Not long after that:
I have spoken to King Leodhan, and his decision is made. We will not wait for Ma’ar’s armies to move in on us.
I cannot blame Leodhan for this choice. The advantage is always to the first mover, and we cannot afford to wait. The risk is too high. Ma’ar’s empire is growing too quickly, and I shudder to think what he will do with more power.
It is my advice that led Leodhan to this conclusion. I have spoken to him of my once-student’s ambition, of the callousness I saw in him, the cold disregard for all that is sacred – and also of his warmth, and how once he risked punishment, fighting to defend another child.
I tell Leodhan that perhaps Ma’ar cares too much, and it blinds him. He tries to impose his vision of how things ought to be, and does not consider the cost inherent in power and control, in overriding the wishes of his fellow man. I feared for his path twenty-five years ago, and I was unable to guide him to the light, and so now there is no choice but to stop him.
And yet, I wonder if it something I will come to regret. I am not sure.
In his heart, does Ma’ar still call me friend? If I betray him, it will surely be too late for that.
The entries, after this point, grow sparser and more rushed, the handwriting even harder to decipher.
Not long after Tantara invades Predain, Ma'ar plans a counterattack, and takes the capital and the Palace. Almost without bloodshed, apparently; he uses some sort of obscure mind-controlling artifact, one that gradually generates more and more fear and panic in anyone within the spell's range. Overnight, every unshielded person in the Palace flees; with no one left in authority, the rest of the city offers little resistance when Ma'ar's troops are Gated in.
Urtho is absolutely horrified; he sees this as proof that Ma'ar is truly too far lost in the darkness for anything to be salvaged. He describes agonizing over whether to explosively disable the permanent Gate-terminus in the Palace, releasing its energies and blowing up Ma'ar's prize before he can find any use in it. He decides against, it would only be matching one atrocity for another; he shuts it down, before Ma'ar can figure out the keys to use it, but non-destructively.
Only a handful of months later, when a different Gate-terminus is captured, this one he does use to trigger an explosion and kill everyone within ten miles.
It isn't enough. The war is moving fast, now, and going very badly for Urtho.
He mentions that Ma'ar is still trying to send messages, to propose talks, to de-escalate the war he claims never to have wanted. Urtho is apparently not answering them. He writes that they must be some kind of ruse, and that in any case it doesn't matter; Ma'ar is too far gone, monsters cannot be bargained with.
Ma'ar's army draws nearer to the Tower itself. Urtho plans a frantic evacuation. (The entry describing this is very short, hurried.)
In the final note, his handwriting wanders up and down the page, barely legible at all.
I wish there were magics that might let one take back the past, and do it over.
There is no such spell; this is my bed, I have made it and I must lie in it.
I think now it was a mistake to let Leodhan push for war. Perhaps it would have ended so all the same, and with Tantara in a weaker position as the unprepared defender – and yet, I sometimes think that if it had, it might have been over more quickly, mercifully, and with less bloodshed on either side.
What is wrong with me? War has left me so weary, I catch myself wishing that my worst enemy might have won sooner.
I never wished to call Ma’ar my enemy.
Perhaps I made a wrong turn sooner, and in some other world I might have salvaged my young student, and guided him to a kinder and less destructive path. Perhaps in some other world, we work together now, as allies and friends. I long to step out of this world and into that, and of course I cannot.
I am a sentimental old man, it seems, and unsuited to commanding an army.
This is not how I wished it to end, and I am sure Ma’ar did not wish for it either. Even now, he sends letters, and tries to broker an alliance that I can no longer offer him. He has strayed too far. The atrocities of this war are unforgivable.
No matter what comes, he must not take the Tower, and the powers that lie within my sanctum. I am glad beyond measure that I never spoke of this to him, though I revealed far more than I should have. I trusted him more than I should have.
And so it will end as it ends, as we tear apart each other’s armies in fiery destruction, and perhaps history will remember a foolish old man who misjudged his greatest enemy.
I wish it were otherwise.