I met him when I was a child. My adult minders ushered me onto the palace balcony and I squeezed its black-marble railing with my small hands. The vast Demon Capital, Darigon, and the wide avenue that was its main artery laid far beneath my feet. I recognized him when he strode through the inner gate, the one the peasants feared; whom the burghers cheered and nobles breathlessly awaited. He was eight feet tall, appeared even larger atop the saddle of his black drake, and wore his invincible black-red plate armor, forged in the world’s life-fire. Only his orange eyes were visible through crescent visor of his helm, flashing bright like candle flames. He did not wave to the citizens, but led his procession of black-clad soldiers in silence. Behind him, saddled on their own Nightmares—flaming, black horses bred with devilkin—were the four Demon Lords: Men and women who stood at the pinnacle of power, they embodied the absolute supremacy of the Demon Empire.
The crying throngs raised up their hands, desperate for a touch of his drake’s scales. The imperial guards, identified by the red tassels on their helmets, kept them at bay with their lances. He had finally returned from his conquest. The entire world had come to rest in the grasp of his talon gauntlets. I knew, even as a boy, that men uncountable had died at his hands, but how would I quantify one-hundred, one-thousand, or one-million? I had just three minders at my side, and if even one were killed, I couldn’t imagine the sorrow I’d feel.
Later that evening I stood in the amphitheater of the throne room and awaited his call. I would let the orange eyes of the Demon Emperor, visible through visor of his black helm, fall coldly on my face. And he would say the words I’d awaited:
“This boy is my heir.” His stoic voice resonated in the walls, shook the foundations of the palace, and therefore, the world. “I give him his new name: Akaron Velsado.”
I wondered if Velsado was the emperor’s surname, but I came to think he invented the name. An akaron was a type of long sword with a honed point, and the velsado was the traditional word for a theater’s curtain call. It was a romantic way to call me Sword Finale, or the Sword of the Finale. As a boy, I didn’t understand the allusion, but I knew for certain that the man called emperor, the demon of humankind, would do nothing for my sake. He may as well have called me a device before the world.
I knew that, because I could quantify, even in my small mind, exactly how meaningless I was. The answer to my question of one million, or ten million, or one hundred million deaths was realized the day I first saw him on the balcony, as he led his procession of demon warriors. It seemed no one could tell that darkness had fallen on the horizon. All the orange-cream colors of the horizon were made bleak by shadow and even the sun dimmed under a veil. The celebrating crowds couldn’t see the emperor’s pitiless black aura: a shadow darkened by the enormity of his mana. When he passed through the gate, the demon emperor released the full measure of that magic, and revealed a vastness that eclipsed the sky, one that I—only I—could understand. From far away he turned his eyes up to the balcony, and with my Eyes of the Sorcerer, I saw him for what he was.
The Demon Emperor sat on a gold-leafed throne, but beneath its glimmer were bones. The emperor, his palace, and the empire itself sat on the bones of a billion lives. His dark soul howled with fathomless power torn from lifeless husks of men he’d destroyed. In his presence I felt them as invisible hands that tugged at my body.
The moment I was given my name, the nobles of the demon court erupted in applause. They expected me to turn and bow, but before I greeted the citizens of my eternal, my invincible, my ineffable Demon Empire, I exchanged words with the emperor himself. It was through our eyes, messages communicated by the power of my Eyes of the Sorcerer and his Eyes of the Emperor. I was just eight years old, but I knew why an orphan from the far-flung frontier was brought to the capital. I knew how small I was. I knew how meaningless I was, however…
“I will kill you.”
The emperor stared. His aura, concentrated into black fire, crawled up across his armor.
“I’ll be waiting.”
Those words, exchanged soundlessly through the power of our eyes, were the only words we shared as ‘father and son.’ For fifteen more years I trained, learned, and enhanced my body with all the powers of the world. As one of the few sorcerers alive, my magic was all that could challenge the Demon Emperor. That was what the white-haired man said, and with my eyes I understood the truth.