Hakaril Silvar, General of the Doman army’s magician’s regiment and battle-hardened adventurer, reached up to wipe a bit of sweat off his brow. His current situation was overwhelming him with tension, but unlike typical confrontations, this war could never be won by simply unleashing a torrent of overwhelming arcane energy at his opponent. No, he had to outthink the enemy, and he saw no opening to exploit. The wizard gritted his teeth, considering his options. One misstep would result in his total destruction. The thought was unpleasant enough, but being wiped out by this particular opponent would be particularly humiliating. His foe was an old rival, one whom he had met on the field of battle many times, and while their struggle was eternal, Hakaril usually prevailed. Today, however, he was losing ground with no apparent means of recovery.
Unfortunately for the General, he was also committing a remarkable strategic blunder by letting all of this frustration creep into his facial expression. It was painfully clear to his enemy that the mage considered this battle all but lost.
“Are you…alright, Gen…er, Hakaril?” questioned his adversary. “You seem like you…might need to take a break. We can…play again later, when you feel better.”
The magician glared across the chessboard at his opponent. “Darin, you’re just trying to give me an excuse to resign without actually recording this game as a loss.” It was just the sort of ploy that the half-celestial would devise to attempt to let Hakaril walk away with dignity. He wasn’t ashamed at the idea of losing to Darin, exactly. It just seemed to Hakaril as though a General losing at a game that amounted to a war simulation against a semi-pacifist was a somewhat bizarre scenario. “Anyway, don’t patronize me. Highly disrespectful, patronizing your equals. I’ll find a way out of this one yet.”
Darin nodded wordlessly as Hakaril scratched idly at his neck before moving a piece on the board. That’ll have to do, thought Hakaril. Darin frowned.
“That’s looking better, isn’t it?” remarked Hakaril. “What’re you going to do about that, hmm?”
Darin just looked at the board for a moment before calmly sliding his empress across the checkered marble playing surface. “Checkmate,” he murmured quietly.
How incredibly stupid. Hakaril smacked himself in the face, groaning slightly. “Some tactical genius I am,” he quipped.
“If…it makes you feel any better,” replied Darin apologetically, “my…father…did lead an army against the prismatic dragons. Maybe I…inherited my grasp of strategy from him.”
Hakaril laughed. “Darin, I thought you’d gotten it by now. Never apologize for winning.”
Hakaril and Darin’s chess games were something of an oddity, given Hakaril’s competitive spirit and Darin’s diametrically opposed meekness, but they had been playing games against one another since the good old days when they were roommates at the Gunnir Academy for the Arcane Arts and Sciences. It was the best way to get Darin to loosen up a little, Hakaril reasoned. They had known each other for nearly a decade now and it hadn’t occurred to Darin on their reunion a few years back that it wasn’t necessary for the half-celestial to address Hakaril by his formal title. It was the kind of thing that Darin would do, calling his roommate from the academy “General Silvar.” He wondered idly if Darin had stopped calling his girlfriend “Miss Tassi” yet.
Despite the fact that his old friend had bested him, the chess match gave Hakaril something infinitely more interesting to do than mundane clerical duties. A guard had delivered a report that morning about having to arrest a crowd of rowdy tavern-goers who were all apparently simultaneously banging on the door to a little shack on the edge of the marketplace. This was the sort of thing that Hakaril had absolutely no patience for. Why the hell should he care about petty public disturbances? And why did the guard always have to be so self-important about doing things like throwing cutpurses in the castle dungeon?
He supposed it was a matter of perspective. Hakaril himself had done too much adventuring to consider local law enforcement to be worthy of mention. Both his job and his wanderlust had carried him to half the known continents on Gaera and nearly a dozen higher planes of existence. His role as a General and his desire to protect the material realms from obsessive necromancers and astral-stealing other-planar beings pushed Hakaril into some remarkable situations, not to mention his travels to the elemental realms or the more obscure trash-heap planes hashed together by bored gods or powerful sorcerers for the purpose of storing bits and pieces of miscellany. He had died, murdered by the currents of an elaborate conspiracy to permit a pit lord to conquer Doma, and been resurrected by the goddess of justice herself. He had been the personal servant of the lord of hate due to petty ideas about vengeance that he had finally managed to all but purge from his thoughts.
Anyone who knew anything at all about Hakaril Silvar’s history generally had no difficulty understanding why he felt that tax evaders were completely irrelevant.
The chronoscope on Hakaril’s desk beeped dutifully. It was one o’ clock. One o’ clock was Hakaril’s preferred time to start putting off any work that he hadn’t already done to do tomorrow, which meant that he usually accomplished almost absolutely no bureaucratic duties at all on a given day, seeing as how he typically rose at around eight or nine and usually took a break to meet with Darin or have lunch and tea at around eleven or noon. And the hours between nine and ten were usually spent working on cataloguing his collection of magical oddities, devising new means to improve the self-polishing charms on his cabinets, reading pornographic illusion-magazines, or imagining needlessly-complicated-but-aesthetically pleasing trick-shot setups in wizard’s billiards.
The last of these was arguably his favorite. He had gotten into wizard’s billiards during his recent time spent teaching at Gunnir as a means of compensating for his tuition, which, as he was a runaway at the time, he had no money to pay for. It was a curious game, played with long sticks and balls on a green cloth table with pockets on the sides and in the corners. It was apparently modified from a mundane game played by some excruciatingly boring nobility. Innovative Gunnir students, mostly from the enchanting department, saw fit to outfit the table with a randomly shifting landscape of teleporters, accelerators, inertial dampeners, anti-gravity zones, friction-free areas, and, perhaps most excitingly, balls that periodically exploded if hit with too much force, scattering other objects on the table and occasionally flinging them into nearby students. It was helpful to have someone skilled in healing magic on hand when playing wizard’s billiards, but that was part of the charm. No good game should be completely safe. It just wouldn’t be the Gunnir way.
One o’ clock was an excellent time to head to the local tavern. Hakaril had technically sworn off drinking years ago on account of some issues with his wife’s alcohol tolerance, but that particular vow rarely stopped him as long as he was sure she would never find out. However, the real reason for the General to visit the inn in the middle of the day was never to get an early start on the evening’s barflies. No, he usually stopped into the Jade Dragon for a cup of tea or two, not so much for the drinks as for the company. The bar owner was an old friend of his, and while she frequently went on vacation and left the establishment in the hands of one of her partners, he couldn’t think of many people he didn’t like who spent a great deal of time at the Jade Dragon. It was a good place to soak up the local rumors, if nothing else, and it was sure as hell more interesting than doing paperwork, not that he was going to accomplish very much of that even if he stayed at the castle. Since he wasn’t being productive anyway, the obvious solution was to go goof off.
It occurred to Hakaril then--as it usually did at least once a day--that the king really ought to fire him and pick up someone who would actually deal with filling out forms all the time. He knew it would never happen. The kingdom would’ve been reduced to ashes long ago if it weren’t for him and various adventurers he’d had the good fortune to recruit for missions where the fate of the known world was at stake. He was the keystone of the Doman arch, and King Charles knew it.
Hakaril knew that King Charles knew it, too, which was the main reason he figured he could get away with just about anything.
Off to the bar, then, he decided. Every time I’ve ever been responsible for saving the world, it all started in a bar anyway. I think I could make a pretty good case that I do more important work in bars than I do in my office.
Darin hoped Hakaril wouldn’t be sore at him about losing their chess game. He was never sure, really, how he felt about these sorts of things. Hakaril always seemed so serious whenever he was playing games, and he always seemed thoroughly frustrated by the very idea of losing.
One of these days, thought Darin, I’m going to win and he’ll decide he doesn’t want to play anymore, that he never wants to see me again. It was certain to be the outcome eventually. He knew how competitive the General could get. He says he’s my friend, and that I should never be ashamed to win, he mused. But is it worth hurting him by making him lose?
Hakaril had done a lot for Darin. The half-celestial was only living at Doma Castle because the General had pulled a few strings to get his former roommate a place to stay. He could just as easily live in the city now, but at the time that he had returned to Doma from his home country he was a fugitive, wanted for murder, treason, and desertion of the Prandian army. If it weren’t for Hakaril, Darin might’ve been running from the Prandians for the rest of his likely long life. He might’ve outlived every officer who’d ever commanded him, but he was sure they would’ve continued to chase him. If it weren’t for Hakaril, Darin would never have found out why the Prandians wanted him. What they had done to recruit him. What they did to his mother.
Who his father was.
Darin shuddered a little at the last thought. His father was a subject that always filled him with apprehension. They had met face-to-face only a few times, and he was always unsure how his only living parent really felt about him. He supposed that his father probably judged him with a different sort of eye than anyone else. His father was, after all, an archangel, a servant of the ideal of justice who had given his heart to a mortal woman. Not just any archangel, but one of the leaders of the celestial armies, an entity whose name had appeared in many legends throughout history as a defender of the weak. The archangel Christopher.
It was unfortunate that his father had apparently gone insane. His failure to protect the one mortal woman he had ever had a personal attachment to was evidently more than a little damaging to the archangel’s emotional state.
The first time the two had ever met, Christopher had tried to kill him. It was clearly a decision that the archangel had given a great deal of thought. It would’ve been premeditated spilling of family blood. Not terribly just. Arguably out-of-character for a celestial that prided himself on being the embodiment of all that was right and fair in the universe. Totally against the professed impartiality of Christopher’s ideal, in fact. Without question, the archangel would have joined the ranks of the fallen had he slain his son. Darin trusted his father’s judgment. If an archangel of justice believed he deserved to die, what right did he have to argue? Surely this emissary of the divine had a better grasp of fairness than he did. Half of Darin belonged to another world, whether he liked it or not, and the celestial world was bound up in its own rules that had little or nothing to do with the law of mortal kingdoms. They were superior rules, by definition, crafted by the wisest of the gods, or so it was believed.
As things stood, Hakaril came between the two of them. Hakaril spat in the archangel’s face. He had interposed himself between the hammer of justice and the innocent-judged-guilty, sword pointed at Darin’s self-appointed executioner, and swore that he would rip Christopher’s soul to shreds if he so much as glanced at Darin in a threatening manner. It was a futile gesture, in one sense. Hakaril could never hope to win that battle, and he knew it. Darin knew it. But his willingness to sacrifice himself had triggered something in Christopher’s heart. Hakaril had turned the injustice of the situation back on Christopher with full force, and the archangel vanished.
Darin later learned that his father had relocated to a remote corner of the celestial plane, self-exiled, until several years later when the sword his father wielded was needed to repel an invasion by nightmare creatures from the black and repugnant planes of hatred, realm of Nikumu, the sadist god. It was good that Christopher seemed willing to help a group of adventurers opposing the forces of a deity whose only apparent goals were to create as much suffering as possible and to encourage living creatures to torment each other. That was real justice, or so Darin figured.
It was time for Darin to return to the room in the castle that he and Tassi shared. Tassi had come into his life only recently, in a relative sense, and now he wondered how he had ever lived without her. It was difficult for him to articulate precisely what it was that she did for him, but he thought he understood his father a little better, having met the healer and gotten to know her better than he had ever come to know any human being. He understood, now, why his father would’ve given himself to a human woman.
And, when he dared to think about it, he understood why his father reacted the way he did when he lost her.