Gerard shook his head. “It doesn’t have to end like this, Professor.”
“Yes, it does,” Zomoran said. “Because I’m done with you. Done with years of trying to bring wisdom and progress to this intellectually barren kingdom. Done with appealing to fools, aided only by a handful of friends who understood — who saw the kind of brilliant society we could engineer, if only we could order things as they need to be. Done with writing and speaking to classes of empty minds, who lack the inspiration and courage to see and dare the truth.”
His gaze came to rest on Aron, and a strange anger blazed in his eyes.
“Done with puppets of the ruling class, too busy tiptoeing around zealots, and dancing on the strings pulled by an old man behind the scenes. The only other great mind in this entire besotted nation, but without the ambition to guide it into the embrace of history.
“Oddly enough, I may owe Salmanor Hardin a debt for opening my eyes today. I see now that this society is decadent beyond redemption. It is time for it to be purged in fire and rebuilt from the ashes.”
Aron’s eyes hardened as he returned the magus’s acid glare.
“The people of Carlissa are not toys or machines, Zomoran,” he said, “to be ‘engineered’ to suit your view of the way things should be. They are individuals, with rights and dignity. Too often in the past have we made that mistake. It’s time to try a better way.”
Zomoran shook his head and laughed again.
“So parrots the puppet,” he mocked. “Your grandfather’s ideals are a delusion, boy. A nation of sheep cannot govern itself. It needs to be led, by those with the knowledge and spirit to understand what is best for them. Or do I truly have to lecture a princeling of the realm on the meaning of noblesse oblige?”
His free arm reached behind him. He drew the woman with the bloody hand into a protective embrace.
“Would a great man allow his best minds to be given over to torture and the threat of a heretic’s fire?” he demanded. “For the mere crime of thinking bold thoughts? Or would he lead and protect them? And if others lacked the wisdom to follow of their own accord, would he not shepherd them? By force, if necessary? For their own good?”
“A great man doesn’t concern himself with his own greatness,” Aron replied firmly. “Empty minds, you say? I was more attentive to your lessons, Professor, and to your example, than you realize. You stand there, sheltering a colleague whose devotion feeds your vanity, and you leave a trail of dead and broken bodies in your wake to do it. And you presume to lecture me about the meaning of noblesse oblige? Whose needs do you truly serve, Lord of Westreach?”
Zomoran regarded him icily, but with a look of sudden wariness.
“You are clever, princeling,” he said. “More so than I gave you credit for. You’re stalling, trying to keep me talking and arguing, while you wait for reinforcements from the palace. Yes, I know that the Archmage is there. And as much as I would relish the opportunity to test myself against him, that is not my plan for today.”
Read the first chapter, Rogue Wizard, at the saga’s World Anvil site, The World of Kalara. Or buy Prologue to Chaos, book one of the Sanctum of the Archmage Saga — available now from Andarian Publishing, or from select online bookstores!