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This is part nine of a multi-part series of a book I'm writing with the working title of 'Adventurers'. In this installment, Samuel the apprentice wizard casts some vile magic and we learn why everyone is dead.
Samuel stumbled through the woods blindly, terror lending speed to his faltering steps. His skin was burned and blistered from the activated wards and his robes were scorched. He noticed none of this as he ran. His mind was filled with the forbidden knowledge that had been poured in by the entity from the book. His eyes could only see burning runes etched across his consciousness, connections between the magical education taught by his master and this new bizarre and unwholesome knowledge. He barely even felt the low-hanging branch that stopped his mad dash through the woods and sent him sprawling to the forest floor. It did clear his head a little though.
He laid on the damp loam and stared into space, his mind racing furiously, What am I doing? He wondered, Why am I running away? He considered the presence that had filled his mind briefly, but instinctive terror made him shrink away almost immediately. Scowling, he scolded himself for a weak-willed fool, Did you think power would come easily? Did you think there would be no sacrifice required? Face your fear, Samuel! Face it, and master it! Steeling himself, the apprentice once again allowed the memory of that voice to fill his mind and once again experienced the bone-jellying terror, but he mastered it, his ambition tempering his already formidable will.
The presence was as fascinating as it was horrifying. At first, he had thought it was completely alien. The power it contained was just too much for a human mind to encompass. But now that he allowed himself the time to reexamine the memory, he felt the underlying emotions behind the overwhelming power of that voice. It had radiated with dark joy, relief, a sense of freedom after long years of imprisonment. And when he had resisted its commands, had he sensed…fear? Samuel thought he did. He felt a smile stretch his burned face. Yes. The presence had felt fear when he had resisted the command to serve it.
Something that could feel fear…well, that was something he could manipulate, wasn’t it? He had manipulated his master the same way. And now he had all this new knowledge. All this new power. He could feel the power inside him, a darkly glowing presence within him, yearning to be used, straining at his resolve. It was a struggle to contain it, but it felt good. The voice had made him a promise, though, and it had fled before it kept that promise. Time to get what’s coming to me, thought Samuel grimly. He shifted, realizing for the first time that he was laying down. All at once, physical sensation returned to him. His head was throbbing mightily from the blow he took—minutes, or was it hours?—before. His skin was burned and Samuel didn’t think he had ever felt such physical pain. It was distracting in the extreme. Scowling with pain, Samuel wracked his brain for some way to alleviate the pain; maybe there was some kind of herb or something in the area which would ease his suffering.
Then it occurred to him to try to use some of the power that writhed in his mind. He searched the secret knowledge carefully. It came to him suddenly, like a thunderclap. The spell required was repellent. It would siphon the life energies of any living thing within range into his own body, speeding the healing process. No great gain comes without sacrifices! He told himself brutally. He set his teeth and let himself fall into the meditative trance spellcasting required. It took almost no time to get into the required mindset and as soon as he was in the trance state, the words leapt to his tongue almost with a life of their own. He spoke them quickly and fluidly, the alien syllables rolling smoothly from his mouth as if he had been speaking them his whole life.
Samuel felt the spell quest out all around him. The area it covered was large—too large, he thought, panicked. He tried to reign it back, but the spell was loosed and out of his control now. It ranged through the forest, killing anything it encountered. Samuel saw it as a vast network of glowing green cables—or was it tentacles?—questing out from his chest. The spell drew upon Samuels own rapidly dwindling energy to kill the creatures it encountered. But each kill caused the cable to pulse with a sickly red light and Samuel would feel the life force swell within him, replenishing his drawn reserves.
The spell quested for what seemed like hours, killing indiscriminately. He felt the deaths of every victim. Birds perished without a sound. A den of wolves died silently as a glowing tentacle of green light pierced them. He felt the deaths of the villagers even as he helped cause them. What the monsters had left undone, he finished. And with each kill, he grew stronger. With each surge in strength, the tentacles could quest farther. Samuel felt bloated with stolen lives, stretched by the spell like a skin at a tannery. The spell continued long after he thought he could take no more. Lives were snuffed as easily as blowing out a candle and with as little fuss. At one point, through the spell he felt the life forces of his friends. Exerting his newfound strength, he made the tentacles of green light veer away from them and they continued on, thoroughly unaware that they had been spared.
Finally, though, the spell ended. The tentacles of light retracted into his body and disappeared. Samuel felt sickened, even as he realized that he felt better than he had ever felt before. He felt rejuvenated. The burns were gone, as was the head wound. He felt filled to bursting with lifeforce. He opened eyes he had not realized were closed, a smile forming on his thin lips. His eyes, though, focused on a spectral figure standing before him, not ten feet away, and the smile froze on his face.
The spectre resembled a young man, aged more than his years with the burden of power and secret knowledge. His hair was dark, though silvered at the temples and he had a meticulously trimmed goatee, shot through with grey. He wore clothes out of fashion by a hundred years at least, though they were well-tailored and fit his ghostly form snugly. He looked like a king, though he wore no crown. Samuel felt himself kneel on the forest floor like a vassal to his lord.
Yes, it is good that you kneel before me, the spectre said, though not in words that Samuel’s ears could hear. It was the same power-filled voice that had filled his mind before. Seeing the presence behind the voice’s power awed him and stoked the fires of his ambition even hotter than before, If a man can achieve this kind of power…Then so can I! He thought exultantly.
I can hear the flavor of your thoughts, O ambitious mageling, the ghost spoke into his mind. I know the fires of ambition that kindle inside you. I can help you realize those lofty dreams. I felt your spell—my spell—draining this land of life and sought you out.
“What—who are you?” Stammered Samuel, his voice sounding hoarse in his own ears.
The spectre smiled a mirthless smile and it left Samuel cold. The smile never touched the black eyes of the ghost. You may call me… Darkseed. Yes. Lord Darkseed. That will do for now.
“Lord Darkseed…” Samuel had never heard the name. That in itself was unsurprising; the ghost had as much as admitted that it was using an assumed name. “My lord,” he said, “how is this possible? How can I…?” he trailed off, unwilling to speak aloud his secret desire.
All things are possible under heaven, mageling. As to your unspoken question, I can give you everything you desire…for a price. Everything has a price, yes? Or has the world changed so much since my imprisonment that this is no longer true?
Samuel licked his lips nervously. Oh yes, the price. There was always a price. How high was this one? “What must I do, my lord?” He was proud that his voice quavered only a little with the question.
Suddenly, Samuel heard the clop-clop of hooves on the road. He quickly scanned the area, but the woods were too dense for him to see anything. He had no idea that he had come so far from his master’s cottage or blundered blindly to the road. The spirit saw him looking and cocked a quizical eyebrow. Samuel stood, brushing himself off and tried to ignore the sudden frown that this act of unintended impertinence provoked from the Lord Darkseed. “Someone approaches from the road, Lord…I thought to see who it was.”
Lord Darkseed considered for a moment, then his spectral voice filled Samuel’s mind again, Curious that your spell did not take the lifeforce of these interlopers…They may be a force to be reckoned with. Dispatch them, then return to me.
Samuel’s face paled with realization. My friends! It must be them!
|Adventurers Part 2||Adventurers Part 3|
|Adventurers Part 5||Adventurers Part 7|
|The Godhand Wars||Adventurers Part 10|