“Do not!” repeats the thing on the throne.
Lucan starts towards the throne, sword raised, but you catch his arm.
“Do not?” you call the corpse on the throne. “Do not what?”
The desiccated face turns towards you, thin shoulders twitching, and you realize something.
It’s not a corpse at all.
The man on the throne is still alive. Somehow. You see the veins throbbing in his temples and wrists, hear the wheezing breath rattling through his yellowed teeth and withered throat. He looks a thousand years old, but somehow he is still alive.
Blood leaks from his eyes, and you realize the man upon the throne is sobbing.
“Do not take the Bloodcrystal!” he moans. “I beg you, do not touch it. Do not bring it into the light of day once more. Grievously I have paid. Let not others suffer as I have suffered!”
“Who are you?” you say.
“I was…I was…” For a moment the man seems confused. “My name was Anacepheon, Emperor of Nighmar, high magus of the Magisterium. And I was a fool. Fool!”
“Why?” you say.
Anacepheon’s skeletal fingers tremble, the skin crackling. “We sought to make ourselves gods. So we made the Ascendant Bloodcrystal.”
“A weapon of sorcery,” you say, “to dispel other spells?”
Anacepheon lets out a groaning laugh. “A weapon? It is more than a weapon. It is a gateway. A door. A pathway to ascension. A transformation, latent. Waiting.”
“A transformation?” you say. “A transformation to what?”
“We knew the secret,” says Anacepheon, his trembling growing worse. “Fire produces smoke and heat. And death and blood produce arcane power, fell and mighty. The more death, the greater the power. We had a dream. The commoners of the Empire were useless, worthless mouths. Why not put them to use? Why not…harvest them?”
“Harvest them?” you say. “What do you mean?”
“We devised the Ascendant Bloodcrystal,” whispers Anacepheon, continuing as if he had not heard you. “A thing of dreadful sorcery, unlike any seen since the ancient world. And when used…its power will kill every living thing for twenty miles in every direction. Every man. Every woman and child. Every animal, every fish that swims, every bird that flies. Even the very grass of the field.”
You stare at him, stunned. Twenty miles in every direction from this tomb would cover the entire city of Malarae.
A million men, women, and children live in Malarae.
You have seen a lot of horrible things, but even you cannot envision death upon that scale.
“The deaths will create power,” says Anacepheon, “power beyond imagining, and that power will drain into he who wields the Bloodcrystal. And he shall become mightier than any mortal sorcerer, perhaps even mightier than the gods themselves.”
You stare at the Ascendant Bloodcrystal upon its table of black marble. Even knowing what it is, you still feel the horrible attraction, that compulsion to take it up, to use it…
“I have heard, and seen,” says Lucan, “many black crimes from the magi, but this is by far the worst.”
“Yes!” wails Anacepheon. “I realized what I had done. I repented. I tried to stop it. Too late. Caer Magia died for my pride, my lust for power. And in the backlash, my life was bound to the Bloodcrystal. I cannot die while it yet exists. So I was buried with my grievous sin, to keep watch over it until the end of days, and I am at last judged for my crimes.”
You wrench your gaze from the green glow in the Bloodcrystal’s depths. “Sophia lied to us. We can’t let her or Korthion anywhere near this thing.”
“Go!” shrieks Anacepheon, “please, please, before it is too late!”
“Too late?” you say.
“I raised a ward against necromancy,” Anacepheon says, “to keep fools like me from taking the Bloodcrystal. But the presence of souls untainted by sorcery disrupts the ward. You must go before it collapses, you must, you must…”
And you realize what Korthion and Sophia intended all along.
You were played.
And even as the thought come to you, a cloud of darkness swirls behind Anacepheon’s throne, and Korthion steps out of it, yellow eyes narrowed, hands raised in the beginnings of a spell.