the North Tower’s gate and into the foyer, where ten Zehren Tusks were waiting for them.
“Roland, Nerica,” he ordered, pointing to Claudian with twin swords and a Leonii with a bow. “Take Alistair to the throne room, bar the gate, and don’t let anyone inside! Anyone! The rest of you, come with me. The Omegon has revealed himself. Let’s give him the fury of Ponta’Zahn!”
The Zehren Tusks let out a battle cry, and went off to carry out their assignments. Chander opened the gate, and the eight mercenaries he ordered to follow him charged into the courtyard.
“Alistair. Stick with them! Don’t you dare come back to the courtyard,” Chander said. He then ran through the threshold and let loose a barrage of bolts with his crossbow. Nerica shut the gate, while Roland ushered Alistair up the foyer stairs and down the hallway. They moved past statues of Roman, Callaway, Alexis, Rollins, and the rest of The Ascendant’s Companions.
“How the hell did they get beneath the manor?” Roland asked as they passed by a stain glass window depicting The Reckoning, when The Ascendant repelled a Seragorn invasion of the mainland Empire.
“The tunnels. There’s an access point in the valley. But it’s a maze down there. No one could’ve gotten through it without a map.”
“Well, how did they get one?” asked Nerica, who had just caught up with the pair.
Alistair fell silent. The answer had been obvious to him from the moment the assassin obliterated the statue of The Ascendant. Letherious, who had spent more time in those tunnels than anyone else in the Blackwood family, had betrayed him. He knew his brother wished to end his cause but he never believed he would go so far. To hire assassins to commit fratricide seemed antithetical to every Claudian value Alistair grew up believing in.
The acceptance of Letherious’ treachery enraged Alistair, and invigorated each of his steps with rage. When the time came to give Letherious his comeuppance, Alistair vowed he would not show his wayward brother even a shred of mercy. But for the time being, the abolitionist’s fury solidified what he planned to do when he got ahold of his Gladeon.
Alistair, Roland, Nerica dashed into the throne room. Roland and Nerica attempted to shut the room’s large oak door, but Alistair whipped around and shot it with a blast of blue magic. Despite their best efforts, the door would not budge, for the abolitionist’s spell held it agape. Both mercenaries looked at Alistair dumbfounded.
“By the Matriarch, what are you doing?” Nerica shouted as Alistair ran over to throne and picked up his Gladeon.
“This is my home. My cause. They’re after me,” Alistair said as he about-faced and sprinted through the open door. “I’m not going to leave Chander to fight that bastard alone!”
Alistair turned down the hallway, ascended the staircase to the manor’s third floor, and rushed out onto the balcony. The courtyard had become a warzone. Blazes of orange, cackling flame danced in between chunks of marble rubble, and thick columns of dark smoke rose high into the air. Chander huddled behind what remained of The Ascendant statue’s base, firing off crossbow bolts and tossing Dwarven grenades after each volley of arcane bullets from the Omegon. Only one of the mercenaries the Rhinox brought with him remained. The bodies of the other nine littered the gardens, torn asunder by the Omegon’s magic. A Cryomancer with an axe, the only survivor, sat behind a half-ruined pillar clutching a chest wound.
The abolitionist turned his head to look behind him. Down the hall, Nerica and Roland were fighting with a trio of assassins. He needed to make a move now, while he had an opportunity. Just as he prepared to leap into the fray, an errant blast from the Omegon struck the balcony, sundering the floor beneath Alistair and sending him crashing down into the courtyard.
Were it not for the Yellow Magic shield the abolitionist cast moments before he collided with the ground, it likely would have been over for him right there. His head would have been dashed upon the battle-torn earth, and his cause would have met a quick, bloody end.
Alistair stood up, stunned but unharmed. The Omegon floated above the ground several yards away of him, an emerald green aura encircling his feet. His sights were set on Chander. He fired bolt after bolt of Red Magic at him, entirely unaware that his true prey had just landed in the courtyard.
With his right hand, Alistair ripped his Gladeon from its teal scabbard. A unique weapon crafted by the artisans of Sancros in the Kojima Reef and gifted to Claudian Mages on their graduation day, the sword amplified any spell cast by the user. Made from dark grey steel, the blade featured a serpentine azure inlay reminiscent of the Lerdas lay lines that decorated the left hands of all individuals lucky enough to carry mage-blood.
Alistair stood at a diagonal from his target—perfect for what he had in mind. He aimed his Gladeon at the Omegon and summoned forth all the energy he had to let loose one of the most powerful Red Magic spells he knew. A twisting, jagged beam of crimson energy shot forth from the abolitionist’s weapon, striking the Omegon in the shoulder and knocking him down to his knees.
Unfortunately, the abolitionist had, as usual, missed his mark—he intended to hit the Omegon in the side, where it surely would have torn through the rogue mage. Instead, by hitting the rogue mage’s shoulder, the beam had collided with his armor, offering him some protection. Stunned but still at large, the Omegon whipped a volley of arcane bullets in Alistair’s direction. Though the abolitionist tried to raise a shield, he reacted too late. The Omegon’s attack hit him directly, decorating his body with wounds.
“Al! No!” Chander shouted as he leapt from behind cover. Several of the magic projectiles struck Alistair in the right leg, causing him to stumble. Pain shot through him as the Omegon charged, his own Gladeon in hand.
The abolitionist raised his weapon, but with just a few quick swings, the Omegon managed to disarm him. The rogue mage then drove his blade straight through Alistair’s gut.
As the Omegon ripped the Gladeon from his target’s body and raised it for another strike, Alistair let loose a scream that echoed through Soldrafor Manor.
He fell backwards. Blood gushed from his open wound. His vision became dark and clouded.
It had come to an end. His cause would meet a forgettable, untimely death. All the slaves he released would be captured and sold off to new masters. Slavery would continue to be part of the Imperial way, and countless more Claudians and Seragorn would lose their lives in a perpetual pendulum of racial conflict.
Just before Alistair’s eye shut, he saw what looked like a crossbow bolt tear through the Omegon’s head. In the darkness, he heard the rogue mage’s Gladeon drop to the ground, and felt a pair of large hands lift him up from the ground.
The following morning, Alistair awoke in his bed to the sight of a wizened, grey-haired mage-doctor mixing a bright yellow healing potion. Chander stood by the door, crossbow still in hand. Alistair tried to sit up as best he could, but pain shot through his ribs, forcing him to stay put. His arms, right legs, and chest were cocooned in bandages. Even during his time in the Claudian military, he had never been wounded so severely.
“Chander,” Alistair said lowly. “I’m sorry. I should have listened to you.”
“That’s where your wrong, boss,” the Rhinox scoffed. “Your fighting ‘skills’ are a disgrace to every self-respecting mage. A crippled Uldek the Red could throttle you,” Chander shook his head. “But you did what you had to do. If it weren’t for your distraction, I’d be chatting it up with Antigone in the afterlife.”
“Well. Glad I’m good for something,” Alistair chuckled. His ribs came alight once more, causing him to wince in pain.
“Take it easy,” said the doctor as he approached Alistair with the healing potion. Alistair titled back his head, and the doctor poured the thick, bitter liquid down his throat. The abolitionist swallowed hard and closed his eyes.
“You’re no Venomar. But you did good. And when the rest of the Empire hears about this, your support is going go up like a Precursor airship.”
“If the Empire hears about this,” Alistair said upon reopening his eyes. “I’m sure the Expansionist propaganda machine will shut us right down.”
“No chance. You’ve got yourself a visitor, boss.”
“Who?” Alistair asked. What kind of madman would still want to visit him after all that had transpired?
“Mohaven freaking Tehras,” Chander replied, grinning.
“No,” Alistair groaned. He shook with fear. Agony flooded his abdomen once again. “It can’t be.”
“No joke. He’s down in the courtyard waiting for you.”
“How can you be sure it’s the real one?”
“He’s spent the past hour crying over the broken statue of The Ascendant. Most Historian thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Well,” Alistair shifted around in his bed. “Let’s not keep the man waiting.” The elderly Mage-Doctor protested. Chander shook his head in disagreement.
“Boss, you can hardly walk. I’ll bring him up here.”
“No,” Alistair insisted. “Get me a crutch. I’ll get down there just fine. I want him to see what they did to me. I want them all to see.”
“Al,” Chander said as he stood up and returned his crossbow to the strap on his back. “For a man who makes a habit of dressing in bright frilly clothes, you’ve got walnuts. Vonn-sized walnuts of steel.
“Funny. They used to say something similar about me in college.”
Half an hour later, Alistair strode into the ruined courtyard with the help of a crutch. Chander walked ahead of him, knocking rubble out of the injured abolitionist’s path. The broken, battle worn area resembled a city after a prolonged siege. Most of the gardens had caught fire during the melee, reducing the once majestic foliage to piles of ash. All four of the fountains were shattered, spilling streams of water onto the ground, and bits of the damaged balcony peppered the scene. In the middle sat the real Mohaven Tehras with the severed head of The Ascendant statue in his hands and tears in his eyes. A refugee clutching to the remnants of his former home.
“Who would do such a thing? Who would disgrace the home of The Ascendant?” he said, starring at the statue head as though it might come alive and answer his inquiry at any moment.
“Someone who cares more about politics than their own religion,” Alistair replied, leaning on his crutch. Chander motioned to one of his mercenaries – a Myralian Elf with a long black braid – and ordered her to bring over a chair from the West Tower. Mohaven looked up at Alistair, gasped, and dropped the statue head to the ground.
“By Reman!” he exclaimed. “What have they done to you, Alistair?” The real Mohaven looked almost identical to the imposter, but he seemed to be a bit taller and wore a green robe with gold trim.
“It’s the price of abolition,” he replied. The Myralian Elf mercenary returned with a wooden chair, which she placed behind Alistair. The abolitionist then sat down and handed his crutch to Chander. “And pissing off pricks with full pockets. I knew this day would come from the moment I released my slaves.”
“I suppose that brings me to my first question,” Mohaven said, picking himself up off the ground. He wiped tears from his face with his hand, and then sat down on the ruined remains of the pedestal where the statue of The Ascendant and Beatrice had once stood. “Excuse me for my lack of professionalism. The Ascendant, in my view, is one of the greatest mortals to ever walk Theranos. His accomplishments rival that of the Divines! He is truly worthy of deification!”
“I don’t miss these rants,” Chander said under his breath.
“You’re excused, Mohaven,” Alistair replied. “I’ve never been a particularly religious man. I believe in The Ascendant’s divinity, but have never worshipped him in a devout sense.”
“Western Ascendantism is casual by nature.”
“True, but I took that tradition a few steps further. I still can’t remember the whole Ballad,” Alistair explained, looking down at the statue head. “I just wonder what he would have thought of all this.”
“I think he would approve, Alistair. He would recognize the brave step you have taken. Personally, I doubt the God-Hero who forced the San’Gal Conclave out of human lands and liberated the Elves of Nervain would have supported slavery.”
“Likewise,” Alistair nodded. Since the days of his youth, when he looked up at figures of The Ascendant and Beatrice in his local church with wide and innocent eyes, he found the Faith’s stance on slavery to be against everything Reman Brennan supposedly stood for. Why would the man who counted an Elf, a Cryomancer, a Dwarf, and according to the Easterners – a Seragorn – among his companions concur with such an oppressive institution?
“But, as for the Ballad, there are four versions, the latest—”
“Mohaven, he didn’t ask for a lecture!” Chander interjected.
“I’m just trying to inform him!”
“Don’t worry, Mohaven. I don’t mind. Chander’s all about spoiling the fun. Isn’t that right?” Alistair said, peering back at his bodyguard. The Rhinox rolled his eyes and groaned. Mohaven chuckled and pulled out a small silver orb from his robes.
“Are you familiar with this?” Mohaven asked, clutching the silver orb between his index and middle finger.
“A Phatan’Era Requestas. Right?”
“Indeed! Good catch!” Mohaven said. He tapped it twice, causing it to glow bright green. “We still don’t know exactly what the Precursors used them for, but some reason that—”
“Mohaven! Get to the point!”
“Alright, alright!” Mohaven sighed and lowered his head. “Then as you know, this is going to record every word spoken by you and I during this interview. Once finished, I will transcribe today’s session and publish it in the Patamos Post.”
“Understood,” Alistair replied. “Let’s begin.”
Mohaven tapped the Requestas once more. It began to float and encircle the pair.
“Good people of Theranos—I sit here with Alistair Blackwood, Chief Operator of Blackwood Company, who just recently sent shockwaves throughout the Claudian Empire by releasing the thousands of Seragorn slaves employed by his business” Mohaven began.
“Sadly, tragedy has struck, as Soldrafor Manor, Alistair’s current residence and the former home of The Ascendant himself fell victim to an attack by assassins shortly before my arrival. The abolitionist himself suffered greatly in the attack, and has numerous wounds to show for it. Though he walks with a crutch and is covered in bandages, he has managed to persevere and wishes to continue with the interview.”
“Now, onto my first question. Alistair, who do you think sent the assassins after you?”
“Well, as I said earlier,” Alistair groaned. His chest throbbed. He would need more healing potion to get through the interview. “Someone who values politics more than justice.”
“Are you suggesting that the Expansionist party hired these cutthroats to do away with you? Is your brother not among them?” Mohaven said, his expression wavering between sympathetic and intrigued.
“I can think of few others who would benefit from my death,” Alistair started. He then looked down at the ground and sighed.“As for Letherious . . . He’s never been one to let blood get in the way of his ambitions.”
“Would they really go so far to stop a dissenting voice? If your suspicions are true, then they defiled the home of their Empire’s own God-Hero!”
“This is going to break your heart, Mohaven,” Alistair said with a chuckle. He groaned again, looked at Chander, and pointed to his chest. The mercenary leader nodded in reply, and sent one of his men inside to get Alistair another healing potion. “But most Claudians place maintaining racial superiority high above religion and history.”
“If that is true, then why did you decide to release your slaves?”
Alistair fell silent for some time. He watched the Requestas as it encircled him and Mohaven like a planet orbiting a sun. Should he tell the truth, he wondered? Could he tell the truth?
“Because it was the right thing to do,” Alistair said lowly as a mercenary handed him another healing potion. He took it quickly, winced, and shook his head.
“Come now,” Mohaven said, waving his hands frantically, as if he could somehow will Alistair into providing a more revealing answer. “There has to be more to it than that!” Alistair wished he could tell Mohaven the truth. He longed to explain to everyone how Venomar Ahn’Vas, a man vilified by the Empire, convinced him to set his slaves free. He glanced over to Chander—one of the two people he told about his adventure in Avarad. The Rhinox shook his head slowly in response. Early on, Chander informed Alistair that he and Venomar were friends—they had served together during the Frontier Expanse, when the Arkresh led his own band of sell-swords.
“I had a realization. An epiphany.”
“An epiphany? Of what sort? Were you visited by The Ascendant? Beatrice? One of the Gods? Nez’Gar is the Seragorn’s patron deity! Perhaps it was him!”
“Mohaven, keep your excitement to a minimum! We don’t need a repeat of Tadelgos!”
“I take offense to that!” Mohaven shouted. “We swore never to speak of Tadelgos! It was an accident!”
“Relax, gentlemen!” Alistair growled. “But no, Mohaven. It was nothing so romantic. I’ve always disagreed with slavery. I found it cruel and barbaric from the time I was a boy. Were it not for Blackwood Company’s profits—and my own fear of backlash from the Empire—I might’ve become an abolitionist some time ago. But I was too fearful, too timid to break with tradition.”
“Well, what changed?” Mohaven said, pressing further.
“I always thought that in order for slavery to end, it would need to be a gradual thing. I always thought someone else would get the movement going. But one day, I came to see that thanks to my position at Blackwood Company, there is no one better suited than me to begin the process of abolition.”
“I see,” Mohaven said, disappointment evident in his eyes. “I suppose I’ll just have to accept that as your best answer. Now, Alistair, many would argue that your actions have assisted Venomar Ahn’Vas, your Empire’s greatest enemy. How would you respond?”
Alistair had anticipated this inquiry, and prepared for it ahead of time. He needed to navigate the narrow gap between extolling the virtues of abolition and voicing outright support for Venomar. If he failed to do so, then the Empire would have no choice but to brand him a traitor.
“Venomar is fighting a war. I’m simply trying to right an egregious wrong.”
“True as that may be, every time a slave is released, his ranks are bolstered, and his nation grows. Doesn’t that hurt the Claudian Empire?”
“I’m a businessman,” Alistair responded after a brief pause. “Not a politician, nor a general. But I am certain that if slavery were abolished, then this conflict with the Seragorn would end. And I think that would be best for everyone involved. Both sides have lost far too many good men and wasted treasuries full of coin on this war. The time has come for peace. Peace through abolition.”
Mohaven smiled, and watched as the Requestas floated around Alistair’s head.
“I’ve lived for 296 years, Alistair,” Mohaven began. “In that time, I’ve witnessed countless wars. Truly, Theranos cannot escape the history of violence and senseless oppression that began the moment Kalcerus turned on his divine siblings and stole the Tome of Creation. I often wonder where our world might be were it not for that first, initial sin,” Mohaven sighed and pointed at Alistair. “But your actions give me hope that Theranos’ future can be greater than it’s past. Someday, this cursed rock might finally become the Bessus’Orra—the Blessed Star—The Great Father and The Great Mother intended it to be.”
Mohaven spoke of ancient tales that had become mythology to most Claudians, but remained religion to Theranos’ other races. Still, Alistair appreciated the Grand Historians’ words.
“Thank you, Mohaven. I can only hope that my kinsmen will come to see your point of view and join me in making amends for the crimes of the past.” Alistair groaned and gripped his chest. “Chander,” he moaned. “I’m going to need another potion.”
“What you need is rest, boss,” Chander said before sending a mercenary to grab Alistair another potion.
“I concur,” Mohaven said. “We can continue this interview another time. But first, I’ve one more question. How did the assassins get in here, past Chander’s Zehren Tusks?”
“The Den of Whispers sent in an imposter,” Chander informed him.
“You. They used a Doppleganger Ritual.”
“What!?” Mohaven shouted. He stood up and flailed his arms in the air, nearly striking the encircling Requestas. “I’ve a deal with the Den of Whispers! The Whisper King owes me! He agreed never to involve me in any of his jobs—in any form! This is a travesty!” Mohaven kicked a piece of rubble on the ground and cursed.
“You’ve got a deal with the Whisper King?” Alistair asked as a mercenary handed him another healing potion.
“How’d ya pull that off?” Chander asked.
“Never you mind! Story for another time!” Mohaven exclaimed as he snatched the Requestas out of orbit and tapped it twice, turning it off. “Wait till this story gets published. When I get my hands on the Whisper King I’ll—I’ll—”
“Bore him to death with one of your stories?” the Rhinox equipped. Mohaven glared back at him. Chander and Alistair then erupted in laughter so intense the abolitionist’s chest hurt worse than it had all day.
Later that night, as Alistair lay in his bed, Chander asked him if he planned on responding to Letherious’ actions with assassins of his own.
“No,” Alistair said confidently. “We’re about to hit him with something far more powerful.”
A week later, Mohaven published his piece, “An Interview with the Abolitionist,” in the Patamos Post. Within a day, nearly every major Magizett had picked up the story. Soon enough, many more Claudian nobles called themselves abolitionists. The image of Alistair Blackwood—bloodied and wounded, but determined to preach the virtues of manumission—inspired them to join his young cause and release their slaves. Alistair knew the Expansionists would respond in time. But for now, the spark that began with him in Avarad had spread into a blaze—one that the abolitionist hoped would spread throughout the Empire.
Theranos had taken another step on the path to progress.
Thomas J. Lauser – TJ to his friends and family- is a writer and special education teacher from Wallingford, Pennsylvania. “The Price of Abolition,” is his third published story, and continues the “Steps Saga,” that began with his first story, “Business of Change”. He is currently working on several more short stories and a novel. His writing blog is www.adreamdeferredband.wordpress.com