What follows are the first chapters (plus the prologue) of my second book, A War of Lies.
“One month ago, a forbidden door to the abyss opened. The daemon Kestrel and a horde of his kin escaped . He killed my friends. When he came for me, I blocked the abyss with his life force. He won’t last long with the combined forces of the abyss shredding his soul. I have worked on borrowed time before, and I have proven to be exceptionally good at it. Not another soul will die, so I swear.”
Penndarius Adamus Greyson
The Scholar of Green Eyes
732 A.U. (After Unification)
A thousand years before the abyss was opened in Deiyil
The tree branches snarled and gnashed as a sharp breeze cut through the night. The wind gutted caches of leaves in varying states of decay, tossing them up into dust devils. It was as if the wind triumphed in its ability to trespass where it wasn’t wanted.
A stretch of bare, clawing branches outlined a road like a gaping rib cage. Between them, a beast stalked the road. It dragged a lifeless body with short, violent tugs, leaving a stark trail of blood gleaming in the moonlight like a single, corrugated artery. It walked like a man, moved like a predator. Silver streaks of moonlight flashed through the leaves, revealing that the beast was dressed like a vagrant, covered in tattered brown, grey, and black rags. A ragged hood hid wisps of white hair that obscured a set of menacing red eyes. The moonlight cast a long, ominous shadow that stretched off into the distance, making the creature’s form appear bigger than it was.
The beast moved with purpose, walking to a massive, ornate, pillared structure barred by massive gates. With a touch, the gates swung open, and the doorway allowed him entrance.
The sadistic grin that peeked out from the beast’s hood was complemented by a cruel glint in his eyes. The traveler bared a set of perfect, pointed, ivory teeth, hinting at insanity.
The loud, frantic knock on a richly decorated door split the silence, disrupting the peace in the suite.
Exotic and interesting objects littered the walls. Some were magic by nature, giving off a glow, while others were contraptions designed for mysterious purposes. Just in front of a window, a neatly organized desk was set up on one side of the octagonal room. Opposite of it was a lush bed covered in purple silk, decorated with a single eye. The floor was a beautifully carved and varnished redwood. A single step led up to the desk near the window.
Behind the desk, a man stood with his back to the door, looking out the window calmly, seriously. His clothes were stitched of the finest blue silk, and a single multicolored eye with a pentacle for the iris was at the center of his back. His hair was salt and pepper, and his back was straight, giving an air of gentle authority. The lines of his face hinted at a man who was controlled and intelligent, yet gentleness flowed from his every action, like a man dedicated to the advancement of others. He held a black, rough leather-bound book with a ragged hand of bone on the cover.
His voice broke the silence. “Come in,” he commanded.
The door burst open, and a man wearing the same colored robes stumbled in and bent down to rest his hands on his knees, exhibiting his exhaustion. He was breathing hard, and sweat rolled down his much younger face. He was clad in the same color robes as the older man, though made of much cheaper fabric. “Arch Magus Gabriel, the courtyard…there is…a…problem,” he rasped, trying to get out a complete sentence.
Gabriel turned to the magus who had burst in. “I know,” he replied, cutting the younger man short. He spoke without condescension but with an air of urgency.
The younger man nodded and was finally able to catch his breath. “He is here. In the courtyard. How can we help?” he asked.
The arch magus shook his head. “Tell the students to stay within their rooms and to not venture forth. No one is to follow me,” he said sternly, giving a look to the other man that left no doubt, “for any reason, even if my life is threatened.”
“Arch Magus…” the other man tried to protest.
Gabriel’s eyes flared open immediately. “This is not a discussion. It is a command!” he said sharply. “Do you understand?”
The robed visitor nodded and raced off to deliver the message.
The arch magus swept back around and stared out the window at the visitor in the courtyard, who was clothed in tattered rags and was dragging what could only be a dead body. Gabriel heaved a heavy sigh, and stress lines formed on his face.
The courtyard slowly dimmed as candles and magic light throughout the Pentacle were put out until the only illumination was the eerie moonlight. The visitor looked up to the highest point of the Pentacle and seemed to stare into Gabriel’s eyes from afar.
Gabriel turned around, dust nipping at his heels as he exited the room.
The man in rags sensed the arch magus before he saw him. The wafts of rich mahogany and lily blossoms, native to the region, fluttered out of the open door on the other side of the courtyard, accompanying Gabriel as he walked into the horror of the night. The visitor’s grin only grew wider as Gabriel approached. Those twin red eyes followed the arch magus, becoming vivid.
When Gabriel was a stone’s throw from the visitor, he stopped and raised a pointed finger to the white-haired vagrant. “You are not welcome here, Loken. This is your one warning before I scatter your corpse to the four corners of Therra,” Gabriel threatened with absolute sincerity.
In the briefest whisper of a moment, all was silent except for the whistling wind. Then a rasping cough sounded from within the tatters of Loken’s hood. It was a dry thing, painful and staggered, coming in waves.
Loken looked up, and his hood slid from his head, revealing his haunting visage. His face was covered in long, jagged scars. The sockets of his eyes were deep, and he had black bags under his eyes. His entire iris was flooded with crimson. The sharp points of his teeth gnashed together twice like those of a beast, yet he was a man.
“I come in peace,” Loken said and threw the dead body in front of him with a forward toss that seemed to take almost no effort. The body rolled to a stop at Gabriel’s feet and stared up with blank eyes into the magus’s own.
Gabriel cast a steely gaze to the ground with feigned impassiveness, yet his heart broke at the sight of the unfortunate soul. “Did you come for the book?” he asked finally.
Loken raised his eyes to the sky and laughed. “Ah, no. My interest in that has long since passed,” he replied. “I am not here to disrupt your school, magus. I have another purpose. Instead, I bring something to add to the Pentacle’s forbidden collection of artifacts.”
Gabriel remained silent, keeping his attention locked on Loken.
“I have no interest in your treasures,” Loken said grandiosely. “Instead, I wish to add to them.” He made a grand gesture to the right and held his wrist up toward the sky. His skin was pale, having not seen the sun in ages, and his bony fingers had razor-sharp nails. The moonlight glinted off the red of his eyes, and he opened his mouth wide in an insane grin.
Gabriel remained silent, preparing for conflict. He did not move. His arms were prepared to emit all manner of magics at a mere thought.
Loken moved his other hand up suddenly. Gabriel skipped backwards. His right hand flashed forward while his other pulled backward to his side, ready to spring forth. Small pinpoints of electricity sparked to life on his upheld fingertips, and flashes of erratic power slashed long, burning lines into the grass. The entire courtyard was lit with a brilliant blue and white hue. In his other hand, a ball of visibly swirling wind appeared. The smell of burned grass filled the air, and the wind from the spell sent dust into the sky.
Gabriel’s reaction caused Loken to chuckle. He swiped his fingernails across his upheld wrist, releasing a gout of blood that briefly sprayed into the moonlit sky. It was apparent that the pain did not bother him. “Tch tch.” Loken wagged a bloodstained finger at Gabriel. “If I wanted you dead, pretty little magus, you would be.”
Loken turned the cut wrist upside down, and blood began to pour out into a pool on the ground. Instead of being absorbed into the earth, it solidified. The amount that spurted from his wrist would surely have killed a normal man, but it didn’t seem to bother Loken. Finally, Loken lowered his arm and stemmed the tide by grasping his wrist and applying pressure.
Gabriel’s eyes were drawn to the ground as he watched the blood flow together and solidify. It became a long sword of the purest crimson with crystalline, jagged edges. It appeared to be one whole piece—blade, hilt, and handle. It emitted a glint in the moonlight and rested, still.
Loken tucked the wounded wrist under his tattered garments and closed his eyes. Moments passed, and when Loken finally opened his eyes again, the blood-red color had vanished and was replaced with a dull brown. He also seemed remarkably controlled. His features became slightly less manic, and the lines in his face were stronger. “I leave this in your keeping,” he said sincerely about the sword. “Let none touch it save one who bears my seal.” The insanity in his voice was gone, and he spoke calmly.
Then, Loken turned and started walking away, his tatter-clothed body outlined by the sinking moon.
Gabriel lowered his hand, and the lightning from his fingertips dissipated. Likewise, the air that gathered in the palm of his other hand dissipated. “Where will you go?” he asked.
Loken stopped walking. “To make one capable of ending my eternal torment,” he replied and then walked into the night, disappearing over the horizon.
Gabriel watched him go. When Loken was well out of sight, the arch magus’s shoulders fell in relief. His breath came in short gasps as sweat rolled down his cheek. He started shivering and hugged his shoulders close. “Even now,” Gabriel whispered to himself, “your powers are worlds away from my own, Loken Luna Mortalitas.”
Gabriel gathered his composure and picked up the weapon from the ground, taking care to use a scrap of cloth. “What did you leave behind, Loken Luna Mortalitas?” He turned the weapon over in his hands as he examined it. “What indeed?”
Soren leaned against the wall. He wore free-flowing black pants and a crimson vest.
The hallway was made of simple wood planks and was covered with fur mats from lesser kirin. The air tingled with the pleasant smell of roasting meat. Soren assumed by the din of conversation that the majority were downstairs enjoying their dinner.
Soren sorely missed moments like this, especially the peace. He reminisced about the first time he had met the scholar, Penndarius. A smile crossed his lips. He relaxed and closed his eyes. Unbidden, he fell into a waking dream. Before the coming of this dream, he had felt fear and anxiety. That was all gone now. Darkness closed in, and Soren’s mind’s eye took him to the farm.
As before, there was tension in the air. A beast stalked the night, and evil followed in his footsteps. Soren entered the farmhouse at the edge of a field. The dream moved quickly, enough that he could not make out details. He moved up a flight of wooden stairs and down a long, plain hallway. He entered into a room to his right. Inside, he looked about and saw a room decorated for a young girl. A tea party was set up in the corner, and to his right he saw a bed.
This was the most horrifying part of the dream, yet the memory continued inexorably forward. He saw a girl with her head lying on the pillow of the bed. Something was wrong. He saw that her chest was not moving. Soren cried out in the dream, and knowing what had happened, he felt a tear fall down his cheek. The dream continued.
His moment of grief passed, and he was thrown against the wall violently. It was Loken, his father.
Loken’s haggard face flashed with ivory teeth. “Kill me!” the white-haired monster with the form of a man and gleaming fangs yelled into his face. “I spared her from the legacy of our bloodline! It will end with us! Grab the rage in your soul, and when you are ready, come for me! Kill me! You will not win easily, though. Grow stronger, my son, and when you are ready, find me! If you do not, my cycle of violence will come for you! Tap into the vengeance and hatred. Use it and end my life with one final glorious combat!”
Soren swung his legs up, wrapped them around the arm holding him by the neck, and twisted, throwing off Loken’s grip and sending the white-haired warrior away.
Loken laughed out loud and slashed the wooden walls with a clawed hand. “That is it! Grab the rage and ride it! Become it! Use the rage in our blood!” he roared. Loken turned, dashed toward the window, and broke the paned glass with a quick strike. Before he left, Loken leaned back with both feet resting easily on the window frame. “When you are ready, I will find you,” he promised and dropped from view.
An uneasiness suddenly gripped Soren, and he felt himself drawn to a new part of the dream. He tried to wake but was unable. He was trapped in the dream.
In the real world, Soren levered himself up and lost his balance, crashing into the other side of the hallway violently. He rolled onto the ground and grabbed his head as he tried to shake himself from whatever horror gripped him. “Get out of my head!” he cried.
The dream continued. He raced after his father and jumped through the window. Remnants of glass on the frame crashed through with him. He rolled onto the ground to absorb the fall.
Soren sprang to his feet and looked for Loken, who was nowhere in sight. A new figure was present, wearing a black cloak. In his hand, he was holding a crimson sword that he pointed at Soren dramatically. It was dripping from stem to stern with blood, even the handle.
Soren stepped toward the stranger and was struck by an unseen force that crippled him, causing him to fall to his knees. Pain suddenly assaulted his head like a thousand daggers piercing his skull. He grabbed his head. Something wet dripped down his face and through his fingers. He was crying blood.
The stranger bowed his head solemnly. “Come to me,” he said, his voice echoing.
Soren was jarred out of the dream. After a moment, he picked himself up. He felt a wet remnant on his cheek and wiped it away with his finger. Crimson. “That’s new.”
A prickling on the back of his neck warned Soren of hidden danger. Something was incredibly wrong. “Penn!”
Soren leaped to his feet and dashed through the door across the hall. The room inside was simple and small with a wooden dresser and a bed on the far side, a window directly across from the door. The room was empty. “He was just here.” Soren scanned the room. The window was open. He rushed to it and looked out.
Outside the window was a flat, long roof that extended straight out. A thin walkway graced the center with no rail, steep diagonal drop-offs on either side. A misstep would have deadly consequences. Soren nimbly jumped onto the arch of the roof and ran forward. The twin suns of Therra were setting. They lit the outline of a man kneeling at the end of the roof. His head was bowed.
The air was somewhat humid and warm. Wind raced along the edge of the roof.
Penndarius was thin, without the trained muscles of a warrior. He was a tad taller than average height. He wore a white jerkin with a trim-fit brown coat and a pair of brown pants. His hair hung loosely in front of his face and partially hid a set of penetratingly intelligent and intuitive eyes. His jaw held a rakish tilt. Laugh lines were engraved in his face, along with a spark of cool intellect. His skin was pale from working indoors.
Soren stopped near the scholar. “Penn?”
Penndarius turned slightly to his right. Soren saw a subtle flash of evergreen from beneath the veil of hair. “Hush, dear. To wake him would be a grave mistake.” The words he spoke were not the scholar’s own.
Soren bared his teeth. “Rhea,” he fumed. “Go back to your hole.”
Rhea clucked Penndarius’s tongue and smiled at him slyly. “Oh? But there is so much to be done!” she smiled. “You do your job and keep him alive, and I’ll do mine to serve his purposes until he dies.” She rolled his eyes with exasperation. “Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Soren clenched his fists. “You do that and I’ll break his limbs, make his body unusable to you,” Soren threatened.
Rhea sighed. “This conversation bores me. Hush now. He is almost done.”
Penndarius’s consciousness floated out of his body in spirit form, his physical body below him, visible in a greyish haze, kneeling on the ground.
“Where am I?”
The scholar looked about. His form was outlined in a subtle green aura that pulsed slightly. He wore no clothes here. His body was represented by a smooth, white, opaque, and vaguely Therran form. There was no smell, no taste, and he could not feel his body.
An overwhelming presence struck the scholar. He struggled to stay aloft. Spiritual pressure assaulted his astral form. A brilliant evergreen shockwave slammed into the greyish sky and sent ripples across the wan clouds. Moments later, the pressure on the scholar’s soul was lifted, and he sighed in relief.
A monk appeared before him, dressed in robes whose cloth was an endless starry sky. No features could be seen within the hood save a set of piercing forest green eyes.
Penndarius nodded. “You again,” he said softly. “What does the green-eyed god of creation want with me?” he asked. “It has been thirty days with no contact. And now you choose to make an appearance. Why?” The scholar narrowed his eyes.
Penndarius had met this being before. His past relations with it were all nonverbal, the being answering his questions with actions. “Why are you here?”
The monk swept its robed arm toward the horizon. It became awash in the green aura, then began to change. The scholar felt a palpable malicious presence. He searched for the origin. A small part of him wanted to run, but he remained stalwart.
The sky above began to roil with azure clouds, then split apart. A large being swooped from the sky and landed in front of the scholar, its body nearly five times his height. A set of deep azure eyes narrowed and glared down at him.
Behind the figure, a horde of shadows rose from the ground, a shifting and moving army of creatures with grasping claws and dancing sapphire eyes as far as the eye could see. Then a form rose from their ranks, rising higher than their general, who stood before Penndarius, growing higher and higher, a great behemoth glaring down on the scholar imposingly.
The sky continued to roil with streaks of daemonic azure lightning striking the ground around him at random. The army began to shrink into the distance as the behemoth raised its claw toward the scholar and curled it into a fist with promises of violence, death, and war.
As the shadows disappeared into the background, the monk still remained. A five-story-tall grey obelisk replete with evergreen runes appeared before Penndarius. The scholar felt drawn to it. Something called out to him, begging for him to touch it.
Penndarius reached out and was a hair’s breadth from placing his palm upon the grey stone when it blipped out of existence. And the scholar was blessed with the knowledge of where to find it. “Utopia,” he whispered, unbidden.
The monk bowed its head one last time and disappeared. Penndarius floated back toward his body and reentered it.
In the physical world, the warrior watched as Penndarius’s eyes closed and the forest green energy dissipated from his eyes.
“Are you well?” Soren asked.
Penndarius gazed up at Soren, a look of revelation on his face. “I know our next destination—Utopia.”
Soren nodded. “We will gather the necessities and head out in the morning,” he replied dutifully.
Penndarius immediately shook his head. “No, we have to go tonight.”
“It can wait.”
The scholar felt a sense of urgency. “No, we are already on borrowed time. Something—something is coming.”
The look in the scholar’s eyes was enough to instill the same sense of urgency in Soren. Penndarius was methodical and careful. If they needed to leave immediately, it was enough for Soren.
Penndarius began to stand up, but his legs gave out. The sudden weakness surprised the scholar, and he lost his balance. The only thing that saved him from falling was his friend’s quick reaction. Soren jumped forward and curled his arm in front of Penndarius’s falling body to pull him back from the roof edge lest he fall to his death. The steep drop loomed in front of Penndarius, and he exhaled thankfully.
Before the vision, he had felt fine. “What just happened?”
Soren helped the scholar to his feet, then wrapped Penndarius’s arm around his shoulder for support. “What is wrong?” he asked the scholar. “Will you be able to travel?”
Penndarius looked worried and contemplated his sudden weakness. He finally nodded. “I have to be,” he said, yet trouble brewed on his brow. “We don’t have time for my weakness.”
“I’ll get you there. Just relax a bit,” Soren encouraged him.
Soren guided Penndarius back to the window. The scholar’s gaze became clouded again with something different. “This silence has been deafening.”
“Silence?” Soren asked, looking over at Penndarius as they walked.
Penndarius continued staring into space, his mind somewhere else. “For a month, all I’ve felt is silence. No inkling.” As the two walked back to the window to let them back into the inn, Penndarius’s gaze became clouded again. “For a month, the silence has been absolutely deafening. And now suddenly this!” He gritted his teeth. “I locked that damned daemon in the abyss, yet something is coming. I can feel it in my bones. I saw a broken sky, blackened by an evil force. And now I am called to make this black sky blue once more.” Penndarius gritted his teeth tighter, fighting against the anger welling up deep within. “This is wrong, the quarrel between gods and daemons, their childish antics bringing war back to Therra’s doorstep to threaten the ones we love once more.”
“A bit heavy, don’t you think?” Soren asked and smirked at the scholar’s sudden shift.
Penndarius laughed and nodded. “Yes, I guess you are right.”
“What is our next move?”
An excited glint entered the scholar’s eyes. “What else? Fix this. Not another soul will die because of these petty beings’ bloodlust, so I swear.”
“It isn’t your job to save everyone,” Soren replied.
The scholar snapped his eyes toward Soren. He seemed to stare through the warrior. “Then whose job is it?” His voice was forceful and vehement. “We need a voice in the night, a cry from the fallen children of this world.” Penndarius settled down. “And my answers lie in Utopia.”
Soren nodded solemnly. “I’ll get you there.” Soren winked at the scholar with a surprising eagerness. “Now, let’s do what we do best.”
The glint in the scholar’s eyes matched Soren’s own. “Let’s get to work.”
Soren led the scholar back to the window. He helped Penndarius through and climbed in after. They walked to the door and down the hallway toward a set of winding stairs. Below them, a dull light flickered at the base of the stairs, and the din of conversation got louder.
“Damn,” Penndarius laughed cynically and scratched his head.
“There is just the little task of finding Utopia. I have no idea where it is. Do you?”
Soren winced. “Ah, there is that.”
A figure stumbled to the grassy ground. He picked himself up and collapsed against a tree. The man could see the inn in the distance where Penndarius and Soren were. The light from within was a bright beacon in the fading light of sunset.
The man was clothed in a swath of black cloth with a silver crescent brooch on the right side of his collar. The man’s hand went to his side, and when he pulled it away, crimson blood stained his palm. Suddenly, he curled over unbidden, and his other hand went to his mouth as blood burst from his lips. Blood dripped between his fingers, and finally he let his palm drop. A cynical laugh escaped his mouth, and he spat blood on the ground next to him spitefully.
“Ah, Deartháir, how far your brother Dayvion has fallen to need your help of all people. My dearest brother, Soren.” The cynical smirk slowly disappeared as he stared off into the distance toward the inn. “Please don’t be gone, Deartháir.” He then painfully pushed himself off of the tree and hobbled toward the inn in the distance.
A clear trail of blood glittered starkly on the ground in the fading light of the twin suns.
“I have not encountered any cases of possession. There are a few tomes penned on the subject. Possession is defined as a state of being in which an individual is controlled by a spirit, daemon, or otherworldly force without his or her consent. I believe a contract must be formed in which the aforementioned must offer a boon in exchange for control. Signing such a contract is not a choice. By nature, these creatures are crafty, and invariably, trusting any agreement with them is folly.”
Professor Laurie Alruine
A building rested at the top of a misty mountain. It was encircled by an impenetrable barrier of rock and a great forest with trees inscribed with sigils of protection that prevented unwanted intrusions. There was only one path, and it led from the base of the mountain.
The path was paved with black cobbled stones that formed a smooth road. At the end of the path was an impressive building, its architecture unlike anything in the realm. Architects from a thousand cultures plied their trade forming a building of no one racial origin. The base of the structure was as big as a small city. At the corners were tall, winding towers. The building was over fifteen floors tall at its highest point.
The structure had multiple wings, most notably the main hall in the center with living quarters above it. To the left was a winding structure that had many classrooms and abrupt open areas at ground level and platforms on the floors above for practice. The entire building was a spiderweb of passages, towers, classrooms, and platforms.
One part of the structure extended outward off a steep slope. An enclosed bridge extended from the main structure out to a tall cylindrical building that was five stories tall and carved out of grey stone.
The outer grounds of the structure were almost as large as the building itself, a beautiful scenic garden with elegant dells and tended patches of herbs, plants, and trees. Flowers bloomed in well-groomed patches, and trees formed small private groves with stone benches. The entire building was guarded by a special wrought iron fence that sparkled with an odd damask hue.
This was the Pentacle, the school for magi.
The central part of the structure extended to the highest point, a tower at the very pinnacle that was a room for the single most powerful member of the Pentacle, the arch magus. Not much had changed since Loken’s visit one hundred years prior. A few items of power had been added here and there. At the back of the room, two steps up from the rest of the room, was a rich desk. A man had his back to the door opposite, and he appeared lost in contemplation.
The air inside the office was warm, and spice-scented candles had been lit. Behind the arch magus were ten men and women of varying ages. Each was wearing blue cloth, their backs adorned with the symbol of the Pentacle, a single multicolored eye with a pentacle for an iris. Two stood out.
The first magus was a female with brilliant purple ear-length hair. It spiked out at odd, unruly angles. Her eyes were slanted slightly. Her robes were different, purple and black, cut to fit her slim and sinewy body, allowing for maximum movement despite the normally encumbering style of dress. She exuded undisputed confidence. She wore a black pin on her lapel featuring a ruby fist surrounded by black fire. It dictated her status as a battle magus.
The second magus was her elder. He wore gold and black robes. His hood was up, obscuring most of his face. Wisps of white hair flowed from within the hood, and a gnarled nose poked out. His face was lined with crags of age. A set of keen eyes flitted this way and that, hinting at a young mind within. He wore a golden pin on his lapel that featured a black staff with a lightning bolt background, showing he was a senior magus. He held a gnarled staff in one hand. He held his shoulders back, yet at his age, he should have been hunched over and leaning on the staff he carried. Unbeknownst to all, a daemon hid within him. Procus, a vaedziur from the abyss, had possessed his body.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the group as they waited for the magus behind the desk to turn around. The violet-haired magus coughed into her hand. “Arch Magus…Aran. Why are we gathered here?” she asked. She seemed impatient.
The arch magus waited a bit longer and turned around. Aran wore white-and-red-trimmed robes that were stamped with the multicolored eye of the Pentacle on his shoulders and back. He had a finely trimmed white beard that came to a point at the chin. His hair was finely cropped. The most striking feature of his face was his eyes, a beautiful set of eerie, intense ice-white eyes that bore a striking similarity to Penndarius’s, which were calm, insightful, and intelligent. They lacked the honesty of the scholar’s, replaced with cold intensity. Aran had an unmistakable aura of power.
“Azlea.” He acknowledged the female magus. His voice held commanding authority. “Kasheen.” He nodded to the elder magus. Aran’s eyes lingered on Kasheen for a brief moment. A knowing smirk flickered on his lips before vanishing swiftly. Procus almost did not catch it.
“Thank you for coming,” Aran said to everyone else. “I will get to the point. You will be broken into two groups. Azlea will take half the magi to Utopia and investigate its origin. Land does not appear overnight, and its presence may spark a war. If this is magical trickery, we will ascertain its purpose and stop it.”
Azlea bowed quickly to Aran. “Your will be done. Why choose me for the task?” she asked. “There are more experienced magi.”
Aran seemed to stare through her. “You will take more experienced magi with you. You may encounter Rahlien, Anthra, or both. If you happen upon conflict, I want a battle magus in charge, and you are one of our best,” he replied with cold logic. “Avoid conflict if you must. Do not hesitate to defend yourselves. I charge you with the lives of this expedition. Keep them safe.”
Azlea bowed quickly, then motioned with a quick circle of her finger to four magi behind her. “Come.” She left through the door with the four following close behind her.
Aran waited for Azlea and her retinue to leave before addressing the other magi in the room. “This next task has grave importance.” Aran let silence hang in the air for gravity. He rubbed his eyes with the strain of office. “Our institution has a secret duty when a ko undergoes a unique transformation,” he said gravely.
Despite the gravity of his words, the arch magus got cockeyed looks of curiosity. “A ko…” one of the magi laughed nervously. “What is so dangerous about a kirin, no better than a squirrel? No magic inclination, nearly harmless.”
A cynical laugh escaped Aran’s lips. “I do not disagree, and yet these small, unthreatening creatures are possibly one of the biggest cosmic jokes to exist within our world. Every thousand years, the lowliest become more powerful than even a grand kirin. It abruptly gains powers of a grand, elemental magnitude.” His words cut through the disbelieving air and gradually turned to horror. “I am sure you all know about the Vulnus disaster?”
All present nodded.
“Three hundred and thirty years ago, the town of Vulnus was wiped off the map. The following does not leave this room. Our forebears sent a group to investigate. They discovered lingering remnants of every elemental plane—fire, water, earth, and air—plus their parent planes, light and dark. Can anyone tell me what would happen if a portal were to open and remain so?”
One of the magi raised his hand. “The elementals present would rush toward the portal and try to push their way in by stretching it open further. The power of their uncontained spiritual essences would leak through the gateway in concentrated doses until the portal could no longer tolerate the strain, and then it would break, unleashing a powerful reaction that would…” He trailed off as his train of thought came to its conclusion.
Aran nodded. “…cause an explosion amplified geometrically for each element present, killing the ko in the process. It would be large enough to wipe an entire town off the map—for example, Vulnus. Correct. Furthermore, we divined the origin and discovered that this has happened multiple times before. To our astonishment, we found it all started with a single ko every time.”
A stunned silence filled the room.
“I want you to form a group to track and find this ko. The intense nature of the elemental buildup will enable you to find the general area easily. After that, you will need visual verification. Lanis,” Aran said, pointing to the magi who had spoken up earlier, “you will lead this group.”
All of the remaining four magi immediately clasped their hands together and bowed to their leader.
“How do we stop the ko when we find it?” Lanis asked.
“Stopping the explosion is not possible. Moving it is.” Aran reached into his robe and removed some clear-looking stones, each with four small pinpoints of light revolving around each other. “Take these teleportation stones and break one of them on the ko. It has been pre-enchanted to send the ko into the sea, where it will explode harmlessly.” Aran handed it to Lanis. He then reached into his robe and pulled out five more teleportation stones. “These have been pre-enchanted with the location where the ko was last detected.” He handed them out to the magi who were about to hunt the ko.
Another magus raised his hand.
“Yes, Aziz?” Aran asked.
“It could be possible to control the ko if one of us contracts with it.”
The arch magus immediately shook his head. “That is impossible. Contracting with this kirin would be akin to bartering with a god. It would subject the magus in question to severe elemental pressure that none of the training offered at the Pentacle could prepare you for. Have you ever met a god? Experienced the strength of its presence? Felt its aura inside your spirit? For that is what it would take, and you would be crushed to your knees and smashed into nothing.”
Aziz bit back any further response. “By your will, Arch Magus,” he said and bowed swiftly.
The other magi bowed in turn and exited in a flurry of movement.
Kasheen began to leave as well when Aran’s voice stopped him cold. “Kasheen, a word, my friend,” Aran said sweetly.
Kasheen brushed his hand across the ornate doorknob. It closed with a subtle click.
“Your charade was executed almost flawlessly,” said Aran. “If I were anyone else, I would not have noticed.”
Aran’s voice caused Kasheen’s eyes to open wide in surprise. A cold snap slashed across the air. The metal of the doorknob became sticky, cold to the touch. The vaedziur within drew away his hand immediately and turned to face Aran. Pulses of chilling wind cut across the elder magus’s cheek.
Aran had his hands clasped in front of him. Waves of snowflakes and frozen air swirled around him in an aura of magic. The temperature in the room dropped abruptly, and ice creeped up the sides of the walls. White magic exuded from the arch magus’s eyes and stared unerringly at the vaedziur. “The moment you stepped foot in my halls, I knew you were not my friend. Your farce is over.” Aran’s voice was threatening and calm.
Kasheen’s walking cane fell to the ground in a clatter. “So it would seem, although our union cannot be broken.”
The magic building around Aran continued to rise. “I highly doubt that,” he replied. “No magic is permanent.”
“You do not have the ability,” Kasheen said warily.
Aran threw his hand toward Kasheen, and a powerful gust of cold wind slammed into the vaedziur’s body. The elder magus was flung onto the wall with a painful crash. In the blink of an eye, ice crawled down the wall with a crackling and snapping sound. It curled around and bound Kasheen’s wide form.
Aran approached purposefully, the aura of power still circulating around him. Even bound, the vaedziur laughed defiantly at the arch magus as he steadily approached. “The speaker of Dol’ron had one of my kind ripped from his mind. His sanity was shattered, and he now rocks back and forth in a cell, uttering words of madness.”
“We’ll see. I’m glad you came. It gave me the chance to study your kind. I know you, creature of the abyss. I divined your name—Procus. And I know how to evict you from Kasheen’s body.” Aran looked down upon the vaedziur before him. “You have underestimated my abilities, daemon. And now you shall pay for it.”
Procus fumed, and his eyes flared with azure energy. The bindings on his wrists shattered; then the ice regrew thicker and stronger.
Aran began chanting. “Lion of the furious icy gale, I call your true name, Leoira Pax Furor. Come to my call.” The words of magic echoed powerfully.
A burst of snowflakes washed through the roof and solidified into the form of a white feline figure. Its body was far larger than Aran’s, the height of its shoulder coming almost to the arch magus’s chest. It had a proud mane of hair that spiked with sharp lines of ice. It turned its head in Procus’s direction and let out an intimidating roar that shook the foundations of the room.
Aran placed his hand upon the kirin’s head without averting his gaze from the daemon. Procus tried to speak. A gust of cold came from within his body, and his throat seemed to freeze. Instead of words coming out, he began coughing.
Aran approached, followed closely by his kirin, which let out a feline growl. Aran placed his hand firmly on the elder’s chest. “Time to leave.”
A burst of white magic slammed into Kasheen’s body and caused a screaming keen to escape his mouth. A mingling of black and sapphire dust came from the possessed one’s mouth, nostrils, eyes, and ears.
The vaedziur felt a growing force pushing against his essence. The vaedziur struggled in its bonds and tried to fight against the assault, but Aran’s magic was relentless. A rush of blue and black ash flew from Kasheen’s mouth and coalesced into a winged wraith. The smell of sulfur filled the air. It stopped in front of Aran, then swooped away, racing out the window.
When the vaedziur exited the room, the magic began to die down. As quickly as it came, the feline form vanished in a puff of snow that fell into a soft, fluffy pile. Simultaneously, the room’s temperature returned to normal. The ice that bound Kasheen cracked and fell away. The magus fell to his knees.
Aran walked forward and proffered a helping hand toward the elder. A grim look remained for a brief moment longer; then a smile split his face. “Kasheen, my friend, are you there?”
Kasheen shook Aran’s hand and grasped the gnarled staff on the ground. He shakily got to his feet with the help of Aran and his staff. “Stop gawking,” Kasheen said grouchily.
Aran stood back, knowing the old magus’s penchants. “Are you...?” Aran started to say.
Kasheen snapped a keen, hawkish look his superior’s way. “…all there? Aye.” He nodded, tapping his noggin roughly. “As much as ever. Why do you always have to make it so damn cold?” Kasheen waved away any objections from Aran. “Never mind. You always had a penchant for theatrics.”
Aran laughed with embarrassment. “Same as ever,” he said with a smirk. “I could almost forget that I just saved your life.”
“The school?” Kasheen asked.
“All here,” Aran replied.
“Did you start renovation on the library yet?” Kasheen pressed.
Aran heaved a heavy sigh. “No, I’ve been…busy,” he replied.
The elder magus spat on the ground. “Bah! Enough inane babble. I am interested—how did you manage to remove Procus?”
The arch magus stroked his chin pensively. “A powerful magic force pitted against its soul would force it from the body,” he said knowledgably. “A simple concept if you think about it.”
“Enough of that.” Kasheen dismissed Aran with his hand as if his magic were nothing more than catnip. “Well, are you going to get me a seat, or am I going to stand up this entire time?”
Aran reacted quickly. “No, of course not.” He led Kasheen to a chair.
Kasheen settled into the chair and closed his eyes thankfully. He let out a slow and steady exhale of relief. “I assume you know where these daemons are from?”
Aran turned and nodded. “Aye, the abyss,” he replied. “Why wait until now? That mystery still eludes me.” Aran began to pace, absorbing the information that the elder was giving to him.
“From what I was able to gather,” Kasheen responded, “it seems the abyss opened and was subsequently blocked by something, though he and a few of his friends got through.”
“How many?” Aran asked.
“I do not know.”
Aran was troubled. “What are they?”
Kasheen scowled. “Procus and the others that came through are nobles of their kind. From what I can discern, they need living bodies to survive. The other creatures, lesser beings of their kind, went straight for dead bodies.”
Aran stroked his beard pensively. “This may be conjecture, but mayhap Procus and the nobles of his kind require a living mind. They possibly subsist off of mental energies while the lesser forms of their kind only need dead bodies.”
Kasheen snapped his wrinkled finger. “Aha! Mayhap we have it!” he said excitedly. “There was one other thing…” Kasheen trailed off. His brow furrowed.
“What is it?”
The elder magus narrowed his eyes as he contemplated what he would say next. “Procus mentioned another, a greater being of their kind. He mentioned a name—Baalor.” Kasheen’s words hung ominously in the air. “He was oddly reverent and frightened of the name. What could scare an immortal daemon from a plane of isolating torment?”
Aran crossed his arms in front of his chest. “That is a dangerous question,” he replied.
A silence hung between the two as they contemplated Kasheen’s words. “There was also mention of Utopia and one other thing.”
“What was that?”
“Your son, Penndarius.”
The pain of his ejection from Kasheen’s body was intense. Procus’s spirit rushed through the window and raced into the sky with a single sweep of its wraithlike wings. A doorway split the reality in front of him, and Procus passed through.
The scenery contrasted starkly with the mortal world. The sky was swirling with grey, dusty spirals. A dull light from a source unknown pierced the veil above, barely lighting the perpetually shadowy world beyond.
The ground was covered with a continuous mist, thick enough to block lines of sight. The ground crunched underfoot with grey pebbles. When Procus arrived, his form changed dramatically, going from wraithlike to solid. The vaedziur was tall and noble looking. Angular wings hugged close to his back. His body was lean and muscled, covered in steel-colored fur. His eyes were large, alien blue orbs.
Procus flexed a long hand and clenched it into a fist. “I’m back.” He let out an irritated breath. “Damn you, Arch Magus.”
Procus sensed a presence behind him. He turned about quickly.
“Back so soon?” a feminine voice asked. “How did you manage to get through?”
Procus grimaced at the sound. “Unfortunately, I am back,” he said, casting a dour look at the newcomer. “The portal appears to be only one way for now. Ferra, how do things progress?”
Ferra was a thin and voluptuous vaedziur. Her fur was a deep blue, and she had hauntingly beautiful curves. Her body appeared stretched just a bit too thin and long. Her wings were much like Procus’s, graced with thin white webs and blue shining scales. The same alien eyes looked back at Procus. “Did you just come to check in on little old me?”
Procus hardened himself to her tendencies. Eons with Ferra had given Procus a sense of her ways. “Tell me of Keeno and Esurio’s progress,” he ordered.
Ferra sighed and rolled her large eyes. “Fine. Keeno has infiltrated the Anthra people in the body of their acting leader, Lupa. He is pressing the conflict forward as planned. Esurio has taken to the body of Lark, the chancellor of Deiyalia’s personal assistant,” she replied.
“And Kestrel?” Procus asked with pained finality.
Ferra thrust her hand to the right. “See for yourself!” she said. The mist burst apart, revealing a horrifying sight beyond. A massive shred of space appeared, like something had ripped a hole in reality. It was blocked by the body of an azure creature.
The creature was scaled, furred, and feathered and of a brilliant blue. It once had had two reverse-jointed legs. One of its wings had been torn off, replaced with a jagged, bleeding wound, dripping blood and staining the dull grey ground with a continuous plip plop. Its long, spindly appendages were covered in cuts and bruises from multiple assaults. It was bound to the top of the portal by brilliant evergreen chains. Its entire body shielded the opening of the portal. The creature was smiling despite the obvious pain that should have killed it ages ago. A state of purest ecstasy was stamped on its animalistic face, evident from the happiness in its large azure eyes.
Ferra walked up to the imp and stroked his bloodied cheek. “Kestrel, would you be a good little pet and die already?” she asked bittersweetly.
A wide smile split Kestrel’s face, and he let out a hooting laugh, tinted by the mark of insanity. His eyes darted this way and that. “Ah, I could, I could. I cannot. No, please, I could not. The pain that shatters my body is so sweet. Bless these evergreen chains for the pain they have granted unto me. Baalor would understand. Yes, he would understand,” he repeated, half to himself and half to the others before him, completely mad.
Procus whipped around toward Ferra. “Ferra! This is obscene! Take his life and end this!” he roared.
“You are such a bore, Procus,” Ferra sighed and pointed a lazy finger at Kestrel.
On her command, a rush of shadows flashed by the two, intent on one destination. Most of these shapes were obscured by the mists of the abyss. Long, slashing claws and curved, wicked teeth shone, highlighted by menacing sapphire slits for eyes, intent on Kestrel alone. The sound of their skittering nails clacked against the pebbled ground.
Procus forced himself to watch as Kestrel was torn to shreds under a shifting mass of claws and teeth. The vast portal’s light, so stark in the dark of the abyss, was blotted out by the sheer number of bodies that descended upon it. From underneath the shifting mass, Kestrel’s cries of exultation were pierced by screams of agonizing pain. “Yes, yes, yes!” he cried. “More! The pain is so sweet! Thank you, Penndarius Greyson!” were his last words.
Procus narrowed his eyes and, despite the gruesome scene, took note of the name. “Penndarius,” he said under his breath. “I have heard the name.” Procus turned to Ferra after the deed was done. “I want you to stay here. I will go to the Pentacle to disrupt their progress as much as I can. Clean up this mess lest our lord Baalor find it.”
Ferra’s enjoyment was cut short. “He is awake?” she asked in an awed whisper.
“So it would seem. He will reveal himself when the time is right.”
Ferra bowed swiftly as Procus walked toward the portal. Black shadows raced to make way for his departure. He placed his claw upon the edges of the now clear portal. “I will do what I can,” he said solemnly. Then he turned into an azure wraith and exited through the portal.
Procus raised his hand, and a misty black wraith raced to his upraised palm. “Inform Esurio of the ko, and tell him to do everything in his power to hinder the magi’s work to stop it.”
The mist immediately raced toward the portal and went through to deliver Procus’s missive.
Ferra looked to the portal that was like a glasslike mirror of the mortal realm. She contemplated the events to follow.
Procus’s azure shadow raced through the portal and into the mortal realm. His dark shadow flew back toward the Pentacle, over the forest and then to the school. He twirled around one of the minarets and descended toward the east wing.
Procus searched for a suitable host to possess and dived in through one of the windows. Most of the students were preparing to go to sleep. One room was occupied. He raced into the darkened hallway. The door was cracked, and a small line of light illuminated the ground. Procus slipped through the crack and moved to the ceiling.
Below was a classroom with multiple desks in regimented rows. A teacher was just finishing up her lecture, and a couple of pupils were standing around her, asking questions. The students turned to leave, and when Procus saw their backs turned, a misty sapphire form descended on the woman quickly, disappearing into the body before anyone could see.
The professor was of average height and wore thick, horn-rimmed glasses. Her hair was tied in a tight bun, and she was wearing dark blue robes. Her face was sharp and hawkish, giving off an element of bookishness. The teacher’s body slumped against the desk behind her, and she closed her eyes briefly.
One of her students turned. “Are you all right, Ms. Alruine?” he asked.
Laurie Alruine opened her eyes. A brief azure glint glowed from within before disappearing. She crossed her arms in a dignified manner. “Thank you for your concern. I am fine.”
The shift in Ms. Alruine’s demeanor toward the student was odd, but no odder than many of the other eccentricities of those who lived at the school. Everyone accepted her quirks. But this was no quirk. A sharp smile split the hawkish face of Laurie Alruine.
The student felt a soft touch on his neck as a pair of arms touched his shoulders. He turned his head and saw his teacher’s grim face. His curiosity was stilled violently when his teacher’s arms suddenly wrapped around his neck and put him in a strong chokehold. Her arms tightened and yanked him to the side. The student’s neck snapped with a muffled pop. The other students were unaware as Procus killed one of their number with deadly silence. The student dropped to the ground with a soft thump.
Ms. Alruine clapped her hands, causing the other students to look back with curiosity. The sight of their dead companion caused every one of them to take in a breath of horror. “What is this?” a larger student asked. He stood taller than the rest.
Ms. Alruine held out her hand. Sapphire tendrils of energy twirled around it. “Yes, my pets, it is time,” she cooed. One of the tendrils raced from her hand and into the body of the dead student who was lying on the ground. She raised her gaze to the bigger student and smiled sweetly to him. “You’ll see soon enough.”
The dead body of the student on the ground suddenly moved. His body jittered a bit as different muscles moved at random. Then he went still. He slowly pushed himself to a standing position, and his head lolled about limply, his neck still broken. Then his head suddenly began to move, popping the bones of his spine back into place. Pops and cracks came from different areas of his body as well, and visible changes began to take place in his arms. The left one lengthened, and the bones of his hands stretched, becoming longer and thinner. Bones broke through his hands, which became sharpened claws that dripped blood from the newly broken skin. A dull blue light shone from the dead student’s eyes. He smiled, and instead of the normal teeth that would be expected, rows of evil-looking spiked fangs appeared.
Before any of the students could react, the monstrous new creation jumped forward with surprising agility and speared the burly student through the chest. The student looked down at his chest in surprise. He tried to breathe, but only a bubble of blood came to his lips, and he began to drown in his own blood.
The vaedziur’s creation slowly removed the clawed hand from the dying student. Its hand dripped blood garishly as it turned its attention to the other students in the room. The hand hung low enough from the body that the bone nails scraped against the ground ominously as it swayed from side to side.
Shocked by the sudden death of their classmate, the other students were standing still. As soon as the creature turned its attention on them, they all desperately crowded the door in a mob.
Laurie twitched her index finger to the left, and the door closed. One of the students grabbed the knob and tried to turn it. It would not budge. He shook the doorknob desperately, and still nothing happened.
The first death cries could be heard as student after student was chopped down by Ms. Alruine’s evil servant. The teacher watched coldly as the students were slaughtered, their cries muffled by the hard wood of the classroom’s walls.
Outside the classroom, a few moments went by. Then the door opened, and Ms. Alruine stepped out. A group of her students followed her, now possessed by vaedziur within their dead bodies. All of them had put their hoods up to hide the agonizing perversions that their faces had become.
“Now where was I?” she asked nonchalantly to her gravely silent followers.
The sound of their nails scraping against the stone floor could be heard as they walked.